The tribute is a rare honor bestowed upon the rare warrior who has achieved greatness in battle beyond that of mortal men. Those who are given tribute are seen as being blessed by the spirits of Alstain. No tribute is greater than for the one given to a knight who has defeated a master dragon in battle as the great spirit of Daku and is sacred among the people of Alstain. Feasting is said to last for days. Once a warrior has been given tribute they are given the moniker of Great, usually before their animal names. The last two Greats were The Great Bear who achieved this distinction in 350 BGE when he had seen 619 moons pass and The Great Lion of Grandala who landed the title in 343 BGE.
-From the Journals of Jorney the Teller
The first thing Olivia saw were the petals flowing down from the outer gate of Alstain, staining the ground below them like an artificial snow. The pink and red flowers were being spread by hundreds of children from the top of the gate wall, their smiling and giggling faces piercing something tender inside of her. Their parents stood behind them, handing them more petals as they tossed.
"Master of the realm, you are welcomed!" They shouted. She turned her head towards Fitz who rode beside her, a small smile on his face.
"Enjoy it, my lioness. This is all for you."
They drew closer to the gate and Olivia felt a sense of humbleness in her heart she had never felt before. She was once a child on the streets of Grandala with no greatness attached to her name and now she was being honored by an entire country.
As Olivia and Fitz passed through the gates and the surrounding countryside, Olivia saw farmers pause at their work and kneel in supplication. The afternoon passed before they reached the inner gates of the city where a roar could be hear from beyond the walls. The guards opened the iron gates and all Olivia could see were people.
"Praise the Great Lioness! All bask in her glory." The crowd chanted as they threw flowers on the cobbled road before her. White banners flew from windows and roof tops and many of the men of the city wore red as the women wore white. Fitz beamed.
"They honor you greatly." Fitz said over the chants of the crowd. "They wear the colors of Daku. A rare occasion indeed."
They made their way upward through the palace where all the Knights of Alstain waited before the gates dressed in their finest armor. Tom walked towards them to greet them.
"Master Knight, show us your dragon skin so we may all be witness."
Olivia turned and grabbed her saddle bag and reached inside. She pulled out the skin of the dragon she slew and all the knights fell to their knees.
"One and true. One and true. We honor you." They chanted. She met the eyes of Billy, The Snake and saw his jealousy. She would deal with it later. The knights opened the gates of her and found the royal family waiting for her, the king in the middle.
Olivia dismounted her horse and went to them. She then knelt as a quiet came over the crowd and the city. She kneeled in front of the king.
"I have but seen this once." The Great Eagle shared for her ears only. "I never thought my eyes would see it again."
"You give me great pleasure, my king." Olivia answered.
Gerald nodded and turned to a servant. The servant quickly brought the sword to him and The Great Eagle handled it with care.
"Every great knight of the realm must have a sword to match. This steel is Aranidan steel. It was made by the dwarves of Talni. You are worthy of it."
Olivia put her hands palms up and took the sword gently. She gazed at the shine of it, and marveled at its lightness.
"Every good sword should have a name." The king commented.
"Lion Fang." She said immediately and Gerald smiled at her with approval. He then turned to his family and then to the rest of the crowd.
"The tribute begins!"
The whole of the city roared its approval.
She could feel his gaze upon her as the celebrations continued. She sat beside the king in a place of honor at his right hand as Fitz took a place of honor on his left. Olivia could feel his eye on her every moment, every laugh, ever smile.
Quinn and Harrison were on the other side of the hall enjoying drink and food in the royal courtyard. Huck, always alert, stayed silent and in the shadows. Cyrus drunk his pleasure as well and she could hear the priests laughter above the entertainment.
"And now we present to you the fabulous bards from Taruth!" The royal announcer yelled and the crowd gave its applause.
"This is all very nice, isn't it?" She heard beside her. Olivia turned her gaze towards Mellie and gave a small smile but it was not returned.
"I am honored by such festivities in my name."
"You are the Great Lioness. You are sacred in the eyes of these people."
What was unspoken was that she was not sacred to Mellie.
"I am for your Queen's pleasure, m'lady." Olivia said quietly.
"May it stay that way."
A man and a woman stood in the middle of court and began to juggle and Olivia felt a tug of familiarity. She wondered if it could possibly be?
The woman with auburn hair smiled at her and Olivia instantly knew.
She rose from her chair and came down to the main courtyard and the music and the dancing stopped. Olivia hugged the woman to her and put her hands on her cheeks.
"Surprised, my sister? I am indeed well." Abby cried as Olivia hugged her tighter. It had been years.
"You are as well as you sound." Olivia turned to see the man approach her. "Stephen!"
"You are a sight, m'lady. Or is it Great Lioness? I get confused with the names."
Olivia leapt into his arms as the crowd watched on with curiosity. Though none were more curious than the crown prince himself.
"Is he her betrothed, father?" Jerry asked innocently beside his father.
"He better not be." Fitz answered more icily than he meant.
The trio of reunited friends found themselves in one of the smaller rooms of the palace and Olivia could not stop hugging either of them. It had been too long and too many worried nights spent thinking on Abigail and where she had gone. To find her happy and with one of her childhood friends was more than she could have of happiness.
"How did you…where?"
"I escaped Grandala and was a wondering vagabond for some moons." Abby sighed. "Then I spotted a familiar friend in Stephen who was traveling with a band of bards."
"I knew of her through you, Olivia. You had written much of her through your letters. I had to care for such a friend."
"I am so glad we are now together." Olivia said.
"We plan to stay. After all, a great warrior must have a bard!" Stephen said.
"And you must find plenty of women to bed, old friend." Olivia laughed.
"He is called Stephen the Seducer for a reason." Abby grinned. Stephen winked at them both and laughed.
"You say you have found her?"
"I have, my grace. She has mixed in with a bunch of bards. She stayed with them for over a year."
Lord Reston sighed in anger and revulsion. "She is my son's wife. I do not wish her to be harmed. Only to face the Gods justice and be punished accordingly. I could not touch the other one. The one who slayed my son. The warriors of Grandala would not allow it."
"It is my sworn duty to uphold the guardians laws, my liege. No matter where that journey takes me."
"Then David the Just, let your name be true. Find Abigail of the Four Fires and bring her to me alive."
Hollis the Apostate had not stepped foot into the kingdom. It was not time yet. He lit a fire onto his hand and saw an image swirl before him.
Is it done?
"Not of yet, my lord."
I shall send for my man. He will deal with it.
"If you want the name then I cannot rush it. A life is the key. There is one here more powerful than I but they have not manifested their power."
I shall send him anyway. The shadow in the flame swirled.
"There is one of yours here. He guards her."
I care not for the man wolf. I only care for the name.
"And it shall be yours."
Hollis closed his fist and the flame extinguished.
The Black Paws were too impatient to have their prize. Hollis was for much bigger game than even they could imagine.