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1998 by Keith Spillman

7. Albrecht

A loud fanfare quieted the crowd in the town square. "Sounds like King Leoric's goin' t'open Caravan," commented Griswold.

"I'd better be going," said Nova. "Staying around here will just remind me what I'm missing." She turned to Valeria. "Will you be all right?"

Valeria nodded.

"Gilly's going to be tied up taking care of her grandmother well into the evening. Why don't you come find me at the tavern later tonight and we'll have some dinner?"

Valeria nodded again. It sounded good to her.

"All right then," concluded Nova. "I'm off to feed and water the teeming masses." She darted across the road to the Tavern of the Rising Sun. Moments later, a trio of knights in white armor cleared the street to make way for the royal procession. Down the road, the gray spires of the great cathedral peered over the treetops to watch over Tristram. The secretive wizards' guild, the Horadrim, had originally built the cathedral to serve as a monastery. However, when the Horadrim were nearly wiped out in the Sin War, the structure was abandoned. It was only in the last thirty years that King Leoric and his followers had converted the cathedral into a royal residence. The royal family only used a portion of the building, much of it, particularly the subterranean areas were sealed off and remained unexplored.

Valeria watched King Leoric, Queen Lenore and Prince Albrecht ascend to the stage with their attendants and personal guards. Already onstage was Pepin, an Archbishop, a knight in gleaming white armor, and a knight in mottled green armor and a brown cloak. All stood at attention.

The crowd applauded respectfully as the King waved to them and then helped Queen Lenore to her seat.

They applauded fondly as Queen Lenore gave them a wave before taking her seat.

Finally, just as it quieted down enough for him to speak, someone off to Valeria's right shouted, "Give 'em hell, Al!"

The crowd cheered wildly when Prince Albrecht smiled and waved before taking his seat. They continued to cheer until King Leoric held up his hands and called for silence.

"Citizens! Merchants! Honored guests!" King Leoric addressed the gathering. "We are here on this beautiful Tristram morning to celebrate the safe arrival of Caravan and to open the week's festivities.

"In the past, I have performed the official opening, but this year, I would like to break with tradition and establish a new one. As of this year, my son and your future King will open Caravan! Without further ado, here is Prince Albrecht."

Valeria had never seen a crowd quite so enthusiastic as this one was for Albrecht. Albrecht held up his hands for silence, but it was some time before the mob was done adoring him. Finally, just as it quieted down enough for him to speak, someone off to Valeria's right shouted, "Give 'em hell, Al!"

King Leoric scanned the crowd disapprovingly, but Albrecht just laughed and shouted back, "Thank you! I'll try!"

"Beloved friends and neighbors," began Albrecht. "Ever since I was a very small boy, Caravan has been a special time for me. One of my earliest memories is of how I cried and cried when my mother informed me that Caravan had to move on to the next city. So it is indeed a wonderful privilege that my father has passed on to me, to be able to welcome personally Caravan to my home town."

Valeria watched and listened carefully to the young prince. He was barely her own age and seemed to be a thoroughly average individual in every way. Average height, average build; not bad looking, but not strikingly handsome either. Yet the locals and even some of the out-of-towners were hanging on his every word. In Riparia, when Valeria had been required to address her subjects-to-be, they listened quietly and politely because it was expected of them. Valeria had never sensed any sort of affection toward her from the populace, nor had she ever expected it. By contrast, if someone here had stood up in the back and started handing out free money, most of these people probably wouldn't have even turned around until the Prince was done speaking.

"Before I open Caravan," he said, "there are a few people I want to introduce for the benefit of our guests. If, knock on wood, you hurt yourself or overindulge and get sick while you're in Tristram, Aaronus Pepin is the man to come see. He is a skilled Healer and one of the most kindly souls you are likely to meet anywhere." He nodded to Pepin. "Stand up so the people can see what you look like."

Pepin stood and waved shyly.

"If you're staying outside of city limits or are leaving or entering Khanduras, you'll rest easier knowing that Hector Gorash and Khanduran Rangers are on the job keeping the forests and fields safe for everyone. You can recognize the Rangers by their green armor and brown cloaks. If you need help on the road, they're the people to look for." Albrecht nodded at the man in the mottled green armor.

Hector Gorash stood and pumped his fist in the air. He seemed to be another favorite of the crowd, although Valeria detected a predominance of male voices cheering. Gorash was in his thirties and looked just the way Valeria expected a Ranger to look. He was tall, tanned and a little weather-beaten.

"Now then," continued Albrecht, as Gorash sat down, "While you're in town, you can count on the gentlemen in the white armor to help you if you're having trouble or to make you behave if you're causing trouble. Tristram is a safe and pleasant city, and Captain Lachdanan keeps it that way."

The man in white armor stood and nodded to the crowd. While Gorash had been ruggedly handsome, as far as Valeria was concerned, Lachdanan was just plain gorgeous. His face was angelic, with curly black hair and dark blue eyes. His armor gleamed and he held a jeweled helmet tucked under one arm.

"I know you people are all looking forward to a week of shopping, trading and general carrying on, and probably aren't interested in standing in the sun listening to some crown tell you how great it's going to be."

"Finally," said Albrecht. "it's my pleasure to introduce the Archbishop Lazarus who will bless the week's festivities."Lazarus was a plain-looking middle-aged man. He was dressed in the full ceremonial splendor of his station however. He tapped his golden staff on the stage, and the crowd, believers and non-believers alike, bowed their heads in reverence. Lazarus delivered the blessing in the Old Language, so Valeria, and most of the people present, did not understand its exact meaning. The Archbishop's voice was both powerful and soothing. It reminded Valeria of a cool cloth on a fevered forehead.

"All right then," finished Albrecht, after Lazarus had delivered the blessing. "I know you people are all looking forward to a week of shopping, trading and general carrying on, and probably aren't interested in standing in the sun listening to some crown tell you how great it's going to be."

From somewhere off to Valeria's left, several teenaged girls shouted in unison, "We love you, Al!"

"I love you too!" cried Albrecht, and then continued his speech without a pause. "Personally, I'd rather be over at Hogan Griswold's booth sampling his latest culinary masterpiece than up here exercising my vocal chords!"

Valeria glanced at Hildy and her father and saw them both beaming with pride.

"So, I offer these words of advice," concluded Albrecht. "Spend wisely and deal fairly. Make new friends and rejoice in the people around you. With that, I hereby declare Caravan open!" A raucous cheer went up and a band began to play.

For long minutes, the adoring crowd shouted Albrecht's name.

Originally published to August 25, 1999.


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