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Knight of the Horn Ch. 1.2

A rich interior of the castle people could only dream about living in held no appeal as Isabelle was too far gone at the prospect of seeing her dearest Edmond. Since growing up with such fine décor, the marble walls and its exquisite paintings were background noise of little worth to pay mind.

Weighed down by her confining dress and shoes, Isabelle could not simply sprint through the castle hallways like she wanted. Even while holding the front end of her dress up, she was only able to squeeze a little more speed out of her confined legs.

“Princess, you’re starting to sweat. Slow down a little.”

“Eek!”

Upon hearing that, Isabelle slowed to a light pace. Sweating and smelling were hardly a good impression to set for a lady. Worriedly, she went to a nearby vast and swiped the freshly smelling flowers out.

“Goodness, you are getting you’re dress all wet now.”

“Ooo…” Isabelle was bounding in a panic. “Delenda…help me!”

Anyone other than Delenda would have taken Isabelle’s behavior to that of a spoiled child. Perhaps, the princess was when it came to both her father and Edmond dotting on her so much. All the maturity exhibited before the court and in public affairs were nowhere to be seen before the eyes of people who truly knew her. Isabelle was still very much an immature girl with desires confined to that mindset.

Such a brilliant mind but for the lack of experience, Isabelle really could not help herself which gave Delenda all the more reason to laugh at the poor girl’s expense.

Isabelle was on the verge of tears again, but before a single one could fall, Delenda took the dripping wet flowers and handed them off to one of the other handmaidens. She then produced a small handkerchief to dap at the girl’s dampened face and then the dress.

“You really are a mess when it comes to that young man.”

“I-I have to look my best, don’t I? I mean…” The tip of Isabelle’s index fingers nervously tapped together. “All the girls say men returning from the war are hungry for…”

Isabelle looked down, bright red with embarrassment.

Honestly. To Delenda, this girl was too much.

All the eligible maidens in the castle and throughout the capital for that matter were in an uproar for the returning men. Hopeful to become wives or at the very least a concubine should the man already be married.

Edmond now seventeen was on top of everyone’s list as a potential match. A maiden counted herself lucky to be betrothed to a well off individual, but was truly blessed if entering a marriage knowing her husband would not beat her at any point.

As a fighter and potential lover, Sir Edmond was highly desirable on the maiden’s market. This is what worried Isabelle. At first, the talks were nothing more than idle kitchen gossip but as the day of the army’s return approached, the talks got more serious. Some even planned to apply the wine and seduction trick since Edmond had a low tolerance. If a child was born even out of wedlock, the mother could live well off the Iron Lord family’s wealth.

Isabelle could not legally consent or offer her body for two whole years!

With all the talk of male hunger for female companionship after returning from a war, Isabelle had doubts she could keep Edmond all to herself. Topping that off was a lack of confidence in her appearance left the girl a mess inside.

Delenda knelt to be eye level with the dispirited princess.

“Do you love your knight that much?”

Too embarrassed to mouth the word, Isabelle simply nodded.

“If that is the case, tonight is a fine night to broker an engagement. Don’t you?”

To that question, Isabelle did not know. It had been two years and a lot could happen to a person, especially in war. They were childhood playmates and now distant friends. She could not say that Edmond felt the same way as she did. If he would not say so in his letters, there was only a small chance he would confess with words. It was naïve of Isabelle to wish against all odds that Edmond would confess at tonight’s banquet. Such an act would be something belonging in a fairy tale.

“Do you think he would?”

“Surely as the stars shine, princess. The Emperor would not turn down such an idea. Moreover, it will keep all those pursuing harpies away. No one would dare challenge an engagement of the future empress.”

To that idea, Isabelle brightened with this new prospect.

“Besides,” Delenda stood straight with a mischievous grin. “If you don’t get an engagement out of him, I can always keep him busy for the two year wait. Heehee. If I do that, then we really can be sisters!”

Isabelle’s perking happiness ended with a snarl.

“Delenda! I won’t let you!”

She gave her companion a shove.

“Whatever is the matter, princess? I’m pining for a good husband too! Sir Edmond would do nicely!”

“Why you! Get back here!”

The two women in dresses raced through the castle, Delenda laughing with Isabelle in hot pursuit. All the effort of keeping her from sweating made irrelevant now but that didn’t matter to Delenda. The thing she needed was for the princess to smile and not worry about Sir Edmond. Before the girl would know, she would be happily married to him and working to build a home and country as a wife and future empress.

That much Delenda was certain.

“Delenda!” Isabelle’s arms were outstretched, hoping to catch her prey.

“Ha ha! What’s wrong with a little sharing?”

“Grrrragh!”

May all your dreams come to be, dear Isabelle.

 

**

 

Though born from the Vinita southlands, Edmond has spent many of his childhood years as a hostage in the capital by order of the previous emperor to ensure his father, the Iron Lord’s loyalty to the state. Returning to the city was not so much of a culture shock as it was to Edmond’s troops.

Parading down the main road to the castle behind the imperial forces, the two hundred cavalrymen were trying their hardest not to be seen looking about in amazement. The capital city Calverton of the Ferguson Empire was a gem to all who gaze upon its splendor. The white stone buildings reach higher than anywhere else back home does, while surrounding an even bigger castle that blotted out the horizon. There were towers standing tall and proud, speaking volume to just how powerful the empire truly was to outsiders. A single block of this city could house an entire garrison of the combined armies of the empire.

There were all kinds of foods, goods, and races not present in the south. Calverton was the center of trade and the heart of the very powerful nation.

There were also the people, clogging the side streets to greet their heroes and celebrate with shouts and applause. Streamers and confetti were as abundant as dust in the air. Edmond had to brush some out of his black hair and crimson armor a few times. This was against his father’s wishes that all Vinitans remain stoic and powerful in appearance in the eyes of Calverton’s citizens.

I doubt father anticipated this level of celebrating.

All of it was overwhelming.

Just a few paces ahead on horseback, rode the Iron Lord, Edmond’s older brother, and the right hand man to the Irons family, spearmen Colton. They were the star heroes of the war and Edmond had no problem playing honor guard behind them while displaying their clan’s banner. He had fought just as hard as they did but only accounted for two out of the seven years it took to conquer the western kingdom neighboring the Ferguson Empire.

“Quite the gracious welcoming party,” Alexander, a friend Edmond had made during the war spoke. “Almost makes me want to move here instead of living out in the boonies.”

Alexander was of the same age as Edmond but of a much smaller build. Edmond had an ideal weight well suited for being a grounded swordsman while Alexander’s bow preference and trickery maneuverability kept him thinner than most. Being both sons of lords of the south, the two made for good friends and complimented one another’s abilities while in combat.

“Heh,” was all Edmond could reply.

Alexander was too much of a free spirit to confine himself to a city. The spikey golden hair rascal belonged out in the woodlands. If he were forced to live like Edmond in a city, he would terrorize half of it with his antics and the other half he would bed.

“You wouldn’t last a week.”

“Bet you a year’s wage I could!”

To Edmond, the capital was a home away from home. Treated as any other high-ranking official during his stay, he took well to his captors’ hospitality to going as far as receiving a broader education then what was offered in the southland academies. Alexander was not suited for such structured environments.

“You’d be arrested by the time the week’s end. Caught sleeping with some noblemen’s wife, maybe.”

“Ha! That sounds about right!” Alexander brought his hands to the back of his neck and pictured the likely outcome. “Hope they got cute female prison guards.”

“Quiet, the both of you!” Edmond’s brother Daniel shouted at them without looking.

The two young men straightened and refrained from further discussion. They passed lip tied laughs but decided to save face in front of so many.

As they got closer to the castle, the one other thing that made Calverton special to Edmond, was one of whom he was most looking forward to seeing again. Gripping at his chest plate that beneath housed the dangling cross, gifted to him by a friend Edmond smiled lightly to reunite with again.

“I know who you’re thinking about♪,” Alexander whispered through his teeth.

“Don’t know what you mean.” Edmond’s hand quickly returned to the horse reins.

“Don’t lie. You only make that goofy face when you write her letters.”

“I’m going to snap your bow in two.”

“Promises, promises.”

“Later, after we are done being showcased around.”

As a frequently used threat when Edmond found himself backed into a corner, neither expected the act to happen. It was simply an old pastime comment to the beginning of their friendship that would not go unused for quite some time.

Despite their strong bond now, the two had not gotten off on good starting terms. Alexander was from the Universal territory whose clan was subservient to the Iron Lord. The bowman’s plan to eventually gain independence and tarnish the Iron Lord’s name in the eyes of the empire led to many conflicts between Edmond’s cavalry and Alexander’s bowmen. This rivalry eventually led to the two forces near demise had they not found a way to cooperate.

The unspoken gratitude they both harbored simply served as the catalyst to their friendship from there on in.

This closeness however, led to Alexander discovering the budding relationship between Edmond and Princess Isabelle. A wound Alexander refused to relent when it came to teasing his comrade in arms. Edmond’s failure in directly answering the princess’s advancement words in her letters provided an endless source of pestering material.

“I heard the princess is quite the beauty. Be sure to introduce me soon as you can.”

Edmond grumbled and ignored further remarks on the subject.

“You’re no fun.”

They reached the interior wall protecting the castle and the imperial soldiers began to fan out orderly in all directions. The Iron Lord and his troops located themselves to the far left and remained at attention. The other combined armies spread out among their own and waited patiently as well. The green courtyard was massive but with all these troops, there was barely a blade of grass not underfoot.

Of course, none of them failed to recognize that the imperial troops surrounded them and the walls populated to the brim with crack archers.

“Dismount!” Daniel shouted.

The command was for the lead members of their army. Edmond, Alexander, Colton, and lastly the Iron Lord himself dismounted from their steeds. Grooms appeared and took charge of the horses, freeing the figures to march towards the main entrance stairs and joined with the other warlords. The rest of the armed forces outside of the figureheads would remain put.

A feat that Edmond always took pride in was that his father was a feared figured among anyone. Despite reaching the age that dyed the Iron Lord’s shoulder length hair and goatee bone white, Irons had not lost any of his physical prowess. Both strong and intimidating as was the case thirty years ago, the Iron Lord was a warrior without equal. All of his peers gave the man a wide birth when walking to the same direction.

His armor was a dirty red coloring and cleaving blade took two carriers to hold up.

Daniel followed close behind the Iron Lord. His armor was lighter and his sword was small for use in regular combat. Unlike Irons and Edmond, Daniel was a thinker, a strategist whose talents were directing armies rather than soldiering on the frontlines. He bore the same hairstyle as his father and a short stubble on his chin. Sharp eyes indicated that the man was always scheming and was not to be made enemies of.

“Be sure to remain vigilant in there,” Daniel warned. “We are about to step before the Emperor.”

“Yes, brother.” “Yes, sir.”

The younger men bowed their heads.

“Mm.” Daniel grumbled and walked off.

“Young masters,” Carlton bowed before the two before following behind his true masters.

Edmond and Alexander lowered their heads out of respect to their better in combat and followed behind him.

The large castle doors opened and the incoming heroes marched into the grant hall. The massive chamber was designed like a gothic church with overhead archway ceilings and massive pillars. Seeing the ten massive pillars now evoked old memories Edmond often times chasing and being chased by a squealing little blonde vixen trying her hardest to snatch up his tail end coat.

“Heh.”

Stain glass windows were numerous to allow amble amount of light in for as long as the sun was up. There was not a corner in the hall that went without some sort of lighting. The divided attending noble masses bathed in the multi-color shades provided by the glass. There were a few unfortunate souls with so much of the light on them, were hard pressed to keep their eyes fully open.

Unlike the welcoming of the city’s common folk, the nobleman gave reluctant applause or scowled to the intrusion of the warriors. Most of their ire directed towards the Iron Lord as none could forget he who slew the last emperor ten years ago. The current emperor, Emperor Zimmer believed to be merely a puppet the Iron Lord placed the throne to benefit the southlands.

Edmond himself could not dispute the gossip surrounding his father’s deeds since he had not seen home for some time. Based on the letters from his mother and friends, Vinita has been a state of prosperity for several years now.

The other warlords did not find such revulsion all too troubling. Despite their own feuds with each other, they were united in their malice towards the Ferguson nobles whose long history of using warriors as pawns in their tug of war for power. They merely played along as if all the negative feelings were directed at them all.

Fighting openly can wait for another hour. Right now, as revered heroes of the empire, the nobles could not touch the warlords of the south.

A line of imperial guards, adorned in polished silver armor stood between the imperial family and the rest of the hall. They collectively pounded their pikes into the ground, symbolizing they have recognized the oncoming warriors as potential threats to the emperor. The warriors began to spread out in a single line in front of the masses and proceeded to take a knee and bow.

““Greetings to His Majesty! All hail!””

Edmond’s head lowered with a smirk escaping as a particular set of eyes had themselves glued onto his person.

Hello Isabelle, I’m back.