The market was crowded this morning; dozens of colors, from yellows, oranges and reds to greens, blues and purples, danced throughout the stalls. Vendors were shouting their wares and freckled young girls were offering cheap snacks to anyone who passed them. The square had been converted into the center of the whole maelstrom: a racing arena occupied the center and on both sides of it, bleachers up to ten rows high were gradually occupied by the crowds that were gathering for the day's event. Next to the entrance and not so casually close to where the carriages stopped was a small stall with the colors of all the neighborhoods where most of them stopped to bet on their respective jockeys.
It was not hard to imagine why the majority of Konig's population loved the Summer Festival, but Vican was not among that majority. The very essence of the festival discouraged him from even leaving his quarters: after the first harvest of the summer the most important Houses of the six Konigrian quarters pitted their youngest and most promising in competitions that supposedly simulated warrior skills. Ignoring the futility of simulating war in a kingdom that enjoys more than 150 years of uninterrupted peace, the festivities were designed to tantalize the nerves of any person of taste. Bright colors, raucous music, crowds of sweaty drunks and, if that wasn't enough, an entire evening of listening to his father celebrate his brother's exploits with nowhere to run.
All of that was going through Vican's mind as he stepped out of his carriage after his father and mother. They quickly made their way to the nobility's box, a raised dais accessed by rattling wooden stairs that was just in front of the finish line and far enough away from the rest of the crowd. All the houses were there, dressed in their summer costumes, and in the colors of their respective coats of arms and neighborhoods. At the top of the dais the honorary seats meant for the King and Queen are as empty as ever but it was still quite an honor to be seated just to her left as was the position her family occupied. The Queen was her father's cousin, and that, along with some well managed business transactions, had managed to put the Krieger's at the top of the nobility in all of Nordland.
A deafening roar shook him in his seat as the crowd noted the departure of the horsemen and a wave of applause, whistles and shouts swept through both stands. Representatives of the noble Houses of the six quarters of the city came out one after the other, in a succession of tasteless color combinations. Vican was not a lover of sports, but his father's insistence and competition with his brother led him to know more about them than he would like, and if there was one thing that jumped out at anyone who knew the basics, it was that it was rigged so that the wealthier wards had a better chance of winning the competition.
Each House had the opportunity to put forward a contender who would also represent their Ward, then these would be eliminated at various stages of the competition until in the end only one winner remained. The more noble families living in a neighborhood, the more chances it has to win, which in turn grants it a higher percentage of public investments and a favorable decrease in taxes for the next year. This benefit is almost symbolic for the plebs who only save a few tenths each year, while for noble families it represents a difference of hundreds of units less in taxes. That benefit it brings to his family also brings some glory to the young winner, both within his family and the court, which simply contributes to his brother's already big ego getting even bigger if he wins this year.
Of the eleven Houses, only 8 will be presented this year, the Ludwigs and the Maiers do not have sons old enough and the young Edelsteine couple do not yet have children of their own. They all wore similar uniforms: linen shirts in the color of their House, a sleeveless leather jacket covering only the front, back and part of the shoulders, buttoned at the sides. The pants, also leather, were the same color as the shirt and the boots, the color of the jacket, came to their knees.
The first to come out was Maric Reisender, the previous year's winner, wearing the busdeus and black colors of his House. Despite his popularity and acts shyly, waving to the audience and smiling as if he wanted to be anywhere but here. His features are very typical of most southerners: blond hair, golden skin and square jaw, although he is distinguished by a prominent nose that is probably due to island ancestors. From a distance his eyes cannot be clearly seen, but Vican has seen him on other occasions and knows them to be of the navy blue color so common among Konig nobility. In contrast to his subdued attitude, the next to come out is Northen Krieger, Vican's brother, who greets, bows and sometimes even blows kisses to the ladies in the audience, while shaking his shoulder-length red hair, which in the bright sunshine and blue summer sky seems to be made of fire, contrasting with the emerald color of his family. Both wear small red ribbons on their wrists, identifying them as contenders from Barrio Sur.
Next up are Uloas Kinder and Amin Kramer, who this year wear a somewhat curious outfit. Instead of wearing the carmine and white colors of their respective Houses, they only wear some of the same ornaments, with the distinctive yellow of the North Ward predominating. This may mean nothing, or it may represent an alliance between the two Houses to win the tournament, something that theBarrio Norte desperately needs after the terrible economic disaster that was the previous year.
Despite their similar wardrobes, the two boys couldn't be more different. While Uloas is the classic Southerner with his golden blond hair, stocky build, sun-gilded skin and navy blue eyes, Amin has all the traits of the Eastern region where his family comes from. His hair is light brown, matching his tan skin and brown eyes, and his body is leaner and more athletic than the other contenders, which probably gives him an advantage in all riding categories.
Lehman and Sauer, from the East and West wards respectively only come out next as a show of respect for the seniority of their Houses, as it has been more than five years since either has brought anything to the competition besides enthusiastic participation. No, it is highly doubtful that purple or green will be waving at the end of the day.
Arctur Lehmann is a young man of unusual appearance, due to his father's southern and his mother's eastern background, he looks like a mixture of the two. His brown hair and brown eyes, combined with golden skin and stocky build, something that would not have been unpleasant to look at if it were not accompanied by his weak jaw, aquiline nose and a smug smile. He wears the Magenta color of his House, which is barely distinguishable from the purple trimmings of the East Ward, one of those most in need of Festival benefits as both Houses residing there have annual incomes that do not exceed 20,000 units.
Mark Sauer, from the West Ward, is actually Uloas' cousin and shares with Uloas his aquiline nose, although it is contrasted by the delicate features of his face. Otherwise, he is a typical Southerner, this being the origin of both his parents. His wardrobe, which combines the lime and yellow of his House accompanied by a green ribbon on his right arm as a symbol of his Barrio, looks more like torture for the eyes than something a person should wear in public.
Next to come out is Victhrom Neuman, his mane of blond curls falls down to below his ears and strategically covers his left cheek to hide his red mole so efficiently that no one would notice it without first knowing it was there. He is the only family in La Marina and one of the richest in the city.His House controls more than half of the kingdom's maritime trade and if there is a Quarter that does not need the economic benefits of victory it is theirs. But they are a young House, it is only three generations since they were granted the title of nobility and their reputation needs any glimmer of glory they can get. He is a talented young man too, last year he was among the three finalists and they say that this year he comes even more prepared. His house colors are aquamarine blue, which also happens to be the color of his neighborhood, and white, of which his jacket and boots are dyed.
Last to come out is Evon Vommeer in his Orange and black wardrobe which also represent his neighborhood, Puerto Escondido, a small fishing area just outside the Northern Gate that has been filled over the years with all the blight that drives out the city. His family somehow managed to get rich from fishing and the King not wanting rich outside the nobility granted his father the title only 20 years ago. It's been a long time since anyone has seen the Vommeers, but their son started attending court parties this year and turned out to be what everyone expected: a fisherman's son with airs and graces. His skeletal build, ashen skin and coppery hair alone are enough to make him unpleasant to look at. His complete lack of manners and education has already caused several scandals at court, and his incompetence in sports augurs that it will be many years before any vestige of glory falls into the hands of his House.
When all the contenders lined up at the finish line the servants brought the horses, they were all war steeds brought from the Fuchs Plains in the north. Eight specimens of the best breeds: black coats, long manes and 6 to 8 feet from the ground to the withers; the only thing that differentiated them was the color of their saddles that matched that of their riders.
It was time to start, the positions were: Reisender, Krieger, Kinder and Kramer in front, and Lehman, Sauer, Vommeer and Neuman behind. Slowly the crowd grew silent, to such an extent that only the impatient snorts of the beasts could be heard. Everyone was in their starting positions with tense muscles, and suddenly the bell rang. The riders started off and seconds later the shouts of the crowd returned. This part of the competition was mainly to show the rider's skills in controlling the horse. They had to jump fences, climb ramps and make tight turns, all at breakneck speed.
As the riders circled the track Vican's boredom grew, to the point where he seriously considered taking out the Nordland Wild Herbology book he had rescued from Krieger Manner's abandoned library. But a few more minutes of boredom were preferable to months of his father's reproaches, so he restrained himself as he felt small book in the inside pocket of his jacket. Although that didn't mean he was paying too much attention, he really only knew how well his brother was doing from his father's exclamations and applause.
About thirty minutes later the race was over and, to the applause of the audience, the judges gave out the awards. As expected, Maric Reisender came in first place with 30 points, his brother Northen and Amin Kramer followed in second and third place, accumulating 20 points each. That's normally the end of the awards, but unexpectedly the judges awarded 10 points to the young Neuman for his execution during the race. Vican hadn't paid much attention to it, but that announcement seemed rather unusual.
The next competition wasn't due to start for another hour, so Vican tried to duck out from under his father's laughter and exclamations of pride. But of course, Origin hates him and a censorious look from his mother kept him in his seat.
- Yes! That's my son! - his father's thick voice roared with pride - Only his second year in the competitions and he's already one of the best!
To be fair, that was true. His brother was only 2 years older than him and the minimum age to participate in the Festival was 15. Last year his brother entered for the first time among the contenders and, although he didn't make the finalists, it was an amazing performance for a beginner. This year Northen came even more prepared and, as next year Vican could also perform, he had to prove that his participation as representative of the House was deserved. Vican, on the other hand, could not care less; his father's pride in Northen was so overwhelming that his chances of entering the Festival next year were almost non-existent.
The nobles were beginning to descend from the stage and make their way to a tent about 20 paces from the entrance, where they would refresh themselves while waiting for the arena to be set up for the next competition. The fabric that made up the tent was striped in the colors of the quarters, running down from the ceiling to the floor; but inside it was a soft pearl color and large enough to hold the High Nobility of Konig spread out on plush armchairs and several tea tables. Vican quickly sat down at the most secluded of these and pulled out his small book hoping to be ignored for the next hour.
Thirty minutes later that hope went out the window when a brown hand snatched it from his own.
- But look what one of the proud Krieger's does - Said the mocking voice Tobias Maier before Vican even had time to look up. He was the only male child of the Maiers and was the same age as Vican - Lord Krieger must be very happy to discover that he actually does have a daughter! Trying to work your way into the inheritance Vicky?
Tobias' comment implied an even greater insult than it sounded: his father had not yet declared an heir but the way sons generally made themselves eligible was through their skills in sports and family business; while daughters, though rarely chosen, did so by excelling in the sciences and bringing innovations that would put their House at an advantage over the others. One of the main reasons for his brother's mockery and his father's reproach was Vican's interest in studies, another reason why the boy knew he would never be the Krieger heir.
- Get lost Tobias - Vican said trying to put the most boring tone possible in the hope that his indifference would scare the boy away - the West Quarter is already going to be humiliated enough at the Festival, I'm sure they don't need a scandal from you too - This last part he said with a smile that didn't reach his eyes and he knew it made him look as if he was showing his teeth.
- What scandal Vicky, can't I talk to the little island princess? - Tobias said quickly with a smirk.
It was a low blow. If he was not chosen as heir he would be given to a marriage of convenience, and with no one in the royal family looking for a mate, his father would most likely marry him off to some daughter of one of his associates in the Sun Islands, where he would spend the rest of his life. Before Vican had time to answer the bell rang announcing the start of the next competition, so he had no choice but to stand up and join his parents as he picked up his book that had ended up on the floor.