2nd Week of the 1st month of the 66th year since Pemroque’s expansion
The newly supplied candle clock has steadily burnt down beyond the 4th hour mark since midnight when the young king’s voice is raised high against other voices in the King’s Council room, silencing everyone with its piercing echo.
“Why you didn’t tell me earlier of this sudden brilliant idea of yours, Dhalia? You suggested Lady Astralva to lead the conquest of Tanoba instead of Sir Ungarov?”
The king’s eyes convey more and more fury with each word he harshly spits for the entire council to receive. Every eye in the room slowly turns to the man of the conversation, Kreison Dhalia. He is a prominent personal advisor of the king and the previous king for decades who possesses almost zero royalty blood. While his intelligence has won many hearts including the last king’s in the past, however, currently, it is a possible stumbling block in his career, family and life.
The faint innocent sound of the metal balls of the candle clock pinged on the tray, signalling the entire room that the 5th hour has just passed, fills the room and adds an eerie atmosphere in it.
The young king’s dark eyes now are scrutinising each movement made by the ageing man in front of him; each hand or leg jerk, and even the bob of Kreison’s Adam’s apple after he was declared ‘the assailant’ of the situation.
“Your Grace, I have just drawn a full conclusion on how to conquer Tanoba in the most efficient and quickest manner. Lady Astralva helming the active conqueror role shows how much capable and responsible she is in fulfilling her role compared to other War Commanders of yours,” Kreison dips his head low in front of the king. Nonetheless, his tall bland circular hat does not do much in concealing his anxious face.
The other council members can witness the king’s subtle grimace when Kreison mentions the girl’s name so nonchalantly. Deep down, they already know how much he cares for the girl who has grown up closely with him throughout his 19 years of life.
“But you can’t guarantee her safety during the expedition,” the king responds with a tone as cold and chilling as the usual winter nights.
“Lady Astralva is a trained warrior, Your Grace. She is much more capable of taking care of herself than most of us in this room do,” Eras Kyopas, another council member speaks up in a strange confident manner.
Kreison slowly looks up to the noble-born Eras who is wearing his usual square-ish hat with its encircling edge that closes at the back. He seems to be taken aback by the support put in by this man who often criticises each move proposed by Kreison in the expansion of the Kingdom of Pemroque.
“Her young age should not be a limit to her full potential, Your Grace,” Blesadat Mivanor adds in as her eyes leave her scrolls and skin-made papers, to the sight of the king. Her dull lenses show some green specks of light, thanks to the dim sunlight entering the room.
Kreison bites the inside of his cheeks to prevent him from smiling. He aims to appear professional which is why he tries not to show publicly his genuine feelings of how grateful he is towards the people that have been working closely with him for years or even decades for some.
Other council members start to nod slowly, giving approval of Kreison’s move. A few seconds after that, chatter starts to fill in the room once again as the attention shifts towards how clever Kreison is in selecting the role of conquerer from the 7 War Commanders in the kingdom. They go on by discussing on the impacts and consequences of this and how the advantages will definitely outweigh the disadvantages.
The king’s audible sigh stops everyone from talking as the ball of attention in the room quickly passes on to the king.
“Then, give me some assurance that she will return safely.” There is a hint of desperation in his voice as he utters each word of plea carefully.
Kreison is slightly annoyed of how the king is emotional and easily affected by anything with regards to Lady Astralva. Since the king is young, Kreison has always expected the king’s attachment to her to grow out as he is entering adulthood so that he can be a wise and mature king to Pemroque. However, seeing the current situation, he regrets not doing anything to help grow out the king’s close relationship with Lady Astralva in the past.
“There will be 8 guards deployed to accompany her at all times to ensure her safety,” Kreison finally responds with an indifferent tone which somewhat can calm down the storms in the king’s eyes.
“Thank you, Sir Dhalia, for everything you have done and your dedication to our kingdom,” the king finally gives Kreison a warm willing smile that strangely is able to flatter Kreison.
Kreison gives himself a mental pat on the back to encourage himself to continue to serve the kingdom and its expansion goals after his efforts have been praised.
“It is my noble duty, Your Grace,” he bows deeply, respecting the king and his expression of gratitude towards Kreison.
“Now, let’s continue on with reviewing Gemaim’s current reports,” the young king suggests and everyone nods in response.
1st Week of the 2nd month of the 66th year since Pemroque’s expansion
“We should not have sneaked out from training! I have a bad feeling about this,” Juden Astralva looks worried as soon as she steps out from the castle walls to be greeted by masses of green fields and shrubs against the backdrop of clear bright light blue sky. Her thick wavy black hair, that is mostly left loose other than the back part that is tied to a high bun, is completely hidden by her dark blue cloak that helped her hide her face and identity when she escaped the high security of the castle.
Sramn R’Drauge’s hand is the other source of warmth Juden receives other than the spring sun’s heat. Winter has passed for a full month by now but Juden’s body still cannot bear the chill spells blowing in Lausandre, Pemroque’s capital.
After walking hundreds of metres away from the castle’s entrance, Sramn stops them near an old cherry blossom tree. His long sleek black hair that is styled to a bun is the only thing that catches Juden’s attention as he walks to the back of the tree trunk and reveals a flower crown made of bright pink peony flowers. Juden cannot stop the smile appearing on her face.
She has been harbouring feelings for Sramn for a few months ever since she defeated him in a sword combat. He used to be a War Commander renowned for his swordsmanship before being defeated by Juden in a serious combat. While rumours have it that Sramn purposely planned for his own loss against Juden, the unspoken truth is that Juden has learnt various unique sword-fighting skills from her foreigner father who has spent years travelling the world for swordsmanship mastery before settling down in Pemroque.
“A gift for a lady,” Sramn says as he removes the hood of her cloak from her head and carefully places the hand-made flower crown on her head. His hands linger on the sides of her rosy cheeks and down to her wavy hair. His dark eyes try to convey something to Juden but she cannot seem to obtain any clue or sign.
“Thank you, Sramn. I love this surprise gift,” Juden thanks him with a huge grin before tip-toeing to give a peck on his cheek. She knows it will stir some emotions in him but it is the only way to convey her feelings without being too direct.
A bright flush surfaces across Sramn’s cheeks to his ears. Deep down, he is thankful that his beard is able to conceal the embarrassing red colour on his skin.
“Juden, my lady,” he braves himself to speak up to her on a particular matter.
Juden responds by looking up to him with her big round eyes.
“Do take care of yourself and return safely,” Sramn finally conveys his wishes as he strokes her right cheek once more.
Juden is again reminded of her new duty of conquering Tanoba in a surprise attack next week. However, she does not feel intimidated or afraid. She knows well of how arrogant and nonchalant Tanoban people and rulers are with their slack borders security. Most are too full of themselves, bragging about their prospering kingdom because of their talented citizens, abundant resources and wealth to other surrounding kingdoms which only annoys others more. The newly crowned Tanoban king has not fully shown his statecraft skills especially after his coronation 2 days ago and the preparation of his grand wedding ceremony that will take place 3 weeks from now. Juden feels sorry for them for not being aware of Pemroque’s plan of defeating Tanoba but she cannot help but feels happy too in leading the process of taking down the arrogant kingdom.
Juden nods in response. “Of course, Sramn. You can count on me.”
Sramn goes on by kissing her forehead before offering his arm to her. “Shall we go back then?”
Juden chuckles before taking his arm in a graceful manner.
“Lead the way, Sir R’Drauge.”
2nd Week of the 2nd month of the 66th year since Pemroque’s expansion
Today, the grand throne room is unusually reduced to one of the common stuffy crowded halls in the castle as many of the court’s families are gathered to witness Juden receiving blessings and wishes from the king and his royal family for her conquest of Tanoba. Royal Lady Lialona Astralva, Juden’s mother, the cousin of the late king, is there too, accompanied by Juden’s younger brother, Heren, while her father is away, managing the rising conflict in Searza.
“King Rugemara, may I present to you, Lady Juden Astralva who is currently serving in the 54th War Commanders’ League of Pemroque, who shall receive your best wishes and blessings to lead the conquest of Tanoba,” the court announcer grandly announces to the silent crowd and cues Juden to walk along red carpet embroidered with gold images of dragons towards the throne where the young king is seated. The red, blue and gold painted colours on the wooden throne are still visible despite being mostly hidden from sight by the king’s white-gold silk robes, emanating the growing power of Pemroque in the northern side of the globe.
Juden kneels gracefully in front of the stairs that is completely covered with blue carpet leading to the throne despite her heavy multiple-layered bronze armour protecting her chest down to her thighs. Her black hair is braided and turned to a giant bun at the back of her head, leaving few wavy hair strands to frame her oval face. Despite being close to the king, physically and emotionally, she does not dare to show her face in front of him at such a formal occasion. That is when it hits her of how long they have been separated in preparation for Tanoba’s conquest, when she realises she has not seen his face up close for months.
“Rise, Lady Juden Astralva,” the king commands her with a formal tone which she obeys automatically.
The king rises from his throne and climbs down the stairs to approach Juden. Juden has just noticed how much taller the king has grown after months of very limited contact with one another. A few things that have not changed from his pretty face is the mole on his left eyebrow’s arch and his cleanly-shaved facial hair. His long dark hair has multiple braids which are securely twisted at the base of his gold hat that has lacquered rectengular board on top with drapes of jade beads at its two ends.
Juden tries not to look nervous from the effect of this close proximity to the most powerful man in her kingdom.
A royal servant is offering the king a silver dagger with dragon-decorated handle, a white soft cloth, and a gold bowl of clear oil on a tray.
The king ceremoniously cuts his left palm with the dagger, drawing the rich maroon-coloured blood which is dropped three times inside the bowl of clear oil. Juden can easily smell the iron from his blood. After wiping his cut with the cloth, the king then sprinkles the oil on Juden’s head eight times.
“With this, shall the blessings and wishes of Pemroque be with you in mind, soul and spirit,” he says before drawing a straight line with the remaining oil on Juden’s face, from her forehead, her nose bridge, her lips and down to her chin. However, both Juden and the king seem to be aware that his thumb lingers a few seconds too long on her lips. While Juden feels a sudden spike in her body temperature, the king’s expression remains stoic and indifferent to whatever just happened.
Juden kneels again as the king returns to his throne.
She is cued as soon as the king is seated comfortably on his throne.
“I, Lady Juden Astralva, pledge to bring victory, justice and honour in the name of Pemroque, King Rugemara V and Wyjoutres Dynasty.”
“Rise, Lady Juden Astralva,” the court announcer cues her on the final part of the ceremony.
She obeys and gives a final bow to the king.
“Thank you, Your Grace,” she says before exiting the throne room with much confidence in each stride she takes.