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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1. Chapter 1

Anima Blair had spent the first month of the year incarcerated inside a six foot by six foot cell that was a stone tomb. When she was captured, they dressed her in a plain tunic and old cotton trousers that were a little too big and dragged across the floor as she walked. She felt like she being dressed for a funeral, maybe they thought she would die here.

They called this place the Sky Vaults simply because of their height. At an elevation of 6,000 meters, it seemed to touch the sky, and the winds were bitter and scathing. It snowed often up here, covering the mountain in a white haze and powder that made the world a bleak mix of white, gray and black.

On her first days, she was asked every hour whether she'd like to confess to her crimes. The brunette would simply turn and look whoever questioned her straight in the eye and question them back as to what she was supposed to confess to. The second, they asked her again and she replied with a variety of confessions and none of them were enough to have her put to the sword. 

On the third day, they asked a single time. The assassin did not reply and from that moment on, she was never spoken to again.

It was a bleak month that Anima spent there. She was provided with a jug of water three times a day, filled to the brim which she had to drink quickly or else it would be frozen. Her only food was stale bread that nearly broke her teeth and some scraps of meat that were most likely rejected scraps from a butchers somewhere down the mountain. Occasionally, there was a slice of cheese thrown into the mix or wine to replace the water. It was always cheap food and drink however, whatever there was to spare.

Nobody cared about what happened to her here and in a way, Anima Blair quite liked it. The cold didn't bother her much after the first week after she had adapted to the numbness. Her little cell was quite sheltered and out of the way of the harsh winds and it was facing a slope. If she was feeling stupid, she would have jumped to that slope on her first day.

The cell was an open cell of course, all the cells in the Sky Vaults were. Carved in the rock in days of old when the First King of the Covenant unified the lands and established Eyistan from parts of the other three countries of Ronia, Foria and Akela. That was more than an age ago however, and the Covenant was a mockery of it's former self.

Squabbling nobles playing deadly games at balls in the Capital whilst those in the North and South faced threats of death and destruction from beyond the wall.

Anima had the time to reflect on these issues. During her month in confinment, she spent the time reflecting on certain events. She reflected on her capture, her mistakes, her kills and everything that had led up this moment. Certain memories were crystal clear, such as the day that she was captured, she could remember the exact smell of the exotic powder blown in her direction, muscles seizing up and her vision going blurry. Her assailant vanishing, no trace of their face but several rich purple cloaks gathering around, shouting different accusations as she hit the floor with a bloody blade in hand. That day she lied in the street next to a body.

Two days later, she awoke in a cell, and a month later she was still in the exact same cell, in the exact same clothes, in the exact position with the exact same crimes hanging over her head.

It was a month exactly when she was freed from her cell. After a month of waiting, pacing and watching the bleak white world from inside her little cave.

For the first time in forever, there was someone stood outside of her cell and he was staring straight at her, like someone stares at a caged animal. She stared straight back, watching as he unlocked the door stepped inside, keeping his eyes locked her throat all the time.

"Duke Andras Szent of the Red Castle summons you. I've come to escort you to the Red Castle. If you refuse, I'm told to drag you out of here kicking and screaming." He declared, and she tilted her head to the side, tapping the floor to make a noise.

"A branch of the Forian royal family? Are you drunk sir?" She questioned, narrowing her eyes slightly. "A noble rarely sends for an assassin, especially one that has been caught."

"He wishes to offer you a deal, compete for him in the Lion's Banquet and become the Sword of the King and make him the Crown and he will give you money and freedom. Anything you want, he will give you."

Anima did not reply, scanning his features and searching for any sign that this man was lying. He did not look like the sort of lie, clad in armor that was clearly a knight's armor. That meant that he was formally trained, and from some wealthy family judging by the state of his armor and sword. Instead of showing wear and tear, it was polished within an inch of it's life and any of the light that entered her cell caught his armor to make it gleam.

In short, this man was clearly here for nobility. Which shortly explained how on earth he was able to get her out of the prison without causing uproar with the Vogts who were the nobility of the area. Anima had encountered a Vogt once, a woman that had married into the family from the South. Their blood ran like solid gold and with a relation to the Monarchy of both their country and the Covenant, how could they not? 

"Are you coming or not?" He questioned, snapping her out of her reflection. She scowled, the first time her face had changed from a neutral expression in that whole month. It changed from a scowl, leveled out to the same neutral before a smirk crept on her features.

"I believe I am."

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