Day of Games
With their agreement certified with a quick handshake, Eira had returned to the servant chambers after her meeting with Bernard. She got less than one hour of sleep that night, as the mixture of fear from her strange surroundings, the close proximity in which the maids slept together, and excitement over their plan all worked together to keep her mind running. Huddled in bunks going up to five or six beds up in what could have been a closet, with mere inches separating the different columns, Eira was flanked by loud snoring and the occasional slumbering twitch, which made her jump every time.
Madam Martin slammed the door open especially early that morning, even for the maids, and ordered them to get dressed and ready. Everyone but Eira was slow and clumsy to do so, groaning out loud but never uttering a complaint, mostly out of fear of Martin’s sharp tongue. Eira was the first to get dressed and to report before Martin in the main servant chambers, which prompted what one could only guess was the elderly woman’s best crack of a smile.
“Very good child. Perhaps you won’t be such a burden on us for this big day.” Eira blinked at her words.
“If I may, Madam Martin?”
“What is today?”
“How could Her Highness not remind you? Today is the Day of Games. A carnival which is set up in the towns with all sorts of entertainment. Tis a reminder of the Royal Wedding that quickly approaches. But mostly, it’s an excuse for both commoners and royalty to drink to excess and forget their problems for awhile.”
“Oh, yes, of course.”
“Which reminds me. You and a few others had better head off to Her Majesty’s bedchambers and prepare her for today.” Eira bowed as other maids appeared her side.
“Yes Madam Martin.” Coupled with three maids, Eira led the way to Susan’s room, where the more experienced servants quickly set about on their chores. One began to prepare the princess’s tea and biscuits while another readied her gown and makeup for the day, the last one pulled open the curtains and cast the room in a blinding white light. Everyone was dumbstruck for a moment as their eyes adjusted, while Susan simply grumbled softly and rolled over. A soft breeze blew through the room as the maid pushed the windows open and exposed the blue sky above.
With no other job for her that she knew of, Eira simply walked toward the edge of Susan’s bed with her hands clasped before her. While the others kept busy, the Green Folk took a moment to look at the princess and how human she looked in her slumber, what without the eccentric dresses or makeup concealing her natural features. It was as if she was approachable now, an equal with Eira and the other maids. Alas, she knew that thought to be too good to be true. Clearing her throat, she leaned forward.
“Um…Susan? It’s time to wake up Susan.” She was given several brief but piercing glances by the other maids for using the princess’s casual name, free of any titles, but they hardly fazed her. She was given permission to use it after all. With half of her face concealed by her great big pillow, Susan opened one deep blue eye. Eira smiled warmly at her as she sat up and stretched.
“Good morning, Eira.” She yawned and smiled back at her, unable, or more likely, unwilling, to acknowledge the maids doing everything for her. With ladylike grace she slowly pulled the covers from her and slid to the ground, perfectly into her pink soft-felt slippers. The maid who opened the curtains and windows quickly pounced on the bed after Susan left it, making her bed as perfectly as it was the day before.
Eira quickly pulled Susan’s chair out for her at her small table and pushed it in after. Her biscuits had been perfectly laden with marmalade and her piping-hot tea was served not a moment too soon. She took but the tiniest bite from her breakfast and dabbed at her mouth with a napkin beside the plate.
“Are you ready for today’s events?” Eira asked as she stood at Susan’s side.
“Oh yes. I know it isn’t very ladylike of me, but I find games like these so enthralling. Two armored men in an arena fighting for the sake of honor.” She gave a devious smirk. “Or the hand of a fair maiden. Oh it’s so romantic isn’t it?” Eira simply nodded while the maid holding a beautiful emerald-colored dress stood before them. Not unlike her previous dress, frills adorned the wrists of the dress, but also around the collar, albeit less extravagantly. “Oh yes, this looks gorgeous.”
With but a single large sip from her tea, Susan forgot about her breakfast and disappeared behind a changing curtain with the maid and her dress. Eira turned to her breakfast, fighting her own hunger as she watched the maid who prepared it roll her eyes and toss it into a waste bin. Like a well-orchestrated performance, Susan was out of her nightgown and into the new dress in a matter of moments, and revealed her new attire with a wide, prideful grin.
“What do you think? I do like green.”
“As do I. It looks lovely.” Eira replied with a smile. As Susan consulted with the maid about which jewelry she felt would best compliment her today, Eira got lost in thought, if for but a moment. Perhaps it was a good idea to leave her Green Folk attire with Bernard. Surely he would be there, and everyone would be distracted by the festivities. In fact, Eira thought as her smile widened, it couldn’t have worked out any better.
“Ah, perfect. Oh, how I’m so excited to see my new subjects and be seen at James’ side today.”
“Yes. Let us hurry. Why delay such a great thing?” Eira felt her heart race with her words, hopeful that everything she had in mind would work out just fine.
Eira couldn’t have expected half of what the Day of Games brought her. Truly a spectacle for the senses, there were ribbons and colorful debris fluttering about and flags of countless colors and designs waving on poles and rooftops. Cooks both professional and amateur were everywhere, offering moist goose meat and all sorts of food the Green Folk had never seen before. Drums and trumpets rocketing all around shook her to the core, giving her a headache before too long, and people crying out in joy even managed to overwhelm that noise. Laughing children and drunken singing stood out the most for Eira, who could otherwise see little, what with being so far back.
She had been assigned to stand in the back of Susan’s tent, awaiting any order given to her. Already had the princess been seated, and with her hands set in her lap and her nose high, she took in the spectacle with a soft, posed grin. Surely everyone in the town was here, Eira thought. She watched a highly ornate and decorated man, a priest perhaps, some ways away drunkenly laugh and take another swig from a large bottle.
Below their tent was the jousting arena, with the stands around it already crowding with people until they seemed fit to collapse. Horses decorated with the family colors of their respective owners were being fed by countless stable boys. So as to avoid cramps, they weren’t fed much before being swiftly taken back to a wooden gate, where they quickly disappeared from sight.
As she fiddled with her fingers, Eira failed to notice an armor-clad gauntlet reach out from outside the tent until it grabbed her arm. Before she could give out so much as a surprised whelp she was yanked back out, without Susan ever noticing. Suddenly Eira was face to face with the cold gaze of an armored knight. Her eyes widened and her mouth dropped as panic set in, when he pulled up his visor.
“It’s me lass.” Bernard said with a mustache that stretched from ear to ear. “I’ve done as you’ve asked. Here you are.” With his other hand he handed Eira her green cloak, which she hugged tightly. As she looked at the elder knight, she was so relieved to see that he was sober. He seemed like a happy and charming uncle-like figure, she thought with a wide grin.
“Thank you Sir Bernard. Thank you so much.” She whispered.
“Now, about the other part of your idea.”
“Yes. This will be the perfect time would it not?”
“Couldn’t agree more. I’ll come back for you when it’s…”
“Sir Bernard! I say, I haven’t seen you so often in years.” Bernard and Eira felt their hearts race as they turned to face James as he approached. The girl was quick to hide the green cloak behind her back as she dropped for a curtsy and looked downward. With two black-armored knights behind him, and General Tanner at his side, Eira’s gaze turned to the general’s impressive bird perched on his arm. A large eagle with gorgeous feathers, the proud creature looked back at the girl with its fearsome eyes and what looked like a grin on its hooked beak. The prince, with a growing smirk, was looking especially confident in his finest clothing. “I didn’t know you still rode!”
“Oh, nay sire. I’m not riding in the games.” Bernard replied with a bow and a chuckle.
“Then why are you wearing your armor?” Tanner asked without giving the elder knight the respect in raising his visor. Eira looked up from under her bonnet, realizing that there was a little boy standing next to Tanner, clutching at his tunic while he himself rested an armored glove atop his head. His son perhaps?
“For the sake of the games. I don’t have enough reasons to wear it anymore. Old memories really.”
“And…you. Yes, weren’t you the one attacked by that wretched beast last night?” James asked as he lowered his head and cocked it to one side, trying to peek under Eira’s bonnet.
“A-aye Your Majesty.”
“Ahem. Yes.” Bernard added. “I simply came to check up on her. To see how Her Majesty’s personal maid was doing.”
“You’re Susan’s personal maid?” James sounded intrigued, now paying little mind to the elder knight. “And here I was worried that Coffin Spawn could have gobbled up some petty servant girl. Now I would’ve had good reason to mourn.” He snickered to himself before slipping into the tent, and the faceless knights of his Kaiser Guard followed. Tanner, however, remained. He paid no mind to the roaring crowds that cheered for James as he took his seat. Rather, he kept his cold gaze on Bernard, who still hadn’t put his visor plate back in place.
“You had me for a moment Bernard. I thought this was your little girl, all grown up now. Pity, isn’t it?” He looked down to his side, to which the boy looked back up at him with the widest smile he could give. Likewise, his bird followed its master’s gaze, just as Tanner gently rubbed the boy’s scalp. “Caleb, go find your mother. I’ll see you at supper.” The boy silently nodded and darted off. That’s when the decorated general looked to Eira and extended his arm toward the tent. “Milady.” With one parting glance between the two, Eira took her leave and Bernard lowered his visor. There, the Green Folk took her place back in the corner of the tent, holding her cloak close to her chest once again, while James stood tall.
“By the power invested in me by the Lords Above, may the Day of Games commence!” His echoing words were met with unrelenting cries and applause, as even more debris and ribbons flew into the air and showered down onto the tournament grounds. Tanner also had taken his seat by this time, removing his helmet and sitting on the other side of the prince. Knowing what to do, his eagle slid from his arm and stood on the armrest to his side, like a faithful dog sitting at its owner's side. James slowly took his seat once more, and when he turned and met with Susan’s eyes, the princess felt herself melt as she sighed. “Are you excited for today?”
“Oh yes. Of course my love. So excited.” The two black-armored knights, one standing on Susan’s side and the other on Tanner’s, looked at each other with what Eira imagined to be disgust in the couple’s overly saturated exchange. They slowly looked back down to the tournament grounds as the armored warriors atop their steeds rode out into the arena.
Each knight and their horse wore different colors and crests on their clothing, with many of the soldiers adorning different armor as well, distinguishing themselves from one another. From lions to dragons, unicorns to griffins, each knight held a prideful beast on their chest. Some of the color combinations were simply beautiful, Eira thought, as each rider and their steed wore them with such pride that one couldn’t help but admire them.
Without a following speech from James, the knights, with their impressive jousting spears, circled around the single dividing wall in the middle of the arena. There, they raised their wooden weapons up so that the dull points of each one nearly met. From over the cheering crowds it was impossible to hear, but it was customary that the eldest knight present on his steed would give a prayer, one that the others would recite perfectly in unison. As they finished, each one brought their spears heavenward and cried out, which sent the audience into overwhelming applause that was even louder than before. All but two knights, one with poorly-made armor with hints of rust and another with charcoal-black retreated to behind the wooden gate from where they came, when the actual jousting began. It seemed overly one-sided as the joust went on, but was entertaining nonetheless.
A guard rushed into the tent and dropped to a knee beside Tanner. The general never looked at him, as his attention was solely on the dueling warriors below. He winced as one of their spears crashed into and splintered against the other’s chest plate. Cheers and clapping commenced as the rust-ridden warrior felt from his horse. Eira subtly leaned in toward the Eagle General, trying to listen in.
“We can’t find the girl, or her cloak for that matter.” The guard spoke in a very hushed tone, so as to not alert James. Eira panicked and swiftly hid her clothes behind her back once again. That’s when Tanner looked at him with a piercing glare. Even his bird turned and narrowed its eyes.
“What? What did you do?”
“We don’t know sir. I personally gave the clothes to the maids. I had it in my hands sir. But Gregory can’t find…” He leaned over and peaked past Tanner, so as to make sure James wasn’t listening in on them. “Her. You can’t very well keep one of the…Green Folk captive sir. They’ll escape with their magic.”
“Enough.” Tanner said sternly. “Where was he keeping her?”
“Supply closet I believe.” Tanner rolled his eyes.
“You idiot. One of the servants must have let her out. The moment she got out, she must have…” He sat up for a moment and with his elbow resting on his helmet, scratched at his temple. Once more, so as to avoid James’ attention, he leaned back in toward the guard. “She could have escaped with her clothes undetected, but it’s unlikely. No. She is likely posing as a servant or maid. Go now. Talk to Ms. Martin about any new recruits. Find them, interrogate them, and you’ll find your girl. I want her here before the games end.”
“Yes sir.” The guard quickly jumped to his feet and out of the tent, paying no mind to Eira as she hid her face under her bonnet. Her heart was racing a mile a minute. She had to get out of there, and fast. With a frustrated sigh, Tanner sat back up as James smirked.
“What was that about?”
“Missing girl. Stole some jewelry from your father. Don’t worry, we’ll find her and have her pay for her crimes accordingly.”
“Very good. Now let’s enjoy the games.”
“Oh, Eira?” Susan asked as she hardly lifted her hand from its rest. Eira swiftly cleared her throat, and, with her cloak still behind her back, leaned in over the princess’s shoulder.
“Yes, Your Majesty?”
“Would you fetch me something to drink? I’m rather parched.”
“Yes. A jug of wine sounds wonderful.” James added. “Make it two in fact. I feel like it will be a long tournament.” Eira looked at the prince, who didn’t find it necessary to look away from the jousters, much to her relief. However, with a quick glance upward she met and nearly froze from Tanner and his bird’s piercing eyes. He narrowed his eyes at her and frowned while his glove gently stroked the eagle’s breast, to which Eira’s only response was to look back at Susan, smile, and nod.
“Of course, Your Majesty. I will be right back.” And with that, she swiftly darted out. Once out of the tent, she told herself over and over that things were not falling apart. Everything would work out just fine. She ran to one end of the tent and scanned all around for Bernard. All she could see were cheering fans and royal servants darting from tent to tent with food and drinks, making the game experience the best it could be for the nobility next to the Royal Tent. He was nowhere in sight, so she dashed to the other side, where she could find him standing with arms crossed, watching the games from between James’ tent and the bleachers beside it. She ran up and patted him on the back, to which he turned.
“Ah, there you are lass. I thought you said you’d change in your clothes.”
“I can do that later. Let’s go.” Eira spoke breathlessly as she continuously glanced back toward James’ tent.
“Alright, alright. We’ll just have to saddle Christian up and we’ll be ready to go.”
“My horse. Come on then.”