Chapter 7: Meetings and Greetings

Sol-Falena Royal Palace Training Court Yard, 337 Solar Year.

Five soldiers laid flat on their backs, helpless, as a lone warrior stood above them spinning his halberd effortlessly like a baton in his hands above his head, before bringing the mighty weapon at last to a slower revolution. Finally, he brought it to a stationary position by his side. "Enough!" spoke the only standing man in the room.

"How do you men expect to be able to protect the Queendom, if you can't even last two minutes in a fight where you out number your opponent 5-to-1? You must train harder! You ladies, are lucky this is only a training exercise. I assure you the next time you clash steel with some Nagarean Acolytes, they won't be as merciful to you as I am. That's all for today, and next time..." he finished speaking while picking up a practice sword that was next to his feet. He handed it to one of the defeated men who was now on his feet, but clenching his back in pain, "next time, don't be in such a rush to attack. You leave yourself so obviously exposed a mere cadet could see you coming."

"Sir!" moaned the soldier as he and his four other compatriots hopped and wobbled out of the training court yard back toward the palace. As the five men in their orange and red uniforms made their way to the door of the courtyard, it suddenly open and there before them was a man dressed in the full black, white, and gold attire of a Queen's knight, complete with a rapier-styled sword by his side. He walked through the doorway and stared down these men with a very serious look on his face as though he were trying to figure something out. The knight was not very big, but his jet black hair and brown eyes all worked together with the rest of his face to form a very resolved and steady, but attractive, appearance.

Looking at these men as they walked slowly passed him, their hands clutched to the parts of their bodies that hurt the most. "Ahh, very good I take it Robert is nearby, I've been looking for him all morning." stated the Queen's knight in a matter-a-fact sort of way. One of the hurt men replied, "Yes, Sir Graess, he's over there." Pointing to the corner of the field where he now saw his brother putting the practice weapons back in their proper locations. "Very good," said Graess in a pleased tone and then added, "carry on."

The men saluted and continued limping back to the palace. Graess approached the other Queen's Knight who was, likewise, wearing the typical black and white uniform garb with golden trim and said, "There you are Robert. You know, brother, you should go easier on the men. They won't be much use to the Queen, if they can't even hold a sword upright without being in intense pain."

The taller and older Knight, who also had similar dark hair and eyes, but whose face wasn't quite as attractive as his brothers, due to the scars he had received from the last war. The scars, his large muscular build, and the 6-foot Halberd, he wielded effortlessly, all gave him a certain intimidating demeanor, which left very few wanting to face this large man in combat.

Looking down toward his brother he stated, "Her Majesty doesn't pay me to go easy on them. Besides it not my fault, if they can't learn to dodge a basic thrust. I guess their reflexes aren't as fast as your brain, brother." Picking up the last two practice swords, "How about it Graess? For old time's sake?" "Sorry, another time, Commander Alen wishes to speak with us. That's why I came here. He and Rose are waiting for us in his private office." he retorted.

With that the two men started heading to the palace themselves, both arguing with a brotherly affection about who would have won their potential duel had they had the time to have it out. The older claiming, he was ahead by 1 when accounting for all their past duels. Quickly, he was rebuked by his younger brother who firmly held they were tied in their number of wins. This banter carried on all the way back to the palace, stopping only at the door of the audience chamber of the Commander of the Queen's Knight Alen Aethelbald.

The two men entered the room gazing once again at the simple, yet familiar, decor that Commander Alen had enjoyed for several decades. The room had one round oak table in the middle with 4 oak chairs; one for each of the Queen's Knights. The walls, like the rest of the palace, were made of white marble. Alen, also, had several bookshelves filled with volumes and tomes spread through the whole room. Many of which he, himself, wrote dealing with every subject from warfare to gardening. It was no secret to the other knights that he loved to write more than anything.

There was also a small desk and chair in an adjacent corner of the room with huge stacks of parchment and ink, where the commander loved to spend his down time writing his thoughts and wisdom. He truly was a warrior poet if there ever was such a contradiction of terms. In the other corner was a large blue sofa long enough for even a man of Robert's size to lay straight across on and still have plenty of room.

Also, there were two giant bay-style windows one on the east and west sides of the room, where the sun's morning and evening rays could easily be viewed by any casual observer who happened to be in the room. Above the east window was a large flag with the image of the Dawn Rune emblazoned on it. Likewise, above the west window was a flag that supported the crest of the Twilight Rune. In the center of the room above the round table was a larger banner with the image of the Sun Rune glorified brightly upon its stitching.

As the two brothers walked further into the room they saw someone sitting by the east window. It was a female knight staring off into the distance of the horizon. She was a slender young beautiful woman dressed in the black, white, and golden trim of a Queen's Knight armor, but with several alterations for a female shape and figure of her size. The chest piece seemed more like a blouse with a V-shape insertion in the center, which revealed a bit more of her natural beauty. She liked to claim this not only made her more fashionable, but was a great tool to distract her foes during battle.

The lower piece of her uniform was a skirt in the same matching trim as the top along with the black boots she wore to complete her attire. Her face was very attractive; a natural beauty. She hardly ever had to wear makeup. She just always seemed to look her best, naturally.

In truth, even if she were not as attractive as she was, she still would not bother with all the extra accessories. Because, she was more concerned with perfecting her technique, than her appearance. She had red hair, which seemed fitting, because of her fiery and forthright personality. Her deep blue eyes, soft cheeks, and crimson lips made her irresistible to nearly every man under her command.

And finally at her sides, she wore two pairs of nunchucks. Each one had ivory handles and an iron chain that bound them together. She felt the weapons were suitable to her own personality: soft to the touch, beautiful to look at, but deadly and dangerous if underestimated.

The two brothers walked over to their seats. As she was leaving the window to meet them at the middle of the table, she said, "There you two are. We've been waiting for you all morning. Commander Alen got tired of waiting and had to go speak with Lady Cyrah about her upcoming journey. He said he'd be right back." The younger brother spoke up, "My sincerest apologies to the commander and to you, Lady Rose. It took longer than I expected to find my brother."

Suddenly, Robert spoke up too, "Don't lay this all at my feet. I told you before, I'll take care of the training and you take care of the meetings. It's not my fault he didn't remember to remind me." At which point, Graess spoke up, "What do you mean I didn't remind you? I told you twice yesterday." And with that the two brother started arguing over what had been and had not been said, much to the amusement of Rose who just rolled her eyes at the humorous sight she had become familiar with so long ago.

Then, the front door opened, the bickering stopped, and the three knights rose to their feet at attention as Commander Alen entered the room, "Ahh, very good we're all here. Because of time I'll keep this meeting brief." he said as he sat down and the other knights followed suit. Alen again spoke up in a tone that conveyed his age, wisdom, and power, "First, I want to share with you all the latest news about the new security threats on the southern side of..." As Alen started debriefing the knights about the current state of affairs, Rose's imagination started carrying her off as it normally did at such meetings. It's not that Alen was boring, but just a little long-winded in his speeches. The gift and curse of being a poet she told herself. Besides she was a person of action, not talk.

Information was all good and fine to her, but that was something that was usually left for Graess. He was the brains of the operation after His and Her Majesty. For Rose, life was simple: protect the princess. Princess Olinda was the younger daughter of Alen, and the same age as Rose. They were like sisters, but as everyone in the palace knew Rose was far more mature, worldly, and quick on her feet.

Olinda, by contrast, had a radiant beauty about her, that was surpassed only by her curiosity and desire to experience new things, which kept Rose on her toes at all times. And for her this was just fine. She loved her job and she would die to protect the princess. Every other meeting detail was secondary to this most important fact.

Rose noticed that she had dazed off a bit too much, and not wanting to be disrespectful, she turned her eyes back to Alen. There before her was this older man. In fact, he was old enough to be her grandfather, and yet she thought of him like a father, which was fitting she thought because she had never known hers very well as he died when she was just a young girl, and Alen was indeed a very fatherly-figure not just for her, but the whole Queendom too, she thought.

It was indeed impressive to her, because Commander Alen seemed very ordinary on the surface. His eyes were hazel, not that you could tell so easily because of all the wrinkles that surrounded his face. For the past three years, Falena had been at war with its southwestern neighbor Nagarea. And Alen had spent nearly every waking hour devising strategies to protect the Queendom, which had, indeed, taken its toll on Alen's physical appearance. The man was nearly bald, say for the gray hair on the sides of his head which were connected by his long graybeard. He was fairly tall and skinny. However, in his black and gold Commander of the Queen's Knight attire and single-bladed weapon, a gentlemen's sword, created the whole aura of a sagely warrior that Rose knew ought to be both respected and honored.

A new voice spoke up that got Rose's attention so that she quickly turned toward Graess' direction. He said, "Yes, your Commandership. I will deploy the men immediately as you suggested." Alen in turn acknowledge the statement and began to talk about his last piece of news with his Knights. "Now, we're going to be having a lot of guests arriving shortly, and I want to make sure that they're both taken care of and watch carefully; some more than others. So we need to stay vigilant and alert for trouble. Robert, I want you to take some men and head for the Southern border. The Emissary from the Nagarea Theocracy should be arriving shortly for the quarterly troop and weapon inspection per our peace treaty."

Seeing Robert's face take on a look of disgust. Alen reminded him that these regular inspections were part of the terms of the peace agreement that both sides had to comply with. "I don't like it any more than you, but if troop and weapon limits are what is require to give the citizens of Falena a reprieve from the death and chaos of war. I will take this inspection on the chin. At least for now." added the old swordsman.

Robert didn't like it, but he was a soldier and would obey the order that his lord had given him whether he liked it or not. At this point, Rose chimed in, "He may be an Ambassador, but he's not very diplomatic that's for sure. He's way too creepy, not to mention sinister. The last time he was here, he ran into the princess and me in the palace and in spite of both of us introducing ourselves. He didn't even acknowledge me and only bowed at the Princess and said, 'It is an honour to meet one who art worthy' and moved on. Talk about rude! He didn't even so much as turn his head toward me, the jerk." she finished now a bit more flustered than she had been a moment ago prior to recalling the memory.

"Regardless," countered Alen, "he is the man that Nagarea chose to send. So, we will abide by that protocol. Just as we choose who we send to their nation, whether they like it or not. Besides, you don't have to worry about him Rose, because I received word this morning from Estrise that our other diplomats from the Island Nations Federation will be arriving most likely in the morning. Thus, I have already requested that Princess Olinda go and officially greet these potential new allies for us. Rose you will, of course, accompany her as her bodyguard and their escort as well. I don't have to tell you how important these negotiations are. Right now we need the Island Nation Federation and its vast trade network connections to bolster our own economy. If we are truly going to recover from this war quickly enough for the people to get back to their own normal lives we need more trade routes. So, make sure their arrival and escort to Sun Palace is a peaceful one."

Graess spoke up once more, "Sir, then I take it you'll want me escorting Princess Cyrah to Stormfist so that we may rendezvous with Sir Marcus Godwin? Then we would go to West Palace and then come back to the Sun Palace, is that correct?" "No," spoke the gentle older man, "I will be the one going back to Stormfist to escort Marcus and Cyrah for the Twilight Ritual." "But sir," spoke up the young knight, "it has been my job to protect her these last 7 years and I…" he said with a tone of proudness in his voice before he was interrupted by her father.

"You're right it was your job, but soon it will be Marcus' job. He won the Sacred Games. As such the job of protecting the next Queen is his; just as it is now mine. Regardless, Graess I want you to go with Rose and my daughter to meet these Islanders. No one can assess and read people as well as you can. And I would be a fool not to take advantage of your skills with these new people with whom we know very little about. Meet these Ambassadors. Talk to them on the way here and then report to me anything of note or importance. Are we understood?" spoke Alen in a tone that left little doubt the meeting was over and they had their assignments.

At this, they all spoke the Falenan Oath as was their custom at the end of every meeting. In unison they declared: Let our mercy as deep as the Feitas and our authority as powerful as the Sun be revealed to the entire World.

With that Alen got up and left the table telling the others how Cyrah was waiting for him at the dock and he had to go. Robert turned to the other two and conveyed his disappointment and jealousy. For he loved Estrise as it was the two brothers' hometown. In addition, he too shared in Rose's disgust for Nyoka the Ambassador from the Nagarea Theocracy. He would much rather have met the new Island Ambassadors, as he figured they couldn't be any worse than his calculating foreign weapons inspector and his obnoxiously pretentious apprentice Razi.

Robert left the room a firm grip on his halberd, annoyed, but always ready to follow his orders. The room was now empty with the exception of the young Rose and the older Queen's Knight tactician. Rose was first to speak, "I know these trade talks with the Island Nations are important and all that, but it just seems like so much is happening at once: Cyrah marrying Marcus, that creepy theocratic Inspector, and now these Island Diplomats. When did we suddenly get so busy? I really hope her Majesty and his Commandership know what they are doing."

"Those two have been ruling this country for over a decade now through war and peace. I trust they can handle all that is unfolding before our eyes." responded the sword bearer. Taking on a more cheerful posture, she retorted, "You're right and if I'm not mistaken, I believe I saw Olinda packing this morning for the journey to Estrise. What do you say we go and check on her and see if she is ready to go?"

They left the meeting room and proceeded upstairs to Princess Olinda's room. Graess said he would wait outside the door as it was not fit for him to enter a lady's room unannounced. Rose rolling her eyes, let out a small giggle, and proceeded to go into the room as she had a thousand times before.

As she entered there before her was a beautiful young woman. She had platinum colored hair just like her mother and sister. This was a trait typical of the Falenan royal family, but unlike her mother and sister who had straight hair, her hair was curly and about shoulder length. Her face was every bit as lovely as the sunrise with her gentle blue eyes and deep red lips. Her form was the epitome of a venous-type figure. Every curve on her was perfectly portioned.

In reality, many men secretly were disappointed that it was Cyrah, who the Sacred Games were for and not Olinda, as many men would have traded their weight in gold just for a chance to kiss the rapturous younger princess of Falena.

Rose was well aware of this fact. And more than a few daring suitors who had gotten too close to the princess felt the wrath of her bodyguard. With most spending about a week in a hospital bed recovering from their injuries inflicted by her nunchucks. Moreover, in addition to her alluring physical appearance, Olinda was, also, different from her sister in that she had a real compassion for others; even strangers. Because of her status and popularity, she did not get out of the palace much, and thus had a great curiosity about the outside world and how things operated beyond the palace walls.

"Are you ready to go, Princess?" asked Rose? "Are you kidding? I've been packed since last week. I really have been living out of my suitcases for the last few days waiting for the chance to go to Estrise. I absolutely love the ocean and a chance to get to meet new people. Plus, not just Falenans, but people from another country. People who live on islands, run on the sands and beaches, swim with mermaids and dolphins, and sail on huge ships. It sounds so exciting! I just can't wait..." spoke the elated young woman.

"Settle down. We'll meet these people soon enough. Besides, I doubt there will be any cute guys our age in this group. Probably, just a bunch of stodgy old politicians with bad suntans." replied the more pragmatic of the two. "Oh, you're no fun. Why do you always have to do that, be so down. Even if they are old, I'm sure they'll will be very interesting, cute guy or not." said Olinda with a still happy cadence.

"Oh, Princess... Changing the subject, are these all the bags you're taking? (She nodded her head yes). Good we won't need the attendant. Graess is right outside the door, and he can carry them for you to the ship. GRAESS! You can come in now. Olinda needs your help." shouted Rose. The male knight entered the room and respectfully bowed before the Princess, and said "Yes, my Lady, how may I be of assistance?"

Not giving the Princess a chance to respond, Rose pointed to the bags, and told him that the Princess wanted them carried to the ship. Turning to the Princess, Graess made eye contact with her to confirm this was her wish. She nodded her head and smiled as he did as he was asked. He remembered to bow politely before leaving the royal family member's room.

When the three arrived at Estrise with their small company of soldiers it was nearly nightfall. Alen had already made arrangements and rented a house for the three of them to use while they awaited the arrival of the foreign diplomats.

Some of the soldiers stood guard outside, while others stayed at a nearby inn. They did this in shifts. Inside the trio had found their respective rooms, as each headed off to bed early after a long hard day of travel, and knowing they'd need their rest for the interesting day that awaited them tomorrow.

Olinda was the first in the morning to wake up followed shortly by her two escorts. The soldiers were already in front of the house waiting for them to leave. The small group made their way through the hustle and bustle of the early-morning shoppers on the city streets. As they walked through the crowd most people stepped aside when they saw soldiers in uniform marching through.

Many of the citizens started whispering to one another. It was one thing to see soldiers walking in formation through the streets of Estrise in the morning. However, it was even stranger to see two Queen's Knights following them. As their famous black, gold, and white uniforms gave their high position away instantly.

But even more amazing than all of that was the sight of a gorgeous young woman, who walked between her knights and soldiers in her beautiful light purple dress, which captured all her womanly figure much to the enjoyment of the men on the street and to the chagrin of their wives. But, even they couldn't deny that this young woman was indeed a sight to behold.

There were a few whispers in the crowd that she must be a noble's daughter. But, then noticing her platinum hair coupled with her Queen's Knight escort, many started realizing that she was undoubtedly one of the two princesses of Falena. Some in the crowd started to bow while others simply stood in amazement as this was the first time that they had ever seen a member of the royal family so up close and personal.

Princess Olinda, merely, smiled and waved as she was a bit embarrassed by all the attention. Yet, they continued on their way through the crowds to a small café that had been closed down for the day by the owners, at the request of Alen as a comfortable place for them to wait in private until the ship arrived carrying their foreign guests.

When they arrived at the café the owner and his wife welcomed them. The old wife directed them to a fancy table where hot tea was already waiting for them. Meanwhile, the guards remained outside the door disbursing the crowds of onlookers and gawkers. After about an hour or so, they observed a large foreign ship enter the harbor. The ship looked like it had been damaged in a few places and had quickly been repaired by a much older and shabbier style of wood on its haul.

"Not exactly the type of ship I was expecting." Rose stated and then continued, "I thought these islanders knew how to construct better looking ships than this?" A voice spoke up, "I believe they do. This vessel seems to be of a good stock, but those repairs look recent. Even if the wood used to repair it does not. I'm sure they will have some interesting stories to tell us of their recent travels." concluded Graess.

"Well, no point sitting around talking about it. Let's go meet us some Ambassadors." declared Rose in a bit cheerier voice than usual, which caused Olinda and Graess both to have a surprise look on their faces. "What!? I'm just trying to use my diplomatic side. Is it not to your liking?" she retorted. The three laughed and proceeded on their way outside to the harbor to greet their new visiting emissaries.

With the Vingerhut safely in port, the main deck door opened as passengers and crew began to unload. Olinda and her company watched from a distance as these strange and well-tanned crewmembers began to carry off the cargo from another access point near the stern of the ship. However, at the mid-section exit the last two remaining soldiers from Razril stepped off and stood at attention waiting for their charges.

As the three Ambassadors from the Island Nation Federation and their entourage made their way off the Vingerhut, they could not help but draw the attention of the crowds that had already made their way to the port at the sight of the Falena Royal Family and the famous Queen's Knights. Following the orders of Commander Alen, Graess began applying his keen observation and deductive skills to work on the Islanders.

The first was an older man with gray hair, dressed in fine robes, and seemed to have all the trappings of a seasoned politician. Yet, he didn't seem to carry himself in a manner that would suggest he thought he was above others as most politicians do. No, he seemed humbler and willing to serve others, as opposed to being served. An interesting, but reasonable, choice given the nature of their mission Graess thought to himself.

The second was a middle-age woman with faded blond hair. She wore glasses, was a bit pale, and had a little hunch in her back. In addition to those features and the book she held in her hand, it told the Knight that she was the scholar among them. This probably meant she was very well-read, knowledgeable, wise, and cunning; no doubt the brains of the group reasoned Graess.

The last ambassador, immediately, took the knight by surprise the moment he caught a clear look at his face. Unlike the previous two older seasoned politically attune ambassadors, this one appeared quite young. He looked to be no older than 20 or so thought the knight.

It was clear to the Falenan swordsman that by his stance and the way he carried himself that those dual swords he wore at his sides were for more than just decoration. He was a warrior that was obviously clear to him. Why, however, would the Federation send one so young and obviously not a politician? Perhaps he was a nobleman's son or he was a son of some important official back in the Federation that pulled the right strings to get him to join this important mission. Regardless of the reason, Graess knew the young man seemed unusual, but nothing about his appearance struck him as dangerous or hostile; a least not yet.

As he turned to glance at Rose and the Princess, it was obvious to him that they as well had caught a glimpse at the handsome young ambassador. As Rose had apparently whispered something into the ear of Olinda, which caused her to turn red and smile a bit at Rose. After a moment of giggling quietly to themselves, they quickly recomposed themselves as the ambassadors approached the two knights and Princess.

Olinda spoke first, "Greetings from the Queendom of Falena, I am Princess Olinda Falenas, second daughter of Queen Elemark, Vicegerent of the Sun and ruler of Falena. It is an honor to welcome you here today in the spirit of friendship my dear Ambassadors from the Island Nations." With that the 3 ambassadors bowed slightly to show their respect and the older Desmond then spoke up: "We, likewise, are honored to meet you your Highness, and on behalf of the Island Nations Federation we extend the same spirit of friendship to you, Princess Olinda."

Next, Lazlo stepped forward a bit and spoke in a quiet, but strong, tone, "My Lady, please accept this gift on behalf of my people as a symbol of friendship and partnership between our two great countries." She reached out her hand slowly. He, likewise, reached out with his hand placing a smaller version of Obel's golden seal into her hands.

As their two hands touched, they both made eye contact for a moment. Immediately, however, she turned her face and pulled the token closer to her chest. Concurrently, she returned to a more formal pose and said in a soft womanly tone, "Thank you, for your gift! It is lovely. This way please, I have been instructed by my father to escort you back to the palace and we don't want to keep you waiting anymore."

Signaling her escort," We shall proceed back to Sun Palace, were we can have more informal introductions. Some of my men will stay here and help your attendants and crew gather your belongings and supplies and bring them to the palace shortly." As everyone started making their way through the crowds that we're now so big, the guards had to start pushing people back to make a path for all the officials and Queen's Knights.

They made their way to a smaller boat near a delta of a river and were directed to board by the palace official. Olinda boarded the small craft followed by Rose. Then, Rose turned and spoke up addressing everyone saying, "This way please. Thanks to the Feitas River we can access nearly every part of Falena in a short period of time. Plus, this craft is owned by the royal family and thus uses a Flowing rune to help increase our speed as we travel against the current. We'll be at our capitol of Sol-Falena in no time at all. So, please everyone let's get aboard."

Arriving on dry land once again was a blessing to Daniel who finally had started to regain his complexion, well, what little he had, but when he saw the new boat he looked anxious and pale again. "Don't worry!" said Tanya to him quietly, "River rafts don't have the same motion, waves, and gales winds of the sea, you should be fine. Seriously though, you should have known this didn't I tell you to read up on the intel report of this place." "Yes, you did my Lady, but my stomach. I couldn't read much, but I will once we get to the palace." said her nauseous servant. With everyone aboard, the ship took off like a flash, and in no time was making its way upriver and bound for home.

Lazlo was looking out over the side of the ship at the green lush landscape along the Feitas River when Desmond approached him. "That princess is quite a looker, eh Lazlo? If the rest of her family is as beautiful as her, no wonder they're the ones in charge. Haha." Lazlo smiled at the jest of his older companion, but still kept his eyes on the passing scenery, and added, "She is, indeed, very beautiful, but..." Desmond stopped chuckling himself as he stared at his friend now, "But, but what? What is wrong?"

The ageless warrior spoked in a hush tone so as not to be overheard by other crewmembers that were walking by, "Recently, I was told, warned rather by an old ally, or at least I think she is, that something bad was going to happen here. And I think it has to do with that girl: The Princess. Princess Olinda." "Are you sure?" asked Desmond puzzlingly. "Yes, this seer… witch… named Leknaat, has appeared to me many times in the past. Especially during the War, ever since I got this rune (holding up his left hand).

"Anyhow, she warned me a dark force was plotting something terrible in this country and that a silver-haired maiden of royal blood was the key to it all." "That seems a bit vague. What are you going to do?" asked the older man. "Trust me, for her that's not as vague as you would think, but I don't know yet what I am going to do. For now, we'll just wait and see how things play out. One thing is for sure, we can't let this plot whatever it may be interfere with the treaty talks. Flare is counting on us." said the bearer of the Rune of Punishment with a very definitive tone.