The clash of blades rang through the courtyard. A young man with pale pink hair, a thin moustache, dark blue eyes and a rapier was trying to break through the guard of a blue haired, light brown eyed, armoured woman swinging a zweihänder. She was massive at just over a hundred ninety three centimetres tall.
He dropped to the ground, scooped up a fistful of sand and threw it at her face. Quickly, he took a flying leap.
She grabbed his sword holding wrist with one hand and jabbed the handle of her massive blade into his gut. He went down coughing and holding his gut.
“Okay, that’s enough of that contest,” the man who spoke had long silver hair, piercing blue eyes and stood at about a hundred eighty centimetres. “Geoff, can you stand?”
“Give me a moment,” Geoff gasped.
“Now then, who else would like a chance to challenge our vice captain?” the man asked, pulling Geoff up. He turned to look at a pair of nearly identical looking young men. They both had fiery red hair, dark green eyes, freckles and stood at a hundred sixty four centimetres. The only visual difference between the pair was that one had considerably dirtier armour and messier hair.
They looked at each other.
“You do it, Fred,” the neater looking one said.
“Hey, you’re the one who always has a plan. You do it, Rod.” Fred stated.
“But you’re always bragging about your prowess,” Rod said.
“Frederick, Roderick, you work best as a team,” she said. How about you both give it a shot?”
The silver-haired man nodded. “We’ll make this our last training bout for the day.”
The twins looked at one another. “All right,” Roderick said. “Guess we have to try.” He drew a spear.
Frederick nodded back and brought out his own spear.
The twins moved in perfect unison. They struck together, only to have their spears tossed aside with a swing of the zweihänder. They both moved back, ran in opposite directions and attempted to catch their vice captain in a pincer attack.
She dropped to the grass, caught Frederick’s spear and threw him directly into Roderick.
“Okay, that’s enough,” the captain declared. “Miranda, you fought well today.” He turned towards his team. “Remember, you all are the best Torla has to offer. We must all train diligently and strive to better ourselves.”
“Maximilian, isn’t that enough?” They turned to greet a handsome young man wearing a fine silken tunic. He had light brown hair, light blue eyes and stood at about a hundred seventy centimetres.
“Prince Reynard,” Maximilian bowed. His troops followed suit.
“No need for that,” Reynard said. “I’m just here to see if you’re all coming to the ball tonight. It would be an honour to host Torla’s greatest protectors, after all.
Maximillian rose. “We will all be there, your Highness,” he stated.
“We will?” Frederick asked. His brother poked him in the ribs.
“Oh that is marvellous news,” the Prince declared. “I look forward to it.”
He quickly took his leave.
“Seems happy,” a dark haired, dark skinned, crimson eyed woman noted. She looked directly at Miranda as she spoke.
“Max, forgive me for speaking out of turn,” Miranda said. “But I thought events like this were optional.”
“Normally, they are,” he stated. “But his Majesty wishes to speak to our unit tonight. As such, we will all be there.”
“Preklam?” A young woman with red hair and sky blue eyes asked.
“Perhaps,” Maximilian answered. “All of you dress in your finery. As far as the casual observer is to know, we’re going to the party to enjoy ourselves.”
“Well, I do love a party,” Geoff said. “And seeing Dame Miranda in her finery should be a treat.”
“Oh you do go on,” A middle aged woman with brown hair and pink eyes chimed in. “But I see what you mean. With her height she could look quite fetching in a suit. You know, back when I was a young girl women never wore suits. It was always dresses with the colour based on the event. I recall this one party I went to…”
“Judith, hush,” Maximilian said. “Everyone, you’re dismissed. I’ll see you all tonight.”
Miranda was heading home when she heard a voice calling her name. She stopped.
“Hi, Sylvia,” she said.
Sylvia had red hair, green eyes wore a nice green dress. “Mira,” she said. “I was just wondering if you’re coming to the party tonight?”
Miranda nodded. “Our whole squad’s been invited,” she said.
“Oh that’s lovely,” Sylvia said. She smiled. “Save me a dance?”
“Sure,” Miranda agreed.
Truthfully, Miranda didn’t want to go to a stuffy, boring ball. She wanted to stay home and have a nice chat with her grandfather. But she was a knight and she wouldn’t disobey orders without a very good reason.
She didn’t have any dresses, so she put on her formal uniform.
The Page took her invitation at the door. “Presenting, Dame Miranda Pienta!” he declared.
She went directly towards the others in her unit.
“You know,” Geoff said “I could buy you a very nice dress.”
“I could also buy my own dress if I really wanted one,” Miranda stated.
“Yes, but the one I pick would accentuate your curves very nicely,” Geoff said. “Like I did for Janice.” He gestured towards the dark haired, red-eyed woman. She was wearing a tight red dress.
“Looks uncomfortable,” Miranda said.
“It is,” Janice confirmed. “Didn’t have anything else so I trusted the buffoon.”
“Ouch,” Geoff said. “And you look so good in it. Isn’t that more important than comfort?”
“No,” Janice answered.
Prince Reynard walked over to the group. “So nice to see all of you,” he said. “Lady Miranda, would you do me the honour of a dance?”
“My apologies, your Highness,” Miranda said. “But I’ve promised to dance with someone else.”
She hurried away.
Reynard laughed awkwardly and excused himself.
Geoff turned to the red-haired woman. “Hey, Pat, a hundred gold says he keeps trying until she gives him a pity dance.”
“A hundred gold says she successfully avoids him for the entire ball,” Pat countered.
“I’m betting with Patricia,” Roderick said.
“Oh no, she’ll dance with the prince,” Judith said. “He’s royalty, after all. And you can have my bet on that one.”
Miranda moved over to Sylvia and bowed. “May I have this dance?” she asked.
Sylvia beamed. “Of course!” she declared.
They moved out on the dance floor and Miranda took the lead in the waltz. “Is there anyone else you really want to dance with?” she asked.
Sylvia’s face visibly flushed. “No, not really,” she answered.
“Then would it be acceptable for me to monopolise your dance card?” Miranda asked.
“Absolutely!” Sylvia exclaimed. “I mean, that would be quite all right by me.”
Towards the end of the ball, Miranda and her group were called to the throne room. The doors were quickly shut behind them.
The king had snow white hair and was at that stage where one has very noticeable wrinkles. He looked out at the knights.
A short, black haired man with spectacles and golden eyes whispered to him.
“So, this is all eleven of you,” the king said. “Maximilian, why are my Torla dozen missing a member?”
“My apologies, your Majesty,” Maximilian stated. “But the recent retirement of Sir Hector Pienta has left us with a vacancy we’ve not yet filled.”
“Well, no matter,” the king said. He turned towards the oldest member of the group. “Will you be retiring soon as well, Sir Napon?”
“So long as breath remains within me, I shall serve,” the old man answered.
“Good answer,” the king nodded. “But I didn’t come here about your vacancy. I’ve come here about Preklam. Our treaty with them has lost much of its former appeal.” He turned to look at Miranda. “Let’s be clear, I’m not blaming Hector. He negotiated well. Our situation has simply changed.”
“Will we renegotiate?” Frederick asked.
“In a manner of speaking,” the king stated. “We will ask the so-called queen, Cassandra Klais, to meet our envoy in a neutral place. Naturally, she will bring three or four strong attendants. That’s where you all come in. You will strike down her attendants and capture her. Using her as leverage, the Amazons will surely meet our demands.”
Miranda felt a chill run down her spine. She knew a captured queen would be abandoned by the Amazons and it would immediately lead to a long, bloody war.