Daius had just got back from Abristan when he heard from his father that Reba of the Huba tribe had been chosen as Dacior’s representative in archery. As someone who prided himself on knowing every able archer in the kingdom, he immediately set out to meet Reba. He had wanted to take Dia with him and since she was nowhere to be found, he decided to take Arthur along. Arthur also seemed to be mysteriously missing that morning. A sliver of suspicion crossed Daius’s mind.
At the Huba chieftain’s place, he found Arthur waiting for him.
“What’s going on, Arthur?”, asked Daius. “Where’s Dia?”
Arthur was not only Daius’s personal aide but also his friend. He knew when Daius was going to get mad and how to handle him.
“Dia was chosen to represent Dacior in archery”, he said in an even voice.
Daius added two and two in a heartbeat and looked at Arthur in disbelief. “So basically Dia is impersonating Reba. What about the actual games? Do you realise what sort of a scandal will break out both within Dacior as well as outside once it’s uncovered that Dia is the archer? What sort of impression do you think that will leave with the other kingdoms when they find out that Dacior chose its own princess to represent them but hid this all along?”
“Dia was the best of the lot. She won the contest fair and square at the selections”, noted Arthur.
“Be as it may, that’s not how the other kingdoms and contestants would see it. We need to fix this and fast. Even if it means Dia doesn’t compete at the games”, said Daius with an air of finality.
“Give me a few hours to figure this out”, he added. “I’ll come up with a plan. In the meantime, talk to my sister and let her know that there’s no way she will be allowed to impersonate someone else”.
Arthur told Dia. She could barely contain her tears of frustration. “I don’t need the world to know that it’s me”, she said. “I just want to represent our kingdom and for us to win”, she added.
“I know, princess”, said Arthur. “But I’m afraid Daius is right. This has the potential to defame his majesty as well as cause unrest between Dacior and the other kingdoms. There’s a lot more at stake than I’d initially anticipated”.
Daius sent word that evening that Reba had to officially withdraw her name from the competition claiming indisposition. Dia’s heart broke into several pieces but she didn’t argue and trudged back to the castle. Daius was waiting for her at the entrance hall.
“Sorry, Di. This was the only way. As royalty, we have certain boundaries we cannot cross. Some things – such as the sanctity of our conduct – come above winning at prestigious games. The sooner we learn that, the better off we are”, he said. He gave her a quick kiss on her forehead and left her feeling crushed.
With Reba’s withdrawal, Habiam, who had been the runner up at the selections (though nowhere close to Dia’s level), was chosen as Dacior’s representative. The Septimus games began the following Sunday and the excitement in the kingdom was palpable. The representatives from all seven kingdoms were given a roaring feast the day before the games began. Dia sat at the head of the table next to her father and brother. It was all she could do to not sulk.
Halfway through the feast when people were more relaxed with delicious food and divine wine in their belly, she caught a part of the conversation which made her hold her breath and listen intently.
“You’ll be the winner alright, Parun!”, said the representative in sword fighting from the kingdom of Prenella to the representative in archery from Abristan. “I know that you’re the best in the seven kingdoms! No one else stands a chance”.
Parun smiled politely. “You never know, Flavius”, said Parun. “What if I actually win but someone challenges me to a one-on-one game and wins? It’s happened before”, he said.
“Pfft”, said Flavius. “It happened 200 years ago! The best of the best are all within these walls tonight. So if you beat them, you’ve beaten them all”, he said.
Dia’s heart was hammering away so hard that she thought her father would hear her. She excused herself and went to where Arthur was.
“Arthur, a word?”, she said, extricating him from listening politely to a boring story being narrated in a rather nasal voice by the ambassador of Linglorn.
“Arthur, is it true that the winner of any game can be challenged to a one-on-one game? If yes, then what happens?”, she asked, her green eyes dancing with a kind of steely fire.
“Yes, they can, Princess”, said Arthur slowly. “However, it comes with heavy consequences. You see, the loser is required to give up the sport – in this case, archery – forever. He or she cannot use a bow and an arrow ever again.”