Roars of sheer excitement reverberated from the castle's training ground, but the people were engaged in something did not resemble training at all.
No one held a wooden sword or lance or in a stance for one on one combat.
However, the whole area was jammed with knights, soldiers, squires, and menservants.
It was an odd but intriguing sight.
Soldiers tried balancing themselves on a wooden fence surrounding the ground. Some made their way up on the stable's roof just to get a clearer view. A few climbed on trees.
The kitchen staff watched through the windows on the mess hall's second floor. No one would want to miss this once in a lifetime event.
The king, in the middle of the kingdom's court assembly, heard the commotion and went out to a terrace directly above the training ground. Along with the noble statesmen, he looked down with the best view of the ongoing spectacle down below.
The spectators were huddled around two twelve-year-old boys, standing across each other.
The one at the right was dressed far richer and well-adorned than the kingdom's noblemen but was less regal than a king. His red tunic carried gold lacework and the fancy embroidery of a prince of Xaviel's coat of arms. He was Prince Theodrech, one of the king's grandsons.
His deep blue eyes stared forthright at the other boy in front of him.
Two male servants stood behind him, murmuring at each other.
"What audacity? Who is this filthy peasant?" a servant with blond hair whispered to the servant beside him.
"Shut your crap. The prince will hear you," the other one replied in a hushed tone.
The prince heard them alright but disregarded their bickering. He was in deep thoughts.
Days ago, before the Knights arrived, a messenger hawk flew in bringing the report of the Wrilon Village's carnage. And Theodrech was present when the king read the report. So, he had first-hand knowledge of this boy's identity. He was the only son of the Chief of Wrilon Village and the sole survivor.
They expected the whole squadron to reach the capital two days later, but they arrived today.
This could be called fate or not but they arrived when Theodrech was on his way to rest after a grueling training with his sword master.
"What is the boy's name?" asked the prince to a knight.
"I don't know him at all, Your Highness. How about I'll let him introduce himself?" replied the knight. It was a rude reply but Theodrech saw the captain of the knights walked in and let him reprimand his man.
"Maugier, mind your manners. You are talking to the prince," said the captain with a stern voice.
Maugier eyed the captain and reluctantly bowed to the prince. "Sorry, Prince," said Maugier and slapped the boy's back. "Hey! Bow down and answer the prince's question. Introduce yourself to him properly," said Maugier with a slightly mocking tone.
However, the boy only stared in silence. The boy's mind was still processing the events. He newly arrived in his own nation's capital city, which was so foreign to him compared to his village's idyllic and nondiscriminatory atmosphere, after he had been forced to come. Now, he was facing a royal prince and told to bow.
This drew out one of his late father's teachings from the deepest recesses in his mind. "The blood of your great ancestors runs in your veins. Don't easily bow down to anyone, or accept suppression by any being, not even from a monarch, unless you pledge your allegiance to him. Also, giving in to oppression is directly telling the oppressor that you're easy prey and open for manipulation."
He was uncertain on how to face this oppression right now. Would he bow or not? What would he do to uphold his father's words while keeping his life safe?
As for Theodrech, he never meant to force the boy to bow or speak knowing the tragedy the boy freshly experienced but Maugier insisted.
Theodrech's patience was at its limit. He was about to berate the knight but held his tongue when the boy opened his mouth and proposed the most ludicrous challenge he ever heard. This right-down triggered his curiosity.
Theodrech gave the boy a once-over. Indeed, at present, the word filthy was the nearest description of his appearance. Perhaps, because of the dusty and almost non-stop journey. The boy was wearing soiled clothes, but if washed it was equal to a nobleman son's outfit.
He wondered why the escorting knights didn't allow the boy a good rest or even let him take a bath and change his clothes.
The king sent a clear instruction to treat the boy with the utmost care, as respect for the late village chief, one of the king's loyal men.
Theodrech stared at the boy's face. It was a bit clean and might have been washed at the nearest stream before entering the city. It displayed his sun-tanned skin and dazzling brown eyes. Though it looked exhausted, with black eye bags, it was somewhat like it could see through him.
This boy's eyes stared at the prince with utter confidence. He stood with his back straight, unmoved by Theodrech's presence.
This amused the prince. It was the first he met a boy of the same age who was not intimidated by the air of authority he projected.
"Repeat what you said," said Prince Theodrech with a commanding voice.
"I said, I, Freidrech Goederf Gerboud, son of the late Village Chief Louvel Gerboud of Wrilon, will challenge you, Your Highness, to a battle of riddles… If you," the rest of his words trailed as the nosey servant near the prince interrupted him.
"Who are you to challenge the prince? Know your place," the servant yelled in annoyance.
The crowd had different opinions on the boy's display of courage. Somehow, the most amusing thing was most were moved by the boy's determination and thought the challenge was entertaining.
One of those who thought so was the prince's very own sword master, Sir Knight Averardus, the youngest Commanding General of the Royal Army and one of those who held the highest honor called the Griftein Knights.
Theodrech heard a cough at his side and saw Averardus spoke. "I like your attitude, boy of Gerboud. You're gutsy. Why are you not afraid of the prince?" Averardus said with a huge grin on his face as he winked at Freidrech.
Their general's lead ignited the other knights and soldiers too speak out. So, they hollered in excitement.
"Nice challenge, kid. I'll bet for you," another high-ranking knight shouted and whistled in delight.
More men voiced their support on Freidrech. The clamor of cheerful yells pervaded the training ground, overwhelming the murmurs and disagreements of the noblemen present.
Prince Theodrech saw his master's wink earlier and decided to play along. He raised his hand, silencing everyone. "Continue, Sir Freidrech Gerboud," said the prince.
"Your Highness, if you win, I will not only bow but be your servant for the rest of my life," said Freidrech firmly.
While Freidrech was speaking, a wave of power rushed toward Theodrech. Forcing the latter to lift his hand to shield himself but as he received the hit, something warm and soothing meld in him instead. His curiosity increased and made him wished to know this boy more. Somehow, he had to do it in a discreet manner, avoiding unwanted attention. His only option was to play along with what Sir Averardus began.
However, only a few saw that wave. The rest of the spectators was oblivious and voiced their disapproval.
"No need for that condition, kid."
"That is ridiculous."
More noise of indifference was heard from the background.
Upon the viewing platform, King Thierri of Xaviel Kingdom heard the boy's challenge to his favored third grandson and pleased by it. He also saw the wave of power but he knew it was not harmful and took no heed of it. His concern was how the prince would address the situation.
The noblemen near the king mocked in silence. They would not dare say it out loud seeing the king's good mood.
"Why are you so headstrong? In fact, bowing to me is an honor. You saw the King's noble Knights. When they saw me, they bowed," said Theodrech, testing Freidrech.
"Allow me to be forward, Your Highness. For me, bowing to a monarch does not guarantee loyalty. If I were you, I rather have men who stand straight in my presence but who got my back, than bowing men who are dreaming of my death," replied Freidrech.
He was, in fact, referring to some knights he heard jesting about the royal family's quirks and their displeasure during their stops.
The prince heard the careful and well-thought words of Freidrech. He understood what Freidrech meant and made his blood boil in excitement for he found someone of kindred spirit and at the same time a formidable foe.
Let see until when you will last, Theodrech thought.
Theodrech folded his arms and paced back and forth. "Why do I need to do your bidding when I have the authority to take you now as my footstool?" said the prince as he placed his foot on a log.
"What can you say now, boy?"
"You're dead meat."
"Don't give up, kid."
"Show them the power of the commoners."
People sounded their excitement to witness the word fight between a brave peasant and a candidate to the throne.
For others, It was an outright insult to stomp anyone's self-confidence but not Freidrech. Instead, his smile glowed in delight. His prior anxieties left him.
Neither the crowd nor Theodrech's belittling statement affected him in the slightest.
This was nothing new to him. In fact, this prince was more considerate compared to those unscrupulous royalties he met before in their village.
Another proud royalty who only knew how to pull his weight to intimidate those below them, Freidrech thought.
"Your Highness, a ruler must not humiliate his subjects for this begets hatred and disloyalty. A piece of advice from the most important person in my life."
More roars of taunting and cheers sounded.
"And who might that be? I presume you're referring to your hard-working teacher."
"Indeed, he is my teacher, my mentor, my friend, and my father."
Theodrech stayed composed but deep within, such innocent words struck hard his heart, stirring his emotions.
His own father, the Duke of Welbourn, the second son of the king, hadn't visited ever since he received his fiefdom, the southern border city of Mossgulch, four years ago. He begged to travel and rule with him but his father insisted for him to stay.
Theodrech decided he has to win this smart boy as a friend and his own supporter. Yet, he wanted to see a bit more of Freidrech's character.
He walked nearer and leveled his eyes on Freidrech, who was as tall as him.
"What did you get by being too kind to everyone? Death of your villagers by the vicious Naymagi brought in none other than the chief's traitorous subjects whom he trusted," he said viciously and with no regret seen in his eyes. He stepped back. "Oh, I forgot, you are now the village chief. My apologies."
The people were taken aback, including the king but did not interrupt.
There was no laughter and cheers heard. The spectators went silent. As soldiers who were constantly on the battlefield, protecting civilians, they sympathized with Freidrech. Theodrech's forwardness was a poor display of the royal family's insensitivity of the true condition in the villages far from the city.
Theodrech understood the insensitivity of his words and was ashamed of it, but he wanted to see how strong was this boy's heart to be able to survive after challenging a kingdom's prince.
He cared less about what the people think. His attention was on Freidrech alone.
He walked back to where he stood a while ago and waited for Freidrech to shout unfairness and whine but the other boy didn't say a word. Theodrech wondered what was in Freidrech's mind.
Freidrech clenched his fist. What the prince said was not far from the truth but whatever the cause for the Naymagi tribe's entrance was still a mystery.
This Naymagi, tribe of jackal-headed men, would never enter a village covered with protective spells for it means death to them. However, the Naymagi attacked in the midst of the villagers' first harvest celebration. Thus, the villagers were caught unprepared and panicked…
Freidrech's chest ached by the reminder. The agonizing sadness he eluded while traveling all the way to the capital city, resurfaced.
Somehow, all tears had been shed long ago. This place would be his home from now on. It was an order from the king. He had to learn to survive in this harsh city of high-strung aristocrats and big-bellied bureaucrats.
But firstly, he must refuse to be stomped on by this prince before he could establish himself. He shrugged and gave a sly smile.
"I won't deny nor accept the allegations unless a witness or proof will come up front. But I deny serving a future monarch who only uses my misfortune to evade my simple and unremarkable challenge that would decide my future," Freidrech said in a harsh tone, blatantly disregarding the other person's status.
Freidrech was on the mark. The prince was hit on his sore spot, his desire to be king and to gather supporters. Indeed, if a prince couldn't win or make a single subject as young as Freidrech yield, he is not worthy for the throne.
His decision to take Freidrech under his wing solidified and understand that wave of power sent to him. A huge smile broke on his face.
"Fine, but let us do this tomorrow in the arena of knowledge in Xaeviel's Royal Academy. For fairness' sake, the Headmaster will be the judge," the prince said and slightly bowed, "And please accept my apologies for what I said earlier. It was a shameful mistake on my part." He stood straight. "Your journey was far. Go and have a good night's rest."
The prince turned to retire, followed by his attendants.
Freidrech was left in a daze. It never occurred to him that the prince would apologize. Somehow, he realized he missed a very important thing. "Wait," Freidrech called.
Theodrech turned around, puzzled. "Are you not contented with what I said? Or do you want to do it now?"
"No, I only forgot to tell you something. If I win…," before Freidrech could speak more... the king's booming voice sounded from the platform above them.
"If you win, I'll be the one to decide your reward. But don't worry, I'll guarantee that it would be to your advantage," said King Thierri with a big smile.
Everyone looked up and murmuring began.
"So that's the king," said Freidrech to himself. He somewhat saw a glowing aura on the old man. "Such dominance."
The nobles were afraid of the king's possible reward.
"Your Majesty. What are you planning? Don't tell me…," said the king's adviser, a middle-aged man standing beside him.
That very day, the noble families requested a meeting with the king and had been anticipating the king's announcement of Prince Theodrech's new study companion after the previous one, of whom he grew with, died of an unknown illness while on vacation with his family.
For that simple position was something every son of noble birth wished. It was the so-called expressway for a secured future. The possibility of becoming close to the prince and be appointed a high ranking position, entitled for land and wealth, in the not so far future, if Theodrech would become the king.
Even if he would not be the one sitting on the throne, his study companion's exceptional performance would still be noticed by the crowned king.
Somehow, so far, he was the only promising candidate among the eight princes considering his appealing leadership and great swordsmanship.
"Why? Am I not the king and the prince is my grandson?" asked King Thierri.
"Of course, you are, Your Majesty, but …"
"The law stated, in the absence of the royal prince's parents, the guardian can decide for his study companion. Am I not his guardian?"
"You are, your majesty," said the adviser, but dismissive inside.
"Good, but don't get worked up. That is only if he wins," King Thierri laughed loudly, greatly amused by his plans and faced the noblemen behind him. "Alright, people, we're done here. Dismiss. No more court proceedings for today." The king announced as he walked with long strides toward the training ground, leaving the unhappy noblemen.
The discontented noblemen slowly walked down from the King's hall. They had to find a way to stop this bumpkin from becoming Prince Theodrech's companion.
Theodrech left the grounds a bit uneasy. He needed to work harder for the battle and try his best to have this smart boy within his grasp. Winning the battle could give him advantages. He could ask the king to appoint Freidrech as his study companion. Whereas by losing . . . he didn't want to think of it.
He exhaled a long deep breath, blowing off his anxiousness. Theodrech decided, whatever the outcome, he would befriend Freidrech and earn his trust and loyalty.
This is now my new story. I hope you will support this story the same as you supported my other books. Please vote for this book.
Reminder: If you have words you don't understand or can't pronounce in your minds, just go to Glossary of Terms in the auxiliary chapter above Chapter 1.
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