To See The End
Aside from the creepiness of having several people watching us walk through the city to the castle. Nothing else really happened, it was a nice normal walk through your typical medieval fantasy capital city. Sellers lining the main streets with various stalls parked in carts and wagons in every space imaginable while leaving just enough room for people to slowly make their way through and expose you to imaginably as much time as possible for the sellers and their wares.
I played the role of being a good cat and staying on Red’s shoulder no matter how good that smoked fish smelled. That and I think one of my claws had caught in the threads of his jerkin. I was afraid I’d get tangled and hurt myself if I tried to jump for them. You win this round tempting fish smells.
It was also the first time getting to see demi-humans and a few of the other various fantasy peoples I had only written and read about. Beastkin, Beastmen, a pair of Orcs, an elf, all of them walking through the streets and shops we passed, doing normal city dweller things like shopping and selling or even just having chats on the wayside. In some ways, I was glad I was in cat form right now. I would have looked like a tourist walking around as a human.
As big as the town was, the roads were still dirt up until you reached the noble district closer to the castle where it was paved with plain gravel and a few cobblestones. The common folk and the nobles were separated by a large wall dividing the inner and outer city, it was probably ten meters high and at least three meters thick. We had passed through an open gateway where guards were idly standing nearby, I guess they were just there to close the gate if trouble started in the outer city since they didn’t seem to be stopping anyone from entering.
The buildings looked older, but better crafted and… well… a bit intimidating. They were bigger than the houses and shop we had passed, the stone walls giving the impression of being surrounded by fortresses. And while the feeling of being watched lessened slightly as the crowds thinned out, in some ways I didn’t feel that much safer.
“Looks like they’ve had a few wars here… Or monster and demon attacks. Focused on defense over aesthetics. There must be a lot of powerful enemies surrounding them.”
I nodded as Red spoke, this was not a peaceful kingdom. At least not when these buildings were constructed, and the trend only continued the closer we got to the main castle walls. Each building even more foreboding than the last. There weren’t that many guards on the streets though when it’s nigh impossible to do much there isn’t as much need here
The walls were another large statement on the fortification of this vast kingdom. They must have been twenty meters high and at least half as thick as they were tall. Several gates and barriers stood before us, wide enough to fit several carriages side by side, though I noticed that the large gates could be shut and a smaller opening made to limit traffic, though for today they were wide open and… ‘welcoming.’
Inside began to tell a different story, if you ignored the foreboding walls surrounding you. Around the inner walls was a quite extensive garden that stretched and followed as far as the eye could see. It seems well maintained and, sniffing the air, I could smell fruit trees hiding nearby behind the various hedges that grew along the road toward the castle proper. I could also catch scents of wild game wandering around the garden, looks like the king had his own private hunting ground or liked having a small zoo of creatures.
Red continued on down the path at his steady pace, I have some respect for him not getting as deep in awe as I was, or he was just better at hiding it. Yeah, I would have come off as a big tourist right now if I hadn’t been riding his shoulders in cat form. So thankful this form can get away with staring at everything. Oo is that a mouse! No, not right now…
Pulling my cat spaztastic attention away from the garden I looked at the castle proper, And I… I felt both awe and disappointment. It didn’t look any smaller compared to the walls around the castle, if anything the ramparts went even higher, the walls were made of white stone along the outside topped with turreted towers, the size could easily swallow one of the larger buildings in the noble district. It was still very impressive for a castle. I was just expecting something more fantasy-like in my head.
Stepping inside, the entryway was gigantic, I think we could hold a full-sized football game on the floor space. The entire room wasn’t as big as a stadium but I could see that most of the city could certainly attend the christening, even if you were too far away to actually see anything. A part of me wondering if they would have floating seats so everyone could watch even from way back here.
Thankfully we weren’t expected to walk the entire length of this room. Though I’m not really in a position to complain. A thin little man stood at the halfway point carrying a thin wooden staff, his clothes were certainly pompous enough to try and make him look bigger, but his whole attitude as he scurried over to us was quite timid. Lackey or dimwitted side-evil sprang to mind looking at him more carefully when he was a bit closer. I guess it takes all kinds to make a story.
He looked at Red and a quick glance at me as he coughed, bowed down slightly and straightened out his overly long coat. Maybe that was why he’s so skinny, in this weather, the fat would just melt off anyone in that many layers of clothes.
“Ehem. Greetings, Oh Hero of the Crimson Summon. The King wishes to meet with you and His Court Magician as quickly as possible.”
Red returned a slightly less bow, possibly cause he knew I’d claw him for his trouble, and nodded with a gesture to let the man proceed. I’m not sure whether to call him rude or be impressed with taking the Hoero thing rather uppity. Later he told me it was just so he didn’t have to try and guess the man’s position.
We were led into a side chamber off the main entry, inside we found something quite akin to a millionaire’s office. Hunting trophies and weapons lining the five-meter walls up to the ceiling. A man was standing behind a wide desk, his back turned to us as he conversed with a young woman quietly, even with my slightly extended hearing I couldn’t make out anything being said between them.
The man was obviously the King, or a very good double, He stood proudly, squared shoulders that held the purple mantle of royalty, the long flowing cape leading down behind him. This guy as a warrior, strong looking highly masculine but cheerful his tone even though I couldn’t hear and friendly and quite jovial. Someone I wouldn’t want to fight against, maybe alongside. I’m pretty sure Red could beat him easily though.
The woman kept herself hidden with the hood of her violet robe drawn down enough I could only make out the lower part of her face in the shadows. I tried to peek as best I could, she turned toward me and I swear our eyes met even if I couldn’t see them. Her lips twisted in puzzlement as she stood quietly, still listening to the King speak. Did she know what I was? Was she a Pagemaster?
The skinny guy broke my staring contest with a loud cough. Dammit man, learn TPO! “Your majesty, the Hero is here to speak with you.”
The King turned to face us with a wide comforting smile, he gestured for Red to come closer and take a seat while dismissing the thin guy. I took this as an opportunity to try and detangle myself and hop off from his shoulders.
I wasn’t sure if I regretted this or not as the magician came over to me and lifted me up into her arms. At first, I started to struggle for a moment but her hand stroked down from the back of my head and neck, and I just started melting. So this is how cats purr…
Red looked toward us with a raised eyebrow but I was in no position to say or complain anymore. She held me close to her bosom stroking and petting her hand from behind my ears and down my back, keeping me quite puissant.
“Thank you for coming Hero. I know you have done much for this country and helped save our kingdom many times from the Demons of the western borders. But I have an urgent request if you would be willing to help me.”
Red sat quietly and listened continuing to give quick side glances to the magician and me.
“There is talk that some of my lesser favored nobles are planning a coup after my daughter is Christened and presented to the people. Taking the moment of festivities to replace me with her and create a puppet state.”
“Are you asking me to deal with these nobles instead of your court, Your Majesty?”
The King shook his head. “No. I have no proof of such rumors and the people spreading them are an odd crew of men that arrived a few weeks ago. They first arrived claiming to be looking for someone, or someones but as they have stayed here rumors have begun to circulate about rebellion, demon attacks, and some blue robed warlock with a strange bird who will destroy the kingdom.”
I felt he hair on my back stand on end for a moment before the girl soothed it down, Red shot me a quick glance with his eyes trying to keep a straight face. I think we both had an idea about that.
“The problem is, my spies have determined that their leader seems to be reading the future. Everything he’s said has come true with perfect accuracy. The time of the birth of My daughter, the arrival of the flying ship, the destruction of the dark fairies by their queen. Now he’s claiming that the city will burn in a week’s time because of the blue warlock unless the people rise up to rebel against me.”
Hello, fantasy world. Did I not tell you that I didn’t mean it! Please stop making things more complicated
Red sat back in his chair, pondering over things. “I’m not sure what the request is yet.”
“Stop the Blue warlock. Or prove that this man is a false prophet. There is one more prophecy, that the Dark Fairy Queen will come and put a curse of death on my daughter. Prevent that or prove it will not happen.”
Well… crap. We need that to happen, that was the whole reason we came here. I huffed loudly over my purring and sighed. Red nodded his head slightly, trying to puzzle over things. “I will try to do what I can, your majesty. This man might be someone manipulating events for his own purpose. I will find out what I can and stop him.”
The King smiled and offered a bow toward Red. “Thank you, Hero. I know I can count on you.”
Red stood up as the King gestured to him for dismissal. Looking to me relaxing in the magician’s arms way over enjoying this feeling of warmth and petting. This cat form isn’t all that bad after all. He looked at me and made a move to try and take me, the magician smiled at him and shook her head.
“If you don’t mind, Hero. I wish to keep him a little longer. I think he would be Blue to be let go so quickly.”
I have to say Red has a good poker face, even when I looked up at the woman with surprise he kept straight lipped and then inclined his head slightly to her. “I’ll leave him to you for a short while then.”
She followed Red out the door and saw him down toward the entrance of the hall before turning and walking along the grand way to another door, Stepping inside she continued to stroke my fur keeping me rather content and almost involuntarily relaxed. Maybe I should have been warier but something inside me was comfortable in her arms.
“So is he some sort of copy or strange summon, Blue? Coming here so early and with that bastard out there looking for you. Did you forget what happened last time?”
I’m sorry what?