Unfortunately, I don't own Kristen Britain's amazing story.
It was overwhelmingly hot. The sun beat down on the land, the stone walls of the castle blocking any breeze there might be and turning the throne room into a suffocating, stifling heat. The unmoving air was thick and heavy, making it hard to even inhale.
King Zachary drummed his fingers on the wooden armrests of his throne, longing for the open air of his homeland. Instead, he was trapped, hoplessly, wasting away in a life that was planned and decided, instead of free to wonder the land, travel the seas, escape.
But, instead, he sat slouched in his chair, enclosed in a guarded throne room, his terrier Finder at his feet, awaiting the entrance of Lauren and the mysterious Green Rider woman. Karigan G'ladheon, Lauren had told him. Of Clan G'ladheon. A clan bought by the girl's father.
The clicking of heels alerted the king to their presence. Lauren and the girl both appeared before him, both bowing stiffly. The young woman, just a girl really, was much younger than she had appeared to be when she first arrived at the castle, Zachary noted.
She had come exhausted and fighting conciousness, but now she only looked small and timid.
Lauren began an introduction of the girl, but Zachary was tired and irritable, and hoped to escape the throne room as quickly as possible. "Dismissed, Captain."
Lauren froze, then snapped her mouth shut. "Yes, Sire." She bowed once more before departing, the small terrier at her heels.
"Finder!" he snapped. The dog sat, watching the Captain disappear from the throne room, before returning to the king's feet.
The Green Rider before him bit her lip nervously before casting her gaze towards the stone floor. "Clan G'ladheon?" he asked, watching the girl jump at his voice. "A bought clanship if I've been informed correctly," he said lazily, still remaining slumped in his throne.
The girl blushed and looked up, a fire lighting in her eyes. "A clanship your grandmother sanctioned," she snapped.
Zachary dismissed the sharp tone of the Rider, although a he was slightly taken aback by the sharp tone of the girl. Few had the nerve to speak to their king in such a way.
The king blinked tiredly. "Captain Mapstone has told me something of your journey. Of course, my counselors and I witnessed your unusal entrance." Zachary absentmindedly stroked his beard, recalling the incident. The girl had come in a whirl of speed, streaks of motion trailing behind her like running watercolours.
Suddenly, a familiar feelind crept over him, one of being watched, one that he had grown quite used to over the past few weeks. "But, that's all irrelevant at the moment," he said, quickly changing the subject. "Do you play Intrigue, Karigan G'ladheon?" he questioned.
The girl blinked in surprise, stuttering over her words. Finally clearing her throat, Karigan said, "I've played Intrigue."
"Good," replied the king, clapping his hands for a servant. The game was quickly set up, a chair being brought to the Rider and a table set between them. She looked quite confused, and the king spoke before she could ask questions, and possibly release any important information that an intruder to his throne room could hear.
"It's not as good without a Triad. Perhaps I should have had the captain stay, but this will do. I've not played for some time."
"But-" she started.
"Green or blue pieces?" he interrupted once again.
Zachary laughed. Of course, a predictable answer from a Green Rider. "Perfect," he smiled. Zachary stepped down to sit on the last step of the dais, his bones creaking as he rose, and began to set up the small, wooden figures. The set was the first he possessed as a boy, and despite the crude figures and simple materials, it was still his favourite.
Karigan had taken a seat across from him, looking confused and hesitant. "Now roll the dice, and we will see who possesses the stronger strategy."
Zachary absorbed himself in the game, attacking and succeeding in all of the battles. Her highest fighters were killed by his simple commoners, her spies lured into traps. Zachary had always enjoyed the game, but it seemed that the girl wasn't even trying. Intrigue games were known for their length, some matches lasting months, even years. But in two short hours, Zachary was able to 'kill' her king with the flick of his forefinger.
He frowned. "You told me you've played Intrigue before."
"I have," was all she replied. The king looked down at the board. Green pieces lay scattered on the surface, broken soldiers. Only a few of his blue pieces lay 'dead.'
"That was one of the sloppiest games I've ever seen." he chastised. "You had messengers. Green Riders use special talents. Why didn't you give your messangers special talents?"
"It's a game," she countered. "You can't just give pieces special abilities. I mean, the rules-"
Zachary bent forward. "Listen to me, Karigan G'ladheon. You can't play at Intrigue and expect to win by adhering to the rules. Use what is available to you." He remembered the hours of his childhood, spent at the mercy of his brother, a ruthless and heartless Intrigue player. "If I did not, my portrait would have been painted on the ceiling long ago," he whispered. "Do you see the space there behind the late king, my father?"
He let her gaze wonder to the hole of white on the ceiling. "That space is for me." Snapping out of his own thoughts, he suddenly recalled one of the reasons that he had requested her presence in the first place. He handed her the velveteen pouch that contained her belongings, and watched as her face lit up at the return of her possessions.
After several moments of pawing through her items, she removed a small stone. The moonstone. It lit like a fire at her touch, white light pouring from the stone.
"Curious," Zachary said, absently stroking his beard and squinting past the harsh light. "That stone would not light for anyone else, not even the Eletian." The Eletian had been the one to identify the object in the first place, although the light remained dim in his hands.
Karigan dropped the stone back into the pouch, looking quite forlorn as she reached out to give back the pouch. Zachary shook his head and smiled at her reluctance. "You are to keep those things, they are yours. Captain Mapstone says your stories are true, and by the special nature of her ability, I believe her." Even without her ability, Lauren was an old friend, and he would always trust her judgement. "Your trinkets are your tools. Use what is available to you. I see no threat to me from you."
It was true. What harm could a schoolgirl possibly do to her king?
The girl clutched the pouch tightly in both hands, looking relieved. "Thank you."
Zachary bowed his head in a small nod, then patted his knee, letting the small dog jump into his lap. He stroked Finder for several moments, trying to find dismissive words that would get her out of his throne room, while still letting her know he acknowledged and appreciated her actions.
Finally, he said, "The sequence of events that have led you here are quite remarkable. A schoolgirl who can't even play a decent game of Intrigue. The daughter of a wealthy merchant..."
The girl stiffened, her shoulders taking on a defensive posture. The fire in her eyes had returned, only this time, it was blazing with fury.
"Sire, for one thing, I don't know exactly how you get your information except from the people who risk their lives to deliver it to you. By chance, I was one of those people. Yes, a schoolgirl. Yes, a merchant's daughter. My life was threatened, I was held captive, and I went through a lot to get here. I am tired of being treated like some criminal for doing my best for Sacoridia.
"I migh suggest, Excellency, that you leave behind your stone walls and see those whom you rule. Take a look at your realm. The North Road is in terrible condition. How do you expect healthy commerce up north when merchant trains can hardly make it down the road? And what about the outlaws who attack caravans, homesteads, and the village of North?
"Take a look at the people who live in the borderlands in fear of groundmites, not to mention any strange creatures that might come from Blackveil Forest. The eagle, Softfeather, told me to tell you there is a breach in the D'Yer Wall. Your people, Excellency, are crying out for protection from you, and fewer taxes, and-"
She seemed to realize what words had just flown from her mouth. She snapped her mouth shut, looking horrifed.
As Zachary listen to her, he watched as she transformed. She was no longer a small, afraid, timid, young girl. She was a woman, strong and powerful, fierce and determined, beautiful. Perhaps she was a schoolgirl, perhaps she was the daughter of a merchant, but she was so much more than that. And she would make a wonderful rider.
All of the emotions of the king rushed out at once, coming out as a sharp, loud laugh. He felt a passion, passion for his country and it's citizens, return. "Many people hate me and my policies," he told her. "It is refreshing to hear a new voice, though. You will make a fine Green Rider."
She looked even more horrified. "I'm not-"
"Dismissed," he said, still watching her.
"Dismissed until tomorrow night's ball. I expect you to be there. In fact, I command it."
Karigan gaped. She was about to speak, surely in protest, but the hand of a Weapon on her shoulder stopped her.
Zachary had never seen such fire in a woman of her background. Wealthy and well-educated, most noble ladies were mild-mannered and polite, concerning themselves with matters far from fighting. But Karigan, still young, was passionate and used her intelligence. Perhaps a little impulsive, surely no thought out plan included chastising the king, but Zachary had always respected someone who spoke their mind, especially to their monarch.
Normally, he dreaded the balls that were held in the palace, but he was now, oddly, looking forward to the occasion.
He watched as she exited his throne room, a slight smile crossing his face. He had the feeling that things were about to change. For good.
Thank you for reading! Please review!