"I-I… I'm really trying to figure out just what I should say right now. I… I want to -of course- thank their majesties for their great kindness to not only me but to the memory of Duke Gamel and his family. I know Baron Pinel shares in my appreciation of our King's generosity to us."
Pinel nodded in agreement, still glorying in his newly acquired status.
"I take this office that King Haroldris has bestowed upon me as the absolute most important thing I will ever do. I know that I am not a human like most of you. I am 73 years old and I am told that in Elf and Drow years, I am merely a very young woman. But though I am a young dark elf in body, my whole life has been spent in Westmark and I cannot think of any place other then this town as my home. I have seen several generations of residents grow up and raise families. I've even seen many dear, dear people pass into the arms of Yesh. Through it all, I have always felt that the great Creator has placed me here to -in some very small way- help the good people of this duchy. Father and Mother Bugley - for this is now the role I realize they gladly partook on my behalf- taught me that it is a far greater thing to give and to help then it is to desire to be served. I believe Duke Gamel held himself as a member of this community, not as a lofty noble separated from his people. From the outpouring of love and support from all of you, I see that you also felt that he was one of you."
Aurei took a deep breath to calm her nerves and continued, amazed how the attention of everyone was focused on her every word.
"I want you to know by stepping into Duke Gamel's role, I plan to continue to be a part of this community. I stand before you today in a dress covered in flour and smelling of dough, and though I apologize for my unkept appearance, it does reflect how I plan to operate among you - by serving."
"Including Ale?" came a male voice from somewhere in the crowded Hall, and the question made a chorus of laughs and yells fill the air. Aurei smiled at the question.
"I plan on still serving ale at the Muddy Boot as much as my position allows. But as Duchess, please know I can have any drunken hands that pinch my fanny or grab other parts cut off now." She grinned mischievously to accent her jest.
The hall roared with laughter.
"My main concern right now is the presence of the Necromancer's Guild in our Duchy. We cannot forget what happened to the Flydros family. Leah Flydros is officially under my protection and I will personally pay for her care. With his majesty's permission, I would also like to increase the number of our ducal forces and have them trained more intensely. In fact, I would like to propose that all of the residents of the Duchy - men and women- receive weapons training so they can defend themselves if we are attacked. I'm not drafting everyone into a militia; I merely want everyone to be able to handle a weapon if the need arises. I will of course pay for this training and if it is possible, purchase weapons and armor for everyone."
The people all applauded, but those on the platform seemed somewhat troubled by her words. Aurei wondered if she had just made her first mistake.
Suddenly from one end of the platform, Thorm stood up raising his hands to get attention.
"On behalf of the Armor Guild of Forgestone, of whom I am a representative, I pledge 500 long swords and shields as a gift to the people of Westmark in honor of their new Duchess!"
The Dwarf's words once again caused the Hall to roar with applause and cheers and Aurei was relieved to see that the troubled look had left the faces of those seated near her.
She was surprised when Duke Frampbrum of Dullerm seated opposite of her at the King's table, stood, causing the hall to quickly quiet.
"The duchy of Dullerm has long been known for our archers and our duchies have long maintained close ties. I now give on behalf of the people of Dullerm 500 longbows and as many quivers of arrows needed to equip the new Duchess' forces."
More cheering from what was turning into a rally.
Aurei bowed to the Duke, "I thank you Duke Frampbrum, my father considered you and your good lady to be his closest friends." She turned to Thorm who now was seated with his ale, "And to you Thorm Thannendwaf, my dear friend, I thank you and your guild for their great kindness to us."
"You are welcome, DUCHESS." His emphasis on the title was not lost on Aurei, who smiled sweetly at the Dwarf.
"It seems as if I have made a right choice." Haroldris spoke up, "The Duchess has already secured weapons and shields for her troops. I think I may be able to give something too. Upon returning to King's Reach, I will send a message to St. Kinnis, the leader of the Blood Knights order about training your troops. I know the reverend saint has desired a location for a Paladin training stronghold. It would greatly benefit our Kingdom to have the Blood Knights place their order's training facility here, and I can think of no better place then the duchy of Westmark - that is if Saint Kinnis is so inclined and if Duchess Bugley gives her permission…"
Aurei looked to the people assembled, who gave warm applause as their approval.
"Would we be required to build the stronghold for them?" she asked the King.
"No, no, the order would do that - they would purchase the land under the agreement that their land is sovereign only to the Blood Knights and their parent organization, The Bitter Dregs. In return, they swear fidelity to the Duchy to defend and protect it as well as the Kingdom. A fair trade-off, I would say."
The people of Westmark cheered again and Aurei and the King stood very pleased at the proceedings. Unnoticed by most everyone, a pair of merchants, both very drunk and holding on each other to stand up, slowly got up and swayed out of the Keep, zigzagging down the path and nearly bumping into the people milling about on this special day. The two turned and disappeared around the side of the Muddy Boot and immediately their persona changed.
"I think we're safe here" the first one said to the next, looking around to make sure no one was nearby.
"We've got to get word back to Dunto's Bane - this could change everything."
"Relax - Westmark or Dullerm, either will work."
"So do we change our plans?"
"No…no, we go ahead, it may only cement Haroldris' determination to bring the paladins here. We'll bring up the beastie tonight and release it south of town, then bring up ol' Jack and put him in the hills east of town once the King's procession heads back home."
"We could take them all out - right here- if we brought everyone up from Dunto's Bane."
"That's not the plan, Jacchov. It's a slow plan, you know that."
"I know, Thantes… but we could kill them all."
"Yet we won't. We don't want to make the Master mad. Now you get word to Dunto's and get Jack and the Beastie in position. The King and Frampbrum will leave tomorrow morning, so you know where to set the Beastie."
"Yes. I'll get moving."
"Then lay low after that, until I tell you."
"Now get going."
The second man hurried off to fulfill his mission as the first one slipped around the side of the Inn and then casually went inside, again picking up a fake drunken sway.