Meeting Eriadna - Part One
Once breakfast was concluded, Stefanius announced that he would return early the next morning once the audience with Eriadna was over. It was hoped by all that the Karameikans would still possess the Staff of Lucinius. Stefanius seemed less than settled on his decision to let them depart bearing the relic, but allowed them to do so nevertheless.
Before the Thyatians took their leave, Lana indulged a hunch. Suspicion had been gnawing at her throughout breakfast. She addressed Stefanius' companion in the Dragon tongue. The golden-haired individual choked on being addressed in such an unexpected manner but appeared to comprehend her question and responded with a polite nod before exiting.
Stepping outside the Blue Ruby just a moment later, the Karameikan wizards looked around the street which was bustling with morning activity. Stefanius and his companion were nowhere to be seen.
"Where to now?" Teldon asked. "Shall we proceed to the Palace?"
A cold shiver ran along Karnus' spine, though he said nothing. Lana had a different plan in mind.
"I wonder," she asked, "might we stop by the address Alasylvel gave us?"
Karnus' eyebrows rose. "You appreciate the unlikelihood that your garment will be ready? Did the dressmaker not inform you -"
"Kihara-artist," Lana corrected. "Not any old seamstress. She's an acclaimed talent in Dovir, Mylertendal spoke highly of her, remember."
Karnus remained unimpressed. "Did she not inform you that it would take weeks to complete your request?"
His companion nodded. "I'm hoping she might have stepped up her schedule, seeing how she knows we're attending the Imperial Court."
Karnus shook his head. "Does our success hinge upon our outward appearance? Do the fates of our countrymen hang in the balance, depending on whether your dress is ready?"
"No," Lana responded coolly, "but an important engagement lies ahead of us. Seeing how we're representing our homeland we should look our best."
Her companion scoffed. "You mean you want to look pretty."
Lana's hands gravitated to her hips. "Where's the harm in that? Honestly Karnus, initial impressions matter. We want to counteract the perception that we're barbarians, if we portray ourselves as amenable to their culture, capable of style and grace then we'll overturn their prejudices..."
Karnus remained unswayed. "What you're saying is you want to look pretty for the Empress."
Exasperated, Lana knocked on the unadorned door before them. A slender man appeared, to whom she passed the note Alasylvel had given her in Dovir once her gemstones had been handed over. The interior abode proved to be as unremarkable as the exterior. From a shelf the man lifted down a parchment-wrapped package which he pressed into Lana's eager hands. She beamed - her kihara was finished and ready.
The agent acknowledged her excitement. "She has worked day and night to complete the garment," he stated. His tone indicated that Lana should consider herself privileged.
Whimpering with excitement, Lana stepped behind a screen to change out of her green travelling robe and re-emerged wearing her newest acquisition - a gown of soft golden silk which had been embroidered to resemble...
"Dragon scales?" Karnus looked bemused.
Lana nodded enthusiastically. "Have you ever seen such intricate stitching? And the fit -" she extended her arms and twirled to demonstrate her point, "- is perfection. It's everything I could have hoped for." The agent clapped his hands to convey his own appreciation.
"Wonderful." Karnus suppressed a yawn.
"Thank you very much," Lana said earnestly, pronouncing the words in careful Alphatian as she clasped the fashionista's hands in her own. "Please inform Alasylvel that I am very pleased."
Teldon chuckled on hearing Lana speak the foreign tongue. "It seems you've picked up a few words these past weeks," he commented.
"True," said Karnus, also speaking the local tongue albeit hesitantly. "Though Lana is not alone in having absorbed some culture."
Teldon cast his former pupil an approving glance. The Karameikans exchanged congratulatory looks, then left.
Upon exiting the studio, Karnus stated that he wished to the Blue Ruby, which they did. Karnus took leave of his companions for a while and re-appeared wearing a pristine set of robes which Lana thought she recalled seeing him purchase in Darokin City, over a year ago. Strange, she thought, that the robes hadn't been worn since then. Karnus must have been saving them for a special occasion.
The trio made their way through Sundsvall toward the Imperial Palace which occupied a hilltop position at the heart of the sprawling metropolis. Every step through the city streets brought a heavier feeling to their shoulders as the significance of their mission and the fate of their homeland pressed upon them like never before.
Guards at the Palace gates allowed them to enter when Teldon produced the papers prepared by Lord Arythlyndar on behalf of Queen Kryndylya of Haven.
The scale of the Palace was beyond anything the Karameikans could have imagined. Even Queen Kryndylya's enormous castle would have fitted inside the Imperial complex several times over. Parks and lakes, airship landing pads, towers, villas and estates were housed within the immense outer walls - almost a city within a city.
As the trio ascended some steps, servants could be seen straining to control a griffon, barely able to keep hold of its reins. A tall, slender, thin-faced noble wearing a sky-blue robe was approaching, visibly unimpressed by the spectacle before him. He impatiently slapped white leather gloves into the palm of one hand. Upon drawing near he gestured in an irritated fashion and two servants found themselves lifting into the air to be thrown aside, clearing the way for the nobleman to seize the reins and compel the steed into submission. The man mounted the calmed beast and took to the air, drawing applause from the servants despite the unfortunate pair who were nursing injuries.
Entering the complex proper, a main staircase was flanked by twin statues in the form of sphinxes. One made a pretence of yawning; the golems' gemstone eyes scrutinised the wizards as they approached. Ascending the stairs the party found themselves before a twelve-foot jade statue of a warrior, his features strong and theatrical, with long hair and a determined expression. The statue had been carved with expert skill. A commemorative plaque at the base confirmed the travellers' suspicions of the man's identity - the late General Torenal, longterm companion to Eriadna and father of several of her children, among them King Ericall of Norwold. The plaque's inscription declared categorically that the General had been callously slain by Glantrian agents and that his murder would be avenged.
The Karameikans entered the marble building and were staggered as the grandeur of their surroundings steadily increased. Statues and gilded mirrors lined every corridor, while intricate detail adorned every wall, ceiling and floor. Every surface appeared gleaming and spotlessly clean.
A guide led the trio to a waiting area, where they were invited to be seated. Looking around, the wizards discussed how the splendour of even the waiting room surpassed anything which was to found at the Duke's Palace in Specularum. The marble chamber was bathed in light of myriad colours beaming in through stained glass windows, while a crystal fountain played at its centre. The three wizards could not help but feel apprehensive, wondering whether this might be the same chamber in which Etienne D'Ambreville's emissaries had sat prior to their fateful meeting with General Torenal. The faraway Chime of Time sounded somewhere in the distance. After not long, a door opened and their guide re-appeared. The Empress was ready to receive her guests.
They were escorted to a pair of massive double doors. While Lana straightened her kihara in readiness for the audience, it seemed Karnus was making preparations of his own. Initially fearful, Lana watched as he rummaged within his robes and murmured an enchantment. Scary thoughts came to Lana's mind. Had the Wizard-Princes entrusted her companion with a sinister undertaking? Had the Glantrian emissaries truly been sent to assassinate the Empress, and was Karnus to continue where their footsteps had ceased? The double doors began to swing apart before them
To Lana's bewilderment, the effect of Karnus' enchantment became apparent as his physical appearance changed. He grew taller, his hair more luxuriant and his features more striking and poignant. His robes in particular appeared resplendent, and he seemed to stand with unmistakeable poise and majesty. Despite the grandeur of what lay before them, Lana found herself oddly reluctant to tear her gaze from Karnus.
"What robes are those?" she demanded in a hushed tone.
Karnus kept looking ahead and replied, though his lips did not move. "Dramatic presence."
Lana's mouth fell open in disbelief. "You have some nerve!"
"Need I remind you of your comments outside Alasylvel's studio - 'do our chances of success depend on our outward appearance?' You tease me about wanting new robes, when yours come with a built-in enchantment!"
Karnus grinned in response before Teldon cleared his throat, gesturing toward the double doors which were now wide open.
"Shall we?" he asked, sounding both impatient and unsettled.
Lana could not help but return Karnus' smile, though the levity brought by their camaraderie evaporated as they returned to the enormity of what awaited them. Each with different reasons for their foreboding, they drew steadying breaths before stepping forward.
The Karameikans entered the grand chamber, advancing along a rich purple carpet toward a raised dais. Hundreds of courtiers lined the way, whispering incessantly as the foreigners progressed toward the dais, which bore a golden throne flanked by two other seats which were less grand but nevertheless impressive. Lana could not believe her eyes upon gazing at the Imperial throne, and could not help but imagine her friend Drewen Goldenhammer's reaction. Had he been present, the dwarf would have been struck dumb at the sight of this treasure, inlaid as it was with gems of every size and colour and seemingly formed from solid gold. Even from a distance the majesty of the throne was astounding. Treasures abounded elsewhere in the chamber - magnificent tapestries and paintings covered the walls, while statues of noteworthy wizards adorned the sides of the hall.
The dais ahead was surrounded by a shimmering field of magic. As they progressed a figure rose from the throne and, to the surprise of the courtiers, stepped with nonchalance beyond the protection of the magical field. The woman was of medium height, her skin like burnished copper and her robes were spun from red and gold silks which were no doubt priceless. With warmth in her brown eyes she surveyed the travellers, who had stopped and were bowing. She gestured for them to come closer which they did. Drawing to within feet of the Empress they each continued their low bows until she spoke a single word in the Alphatian tongue, which all present (including Karnus and Lana who by this stage realised that they had indeed osmosed a reasonable amount of the local language) were able to comprehend. "Rise."
Polite pleasantries ensued. In the Alphatian tongue Eriadna bid the foreigners welcome to her court and indicated that she had heard of their exploits through the Kingdom of Haven, though she was keen to hear a firsthand account. While Karnus and Lana strained to follow much of what was said, they both picked up on the name "Arythlyndar"; evidently the report prepared by Queen Kryndylya's seneschal had reached Sundsvall.
As Eriadna spoke her eyes passed between all three of the foreigners, though noticeably her gaze lingered on Karnus moreso than on either of his companions.
Teldon responded to the Empress' welcome, thanking her and bidding guards bring forward the small chest which had been brought from Karameikos inside the bag of holding. The chest was opened to reveal books and scrolls relating to the ancient magics of Traladara; these Teldon presented to the Empress. She accepted the gift cordially, announcing in Alphatian that she would take great pleasure in reading Teldon's papers at a later date.
Then to the travellers' surprise she leaned close and spoke in the Thyatian tongue. Her tone was low, so than none except those in her immediate vicinity might hear. "You have journeyed far and you are welcome here. I await with interest your tales of Aasla and what you found there. Pray understand that it would not be fitting for my subjects to hear me addressing you in the barbarian tongue," her brown eyes glittered, "here in the very heart of my Empire. But I wish you to feel at ease, and I cannot ask you for what you cannot give me. We shall have a chance to discuss many matters later in more detail, including the future relationship of our countries." Smiling, she drew back but then her eyes fell on the staff Lana carried. "So," she murmured. "That would be the Staff of Lucinius."
Lana felt a lump develop in her throat. "Indeed it is, your Imperial Majesty."
Eriadna's smile continued unabated. "It is kind of you to return it to us."
Faced with the most powerful woman in the world, Lana drew breath while fighting to find an appropriate response. All thoughts of what she had planned to say on the matter deserted her.
"I understand," the Empress soothed. "It is difficult, relinquishing that to which you have no doubt grown attached. But now is not the time to discuss the matter. You should enjoy our great city of Sundsvall, and for that you will require a guide." She turned to the crowd of courtiers, and called a name.
From out of the crowd stepped a young woman, her auburn hair cascading over a bright green kihara which had been cut in an eye-catching style around her shoulders. She approached the throne and bowed dutifully before the Empress.
"This is Galatia Allatrian," Eriadna said, still speaking in low Thyatian. "I can think of nobody better placed to show you the delights of our city. Enjoy Sundsvall, we shall meet again later. You need not worry for your safety in the meantime, I shall have guards assigned to you. I regret the necessity of such precautions but these are troubled times, after all." The Empress nodded to a guardswoman who had been standing close by throughout the audience, and spoke her name. Uzylia stepped forward and conversed with the Empress in a language which none of the Karameikans could identify. She then bowed and set about having the foreigners escorted from the throneroom.
Read the next instalment here
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