Sorry for a long one; perhaps I should set a time limit. I'm getting excited about the story, but I don't know where all the threads are going yet. Just 4-5 more entries!
"Since the Spice War, Princess Chastagne has been sought after by many suitors," explained Lokely, as the two parties rode on together as one, the dark cloaks and rugged features of Enoch and Grizzly's woodsmen fading into the shadows in the light of Lokely's well-gilded, well-kept men-at-arms and horses.
"Many," murmured Grizzly Bear, mournfully plucking at his lute. Enoch chuckled, but said,
"Is that then your news, sir Herbert? That at last the princess is to be matched? To whom has the honor of the spice come?"
"Well you surmise, and well you ask the pertinent question, although I would that you give more thought to the worth of Chastagne in her person, not merely her dowry."
"No," Enoch replied casually, shaking his head with a laugh, "She let her people fight a war to bring back the spice for her own personal use. I can't think highly of her character."
"You would do well not to slight her;" Lokely turned to look at Enoch, his brow knit and his voice firm, "neither your knowledge of her nor mine ought to merit it."
"Well, we'll see," Enoch shrugged and laughed, mouth open in a big smile behind his bushy beard.
"So, fine," Grizzly broke in, "Enoch doesn't like the princess because she let thousands die fighting for her spice. But what about it? Has she found a man?"
"Indeed, and despite a dearth of higher rank in all the land of Glen-del, she has, I believe found one who may at least aspire to maintain her station, if not in fact advance it."
"A good guy, then," Grizzly smiled knowingly at Enoch.
"The king of Lox, Lord of Summa and Protector of Therra and Brynie," replied Lokely with some gusto. A murmur ran through Enoch's band.
"Oh," said Grizzly Bear. Enoch was silent.
"M'lord!" a pair of scouts thundered up, "the hill we seek is only a mile ahead. Two fellows are already upon it."
"Yes," Enoch said, in answer to Lokely's questioning glance, "that's them."
"Something more m'lord," piped the second scout, "we surprised a small band -- eight in number -- creeping through the bracken at the foot of the hill. When they laid eyes on us approaching, they flew back to tethered horses, hidden in a grove, and rode to the south."
"C'mon, we've got to cover it before they get here!" Belian danced about the now assembled contraption, tugging at the corners of the over-spread blanket. Benjamin laughed. "They wouldn't know what it is if we gave them the manuscripts."
"Still!" Belian grunted and mumbled as he adjusted the corners of the blanket, covering his master-work.
"This is why they'll never knight you, not-lord," said Benjamin. "Prince ColeCule was reaching for his knighting sword after the skirmish of river Tholley, when you started going on about automated alert systems to prevent an ambush like that from happening again," Benjamin's thin chest began to bounce with merriment.
Belian smiled broadly. "They would work, too. You wouldn't even have to post sentries!" the timbre of his voice wavered with disappointment.
"Here they come...speaking of not having sentries," Benjamin pointed. From the northeast, a band of perhaps thirty men broke from the trees and sped their horses towards them. The gold-flecked blue banner of Lokely rode next to the red and black pennant that unofficially marked Enoch the Red Warrior's party.
"So, Chastagne is marrying King Terryl of Lox? Benjamin boomed out the name in a stentorian voice, to the visible displeasure of lord Lokely.
"Aye," he replied emphatically, "and tomorrow, at that, if all goes as when I left the place. I dare say you should follow me there; the hospitality of the king and queen, would, no doubt, be extended to you."
"We mean no disrespect," Benjamin replied, "but why should we linger there? Our business in this place is as a meeting-point of convenience; we have business to attend." Turning slightly so Lokely couldn't see, he winked at Grizzly and Enoch, who smirked back.
"The spice has come to bide at Lox Summa," replied Lokely. "And I may perhaps not have the wisdom of Enoch in the ways of the world, but I dare say that if ever the fate of men was bound to an item of the dust, it was the four of you, and to the spice itself. Have you no curiosity?"
"Well, when you put it that way," Enoch and Grizzly spoke at the same moment.
"Anyway," mused Benjamin, "if the scouts really saw people trying to sneak up on us, we might do well to be in a safe place for a few days."
Belian, reclining against a tree, raised his cap from where it shaded his eyes.
"Let's do it! We'll need some way of carrying my package though..." he indicated the covered heap.
"We brought you a horse, Belian," Enoch cried merrily, "'twas Sleepy Bears, but he and she did not agree!"
Two Days later...
Castle Summa was a fortress. The city of Summa herself was a good twenty minute trek away, down a steep, jagged gash in the vertical protrusion of dirt and rock that served as foundation for the castle. So even the dungeon of Summa had windows, peeping out from a quarter, or three-quarters of the way down the mount. The four commoners were housed in a grand chamber only one or two floors underground, a place of no prestige but much comfort. Enoch's men had elected to remain in the city, where two of them were constantly on watch over Belian's package. It was only after a good night's rest after their arrival that they were summoned into the court of King Terryl of Lox and his new Queen Chastagne. Lokely, fresh from some no-doubt glamorous upper chamber, nodded curtly to them as they entered the court and took their places at board. They smiled at each other as bacon, pork, and lamb circled the table, accompanied by eggs, leeks, pies, and fresh bread, and the smiles faded into intense stares as the Queen, for the first time in Summa, took the white ivory cylinder with golden lettering from a bejewelled platter and, ever so carefully, dispensed a few sparkling beads of the Spice onto her breakfast. The silence that had fallen now shifted to a rising murmur of awe and joy, growing until the lords and ladies of Lox arose in cheer. When silence fell, Lokely remained standing and spoke for them.
"My lady, my lord. The courtiers of Lox no doubt embrace in their hearts and express in their cries what I, a nobleman of Mynolry have for years known well: we rejoice in the knowledge of your happiness, and the happiness that the spice will no doubt bring through you to the people now not only of Mynolry, but of Lox. To the queen Chastagne! May she long be her husband's crown and the joy of two lands!"
Even before the new round of cheers could die, the queen herself spoke, her mild tone barely audible. Instantly, the cheers died, and all ears were attentive.
"Yet," she repeated, "here are four travelers of your party, men of Mynolry, no doubt, who sit somber at your toast. Have they too tasted your joy; and yet are dour?"
"My lady," Lokely's voice was tight.
"No, Lokely," she said pleasantly, "bring them up, that they may speak for themselves."
"Hi, well," Enoch said, when the four were rather embarrassedly seated at the king and queen's own board. "We didn't cheer because..." Lokely's look of terror at the lack of formality in the address cut him off. He laughed freely, but said no more. Grizzly Bear spread his arms wide and, although in awkward tones, wound his words well. "My lady, we are travelers from a distant land, brought here by the spice itself at the intake of Chulsey three years hence. We have wandered since, citizens of no land, and of no great aquaintaince with any person of rank but sir Herbert here, to whom we owe the debt of our freedom (which he sometimes perhaps regrets undertaking)" here Grizzly could not help a laugh. Some of the tension fell from Lokely's face. "But our silence was not from a lack of joy for your glad day, but rather of wonder at the spice. Long has it been since we four have laid eyes on it; and we were taken up in wonder at it."
"You speak well, dark traveler," quoth the queen. The other three travelers covered their mouths with their hands and grunted while Grizzly Bear eyed first the queen, then his dark skin, then the queen again. "Tell me, then, how came the spice to bring you to Chulsey on that fateful day of our victory? Did not the thrice-cursed Bryn, Lord of Briston and Chulsey, maintain it under lock and key once he had unjustly claimed it from my house at the cost of much spilled blood?"
The travelers knew Lokely had, no doubt, told her their story long ago, but they repeated what had happened.
"So my war has led you to a merry adventure," she cried softly at the end of their tale.
"Yes," Enoch laughed slyly, "as many another."
"Lokely told me yester-eve of your disapproval for my war." Lokely coughed uncomfortably, but she shook her head without looking at him, "No, Lokely, I can read the meaning of your words, what'ere the face of them, and certainly after you have had your wine. We have known each other long enough I dare say." Grizzly Bear noted with some amusement the jealous glower that King Terryl tossed in Lokely's direction.
"Yes...queen..." leaning forward in earnest, " Maybe I'm wrong, but I've never thought it was kosher to start a war for your own personal happiness. If it had been so you could give the spice to your people, then fine, y'know? But if tales be true, you've never shaken one golden particle of it onto any platter but your own or your family's. And," he continued, "If you had done whatever you could to stop the war, then I wouldn't have anything against it either. But from what Sir Herbert has told us, you started it."
King Terryl was visibly enraged, hands working the table in indecision as to whether to call the guards or draw his sword on Enoch at that moment. Lokely, distressed but calm, spoke before anyone else.
"It was Bryn, former lord Briston, who started the war, not Chastagne, and it was by cunning deceit and blood-bathed treachery that he enacted his rebellion. No King of Mynolry would have let such defiance go unanswered; and if the king's daughter regained the just due of her rank, character, and conduct towards her people, who can say it was not just?"