#NaNoWriMo 2013 – Chapter 1
From afar it looked like a regal affair as the royal family took their place on the higher seating reserved for themselves and the knights that rarely left their sides. The three daughters gracefully took their seat, two men slightly behind them, always the watchful eye on them. The king and queen took to their high backed thrones and looked out with generous smiles on their faces. This entrance had a calming effect on the crowds around the stadium that were awaiting the tournament to begin.
What they did not see was that the two younger of the sisters were passing a stone between the two of them that they could write notes on with their nails. It was a magnetic stone, perfect for leaving small characters from an archaic language on, knowing full well that no one who found it, but perhaps their parents, would know what they were telling one another. The crowd did not see that the king and queen hated one another and the mere touch of one another had the other’s skin crawl. No one could see that the eldest of the three was barely paying attention, too trapped in her first kiss that had happened just moments before they had been called away to make their entrance.
“Oralee, you should feel honored that all of these people are gathered for your birthday,” said Maynard, being the first to speak, to offer some sort of reprieve from the tension gathered from the king and queen.
Oralee, the youngest of the sisters, and the one the tournament was in “celebration” of turned to her eldest sister’s knight and said in a matter-of-fact tone, “It is a beautiful gesture, one I will always cherish.”
Alana, who had been caught up in the swell of her lips from her earlier kiss, and Lena, who was usually reserved and quiet, both turned green eyes on one another and burst into laughter. If it there had not been a cool look from their mother they would have garnered even more attention, but it had been enough to quiet them. Even Maynard, who was usually reserved, managed to crack a smile.
“In truth, Oralee,” Adare, the man who was Lena’s knight, said, “we do hope you have a wonderful birthday. Perhaps you will even be burdened with a knight you won’t hate.”
Adare’s eyes moved to Lena, briefly. Briefly enough that by the time her eyes moved to him his eyes were already glancing back out at the knights gathered for the chance to fight for Oralee’s honor.
As the youngest sister Oralee was the last to be given her own private guard. It was an honor, and a curse. There was only one man who was the private guard of each princess, one man to look over her night and day. It gave little chance of reprieve from duty, and when there was one it was usually a chance to miss out on a big event.
“I do hope it is Harding,” Oralee said, this time her voice resounding with emotion and excitement. Her sweet lilt was infectious and it was hard not to smile at her innocence. “He has always been the sweetest to me and I hear he just barely lost out on the chance to be Lena’s. I do not remember that much, for there wasn’t a big tournament like this.”
“There wasn’t for mine either,” Alana pointed out. “I guess as the youngest you get to be the most spoiled among us.”
“This is the apology for not having found you a husband already,” Lena said.
Alana glared at her younger sister and said, “Yes, it’s a shame, we can not all be betrothed to a God.”
Lena cleared her throat and for a long moment the silence once again became uncomfortable. Alana, as the eldest daughter of the Kendrick family, expected to be the first to be married. Not only was she meant to be the first, she was meant to be the one who had the better husband, as the heir to the throne. Her father had the excuse that there was no reason to marry his heir to Balder, the son of Dedrick. Dedrick was said to be the son of a god and there was nothing to stipulate against the claims. Dedrick was so long lived that the king and queen could remember him as ruler when they were children, and he had not aged a day.
Balder, having lived nearly as long as the queen’s parents, had finally hit a point where Dedrick found he needed a wife, if only so there would be another royal heir if something were to happen. It was better to give a younger daughter, and to be honest, the entire family had found Lena to be the more agreeable of the daughters.
“Where’s my apology for lack of husband?” Alana huffed. Perhaps she was not in such a hurry as she thought, the tips of her fingers barely grazing over her lips to feel the pressure of the kiss once more.
“You are still being baretered around,” Maynard said, his voice hushed to be sure the king and queen would not hear him. “You will have the perfect husband one day.”
“No one is perfect,” Adare countered.
Queen Rayne cleared her throat, loud enough the five of them were raising their shoulders back and looking straight ahead, putting a stop to all conversation. It took very little for Rayne to garner the respect she wanted.
Out on the field two swordsmen took to the north side while two other swordsmen took to the south side. Harding and Fergal would face one another on one side. Both were excellent sword fighters with hard backgrounds. They were also best friends and most people within the surrounding area knew they would always find those two out and about together. They took duty together, they took days off together. It was odd to see them facing off against one another now, but it added to the air of excitement.
On the opposite side of the field were two relative unknowns. A man name Dempsey Sedgley, a pretty-boy knight that had many girls swooning with nearly white-gold locks of hair and blue eyes that matched the color of the Kendrick’s family crest, and Ethen Sterling, who was medium-height, lanky man with no real bearing to him. The only reason there was interest in that match was to watch the prettiest man in the knights take down the unknown.
“Adare, you know everyone,” Lena said, leaning back slightly to talk to her knight. “Tell me about Sir Sterling.”
“I do not know him well,” Adare admitted. “I apologize, your highness. He is relatively new and does not seem to be from a high bred family. He must be good, though, if Selwyn allowed him into the fold of knights.”
Lena pursed her lips, more interested in the unknown. Adare followed her gaze to him and then leaned down to one of the knights that was standing near the stand. They whispered a few words, catching the girls’ attention. They turned their heads up and waited until Adare was standing. He stood back on his heels and offered a cool, calculating smile that offered and said nothing. “I placed a bed that Sterling would win.”
“Off of a question?” Lena asked, almost appalled.
“You took interest. You’ve never lead me astray, your highness.”
“I am not sure how I feel about that.” Lena thinned her lips and looked back to the field. Harding and Fergal had fallen into full tilt and were at one another as if they were worst enemies, not best friends. “They do use the dulled blades for these tournaments, correct?”
“Yes, your highness,” Adare said.
“But someone can still get hurt, right?” Oralee asked, and it was not missed that Oralee sounded more excited for the chance that someone would be. Oralee, despite a wide-eyed innocence, also enjoyed any excitement. She was adventurous in her innocence, which made for a terrible combination.
Adare worded his answer carefully. “There’s always a chance someone will get hurt, Oralee. There’s a chance you’ll get hurt when you walk down the stairs or when you breathe in the air.”
Oralee rolled her eyes and looked back out at the field. “You’re a better diplomat than my sisters.”
Lena chuckled while Alana glared. Alana did not like her abilities being called into question where Lena knew she was hardly an established leader. Oralee had never had an interest in being a diplomat herself, knowing she would be married off to someone of a lower birth to keep a surrounding land happy. Being raised knowing their places in life gave them a certain outlook on life.
“I don’t know which to watch,” Lena said, her eyes drifting from the heavy fighting of Harding and Fergal to the lighter tease of Ethen and Dempsey.
“Harding and Fergal will end soon,” Adare said. “They are winded and running themselves down. Dempsey and Ethen… one of them is waiting for full attention.”
“That Sedgley does seem the pompous prat,” Maynard commented, his eyes falling to the light sword play. “Both of them will be eliminated soon enough. I am surprised you wasted your money.”
“You wait,” Adare said.
Harding and Fergal began to strip down from their armor. It was growing heavy on them and the two men were already shaking holding their swords. They knew one another in and out. It was going to be up to a misstep in calculation.
And Harding had it. Fergal slid in the wet grass, covered in their sweat that dribbled down them in the heat of the midday. Harding gained his own footing and slashed out at Fergal, his sword running across Fergal’s gut.
Alana and Oralee were both on their feet crying out in excitement. Fergal went to his knees and brought up his hand. “Yield!”
“It is nice of you two to show so much interest,” Rayne remarked to her daughters.
“Go easy on them,” Selwyn, the captain of the knights and Rayne’s personal knight, remarked quietly. “They are excited for today. You do want them to show some enthusiasm.”
“I am afraid they are showing enthusiasm for the wrong reasons,” Rayne whispered.
Kinsey glared over at his wife and her knight and said, “This would not be a tradition in the first place if you had not come with your own personal knight and the tale that in your little neck of the woods noblewomen all had on had this age. I lose some of my best knights to protect our daughters.”
“Are you saying you would prefer them to go unprotected?” Rayne countered.
“I am saying we have knights around the castle at all hours of the day. These girls are in no danger, and if we do go to war I have my best men watching our daughters instead of fighting to make sure the danger doesn’t ever make it to the castle.”
“You are nitpicking,” Rayne said. “You are renowned for your knights. Look at the men on the field now. Fergal has gone down to Harding, and he is easily one of your best. You are putting the best against the best, one will always be better, but you still have an undefeatable army.”
Lena bowed her head. Her mother knew how to stroke an ego while making her point quite clear. Her eyes turned back to Ethen and Dempsey, who still seemed to be pussy-footing their way around one another. They had no interest in going closer. Not until Harding helped his friend off of the field, accepting the congratulations but not leaving his friend in the lurch.
The story changed when the men were gone. Ethen’s bored look turned to something darker and he slid his foot back. He raised his sword and then lunged. One, a blow to the arm. Two, three, four, blows to the sides. Five, six, seven, blows to the knees. Eight and nine, the final blows to the chest. Dempsey never knew what hit him or when. He almost stood perfectly still dring it all before he fell back onto the ground and gasped for air. Ethen walked over to him and raised his hand for him and cried out, “Yield!”
Jaws dropped. The tournament field was surrounded by a hushed quiet. There were still voices, but they were whispering to one another hurriedly.
Lena turned to Adare and asked, “How many blows are your record for taking someone down in that quick of a succession?”
“Five, Princess,” he declared. “Have no worries, my own record is still in place.”
Lena offered him her best ability at a sly smile. “I think you have competition.
Adare stared into her emerald eyes and said, “In what way, your highness?”
Ethen walked off the field, leaving other knights to come and retrieve Dempsey. Oralee’s eyes alighted and left Dempsey’s pained, and likely bruised, body to follow Ethen. “You might have made the right choice, Adare.”
“I will be rich by the end of the day. Or at least able to buy you a drink for your birthday, Oralee.”
“Yes, because the Ackerlea family is certainly hurting for money,” Lena said sarcastically, turning her head away and staring back out at the field.
From there the tone was set. The audience was invested in Harding and Ethen. Harding was the man that everyone knew, the man they had always relied on. Ethen was the newcomer who had put down a knight in nine moves. Ethen did not repeat the nine moves, but he made short work of his opponents.
And as it was assumed, it was Ethen and Harding in the final battle of the tournament. Both came up to the stand where the royal family sat and kneeled before Oralee’s place, both of them asking for her favor, though she could only give it to one.
The excited little adventuror disappeared and was replaced by the shy princess most people knew. Her cheeks were bright red when she stood and walked to the railing. She slowly pulled the silk from her sleeve, a deep blue dressed in silver threads. Sewn into it was a bear amulet that would be a small weight, hardly noticeable, but meant to mean she believed in him. She could give it to Harding, whom she knew and believed in, or she could give it to Ethen, who was unwinded and sure of himself.
Oralee knew who Adare was betting on. Oralee knew who Alana wanted the favor to go to. Oralee turned to Lena and raised her eyebrows. Lena took the stone and ran her nail over it, digging an engraving into it as quickly as she could while they were standing there. Lena passed the stone to Oralee as discreetly as she could, though they were both well aware that everyone saw it happen. Oralee ran her thumb over the stone and nodded her head.
“My favor to you, Harding,” she smiled at him and said in a squeaky voice. She leaned down while he raised his sword. She tied the silk around the hilt and then gave him a quick peck on the cheek. There was the obligatory rise in calls at her show of affection, and while she blushed, she carried that part well.
Harding bowed his head and said, “I will not let you down, your highness.” He stepped away towards the center of the field, ready for the final battle.
Ethen turned to the princess and calculatingly took her in before nodding his head and smiling. “I will prove you wrong.” He ran to the center of the field and took up his arm.
Rayne and Kinsey stepped down from their seats, finally showing more interest in the tournament. They stood and waved for the battle to begin.
“I knew you believed in Harding,” Alana said, leaning on her sister.
Lena only smiled. She would never tell her eldest sister she had just bet on Harding to lose to Ethen. That was between her and Oralee. Harding was a good man, but he had given his all during this tournament. He was tired and was shaking with every movement. Ethen had proven he could fight without breaking a sweat. She had been right at the beginning, that this would go to Ethen. But now Harding would have the princess’s favor. When he did inevitably lose he would still have a bear amulet and a silk to show that he was favored by the princess. That Oralee had chosen him, whether she had walked away from the tournament with Ethen as her knight or not.
Ethen allowed Harding a good show. Adare and Maynard both could see Harding was weak and that Ethen was dragging out the fight, but neither would comment on it. Ethen took Harding out in a respectful way, but take Harding out he did. When he dropped Harding to his knees he was a gentleman unlike in his other fights. He offered his hand and helped the man up. Harding yielded on his own and bowed his head.
Kinsey stepped off of the seating and went to the field. Oralee was meant to follow but she was embarrassed. Lena and Alana practically had to peel her out of her seat and lead her towards the door. Lena and Alana stood with their mother, Alana a nearly identical image of fiery red hair an green eyes while Lena had her mother’s face, but the dark hair of her younger sister and father.
Oralee went out with her father to the center of the field and took the ribbon from her father that would go around Ethen’s neck. It was a temporary prize, as he was sure to be lavished with gifts and top-of-the-line weapons once he was in place in his position. Ethen bowed his head so the short girl could place the ribbon around his neck and give him a fleeting kiss on the cheek.
“I told you I would prove you wrong,” he said to her.
Oralee, in a moment of coquettish flirtation, said, “You have yet to do so, Sir Sterling.”