The next morning the group rose and gathered for a large breakfast in the dining room of the Soulon Embassy. Riffen was an hour late and looked like he had a rough night. His wobble had worsened and he relied on his cane far more. His polite smile was barely there and his eyes were a bit sunken. Lillian was also present at breakfast and looked worn out. She wore an outfit which looked like it might have belonged to Pria. She looked uncomfortable sitting at the breakfast table and had a nervous energy similar to Shadow when he was stuck in the cage. Juniper did not eat much. She spoke very little as she used her fork to swirl scrambled eggs until they were nothing more than a yellow mush. The rest of the group were worn out, but generally cheerful. Grace sat beside Riffen and chatted to him about Shadow as she petted the blink dog. Tak scarfed down food, taking four plates before everyone else had finished their first. And Sigthyme tried his best to talk to Lillian and keep the mood around the table lively. Any pretense of happiness left when Pria walked in.
The whole room fell silent as Pria looked around at everyone. She pulled out a chair at the head of the table and sat down before letting out a sigh.
“They left in the middle of the night,” Pria said.
The rest of them looked at each other, not sure who should respond, but Pria kept going without being prompted.
“Captain Springbloom packed up her troops and left before morning. Probably up the high road to tell my father what a bad job I’m doing,” Pria said as she grabbed a fistfull of eggs and tossed it on her plate.
“Then I have the Dwarves to deal with,” Pria grabbed a handful of bacon and tossed it on top of the eggs. “Habbie and the other advisors want to meet with me to discuss what happened yesterday at the gate and the camp and how we’re going to proceed.”
Pria looked up from her chaotic breakfast at the group.
“Who has alcohol?” Pria asked everyone.
The group kind of looked at one another.
“I’m not sure…uh…” Sightyme started.
“Someone must have alcohol. You are all adventurers. What else do you do?” Pria asked bluntly.
“I…I have a bit in my flask, but…” Sigthyme said.
Pria motioned for him to bring it to her.
“That’s fine. Bring it to me,” She said.
Sigthyme got up from his chair and brought her his Halfling-sized flask.
She unscrewed the top and took a large swig from it.
“Better,” She said as she wiped her mouth and handed the flask back to Sigthyme. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Sigthyme said. “And about the gate and the camp.”
Pria held up a hand to quiet him.
“I don’t need your explanations. I’ve heard all I need from Prince Riffen and Captain Evergreen,” Pria said. ‘You all had nothing to do with the explosion, correct? You just went to help after the explosion happened.”
“Correct,” Sigthyme said.
“Then that’s all I need,” Pria said. “I will handle everything else.”
“Are we still heading to Frost Haven?” Grace asked.
“In due time,” Pria said. “But for now you all are to stay here while I attend the necessary meetings. Once I have sorted out everything, I will create new arrangements to get Riffen to Frost Haven.”
“I can go to the meetings..” RIffen began, but Pria cut him off.
“You need to rest. You have been pushing yourself too much as is. We can’t have our Prince wandering around the city looking like he’s drunk or poisoned,” Pria said. “However, Lillian. Will you join me?”
“Me? Why me?” Lillian asked.
“Because I wouldn’t mind the company,” Pria said. “Plus I don’t trust that you won’t take the first moment you have to run off. I want to keep my eye on you.”
“So truthful,” Lillian said.
“I have to save all my nice pleasantries for my meetings. I can’t start wasting them on you all,” Pria said as she chewed on a piece of bacon. “Any other questions?”
“What about us?” Sigthyme asked.
“Yeah, can we come with you to the meetings?” Grace asked.
“Absolutely not,” Pria said. “Everytime I let you out of this place, trouble seems to follow. And it ends up in my lap.”
“We aren’t even allowed to leave here?” Grace asked.
“No. You shall remain here. Some rest might do you all some good as well.”
“What if we have guards with us?
“No,” Pria said. “You will remain here. If you even take a step outside of the property, I’ll let Captain Springbloom know that there is a bounty on your head. I’m sure she’d love to take a swing at any one of you.”
“Especially you,” Pria turned to look at Lillian. “Now. I need to go get changed for my morning meetings. Lillian, come downstairs with me. I’m sure I have some formal outfit you can put on.”
“Great,” Lillian said as she stood up from her chair.
She passed by Riffen without even making eye contact and followed Pria out of the room.
There was a brief moment of silence before Grace let out a groan.
“Ugh! It’s going to be so boring,” Grace said as she put her forehead down on the table. “What are we even going to do here?”
“I’m not sure,” Sigthyme said. “I guess just rest up like Pria said.”
“Boring!” Tak and Grace said in unison.
Sigthyme looked over at Juniper who was still swirling around her yellow mash of eggs.
“Everything alright with you?” Sigthyme asked her and all eyes turned toward Juniper.
“Oh. Yeah. Everything is fine. Just didn’t sleep super well last night,” Juniper said, her eyes never leaving the plate. “Rest actually sounds good.”
“This is so unfair,” Grace complained. “It’s like we’re being blamed for what happened yesterday. We didn’t blow up the gate or start the fight in the army camp.”
“The army camp is no one’s fault,” Riffen said.
“Really? Because I was going to blame Captain Fights-A-Lot,” Grace said. “I knew I didn’t trust her and then she just goes and attacks Lillian for no reason. We’re better off without her.”
“Doesn’t her leaving slow down your travel to Frost Haven as well?” Sightyme asked.
“Yeah but I’m glad we’re not traveling with her. How long before she went crazy and attacked one of us? She’s seriously unstable,” Grace said.
“Alright. Enough,” Riffen said.
Grace’s mouth hung open for a second, but she closed it without making another sound.
“I’m going to go lay down,” Riffen said as he stood up, placing his weight on his cane. “Come on, Shadow.”
The black, Blink Dog stood up and let out a friendly bark before the two of them left the dining room and made their way to Riffen’s bedroom.
“Maybe everyone does need a nap,” Grace said.
“Grace, Tak, can Sigthyme and I have the room for a moment?” Juniper asked.
Sigthyme raised an eyebrow as Grace and Tak looked over at Juniper.
“Why?” Grace asked.
“I have some personal matters I need to discuss with Sigthyme,” She said. “I’d appreciate it if you gave us a moment together.”
“You’re not in danger are you?” Grace asked.
“No, I’m not in danger,” Juniper said.
“Does this have something to do with your brother?” Sigthyme said.
“Please. Can we just have a moment?” Juniper asked again.
Grace looked over at Tak, who just shrugged his muscular shoulders.
“Yeah, fine. Whatever. Come on, Tak. The grown-ups are talking,” She said as she stood up from her chair.
“Grown up,” Tak repeated as he rose and the two of them left the dining room.
“So what’s this about?” Sigthyme asked Juniper as soon as they were alone in the room.
“What do you know about the Elvish country of Ohn’serine?” Juniper asked.
“Uh, not much. I figured you’d know more than me,” Sightyme said. “Aren’t you from there?”
“I’m from Perralyth, the Elven Capital,” Juniper said. “I lived there until my brother went missing.”
“So is this about your brother?” Sightyme asked.
Juniper shook her head no.
“Last night I was awoken by a sound. It was like an Elvish lullaby. When I went to the window there was an Elvish man standing in the courtyard.”
“A real man or like a vision?” Sigthyme asked.
“Real. Very real. He told me that the King and Queen of Ohn’serine have stopped making public appearances and that the eldest Prince and Princess have practically taken the throne. There have been crackdowns and people have gone missing.”
“He also told me that there is a group of Elves hiding in The Ollick Forest in this place called Ohn’ Nalore. They are apparently resistance fighters and outcasts.”
“And this Elf was one of these freedom fighters?”
Juniper nodded again.
“He said that he came to me because he heard about Piakol and that he wants me to lead the resistance to overthrow the Prince and Princess. He thinks that they could win if they have a Dragon on their side,” Juniper explained.
“No offense but Piakol isn’t much of a dragon,” Sigthyme said.
There was a small huff from Juniper’s bag.
“What I mean is that he’s mighty, but Riffen’s dog is bigger than him. I don’t see Piakol storming castle gates.”
“I know,” Juniper said.
“So what did you tell this guy?” Sigthyme asked.
“What could I tell him? I told him no. I told him I wasn’t going to go off and lead some army. That he was looking for the wrong person.”
“And do you think that was the right choice?”
“I don’t know,” Juniper said. “But it was the only choice. You’re right. Piakol and I can’t lead a group of resistance fighters against the royal army. That’s just not possible.”
“But yet you are still troubled.”
“I’m worried about my family. My parents. My Sister-In-Law. My brother. I don’t know if this has anything to do with him and why he left, but it still worries me. What if these resistance fighters got to my brother and convinced them? What if they are dealing in these dark powers that Ms. Zaffre only knows a bit about? There is still so much we don’t know,” Juniper said.
“Do you think that this stranger had something to do with the explosion at the gate?” Sigthyme asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s just that maybe he was trying to start some sort of war or something. If Ohn’serine is blamed for an act of war in Xylon, Mardrec will be drawn into battle. And if soldiers from Soulon were injured, they could have another enemy fighting them. Either it would be two on one of all three nations fighting each other. With the Ohn’serine army split and weakened, freedom fighters could emerge from the woods and attack the King and Queen,” Sigthyme said. “It’s all hypothetical, but it makes sense.”
“I guess I didn’t think about it that way,” Juniper said. “I asked him why he didn’t take his cause to the King of Mardrec, but he said that they would not care until bloodshed spilled over their borders.”
“Sounds like a war to me,” Sigthyme said.
“Yeah it does,” Juniper said as she stared at her breakfast once again.
Header Photo Credit to Myth Weavers