Chapter 1

3430 of the Fifth Age

Mordurel, Easterland Region

Silverhall Castle

Raenys Silverstag

There was a joint "Oh" of amazement from the peasants when the two men clashed. Both lances splintered on impact with their shields. Like any tourney lance they were made to splinter, a bit of theater for the crowd. The jousters halted at the end of the wooden barrier between them and prepared for a second charge. Raenys watched eagerly as the men's squires gave them new lances and thus began a new charge.

One of the jousters was a landed knight sworn to her house and the other was a simple wandering knight without a lord or proper home. A mercenary with a code of honor some called them. She thought it sounded exciting though, a homeless knight that wandered about the Westerland provinces to do good deeds. Though her elder brother had always told her that wandering knights were far less honorable that the fairytale knights she dreamt of as a girl.

The wandering knight's lance splintered against the knight's round shield as the knight's lance struck his armor and almost sent him off his horse. He regained his seat as his squire handed him a new lance. Thus they charged again and the knight bounced the lance off his shield and struck hard against his opponents helm and sent him to the dirt. The crowd cheered and Raenys clapped her hands excitedly.

"That was amazing," she stated joyfully to herself.

She swiped a strand of her icy blonde hair out of her face and tucked it in behind her ear. Her appointed herald heralded the victorious knight and announced the next participants. The son of a baron against another baron son. The lordlings soon entered the jousting ground and trotted up to her and bowed their heads. She mentioned the customary formalities and wished them luck and they trotted off to different ends of the jousting ground. To Raenys's misfortune one of the lordlings was unhorsed in the first tilt.

Around the stall she sat in stood guards with cloaks in Silverstag colors. A silver stag on a field of yellow. There was dozens of banners with colorful house heraldries that flew high around the tourney grounds. A good number were baronets, the lowest ranking nobles in the realm, but several higher noble banners were present, barons like the Crakemonts and Mayflower and even the banners of count of the Ostland province. As in any royal court there was no lack of noblemen and noblewomen. The other provinces in the Westerland Realm of Men had no banners present at Raenys' little tourney.

A line of decent wandering knights, landed knights and lordlings competed but they could not hold Raenys's interest. Most of their tilts was short and the men made poor jousters. One of the tilts was amusing when a knight faced Sir Tiber Troutelyn of the Kingsguard. While she didn't like him very much it was an amusing scene as he appeared to barely nudge the other to make him fall from his steed. That changed when the herald decreed Sir Ormond Oakenshield against Sir Anton Mayflower, the man known as the greatest jouster in the provinces. Both men came in on strong destriers, clad completely in plate armor. Sir Ormond's surcoat was green with a leafless brown oak on and Sir Anton had a yellow field with a blue, green and red flower on his cloak. His gilded armor shined with gold and the commonfolk cheered his name. As they moved into position Raenys was delighted to see her friend Dawana on approach.

"Let her path," she told her guards.

Dawana Oakenshield came up to her throne and stood at her side. Raenys' pets rested at the foot of the stall.

"I don't think your brother's going to win this one," Raenys told her with an excited smile.

"Ormond is just as good as Sir Anton, if not better," Dawana claimed to disagree. "He simply doesn't joust as often as Sir Anton."

"Who does? The young lordlings lives for it."

Dawana smiled.

The first charge left both men's lances splintered.

"I bet you ten coppers Ormond will win," she said cockily.

Raenys smirked with mischief and said, "Fifteen gold coins and you got a deal."

Dawana eyed her brother as he began to ride at Sir Anton with his lance at the ready.

"Not a chance."

Raenys snickered, "Knew it. Knew you didn't believe in him that hard."

Though she had to give it to Sir Ormond, he didn't get unhorsed until he splintered his seventh lance. It was the most entertaining joust all day to her.

"Would you please tell him it was a valiant attempt?"

Dawana nodded. Before she answered one of the pets released a low shriek. Raenys lowered her eyes to look at her beloved puppy dragons. One of the two drakes raised her head. Both dragons was still puppies, a mere two meters in length if the tail was not counted. Moonfyre and Icefyre had been gifts while still eggs. When a dragon was born it often bonded with the first face they found. Moonfyre was a common dragon with raven black scaled with a pattern of crimson. Icefyre had raven black scales with crystal blue. As eggs these lovelies they had been a gift by the Dragon King.

"Hush girl, hush," she told Moonfyre.

The dragon lowered her head and rested it on the ground while keeping eye on her surroundings.

Sirs Ormond and Anton's joust was the last scheduled. For the peasants that was the end but the nobles was brought to the garden were Raenys had planned a glorious feast. It was the only proper end to an entertaining joust on a warm day of the month of Weeping Widow. Good food and good wine. Mushrooms covered in butter sauce and garlic, roasted duck in butter and exotic spices and onion, ten swans, freshly baked bread, crab and mussels, cheeses, herring, salmon and vast amounts of sausage. More than enough to feed the forty gathered noblemen and noblewomen. There was six different types of wine available for serving. Wine from the famous winery houses in the Middenland province, wine from the far away Kyroshi on their distant and exotic continent and lastly wine of dwarf and elven origin. Personally she didn't like the dwarfen. It was far too strong for her taste.

Bards played flutes and lutes and a young man with a lovely voice sang a lovely ballad. The current song was of her mother, Queen Jhaenera I. It was from the Bleeding Years, when she slew the usurper Jaeryn Shattershield in combat. Raenys had seen that her closest friends was gathered around her and they drank, ate and laughed. Rohanna got drunk quicker than most. Was it her third goblet when it was clear she was amusingly drunk. Dawana, unlike poor Rohanna, could hold her liquor.

When the song was finished the bard told the epic sage of the Ten Knights, the epic tale of Sir Rhobar the Wanderer. Although she had heard it a hundred times it was as great and epic each time. The bard told of the beginning of the quest given to the knights by the gods and how the journey began. She did noticed how he embellished Sir Joran's death at the hands of the Direwolves. He exaggerated the number significantly but she didn't expect anything different from a bard. Embellishing was a part of what they did. There was a short interruption when one of the Kingsguards approached. He bent down to whisper to me.

"Your majesty, the king has returned with his retinue," he whispered.

Raenys' eyes widened and she stood up to abruptly that her wooden throne almost fell but a serving man caught it with the left hand while carrying a platter of exotic wyvern steak in the right. Moonfyre momentarily looked up from her beef when her master disappeared.

"Are you-" Dawana began but Raenys was already gone.

The Kingsguard and Sir Tiber of house Troutelyn followed her, as did Icefyre and Moonfyre. The wind gripped the royal purple cloaks of her bodyguards. Their white round helms had small slits for the eyes and were gilded with glimmering golden vines and black feathers sat high upon the helms. The rest of their plate armor was as gorgeous shining white as the helms. Black gambeson was visible underneath through the small chinks between their steel plates. Around their waist hung black cloth in front and behind. She ran as quickly as she could with the long dress. When the stables came into vision she saw men on horseback, some in fine velvet clothes but most in plate armor. One of the men suck out like a sour thumb, an elf with a dusky complexion on a panther. Some ten men wore gambeson, yellow with a silver stag sigil, and kettle helms. They were men-at-arms of her house. Three Kingsguards was in the party.

Then finally she saw the man she'd come to find. His blond hair flowed to his shoulders, his face was clean shaved safe stubble on his chin. By the time he dismounted she slowed herself and came to embrace him hard and plant kisses on his soft lips. Aldrich returned both her embrace and kisses without a moment of hesitation.

"Sweet gentle Raenys. I can't even say how good it is to see you. This must be the best welcome home I have ever had," Aldrich said between kisses. "By Nímíro, the drakes have grown."

"Oh, I've missed you so. You've been gone for two long months." She felt his hand touch her stomach and he looked into her eyes. Like his her eyes were silver. As if she could become happier she grabbed his hand and began to drag him towards the keep. "Come quick, come! You have to see her. You have to see our babe."

He laughed as he followed her into the castle. He managed to calm her down slightly. In the nursery Raenys dismissed the nursemaids and made way to look down into the cradle.

"Hi sweetheart," she said and reached down to gentle touch the baby's hand. It was fantastic to see the Aldrich's expression when he saw the child. He carefully picked her up in his arms. She gurgled and some drool ran down her cheek. He wiped it with his red velvet sleeve. "I told you you should have delayed your journey. I had her five days after you left." She paused. "Beautiful isn't she?"

"She is." He looked up with big and curious eyes. "What did you name her?"

Raenys smiled sweetly and wide, "Alys."

"We made a beautiful daughter," Aldrich said proudly as Alys began to suck on his finger.

They soon returned to the feast and the nobles that was still coherent bowed to their king. She enjoyed it far more than she ever did before and for an hour the feast continued merrily. When she stumbled away for a night's sleep he spent time holding his daughter before he joined her. She was too drunk from the wine to determine the amount of time that went by before he joined her in the bedchamber. After her maids changed her to her nightgown she stumbled into the bed and quickly fell asleep. At some point she woke up to find him sleeping beside her and for that night she felt as if everything was right with the world.

She awoke due to a feeling of warmth in her face she opened her eyes to find the sun from the window. Apparently some asshole had pulled the drapery to the side and allowed the sun to shine in. As she made her way out of bed she groaned at her headache to go away. She was dressed in a red dress with gilded patterns around her chest and skirts. A necklace made of a golden chain with amethysts was attached around her neck.

"Doesn't it look beautiful?"

"Yes milady," the youngest of the maids, a girl of fourteen, concurred.

"Very much so your grace," an elder woman said with a smile on her wrinkled face.

"I'm going to say good morning to little Alys. See that my breakfast is prepared in the meantime and I shall eat in the solar," she decided.

"As you say your grace," the elder woman affirmed.

Upon leaving the bedchamber four household guards began to march a few paces behind her. She noted that it was early morning still. The hallways she made her way down had beautiful tapestries filling the left wall and a number of them hung between the small windows on the right. Guards, servants and knights bowed to her as she walked through the castle. She found her baby girl sleeping soundly in her cradle.

On her way to the solar she caught the end of an argument between her dear Aldrich's advisory councilors master of justice and master of ships outside the study of the chancellor, the right hand of Aldrich in running the realm. When he was away he dealt with most affairs when it came to the running of the realm and minor matters came before him instead of the king. When she had moved court to Silverhall the chancellor had had to bring the whole council there. The elderly man bowed his head as she gave a passive glance in their direction. The other man looked in her direction but there was no head bow. He was a few decades younger than the other man.

To her joy the sun shined into the solar and spread its warmth. Soon her breakfast was carried in by servants and a small boy of six poured watered out wine in her goblet. Her breakfast consisted of cooked mushrooms in butter with spiced lamb ribs, smoked salmon and her favorite, a plate of honey cake. As the servants left the small boy remained to refill her wine when required. It wasn't much of a meal but it would be a satisfactory breakfast.

After swallowing a piece of pie she cast a look to him.

"You're Jerrod Troutelyn's son, aren't you?"

"Yes your grace. I am Wilbjorn," he responded proudly. "Pa says I'm going to be a knight one day. The bestest knight ever."

"I'm sure you will. You'll be the pride of your house." Unlike the current Troutelyns. Sir Tiber of the Kingsguard was the only one she saw as perhaps honorable, though the judgment was still out on that. "If you practice and learn when you become a squire. Not to mention listen."

"Yes your grace!" He replied proudly and puffed up his chest.

"Seen anything interesting today?" She inquired casually. He got a thoughtful look on his face. She gestured to the mushrooms. "Have a pair."

He eagerly put down the jug and used fished up a mushroom and gobbled it up with the speed of the wind. She weren't sure if he even chowed. He might live in the castle but he was only a page and didn't eat food as fancy and extraordinary as her and her family did.

"So…"

"I saw Count Oakenshield talk to Baron Whitecloak." So did I, outside the chancellor's study, she thought and drank from her goblet. "Th-they talk about something bad Baron Whitecloak had done. Don't know what."

"Hmm, refill." She thought about what the boy said as he poured wine into her empty goblet. It was a sweet wine that, if she weren't mistaken, were from Middenland. The three houses Redwyne, Greenwyne and Bluewyne all lorded over lands in Middenland and they were rivals in the making of wine and other beverages. "Wilbjorn, there are more extra food for you if you hear something more I might be interested in."

He nodded with a wide smile.

"And…it stays between us, okay?"

"I promise I won't tell, your majesty. I can keep a secret," he swore and took a knee with his hand on his right chest, just like a knight swearing an oath. It was sort of cute how excited he was.

After she finished her breakfast decided upon speaking to Dawana. Mayhaps she knew something about this matter between the baron and count. Interesting too was that Whitecloak was a vassal to the Oakenshields of Ostland. That information could be useful at some point and since Dawana loved playing at court intrigues it shouldn't be that hard to see if she knew.