Unnormal Normalcy

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King of Blades – Chapter 7 “The Harvest Festival”

List of chapters, if you missed any.

Myri extended Anil’s bed rest to be sure there were no ill effects from the attack, which neither woman was happy about. After hearing about the assassination attempt, Prince Rohan assigned a guard to the bedridden queen at all times, then confronted his lord brother in a quarrel that took four people – Coulta, Myri, Yvona, and Shelton – to finally force an end to. The brothers didn’t lay a hand on each other, but they were practically yelling loud enough to disturb the entire castle and were very much up in each other’s faces.

“You should have seen them when they were boys,” Former Queen Yvona mumbled to Coulta and Myri once Wildas had vanished into his bedchamber and Rohan had marched out to the hallway, both having slammed doors.

“They threw each other down a few times,” Shelton added with a tiny smile as the four of them stood alone in Wildas’ office, “before Rohan learned to respect rank.”

Wildas may outrank his brother, but Coulta wasn’t surprised when the Grand King gave in to Rohan’s demands. Coulta and Myri were informed that night, by Wildas, that all three of them were going to be sleeping in Wildas’ room until further notice. There was going to be a Guardsman posted at the outer door to Coulta’s office, and one in his room guarding the door into Wildas’ chamber. A third Guardsman would be outside Wildas’ office door.

Coulta thought it was too much, but he didn’t argue. He moved his violet communication crystal – his only means of communicating with his spies on assignment – into Wildas’ room on its simple metal stand. He then locked his office, the outer door and the door that led to his chamber. The Guardsmen may work for the crown, but who knew what boredom and curiosity could lead them to sneak a look at. Coulta wasn’t about to be very trusting after what had nearly happened to Anil.

The door to Anil’s chamber was left open, in case she needed Myri in the night, and they made their sleeping arrangements. Wildas and Coulta didn’t talk about it, but they each placed their swords beside the bed, on opposite sides. Myri didn’t like that they were putting her between them, in case Anil needed her, but when they both stared her down, she sighed and got into bed. Coulta climbed in on his side, slipping a dagger under his pillow.

Hopefully no one would be foolish enough to startle him from sleep, since he was not likely to find out who was there before throwing that dagger.

His spouses were not going to be threatened again.

_____

Coulta attempted to question the would-be assassin over the next few days, but he refused to talk, no matter the torture Coulta was forced to resort to. Threat of death did nothing, either. It frustrated him immensely, and when the day came that Coulta found the man dead in his cell, having killed himself by gnawing open his wrist, there was no containing his rage. He resorted to finding a stuffed dummy used for training the soldiers and ripping it to shreds with his bare hands. Strangely, it made him feel better.

Anil was released from her confinement just two days before Lozk’s Day, the day of celebration to begin the harvest season. The first place she went, with Yvona by her side, was the stable, which came as no surprise to anyone.

The Lozk’s Day celebrations began at dawn, when Coulta had to ride out with Wildas and four Guardsmen – one being Rohan – to visit the farmers. It was a tradition that both kings ride out to the outlying farmlands of Lower Ryal to thank the farmers who supply food to the court and city, and to wish them a good harvest.

The farming families looked forward to this day all year, and were already waiting by the road at the edges of their properties as the sun was rising. The younger children all stared at the kings and their guards with wide eyes and open mouths. From their horses, Wildas and Coulta presented small gifts of thanks to the men and women in the form of charms, hair bands, hats, work gloves, and bracelets and necklaces woven from various types of rope. The children were given small toys of wooden animals, tiny carts, a few blocks, and even small stuffed animals.

“Many people work all year long to make the gifts,” Wildas had explained the year before, when they’d upheld the tradition for the first time. “It’s what my mother – Xiao, not Yvona – does all year. Some of my siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles make gifts throughout the year, as well. Some merchants donate things, too. Most people seem happy to thank the people who feed us.”

The farms of Lower Ryal weren’t falling apart nearly as much as the farms Coulta had seen further from the capital, and the families that lived on them were far better off than their fellow farmers in other parts of the country. Their clothing, though patched in some places, was clean, and so were they. They clearly benefited from living so close to the capital.

By the time Coulta and Wildas returned to the castle it was nearly midday. With a ball planned to start soon and last late into the night, they both began to get ready. Coulta had a new ball outfit from Teeya to wear for the celebrations, but he wasn’t sure how comfortable he’d feel in it. Even after a year of being Second King, formal clothes still felt alien to him, and he didn’t like that they drew more attention to him. A lifetime of working as a spy and an assassin made him acutely aware of the gazes of other people watching him. It was bad enough that most people felt the need to stare at him because of the black tracery on his skin, he didn’t need fancy clothes to make it worse.

The outfit that Teeya had made him was of finely cut black silk, with fine silver detailing to bring out the silver in his tinted eyes – and to make him look less terrifying, he was sure. His black dress boots went well with the outfit, though. Once dressed, Coulta joined his spouses for their walk to the Great Hall.

Wildas wore an elaborate outfit of deep red gold. Both Anil and Myri wore gowns of rich violet, but Anil’s was cut to accentuate the curve of her swelling abdomen.

The Great Hall was already filled with a number of guests dressed in bejeweled finery. At the announcement of the royal family’s entrance, all the guests stopped their conversations to bow to the royals. Coulta instinctively scanned the room for any signs of spies or assassins, unwilling to put his full trust in Rohan’s Guard. No one caught his eye.

The afternoon consisted of vast amounts of food and drink, and entertainment. The most notable of the entertainment was the dance troupe made up of the sons and daughters of farmers all over Phelin. They performed an incredible story of the Spirit of Harvest himself, flawlessly and effortlessly. It wasn’t surprising, though, since the troupe was one of the most elite in the country, with members ranging in age from thirteen to early twenties, and who had needed to pass several tests in order to be accepted. The troupe only took on farmers’ children, and farming families would pay everything they could spare – and more – to have one of their children taken by the troupe. The hope was always that the troupe members would end up marrying into noble families or being hired onto more professional, non-travel theater or dance troupes. Either of these options would result in the family having some form of financial help from their big-city child. Surprisingly, most members of the troupe did end up being found by potential spouses or new masters. Those who didn’t usually went home with injuries before the chance arrived.

Coulta had never understood the use of dancing, not when his physical skills always related directly to his survival. Dancing seemed trivial. It had taken several instructors many months just to teach him how to do the courtly group and couples dances that would take place into the ball evening. Even though it meant more time with his spouses and friends, there were still many things he would rather do than dance.

Sometimes, the things he did for love amazed him.

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February 4, 2012 - Posted by | King of Blades

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