Previously: After making certain Blackie was safe from her perch atop the tower, Nadec and Ayba made their way out of the public eye. Ayba mentioned a meeting to Nadec, apparently there were people opposing the Order of the End.
Read all the previous chapters here.
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The inn’s sign moved in the light breeze like the name it depicted; The Wobbly Wine Glass.
‘This is it,’ Nadec said to Melia. ‘Are you ready for this’?
Melia gave her a tight smile. ‘I believe the question is if you are ready for this? It is the question of how far you trust that Ayba woman, and her information. It could be a trap.’
Nadec rolled her eyes. Melia had said this before. The worst thing was, she could be right. The meeting they were about to intrude on could either be a bunch of people who would adore Nadec, or who would kill her at the first opportunity.
However, Nadec chose to believe Ayba, and squashed the small pit of uncertainty down again. She would act like the queen she was supposed to become. She felt half-ready for her first performance in front of an audience.
‘I got this.’ She opened the door.
The uncovered candles of the plain chandelier in the middle of the common room flickered with the gust of wind as she and Melia stepped inside. Being nowhere near the Square Market, the inn didn’t have many patrons. That in itself wouldn’t have accounted for the low attendance, but its location was outside of the four-district.
Apparently, although the festivities were celebrated everywhere in the city, centering mostly around the Markets, the area called the four-district was the most popular. It was the section of the city in between the four-cornered walls and the three cornered walls where the castle stood.
Nadec counted 7 people, almost all spread about. A small group of three sat in a corner, playing a game of dice. Nadec felt out of place with the fancy dress she wore. She’d been astounded to hear the seamstress had already managed to finish one of the dresses Melia had ordered. When Nadec had asked how that was possible, Melia merely smiled and said mysteriously: ‘it’s a secret of the trade.’
The serving woman—about Nadec’s age—stopped cleaning cups for a second when she looked up to them. She recovered and hid her astonishment quickly enough.
‘What can I help you with?’
‘We are here for a dive in history,’ Melia replied.
The woman kept her smile, but Nadec saw it slip a bit. Despite that, she told them to follow her. She led them to a door at the side of the room, knocked twice and held it open for them, not even bothering to speak to the people inside first. Nadec and Melia shared a look before Nadec braced herself and walked in.
A person stood with her back turned towards the door. The other people—all seated—stared at Nadec, prompting the standing woman to follow their gazes and fixing Nadec with a hard stare.
‘What is this? We did nt expect any strangers today. We were not warned of new members.’
Nadec pulled herself up, squared her shoulders, and lifted her chin. Flutters in her stomach almost prevented her from speaking, but she managed it without stuttering.
‘I am Nadec Ichau, and I am your future Queen. The throne is taken from my parents, but I am here to reclaim it. In eight days, the Wooden Water Crown will fall on my head, and I heard you are the group of people who have been actively aiming to stop Pagewyn—or, really, the Order of the End—from getting it. You are my people.’
A gasp behind her preceded the sound of the closing door. For that matter, there were a few gasps in front of her too. Some of the people stared at her wide-eyed, others had an open disbelief painted across their faces.
The woman who was still standing, eventually spoke.
‘Nadec Ichau? So it is true, you are here in the city. What are you doing, child, you should not be here. Hide somewhere away from here and let it all happen in safety. Why risk your life?’
‘Would you want a Queen who’d rather cower and hide, or would you want one who isn’t afraid to fight for what she believes in? I can’t go and hide. I have a prophecy to fulfill and people to grow attached to me. This is what I have to do.’
The old woman nodded and showed a slight smile. Had this been a test? Nadec thought her heart would beat out of her chest and if she didn’t sit down soon, she’d surely pass out from the anxiety of having to appear confident.
‘Please, sit,’ said the woman, pointing towards a chair closeby, maybe her own chair. Nadec didn’t protest. It was all part of the confidence game. ‘wer are very pleased you could join us, and from the moment the prophecy dropped, we’d been hoping, no, dreaming, to have you find us. Now you are here. It is quite remarkable. I apologise, how rude of me, I should introduce everyone. I am name O’Elope, and I am the ‘leader’ of this fins group of name.
Here we have ….’
She went through the whole room, pointing to everyone around the large table in turn. Nadec did her best to remember all the names and faces, but she knew it was a lost battle. she would not be able to. There were a few people she would remember. A tall and broad-shouldered fellow, although broad, his shoulder were hunched, as if he tried to hide. Good luck with a large figure like he had. Then there was a normal sized and fairly unnoticale man, somewhere in his forties if Nadec had to guess. She didn’t know what it was that drew her to him, but something abuo him tickled her mind. name said he had been in an unfortute accident about two years ago and lost all his family and his ability to speak.
>Nadec reflected back on the woman’s name.It somehow sounded familiar. O’Eloper. Had she heard it mention somewhere, and in what context? She couldn’t put a finger on it. Name kept going around the room, and Nadec was pleased to see there were more wome than men present.
One of the men was Nadec’s innkeeper! She hadn’t seen him when she first entered, feeling the blood pound in your head can do that, but now at the introduction, it was obvious.
‘So my aunt hadn’t been lying when she said you were a proud Ichau supporter,’ Nadec grinned at him. The man obviously didn’t know what to do, and ducked his head several times, stammering apologies for not knowing who she was, and if she wanted a larger room, and nonsense like that. Nadec couldn’t believe it. Was this what people would treat her as once they know who she was. All the grovelling and silliness? She tried to calm him down, but the more she talked to him, the more he seemed to panic. Perhapas he thought of all the times he’d given her the side-eye as she left the inn after a full day of not showing herself.
Ignoring him was the best couse of action. Nadec turned to name, and commanded her to contonue.
When she’d gone through the whole room, all thirteen names flowed together in Nadec’s mind. This wasn’t good. She’d have to practice tricks to begin remmemebring names and faces better, because she wouldn’t want to be known as the queen who didn’t care.
‘Well then,’ name continued,’ if you really are who you say you are, I want to wish you a warm welcome to the [end opposition]. However, and I apologise to have to ask you this, I’m afraid we do need proof that you are the real heir.’
Nadec nodded. She expected this to happen. Forcing a smile on her face, she placed her hands on her knees and said: ‘I’ll be back.’
She Skipped to her room in the inn. She cuddled Kitty, and chuckled at the dazed expression on the cat’s face. ‘Sorry buddy, you go back to sleep now.’ She kneeled in front of her bed, placed a smooch on his forehead and gave him one last stroke. Bending further down to the floor, she reached under the bed and retrieved her halberd. It had been two days since she’d held it last. The comforting weight in her hands lifted her heart. The dress didn’t hinder her when strapping the thing on her back. Melia reminded herself to give Melia an extra thanks. Somehow she had managed to convey certain things to the seamstress to help Nadec in Skipping and with the halberd. Nadec wondered what other practicalities the dress hid.
Reappearing in the other room, it was clear the people had been discussing things. They quieted immediately. Melia would have pretended not to listen, but in reality would’ve paid extra attention to who said what. It may be important to remember who showed immediate faithfulness, and who doubted it all.
Name stepped up to Nadec, who had removed her halberd from the thing and held it our for all to see, the pole fully extended.
‘Powerpooped weapon.’ Nadec finished the woman’s sentence.
Wiping her cheek, the woman looked each of her companions in the eyes. She turned back towards Nadec, gingerly touching the halberd. Using it as a support, she knelt on one knee. In a voice clear and strong, but trmbling slighly from emotion, she spoke.
‘My future Queen Nadec Ichau. I have always and will always be faithful to the Ichau-line. I hereby swear to follow you in all things, and uphold the values you treasure. Here for ever and eternity, that I swear, name O’Elope.’
Two words in, other voices had joined her. When Nadec took her eyes away from the wondrous sight of an old woman swearing fealthy to her, she saw everyone had kneeled and spoke the same words. Her following had just quadruppled.
That name still tickled something in the back of her mind. As Nadec helped the woman up, she asked: ‘Your family name sounds familiar. Excuse me for asking, but would you maybe know why it does so.’
Name’s eyes had a twinkle in them, not only caused by the remnants of the earlier tears.
‘Of course. I believe I do know why you may have heard of it. I do not know how long you’ve been in the city, nor how much you know, but you did mention Lord Pagewyn before. So you are familiar with him, the one who sits where you should sit.’
At the mention of Wyny’s name, it all clicked in place. Name didn’t notice Nadec had figured it out and continued her talking.
‘Lord Pagewyn is my grandson.’