The Domain of Rhadamanthys
Arms rattled as Roger Tellesworth jogged down the narrow corridor at a brisk pace. The space was poorly lit, with only a few candles along the walls illuminating the way every few yards. Roger hustled to the door, stopping just outside the threshold. He took the moment to make himself look presentable, smoothing the tunic covering his armor and flattening errant hairs on his head with a quick sweep of his hand. With dramatic flair, he pushed open the door hard enough for it to rebound off the wall and threw back his cloak upon entering.
"Sorry to keep you waiting, gentlemen," Roger announced. "I am here!"
"Is that so? I would have certainly never guessed," said Count Rudolf von Sforza with a thin smile on his lips. Roger looked sideways at Rudolf. Both men were twenty-seven years of age, and it was only stupid luck that one was at the head of a very important county in Caledon and the other was a commandant on the southern border. Roger kept that thought in mind as he closed the door behind him and took a seat. His eyes were pulled to the older man seated at the far end of the room. Torchlight played with the shadows dancing across his face.
"Since we are all here, we may begin," said this man, his voice demanding - indeed, arresting - attention. "As we are all aware, His Majesty has been ill for a very long time. It was our hope that he might recover whilst on a regimen of regular bleeding and purging, but alas, he has made no progress."
Roger shifted in his seat. Having been in a number of border wars, it had always struck him that bleeding was a problem, not a solution. The other man continued.
"It is also no secret that His Majesty is regrettably without issue. This presents a problem. If he perishes, the royal lineage is extinguished. We face an imminent succession crisis and we do not know how long it shall be before that crisis becomes anarchic. We must act to ensure stability in Tara and all of Caledon."
"Your Royal Highness, what are we to do?" asked another in the room.
"It is simple. We must select a legitimate successor to His Majesty at once."
A susurration of consternation followed the suggestion. The man who had proposed the idea stood.
"For many years, we have served Caledon's royal family. I have served perhaps longer than some of you in this room have lived. I do not make this suggestion lightly. We have, however, worked too hard to let some unfortunate circumstance catapult our kingdom into chaos."
Roger now sat back in his chair. The man with the plan was Grand Duke Kendrick Constantine, one of the King's most trusted advisers. In fact, Roger could not picture a time when Kendrick had not been at the King's side, offering counsel. The many silver hairs on Kendrick's head reflected his experience and his many good decisions that had precluded complete breakdowns in order reflected his wisdom. Nonetheless, Roger had a question.
"Your Royal Highness, who are we going to choose?" he asked, probably speaking for everyone in the room at the moment. The dozen or so others gathered now all turned their eyes to Kendrick.
"That is entirely dependent upon the twists of fate," Kendrick answered, his dark eyes glinting in the torchlight. "Here is how we are to make this decision..."
Several days later...
Tara was abuzz that evening. Streamers and bunting hung from every available inch of surface space throughout the city. Court magicians had illuminated the sky with dazzling arrays of explosive, colorful lights. Nobles of every corner of the kingdom were filing into the city in grand procession. Jugglers and fire-eaters were entertaining the commoners on the city streets. Outside the royal palace, gladiatorial combat was enthralling a crowd of people who preferred a little violence in their diversions. At the doorways to the royal palace, Grand Duke Kendrick and Count Rudolf were warmly greeting every lord crossing the threshold.
"My dear Viscount!" exclaimed Kendrick, embracing an older gentlemen. "It has been too long! I am pleased to see you made the trip."
"Welcome to the King's jubilee," said Rudolf with a friendly, charming smile. The Viscount pulled away from Kendrick and nodded.
"Honestly, I am quite surprised," the Viscount remarked. "I did not know that His Majesty was feeling in such good spirits as to throw a party."
"It has been a miraculous recovery; hence, His Majesty's wish to celebrate rather suddenly," Rudolf said, nodding. "Allow me to show you into the great hall."
Kendrick ticked off another name on the guest list. Invitations had been sent out to every noble, even if he was of the most nominal importance. The objective was to make sure everyone who could be there would be there, from the highest duke to the lowest lord.
At the same time that festivities were beginning to get underway in Tara, there were festivities of a different kind happening in the little Caledonian hamlet of Gallia, far to the south of the country near the border. The local pub, the Leaping Mare, was pouring free drinks for anyone who could bring in a boar as big as one of the tables. So far, a few strapping men had hauled in boar meeting the standard. Joviality was now the order of the night as these boar became dinner for anyone who wanted a taste. Conviviality, and the smell of alcohol, was in the air.
One figure in the back of the pub was not participating in the jolly atmosphere. It was a young woman with fair skin and grey eyes. She was looking out of the window and tapping her fingers somewhat anxiously on the wooden table where she sat alone. A number of men had advanced upon her in an offer to be friendly to the pretty maiden, but she politely had refused them all. At some point in the height of the increasingly drunken state of the pub's clientele, she wandered outside and stood near the pub door, exhaling deeply. The tendrils of her breath curled into the chilly night.
"Well, aren't you a pretty little thing," said one man, standing not far away from her, smoking a pipe. She looked up at the sky without acknowledging him.
"The least you could do is respond to someone when he compliments you," the pipe smoker said, somewhat peeved. In reaction, she turned her head away from him. She was a striking figure in the silver moonlight, her hands clasped behind her back and her slim figure looking so fragile that a gentle breeze might push her over. The pipe smoker gave a loud whistle. Immediately, three more men appeared from around the corner of the pub, and together they approached her in a semi-circle. The pipe smoker grabbed her by the chin and shook his head.
"Pity. You get a pretty girl nowadays and instead of saying so much as a 'thank you' when a gentleman talks to her, she sticks her nose up in the air. What is the world coming to?"
He and his cohorts eyed the defenseless blonde woman with lascivious grins.