“So I’ve heard that some people,” Charlie looked pointedly at his father, “are unsatisfied with the peace-treaties.”
Prince Charles was a short man with a round face and piercing beady eyes. He had inherited his father’s chestnut brown hair and hooked nose, although his nose was not as broken as his fathers’, nor was his hair leaving him. He believed the invitation to somehow be his father’s work.
“Who said that?” Suffle said making a scandalous face.
Sophie tried her best not to laugh. She was seeing Charlie after many months, she was in the mountains after many months, and she was not supposed to be in the meeting. It was a meeting of the starlite royal committee. Nobody had any objections in her being there yet and she did not want to compromise her situation.
Charlie gave his father a you-know-who look and continued, “I think people are getting bored.”
“Bored!” one of the ministers exclaimed mimicking the king’s jest. “I think we all have plenty of work to do.”
Charlie clenched his fists. Sophie wondered if he was planning to fire the minister as soon as he got the crown on his head.
“Our swords are getting rusty though,” a female minister said.
“You need to get better swords then,” Charles said with gritted teeth.
“Why?” she shrugged, “What’s the use?”
Sophie waited for steam to come out of Charlie’s ears.
“That’s a good question,” Suffle said, “and I’m happy to announce that I have the answer in my hands.”
He opened the scroll and read it out aloud. A murmur ran through the crowd.
“Inter-country championship?!” some questioned, some exclaimed.
“Yes,” Charlie said, “that’s the idea. A tournament between them and—“
“Princess Sia has the most brilliant ideas,” somebody said and the crowd burst into laughter. The invitation may have come from the king across the border, but Sia was behind it. Everybody knew it.
Charlie’s jaw tightened. He secretly touched his sapphire ring wondering when he will exchange it for a crown.
“I have a preposition,” Alex said. With her starberry blue eyes and lips red enough to match Charlie’s complexion at the moment, Princess Alexandria was a beauty. Her perfect figure and sun-coloured hair were enough to mistake her for a nymph.
Charlie interrupted her. “You want to include your family too.”
“Well yes,” she said defiantly.
“Sometimes I wonder,” he muttered, “if I’m surrounded by war maniacs.” Only Sophie and Alex were close enough to hear him.
“We are just having a sports tournament,” Sophie said. This earned her an approving smile from Alex.
“I suppose that it would be better,” Suffle answered the plea, oblivious to the chatter. “I’ll arrange a tri-council today.” He looked at Alex, “You should prepare for a visit to your parents.”
Alex nodded and the meeting was adjourned.
“Why do you need to go? Send a messenger,” Charlie whispered.
“Are you going to miss me?” Alex cooed.
Sophie was busy wondering if Sia was contacted by Neal or if it was some freaky telepathic connection they had.
Suffle was surprised to know that he wasn’t the only one to get an invite.
“We figured you’ll get one too,” Queen Crysta said.
“So it’s for everyone?” Suffle said.
“We were thinking we should also invite our eastern neighbours. Alex is keen on the idea.”
“If we do that,” Crysta said, “it would be more logical to have the events here. We cannot invite guests to a place where we ourselves are guests.”
“I think I have a good excuse to go meet Sia now.” Suffle looked at Natalia. “If I could have a letter or two from the empress,” he said, “one for Sia and one for Alexandria.”
“We should start with the preparations. We need to pluck out our best people and get them ready,” Crysta said.
“We should also start making arrangements for the arenas,” the empress said.
“You girls are running away with your plans,” Suffle said. “First we need to talk to them. See if they agree.”
“Don’t you see? This was their plan all along,” Natalia said, “To have the events here.”
“Sia could not have written- ‘Dad, we are coming there for an extravagant event.’ Could she?” Crysta said.
Suffle laughed. “Then she won’t be surprised by my visit, or my message.”
“I bet you’ll find her buying travelling cloaks.”
“I’m glad Sia had this idea,” Suffle said flashing an ear to ear grin, “It’s going to be so much fun.”
“You are a king,” the queen said. “Maybe someday try behaving like one.”
“Charlie already behaves like one.”
“And he gets mocked for it because you have never behaved in the right manner.”
Suffle ignored her. “I’ll go order some trophies. Should we have a cash prize?”
“Give my compliments to the king and the queen,” Crysta said indicating the conclusion of the meeting.
“I’ll tell Alex to do the same,” Suffle replied without losing his childish grin.
“Wait a minute,” Natalia said, “There is one more thing I want to discuss.”
Both pair of eyes went to her face. She said, “I think Neal is up to something.”
Suffle chuckled. “When is he not?”
“He is always doing something crazy or other. I can’t even put a trail on him,” Natalia said putting her palm on her forehead.
“That will only compromise him,” Crysta said.
“This time it is more than midnight strolls and going underground for a few days. He is planning something big.”
“How do you know?” Crysta asked. Concern clouded both their faces.
“I’m his mother. I can read his face like a book,” Natalia said. “He has got that smile.”
“You should be happy.” Suffle said, “He is keeping busy.”
“He is right. When has Neal done anything that resulted in a disaster?” Crysta asked.
“With Sia gone, I’m afraid he’ll do something reckless. I haven’t seen him in five days.”
Crysta gripped Natalia’s hand. “You are worrying needlessly. But then all mothers do.”
The empress looked in Crysta’s big wise eyes for assurance. “I hope you are right.”
After much discussion, the sporting events were scheduled to be held after two months. Everybody got busy: the princes and princesses with the arrangements, the athletes with their practices and sorting matches, and the traders with the expectation of the business this event would create.
The only two people who had not drowned in the preparations were the empress and the queen. The arrangements were done by their children, and unlike the king they were not participating.
So they had decided to busy themselves by keeping an eye on Neal.
In spite of all the assurance she had given to the empress, Queen Crysta was sure that the prince had some plan going on. But she couldn’t find anything suspicious. Neal was busy with the arrangements and anytime she enquired, he was found working for the event.
The empress had little doubt that the championship was Neal’s idea. She concluded it was a ruse for Sia to visit. A little voice inside her asked if it was a ruse for something else. It was a big event with so many people involved that anything could happen without anybody noticing.