Tales around Mirateia 22

Ira woke up when the sun reached her, and while rubbing her eyes from the sleep before, she cursed herself for forgetting to close the curtains before going to bed the night before. After laying in bed for some minutes, she decided she wasn't going back to sleep again. Hence, she slowly got out of bed and was about to grab her tunic from yesterday as she wasn't awake enough to look in her luggage for a more fresh one when she noticed a stack of new clothing on the chair in front of her.   She had just pulled the tunic over her when she heard someone knocking on the door.   "Your highness, are you awake?" a female voice said.   "yes, come in", Ira answered and turned to face the door as it opened.   "Good morning, your highness," the female servant said while carrying a tray with what looked like some bread, sausage and cheese.   Ira looked at the servant for a moment, confused, before turning to the servant.   "Sorry, but I don't recognise you. Were you one of the previous barons' servants?" Ira asked.   "yes, your highness, I was hired a couple of years ago", the servant answered and bowed.   "Great, maybe you can help me with some questions," Ira said.   "Of course, your highness", the servant answered.   "What I would like to know is, from what you know, how would you say the people are doing? Forget about the other lords and higher-ups; I want to know how are the common people doing. I would also like to know what you know about duke Kaeso Ciusestia Siusiso?" Ira said, picking up some of the bread and some cheese.   "Your Highness..." The servant said, confused and Ira detected a hint of fear in her voice.   "You can speak freely; I just want to know this so I can better help the baron with this the best possible way for all that live here, and I want to know if we can expect trouble from the duke," Ira said.   "Very well, your highness, I have heard tales about what you have done for the people in the capital, so I believe you. As for your first question, the people are poor compared to other regions, but we are not starving; the land can provide plenty of food for everyone, and there are enough stored for what I have heard that if there were to be a bad season, most of the effects could be handled. As for the duke, the rumours that have gone around ever since the baron died is that the duke intends to take over this land with or without force; with that said, those rumours have been going around for years by now, and nothing have changed, but that's all I know, your highness," the servant answered, bowed and walked out of Ira's room after being dismissed.   A bit later, Ira walked around the manor, escorted by two Imperial Guards, to get to know where things were located; her first stop was at the baron's office, Azran's. She kept reminding herself that the last few weeks had been pretty hectic. She wanted to see how he was settling into his new job, but when he didn't answer the door to the office, she opened it and found the room still dark and from what she could see, the papers from last night were still where they had left them. Now her mission for the day changed from exploring the manor and surroundings to finding out where Azran was hiding. First, she went to his room and knocked on the door only to have one of the servants open up.   "Your highness, if you are searching for the lord, he left a few hours earlier," the servant said while bowing his head.   "I see. Did he tell you where he left for or when he expected to be back?" Ira asked.   "No, your highness", the servant answered.   "Okay, thank you," Ira said and began walking toward the stables to see if any of them there knew where he was. She had an idea that he may have taken a horse and gone to explore the terrain, it would not be the first time he had done something similar, but when she entered the stable and asked around, no one was able to say where he was, only that no horse was missing.   Ira was about to walk back to the office; she might as well get some work done while waiting for that dumb human when she heard the faintest sound of metal hitting metal and someone yelling from the corner of the grounds of the manor, confirming with her escort that it wasn't something only she had heard, she began walking towards a building, walking up some stairs that ended in a walkway on top of the wall, she could look down into a courtyard with several people that judging from the equipment, age and training must be the local city watch.   "IN THE BLOODY NAME OF MARA, HOW ARE YOU HOLDING THAT SPEAR?" Ira heard a well-known voice yell from one end of the courtyard, turning to see Azran speed walking towards the poor guard, taking the spear and demonstrating the proper way to hold the weapon, confirming with the guard that he got it; Azran walked away to adjust the position of another guard. Something must have caught the attention of one of the city guards because he turned and shook by surprise when he saw who was standing on the walkway looking down at them, it took him a second before he stood at attention facing Ira, and soon enough the other guards spotted her and did the same.   "Wha... what do you think you are doing?" Azran said, somewhat confused to begin with, before looking in the direction of the city guards and saw Ira standing there, around him the two Imperial Guards that had insisted on escorting him assumed the proper position for them, leaving Azran the only one seemingly not caring that the heir to the empire was looking down at them.   "What do I owe the honour of your visit, your highness" Azran continued.   "I have been looking for you the last couple of hours; I thought the baron was working", Ira answered, smiling; two could play that game now.   "I was, I was inspecting the city guards' training routine, and while they have potential to be great guardsmen or even legionnaires, they still have some way", Azran answered. "But why does the highness not come down here and show us her skill with the blade? I'm sure it would improve the men's motivation," he continued.   At first, Ira didn't answer, but she began walking towards the stair leading down to the courtyard.   "Are we doing this?" Azran asked.   "Oh, is the baron afraid of losing?" Ira teased.   Meanwhile around them, the guards had made a circle around them and shortly after, two guards handed both Ira and Azran a sword and second later, a rapid flow of metal against metal could be heard as Ira and Azran almost danced around each other, trying to find an opening and around them cheers from the spectators could be heard not aimed at one of the combatants in particular but more towards both. The fight and loud noises had attracted more people, plus the fact that the crown princess and the baron were having a match was enough to gather a crowd, and soon enough, most of the walkway on top of the wall was full of people looking at the fight. Both sides circled each other, both careful of where to place their feet and shifting between attacking and defending after what felt like an eternity. The match ended after both of them tried the same attack, with them both attempting an overhand strike and instead finding themself locked in a position only centimetres away from each other; they could both feel the other's breath on their skin, so close were they. Exhausted from the match, they retreated a few meters and bowed to each other to the sound of claps and cheers from the spectators.   Walking next to Azran, Ira raised his arm along with hers, which made the crowd only louder.   "I think we gave them a good show," Ira said low enough for only Azran to hear.   "That we did indeed," Azran answered. "I just hope it helped", he mumbled to himself, making Ira turn her head to look at Azran with a concerned expression.   After the crowd had returned to what they were doing beforehand and the city guards had been dismissed, all of them promised to increase their training after having seen the demonstration by Ira and Azran, who afterwards walked back to the manor. After they had changed into fresh clothes, they sat in the office and, for some time, just sat there in silence.   "Why were you yelling at that guard? I mean, judging by what you said, I can guess the reason, but I'm still interested," Ira said, breaking the silence.   "I guess I, in my head, created this idea that the city guard here were well trained and such, but most of these guards don't know how to hold a spear in a way that will guarantee a kill, and I had been trying to get them to understand this the entire morning and I guess I snapped when you reached the courtyard" Azran said while signing a paper.   "I see; they are just guards, and they are either too old or too young for the army, so they sign up for the guard," Ira said while sorting some books on the bookshelf.   "I know, and I don't blame them for not knowing better; I just don't want them to die due to circumstances that could have been prevented by proper training", Azran said, leaning back on the chair with his hands behind his head, turning his head towards the window he caught the smell and wrinkled on his nose, thinking to himself that he needed a bath very soon.   "Well, I might not know the common people of the provinces as well as you do, but I will bet that they were inspired after my victory today," Ira said, looking over at Azran and winking with her right eye.   "Oh, your victory? I see," Azran said, laughing, tossing a hastily made paper ball towards Ira, and missing.

Cover image: by Gayle Porter Hoskins


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