King Garr Kelvin sat regally beneath a towering blue-velvet banner that bore his family's silver crest. He looked every bit of a Phandarian king, with his ceremonial blue robes, sapphire studded crown and erect posture.
However, despite the picture he presented to the Royal Court, all that regality came at the steep price of his sanity. Garr could not remember being this bored in his entire adult life.
It was hard to look stately when certain noble lords tried his patience by wasting precious minutes with redundant chatter. As the middle aged Duke Stern droned on and on, Garr seriously pondered if it were possible to declare "wasting the king's time" an act of treason.
Garr clenched his back teeth and tightened his tanned fingers over the arms of his gilded throne, willing the duke to get to the point. Twenty minutes into his audience and the Duke had yet to address the topics of the day's agenda.
He quietly exhaled through his nose to center himself. How he wished for the wise and clever council of his swordian partner Igtenos. Surely the sword spirit could have figured out a way to silence the duke without jeopardizing Garr's relationships with the members of his Royal Court.
After taking a moment to examine the curiously large jeweled ring on his finger that marked him as heir to the throne, Garr's eyes slowly roamed the cavernous throne room.
He glanced over the vast and shiny tiled floor that, if seen from the balcony, formed a large abstract gold-flecked snowflake. Then, for a split second, Garr pondered if he could figure out how many tiles there were; granted they were all equal in size and if the room could be divided into perfect squares or rectangles…
With an incredible effort Garr forced himself to focus on the duke, who showed no signs of ending his long-winded exposition. Two heartbeats were all it took for Garr to become distracted again.
One by one Garr counted the number palace guards positioned around the room. Four in the balcony, two to his right and left, 20 lining the atrium and about ten more among the noble lords and ladies of the Phandarian Royal Court.
Shortly after his head count, Garr incidentally locked gazes with a young countess who blushed and lowered her eyes shyly; Garr instantly averted his gaze to the great stained glass windows that rose into the fathomless ceiling. The last thing he needed was blushing ladies and their romantic misinterpretations.
A cold sweat suddenly gripped the handsome king. The last couple of "misinterpretations" had led to the drawing of unwanted marriage contracts and angry provincial lords. Whether it was the fluttering of a young lady's heart or the opportunistic gleam in the eyes of an aristocratic parent, Garr wanted none of it.
This led him to wonder what made an ideal queen? Or to better put it, his ideal queen. It was only a matter of time before his High Council pestered him to marry and produce and heir.
Garr's blue eyes became distant and the duke's drone slowly faded into the background of his mind. If he were to chose a queen she'd be nothing like the noble duchesses and ladies of the court.
First of all she would not be a lady who idled away the day, safely hidden behind the walls of a manor. Garr desired someone with some ambition; after all his queen would have to support his rule of Phandaria. Yes, the fire of aspiration was a key characteristic in his future wife.
… Kind, his queen would have a warm heart; willing to put others before her own desires. However, that did not mean he wanted that confused with submission -just the capacity for empathy and the ability to act on it. His queen had to have a spine after all.
And loyalty. Garr's future queen would indeed be loyal to her husband, but her loyalty to the people would come first.
Of course she would be intelligent and savvy enough to deal with court politics and national policy. And even if she was inexperienced in such matters, she must show a willingness to learn. Garr could almost imagine intellectually stimulating conversations by the fire in his chambers.
But what other characteristic would his queen require? A little pang of saddens flickered in Garr's chest.
His queen needed strength. A frail queen was a dead queen; Garr learned this early in life. His mother, both kind and warm, did not see his seventh year because of her frail body. This meant that Garr's queen would be strong enough to shoulder the pressures of the crown as well as take on the responsibility of bearing the nation's heir.
What else … Garr examined his fingers absently.
His queen would be a healthy woman- one the revels in his beloved nation's harsh climate. Why… they could travel together, and live off the road as they toured the nation!
Garr may have been getting a little ahead of himself, but his thoughts had built up too much momentum for him to even think of stopping now.
… And beautiful. She would be unique, much different than the manufactured beauties that made up most of the Phandarian aristocracy. Garr was tired of pale delicate faces that were the result of years being kept largely indoors. Yes, Phandaria was a land covered in snow, but with the sun's rays both shining down from the sky and reflected by the snow, most Phandarians develop a permanent and healthy tan to their skin.
He also wanted someone vibrant, both in spirit and appearance! His ideal queen would have a lithe and supple body, of course with the appropriate contours (curves). A ready smile and hair the color of…
Garr discreetly chewed the inside of his lip. What would be a good hair color for a queen? Honey blonde? Chestnut? Maybe black… No, Garr decided. It had to be something more eye catching like. Red. Yes, a vivacious red!
A bell chimed in the distance, and all of Garr's senses instantly tuned towards the great hall. Was it noon already?
Garr zeroed in on the finely dressed man that stood before his throne. The switch back to reality was unpleasantly jarring for the snowy haired king.
"…As you can see our investments continue to turn a profit, despite the misfortune to our lands…" Duke Stern ended with bow and haughtily stroked his goatee.
Garr suppressed an inward groan and answered somberly, "That is all well and good, Duke Stern, but you still failed to mention anything about the reconstruction of the boarder villages located in your province. If you are turning such profits, it makes me wonder why I bother to send you reconstruction aid."
The duke rubbed his jewel-studded hands nervously together. "Ah yes, your majesty. I-"
"I am sorry Duke Stern, but you have run out of time. If you wish to inform me about the state of the villages within your jurisdiction as I had asked, please submit a written report to the Reconstruction Committee," Garr said graciously, though quickly enough to keep the duke reeling. He had to end this quickly, because midday had finally come.
"Chamberlain Russet?" Garr said quickly before the duke could muster a protest.
A graying man of fifty in dark robes walked to the center of the throne room and loudly called a 30-minute recess.
Garr was out of his throne before the chamberlain's mace could even hit the floor.
Garr's long legs carried him swiftly through the palace halls racing past bowing attendants and palace guards. With each punctuated step a small pang of guilt pulsed in his chest.
He usually wasn't such a pitiful excuse of a king, and Garr did pride himself on having a longer attention span than a toddler. But he could not account for his restlessness this past week.
Actually that wasn't at all true, because Garr had a sneaking suspicion that the mail delivery, or lack thereof, had something to do with his flakiness.
After dozens of brief nods of acknowledgment to the castle staff, Garr finally approached the gilded double door that led to his chambers.
Unable to contain his urgency and impatience, Garr let his finely cut robes fall the floor in a graceless heap. Dressed in fine dark trousers and a clinging soft gray shirt, he rushed to his desk were a silver platter awaited him.
His hands nearly shook with anticipation as he reached for the platter that was piled high with scrolls and envelops. Garr dove into the pile with the gusto of a child during the winter solstice festival.
Three letters with the Seinegald royal seal hit the floor with a crassness that used to make his royal attendants swoon in horror. Other stationary from local noble houses were met with the same disrespectful treatment. There was only one letter seal that Garr had eyes for.
Garr pulled an envelope made of a rough brownish paper from the depth of the pile. A flaking wax crest marked the envelop as stationary from deep within the mountain clans.
Garr made quick work of the seal with a jewel-handled letter opener and started to read.
A grin spread across his attractive features when he read the sloppy scrawl across the bottom of the page. Garr squinted at the signature, which somehow resembled sword strokes rather than letters. With hands better suited to hold weapons than any writing utensil the writer's penmanship certainly was … different.
It had been two and a half years since Garr established United Mountain Guard of Phandaria. And as his first major project as king, Garr felt a sense of paternal pride as the military division grew and evolved.
In an attempt to curb tensions in the poverty stricken mountainous region, Garr and his military advisors painstakingly gathered the various clans to form a coalition. This new coalition not only offered much needed jobs and economic stimulus to the region, but it allowed Garr spread his influence to the furthest reaches of Phandaria.
With any luck this move would also help prevent a civil war similar to the one under his father, king Sark.
Garr may have gotten the ball rolling on this division, but the head captain made it work. As a victim of the tensions between the mountain and valley regions of Phandaria, the captain had boldly stepped forward to lead his newly minted United Mountain Guard.
And now Garr was eager to read the captain's monthly report, which was an unforgivable three days late. Garr's eyes quickly scanned the scribbled contents of the report and his grin unconsciously spread into a full out smile.
The captain's casually blunt assessments were unintentionally humorous, and Garr always enjoyed himself as he familiarized with the division's unique dynamic.
He was busily discerning more of the United Mountain Guard's latest escapades when a polite knock at the door announced the arrival of a palace servant.
Garr grimaced and reluctantly put down the report. Without waiting for a reply a young man in finely made servant's clothing walked in and gathered Garr's disregarded robes in his arms. He had long since gotten used the king's fickle behavior at this time of the month, which heralded the mail delivery.
The young man then politely intoned, "Your majesty, the recess is over, and your presence is required in the audience hall."
Garr let his attendant help him into his robes and then resigned himself to face another three hours of summit with the Royal Court.
And just like that, the highlight of Garr's day was over.
Garr tried and failed to quell his impatiently tapping fingers on the arms of his throne. His stomach rumbled quietly and Garr quietly lamented that fact that he never ordered anything to eat from the kitchens; deciphering the captain's handwriting was the unintended culprit of his empty stomach.
When the Phandarian king didn't think it were possible become any more irritable than he already was, the chamberlain raucously rapped his mace on the polished throne room floor.
"Will Lord Berg of Southern Frostheim please step forth," the chamberlain's announcement echoed through the large chamber.
An older gentleman dressed in a sturdy yet fine tunic and trousers stepped forward. If Garr remembered correctly Lord Berg governed the lesser-known Southern Frosteim, which was a collection of livestock farmers.
The nobleman rose from his deep bow to look directly at his king. That was when Garr noticed the exhausted and haggard appearance on the nobleman's face.
"If you will excuse my lack of courtly etiquette, but the matter I bring is of most importance, your majesty," Lord Berg said.
"Proceed," Garr encouraged, all his petty feelings of irritation melted away into concern. It was time he finally act like a king.
"As you know since the calamity thee years ago, the number of roaming monsters has increased. And my village has recently fallen prey to a particularly gruesome horde for the last month."
The country lord balled his large weathered hands into fists and took a deep breath. "We are a small village and unable to put up much resistance to the nocturnal raids. The beasts aim for our livestock, but have recently developed a taste for human flesh. And I can not bear to lose another villager."
Lord Berg's thin drawn face colored with fury, "I've sent countless pleas to Frostheim's militia for help, but to no avail. I have even sent my sons out to every major city within a three day's ride only to return with empty promises, and my youngest has yet to return."
Garr's sharp eyes narrowed thoughtfully. Frostheim's militia had a four town jurisdiction, which included the small town of Southern Frostheim. But given the current situation of the larger coastal city, they had their hands full clearing monsters from the shipping routes that led to Seinegald. There was no blame in this situation; the entire country was stretched thin.
Lord Berg's voice grew stronger as he continued. "The people are terrified and fear that their country has forgotten them!"
The older nobleman stopped and checked his emotions before quietly pleading, "Given the situation, I beg you to send the royal guard to aid us in this emergency."
Garr was stonily silent for a few moments and the entire court waited with baited breath. Little did the court know that he was about to do something uncharacteristically rash.
"Lord Berg," Garr said solemnly.
The nobleman straightened his spine; fearful he would be reprimanded for losing his composure in the presence of the king.
"Rest in the palace tonight. I will arrange rooms for you and your contingent. I want you then to leave first thing in the morning. Go back to your town and tell the people that the kingdom has not forgotten them. In two days time I will ride to Southern Frostheim with the royal guard, you have my word."
Lord Berg looked as if his knees would buckle from sheer relief. "Thank you," he bowed deeply, as Garr signaled for a palace attendant to make arrangements.
The throne room was abuzz with murmuring and speculations. While the next provincial lord readied to speak, Garr glanced at the royal council members. All of the old men were veterans of his father and grandfather's reign, and all showed signs of disapproval on their wrinkled faces.
Garr's broad shoulders sunk, it was going to be a long day. But if it would get him out of the palace to help his people, he was willing to do almost anything; namely facing off against cantankerous old men.
A regiment of fifty soldiers trudged through a dense forest of towering pine trees, riding atop powerfully built mountain rams. It was noon and a light yet insistent snow showered the land. Each soldier wore a deep green fur-lined cloak that was heavily frosted from the never-ending fine white flakes.
At the lead, riding atop a shaggy midnight black beast was the apparent leader. A heavy axe was strapped to this person's back and beneath it was a finely crafted sword.
"How far?" asked a husky feminine voice, raw from the cold.
"My village is full day's ride southeast from here captain," replied a boy no older than fifteen.
His young face was prematurely aged with fear and worry. "I'm afraid we must hurry now that we're out of the mountains. I don't mean to rush, but I'm just worried..." he trailed off sadly.
Throwing back a snow-laden cowl, a think shock of stunning red hair tumbled down the leader's back, bound in a thick ponytail. She raised her gloved fist in the air and shouted, "Let's ride!"
As she urged her steed into a ground-eating gallop, and kicked up dirt and snow to a chorus of burly male voices cheered in her wake.