All is sunny for Captain Galy, until the Major arrives to announce his king's approach.
| Captain Galy sat upright against the crenellations over the Livermore gatehouse, gazing out over the fresh green fields swaying pleasantly in the cool breeze. His smile seemed to rise along with the ever vibrant overhead sun, warming all around him. There was a life to the ramparts that he was unaccustomed to. A liveliness in the eyes and steps of the men on the walls. They moved and stood proudly, as though they did so every day, swelling and beaming as they passed. The captain began to wonder if their uncharacteristic jovialness for guard duty was for the benefit of the governor or their wayward guests. Most likely the latter.
“Ah, there’s one now,” Governor Font cooed delightedly as he stared through a spyglass.
Captain Galy turned in the direction of the governor’s outreaching finger, sighting the distant shape of a hawk darting through the air.
“Now let’s see,” Governor Font observed. “A very dark head. Bright yellow talons. A full checkered breast, how lovely.”
The captain couldn’t suppress a grin of amusement at the governor’s enthusiasm.
“Well, Captain?” The governor turned his sly smile towards Galy, looking patiently expectant. “Any guesses as to what type of raptor our feathered friend is?”
“Well, your lordship,” Captain Galy began as he watched the bird twist about, “seems to be a locust hawk over the fields.”
“Why, indeed it is,” the governor beamed. “Male, or female?”
“Most certainly male,” Captain Galy affirmed.
“Most certainly,” the governor squirmed in excitement, threatening to topple himself from his seat atop the ramparts.
After a moment of delighted giggles, Governor Font raised his spyglass up once again, musing as he observed.
“Quite the healthy specimen. I dare say, he should bear many capable offspring.”
“The hawks will do well this year, your lordship,” Captain Galy chimed in.
“Isn’t it remarkable, Captain,” the governor lowered his spyglass,” how even nature conspires to see to our prosperity?”
Governor Font held Captain Galy’s gaze for a moment, his jovial grin brimming past his ears.
“If not for such creatures as lovely birds, like this fine winged fellow,” the governor gestured towards the soaring hawk, “we would be overrun with all manner of wretched pests. Our fields would all be desecrated right before our very eyes, and we would all likely starve prior to the summer’s heat, much less winter’s chill. Balance is most crucial when it comes to ensuring the continuation of life and prosperity.”
“Rider approaching!” The call echoed over the ramparts.
Both the captain and the governor stood to better see past the crenellations down the bending highway. A faint figure appeared trotting in from the distance.
“There, your lordship,” Captain Galy pointed to the distant figure.
Turning to face the governor, he noted the flush of excitement that spread across Governor Font’s features.
“And what better to ensure balance than peace?” The governor raised his spyglass, staring off down the highway with fascination fixed to his face. “I dare say, what a fine specimen this one is as well. Such excellent bearing, and what lovely colors.”
“A most joyous sign, your lordship,” Captain Galy grinned out at the soaring hawk before looking back to the distant rider. “Life and prosperity for us all in this new age of peace.”
“Life and prosperity for us all under peace,” the governor agreed from behind his spyglass.
The minutes lingered as the rider drew ever closer. Eventually Captain Galy could make out the burgundy and sage of his dress uniform from the chestnut mount he rode atop. Some time later, his tall fur cap became more distinguished, along with his ceremonious clan kilt. Longer still, and the rider’s scabbard swayed at his side as he trotted along. Finally, the rider trotted to a halt several yards before the gate at the guards’ bidding.
“Royal rider,” Captain Galy called out from the battlement, “welcome to Livermore. May we have your name and purpose in our fair city?”
“Major Daniel Emerson,” the rider’s accent resonated off the city walls, “herald of His Royal Majesty, King Finnius. On behalf of my king, I request that he and his procession be allowed entry into your fair city.”
“His Royal Majesty,” Governor Font burst out gleefully, “is a most honored guest to Livermore. As governor of this fair city, it would be my greatest pleasure to serve as host to King Finnius and his procession.”
“Very good, lord governor,” the herald gave a small nod. “My king will be greatly pleased to be received by such generosity. He and his procession shall arrive in two hours time.”
“Are you required to report back to your king,” Captain Galy inquired,” or may we offer you rest and refreshment?”
“I’m not in need of much rest,” the herald called back in consideration, “but I’ll have my tea up on the battlements with you, if I may.”
“Very good, royal herald,” Captain Galy then turned towards one of the gatehouse towers. “Usher him in!”
The order to usher in the royal herald echoed down the line of command. The guards out front of the gate took up positions flanking the rider, and the assembly began marching proudly into the city.
“Splendid,” the governor squeezed his spyglass in both hands with frothing excitement. “I’m going to have my finest selections brought up here.”
Governor Font proceeded to bustle off towards a nearby servant, twiddling his fingers in absolute delight.
A few minutes passed before an eager corporal stepped onto the battlement, emerging from the western gatehouse tower with the royal herald in tow.
“The royal herald, Major Emerson, Captain,” the corporal breathed with brimming excitement, standing flamboyantly to attention.
The royal herald came to a halt a few paces before Captain Galy, standing smartly in his burgundy and sage uniform. His accommodations jingled merrily from the length of kilt wrapped over his shoulder, as he delivered a rigid salute. Captain Galy saluted the royal herald in return, and the major’s medals glinted once again as he lowered his arm to his side. Reaching behind his short beard, the royal herald undid the chin strap of his cap. Then proceeded to pull the length of fur from his head, nearly hiding his spade shaped ears amongst his hair. Nestling the cap under the crook of his arm, he regarded Captain Galy with a sharp grey stare.
“On behalf of His Royal Majesty, I thank you for the hospitality you have extended to my king and his procession.”
“Livermore is truly honored,” Captain Galy grinned, “to receive your people in visitation. How fairs His Royal Majesty?”
“He fairs well,” the royal herald stated. “He is eager to speak with your king.”
“I’m sure they have much to discuss,” Captain Galy slackened slightly in his stance.
“Indeed,” the royal herald stood rigid as ever, thick moustache lying as flat as his eyes.
“Ah, yes,” Governor Font emerged from the gatehouse tower behind the royal herald, spotting the half-elven major with notable delight. “Excellent. Most excellent.”
The governor bustled over to Captain Galy’s side, joining the conversation.
“Welcome to Livermore, Major,” Governor Font waved an arm out towards the city stretching out from the walls. “Northern-most city of His Highness’ ambitious domain and His Imperial Majesty’s great empire.”
“Quite impressive, your city is,” the royal herald glanced out over the cityscape looking far from impressed.
“Oh, you are most kind,” Governor Font chattered in his exuberance. “May I offer you a beverage from our finest selection?”
The royal herald followed the governor’s out-stretched hand towards a prim man-servant holding a varied display of tea selections. Finest, indeed, as the governor had managed to procure several Lysian blends in addition to other top rated Aethish and Corinthian selects. The royal herald studied them with intense scrutiny.
“Would you happen to have any non-camellia blend?”
The governor stood frozen for a moment, seeming to have difficulty processing the royal herald’s request. Judging by the selections presented, he hadn’t anticipated this preference.
“Of course, Major,” Governor Font recovered his jovial demeanor as he waved the tea laden man-servant away. “We are home to many regional blends. I am sure you will find them to be most pleasing.”
“Very good, lord governor,” the royal herald stood rigid as ever, staring flatly at them.
As Governor Font bustled away, Captain Galy offered a well shaded seat to the royal herald. The half-elven major accepted it politely, sitting so tall in the chair it made him look less comfortable than when he was standing. Reclaiming his own seat, Captain Galy thought to converse with the royal herald.
“I do hope your journey here saw fair conditions.”
“Fair enough,” the royal herald stared blankly at him. “It’s a lot easier getting around when you can actually travel the highways.”
An awkward silence hung in the air as Captain Galy pondered over the half-elf’s meaning.
“Has there been much difficulty in using the royal highways?”
“Only when your people controlled them.”
Silence fell over the battlement once again as Captain Galy thought frantically of some way to progress the conversation. The half-elf continued to stare blankly, his gaze unyielding. He seemed to be staring down at the captain, showing his disdain.
“And…,” Captain Galy ventured uncertainly, “what of our highways?”
“Your imperial highways are in excellent condition,” the royal herald seemed to sit up even straighter. “His Royal Majesty has enjoyed much comfort during his journey. I believe you will find him in good spirits, indeed.”
“Our spirits soar to hear such news,” Captain Galy smiled appreciatively. “We are ever grateful His Royal Majesty has agreed to meet with our just king, and in our fair city, no doubt.”
“Indeed,” the royal herald sighed. “Peace is of great interest between our two peoples.”
“Of the greatest importance,” Captain Galy affirmed.
“Movement on the highway!” The voice of a sentry called across the battlements. “Appears to be a formation marching, sir.”
Captain Galy peered down the highway, spotting a distant mass approaching. As he watched, the bustling of Governor Font’s steps drew near.
“Ah, yes,” the governor hastened towards Captain Galy’s side, panting slightly in his excitement as he raised his spyglass. “Most excellent. Most excellent, indeed.”
Lowering the spyglass, the governor then turned to the royal herald.
“May I present to you our finest non-camellia blends,” the governor gestured cheerfully towards the same man-servant now carrying a display of chamomile blends, and a second man-servant laden with various alternative herbal blends.
The royal herald stood from his seat, stepping forward to survey the selection.
“No chamomile, thank you,” he brushed the first man-servant aside once again.
Governor Font turned a nervous look towards Captain Galy as the royal herald continued to scrutinize the herbal varieties.
“Dandelion,” the royal herald pointed to a regional local blend. “That will do nicely, thank you.”
“Very good, Major,” the governor’s voice came higher than normal as he attempted to mask his surprise.
The two man-servants bowed politely, before being waved away.
“Your tea shall be ready promptly. Is there anything else I can offer you?”
“No thank you, lord governor,” the royal herald stood rigid. “I am quite comfortable as is. Your generosity is most gracious.”
“Oh, you are too kind, Major,” the governor beamed, concealing his relief.
“Royal colors in sight, sir!” The sentry called out again.
Captain Galy stared off down the highway once again, noting the burgundy and sage blur emerging from the distance. Several large forms of bright cloth waved at the front of the formation, while a haze of polearms continued over the colorful mass rising from the horizon. As the governor joined the captain’s side again with spyglass ready, the royal herald stepped towards the crenellations to better see.
“My goodness,” Governor Font breathed excitedly. “Quite the escort His Royal Majesty has.”
With that, the governor held his spyglass out before Captain Galy’s face, in offering. Accepting it, the captain raised the spyglass to his eye.
“His Royal Majesty is joined by our other most influential siblings on this mission of peace,” the royal herald spoke as Captain Galy sighted the lead of the procession.
The flags of the New Brytorian Kingdom and her three states danced in the breeze before dozens of royal guard pikemen. Their dress matched that of the royal herald, though each kilt was patterned and colored differently. Behind them rode dozens of knights in glinting plate armor and brilliant surcoats, lances held aloft. In tow, a line of spearmen with royal longbows immersed stretched out of sight. They all marched after the horses, mailed sleeves showing under surcoats or brigandine chest-plates, while shields hung from their backs. Their helmets created a shroud that concealed their faces behind cheek and nasal guards. Captain Galy couldn’t help but feel slightly intimidated by the sight of so many combat ready soldiers. They just looked so impressive as they marched.
“It is greatly within our country’s interest that these proceedings lead to good relations between our two peoples,” the royal herald continued. “Many wish to show their gratitude, and be present to witness this most joyous occasion.”
“Your people truly honor us, Major,” Governor Font wheezed in thrill.
“With all due respect, lord governor,” the royal herald seemed to turn his nose up at the governor, “it was your king who first sought peace with His Royal Majesty. Truly it is we who are honored.”
“Well said, Major,” Governor Font bowed slightly in his gratitude.
They continued to watch the approaching procession, Captain Galy peering through the spyglass as the line of spears and intermingled bows grew in volume. Eventually the man-servants from earlier returned, one carrying a box of sweeteners while the other bore a tray laden with teapot, cup and saucer, spoon, and a cup of cream.
“Your tea, Major,” the first man-servant presented the tray before laying it delicately on the portable table the seats were gathered about.
“Excellent,” the royal herald returned to his seat as the first man-servant began pouring the tea.
“Would you care for sugar, Major?” The second man-servant opened the sweetener box, revealing several grinds of Lysian sugar along with a few other sweetening agents.
“No sugar, thank you,” the royal herald dismissed without any hesitation. “Honey will do.”
Both man-servants appeared briefly taken aback before proceeding with the small honey vile tucked in the box. Governor Font looked at Captain Galy with some bewilderment across his face. The captain couldn’t help but feel somewhat disheartened on the governor’s behalf, as the royal herald outright rejected their most exotic offerings. The tremendous amount of effort and cost that had gone into procuring the finest goods from across the empire, especially Lysian tea and sugar, could best be described as back breaking. Now it was all proving quite vain as the royal herald sat satisfied with mere local herbs and honey. Captain Galy wondered if the royal king would be just as particular, then imagined his entire procession sipping on dandelion and honey much to Governor Font’s bewilderment.
Busying away over the tea for some time, the first man-servant finally withdrew the spoon into the folds of a cloth.
“Thank you,” the royal herald lifted the cup from the saucer, scrutinizing it with such severity he may as well have been a renowned critic.
Captain Galy could sense Governor Font growing more apprehensive as the major breathed in the sweet spring aroma of young flower. Then the bristles of the major’s bushy moustache stood as he brought the rim to his lips. Governor Font appeared to be holding his breath as the royal herald tipped back a long sip. Suddenly, the major’s eyes became wide with sensation. Lowering the cup, he allowed the tea to linger a moment before swallowing it down with a deep gulp. His breath came labored as he gazed off somewhere far away, face twitching between immense joy and deep sorrow. Captain Galy had seen far off looks in people’s eyes before, but nothing nearly as distant as that of the royal herald’s eyes.
“Is…” Governor Font ventured, “everything to your liking, Major?”
“Perfect, lord governor,” the royal herald snapped back to his senses, though struggled to recover. “Forgive me, I just felt very nostalgic then, is all. The tea is as excellent as I remember it being.”
“Oh…” Governor Font exchanged a baffled look with Captain Galy and his two man-servants, who shrugged doubtfully. “I’m relieved to hear. Remember, you say?”
“Indeed,” the royal herald locked eyes with Governor Font so intensely, Captain Galy felt himself withering before their gaze.
Penetrating grey eyes bore into the governor with all the accusation of a man who had lost everything. They continued to bear unrelentingly over the rim of his cup as he raised it, draining the contents in a few long swigs. Captain Galy concentrated on preventing his jaw from dropping as he came to realize the full meaning of the major’s words.
Surely he couldn’t be that old. Everyone was well aware of half-elves incredible longevity of lifespan, but the region had been annexed from the Old Brytorian Kingdom nearly a century prior. Four imperial generations had lived in this land since its acquisition. Surely the royal herald wasn’t that old. He couldn’t be much older than his thirties. Yet something about the half-elf’s eyes seemed timeless. They looked like the eyes of an ancient being.
Finishing the tea, the royal herald lowered his cup, returning it to its saucer with a small clink. His eyes seemed unblinking as they drove further into the governor, who in turn stood frozen. At that moment, Governor Font was a terrified squirrel awaiting a predator’s pounce.
“May I have another?” The royal herald’s request came with contrasting calm to the storm in his grey eyes.
“Of course, sir,” the first man-servant began preparing the cup again, moving with all the pleasure of someone who had something else to focus on.
“Are all of your accommodations from the Revolution, Major?” Captain Galy ventured, having to know the truth of it. “Or are any from the old war?”
The royal herald appraised the captain, as though sizing him up. Then he pointed to the three medals pinned farthest down his kilt.
“These three were given to me during my service in the old war.” He alternated between them, “This one for enginuity, this for valor, and this one for loyalty. The rest my king gave to me for my service in our revolution.”
The royal herald puffed his chest out, swelling with pride, seeming taller still.
“May I ask what they were for?” Captain Galy hoped this would soften the major’s demeanor.
The royal herald stared at him for a long moment, appearing to be searching for the polite way to phrase what he was thinking. Finally, he reached for his now refreshed cup of tea.
“In short,” he raised the cup just under his chin, “killing imperials.”
The storm in the royal herald’s grey eyes grew colder still over the rim of his cup.
“Well,” Governor Font breathed nervously, “His Royal Majesty most certainly commands personnel of the highest competence.”
“Indeed,” the royal herald lowered his cup.
“The Revolution was a very long and hard fought struggle for both our peoples, Major,” Captain Galy kept his cordial approach. “Your people’s victory is well deserving of celebration. It is our deepest desire to honor your people’s liberty with the peace that is to be made here today.”
The royal herald appraised the captain for a long moment as if searching for any sign of dishonesty.
“Well said, Captain,” he finally inclined his cup respectfully towards Captain Galy. “May liberty indeed reign supreme throughout the world, for all peoples.”
Appreciation flashed across Captain Galy's face as the royal herald swigged his tea. At that, the major rose from his seat to join the captain’s other side, looking out past the crenellations.
“Quite the sight, isn’t it?” The royal herald gestured with this cup out towards the approaching royal procession.
“Most impressive,” Captain Galy agreed. “They move exceedingly well, their formation is flawless.”
“They used to be rebels,” The royal herald’s voice trailed off, recalling near and distant memories. “Every one of them, including me. We all fought together for a cause only our people believed in. Now look at them.”
The major swelled with such pride, it seemed his entire family was marching in.
“We’re a free people now. Free again. And now they all march for that same freedom for the entire world. Freedom for all people.”
A fond smile lifted the major’s moustache.
“What a sight, isn’t it?”
As the royal herald marveled at the very procession he announced, Captain Galy peered through the spyglass once again. The column of spears still stretched along the highway, yet he could now see more knights riding in their wake. Following the riders, more royal guard pikemen marched.
“Major?” Captain Galy lowered the spyglass, turning inquisitively towards the half-elf. “Exactly how large is the royal king’s procession?”
“His Royal Majesty is accompanied by some twenty-one hundred of his finest in uniform,” the royal herald continued to grin over the approaching procession.
Captain Galy felt his grip loosen around the spyglass, forcing him to adjust it. Unfortunately, he couldn’t lift his jaw closed, nor narrow his eyes to a normal size. Governor Font nearly lost his footing entirely, causing him to grab for the crenellations for support. Slowly, the governor raised himself fully upright.
“T-t-t-twenty-one h-h-hundred, you say?” Governor Font stumbled as he gawked at the royal herald.
“Indeed,” the major turned his grin to the governor.
At that moment, Captain Galy wished the major would return to scowling at them, as it was less intimidating. The half-elf’s grin seemed twisted somehow. More like a leer. A deeply disturbing leer at that. Both the captain and the governor could only gawk in disbelief before the terrifying power of that dreadful grin.
“Your lordship,” a small voice called out, “His Highness requests your presence at the palace, sir.”
Governor Font stood frozen in place. Captain Galy began to wonder if the governor would be able to recover from his shock. He stood ready to catch the governor, should he faint atop the battlement.
“Your lordship?” An uncertain looking lieutenant stood awaiting some paces away.
“Yes,” Governor Font stirred from his trance, sounding completely deflated. “Yes, indeed. I am expected there, and should depart at once. Do take care, Major.”
“Lord governor,” the royal herald inclined his cup politely towards the governor.
Seeming dazed, Governor Font turned and strode towards the newly arrived lieutenant, pausing before his two man-servants.
“See to any and all of the major’s needs. Our honored guests are to be made as comfortable as possible.”
As the governor continued off, both man-servants exchanged uncertain looks. They seemed to be pondering jumping from the walls, instead. The sapped governor made for the gatehouse tower, and disappeared along with the lieutenant.
Captain Galy could only think to look through the spyglass, as if he might yet see the end of the royal king’s procession. All he could see towards the horizon were dozens of royal pipers following the second squad of pikes, matching the dress of the royal guard. Their music had seemed so distant, but now blared in the captain’s ears. They would be even louder once they had entered the city.
Captain Galy gradually lowered the spyglass, and turned to stare perplexed at the major. The royal herald was now leering over the captain with that terrifying grin. The grey storm in the half-elf’s eyes over the rim of his cup appeared on the cusp of consuming the captain, as Royal pipes shrieked all around them.