The next day, Jonathan and Bas lined up to present their offering.
L’ua had begged to go, but had been told to stay in the prince’s palace during the celebration.
Jonathan could see why Bas had been worried about not standing out enough. The successful royal children and their companions held dragon bones, chests of jewelry, and other treasures. The unsuccessful held nothing, or small trinkets that couldn’t be proven as not having belonged to a dragon. At the front stood the oldest of the royal children—Miseri, a woman with short hair that fell into her eyes. Her only adornment was the head of a young dragon in her hands.
Bas pulled Jonathan to stand in a cluster of three other royal children. He introduced them as Mieier, Nali, and Adatam. These three had some sort of friendliness or non-aggression to them that was similar to how some of the others in line grouped themselves together.
Jonathan wondered about how they were able to trust anyone with the pressures of their father and country on their necks.
The ballroom itself was large and circular in shape. Large chandeliers hung from the ceiling, spaced out to cast light over the whole area. Tables had been placed around the edges of the ballroom, each decorated in the national colors of green, brown, and purple. Nobles mingled with mages, knights, and priests in large crowds that swirled and clung together like schools of fish, staying together for survival and networking.
The king entered, heralded by trumpets, and he took his seat. He announced the beginning of the banquet, which would start with presentations of the trophies his children had won from dragons. There was a phoenix perched on his shoulder, a chain around its leg.
The line moved slowly and most talked amongst themselves in whispers.
Jonathan was only able to see the king when they presented the gift. He ran an eye over the man that still looked to be in his twenties and had above average looks. He somehow knew exactly what King Tel Legen was, an antithesis of himself, a successful harem protagonist.
Bas moved forward. He respectfully looked down at the floor instead of at the king as he spoke. The teenager told a story of bargaining and diplomacy rather than conquest, a contrast to his many siblings.
Jonathan glanced at the king and the phoenix, then around the rest of the room at the bored diplomats and scheming wives, dissatisfied about their children’s treatment—the king was everything Jonathan had never wanted to be, and Jonathan found himself justified entirely as he looked into the eyes of the foolish, tyrannical king.
King Tel Legen had accepted the gift and seemed quite pleased. He gave a title—Count of Villas Marsh— and land to Bas for being successful in his quest. Unfortunately, he turned his attention to Jonathan next. “There aren’t many willing to search out dragons, and none of the others have only chosen one party member. Your companion will be awarded ten thousand gold for his bravery.”
Jonathan winced. “Your majesty, I am only a humble commoner. I will pass my reward to Prince Bas as thanks for allowing me to guide him.” Aside from not wanting to get involved politically, he had no way to store or spend that much money.
King Legen seemed miffed at the response. However, his eyes fell onto Oceton and his annoyance was replaced by sheer joy. “Is that a male phoenix?”
Jonathan had a low opinion of the king, but he didn’t want to cause Bas unnecessary trouble. There were some things, however, he simply wouldn’t budge on.
“This one is a female phoenix, same as yours,” Jonathan lied. He glanced out of the corner of his eyes, seeing that some of the guards had their hands on their sword hilts. “Surely, such a great king would not steal a bonded phoenix from a normal man.” He bet that he could kill the king before the guards reached him, whether by his sword or by use of the small mana stone hidden in his boot.
The king considered for a moment, and then irritably dismissed them.
While Bas performed the proper respects, Jonathan did only the bare minimum of bowing his head slightly. The prince was expected to have a knowledge of etiquette, but the lumberjack guide he had did not.
Jonathan stayed on the fringes of the ballroom, while Bas went to go mingle with others. He was soon approached by a familiar man, who—behind his benign smile—seemed almost as annoyed with the celebration as Jonathan.
Prince Oliver gestured to his glass. Underneath his usual calm was a sort of dry friendliness. “I would have brought you a drink, but . . .”
“But I might assume it was poisoned?” Jonathan responded, just as dryly.. On the other side of the room, he spotted Aderes talking to a group of diplomats and Chester shadowing her as an escort. He was glad his friends had arrived safely.
“Exactly.” A wry smile slipped on the prince’s face, bitter though it was. His red hair had been combed back for the occasion and some strands of hair had already started to fall over his eyes.
“I’m heading back after this, so I won’t be drinking.”
“Back to Alita?”
Jonathan could feel too many eyes on them, curious about why a prince was talking to a commoner. “Yes.”
“Mind passing a letter to Deimena then?”
“I would mind,” Jonathan replied.
Oliver chuckled. “Okay.” He didn’t seem annoyed at the refusal. “I do have one for you.”
“Liam.” Oliver turned so that his back was blocking the view of the other partygoers and pulled out a small envelope.
Jonathan took the letter. “Why are you acting like this?”
“I don’t like the way our family is. I want it to be better.” This celebration reminded Oliver of everything he hated about his life. All of the in-fighting, the drama, and the showy performances.
Jonathan wasn’t sure how to respond to that. He didn’t want to say something like, your mother is the worst member of the Imperial family; even if she was gone, that didn’t mean everything and everyone would be okay, albeit it would still improve things. There was always more to family issues than just one person. Otherwise, when his parents died, some of his siblings wouldn’t have acted the way they did. He cleared his throat and moved the conversation on, trying not to get lost in his thoughts. “Liam told me you play the lyre?”
The two talked for quite a while, until an older woman in a green dress inserted herself into the conversation. She had put her arm around Oliver’s, smiling curiously. “Who is this? Mind introducing?”
Jonathan plastered a smile on his face. His heart was racing. This was the second time Jonathan had seen Consort Lorelei face to face. He knew Oliver could rat him out then and there, and the consort would start hunting him down. If that happened, his best bet might be to kill Lorelei now.
Oliver’s smile had turned back to something benign. “Jonathan, a companion chosen by Prince Bas for the competition.”
Jonathan took in a shallow breath, and kept his smile up. He greeted the lady and used Bas as an excuse to leave the conversation quickly.
He didn’t really enjoy the party aside from talking with Oliver. He decided to leave early as felt he had attracted far too much attention already that night and knew he needed to clean once he was back home. There was no point in staying there.
Jonathan left a note for Bas in the prince’s room. It was short and to the point, make sure to keep L’ua and himself safe, and in case the prince ever needed some trustworthy fighters in the future, how to contact Rando’s band.
Biscuit wasn’t happy with the heavy wind that night, but she put up with it. Jonathan would thank her with a nice bucket of mash once they were back home.
Yeah Bas’ dad is a jerk.
Reminder about first official fanday: Saturday June 24th, 2023. Check the carrd out above, or go to this twitter thread: https://twitter.com/TheSilverHunt3r/status/1657446101539074055
New updated version of An Unwilling Prince available! includes an unreleased short story https://ko-fi.com/s/ee384ebab2 (If you already bought version 1, I will happily send you a link to the short story)
If you want to see art of Biscuit eating a biscuit, click here or use this link: https://ko-fi.com/i/IX8X1LVAFS