Trey, Billy, Zak and Dawn were led from the castle to a nearby inn named the ‘Silver Chalice’. It was a large wooden building that stood out among its mostly stone neighbours. The majority of its patrons were minor nobles or well-off merchants.
They had a week-long stay. That was seven days without being able to do anything constructive. They had been invited to a noble’s birthday celebrations the next day because of Dawn’s status and for the remains of the current day they needed to rest, but that still left five days.
“Here are your rooms,” stated the inn’s owner after she had led them upstairs.
She was a portly woman by the name of Clarabelle Jaile who had a kind face but sharp, calculating eyes. Her inn was kept tidy and if it wasn’t to the standard of kings and lords, the rooms were still grander than any place that the boys had ever stayed before.
“Miss Rayin, yours is the one on the right and your escorts’ are the one on the left. If there is anything you need just ask a member of staff. We hope you have a pleasant stay.”
“If one more person addresses me as an escort I’m gonna destroy something,” growled Billy angrily.
Dawn made a sad face. “Don’t you want to be the person who keeps me safe on our travels? That’s all an escort is,” she said innocently.
Billy’s face turned a shade of red as he tried to stutter a response. Zak and Trey could barely contain their laughter.
Pux pulled himself from Zak’s rucksack and hopped onto the boy’s shoulder. “This city is unfamiliar to me. I need to get to know it. Try not to create too much chaos while I’m gone,” he said before releasing a shrill whistle. A mouse darted from under a cupboard and stood beside the Yuxova. Pux mounted then took off out of sight at a gallop.
“Exploring will have to wait. Let’s get some rest until the party tomorrow when we can get some good food. I’m going straight to bed. I’ve missed too much sleep recently so don’t bug me. Goodnight,” yawned Trey as he headed into the boys’ room. The others followed suit.
When Zak and Billy walked into the bedroom, Trey was already in bed and asleep. The problem was that there were only two beds in the room, one occupied by Trey, one spare.
“Dibs on the bed,” shouted both boys simultaneously. They glared at each other angrily.
“Rock, paper, scissors. Winner gets the bed,” challenged Billy.
“Sure,” replied Zak. “You should know though that I’m immensely lucky.”
“We’ll see,” Billy said.
Round one: Billy chose scissors, Zak chose rock.
“Damn it,” muttered Billy. “Best two out of three.”
Round two: Billy chose rock, Zak chose paper.
Billy swore. “Best three out of five,” Billy offered. Zak hefted his axe. Billy took the hint. “Fine. I’ll sleep on the chair,” he said gloomily.
The next day passed by uneventfully. The boys had a well earned and overdue bath after a few choice words from Dawn. The staff seemed to look more kindly on them now they didn’t have a layer of grime over their skin and didn’t smell like they had been dead for a few weeks. Forukk blood was a pain to wash clean.
The rest of the day was spent looking around the city then cleaning their gear. Dawn had rented some clothes for the fancy party with her own Rhen. For herself she chose a flowing jade gown that fitted her form perfectly.
For her “escorts” she chose fine silk trousers and lace heavy shirts with colourful jackets that were worth more alone than Trey’s entire wardrobe back home. Trey’s jacket was a deep blue with silver embossing while Billy’s was a leaf green number with slightly puffy sleeves. Zak managed to wriggle his way out of a ruby red article and into a black long coat with golden flames sown into the flowing silk. Billy added a thin red scarf that had the symbol of his favourite musicians, Avocado Dusk, after learning they had a performance arranged for the day after tomorrow.
After dressing they set off to the castle which was where the event was being held. The boys had scrubbed up rather well and even looked quite handsome. The clothes were uncomfortable, but Trey couldn’t help but feel good about himself while wearing them.
As they walked the short distance to the castle, Trey picked up a stone from the floor and put it in his pocket, giving no explanation.
They entered the castle and the sounds of a large crowd and background music seeped through a closed door to their right. After showing the guard their tickets they entered. It was a large room filled with brightly clad men and women who danced around the chamber to the sound of lutes, flutes and harps.
Magnetically the boys veered towards a magnificent buffet table that had enough food to feed the entire room and still have leftovers. Dawn sighed and followed so that she wouldn’t have to talk to the nobles around her.
Smaller tables were set up around the hall for the guests to sit and eat at but the boys just pulled chairs up to the buffet table and started to stuff their faces. One of the guests complained but Billy flashed a series of throwing knives that seemed to appear from nowhere. The man retreated quickly.
“Ah, Miss Rayin. I’m glad you could make it,” said Lord Baranox.
He seemed to just appear at Dawn’s side. He wore a flowing red cloak today that looked weighted down by gold and jewels.
“I would like to introduce you to my colleague, Commander Michael Nakai. I believe you briefly met yesterday in the audience chamber.”
“Good evening Miss Rayin,” said the Commander politely. His pure white suit was pressed perfectly while silver armour with elegant engravings were positioned over the formal wear.
Before Dawn could reply, Lord Baranox started to speak again. “I have many things to attend to but I wish for you to meet some of the distinguished guests so I leave you in the capable hands of the Commander. Enjoy your evening,” he turned and left, casting Dawn from his mind the second that she was out of his sight.
The Commander sighed when the Lord was out of hearing range. “Sometimes that man can be so vexing. Not that it isn’t an honour to show a princess around but I have my own duties to attend to.”
“I understand. Don’t worry about it. I don’t like the whole princess thing anyway,” replied Dawn sourly.
“Hey! Liam, get over here,” he called over to a lanky, long black haired, black clothed boy who looked about seventeen.
The boy’s skin looked unhealthily pale. He stood out terribly compared to the brightly dressed people around him. Even his nails had been painted black. Despite this he had bright blue eyes, their colour suggesting that his real hair colour was a light brown or blond.
“What?” he asked in a dull, emotionless tone.
“Miss Rayin, this is my little brother Liam Nakai. Liam, this is Miss Rayin. She is a desert princess, an honoured guest of the city. Those three boys scaring everyone away from the buffet table are her companions. Could you spare a few minutes and introduce her to the other guests?”
“Sure,” he answered in that same deadpan tone. “Please follow me, Miss Rayin.”
“Just call me Dawn please,” said Dawn.
On closer inspection she could see a similarity in his features to his brother. Had he cared about his looks he would have been rather handsome, if the commander was anything to go by.
Liam led Dawn around the hall, introducing her to various important people. Every one of them greeted Dawn with respect but not one spoke a word to the black obsessed young man. They gave him looks of disdain or disappointment. Liam kept his eyes low and his expression blank.
After being introduced to everyone the night was in full swing. The sense of tension between the various nobles and other distinguished guests had melted as the night drew on and the ale supplies were starting to run low. The guests were now laughing and joking and making other merriments. People danced freely to the music rather than sitting, making snobbish comments about others and nibbling at their food.
Commander Nakai joined Dawn again. He had a gentle smile on his face. “The Buffet table was set for five hundred people with enough food to spare. Your friends have single-handedly eaten half of it.” He chuckled softly. Dawn smiled in return.
“Good people of Onlasar,” announced a man on the stage. “I hope you’ve all had a good evening.” There was a general cheer from the crowd. “I’m afraid that this party is coming to a close but we have enough time for one more song.”
The music started once more but it was slow and relaxing. Many couples made their way to the dance floor and began to sway together in the rhythm of the music. Soon, most of the hall was up and dancing.
Trey and Billy shyly approached Dawn and simultaneously asked “Would you care to dance.” They glared at each other with venomous eyes.
“If you let me have the dance then you can have my wallet. It is worth about ten Vim and has that again inside it. That’s nearly two Rhen,” Trey offered Billy.
“How about you run along and I’ll give you my house keys,” bartered Billy.
“You don’t have a house anymore,” growled Trey.
“It’s the thought that counts,” argued Billy .
“Well it was a lousy thought,” Trey retorted.
Before either could say another word, pain shot through them. They turned, holding their heads in agony. Zak was standing there staring confusedly at a glass bottle in his hand.
“It was supposed to smash when I hit you and knock you out,” Zak stated. “Oh well.” He shoved past the other two boys and took Dawn’s hand in his and dragged her onto the dance floor. “You snooze, you lose,” he shouted over to the blank faced Trey and Billy.
“I hate him,” said Billy slowly.
“Me too,” agreed Trey in the same slow manner.
The two boys picked at the last portions of food soberly as they watched Dawn and Zak dance. The music faded then the guests began to disperse noisily into the night.