Knights in Shining Armor (And Princes in Love)

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With the amount of work he had done in the past few hours, not to mention the abundance of work still to be looked over by him, Veran had started to miss the company of even Fergo of all people. At least then he would have someone to take his stress out on, deservably so in Edmund’s case.

It didn’t help that the staff around him kept behaving in a bizarre manner, quick glances thrown at him every now and then before they proceeded to discuss something among themselves. It didn’t seem like everyday petty gossip either, their topic of frequent whispers usually. There was an air of unease in those hurried glances and the hushed exchange of words between the ministers who came to greet him or the lords he would catch lingering around his father’s office.

Adler was, of course, no help on this matter. Everytime Veran brought it up, his assistant would skirt around the topic and then push some more paperwork to look over on him. As if things couldn’t get any more stifling for Veran. He had barely stopped himself from snapping at the incredibly ridiculous policies some of the advisors send his way to be reviewed. He had to remind himself every time that since he couldn’t just make these old men leave their positions yet, the first thing he would do when he comes into power would be to allow no more old, filthy rich men in his counsel. He would end up banging his head on to one of the shiny jeweled columns in the palace if he were to interact with more of such empty heads in person. Now that, would not make a good image of a new King.

“Adler, please tell me you have something for me that does not involve petty men waging war over the silliest of matters and taking advantage of poor folk,.” Veran groaned, running a tired hand through his hair, “I would accept a building plan for a circus even, at this point.”

Adler, who was in the midst of handing over yet another thick file to the prince, paused and took the offending cloth bound bundle back sheepishly. The man had good sense.

“Well, it might not be a circus exactly, sire,” he started hesitantly, no doubt wondering if he should stray away from what His Majesty had instructed for him to do, “One of the Lords, you’ve met him as well, he recently brought up the issue of closing down the night market in the Cleviat town at the west.”

Veran was confused. “Is there anything wrong with the night market in that town? Oh, perhaps some not so lawful trading of questionable substances? We had a few cases of that in some other towns a while back.”

“Not exactly, Your Highness. The night market is a monthly celebration of sorts among the common folks, you see. It’s a recent tradition started by Madam Serpha who overlooks the records and workings for that town. She insisted on it, saying it would serve as a moment of celebration of the residents’ hard work every month. She has also worked to arrange the local tax in a manner so the people would have enough left for themselves and their families even after submitting their bi-monthly grace to His Majesty.”

“Well, I don’t see why something like that would need to be shut down. Which Lord started this matter, if I may ask?” If it was possible, Veran was even more confused. Did these old men hate everything nice and joyful or what?

“It was Lord Vanshire, Your Highness,” The gaunt pale face came to mind vaguely and Veran knew well enough who Adler was referring to. Vanshire was at the top of his list of the so called ‘advisors’ that Veran planned to get rid of as soon as possible. “Though no one says it out loud, everyone is quite aware of Lord Vanshire’s....dislike...of women in administrative work as well as them working in a position that would overpower his. It is also well known that Madam Serpha quite bluntly rejected the Lord’s ‘advances’ a few times a while ago. Ever since then, he’s been quite adamant at opposing any plans and projects Madam Serpha starts.”

Veran quite openly snickered, which turned into full blown guffaw when he caught sight of the look of clear disgust on Adler’s face whenever he mentioned Vanshire.

“Not a fan of Vanshire, are we Adler?” Veran grinned, placing his fisted hand on his cheek. He admits that it was quite fun to see his assistant torn between being flustered and trying to hide his open distaste for someone from nobility.

“He’s not the most pleasant man, if I do say so myself,” Adler finally sputtered out before he cleared his throat in an attempt to regain some composure.

“We continue to find common ground, Adler!” Veran stood up, glad to have had that brief moment of rest and mirth after hours of continuous work, “Tell me, when does the night market get set up? What time each month?”

Had it not been for their previous discussion, Adler would have been far more suspicious at the question Veran asked. Lucky for him that his assistant just believed in him enough to think the prince was just being concerned over work matters.

“Well, it is being held tonight if I recall correctly,” confirmed Adler as he flipped through his planner to no doubt. Such a diligent man, Veran almost felt bad tricking him so. “It is usually held around the end of the month, sire. You need not worry, however. Everyone knows the petty reason behind Lord Vanshire’s request for this matter and no one really agrees to it except his own followers.”

Veran nodded along as he pretended to look over the papers arranged on his desk, hoping Adler was yet not familiar enough with his behaviour to suspect anything.

“Well, that’s a relief, isn’t it,” he said, rolling his head side to side in a show of exhaustion, which wasn’t really that hard to do when it was mostly true.

I think it would be fine to stop for today, Your Highness,” Adler said at last, face scrunched up in a frown, no doubt in concern at the sluggish figure of the prince, “I’ll let you rest now, sire.”

“Good night, Adler,” Veran waved, waiting till the door was shut and any footsteps weren’t audible anymore before he dropped the act and started gathering his cloak and shoes quietly. The days around this season in Tretho were a combination of drying hot winds and scorching sunshine but the nights provided relief in contrast with the weather turning pleasantly cool, bordering on chilly on some nights.

Better to take a thicker cloak, just in case. Veran thought to himself, ready to sneak out. It was a good thing that his office was just on the first floor, with a widely set twirling staircase leading up to his bedroom from his office on the floor above. It made his office space perfect for sneaking out, given that it wasn’t at much of a height to begin with as well as having several thick trees to climb down through.

Veran might not have attended all his political classes as a child but he made sure to master the skill of climbing any kind of tree as stealthily as possible. How else would he have met up with Cirthe on the days his father insisted on keeping him occupied with some boring matters?

The wisteria tree just outside the largest window was as reliable as always, hiding his figure among the hanging blooms while providing enough firm support for his safe and quiet descent down to the ground. Looking around to make sure once more no one witnessed his act (which was a shame really, it was such a stealthy climb down), Veran hurried towards the small alcove situated in the lone column that encased the staircase leading from his office up to his bedroom, the path all too familiar to him. Still, he made sure to step only on the ground covered by mossy grass to muffle his footsteps.

A firm push at the alcove to reveal a hidden channel was perhaps the riskiest task in this whole process, seeing as the palace was quite old despite appearing new, the hard stones grinding and groaning with the movement. The slightest of sound seemed to echo everywhere in the quiet night, making Veran look around each time the stones shifted. He made enough space to slide himself past the thick barrier of the wall before pushing it shut after him, hoping no one was in the vicinity to have heard all that racket as he hurried through the hidden path.

The channel was just one of the many that were spread out throughout the palace but only few, trustworthy people knew about all of them. The one Veran had decided to stumble his way through led directly to the border of the town Adler mentioned today. There were a few that led to other towns as well and a few that led to the dense woods located behind the palace. Veran had taken that one with Cirthe only a few times, the darkness and stillness of the forest setting off his anxiety as a child. The few times they did go there was because Cirthe was particularly fond of the place, claiming that she felt a strange sense of comfort within the shadows of the looming trees. The things he does for his only friend.

Well, I have to see for myself this night market talk Adler mentioned in order to truly get a sense of judgement, don’t I? Veran reasoned with himself as he stepped out into the cold air of the town skirts. Anything that Vanshire despises deserves my utmost attention, after all.

Though he was yet to get to the heart of the town, he could already see the twinkling lights ahead of him which is where he assumed the night market was set up. It didn’t take him too long to get near the town centre, the crowd of people around him growing denser the nearer he got to the main part of the market. Though Veran had seen a night market plenty of times as a kid, it was also a new experience to see how each town celebrated their hard earned night of relief and festivity. There was no doubt that not every town was equally well off so it was fascinating for him to see how people found something to celebrate regardless of their living situation.

The excited chatter and faint music that played somewhere ahead made Veran realize how quiet it was in his own home. The most racous noise usually was perhaps the clang of the practice weapons and the knights’ cries of victory during a friendly spar. ′How sad is that,′ Veran thought to himself ruefully, side stepping a small child tugging at the skirt of the woman beside him. The Prince made sure to keep his hood on at all times, glad he left all his fancy attire before sneaking out. Less chances of standing out and getting caught and what not. His light brown hair wasn’t the most uncommon color in the territory but he didn’t want to take any chances.

He slowed his pace as he strolled through the narrow spaces between the stalls, momentarily stopping at a few when something caught his eye. Though there was not a lot of fancy trinkets one could buy, Veran could see that most of what was being sold was made locally.

So caught up in gawking at the different food stalls and the dazzling lights hung up messily over his head, he almost missed the hushed conversation going on behind him. Judging by the footsteps and voices, there seemed to be two men walking side by side, though Veran could tell they weren’t tailing him or being suspicious of his figure in front of them even as he turned his body slightly towards them to better catch their words.

“I never was fond of the King but I’m even more unsure of that Prince he’s decided to pass the throne on to,” One of them was saying, his voice muffled as though he was eating something.

“I don’t really blame you,” The other responded, moving slightly closer to where Veran stood, “But then again, when has this play of throne and royalty concerned us. We’re still going to be suffering while those bastards turn a blind eye to our needs.”

“Don’t talk as if the King and his appointed authority hasn’t done us any good,” The vendor of the stall the men stood beside spoke up. Veran wasn’t sure if he was glad someone was defending his father or not, “Better than the greedy scoundrel of a King of the nation of the Northland. I hear people there don’t even get to keep a morsel of their hardwork for themselves.”

While Veran did agree with what the man said, he wasn’t sure if it was right to brush aside one’s own problems because someone else seemed to suffering through worse. He couldn’t deny that his father was one of the better Kings, but better did not always mean good.

He almost opened his mouth to put in a word of his own when a hand on his shoulder startled him into silence. Veran whirled around, expecting a palace guard at his back and preparing himself for a quick escape, only to see a familiar figure standing before him dressed similarly to his own attire.

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