Fragments of talk from the crowd floated up to his ears. Gossip about the princess, boring. Gossip about Prince Alexander’s hunting prowess, how many stags coursed, how many brace of hares jugged for the palace table, and an incident with a wild boar set loose in the city streets. The prince was too young, too heedless. More gloomy talk, concerning the queen’s health … sad head-wagging and lowered voices. Queen Amily’s health seemed on everyone’s minds. Even those most indignant about the wild boar incident and Prince Alexander’s disgraceful youthfulness soon remembered the queen, and sighed.
He heard one mournful voice say: “If she dies, what will happen to the king?”
A vast shout rose from the direction of the city wall, and everyone turned that way.
Christopher had the best view imaginable. Along the whole length of Royal Avenue, every building’s rain-chains had been decorated in honor of the princess’ return. They hung in graceful swags almost to the pavement, their links wreathed with ribbons and flowers. He knocked a lot of flowers off his own chain as he climbed it, but the people below didn’t mind. They only caught them and cheered him on.
Countless heads down there, children riding on shoulders, hats being flung into the air. Flower-sellers being mobbed for their wares, so the crowd could throw rose-petals at the princess. And soldiers in uniform, in grey and blue, riding six abreast carrying lances.
More soldiers. And still more! Christopher remembered the news-broadsheets: the princess was being married to a prince of Gloxia, to end the war. Their tiny kingdom of Everie had been at war with Gloxia—large, powerful Gloxia—for twenty years. That explained all these soldiers, not to mention the knights. Sending Princess Alexane into enemy country to meet her betrothed was no laughing matter.
Now here came a single rider on a huge war-destrier all vivid with plate horse-armor and bardings. The rider carried a great flag. Silver thread and golden thread and silk dyed red with knightly sacrifice, the colors of Everie rippling brave—that was a phrase out of one of Christopher’s history books, one of the more grandiose ones. Dull enough to make anyone fling it out of the window, that book. Seeing real history was far better than reading about it–really, if you got to pick between reading about knights or actually seeing them, which would you choose? And everyone here felt the same way as he did, obviously. The applause for the big knight was thunderous.
“Sir Gawaine! Good Sir Gawaine and the fair Alexane!”
So many petals filled the air that Christopher breathed some in and almost choked.
The pair of riders now passing must be the princess and her foreign prince, but forget them. Behind them, just coming into sight, rode the second knight.
“Sir Surrey, Surrey, brave Sir Surrey!”
Sir Surrey wore glorious full plate. He sat straight and noble in his saddle, looking alertly around him, whereas gigantic Sir Gawaine (in mere chain-mail, with no helmet) slouched lamentably.
Christopher remembered his apple, fished down his shirt-front and retrieved it. He polished it on his sleeve. The princess and her betrothed were passing almost directly opposite, now. Also opposite, on the far side of the street, was the girl selling dumplings out of the stove on wheels.
Loosestrife. That was her name. She waved madly at Christopher. He waved back, of course, and he was just about to bite into his apple when he saw someone directly beneath him, staring up.