10 The would-be Knight of Fountain Ridge*
*The Eldovian Era, Year 1692*
Cornelius Kildare, master of the Kildare household and Duke of Fountain Ridge, slammed his hands on his desk in outrage, "That boy has been where?"
Ludwig, Duke Kildare's trusted secretary, sighed, "The Ridge Men found him at the Knight School in Barday milord, however, it seems he is set to graduate at the end of this semester".
"Graduate, he's been gone three years, I hardly think that's enough time to graduate," Duke Kildare grumbled.
"He excels milord, at least, that was what the Ridge Men found, he is undefeated in the Arena, and is set to lead his own group of knights after graduation," Ludwig elaborated, "I have the report with me if you are interested".
"We are not a military family, Ludwig, how did he even get into the school?" asked Duke Kildare.
"That...I believe he was enrolled under a false name, and when his true identity was uncovered more than a year later, he insisted on not letting you have knowledge of his whereabouts," Ludwig replied.
Duke Kildare turned away, "Where are Francois and William?"
"William is in Lovolan, negotiating a trade deal with the merfolk for pearlain silk," Ludwig stated, "I believe Francois was overseeing the trade in Varkevia".
Varkevia, the Western Trade City that dealt most commonly with the elven products. Surely that would be far enough away that his free-spirited third son could think about the consequences of his actions in enrolling in a military academy after Cornelius had spent so much time training him to be a businessman. Besides, under the watch of his eldest brother he would surely fall into line.
Honestly, Phillip had been shocked that he'd been able to keep his whereabouts a secret from his father for as long as he had. At the very least, Ludwig had allowed him to receive his knightage before being exiled to the Western reaches of the empire. No doubt though that the advisor would tell his father it was all Phillip's doing. Phillip hadn't cared for some time though. He had never wanted a hand in the family business, the Kildare family had so much money already, what need was there to earn more? So Phillip had followed his father's wishes without complaint this time. When he was that far west, there was little his father could do or say to stop him in the moment.
The journey had taken nearly six weeks, and by the time they reached Varkevia Phillip was ready to do anything but sit in a carriage. The mansion that the Kildare family owned in Varkevia was one of the larger ones, and Phillip had been escorted there easily. As Ludwig got off the carriage with him, Phillip turned to view the lower reaches of the city. It was built onto a rather large hill that dipped into the valley, the rich lived at the top, the poor at the bottom. Though, even the poor in Varkevia were well off.
"Master Phillip?" asked Ludwig.
"I'll be back for dinner, Ludwig," Phillip replied strutting back towards the gates as he shed his expensive, silk lined jacket.
"Master Phillip, I really don't think-"
"I'll be fine, Ludwig," Phillip replied, turning to shake his purse at Ludwig before jogging off into the streets.
Ludwig sighed in defeat, "That insatiable free-spirit will be the death of you one day boy".
Phillip would not be deterred however, he spent much of the day venturing past shops and vendors, tasting wares and chatting animatedly with the people. This was the life he loved, the one where no one knew who he was. Where they weren't terrified nor overly eager to please the moment they heard his name. It had grown old quickly. He never knew who to trust. His older brothers and sister had relished in their wealth and infamy. At the age of fourteen, Phillip had decided they were better off without him. He'd left in the dead of night, and not stopped until three weeks later when he'd arrived in Barday and met the son of an aristocrat who he'd beat in a duel. That Count's son, Oliver, had brought Phillip with him to the enrolements of the Military Academy, and Phillip had passed with flying colours. He hadn't looked back until he'd had to use his name more than a year later to stop some students from being unfairly dismissed. He felt sick, using his family for their wealth and power. Oliver had insisted he wouldn't treat Phillip any differently, but Phillip knew he couldn't keep that promise. Now, once again alone and free, Phillip ventured into the lower markets where the common people bartered and danced and laughed with each other.
It was quite the spectacle, and Phillip was pleased just watching it. He sat there for over an hour before a woman to the side caught his eye. She was selling freshly baked bread with her father, an enchanting smile on her face that charmed anyone who passed by. Phillip couldn't help but be drawn to that smile and her dark eyes. Her black hair tied in a bun on top of her head. He wondered what it would look like it it were to hang down her back and over her shoulders, surely she would look more beautiful then.
After watching her for a while, Phillip stood and approached her stall, smiling as he did so.
"Where abouts is all this grown?" asked Phillip with a friendly smile, "It must be close by, it looks so fresh".
The young woman grinned at the compliment, "At Cordon Village, about sixty kilometres north of here".
"Goodness, that's at least four days in a cart, how did you keep it all so fresh?" asked Phillip.
the woman tapped her nose, "Trade secret, if I told you I'd have to kill you".
Phillip took up an apple and took a bite as he appraised the girl, "Are you sure you could?"
The woman shrugged, "Won't know until I try. Would you like anything else?"
"Well, if I can't have that secret outright, is there something that I could do to obtain it?" Phillip flirted.
The woman paused, tilting her head in thought, "Well, its only the villagers who know, so I suppose your only option is to move there, or get married".
Phillip pretended to think for a moment, "Well are you available miss?"
The woman's eyes widened in surprise, "Well aren't you awfully forward".
"I find it's the quickest way to get things done, I'll take a half-kilo of apricots and a few more of those apples," Phillip replied, "I'm Phillip by the way".
The woman took the cloth Phillip offered and helped him tie up what he'd bought, "Well Phillip, that'll be eight copper".
"No name?" asked Phillip as he handed over a silver coin.
The woman took the coin as she looked up at Phillip, afterall she was only as tall as his chest, "I don't believe in a single meeting".
"then how many do you believe in?" asked Phillip.
"Three. Three coincidental meetings and I'll consider giving you my name," the woman replied.
Phillip smiled, "Very well, I look forward to our next encounter". Phillip took up his good and left.
The woman smiled then looked at the Silver coin in her hand, "Ah, sir! Your...change".
Phillip had already disappeared into the crowd. The woman frowned at the silver coin. If one hundred coppers equalled one silver, he'd way over-payed. The woman didn't feel right keeping so much money.
"Anna?" her father called as he approached, "How are sales?"
Anna turned with a smile, hiding the coin in her jacket, she'd find a way to pay him back if those coincidental meetings ever happened again.
Meanwhile, Phillip entered the Kildare mansion and passed his goods to the servants before he walked for the dining room.
"I'm back Ludwig, see, I promised I'd be back for-"
Phillip paused as he entered the large dining hall. The table was already set, and was very much occupied. Ludwig sat to the right of the table, and from their appearance, there were at least ten other advisors and merchants seated at the long table. Then, as quite a surprise, three elves sat to the left of the table. Phillip knew they were elves immediately from their peircing green eyes and long silky hair braided back. Their clothes were so clean cut and smooth that they were clearly made for showing off one's figure. And though Phillip could not see them in their entirety, upon their skin looked like painted lines that seemed to reflect light, silvery in the centre and white around the edges.
"Ah, my dear brother, so glad you could join us".
Phillip turned his gaze to the end of the table where his eldest brother, Francois, sat with a very unimpressed look on his face.