Vika the halfling maiden was nervous about this trip to the opera, and she had many good reasons to have felt anxious. First this was a notoriously dangerous production that involved a good many hazards to the audience as much as the cast and crew. Second, she was a huge fan of this particular opera and was supposed to have been in this show until she had been offered a far more lucrative role. And that led her to her third concern. Her escort for the evening out to see “the Huntsman’s Lament” was King Carl the Squat and this was effectively her first public date with the Monarch of Vlaanderen.
As a favor to her brother Bortimer, Archduchess Lersha of Maelonbourg and the Wenigzustand had made Vika one of her ladies in waiting. The fact was that Vika was the only lady in waiting to the Archduchess, and the two of them hadn’t met before the appointment was made. But Bortimer had needed Vika to be given some manner of title and this was the best that could be done without arousing suspicion from the Archduke that something unseemly was afoot. Given the background of the principals involved it could have been easy to assume that they were up to some sort of criminal mischief. But this wasn’t what was happening at all. This was one of the few times that it could be said that Bortimer had only the best of intentions in matchmaking his old friend Vika to his new friend the King of Vlaanderen and that was to keep the Carl from pursuing a romantic relationship with yet another halfling friend of Bortimer, the Duchess Seraphina. Such a tangled mess of intrigue! Was it any wonder that Vika should be nervous?
The anxiety felt by Vika was ultimately for naught. Everyone in the queue to enter the opera had far more to discuss than the presence of the halfling maiden. King Carl the Squat was attentive to her, to be sure, and she got more than a few knowing winks from Bortimer as the people chatted merrily amongst themselves. Vika was introduced to the Archduke of neighboring Weintäler as well as a dark elven countess from Fanolania. Vika blushed as she pretended not to know the members of the circus she was introduced to, but they had all been instructed to play along and for this favor were being handsomely paid.
There was one fellow she had never met before and found to be quite charming. King Carl introduced him as Jandle von Normand, a kobold who was the Prime Minister of Maelonbourg. After chatting amiably for a few minutes, Jandle smiled and said slyly, “So this is a ruse of some sort. Forgive me for asking so bluntly, but I find my curiosity overwhelming. What is the gimmick?”
Vika could tell she on the spot, but after checking to make sure she wasn’t being listened to by unwanted ears, she whispered to Jandle, “It’s a favor to Bortimer. He needed somebody to take Carl’s attention off of some other woman so here I am. But he is a lovely man. I’m not altogether sure where this is headed, but I suspect it will mean marriage.”
Jandle chuckled in his high-pitched barking sort of manner. Gesturing to the opera stage he said, “That is what this evening is about though, isn’t it? The pursuance of love despite the risks?”
Vika nodded her head. “I just hope there aren’t any vordgots in Vlaanderen.” She whispered with a giggle. At that King Carl was by her side once again and taking her hand in his with the greatest of care the halfling king led her inside to their seats to watch the opera.
Carl was astounded by the insanity of the play as it was presented. He missed a good many of the jokes while trying to make sense of what was happening but found himself laughing along with the rest of the audience because nothing seemed at all coherent in the opera. He would check on Vika’s response from time to time and realized she found it all terribly delightful. Taking his cues from her instead of sorting out a plot he could follow King Carl the Squat found himself utterly engrossed in the craziness from the middle of the first act onwards.
At some point during the second act Carl and Vika realized that they were still holding hands and that everything about it felt right and as it should be. When the third act hit, and all hell broke loose on stage the blissful couple were among the few in the audience that didn’t feel the teensiest bit squeamish by one of the actors being gnawed on by a real life actual vordgot that had trampled most of the set and decorations. They hardly spoke to anyone as they exited the program, and instead went to enjoy a late dinner at the famed Phoenix Inn in the city. As wonderfully comedic as the opera was all goofiness had been cast aside in favor of a blossoming romance between Vika and Carl.
The next day they relayed their farewells to their friends both new and old and climbed aboard a carriage that Carl had purchased to take them to Vlaanderen. Another wagon would come along later with whatever luggage and furniture that Vika wanted to have shipped to her new home in the royal castle in Stonebridges. It was a weeklong journey and the two had even more time to get to know one another. After they arrived in Stonebridges King Carl the Squat summoned his entire court and introduced them all to Lady Vika, the future Queen of Vlaanderen. The courtiers were somewhat stunned by this sudden change in the status quo, and a couple were rendered absolutely speechless. Dismissing them as quickly as he had summoned them, King Carl gave orders to have appropriate quarters prepared for his bride-to-be before taking her hand once again and leading her to the throne room and a heavily guarded section of his castle just beyond it.
“All of this will be yours, my dear. You can of course decorate it more suitably than I have been able to do. Since the last queen passed away, my own beloved mother, there hasn’t been a woman’s touch to these ancient, hallowed halls.” King Carl seemed to be quite pleased with his castle and was eager to press upon Vika how delighted he was to share it with her. “And of course, the job comes with certain perks. My Queen will wear the ancestral crown that every Queen of Vlaanderen has worn for centuries!”
With that and a properly theatrical flourish that would have fit in any opera, King Carl waved his arms and the guards swung open the thick iron doors to the Royal Treasury. There was kept the wealth of the realm, and in the middle was a stone pillar with a number of jeweled items on it.
“Here it is, right…. Here….?” Carl’s voiced trailed off as he reached the pillar and with eyes that betrayed his surprise, he ran his hands over the spot where there ought to have been a crown sitting. But there was no crown to be had.
Vika stood awkwardly clasping her hands in front of her. In her most reassuring tone she said, “I’m sure it is just lovely, my dearest. Wherever it is.”