Chapter 27: Deal With A Snake
“We are pleased to see Our subjects present in this hall. Let the audience … begin!”
Making a small pause in his speech, the king gestured for his master of ceremonies to take over. Radiating an aura of dignity which contrasted with his rather short stature, a man in his late thirties swiftly stepped forward and violently knocked his sturdy cane on the ground, producing a large booming sound wave that echoed throughout the room and quelling the whispers.
When no one could be heard anymore, he produced a scroll from the folds of his uniform and projected its contents with his deep, clear voice into the now silent space.
“Citizens of Leandar, hear my declaration. Today, on the third day of earth in the fifth moon, we have the honor of receiving an emissary sent by the king of dragons himself.
I hereby announce the entrance of Lord Niruth in the Leandar Kingdom’s Throne Hall, the brother of the dragon king himself, part of the royal line, duke in the lands of the Raezar Dynasty.
We were told that he would arrive any time now, please respectfully welcome the lord as soon as he arrives.”
The audience had remained silent throughout the introduction of the master of ceremonies, who was barely managing to keep himself from frowning, the breach of protocol was a clear thorn in his side, at least Luthais thought so. He knew the man, even a king visiting from another kingdom, would at least arrive before a public appearance and let his own men organize the proceedings with him. The master of ceremonies was a pendant through and through and he knew all regulations and traditions by heart.
This pedantic tendency showed itself now, as soon as the short introduction he made was finished, the large bells of the church started to ring, announcing the third candle past noon. The timing was too perfect to be a coincidence, the half-elf suspected that the servant had prepared different entrances and speeches to get the perfect arrangement set up, all in the name of putting an accent on the proceedings he was master over.
The three heavy beats reverberated throughout the room, amplified in the empty space.
All eyes expectantly turned around, tracing the exquisite ruby coloured carpet on the ground to the intricately carved gates at the opposite side of the throne, waiting for the gates to fly open and reveal the figure of an exotic dragon, expecting a grand spectacle.
The drop of a needle in the throne room would have boomed like the impact of a cannon ball, Luthais was similarly drawn in like everyone else present.
An idle thought passed through his mind, wondering how much efforts the pages had to put into taking care of the carpet to preserve its grandiose state, an effort that was never going to be noticed by anyone but their superiors.
In a normal audience or court sessions, the whispers should have returned by now, wondering why the usually perfect schedule of the court was held up, but the mystery surrounding the elusive dragon race alone was enough to keep the whole court in its spell.
As another minute of silence passed and the lower nobles started to whisper among them, discussing the explosive news that an envoy of the dragon race was apparently expected to appear at court. The hot air of early summer left them uncomfortable in their simple wooden seats, the counts, barons and marquis’ were not used to being left out of latest developments in court and this meeting had not even reached Luthais ears. So it was reasonable to say that they had no idea what this sudden audience was about, one of the reasons why they had appeared in such great numbers, compared to the usually empty ranks during the weekly sessions.
The half-elf did not think of the nobles beneath his own rank as inferior, his own rank was owed only to the marriage of his father to the royal family.
Returning his train of thought to the royal family, Luthais observed the galleries in the anticipating silence of the crowd. The shadowy figures behind the veil were supposedly the ancestors of the kingdom who surpassed mortal limits and lived quietly in the lower levels of the palace, unconcerned by worldly matters and silently pursuing their limits as well as representing the foundation of the kingdom.
He was not surprised that king Cederic was able to step into the ninth rank of aura relatively fast with the help of his elders to guide him down the right path and provide cultivation materials. Despite that, he was not envious of his old friend, only happy for him.
Just as Luthais was wondering which of the ancestors of the kingdom were residing on the gallery, a sound broke the tense stillness of the room, which quickly transformed into a collective gasp.
As everyone was watching the door expectantly, two figures had materialized without anyone noticing right in front of the throne. A towering robed figure overshadowed his companion, being almost one and a half times larger than an average human. Scaled feet and a tale poked out of his robe and his arms were hidden in his sleeves, giving him somewhat of a mysterious feeling.
The robe itself was made out of precious textiles, laden with intricate stitchings and gemstones of the highest grade. A deep hissing sound escaped the dark hood of the robe, filling the room with unease at the alien sound.
“My lord greets King Cederic. He is pleased to have been granted the honor of an audience.”
The person accompanying the large figure took this as his chance to step forward, he surprised Luthais as he had not seen him at all in the shadow of the large figure. With the height of an adult male, this was almost all the information the half-elf was able to sense from the servant, even with his experience in the intrigues of the court and his service in the military.
Speaking just now was the servant, who put the attire of the attending nobles to shame with the same exquisite craftsmanship of the master’s robe was also reflected in the garb the man donned. A veil covered the lower half of his face, revealing only a pair of deep yellow eyes and hazelnut brown hair.
“Lord Niruth wants to apologize for speaking through me, he is unable to speak the common or human tongue and needs me as an interpreter. If we are late, I ask for forgiveness.”
A commotion broke out in the audience, both in the gallery and the stands. The attending people had imagined many situations, but not the visitors taking an apologetic stance, putting themselves into a lower position. Luthais himself did not understand why a race that is renowned for their pride and noble and aloof nature would intentionally acknowledge their faults instead of commanding respect, even from the ruler of another nation.
“We are not taking offense, it has been indeed a long time since Our kingdom has had a meeting with someone from your dynasty. Feel free to enjoy Our hospitality for as long as you want to stay here. But We believe there was a matter that you wanted to address when you requested this audience, so please relay Our words to your lord.”
While king Cederic appeared to be calm and receive the guests with outstanding goodwill, the half-elf was able to spot the clenched fists that his old friend hid beneath the table, as well as the slight tension in his voice.
The veiled servant turned his head slightly to face Niruth and translated the King’s word, his interpretation of the draconic language was less hissing and it was much more pleasant to the ears, although the sharp words still cut through the air and whispers that slowly returned in the audience.
Nodding once, the robed lord gave his affirmation to the translator, who continued to speak for his liege.
“Indeed, Lord Niruth has come here today with a certain affair in mind. During the last few turns, an imperial interest has arisen in Leandar’s sovereign territory. Due to a decree of the ruler of the dragons, my lord has been tasked with tending to this particular interest and he would like to request your Highness to allow my humble self to stay as your advisor in your court.”
An outcry of surprise ran through the attending masses at this point. There were countless legends of feral dragons ravaging whole armies and the older citizens still remembered the day when fire and ice stormed from the heavens to punish the barbarian tribe that dared to invade the borders of the dynasty. This was the first time anyone here was able to remember an official visit from an envoy belonging to the Dragon King – aside from historians – and the much anticipated audience lived up to their expectations without a doubt. There was something the dragon’s ruler himself desired inside the lands of Leandar, igniting the passion and imagination of everyone present, fantasizing about the marvelous treasure hidden here.
“Naturally Lord Niruth would not ask you for this favor without offering something in return. He has recently heard whispers indicating that there is a conflict between your kingdom and the Terus empire.
To prove his goodwill and assure you of his intention, my master considers the possibility to step in and help you mediate with the Empress, who will, without fail, heed the words of our ruler.”
Luthais did not need to see the face of the servant that spoke just now, he knew his mouth was stretched into a huge smile. While the approach was blunt, the half-elf did not fail to see the political games involved in this trade, as did the audience, which erupted into a huge storm of excited voices.
“The dragon’s aid us!” “We’re saved!” “Long live Lord Niruth!” “What?!?”
Just some of the exclamations were clear enough for the half-elf to pick up, yet he saw some furious faces in the audience as well as they made their way to smaller exits on the side of the hall, earning a special note in Luthais’ memory to investigate the leavers more closely.
As he was thinking about the offer on the table, a certain connection between the two incidents, the siege, and the sudden resolve, formed in his mind.
He was just about to raise his voice and address his concern when the master of ceremonies called the hall to silence, assisted by magic and the thundering boom when his cane hit the ground.
Rising from his seat, King Cederic smiled at his guests, spreading his arms to either side.
“This is indeed a joyous day for Our kingdom. Not only did we receive guests from the renowned Raezar dynasty, but We also get the chance to reconcile with the Empress of Terus, it is truly a wonderful chance. It pains Our heart to have this kingdom’s subject suffer in a war against another nation. Lord Niruth, we would like to extend an invitation to you to discuss this topic in private, please join us in the salon.
The audience is dismissed!”
Cutting the public spiel short, the King and his Queen retired from the throne hall, leaving a swirling mess of rumors and fanatic stories behind, the common folk too excited by the announcement of a fantastic interest hidden inside the kingdom, spreading faster than the cry of an eagle through the streets – within minutes, various adventurer teams departed from the guild hall to search the lands.
Luthais, on the other hand, was fetched by another pageboy, similar in age to the first, to attend the meeting in the salon.
The royal wing was situated on the right side of the palace and it differed vastly from the left wing where the servants and all workers were housed. Instead of plain white walls, every open spot of the wall was plastered with art, tapestry and various sculptures, putting the history of the first King and how he founded the first small court in the bay to the latest exploits of Cederic’s father, who led an expedition to unearth various relics.
Paying the luxurious accessories no mind, the half-elf quickly advanced behind his guide, he had seen the display too often already and soon arrived in one of the larger gathering rooms.
Steeling himself, the duke dismissed his guide and opened the door, ready to stand by his friend Cederic and reveal the real motive behind the dragon’s emissary.
However, the scene that awaited him startled Luthais badly enough to make him trip and he had to catch himself by heavily leaning on the door.
On a couch, the King and Queen sat with an incredulous expression on their face, while the servant only revealed his amusement by the slight sparkle in his eyes.
The expensive robe Niruth had worn earlier laid thrown about on his own seat carelessly while the draconic figure he presented in the throne room was nowhere to be seen. A youngster about one head shorter than Luthais was jumping around the room, inspecting everything from the smallest trinket to the flowers that were bundled in one of the vases, taking a deep breath to enjoy their smell while humming slightly. His figure was in no way imposing anymore, with slightly feminine features and two small horns crawling around his head like a crown. Hidden underneath the cover was a simple white suit made of standard cut, although the color was pristine enough to require an enchantment to keep clean of dirt, there was no one else in the room so this was the true form of Lord Niruth.
Correcting his posture, the half-elf gathered his wits and spoke up to the carefree man strolling through the room, who did not seem to mind the doors opening.
“Excuse me. I guess you are Lord Niruth? Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Luthais Dharnas, First Marshall and head of House Dharnas.”
Unable to come up with something nice to say, Luthais simply offered his hand and a short introduction.
“Ah, you must be the last one we were waiting for. Don’t bother with the formalities, I’ll grow gray hairs with all that lord and lady stuff, just call me Niruth or whatever you like, it’s not like I care, right?”
Pleased with himself as if he made a particularly clever joke, the alleged emissary of the Dragon King pointed at his white hair with his free hand while shaking the other he was offered, smirking slightly. This might have been the first time Luthais had seen the Queen dumbstruck, her open jaw visible to him behind the nonsensical Niruth. Taken by surprise, the half-elf almost couldn’t believe the next sentence that escaped him.
“Based on your introduction earlier, I’d have imagined you would be taller … and more scaly.”
The unrestrained statement elicited a loud laugh from his conversational adversary.
“Ahaha, I think I like you. You don’t seem to care all about this etiquette stuff either. I’d have liked to appear before all of you in my dragon form, but I’m afraid the room earlier was far too small to hold my true form, so I had to settle for acting all mysterious indeed. And it was a fabulous play, wasn’t it?”
As he straightened up a bit, the smile on his face turned into a serious expression, the dragon’s mood as fickle as quicksilver and he turned toward the King.
“Enough of that, let’s talk about my actual assignment. As you might have surmised, the interest I was talking about earlier is not the whole story, or you would not have bothered to speak with me in private.
To hold nothing back, a relative of our imperial House has taken an interest in this particular kingdom recently and started living here incognito, mixing with humans and learning their habits, refusing to return to the dynasty. My master is very indulgent towards this particular hatchling and he has sent me here to relay a message and keep an eye on the hatchling.
The message is rather long and wordy, but to make it short, he would owe you a favor, regardless of what kind, if you allowed me to stay here as your advisor and make sure the hatchling doesn’t get into anything too dangerous.
Of course, this also includes other benefits, I’m sure your master of spies has already noted down all the names of the individuals that left the audience earlier, almost all of them spies in one way or another for different nations.
Your Highness can consider this as a gift, surely my arrival is a welcome opportunity to round up some of them and put the rest under surveillance.
Now, what do you say?”
Unable to hold it in, Luthais started laughing out loud, the unenthusiastic expression on Cedric’s face was simply too much after all the tension. Niruth didn’t seem to mind, so the half-elf continued.
“Don’t think too much about it, my king. At least from the military side of things, there are no downsides to accepting him as an ambassador, although he will surely damage the public image of all dragons, especially if the siege really stops, it’s just a senseless mess.
You can consider that as advice from an old friend.”
Dropping the formalities towards the end, Luthais thoroughly enjoyed the unorthodox method of politics.
“Indeed! Like your friend said, there are only upsides. And don’t worry too much about my image, I’ll play dress up as my not-so-faithful servant. He has other matters to attend anyway, he only brought me here and he will soon return to his mistress.
There are other economical and political advantages to publicly showing a supporter of our dynasty, but I’m sure you can figure that out by yourself.
Now, why don’t we discuss the remaining questions that you have and then your Highness can give me your answer?
Sir Luthais, I think my companion here has his own mission that involves you, would you mind taking him to your office while I work out the agreement with your King?”
Directing his line of sight towards Cederic, Luthais was unsure if he overstepped his boundaries here, but the large blond man only sighed defeated and waved him off, allowing this mayhem to continue and the half-elf to escape.
“If you would follow me, we can talk in my office.”
Signaling the veiled servant with piercing yellow eyes to follow him, Luthais silently walked in the direction of his office, all of his attempts to make small talk were met with silence.
As soon as he closed the doors behind the two of them, he turned around and looked slightly irritated.
“Now, what is this important matter you wanted to talk about?”
The veil shimmered and disappeared into mist, while his eyes and appearance completely changed, revealing the figure of a familiar servant he usually employed for the delivery to his father.
“I fear a letter won’t cut it this time.”
With this last sentence, Hayze placed a hand on Luthais shoulder and the two of them disappeared from the room.