Eagle’s Peak, the Brenin’s Castle in Gorna, is aflutter with activity. There is so much to do before the Brewfest Ball in a couple days. Usually, the celebration is focused in the market and outside the city walls, while the castle is more subdued.
This year is different for many reasons. The wet weather produced a bumper crop in Gyruff this year, although harvesting conditions in the mud were less than ideal. With the food shortage in the region over the last twenty years, any increase in food production is cause for celebration. Lady Alandra Morrick, Foreign Secretary, has recently signed a very lucrative trade agreement with Ambassador Dior Rhola of the Kingdom of Keoland (based in Niole Dra). Finally, four nobles (Lord Alvestar of Blodyn Cain, Lord Emyr of Daden Bryd, Lord Janos of Rhad Derwyth and Ullich ap Llen of Melgorn) have had their claims to cantrevs recognized by the Brenin (against and overruling the High Chancellor’s objections).
Instead of a small dinner, Chamberlain Lloyd ap Godwyn, head of the household servants, has been told to prepare for several hundred guests. This can only mean that either Caitlyn or Lady Alandra has been able to influence Brenin Rhys ap Colwyn, because High Chancellor Bran ap Aeron would never agree to such a lavish ball, much less choose to hold it in a Keoish style, supposedly honoring their foreign guests.
Rush orders for foods from throughout the duchy flood into the castle and down to the kitchens, cleverly hidden below the main level. Gnome constructed dumbwaiters and elevators allow the servants to prepare banquet tables out of sight and can produce them almost magically to the floor above. There will be roast dire boar on the spit, roast mutton, roast rabbit, buccal steaks, chicken on a stick, stuffed duck, smoked sturgeon, smoked river trout, smoked sausages, peas, squash, carrots, baked and stuffed potatoes, rice from the Downlands, cabbage, giant peas over an inch in diameter, giant green beans over a foot long, fresh apples, fresh pears, grapes, raisins, cranberries from the Downlands, giant apricots, trenchers, rye bread, flatbread, wafers, apple pie, apple cobbler, fine pear tarts, sponge cake, goat cheese, sharp cheddar, aged gouda, soups, stews and a variety of spices (ground salt, black pepper, ginger, honey, sorghum, mint, basil, garlic, beet sugar and almond milk). Bottles, kegs and casks of drink (mead, ale, blackberry wine, Keoish brandy, pear schnapps and others) are brought in by the wagonload.
Bolt after bolt of red, black and white cloth arrive. Seamstresses work into the night, sewing up Keoish and Gyri banners. Crafters fashion decorations of Gyruff’s Griffon presenting Keoland’s Lion with a cornucopia of foods. Musicians practice Keoish tunes and courtiers learn the steps of Keoish dances. Presents arrive from throughout the duchy in attempts to curry royal favor.
The servants in the kitchen never notice the small shadow as it darts from cart to cart or slips under tables. There is too much going on to prepare for the ball, so the small shadow raids and pillages the deserts left out to cool…
Caitlyn ap Rhys tosses her long brown hair back out of her eyes as she looks through her gowns. “What should I wear to the ball?”
The blond Jasmine Neheli looks up at her friend with her focused brown eyes. “You know Bran won’t let you.”
Caitlyn quips back, “I’m not going to give him the chance to tell me I can’t go. The Brewfest Ball is here in Eagle’s Peak, my father’s castle. Bran can’t forbid me from my own home, and I’ll just avoid him until the party.”
Leara Rhola, who looks like she could be Jasmine’s twin, giggles. “Caitlyn, you are such a bad influence! – You sneak out whenever you want and don’t get in trouble. Generally, I’m jealous, but father says I can go this year. Some sort of deal was arranged between your father and the Kingdom, so they are celebrating. At any rate, I’ll get to wear my gold gown. How about you Jasmine?”
The very serious Jasmine pauses with a gown in each hand. “I shall be representing House Neheli at the party tonight. None of the rest of the family can make it, so they are depending on me. Caitlyn, I think you should go with the forest green. It suits you.”
Leara has edged her way around to the wardrobe and grabs a suit of form fitting leather armor with strips of leather forming a skirt. “Unless you want to wear this to the party!” She can barely contain her giggle.
“Leara!! Put that back! – I never should have told you about that.” Caitlyn grabs for the armor as Leara gleefully flees from her.
Jasmine looks stern, “Caitlyn, I don’t see why you go to those fight clubs. You could get hurt, and then what would Bran say?”
“He would probably be delighted that I’m practicing my weapon skills. The High Chancellor is big on following the Old Ways. It isn’t enough that the tutors drill me on the names and uses of every plant, how to properly greet a fey and all about nature. He would probably appreciate my getting out and learning to defend myself and lead.”
Leara pauses enough to contribute: “I don’t think either the Griffon Guard or Chosen of Calisse would see it that way, though. Those guys have no sense of humor.”
“I still don’t understand why you do it. Ancient Flan custom and walking barefoot in the mud are hardly appropriate for a princess.” Jasmine pulls out a delicate diadem featuring a large emerald, “Here, wear this with it. You’ll look lovely.”
“Gotcha!” Caitlyn finally catches Leara and takes the leather armor away. “Sometimes, I think I’ll just go mad, staying here in this boring castle all the time. I just want something different in my life.”
Leara pants, “The gladiator arena is terribly romantic, though, isn’t it? – Gritty fights to subdue your opponent, while the crowd cheers you on. Nothing but you and your wits against a vicious opponent…”
Caitlyn, “You should come with me next time.”
Leara steps back, “Oh, I don’t know. It sounds a little too violent for me.”
Caitlyn looks at Jasmine, who responds: “Don’t look at me. I know better.”
Leara almost steps on a pair of soft green shoes and deftly changes the subject. “Oh, these elvish boots would go with that dress!”
Gerwyn Mudd, a poor street urchin who walks the marketplace looking for his next meal, stops near the new and mysterious Baklunish merchants from across the mountains to the west. He’s sure many of those goods left town a day ago aboard orc merchant wagons, yet they are back in the city today. The two veiled exotic women tending the cart are covered head to toe with only their tanned hands and green eyes exposed. Gerwyn wonders what the women look like underneath when a pompous pale skinned blond man, obviously from Keoland, approaches the cart. Curious, Gerwyn gets closer to hear part of the conversation.
“What do you mean you’re sold out?!” Eldan the young Suloise man from Keoland asked as he brushed his windblown blond hair from his deep blue eyes.
“I am sorry sir, but we’ve had trouble keeping a stock of items,” Vada, the veiled Baklunish woman with bright emerald eyes maneuvers her market cart between herself and her customer, “since the princess expressed an interest in goods from across the mountains to the West.”
Eldan Gregaine was becoming “How am I supposed to go to the Brewfest Ball without suitable presents for the Grand Duke and his family?”
“We have these wonderful carpets from the Sultanate of Arir. The finest craftsmanship… you can see the deep blues, greens and…”
“Carpets? Tapestries? Are you kidding? Those are way too large to carry into the ball.”
“I am sorry sir. It is all we have left until we can make another trek across the mountains back to Ber-Gathy.
As he circles the cart, Eldan spies a jeweled bronze decanter hidden against the cart side, “Wait, what about that?”
The youngish woman apologizes but stays firm, “I am sorry sir. It has already been promised to another. It is not for sale.”
“Who is your buyer? – I will pay you double whatever he’s offering.” Eldan immediately regrets not asking what the other buyer has offered, but he needs to get into the ball.
The girls’ emerald eyes flicker, but the habib and solid veil obscure most of her facial expressions. “As I said, sir. It has already been promised to another and I cannot sell it. However, you are welcome to speak with him this afternoon as he comes to pick it up.”
Eldan storms off into the marketplace in search of suitable presents. Where is he going to find something exotic and exciting enough to win the heart of the princess?
A few minutes later, Seldarn de Frame, a mixed race human with fair skin, brown hair and steely blue eyes marches into the marketplace with straight posture, shoulders back, as if on parade. The crest on his chest marks him as a member of The Blessed Heart, a mercenary/merchant organization that specializes in security for merchants as much as trading goods themselves. After a few precise military turns, Seldarn marches directly to the Baklunish cart and presents his bag of coins without saying a word.
Vada quickly palms the bag of coins with one hand and smoothly produces the jeweled bronze decanter with the other. “Pleasant doing business with you sir!”
Seldarn nods formally and begins his trek to Eagle’s Peak, the Brenin’s Castle in Gorna, unaware of the man with a small curved assassin’s dagger following him.
Gerwyn decides to write the Marcher off and go back to the Baklunish women, but they and their cart are gone…
Rhys ap Rhys stands before a full length mirror. He wears white tunic adorned with gold epaulettes, golden cuffs on the sleeves, a single royal medal and a golden sash. His short sandy brown curly hair is coiffed, with just enough wildness to attract the ladies. The color of his hair naturally changes with the seasons, rarely the same from one season to the next. His blue eyes and natural grace are sure to win and break many hearts at the ball.
“Come on Rhys, you look perfect already!” Dietrich, a young Suloise man impatiently decries. Dietrich’s mother was a close friend of Princess Kialla from the old country and the two have been friends since they were young children. His blonde hair never seems to settle down and he dresses like a ranger from the wild lands to the west.
“Yes, let’s get going loverboy, I don’t want to be late for archery practice.” Dholas, Rhys’ young half-elf friend teases. His long white hair belies his grey elf parentage, but his human blood has more of a wood elf complexion.
“Indeed. Master Elisedd is probably upset already.” A seated Khaleed calmly speaks with a certain formality and precision, just as he does everything. He is the son of Ser Ankur, a Paladin of Al’Akbar and Peer of the Realm. Khaleed stands up in a smooth motion, picking up his shortbow and begins walking toward the door in his quilted armor.
Ifan ap Olfred, the largest and strongest of Rhys’ friends, gets up and flexes his muscular bare chest. “Yes, we should go, after all, if you get any prettier, there won’t be any girls for the rest of us!” Ifan’s head is shaved with a skull tattoo matching the geometric patterns on both arms, but he sports a full curly brown beard.
Lady Alandra Morrick straightens her gown. This ball represents a significant investment of time and effort over the last year. The Keoish are finally seeing the Grand Duchy of Geoff as a nation of (near) equals to be dealt with. This latest treaty with Ambassador Dior Rhola proves it. The last twenty years have been a constant struggle against bias, stereotype and pre-conceptions of both sides. The old traditionalists of the western cantrevs cling to the old ways and refuse to see the benefits of collaboration with other nations and peoples.
The Keoish have been slow to accept that not all Gyri are as… rustic… as some of the traditional Flan of the west. Most of the country are accepting of the wealth, prosperity and new ideas brought in by trade and immigration from other lands. By working together, both sides can benefit and enrich each other. – Yes, this trade agreement will go a long way to healing the divide between our nations and peoples.
Once this celebration is complete, the next task is Prince Rhys ap Rhys. The boy is charming, handsome and graceful in ways that seem otherworldly, but he has no common sense and does not have the respect of the people. There must be some way to allow him to learn to be a Grand Duke before he has to ascend to the Griffon Chair… As she looks over the announcement of the celebratory Brewfest Ball, an idea comes to her. Here is a perfect way to begin seasoning the boy who will become the next Grand Duke…
High Chancellor Bran ap Aeron fumes in his room. Lady Alandra has gone behind his back and made too many concessions. When they disagreed, she went over his head to the Brenin, who readily signed over whatever she wanted. Does she not realize that these foreign dogs have no respect for Gyri culture, religion or The Land? The Brenin is The Land and The Land is the Brenin. Previous Brenin Owen ap Luth died for his country to become the Green Man, embodiment of the Spirit of the Land. While Bran didn’t always respect Owen, at least he had enough honor to sacrifice himself for The Land and the true people of Gyruff. This new Brenin, Rhys ap Colwyn, is even more useless than before his foreign princess bride died. Worse, his son, Rhys ap Rhys, is even more worthless than his father!
Caitlyn is only half as spoiled as her brother. She was only nine when Princess Kialla died, giving Bran an opportunity to expose her to the ways of her father’s people, although her father wasn’t really one of his people. How much different things would have been if Llwyr Melwyn Greatarm had risen to the Griffon Throne? – Llwyr Melwyn was a man of the people, a man of honor and one who understood the Old Ways. Nothing for it now.
Kelvan caresses the bronze urn purchased from the Baklunish women in the marketplace. It was the last thing they had and is just what the princess is looking for. With this gift, he’s sure to win her heart and House Meridian will rise in power and prestige. This will finally show his father that he is worthy to take over the family business someday. – It is incredibly hard to live in the shadow of a great man and hero of the Giant Wars. A man today cannot get the opportunity for notoriety and honor that his father’s generation had. Making a good marriage isn’t the same as defeating multiple giants with a magic guisarme. – They say that his father is from the greatest generation, something that is impossible to live up to today. – If only we had another war. Then, we would have opportunities again…
“Alright lads, let’s get this organized and by the numbers.” Ser Korum ap Melwyn, hero of the War Against the Giants and a Captain (Braichdyn) of the Griffon Guard, addresses his men. “Cymorth (Major) Cedric the Whiteflame (second in command of the Griffon Guard) will be checking on us, but security at the ball is up to us. We have, at our disposal, over a hundred castle guards who are pulling extra guard duty for this event, but there will be a few hundred guests in attendance. The castle guards will help make sure none of the guests walk off with anything and be of some use in a fight, but security ultimately rests with us.” The Brewfest Ball is just a big party and there is no reason to expect trouble, but it is always best to be prepared. Confiscation of the weapons will help, as will assigning duties to the men to keep them from dropping their guard.
“Ser Dunbar, you have the front gate. Back up the Chamberlain. He’s in charge for who is allowed in. – Most of the guests will be carrying gifts, so check them for weapons. Position two of your men to collect any weapons larger than a dinner knife. Use the southeast tower as an armory. The rest of your men will be in charge of the castle security and castle guards.
“Ser Logan, you and your men are to protect the royals and the court. I’m expecting Prince Rhys ap Rhys, Princess Caitlyn merch Rhys, High Chancellor Bran ap Aeron, Radiant Servant Alena (Minister of Public Health), Ambassador Seracine, Minister Davyth Medowood (Agriculture), Lady Alandra Morrick (Foreign Secretary), Lord Harrison Mojo (Master of Coin, Weights and Measures), Lord Bolthar Bloodstone (Minister of Public Works) and Maga Sheila Eldoran (Minister of Justice).” <at> “I know that’s only six of you to protect ten, plus we’ll have a lot of other nobles, foreign ambassadors and other important people about.”
Ser Dunbar ‘the Axe’ Brasstwister, a hill dwarf originally from Urtcheck, offers “I can spare you two knights.”
Ser Logan Highhelm, now a middle-aged human knight, responds “I would appreciate that, my friend, though I also believe some of the court can handle themselves.” He remembers all too well the beating he and two other knights received from Bran ap Aeron, but that was twenty years ago. “I think we should focus on protecting the royals and giving assistance to members of the court if any trouble kicks up.”
Korum stifles a chuckle as he remembers the event. Bran ap Aeron was interviewing for (and getting) the position of High Chancellor from the young Brenin, Rhys ap Colwyn. Bran was middle aged, but could still handily defeat three armed and armored trained knights with his bare hands. Korum wasn’t sure if time had slowed those deadly reflexes, but he was sure he didn’t want to be the one to test them. It was a simpler time, despite being refugees during the war. – Ser Logan has a point. Maga Sheila has a well-earned reputation as a wizardess and crime is at incredibly low levels, although there are disturbing allegations against her. “Very well, but assign a knight to Lady Alandra, Ambassador Seracine and Minister Davyth, even just as a courtesy.”
[[Bran ap Aeron Reporting |