The Lion's Banquet

The Lion's Banquet, a competition held for the newly crowned King to select his chief diplomat, his Crown and his secret weapon, the Sword. Anima Blair has been freed from captivity on one condition: win the tourney and become the Sword to make her employer, Andras Szent, the Crown. With no choice, she must fight for her freedom and win over the approval of the Royal Court. However, no one in the Royal Court can be trusted and no one escapes the Royal Court unscathed.

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The days passed as a blur and Anima felt free for the first time in a month. Of course, there was rigor and regulations everywhere. The Vogt's had guards posted a every single exit and her schedule was set out for her. However, she did have time what Calian called "free time".

This consisted of using the library or walking through the gardens. The Vogt's had accumulated a wealth of books over the ages. The eldest books dated back to the found of the Dragonknights and contained oaths and guidelines. A fascinating read for some that way inclined and Anima happened to be inclined.

This was only a couple of hours a day, three at the most. She spent the first two days of her stay with Violetta. Her handmaiden spent her time teaching her the etiquette of the Royal Court. She was tall for an elf with hair like a blaze, wild shades of red and orange that flickered in light. Sharp eyes like a hawk with a pretty face and skin like ivory, Violetta was beautiful. A sharper personality and incredible grace that outshone Anima and led the elf to scold her charge often.

Her main chagrin was the scars and bruises on her body. Whilst fitting her for a dress, she would complain in hushed tones. "How are you supposed to wear short sleeves? Vests? You need to look beautiful and deadly. Not a walking dummy with scars all over." Anima couldn't help but chuckle which earned her a cuff on the ear and another verbal lashing.

Anima's favourite thing that her handmaiden would do was braid her hair. The elf had short hair, so the ways that she could twist and sculpt Anima's hair was beyond her. She settled for a single plait because of it's practicality and simplicity. Violetta approved of the fact that it was still a feminine hairstyle.

Learning politics and how to address nobility was still a dull task. The teacher praised Anima for taking to her studies often; Anima didn't have the heart to tell her she'd already learnt this from her uncle. Uncle Duncan House Maetus, the Southern royalty. Of course, her uncle was never in line to the throne and Anima was illegitimate. A baseborn daughter of Jasper Maetus, a ranger on the Titan's Wall and a whore.

On the third day, Anima received her first task from Calian. He called her into his chambers in the morning and she arrived at dawn. Her handmaiden marshaled her out of her room dressed with a breakfast. Anima had no other choice.

"You're here on time. That's good, you'll need all the time you can get." He stated, taking a sip from his coffee. He didn't offer her a sip but handed her a large empty satchel instead. "Have you ever been to the chapel?"

Anima nodded,  her visit had been brief. Another dedication to the Goddess, prayers said in the name of her prophetess. Everyone was praying of late. Invaders making their way through the Southern Wall; monsters prowling beyond the Northern Wall. All allowed by a monarch who didn't lift a finger to help and sat in his castle all day.

The chapel felt like depression, more so than usual. It would be a lie to say that Anima had any of love for The Sect. It seemed like a fool errand to believe in a Goddess that wasn't coming to save them. Anima believed in others Gods, unnamed ones that didn't require her worship.

"Good. On the altar, there is a crystal statue of Lady Maria. I want you to steal it. If you are detected, you will fail. I don't accept failure." He stated, "You have one day. The guard have not been informed of this, any harm that comes to you isn't up for debate."

Fantastic.

"I suppose I'm not allowed to get help either." She said and the knight again nodded. A solo job to prove that she could live up to her reputation of being a ghost. A ghost, a banshee, a phantom, Anima had many titles. Such came to be when one wanted to keep their true identity secret along with a mark of honour.

"Right then." She gave a short bow before drawing her hood over her head and departing. She had no idea how well guarded the chapel was, but there was always the priestesses. They wouldn't allow her to just take a priceless idol.

Maybe if she was one of them? There was not enough time to steal a uniform. She couldn't lay one off either without being cut to ribbons by a guard. That ruled out that option.

She would have to see the layout of the chapel first before she attempted anything. The easiest way to do that was to take part in the dawn recital. It was a rather dull affair and was always early, at first light no less. The start of the day begun with reverence, wherever you where.

She had about ten minutes until it's start. She strode down the corridors, taking the most direct route possible. It would take her through storage where she could swipe some breakfast. She fancied a jam of some sort with a loaf of crusty bread.

She had all day. From first light today to first light tomorrow so any rush was artificial. The assassin had all the time in the world, as did she always. Even she could not rush death, just like now she would not rush lady luck.

However, in storage she did not find the pantry. Instead, she found a treasury of things that made her eyes glow. Skins of the direwolves that stalked the Dragonbacks laid out without fault or blemish. A collection of feathers of several shades that came from rocs and harpies. The head of a great bear severed and placed in a wagon for transport.

This was all fresh. Someone had a successful hunt in the Dragonbacks, and it was not Calain. If it was, she would have witnessed it. The two were inseperable during their time and she would have noticed that. This was something else.

It was a waste, that was what it was.

Whoever had done this had meant to kill every single one of these animals. They were fierce yes, and they posed a danger to humans. But humans were not meant to range in the Dragonbacks. A power beyond anything ruled those mountains, they belonged to Tiamat.

The dragon queen who ruled over her kind and slept for thousands of years. She commanded the dragons and bade that Ariani take her children and form Dragonknights. She did as commanded but now all of that was lost.

It was because of actions like this that they lost connection with the land.

She was about to glance past but instead, a shimmer caught her eye. Something was hidden beneath a pile of sabre cat pelts, another object that shone. It caught the thin shaft of light from the window and sparkled, a beacon in the rough.

She couldn't resist taking a look, moving the pelts to the side. Underneath was a clutch of eggs that were unlike anything that she had seen before. The shine came from the lining of scales around the eggs. The left egg had hues of red, a fire painted through variation of tones. The right was green in colour, looking like a verdant forest in summertime. 

The center egg was special. It was the largest and looked as if each scale was a tiny sapphire. It was beautiful, radiant and breathtaking. It did not take long for her to grasp it in both hands and hold it up towards the shaft of light. When placed in more light, the egg shone even brighter and she could see even more colours.

These were no ordinary eggs. Someone had captured a clutch of dragon eggs. A single one was worth an absolute fortune, the clutch was worth all the gold in this kingdom. Fools would sell their children, sell their estate, sell their families just for an egg.

Like a woman possessed, Anima placed the egg into her satchel and left the room. If she hurried, she could still make the tail end of the morning recital.

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