Welcome to a brand new adventure. I was given the idea of using a game in this one. What a fun idea, my brain went a little crazy trying to settle on only one option. So hopefully this entertains you as much as it did me =)
Let’s get started so you can vote at the end for how you’d like the adventure to continue!
The wool pants itch against your legs. They’re clean and pressed, with a crisp line running down the front and ending just above your shiny boots. Your black shirt is tucked in and the sleeves boast a crease just like your pants.
You pull the shirt straight and remind yourself not to shove your hands in your pockets while your wait in line.
Today could decide your life’s course but only if you make a good impression. Back home, your sister sits beside your ailing mother, trying desperately to take up her basket making business. You tried to help her but your fingers stumble over the little details that make your family’s baskets so specialized.
The morning air bites at your nose, crisp after the sun chased away the dawn mist. Hundreds stand in line with you to make their own good impression, in hopes of standing out somehow amongst the crowd. They’re all in their best cloths, all pressed and standing tall.
You swallow your anxiety back into your stomach.
A horn breaks the general mutterings of the crowd. Silence falls after everyone shuffles their way into a more orderly line against the city wall.
Far to your left, you make out the very tops of three men’s heads as they ride down the line.
As they ride closer, their voices carry to you but it’s their single question to each person that you’re able to make out.
“Can you play the game?”
You’ve no idea what they’re asking. Every person in line answers an emphatic “Yes, your Highness.” But he doesn’t respond to this answer, he just keeps walking his horse down the line, visually inspecting each candidate and asking, “Can you play the game?”
Such an answer does not seem to be what he’s looking for. Perhaps admitting you don’t know the game but can learn it would be a better course. Your mother emphases honesty as a quality the Queen highly values and she should know, she makes the woman’s clothing baskets, sometimes even sitting in her chambers while she makes them in order to size them just perfectly for the Queen’s needs.
The group of three moves closer and your eyes are drawn to the horse blanket sticking out below the Prince’s saddle. The Queen’s Rose insignia flourishes across the rich, purple fabric in gold thread that glitters in the sun.
The workmanship is that of Ander Wilkins. He lives two doors up from you, above the small shop he runs on the street.
You frown. Ander Wilkins’ work is precise, verging just this side of perfection, but the Rose is missing a petal. The Queen’s insignia always has eight petals. The lead man’s blanket only boasts seven.
“Can you play the game?” he asks the man beside you.
“Yes, your Highness,” the man says boldly, going so far as to take a step forward.
The prince’s lips roll inward in a sign of slight displeasure and then his coppery hazel eyes shift to you.
“Can you play the game?” he asks.
You actually meet his gaze. There’s a slight crinkling around the eyes but whether they’re laugh lines or worry lines you can’t decide.
The two men trailing the Prince bookend him in age, one’s much older, one’s much younger. You run some quick math through your head and check the horse blanket on the younger man’s horse.
The Prince is hiding.
Address Him Directly?
Answer His Proxy?
Prince’s Game-Address Him Directly
The hazel eyed proxy waits, holding you with an unsettlingly steady stare.
“I’m sorry, Sir,” you apologize with a bow of your head. When you look up, you shift your gaze to the younger man, “I don’t know this game but I certainly can learn it.”
You bow deeper and lower your eyes from the Prince’s.
The man standing beside you gives a strangled grunt.
“Noon today,” the Proxy tells you. “Be at the fountain in Central Square.”
Then they pass and your heart beats so hard you think it might break a rib.
“How’d you know?” the man beside you whispers.
“Roses,” you mutter.
The Central Square bustles, giving off smells of roasting meat, fresh peaches and human sweat.
You sit cross-legged on the fountain, eating your lunch of meat, cheese and grapes while you watch people hurrying about their day. You’re early but the knot in your stomach makes you wish you didn’t have to wait so long for the Prince’s men to show up. Your lunch doesn’t want to settle.
The press of people adds to the warmth in the square and, since it rained the night before, there’s a heaviness that beads sweat on your skin.
You finish your grapes and tuck the bag you brought them in into your pocket. It bulges out the hip of your dress pants but you refused to change before coming, so now you have to deal with the slight oddity.
The clatter of hooves on the cobblestones draws your eye and you see the Prince’s proxy enter the square on his horse.
“All but those picked, leave the square,” he bellows.
It’s a scurry of frantic motion. Carts get packed up and closed, smaller vendors toss their bobbles into baskets and packs and hustle away.
Before five minutes is out, the Square stands quiet with just you and four others who must have stood in line that morning with you.
You all gather around as the proxy dismounts.
“Welcome,” he says. “Look around, because this is your team. You either make it with your team or you lose.”
You glance around, finding an older woman so hunched she has to strain to look up at the proxy, a boy maybe ten years old with bright red hair and freckles, a man sporting a rapier and high leather boots so caked in mud you can’t tell if they’re died black or just stained that way, and a girl with glasses and a small bag over her shoulder with the spine of a book sticking out of the top.
Once he’s sure you’ve taken each other’s measure, the proxy unfolds a map and places it on the ground.
“The goal,” he tells you all, “is to make it, with everyone of your team, to the castle courtyard by tonight. The challenge is you must arrive with three objects before the other team,” he gives a dark look as you all mutter in dismay. “Your first object is Mother Sanchez’ cane. There will be a note at the cathedral telling you the second object. I suggest you get moving.”
With that, he backs away from the map and mounts his horse. Then he’s gone and you’re left with your team.
No one move for a long, silent moment.
“All right,” you break the silence and kneel by the map. “We’re here at the Square. The cane’s in the Cathedral on the west side of the city—“
“That’s on the other side of Rat territory,” the red haired boy mutters and backs away a step.
“What?” the girl in glasses asks.
“Rat territory,” Rapier says, “it’s gang territory. We walk in a group through there, we’ll get our throats slit.”
“There’s another way,” Grandmother croaks. “Under the streets.”
“Can you make it?” you ask her. “Under the streets requires several ladders.”
She grins a crooked and broken smile. “I can get anywhere I need with enough time.”
“Time,” you agree, “it might be faster if we bribed our way through. The Rats are greedy.”
“How much would that cost?” Rapier asks.
“For five of us,” you run the numbers, “maybe two silvers.”
“What should we do?” Glasses asks.
They all end up looking at you.
So is it…
Prince’s Game – Under Town
Grandmother suggested Under Town, so you trust she can handle the stresses of climbing. With any luck, you’ll avoid the Rat gang all together.
“Under Town it is,” you nod to Grandmother.
Red breaths a giant sigh and his freckles fade a bit as his color returns. Whatever interaction he’s had with the Rats, it can’t be good.
“There’s an entrance to Under Town here,” you point to a road on the map. It’s in front of the library, “and here,” a spot just outside of the city baths.
“That one,” Glasses points at the library, “we can’t access. There’s a giant book fair and the entire street’s blocked off.”
“All right,” you fold up the map, “to the baths.”
Grandmother’s a trooper but her eyesight must be poor as well as her back. She shuffles cautiously along, swinging her head side to side instead of craning her neck to look straight up.
Eventually, you thread her hand around your arm and guide her along.
Glasses takes her other side and Rapier takes the lead ahead.
Red trails behind, getting more nervous the closer you get to Rat territory.
The bath’s domed roof finally comes into sight with steam trailing out the open doors of the building.
“Almost there,” you encourage.
“I won’t be such a burden once we get to Under Town,” Grandma squeezes your arm.
“We’ll make it,” you tell her.
She flashes you a broken toothed grin and sighs as you stop over the manhole cover leading into Under Town.
You and Rapier lift it free and then he disappears into the darkness below.
“It’s dark,” he hollers back up.
“Not to worry,” Grandma yells back, “I know the way.”
Glasses gives her a confused frown but by now, you’re starting to think Grandma’s got something up her sleeve, so you’re willing to wait to see what she does.
The group lowers themselves into the darkness. When your feet touch bottom, they make a slight splash. Being below the baths, the water’s heated and it warms the soles of your boots.
“All right, Grandma,” you say. It’s completely dark, so you can’t look directly at her. “Lead the way.”
“With pleasure,” she says and she splashes a few steps away. Then she slaps her palm against the tunnel in a rhythmic pat-papap-pat-papap.
“What is this,” Rapier gripes as Grandma continues without a break in the sound for several moments.
“Shhh,” you say because you catch a different sound. Not a splash, exactly, but a subtle swish like a reptile entering a lake. And it’s rhythmic in a way that mimics Grandma’s palm.
Then she stops and the group’s breathing fills the silence.
“Don’t speak,” Grandma whispers. “Just climb on and let them take us to the Cathedral.”
You smack Rapier, who you located earlier by the sound of his voice, in the stomach and his spoken, and loud, question breaks off in a grunt.
“Just ride,” you whisper and nudge him toward the thing you felt touch your leg. You’ve heard of these creatures. People mistake them for reptiles living in the sewers. Alligators or something but no one you’ve spoken to has actually seen one. Some say they’ll eat you alive, others say they befriend those in desperate need. But to find someone who actually knows them, can call them, is rare indeed.
You climb onto a scaled back and the creature starts running. The water’s too shallow for it to swim but the motion’s just as smooth. In the dark, you grip a spike on the creature’s neck. It’s smooth and curved.
Red giggles and your creature shudders as though the sound runs through it. Perhaps it does. Grandma’s slapping wasn’t loud, so perhaps the creatures pick up vibrations.
After a time the running slows and then stops. You slide off and your boots splash onto the floor.
“All here?” Grandma questions.
There are four affirmative replies.
“That was awesome!” Red exclaims while you find the ladder to take you up to the surface.
“Grandma’s got some useful secrets,” she chuckles.
“Indeed,” Rapier mutters but his tone is disturbed.
Upon reaching the surface, you find yourselves in the alley beside the Cathedral with its tall spires and buttresses obscuring the sky.
The others follow you inside and then span out as you check the alcoves for Mother Sanchez’ cane.
Finally, Glasses gives a soft call that she’s located it and you converge on her.
In the girl’s hand is a twisted piece of oak with a rubber stopper on the end. Without the need to discuss it, the girl hands the cane to Grandma, who leans on it in relief.
“Note?” you ask.
Glasses hands over a tiny piece of paper. It’s a map with the river circled at a spot just outside the city wall.
“That’s the dueling grounds,” Rapier says. “There’s a sword there, stuck in the ground to mark the place. Do we take the river to get there or catch a carriage?”
They all look at you again. Both options require money. You run some quick math but before you finish a noise distracts you.
A small group of people just entered the Cathedral.
“The other team,” Red whispers.
It’s definitely time to go, so do you pick…
Prince’s Game -River
The back of the Cathedral juts up against the riverbank. Although you’ll have to wait for a boat to pass by, it’ll probably be faster than tracking down a carriage.
“River,” you tell the group.
Before the others notice your gathered group, Grandma, Red and Glasses shuffle toward the side door like the grandkids just took Grandma to visit the Cathedral. Glasses holds her free arm and points out the different statues while Grandma uses the cane to move forward. Red rushes ahead and holds the door open for them.
You and Rapier kneel down between two pews and wait for them to make their exit before you stand and move to leave as well.
“Hey you,” calls a haughtily dressed lady from the other group. “You notice a group of five in here recently?”
Rapier glances over.
“Well,” you consider, “it’s been pretty quiet.”
Rapier nods, “quiet.” He agrees.
The woman gives an ‘ugh’ like you’re simple and saunters off.
You make a quick exit and find the others already waiting on the dock jutting out from the riverbank. They’ve got a boat waiting and, to your surprise, Rapier digs in his pocket and pays the fair without even asking the boatman the amount.
The bald boatman glances at the money, nods and pushes off from the dock.
“Been to this fencing area before?” you ask Rapier.
He grunts, which might mean yes.
The boat coasts through the rest of the city and then exits the city walls without fanfare. Not long after, the boatman angles the vessel toward the shore and it bumps softly onto the sandy beach that’s next to the dueling field.
Rapier gives him a polite salute in thanks and you all disembark over the side.
“I’m not much use here,” Grandma mutters as you all take in the fencing field. It’s a patch of green surrounded by willows. On the far side of the patch stands a man with his sword drawn and the point stuck in the ground. He leans on the hilt while watching you. Behind him, you can just make out the hilt of another sword stuck in the ground.
“This is my part,” Rapier mutters. “He guards the sword.”
“All the time?” Glasses asks.
“Never seen him leave,” Rapier answers over his shoulder as he approaches the waiting man.
“Back again?” the man calls.
Instead of verbally answering, Rapier bows and pulls his own sword.
“Hey,” Red rushes up to your teammate and whispers in his ear, then he backs away again.
“What was that?” Glasses asks when he rejoins you.
“The guard use to be a Rat member,” Red whispers. “He’s got a weak left knee.”
Again, you wonder what kind of interaction Red’s had with the Rats but then you forget the question as Rapier and the guard face off.
In your short time with Rapier, you never noticed how graceful he moves, but now on the dueling field, he becomes a dancer.
You’ve never seen the like.
Except, the guard’s just as graceful.
Grandma grunts when Rapier misses a step. She sighs when he regains his balance and presses the attack again.
It’s Glasses who cries out softly when he barely parries a series of swift strokes. Then, so quickly you miss his actual steps, he turns and attacks the guard’s left side.
The man tries to respond but the move’s too much and his knee buckles.
In moments, he’s kneeling with Rapier’s sword at his throat.
“Wow,” Red says.
The same sentiment runs through your own mind.
“Our sword,” Rapier nods to the weapon stuck in the ground.
While he holds the guard, you pull the sword and return to the group.
On the hilt spirals a deep purple, silk ribbon.
“That’s the Princess’ color,” Grandma fingers the fabric.
“Doesn’t she always wear two?” you ask.
Grandma nods. “We need the second ribbon.”
It’s then you realize that, to get to the castle, you’ll have to retrace your steps back into the city. You wrap the sword in cloth and tuck it into your belt.
“How do we get back?” you ask Rapier.
“Boat can take us back to the Cathedral but we’ll have to walk from there.”
So you wait for a boat and then head back.
At the Cathedral, you head toward Under Town again because Grandma assures you she can get you all to the part of Under Town just outside the Castle.
The lid’s half off the hole into Under Town when you hear a muffled scream and look up from lifting it with Rapier to see two man hauling Red farther down the alley. They turn a corner and disappear.
“Rat Gang,” you say and drop the cover to race after them.
Rapier heads the other way to cut them off.
You reach the next turn and race down the street but you meet Rapier at the next corner. Neither one of you saw Red or the two men.
You search until dawn and realize the game has been lost. But more disturbing to all of you is the disappearance of Red. You determine after a brief break that it’s unthinkable not to find the boy. You bane together to free him from the Rat gang, no matter how long that might take.
Thanks for participating in this adventure!
The next one will start on the 27th, so until then, blessings,