Sir Gleamheart and the governor had been discussing the status of the dragon hunt. The other guests were being ignored by their host and had begun half a dozen quiet conversations at their various tables around the hall. Everything fell silent when a wizard suddenly appeared in the center of the room. Sir Gleamheart drew his sword and the guards all readied their weapons. The governor calmed their fears when he stood and addressed the intruder. “Qewaxon, welcome. Your entrances are always shocking.” Turning to the others he said, “Put your weapons away. This is my friend, Qewaxon. He is King Athyert Veray’s court wizard and occasional emissary.”
Only after the paladin slowly sheathed his sword did the guards relax their positions. All eyes remained fixed on this small framed human. In the dim light of the candles, his ashen complexion and deeply wrinkled skin gave him an undead appearance. His head was almost completely devoid of hair making the light gray hair that fell to his shoulders and a thin beard that hung past his knees that more striking. He was wearing a tattered black wool robe tied at the waste with a broad leather belt with brass buckles from which hung a variety of pouches and odd metal hooks and rings along with what appeared to be a leather scroll case and small wire cage. A thin maroon scarf and faded blue gown could be seen where the robe parted down past his belt. His gown was as tattered around the bottom as his robe. He had tall soft leather boots on his feet. His forearms and hands were bare. He held a large crooked wooden staff in his right hand and a rolled-up parchment in his left.
After looking around for a moment, he stepped over to the head table. Ignoring the governor and the paladin, he addressed Gauwalt Byne, the old wizard who was sitting to the governor’s right. “I received your missive. I have been following the activities of your dragon with great interest.” Turning to the governor, he continued, “I ask your forgiveness in not passing the document immediately to the king. He is quite busy but if you or Sir Gleamheart would consent to returning to the palace with me, I could get you an audience with his highness almost immediately and you could make your plea in person.”
“Take me,” Sir Gleamheart said. Realizing his breach of etiquette in interrupting their conversation when he had not yet been addressed he stepped back and said, “I apologize but if the king is as wise and compassionate as they say, I am sure he will find a way to provide a number of fighters who would be eager to join in this holy quest.”
Qewaxon didn’t respond right away. First he looked the paladin over closely, from the top of his naturally curly hair and perfect teeth to his highly polished armor and proud posture down to the polish on his pointed sabatons. “You Sir Gleamheart are exactly as I expected you to be.” The paladin started to smile and thank him when he continued, “You are brash and compulsive. You are too eager to use your sword when your words would serve you better. It is my opinion that this dragon hunt you are contemplating is doomed to failure. I have followed your exploits from time to time and I must say that I am not impressed. However, I am only an advisor to the king and he seldom heeds my advice. If you are ready we can leave now.”
Gleamheart turned to the governor, “By your leave sir, I will go with the king’s wizard and hopefully return with enough men to defeat Abraxas.”
The governor replied, “Go then, and good luck.” Then to the wizard he said, “It was good to see you again, however briefly.”
Qewaxon handed him the rolled parchment that he had been holding. “This message is from the king. I believe it to be a tax matter.” Then without further ado he recited a few magical words and both he and the paladin disappeared.
To Gleamheart, all the world went momentarily cold and black. He became somewhat dizzy with the feeling of falling from a great height while still standing firmly on the ground. Then, suddenly, the room where he had been standing was gone and in its place was a large, brightly lit room filled with many people and bright colors. It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the bright sunlight that was streaming in from the huge open doors at both ends of what he soon realized was a very wide and quite long corridor. Only he and the wizard that was standing before him remained, all the rest had changed. If the people that were milling about had noticed them appear it must have been a commonplace occurrence for no one seemed startled, or even curious.
Qewaxon said for Gleamheart to wait here for a moment while he arraigned for them to be announced. He explained that the hall was full because the king was hosting a tournament that was to start in a few days. Today he was receiving each of the participating knights. With that he hurried across the hall to a pair of 20 foot tall gilded doors and slipped inside.
Sir Gleamheart stood there in awe. He had often heard tales of the golden palace but this was more wondrous than anything that he could have imagined. The walls were of a white marble through which ran strands of gold in all directions forming intricate webs of abstract design. Everywhere catching rays of sunlight from the many tall windows reflecting light in all directions giving the entire place a golden glow. Then he began to take note of the throng of people. What at first he mistook for chaos he could now see was a hectic but rather orderly crowd with many small groups, each group wearing different livery colors, most of which he recognized. There was the green and gold of the Southern Forest Duchy, the red and black of the Imstul Empire, the gold and blue of Marietland. The colors continued on down the hall – yellow and blue, white and green, pink and grey, orange and white, brown and blue. Gleamheart had spent many an evening studying the many and varied livery’s of all of the known lands as well as their various ranks and titles. But never had he seen so many different liveries in one place.
In most of the groups he could see one or two knights in their finest armor surrounded by several squires, nobles and attendants. Most groups were human or elf but there were a few dwarven groups and he saw a few half-orks and tieflings. He even thought he saw a dragonborn in a group at the far end of the hall, when suddenly a knight rushed over to him and grabbed him by the arm. “Olorry! My old friend. Is it really you? When did you arrive? Are you in the list?”
Not recognizing this stranger at first, Sir Gleamheart replied, “No, I am not in the list. I didn’t come to participate in your games.” It took him a few more seconds to recognize his old sparring buddy. “Neil Cutroy! The last time I saw you you were wearing the tan and brown of Marshwood and your beard was several inches shorter.”
“They call me Nel the Courageous now.” His friend replied. “I went adventuring for a while and ended up in the Ephoura Empire, where I swore my allegiance and took to wearing their gold and red livery.” He gave him a solid pat on the shoulder, “It is a wonderment to see you again.”
Gleamheart replied, “It is quite an unexpected pleasure to see you here as well. I am glad to see you are well.”
Neil stepped back a pace and asked, “If you are not here for the jousting tournament what business brings you the palace?”
“A very grave matter indeed, I am afraid. I have come to partition the king to provide me with as many volunteers as he can muster to fight a red dragon from the Black Mountains that is on a rampage of destruction.”
“The Black Mountains? Aren’t they over a thousand miles from here?”
“Over two thousand to be more precise and you must cross two other mountain ranges and a desert to get there from here.”
“You came all that way?”
“The king’s wizard teleported me here. I was standing in Rockport only moments ago. I am hoping the king will allow him to use his magic to deliver fighters to join my group to hunt down and destroy this dragon that is causing so much pain there.”
“I hope the king grants you your partition,” Neil said. “After your audience with him you should stay here a few days and participate in the jousting. You could represent Rockport. I have many lances and a good warhorse you can use.”
“I am afraid that I must decline your gracious invitation,” said Gleamheart. “I must return to Rockport as soon as possible. The dragon may attack again at any time.”
“Of course,” said Neil. “But if you were teleported into the palace you haven’t seen the list. Never before has a list had such a find field and grandstands. It is just outside the castle wall and the colorful pavilions have been popping up for the last couple of weeks as knights have arrived from all over the kingdom, and a few from other realms as well. The vespers tourney starts tomorrow. I have a young squire that expects to do well there. The jousting tournament will be on the following day. We are all here today to receive our formal welcome to the games from the king. After that we will be assigned our order in the formal procession to start the tourney. I am looking forward to riding in along with all of the other knights and judges. This will be my first Invocation.”
Gleamheart responded, “It sounds like it will be quite an event.”
Neil continued, “Everyone says that this will be the largest jousting tournament ever held. They have even erected a low wall to separate the horses and riders.”
“I remember when we once used a rope divider,” said Gleamheart.
“That’s right. I had almost forgotten that. That was in Glosharmos, if I remember correctly. Wasn’t that where your opponent was shamed for directing his attack at your horse?”
“Yes. That was Galter the Swift, and I won the contest despite his un-chivalrous conduct. I still have his silver buckler.”
“He became Galter the Earnest after that. You know that the looser no longer forfeits his armor to the victor? On the last day of the tournament the ceremony for awarding the prizes will be conducted. The king is awarding 200 gold coins as a grand prize to the ultimate victor.”
Then they noticed Qewaxon. Clanking his staff on the tiled floor with each hurried step he quickly approached and when Gleamheart looked in his direction he motioned for him to follow and said, “Come quickly, the king will see you now.”
As Gleamheart turned to go, Neil said, “Come back for me before you teleport back to Rockport.I will go with you. I can’t let you have all of the glory!”
“I will,” said Gleamheart. “Thank you.”
“There is no time for that,” interrupted Qewaxon. “We must go now!”
They crossed over to the gilded doors which opened for them as they approached.