:: Dungeons & Dragons - The Threshold Party - Meeting Empress Eriadna, Part Two ::

Meeting Eriadna - Part Two

The Karameikans were ushered from Eriadna's throneroom through a side-door and along a corridor which eventually led to a private jetty. Here was moored a flying vessel - not a mighty skyship such as had occupied the skies above the Aerodrome or patrolled the Haven border, but a smaller flying yacht whose billowing white, triangular sail was filled by an invisible breeze.

"This way, if you will." Galatia gestured for the visitors to step onto the gangplank.

"It's accommodating of you to converse with us in Alphatian," said Karnus as he boarded the floating vessel. "On our travels we have met few Alphatians who have deigned to do likewise."

Galatia shrugged. "I'm not thought of as a proper Alphatian. Grew up on the Isle of Dawn, so in many of the courtiers' minds I'm no less a barbarian than you people." She smiled disarmingly.

"How did you come to be here?" Lana asked. "We were told you are a companion to a Thyatian princess."

Galatia nodded. "Princess Asteriella. Don't think me immodest but I'm aware of my looks, so too was Thincol when I was at his court. I was only a child back then but I felt his eyes on me on more than one occasion. He takes no steps to hide his infidelity to Empress Gabriella, I am sure it would have been only a matter of time before he acted on the designs he had on me. Needless to say I was glad of the escape when Asteriella was informed she was to be sent to Alphatia as a counter-hostage."

"A counter-hostage?" Karnus echoed.

Galatia regarded the Karameikans strangely as the yacht departed at a lazy pace. "Your land borders Thyatis, yet you know so little of its politics?" She scoffed. "Eriadna's son was visiting one of his brothers - King Ericall of Norwold - when he was kidnapped by Thyatian agents. The poor fools, they thought they were impressing Thincol, so imagine their surprise when he had them thrown in the Coliseum. Thincol was left with a problem, he couldn't send the prince back to Eriadna, nor was there anything to be gained from slaying a child in cold blood. So Demetrion or somebody went to negotiate with Eriadna on Thincol's behalf, yada yada..." she stifled a yawn, "and it was agreed that Thincol's youngest daughter would be exchanged as a diplomatic hostage. I was chosen to accompany her as a lady-in-waiting. I can't say either of us has looked back since the handover that day on the Isle of Dawn."

"So you're happy here?" Lana asked.

"Oh yes. At least now we are. It wasn't easy in the beginning." Her voice trailed off as if in reverie. "But I was a child back then, a very different person. Master Terari took a hard stand with me but he opened my eyes to the reality of the challenges we face in Sundsvall. He is helping us both to progress in the ways of magic, and to create opportunities for a better life. Asteriella is more talented than me, but I do enough to get by. I have other interests to pursue, in any event."

"Why yes," Lana interjected, aware of Galatia's standing as a fashion designer. "We heard your name spoken in many parts of Haven. Your reputation certainly precedes you." On hearing this, Karnus' eyes widened and he fixed his companion with a look of warning.

"Of course it does," Galatia responded snappily. "I've spent years building a name for myself, so to have my talents recognised is entirely appropriate. As for the so-called masters of Haven, they credit themselves with being the founders of the arts but the truth is -" she cast an unfavourable look at Lana's embroidered kihara "- they are so desperately trapped in the past. Dovir simply cannot hold a candle to Sundsvall when it comes to innovative design."

Lana cleared her throat quietly. "Quite. I will say that I mentioned your name to Alasylvel, from whom I purchased this gown, as well as -"

Galatia broke in, nodding. "I thought I recognised her work. And it's sweet that you tried to make an effort to fit in at court." Lana wasn't sure she appreciated their guide's condescending tone. "Alasylvel isn't bereft of talent I suppose, but... her styles are so old. They just don't have any contemporary quality."

Lana frowned slightly. "What I mean to say is that Alasyvel was not the only person we met in Haven who mentioned your name." She glanced around to make sure there were no others within earshot, and leaned close. "We spoke with a Glantrian wizard during our travels, who confided in us about how you enabled him to escape Eriadna's dungeon."

Galatia flushed as red as her hair and she too looked around nervously. "I..." she laughed uneasily. "Is this some sort of joke? What -"

Karnus took gentle hold of the woman's wrist. "Rest easy," he murmured, keen not to attract the guards' attention. "Your secret is safe with us."

Lana nodded. "Please believe us. Our lips are sealed, and we believe we understand why you acted as you did. We have reason to share your outlook. Perhaps we can discuss the matter in more detail later on."

Galatia searched Karnus and Lana's expressions for anything which would confirm the truth of what they were saying, and seemed satisfied. All the same, she remained keen to change the topic of conversation. "So!" she announced brightly. "If you'll be so kind as to gather on the far side of the boat. Captain, bring us alongside the Chime and rise fifty feet!"

While Galatia rummaged in a pack, the yacht manoeuvred to a short distance from the massive Chime of Time which resembled a giant obelisk. The Karameikans lined up on the opposite side of the deck, as they had been instructed.

"Step a little to your right." Holding up one thumb, Galatia closed one eye and sort of squinted at the trio. "That's it. Teldon, if you wouldn't mind standing a little straighter, we don't want you to look hunched. Karnus, extend your staff a little. Now smile! Great. Hold that pose." She opened a wooden box containing an assortment of coloured charcoals, and began sketching on a sheet of parchment.

"So," Karnus asked conversationally as their guide worked. "Where on the Isle of Dawn do you hail from?"

"Kendach," she replied. "I grew up in my cousin's stronghold before being shipped to Thyatis City."

"Oh," said Lana, "who is your cousin?"

Galatia's attention left her work. "Was."

"I'm sorry?"

"My cousin was Countess Julia Kendasius. She died defending the Tower against the Alphatian army. She swore her defences would never fail but... I guess you live and learn."

Karnus and Lana exchanged sad glances. They both recalled their time in the mini-plane of existence known as the Observatory, where the overseer Olmundvar had bid them watch through a scrying portal as the Alphatian military descended on the Fortress of Kendach, obliterating its defences and eradicating those within with horrible efficiency.

"Don't move!" Galatia barked. "Just a few moments longer... there!" She thrust her coloured charcoals triumphantly back into their container and approached the trio. "It's yours to keep, as a momento of your trip."

Teldon received the sheet of parchment with a gracious dip of his head, and the three wizards inspected what Galatia had drawn. Their images had been replicated with a remarkably lifelike quality, though something about their expressions appeared a little giddy.

"Thank you," Teldon said, rolling up and pocketing the sketch. "Most kind of you."

Despite being a native of another continent, Galatia proved remarkably well-informed about Sundsvall. As such, she bombarded the Karameikans with detail about every aspect of life within the capital. She bid the crew of the yacht take the craft high above the city, so that its spiderweb formation might become apparent. Galatia pointed out the many rivers and lakes which flowed through the city, and she distinguished various districts, commenting that by ancient Alphatian law property could only be owned in blocks, meaning that a handful of nobles owned entire areas of the city, letting out individual dwellings to tenants. The commoner demographic appeared at its most densely packed in two particular areas which Galatia referred to as "the Pit" and "Fire City".

An area named "the Jangles", which Lana asked about, was apparently an area of offices and trade by day but a lively spot for nightlife. Galatia confessed to regularly visiting this area with Princess Asteriella to partake of the party atmosphere, without Eriadna's knowledge or sanction. Of course this was made all the more controversial given Asteriella's status as a diplomatic hostage whose movements one would have expected to be restricted.

"So take your pick," Galatia announced as Teldon moved to the prow of the yacht to inspect some rigging. "This is your tour and the crew is at your disposal. Where in all of Sundsvall do you wish to set down? There's an endless array of museums we could visit, libraries, parks..."

"Well if we're entirely honest," said Karnus with a smile, "we're intrigued about the availability of magical commodities for purchasing."

"Okay." To the wizards' delight, Galatia had not dismissed the request. "You're saying you want me to take you to a magic emporium?"

With baited breath, both Lana and Karnus nodded.

"No problem. I'll introduce you to one of my contacts." She surveyed their expressions. "You seem surprised."

Karnus' eyes gleamed. "I have never known magic of any great worth to be available for purchase. I doubted whether even in this city of wonders such a thing could be possible."

Their guide folded her arms. "You'll soon learn that all things are possible in Sundsvall when you have the right connections. And it so happens that I am a well-connected individual. The only thing is," Galatia made a sheepish sound and batted her eyelashes, "I promised Asteriella I would run an errand for her. Taking you on this trip seemed like the perfect cover, so that the Empress won't get suspicious. You don't mind coming along, do you?"

Sensing that they ought to preserve Galatia's favour, and suspecting that they had little say in the matter anyway, both Karnus and Lana shook their heads to indicate that they did not.

"Great. First we need to head to the University."

The yacht did an about turn and floated off. After a short while of leisurely sailing the craft set down by the University - a ten-storey building set amid a sprawling campus. A large group of students, all clad in robes of varying colours, had gathered in an open-air meeting place and were assembled around a blond-haired individual who was addressing the crowd. The youth wore red trimmed with gold and appeared to be floating in mid-air. A Levitation spell, Lana guessed, or more likely he had conjured a Floating Disc upon which to stand.

Galatia and the Karameikans disembarked the yacht with guards for each of them following a short distance behind. "That," Galatia whispered as they meandered their way through the crowd in the direction of the speaker, "is Jasilyan." Much of what the youth was saying, being in Alphatian, was lost on Karnus and Lana however he was speaking in audibly passionate tones and to all intents seemed a compelling orator. It struck Lana that the young man was dashingly handsome. "His father is one of the Thousand Wizards, and is an outspoken opponent of the Empress. He's waging a campaign to get her to abandon the War on Glantri and to re-focus our resources on improving the lives of the Alphatian people, and to progress the magical arts. But more importantly," she winked conspiratorially, "Asteriella and Jasilyan have taken a shine to one another." A slip of paper appeared in Galatia's hand. "And I'm to deliver a love letter."

Karnus appeared unconvinced. "Far be it for me to stand in the way of Love's young dream, but won't it cause trouble if we are caught fraternising with Eriadna's adversary?"

Galatia smiled. "Not if we're discreet about it. We'll need some sort of distraction."

Karnus turned to Lana. "What do you think?"

His companion sighed. "So long as it doesn't jeopardise our mission."

"Agreed. Well in that case, I might have the right cantrip in mind."

Intrigued, Lana watched her companion's lips move in subtle spellcasting, then moments later came the clang of metal hitting stone around ten feet away. One of their guards' axes had fallen from the man's hand and hit the ground. The guard looked sheepishly at his commanding officer, who turned and roared for the man to retrieve his weapon. As the hapless guard attempted to do as he was instructed, Lana gestured with her ring of telekinesis from inside a fold of her kihara. The axe lifted into the air and leapt to one side. The guard made another attempt to take hold of the weapon however it leapt again, much to the amusement of the onlooking crowd.

In his peripheral vision, Karnus noticed that Galatia had seized the opportunity to slip away and was no longer by his side.

... and for a fourth time the axe leapt aside. The students howled with laughter, while the guards furiously surveyed the crowd in an attempt to pinpoint whoever was behind the mischief. Amid the commotion, no-one saw Galatia resume her place at Karnus' side and lay a restraining hand on the lead officer's shoulder. "Come now," she counselled the guard. "It was a simple prank, no harm was caused. They're only students after all. Pay them little heed, and let's be on our way."

Smirking while the guards could not see, Galatia showed Karnus her empty hands; the note had evidently reached its intended recipient.

As recompense for their assistance, Galatia led the Karameikans to a small emporium just a few streets away. After knocking on the door she was permitted to enter, and she ushered the Karameikans inside with her. The guards were ordered to remain in the street. The room beyond the door was small, containing little more than a counter and, at its rear, a heavily fortified door leading to a secure store beyond. Galatia introduced the Karameikans to her contact who was the proprietress of the store - an Alphatian woman of indeterminate age by the name of Mazumalia.

Galatia interpreted as Mazumalia provided a rundown of the goods she had available for purchase. These included a magical dagger, a magical sling and a magical shield. A helm of teleportation. A candlestick of "shadow play" and a crystal sphere which was "broken", its creator having locked the device to only show games played in the great Hard-Ball Arena by his preferred team. A ring of regeneration. A staff of power. An amulet of time-keeping and a pendant of hearing. A wand of paralysation. Lana eyed a magical dinner plate, enchanted to produce a cooked dinner upon command. Various potions. The list went on and on. Mazumalia also had scrolls bearing various enchantments - some of these the wizards were familiar with - Fly, Levitate, Shield and the like. Charm Monster was another option. Others included rare, old Alphatian enchantments. Teldon's jaw hit the floor when he learned the list included Power Word Blind, a spell of power beyond even his capabilities. Lana traded her scroll of Wall of Fire - a powerful enchantment, but one which few Alphatians would be pre-disposed to casting based on the nation's affinity for air-based magic - for a scroll containing two ancient Alphatian enchantments - Airy Messenger and Elemental Cleaner. She also handed across a gem in exchange for a scroll containing Drift. Likewise Karnus acquired several new spells, these including Rainbow Strike - an apt souvenir of the group's time in the Empire, Lana thought, given the multi-coloured insignia of the Immortal Alphatia herself - Mana Shield and Shock Bolt.

On hearing that Mazumalia had a spellbook for sale, the wizards' interest piqued. Further enquiries revealed that the item also contained recipes, and that the accompanying spells matched the culinary theme. Lana's eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets when the store owner brought forth a huge libram, easily two foot tall, bound in pristine white leather with its name picked out in gold script on the front cover - "Epicurean Enchantments, by Dealya of Bettalyn". Mazumalia proudly informed Lana that the item was a first edition by the famed cooking mage who had produced a number of these volumes throughout her lengthy career. Dealya had spent years creating spells to lend magical assistance in the kitchen - these including Carving Knife, Season Dish, Phantom Banquet and Elemental Under-Chef - and had enscribed these in an appendix to her world-renowned cookbook. Lana emptied all her gems and coins from the bag of holding, but found to her dismay that she could not afford the book's asking price of forty thousand gold pieces. Seeing her disappointment, Mazumalia sympathetically informed Lana that she would try to hold on to the book in case Lana wished to come back in the near future with the required amount of cash. Lana thanked the woman for her kindness and vowed to get the funds together.

By now the hour was growing late. Karnus nipped to a nearby bank to exchange currency for one last purchase from the store, then the wizards took their leave of Mazumalia and boarded the yacht, bound for the Imperial Palace via the Blue Ruby. En route, Galatia informed the Karameikans that they were to be guests that night at a lavish dinner in their honour. The event would be modest by Court standards - the main dining hall of the Imperial Palace was not to be used, instead a more intimate hall had been selected, the capacity of which was a "mere" two hundred guests.

Back at their lodgings, Lana changed into the first of the two gowns she had bought from Alasylvel, then the three were escorted under guard patrol back to the Imperial Palace and to the lesser dining hall which Galatia had mentioned. The hall was enormous. They were to be seated at the head table which was shaped like a crescent moon encircling a silver sculpture in the form of a tree whose branches extended toward the table at regular intervals.

Read the next instalment - Audience with Empress Eriadna, Part Three

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