Festival scene in fantasy setting.
|It was a grand day for festivities; the air smelled fresh with the birth of spring. Sweet aromas from fresh cakes and pies filled the air. The scents, carried by a light, cool breeze, danced lightly through the crowds. It was a time of peace and rebirth. The solace of spring brought the people of Aeron a seemingly new life, a respite from the long, bitterly cold winter that marked the cold season in the northern realms. Spring is a time to rejoice and exalt the end of winter and the beginning of the new season of growth. Aeron is a peaceful realm, far secluded from the strife and suffering in the warmer climes. Occasionally, tradesmen and peddlers would arrive from those southern realms, trying to draw on the mineral wealth of Aeron. They would bring with them the comfort of the southern climes: spices, silk, assorted scientific advances; and hope to receive some of the yields from the nearby mountains in return. Gold was the wealth of Aeron; gold, silver, and precious gemstones. A small kingdom as compared to some in the south, Aeron boasted a wealth of precious stones and a people that would fight any enemy to the death in defense of their beloved homeland. That and the rugged mountainous terrain from which Aeron drew its wealth often saved the realm from would-be conquerors. On the rare occasion that Aeron had been forced to defend itself, the people had fought fiercely against overwhelming odds to keep the kingdom from the hands of some robber-baron with his sights set on Aeronish gold. Now though, was a time of peace. No robber barons had entered the realm for nearly a decade, and the population grew in quiet prosperity.
Jonton sat in the Castle guards stand, watching the festive crowd slither and sway, and mused over the sounds of laughter, and the sweet scent of flower-laden maidens. Only the dull duty at hand kept him transfixed on the events around him. A dreamy-eyed boy, probably drunk on the wine the King always supplied to the Spring Rites, staggered by.
Bitterly he thought to himself: 'Last, year, I was that boy.'
Loneliness welled up within him, last summer, a strange sudden plague had decimated the household of Serlin, and Jonton's family had died. Only he and his sister, a mere child of sixteen springs, had escaped death. Often Jonton wondered if his survival had meant his defeat, would death be better? Enlisting in the militia seemed the only real prospect. He had to support Ilythea, the only bright spot in the night that seemed his life. Food and clothing were not free, and although the militia did not pay a fortune, it did provide a meager but regular income. The family house was intact and provided shelter from the harsh northern elements. Jonton, swallowing the bitterness of those painful realities, began to try to enjoy what could undoubtedly be the highlight of his night's duty, policing the grounds for the occasional pickpocket, and admiring the maidens who had come to flirt and scout would-be suitors. After all, though the celebration was generally peaceful, the infrequent, drunkard would haphazardly place his arm on the wrong maiden's shoulder, and who could look more dashing than the young city guard who came to her rescue?
Daydreaming again, Jonton allowed his gaze to wander over some of the more pleasant sights of the feast. A maiden to his left, quite drunk, had lost track of part of her top, and her bodice shown temptingly from beneath it. Jonton decided to warn the young lass that advertisement often implied more than she might be willing to provide. He rose from the guards' "throne", and, intent on his purpose, headed off into the crowd, hoping to catch the maiden before some drunk did. Women danced around Jonton, tittering and giggling. Smiling shyly, he made his way across the courtyard. Jonton often wondered about women. He had never shared a bed with one or even seriously courted one. Women are often afraid to become attached to men of the militia, always fearing that some distant war would arise and their beloved would be spirited away to die in some distant land. Not an unrealistic fear, although no war had ensnared the realm in nearly 12 springs, no women of courting age could forget the Great War of the Devils Spine, in which many had lost fathers and older brothers. And even though so many remembered that painful time only a decade hence, the militia had grown lax and lazy. Jonton feared that, if called to battle tomorrow, the militia would be sorely crushed from nothing more than fear and inexperience. So many had died during the War, and after from wounds received there, that few veterans remained in the ranks. Even the King, now 63 and frail, was in no shape to lead his armies into battle.