Thank you all for your patience with this fic. I hope you all enjoy the continuation.
PS. IT LIVES! FFN had some issues this week. Thanks for being so patient. But now I can finally give you the chapter I promised on Monday.
Chapter 2: The Tourney Grounds
Lances broke over opposing shields, splinters flying in all directions. A cacophony of sounds exploded from the knights as they slammed into one another. Metal grinded and dented, wood fractured, and sand flurried as their mighty mounts continued to charge through to the end of the track. Lances were dropped and knights fell back onto their horses, using their legs for support in keeping on their rides.
Arms flailed wildly, grasping for anything to right themselves. Then, as the horses neared to a stop, a final sound rang out through the arena. Metal striking sand with a muffled thud. It took a second for all to gain their bearings as to what had just occurred, but as soon as all were sure, the first cries of triumph rang out. It was followed shortly by congratulatory cheers and celebratory applause.
It had taken a single hit, but the master-at-arms, Sir Qrow Branwen had been unhorsed by the Marquis of Winchester. In a show of good faith, Sir Cardin removed his helm, raising it in a salute to his fallen competitor. Sir Qrow, from his place on the sandy ground, raised his fist to return the gesture, much to the delight of the crowds. There was to be no bad blood between the two men.
Among those cheering was princess Yang, waving from her place in the stands, a bright smile on her lips which shone for all the world to see. Cardin led his horse over to the king's box, fresh lance in hand, holding it aloft for the crowned princess to retrieve her favour from it. Unfastening it from the lance's tip, she kissed it lightly and retied it. It seemed like Sir Cardin would continue to be favoured by the crowned princess.
Ruby frowned at the result. She was sure that Sir Branwen was among the best fighters in the kingdom. He had been tasked with training the crowned princess in a whole manner of combat types, from the sword and shield, to the two-handed blade and even a spear and net. He had even taught Ruby some basic archery and spear forms, not that she was particularly interested in learning to fight in general. She did enjoy learning about the histories and creation of each armament. Her favourites were the mythical blades and the swords of Valian legend. Qrow knew them all by heart.
As the two knights left the lists, scores of servants went to work sweeping the arena to ensure it was in pristine condition for the next tilt. Shrapnel was removed from the sand, and broken lances were thrown in with the firewood which would be used to cook that night's dinner. All too soon, new squires and servants were preparing themselves on the two opposing corners, making sure all was ready for the arrival of their knighted lords.
There were to be a great many tilts schedules for the tourney, nearly a dozen alone that midday and at least a handful more come nightfall, when previous tournament victors would demonstrate their experience and talent in the light of the moon and flickering torches. There would be other events of the tourney throughout the day and the many days to follow, but Ruby was really only excited for a few, excluding the jousting, and her promise to see Sir Yatsuhashi in the mêlée.
Her heart hammered at the thought of watching her love, seated atop her horse, waving to the crowds with a smile on her lips, in very much the same way Sir Cardin and her uncle had done just moments ago. To see her trotting over to her in the stands, holding her own lance aloft. Just so Ruby could marvel at her strength while fastening her own favour to it, with a kiss. To show for all the world that Weiss was a competitor for her hand in marriage. To see Weiss in vibrant silver armour, rush off against her foe, striking him down with a single blow and receiving the admiration of the crowds as she proclaimed her victory in the princess's name.
So taken in was the young princess by her small fantasy of what could never be, she almost missed the herald shouting the names of the next to joust.
"Competing in the Rose corner, is Prince Jaune Arc, heir to the throne of Argus!"
The prince rode across the lists, sword raised, with a light smirk and glint in his eyes. His messy tufts of dirty blonde hair was held down from bouncing along to his horse's steps by a ring of gold on his head. A small crown that was favoured by the Argusian royalty. If it held any flower patterns in the metal, it would look very similar to Ruby's own crown. Or the crowned princess's one.
Having circled the arena, he returned to his side as Oobleck called out his competitor. "Competing from the Xiao Long corner, and competing for the hand of the crowned princess, Baron Neptune Vasilias!"
Eyes widened and gasps sounded out among the usual cheering. A baron? The Vasiliases were a well-established and altogether famous house, being among the few with navigable shipping lanes to Vacuo and Menagerie free from pirates. But they were still a barony. Not a drop of royal blood ran through their veins and they did not have the wealth of the Schnees to be treated like they did.
Ruby heard a lady beside her tut and shake her head. She seemed to agree with the general sentiment of the highborn crowd. The young princess herself was not quite sure what to think. She did not particularly care about royal blood or noble descendance, being a self-confessed blasphemer. She was also fairly confident that she knew her elder sister did not care much for established hierarchical dynamics either.
She watched as Sir Neptune, lance in hand, ventured to the king's box to have the crowned princess grant him a favour in a similar vein she had Sir Cardin. Instead, she grasped the tip with a few fingers, shaking it along with her head. There was a light smile though. Ruby smiled at that. Neptune may not have realized, but Yang was giving him a chance to win her favour.
Ruby could only think about how smart her sister was. They both had heard the reactions from the crowd. She knew the best way to appease everyone would be to hold off on bestowing her favour to one before he showed his skill. Ruby was sure that she wanted to give him a handkerchief just as she gave the Marquis of Winchester.
Even Ruby thought Neptune was a much better looking man than Sir Cardin. His windswept hair was a fascinating blue, which matched perfectly with his crystal blue eyes. Even from that distance, they seemed to pop out in the light, curved in a friendly grin. Any wife of his would be lucky to have children bearing his eyes. A giggle rang out as she imagined a little Yang look-alike with his eyes. Ruby would be honoured to have a niece that looked like that. Whenever she thought of her own potential future children, they almost always carried her own silver eyes or Weiss's blue. Though the shades were so similar between her and him, the look of a child of hers fathered by Neptune eluded her. Besides, while she could admit to admiring his physique in armour, there was no definite attraction.
Before long, the two combatants were ready for the first tilt and begun the charge. Turning away before the heavy strike, Ruby listened to the clang of lances on shields and the explosions of splinters and wood chips. There were shouts and claps, but not enough to mean one of them was unhorsed. Looking back out, Ruby saw her hunch was correct as the two knights threw down their broken lances and retrieved new ones from their squires.
The two faced each other once more, raised their weapons in salute and charged. The princess slowly raised from her seat in the stands as the jousters neared one another. Something looked awry on the knight nearest to her. As he rose and fell in his saddle, so too did his breastplate. The plate metal shook with each hoof pounding into the ground. Sand and dust was sent up with each fierce gallop. The knight's head did not waver from his view of his target. They were closer now. Ruby sucked in a breath as he lowered his lance into striking position.
Just another second before the hit, and yet she did not look away. She could not. Not when his breastplate was bouncing much higher than it should be. She waited for his foe's deadly to strike.
A lance was raised, and the horse slowed to a stop, sending the other knight into a confused flurry as he tried to halt his own steed. At the last second, he shifted his lance's aim, ending up in a glancing blow, which still rocked the shoulder of the other.
A helmet was raised. "I yield this match," Neptune's voice rang out.
Prince Jaune removed his helm and Ruby blinked. It was the prince's breastplate which was improperly fastened. Jaune led his mount over to the baron, allowing the two to talk without being overheard by the spectators.
Neptune spoke with wide gestures, though what exactly he was saying was lost to the princess. When Jaune's head swiveled for less than a second over to his right shoulder, Ruby nodded to herself. So Neptune had indeed seen what she had. And the prince had not noticed. The two tapped lances together and cantered back to their sides.
The prince tossed his lance to a servant and talked with another one, who quickly rushed to the center of the pavilion. Stopping to compose himself, he tugged at the hem of his tunic to ensure it was properly in place.
"Ladies and gentlemen. Your majesty and your royal highness. His royal highness, prince Jaune Arc of Argus declares his surrender to Baron Neptune Vasilias. The prince hereby withdraws from the tournament and grants victory to the baron for honour, bravery and chivalry in the joust."
The roar of the crowd greeted Neptune as he made his way over to the king's box at the beckoning of the crowned princess. The cloth that was tied to his lance was well deserved, in Ruby's opinion. Clapping and whistling filled the tournament grounds. Ruby let out her own round of applause, a happy relieved sigh escaping her lips.
"That was too close," she said under her breath. Fanning herself, she stood from her spot and went to leave the stands, nodding in acceptance to each bow granted to her by the nobles she passed by.
The next round was called just as she reached the bottom of the stands, weaving her way slowly through the throngs of people, until a guard spotted her and barreled his way towards her.
"Your highness," he offered his arm to her, which she gratefully accepted.
"Thank you, sir."
"I'm at your command, your highness. It wouldn't do for the princess to be snatched or stuck with a knife during his majesty's Grande Tourney." His words brought out a giggle from Ruby, nodding in agreement.
"I can agree with you there. I can't say that it would go over well with my sister either." Ruby was enjoying speaking so casually to someone for once, even if it was accentuated with constant reminders to who she was.
"Aye," the guard shrugged, sweeping a wide arm across to make room for the two of them to move. "I heard that her royal highness was a spirited one."
"More like obnoxious," Ruby quipped. "Much more prone to punching someone in the face, than insulting them with a faux compliment."
"The direct approach. I can respect that," he hummed in amusement. "But she's a good one? Pardon me, your highness. That was too forward of me."
"No, no. That's completely alright." Ruby placed her free hand on his upper arm and gave it a light, comforting squeeze. "Yang's as good as they come. Cares for everyone. Me, especially. If she weren't so excited by choosing a man to marry, I'd say she was the perfect sister and heir. Or, maybe that fact does make her the perfect heir. I don't know."
The guard hummed, stopping underneath a wooden archway, constructed for vendors to move their goods and livestock without harming the flow of traffic during the tourney. The two of them were covered by the shade of the archway, a delightful coolness in contrast to the bustling heat just a few steps back.
"I believe her royal highness will become a great queen. One is surely needed to carry on the peace brought about by his majesty." The guard bowed low, laying a gentle kiss on Ruby's soft knuckles. "Farewell, your highness. May you continue to enjoy the tournament."
With those final words, he turned and left, not even bothering to wait for the young princess's thanks. Ruby huffed, blowing a loose hair from her face and sweeping it behind her ear when it blocked her view once again. It was still warm outside. Hot for most people, but Ruby was lucky enough to be wearing the cool fabrics of Menagerie. The long skirts and tight belt fastened around her waist were lighter than they looked and breathed far more easily than Ruby had thought when she was first gifted those clothes by the High Chieftain. Having already worn it for a large portion of the day, she could already say that they were among her favourite dresses.
Ruby would need to remember to have her father purchase more for her.
She had not realized how far from the main tournament arena the guard had taken her; so caught up in their conversation to keep track of her whereabouts. The archway she was under was one which separated the nearest town, to the arena's surrounding market area.
What a wide difference it seemed to make. To her left, the many vendors and market stall owners, all selling fanciful, high class merchandise from all over the world. Surrounded by soldiers and guards, overlooked by carefully constructed watchtowers with more guards carrying bows and crossbows. There were nobles, both highborn and low, walking around freely, carrying with them large sums of gold, silver and bronze coinage all strapped in delicate purses to purchase things they were perusing through. Even Ruby had a small coin purse, tucked in a secret pocket of her dress, and tied around her upper thigh. A handmaid had told her that that was how the Menageriens wore their purses to keep from being robbed. Not that she feared for her coinage. There were too many soldiers on the lookout for thieves and purse snatchers anyways.
But on the other side, to her right, it was like a completely different world than the one Ruby had known all her life. For one, there was dirt and grime on the unevenly cobbled streets. Most of the buildings were wooden; very few with proper stone bases to keep out rainwater or wood-rot. The sun did not seem to penetrate as far into the narrow roads, blocked by much too high wooden buildings. Many chimneys were lit, even during this time of day, billowing smoke, both black and white. While the area was just as busy as the tourney grounds, they were filled with a much more different sort. People did not wear the vibrant colours of festivity and joy. There were no fanciful garments, laced with gold thread or real pearls or gemstones woven into the cloth. Most people in these dark streets wore head coverings, hats of many different styles, often keeping their hair down and out of their faces. Unlike the tourney grounds, where it was more customary to weave designs in longer hair or held up in tightly decorated buns like Ruby preferred.
Disturbed by the sullen sights, she removed her golden crown. It felt very much out of place. With an uneasy frown, she looked back the way she came, and then once more to her right. It was alarming how stark the contrast was. Was this what most people saw when they left their homes for the day? Was this the lives so many of her father's subjects dealt with? Clothes covered in dirt, likely unwashed for weeks or months. Uneven roads without proper sanitation grooves to allow for rainwater to drain out into overflow wells. Sewage and household pestilence stinking up the street, with nobody finding it as pungent as she did. A new wafting smell hit her nose, causing her to take an involuntary step away from the acrid odours.
Why had her guard brought her there, so far from the sweet smelling flowers and pleasantly busy stalls of the fairgrounds? Why had she never seen such sights before? The castle where she had grown was many miles from the Grande Tournament. She had been brought down there, along with many other nobles who lived nearby the castle close, by carriage. They had passed through towns and villages before, but they had all looked so much cleaner than this. Less rotten. Was all that reality?
Or was what she was seeing in front of her, the truth?
She had come through another entrance. Her sleeping quarters were on the other side of the grounds. The tents and pavilions for dancing and supping and resting her feat were all on the other side. Was this what the masses who watched the games lived with? Did her father know about this? Of course he did, he was the king after all. He would know about everything happening in his kingdom.
He does not know about Weiss, her subconscious informed her.
It was true. Her father did not know about what she was doing with Weiss. Yes, he knew the two were good friends and close; often writing letters and messages to one another when they were apart. But none knew about how close they truly were. They would both be burned at the stake if they were discovered. Regardless that she was royalty and Weiss belonged to the richest family in the world. They would not survive.
No, the church would not allow it.
There was a loud bell, signaling the turn of the hour. It would have come from the town's bell tower, attached to the town's church. It was, like most things she had come to realize she used, on the far side of the tournament grounds, opposite to where she was now.
She had long since stopped being a devout follower of the two Brothers and their prophet. Not when the Lord of Light shunned those who lay with their own, casting them from heaven's eternal salvation. Not when the Lord of Darkness despised those who harboured cursed feelings for those they should not, forever granting them torment and pain in His realm. Not when the hero, Saint Ozma himself, preached for their burning. At least Saint Ozma believed that those who perished by flame would be relieved of their sins and granted access to the Lord of Light's eternal salvation.
It was all just text. Likely constructed many centuries ago to keep a firm grasp on the masses. To keep them in control and docile. At least, that was what Weiss believed, and Ruby was loath to disagree. Not that Ruby had much knowledge or information to come about her own ideas. Not if said knowledge could not be found in weaving and basilica practice and basic combat and social sciences.
She loved her life, but she knew well where it was lacking.
And that brought her attention back around to the horrid, peasant road ahead of her. It was like the unwashed peoples were staying clear of the archway she was under, and the many soldiers which lined the entranceway. It was free and open for all to attend, yet they all kept their heads down, only giving the brighter tourney grounds passing glances before going back to their duties.
Ruby wanted to call out to them, to smile and welcome them to her father's Grande Tournament. Yet the thought of speaking to unwashed crowds was making her sick to her stomach. She hated that feeling. But she could not seem to overcome it.
"Hey," she heard a quiet, raspy voice call to her from the sickly peasant side of the archway.
She winced at the name she gave the more downtrodden area. Hiding in the shadows, just outside the cover of the archway was a hunched over man with a long, ancient face and big nose which may have been broken once upon a time and healed improperly. His entire body, including the top of his head was covered by a large dirty grey cloak. He limped forward, dragging a leg behind him.
"You's the princess?" He rasped, followed by a fit of hoarse coughs.
The princess looked around, trying to see how close the nearest guard was to them. Assured that they were near enough to her to hear a call for help, she nodded slowly.
At her confirmation, he hobbled over quicker to her, holding out his hands to tightly latch on to hers. He knelt down, giving her middle knuckle a disgusting, wet kiss. One which Ruby instinctively tried to pull away from if not for his tight grasp on her.
"You look so much like 'er. Like the queen. May she rest in the Lord's Light and all that hullabaloo."
"Thank you," Ruby said, now worried by his hold on her. "Now, I should probably get back to my father and all my guards. They will be looking for me."
"Yessir. The pretty Rose heir needs ta get back to the king." He pulled her closer to him.
She stumbled, a high-pitched gasp escaping her throat. She shuddered, feeling his warm, putrid breath on her ear, as he continued talking to her in a whisper. A broken-tooth smile shone on his lips.
"The Rose still thinks herself princess," his harsh laughter frightened her. "But she's no more princess than I am."
"Help," she stuttered, eyes wide with fear.
"The little Rose prisoner, trapped in'er tower of perfumes an' red dresses. What caged bird need ta be let out when she gets all 'er feedin' and prunin' done for her." His throaty laugh was interrupted by fits of coughing.
He let go of her wrist with one hand. A wrinkly, boney finger ran down her cheek, tapping at her chin. He stared straight at her, his eyes strong and wild, even with the rest of him pale and sickly. "The Rose Queens have forgot ta old ways. Them traitors deserve their sickly crowns."
Seeing an opening, Ruby pulled away from the hunched man as hard as she could. Pulling towards herself and toward his thumb to give her the best chance of escape. Just like Uncle Qrow taught her. Finally free, she darted to the side, barely missing his attempt at capturing her once more.
Back to the safety of the tourney grounds, surrounded by her father's soldiers and men-at-arms, she allowed herself time to gasp for air, leaning on her knees. She was shaking in place. Ruby had never been so close to someone like that before. He was just so unwashed. So frail, with such an insane look in his eye. Even now, when she closed her eyes, she could see the man, laughing his wheezing laugh, sending spittle and bile in all directions.
She felt sick. She felt uncomfortably hot. She was not sure if she were about to faint or vomit, but it was definitely one of the two. In a mad dash, she raced towards an empty area, where flowers and trees had been planted purely for the Grande Tournament. Without looking around to ensure she was unnoticed, she let the contents of her stomach free, wiping the remaining excretion with the back of her hand. Regaining her breath, she took an uneasy step forward, brushing off dirt from the lower hems of her skirt and heading back into the fray, surrounded by much more respectable and safe people.
I'd like to thank my betas for this chapter: Avistar123 and Jelodiah Kerman. They were both huge helps.
Dragonqueen1993 - Maybe. Who knows? he could just be a normal guy for all we know! And I shan't tell you if I am joking or not! You must wait and see. Cower in fear at my shipping of Cardin and -blegh- nope. Can't say it. (or can I?)
merendinoemelliano - I'm not a hue fan of the Qrow being Ruby's father idea. I don't feel like it really adds anything to the story. But, I hope you enjoy this fic either way!
YuukiAsuna-Chan - Having the ear of the monarch is almost always a position that holds strength and authority, even if it isn't direct. In this story, as of now, Ruby is not trained in combat. Mostly because she has no real interest or need to be. And that is an interesting theory, regarding Yang's parentage.
luvnanofate - I'm so happy you enjoyed the first chapter! It was fun writing all the worldbuilding elements.
Burakkudaria - I'm so happy you liked it.
slayergopher - Three cheers for complex sibling relationships! I'm hoping you enjoy what's going to happen.