Pik’s injuries from the attempted assassination had healed, but the little man’s sense of personal security was still shaken by his near-death. Avenging himself on the criminal element of the old docks during and after Bright Night had helped, however, something was still missing from the mosaic of his life – something to make sense of all his work, all that he’d sacrificed over the years, and risks he continued to shoulder.
His apartment in Misthaven Castle was nicely-appointed, with furniture and fixtures sized and arranged in the gnomish tradition, making his retreat as welcoming as possible – but the rooms and open-air deck were still empty, and growing too quiet for his comfort.
It was during the weeks after Bright Night that the damn broke, and the king was finally chased down, figuratively, by his long-time romantic stalked, Gurple. Zion had seen the opening and exploited it when he invited her to the royal dinner that followed the early summer festival, and made sure that Pik was adequately lubricated with a good vintage of Andoran wine. Conversation followed, a few more bottles of wine disappeared, and before anyone recognized that it was coming, the plucky gnome alchemist was hanging on the king, chewing on his right ear. Although a moderate breach of etiquette, it had happened a few years before and so no one was really surprised. Pik, after all, was smitten with the girl, but being wholly uncertain of himself in honest social situations everyone knew that he wouldn’t do anything unless pushed.
Anton made the culminating move, hours into the evening, and long after Gurple had arranged herself in Pik’s lap, her arms around his neck so she could easily whisper who-knows-what in his ear.
“Attention here!” he boomed, standing up suddenly. “Look here my friends!” Silence slowly fell on the room, the 20-some in attendance getting whiff of the king’s request in waves as conversations stopped.
“These last two years has been hard on us all, and on the realm. War, internal strife, crime, a leader gone mad….” he left the last words hang in the air as their meaning resonated with everyone present, as they – the inner circle of leadership of the Mistmarches – had all experienced loss and hardship during these times. Anton let them ponder for a moment before continuing.
“And yet today we’re on the first steps of a new, greater journey. Our city is healing; our kingdom is growing. Allies raise their banners alongside ours, and enemies know our potential – or, at least, they think they do,” he spoke, his tone becoming more serious as regal as he went on.
“There are plans still unmade, I say. We are working to build a realm for the ages, and with that must come further sacrifices, always with an eye toward posterity.” Anton continued for a few more minutes, obliquely referring to the future and the responsibility of those around him to it. It was a line of discussion he fancied, and typically once he got going, he kept going, ad nauseum and to the suffering of his audience.
“And so it is with the great burden leadership that we…” he stopped himself mid-sentence and flashed his rare, devilish grin.
“Awww…enough of my rambling…dammit, Pik, marry that girl! We’re sick of this dance, aren’t we?” he laughed. Others at the table joined him in a roaring laugh, pounding on the surface and shaking their goblets in the air. Jhod stood and motioned for silence, turning toward the ashen-face Pik.
“I think I can handle this…Gurple, is this the man you pledge your honor, life, and love to….?”