After that conversation there was a brief moment of silence between Juniper and Sigthyme as they sat at the large dining room table still set aside what was left of breakfast.
“Do you think you’ll tell anyone about this mysterious man and the army in the woods?” Sightyme asked. “Pria maybe?”
Juniper shook her head.
“No. No way. There is already so much going on and I don’t want to add to it. Plus none of it is proven, right? It’s all just thoughts and theories. I can’t take that to Pria claiming war is about to happen if I have no proof,” Juniper said.
“What about Riffen?” Sigthyme asked.
“I…I don’t think so,” Juniper said.
“But you told me, why?” Sigthyme asked.
“I…well I had to tell someone,” Juniper said. “Plus, I don’t know. Even though you like to put on a brave face and act like you don’t have a care in the world, I can tell you really do care. You listen.”
Sigthyme placed a hand on Juniper’s arm.
“I’m glad you told me. I really am,” Sigthyme said. “I’ll keep this secret until you want to tell others. But I have noticed we are becoming a party of secrets. Everyone’s got their skeletons, including me. We just need to make sure that they don’t come back around to bite us.”
“Yeah,” Juniper said as she placed a hand on top of Sigthyme’s. “I’ll be careful.”
“Good. Now let’s go join the others. We wait any longer and Grace is going to burst in here holding daggers,” Sigthyme said.
Juniper just laughed as she followed Sigthyme out of the dining room and back to their joint bedroom suite.
Tak and Grace were mid conversation about their weapons. Grace had handed over her dagger to Tak and Tak had in turn, given her his large war hammer. Tak had his monstrous hands around the small dagger which made it seem even smaller. Meanwhile Grace could barely move the hammer using all of her strength. They had both had a good laugh about it before exchanging their weapons again.
Juniper meanwhile laid down on the bed as Piakol flew out of her bag and began circling around the room, stretching out his red, draconic wings.The suite wasn’t very big but it did give a chance for Piakol to fly a bit.
Piakol spent his time relaxing as he sat next to the bed and pulled out his Viol and began to play a sweet melody. To Juniper, it was a somber song that made her think back to when it was just Piakol and her wandering through the forest together. Before she had to think about wars and royalty. To Grace it sounded like some of the sailing songs she heard back in Sandpile. The type of song you’d hear after a sailor would be lost at sea. Tak just found the song relaxing which was an usual state for him.
“Good song,” Tak said.
“Seems kind of sad to me,” Grace said.
“Same,” Juniper said, still staring up at the ceiling.
“Oh, sorry. Didn’t mean to bring the mood down,” Sigthyme said. “I can stop.”
“No, keep going,” Juniper said. “I like it.”
“Me too,” Grace said.
“Me two,” Tak said, holding up three fingers.
Sigthyme just laughed and went back to playing the song.
A couple hours went by as the group sat around in their room, just enjoying a bit of downtime, when they heard excited footsteps rushing to their door. Then they heard a quick knock.
“Hello? Are you all in there?” Pria asked from the other side of the door.
Grace strolled over and opened it.
“Uh, yeah. Where else would we be?” Grace asked.
Pria ignored this bit of snark and instead addressed the entire room.
“We need to hurry. All of you. Do any of you have fancy clothes? Like not fancy. Nice. Nice clothes?” Pria asked, clearly in a panic.
“Not particularly,” Sigthyme said. “I tend to travel light. Why? Are you throwing us a fancy party or something?”
“No, nothing like that. I came back here to grab all of you. The King…. King Forgebringer. He has requested to speak to all of you at once,” Pria explained.
“Wait. The King-king? Crown and all of that?” Grace asked.
“Yes, the King. The King of Mardrec has requested to speak to all of you. Now hurry. We can’t have him waiting on us,” Pria said.
“Hold on, Pria. Take a second,” Juniper said as she quickly grabbed her bag and placed it behind her back, the dragon stirring inside it. “Why does the king want to meet with us?”
“With everything going on with Riffen and the Soulon Army and Krumb, he has decided that he wants to meet with you.”
“To thank us or punish us?” Sigthyme asked.
“The first one,” Pria said and then paused for a moment. “At least that’s what I believe.”
“That’s comforting,” Grace said as she rolled her eyes.
“No more of this. We can have the conversation on our way over to the palace. For now, clean up as best as you can. Meet down stairs in five minutes,” Pria said.
“But..” Grace began.
“No excuses,” Pria said as she turned and walked out of the room.
Hearing this commotion, Riffen’s door opened and he leaned out a bit.
“What’s this about visiting with the King?” Riffen asked.
“Not you. You’re staying in bed,” Pria ordered.
“Wait, what? Why? I’m the Prince, shouldn’t I be there?”
“If you faint or die in front of King Forgebringer, there will be some sort of international event. Plus I can handle so much. You, go back to bed,” Pria said.
“But..” Riffen began.
“Go now! No excuses,” Pria said as she gently nudged Riffen back into his room.
“I really think I…” Riffen started before Pria shut the door on him.
She turned back to see the group of adventurers standing there, staring at her.
“Tik-tok. Three minutes,” Pria said before turning away once again, disappearing down the hallway.
The group quickly got ready for their meeting with the king. None of them carried any fancy clothing with them, but they tried to do their best to look presentable. They emerged from the Embassy to meet Pria by the front door.
“Nope. No weapons. Take them back,” Pria said.
“But we…” Grace said.
Grace rolled her eyes and the group quickly stored their weapons. Then as a group, they walked through the city, accompanied by some guards, to the central district of the city. There the city seemed to be raised like it was on a small hill. There was a central wall staffed with guards with gold insignias. Pria had a quick talk with the guards and they were let inside without much hassle.
“Ever met a King before?” Sigthyme asked Juniper.
“No, never,” Juniper said. “You?”
“This will be a first,” Sigthyme said.
“Same,” Grace said, overhearing their whispers.
Pria led them through the winding roads of the central district and past large manor houses and upper-class townhouses. Eventually they were led to another inner wall with even fancier guards. They wore bright and shiny armor and carried large, heavy crossbows. Their uniforms had the crest of the King on them.
Again Pria talked to these guards and they waved them in. This time a group of eight royal guards walked with the group and led them into the palace. Inside the place was stunning. Large gardens outside with a massive fountain in the middle. While inside there were high ceilings with crystal chandeliers. Large paintings of art and a whole staff to wait on them hand and foot.
The group was led into a large meeting room which looked like some sort of war room with a large table in the middle, a desk on one end, and several bookcases with scrolls and books. The entire room was well lit and it smelled a bit like Dwarven Ale and Pipe Smoke.
“Please take a seat,” The royal guard said before turning and leaving the room.
“Yes, please sit,” Pria said, gesturing at the chairs around the table.
“Pria, are you ok? You look a bit nervous?” Juniper asked her.
“After all of this, I’m going to need a vacation,” Pria said. “Two weeks or maybe three. But yes, I’m fine. Please sit. Don’t worry about me.”
Pria tried to give a smile, but the tiredness of the last few days were slowly creeping across her face.
“Of course,” Juniper said, before taking a seat between Grace and Sigthyme.
Tak sat on the end, finding the largest chair in the room which was still a tight fit for him.
“Small chair. No hammer. Sad,” Tak said.
“It’s ok, big guy. I’m sure this won’t take too long,” Sigthyme said.
“Back to small room. No fun,” Tak said with a frown.
“Well yes. But I’m sure we can figure out some way we can go out and do something fun,” Sigthyme said.
Sightyme looked over at Pria, but she was either too tired to pay attention or purposely ignoring her.
There was a brief moment of awkward silence among the group before they heard footsteps. A wooden door in front of them swung open and then Habbie, the King’s royal advisor, stepped into the room.
“You are all here, very good,” Habbie said. “Well most of you anyway. Where is the Prince?”
“Prince Riffen is still resting and recovering. He sends his regards,” Pria said.
“Very good,” Habbie said with a nod.
Then another Dwarf stepped into the room. He was a bit taller than Habbie and had a large beard with intricate braids weaved into it. He wore intricate clothes with a large, brown cloak over it. On his head sat a crown made of bronze and steel. He carried a cane made from metal and clockwork which seemed to have a slight shine to it.
“King Forgebringer,” Pria said as she rose to greet the King. “Happy to see you once again.”
“Embassador Selorn. No need to stand,” King Forgebringer said in a deep, booming voice. “Nice to see you again. And these must be the adventurers I requested to see.”
King Forgebringer looked over at the group who quickly scrambled to their feet.
“Please. Please. Have a seat,” King Forgebringer pulled a chair back from the table and took a seat opposite of the heroes.
The group quickly sat back down.
“Do you need anything, sir?” Habbie asked.
“No, no I’m fine. Thanks Habbie.”
Habbie gave a small bow and then left the room.
“You all know who I am, but I do not know that much about you,” King Forgebringer said with a laugh.
“Of course. Let me introduce you,” Pria said. “This is Grace… uh what is your surname?”
“Uh…” Grace looked over at her companions and then back to Pria. “Just Grace is fine.”
“Fine, Grace. Juniper,” Pria said.
“Juniper Duskmere,” Juniper said. “Nice to meet you, Sir.”
“Then that’s Sigthyme.”
“Sigthyme Bolger,” Sigthyme said with a smile. “It’s an honor.”
“And Tak,” Pria finished.
“Tak!” Tak said with a toothy grin.
“Nice to meet all of you,” King Forgebringer said. “And the Prince is still resting?”
“Uh, yes sir. Prince Riffen is still recovering from his recent injuries. He wanted to come, but I insisted he stay and rest. He sends his best,” Pria said.
“Of course,” King Forgebringer said as he scratched a bit at his beard. “Well, welcome to my city. I’m sorry that your time here has not been the best. With criminals running amok and the Prince being captured. Very unusual for Xylon, but crime does happen here.”
“It’s alright,” Pria said before anyone could say anything. “Their stay has been quite wonderful overall. And they appreciate their hospitality.”
“Of course,” King Forgebringer nodded as he looked toward the others. “I know that for many of you, this is the first time being in such a place. The royal palace can be a lot for some people. But I did not call you here because I am the King. I called you here before you all seem to find your way into trouble.”
“We don’t mean too, Sir,” Sigthyme said, this time beating out Pria. “It’s just that it seems like trouble tracks us down.”
“Adventurers like you lot are just magnets for it, I suppose,” King Forgebringer let out a chuckle.
“Yeah I guess so,” Sigthyme said with a laugh.
“So why did you call us here?” Grace asked bluntly.
Again, the King let out a hearty laugh.
“Someone who doesn’t mince words. Gets right to the point. I like that,” He said.
“We don’t mean to rush you at all, Sir,” Pria started but King Forgebringer raised up his hand to quiet her.
“It’s alright, Ambassador. I understand that is a question that is on all of your minds. It’s not everyday the King requests to see you personally,” KIng Forgebringer said. “Habbie almost had a heart attack when I told her to push back my meetings. But merchants can wait. I want to talk to all of you.”
“Like I said, this city has not treated you kindly. The Prince was captured by slavers and the inn you were staying at was burnt to the ground. You have been jailed for your actions and then only released because Prince Selorn worked out a deal. Then when you think that trouble is behind you, there is an explosion at the wall which almost injures you all. Strange things are happening in this city and I don’t like it. Merchants and nobles are banging on the palace doors worrying that a single bit of their copper will be threatened. The heads of the mining guilds are worrying about security. Everyone is clutching their coin purses on the streets. Right now the city is afraid.”
“And you want us to do something about it?” Sigthyme asked.
The King put a hand on his beard.
“That’s just it. I allocate more funds for guards. I reach out to Pact of Thorns, The Robinhearts, and even The Titan’s League to get extra help. Still things seem dire out on the streets. And that is no way to run the city. It seems like you all are almost bad omens to my city,” King Forebringer paused for an uncomfortable amount of time. “Adventurers are sometimes the solution to the problem, but other times they are just part of the cause.”
The group kind of exchanged looks before Juniper spoke up.
“Sir, we really do not mean to bring harm to your city. We all came here for our separate reasons, but none of us expected that this would happen to us,” Juniper said. “Really at this point we are trying to leave.”
“Really? Leave Xylon? How come?” The King asked.
“Well…obviously we care about our friend Riffen..uh.. Prince Selorn. We want to see him returned to his home as quickly and safely as possible,” Juniper said.
“We were going to head to Frost Haven with the army,” Sigthyme said.
“Until they left,” Grace finished.
“Yes, I have heard all about the dealings with the Soulon Army,” King Forgebringer said. “But is Frost Haven still your destination?”
“Yes, sir,” Juniper said.
“Hmmm. I see,” The King said. “Well do not feel like I am trying to get rid of you. I do believe that your presence here in Xylon can be useful. However, if you do want to leave, I will not bar you from leaving.”
“We are still working out the details to ensure the Prince’s safe travels,” Pria said. “Once those are figured out, they will head North.”
“Understood. And once you reach Frost Haven and the Prince is safely home, then what? What are your plans after that?”
Again the group exchanged looks.
“I guess we haven’t really figured it out, yet,” Sigthyme said.
The King chuckled a bit to himself.
“A group without a destination or a plan. That can be quite fun. Quite dangerous too,” King Forgebringer said. “Sometimes I envy the adventurer that can just walk the roads and camp out in the woods, never knowing what is going to happen next.”
“But don’t you live in this fancy palace with tons of gold?” Grace asked as Pria let out a sigh.
“Very true, Miss. But being the King is not only about sleeping in a fancy bed or sitting in a fancy room. The people look up to me as their leader. I must do what’s best for my people to make sure they thrive. I quell their fears and empower their dreams. I believe that everyone within this city has a chance to be something great. They just need a chance. Security, wealth, education. All of these can be paths that allow the people to thrive,” King Forgebringer said. “I do not take my responsibilities lightly and I do not take for granted the position I was born into. My Father founded this city and I want to see it reach a whole new level. Even all this talk about true unification between the three Kingdoms could lead to greater prosperity for the entire Kingdom of Mardrec.
“True unification? What’s that?” Juniper asked.
“Right now the three kingdoms, Mardrec, Soulon, and Ohn’serine are a loosely connected Confederacy. No one kingdom truly rules over the others. Some things are uniform like free trade and travel, but each respective King controls their kingdom. Unification would bring all three kingdoms under one flag, one rule. An united people east of The Gaea Mountains. Right now it is just a loose idea, but it may happen one day,” King Forgebringer said.
“Do you think that’s best?” Sigthyme asked.
“Obviously true unification has its positives and negatives. Each seat of power is hesitant to give up what they have. Some don’t see a need for it. In the past we were unified as we fought against the marauders and dark powers at our gates. Now the war is over and people are quickly forgetting what it was like. People want a lasting peace but peace is not something that comes freely,” King Forgebringer explained. “Dark powers could once again rise out of the west and in the middle of the continent sits a large forest full of ancient magic that could threaten our world. Even now troubling rumors are coming across the winds.”
“What sort of rumors?” Sigthyme asked.
“Rumors from Ohn’serine…” The King stopped himself. “Ah. Sorry. Those things are better left to people like me and my advisors. Nothing for all of you to worry about, of course.”
“Anyway, I believe we’ve taken up enough of your time,” Pria said, trying her best to change the subject and cut through the awkwardness.
“Yes, yes. Of course. But before you all leave here, is there anything I can help you with while you are here in my city? Any place you need to go? Anything you want to get done before leaving? I would hate to not extend my help as a thank you for rescuing Prince Selorn.”
The group exchanged glances with one another.
“Nothing for now I think,” Juniper said.
“Maybe we’ll think about it and let you know,” Sigthyme said.
“Very good,” King Forgebringer said. “Please let me know and enjoy the rest of your stay in my city. And of course, safe travels to Frost Haven.”
Header Photo Credit to Morgan Torevir’s page on WorldAnvil