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Authors: AJ Martin

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BOOK: The Flames of Deception - A Horizon of Storms: Book 1
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I have spoken with King Arwell. He has asked me
to
personally
escort you to his chambers. It appears the pendant you wear
bears significant sway with His Majesty.”


Lucky for me.” Matthias smiled and nodded his head. “Thank
you. You’ve done me a great service, Thadius. Come, we have to go
see him, right now!”


Impatient, aren’t you?” Thadius sniffed.


Oh yes,” Matthias replied with a grin.
Impatient to get
this over with, more like
, he thought to himself. If convincing Thadius to
arrange a meeting was not hard enough, convincing the king of what
was about to come next would be near impossible. He did not relish
what was to come, but he had a job to do, and if that job meant
getting his head lopped off, then so be it.


Well, seeing as you are so eager, we’d best not keep the king
waiting, had we?”

 

Into the
Maze
112th Day of the
Cycle, 495 N.E. (New Era)

 

Thadius gestured with a hand to the door of the guardhouse
and Matthias stepped back out onto the stone steps and into the
street beyond. The man raised his hand to shield his eyes from the
sunlight that peeked around a building in front of them on high
stilts.


This way would probably be best,” Thadius motioned after a
pause.


Is
it very far to the palace?” Matthias asked, adjusting his baggage
slung across his back.


About an hour’s brisk walk from here.”


You
hadn’t been gone that long,” Matthias commented. “Had you?” he
questioned himself.

Thadius smiled. “No. It’s much quicker to take shortcuts
through the scaffolds. But with those bags you’d find it a
struggle.”


I can make it,” Matthias replied. “Please, the
quickest way
would
be preferable to me.”


Well it’s hardly the most picturesque journey, but then I’d
warrant you’re not that concerned about that?”

Matthias grinned. “You should see the way I
came
in
to the city. I’m
really
not fussed.”

Thadius analysed him a moment. “Alright then. This way,” he
said.

They doubled back and headed down an uneven
pathway. Houses leaned on each other like drunks at a tavern all
along its length. “While we’re on the subject, how exactly
did
you make it into
the city?” Thadius asked as he turned to walk through a winding,
paved alley.


I wouldn’t like to get my
accomplice
in trouble,” Matthias
replied.


It was Jadin, wasn’t it? He’s the
only
one I know of with
the gall. Mind the gap!” Thadius added suddenly as he side -
stepped a hole in the floor. Matthias peered down it. The paving
stones they walked on were affixed to a thick wooden frame, which
had partially rotted away. There was nothing below for at least
fifty feet apart from a criss-cross of splintering wood and a
tangle of rusty piping.


Thank you. I couldn’t possibly tell you as they never gave me
their name,” Matthias replied.

Thadius snorted. “How much did you give him?”

Matthias sighed. “If you must know, I created a gateway
through the city walls,” he lied again. “No-one helped
me.”


You
can do that?” Thadius asked, staring aghast at him as they stood at
the foot of a ladder.


Oh
yes. It’s child’s play!” In actuality, no - one had managed
anything of the sort for over a hundred years. Even then the wizard
that had managed it got stuck halfway through the wall and had to
be chiselled out.


I
will have to tell the guards to review their security measures,”
Thadius asserted. “Will you be alright on here?” he asked, patting
the ladder made of bamboo and twine, knotted together
tightly.

Matthias grinned. “I used to climb trees when I was younger.
I’ll be fine even with all this on my back,” he indicated to his
full satchel.

Thadius nodded, and heaved his frame on to the rickety
ladder. The struts creaked as he set his leather boots on each
step, but they held well enough. “You look as if you have brought a
tree with you,” Thadius commented.


Excuse me?” Matthias queried.


Your staff. Pardon me for saying this but it looks
a little
fragile
.”


It’s
really
not,” Matthias chuckled. “I found the branch this
came from when I was just six, playing in the woods outside my
home. It had an interesting pattern, with the root bound around its
length, so I took it home. I fashioned it to use as a rambling
stick. After I became a wizard it served me just as well as a
conducting staff to channel the earth power. I shortened its length
slightly and sealed it with sandarac resin for preservation. This
staff has accompanied me on many a journey. In many ways it’s as
much a part of me as the pendant you hold in your pocket.” Matthias
paused a moment. “You
do
still have it, don’t you?”

Thadius smiled as he climbed. “Unless someone has picked my
pocket.” Matthias stopped a moment beneath him, his eyes wider as
he considered the prospect. Then he shook his head and carried on
climbing. “I find you a curious man ambassador,” Thadius said as he
hefted his bulk upwards.


How
so?” Matthias asked, chuckling. “And please, call me
Matthias.”


Very well. I find you…
puzzling
," Thadius replied.


That’s hardly an answer,” Matthias replied.

Thadius exhaled out of his nose. “You appear to have none of
the airs and graces your kind traditionally carry, and you insist
on informality when it comes to showing deference, yet you wear a
noble’s clothes and carry yourself with grace. One moment you
appear to speak honestly, then another quite cryptically. Your
mannerisms sway between a man of the gentry and that of a common
man.”


Anything else?” Matthias asked whimsically.

Thadius pondered a moment and then added: “With every word
that comes from your mouth I get the sense that there is a great
more depth to their meaning than you will let on.”


All
that
from only knowing me an hour or so?” Matthias
chuckled. He waggled his shoulder as the strap of his bag dug into
his shoulder.


I
have always prided myself as a good judge of character,” Thadius
advised. “At first glance you appear to be an honest
man.”


I
only appear to be?”


I can’t ignore the method of your arrival into the
city. Aside from being a Mahalian, which in these parts provides
little reassurance, you come into the city by sneaking around the
backstreets and alleyways. How can I trust your intentions are
good? I’m taking you to see the king. For all I know, your intent
could be to plant a
dagger
in his back!"


I
am
here to help! Why won’t
anyone
believe me?” Matthias asked.
Because you can
hardly believe it yourself
, he thought to himself.


Trust has to be earned,” Thadius advised, helping him off the
ladder, as they stood astride another level of the city. “A bond of
trust is the most important of thing.”


And
what if there’s no time for that?” Matthias asked. “What if all you
have time for is blind faith?”

Thadius looked at him and considered. Then, without an
answer, he turned on his heel and marched onward.

Matthias sighed. “Why must everything be so complicated?” he
whispered quietly to himself.

They clambered across more platforms and struts,
shimmied up ropes and ramps, until they began to reach what could
be considered by Rinian standards
solid
ground. The cobbled floor seemed firmer
and the buildings were much grander than below.


We’re entering the noble levels,” Thadius said, as if picking
up on Matthias’s silent admiration. “You will find the views much
more impressive from this level.”


Just how many levels
are
there?” Matthias asked as he peered up at
the delicately balanced structures climbing still higher. They were
starting to disappear into mist above.


There are fifteen levels divided between merchant
areas and living space. We are on the eleventh. Most of the people
here are well-to-do lords and some merchants who have done
exceptionally
well for themselves, as you can tell by the
buildings.”

Matthias nodded. The buildings were indeed impressive, sturdy
looking structures, with tiled roofs and brick walls. Some had
gardens, metal gates and even statues. “I take it the Palace is at
the very top?” he asked, with a smile.


Naturally,” Thadius replied.


What exactly is your place in the King’s armies, Thadius?”
Matthias asked as he marched to keep up with the pace of his burly
escort as they stormed across the widening roads. A horse and cart
passed in front of them, its wheels clattering on the
cobbles.


I’m
a guardsman. A soldier,” he replied.


Yes, but of what rank?” Matthias continued to ask.


Of
none in particular,” Thadius replied stoically.


Then you aren’t decorated?” Thadius nodded. “And yet you have
a direct line of communication with the king?”


Do you
always
ask a man his private business so soon after you
have met him?” Thadius rebuffed.


Well I
was
expecting to speak with a half-dozen guards and
soldiers before I met one who would be able to bring me to the
king. I thought I might need to see your
own
ambassador.”


He is away in Ordovier, as I understand it. Anyway
if you
must
know, my father, Lord Wilhem and King Arwell are good
friends,” Thadius answered.


I
see,” Matthias nodded. “So… your father is a lord and yet you are
not a knight?” Matthias probed with curiosity.


Do
you always ask so many questions?” Thadius retorted.


Does it bother you?” Matthias responded, to which Thadius’
face creased. Then he rolled his eyes and answered.


This is not the same kingdom as it was in previous
times. A man must first
earn
his titles, ambassador, through hard graft. I
have
earned
the ear of the king off my own back, despite my father’s
friendship to His Grace. And it is my
choice
so far not to be
knighted.”


Why?
” Matthias asked abruptly.


I do not feel I have earned it myself yet. A
knight is an
honoured
position, given to those with great burdens of protecting
this realm. I have not yet faced any such challenge that I feel
would qualify me as being worthy of a
knighthood.”

Matthias nodded, weighing the answer as they continued their
journey. “I didn’t mean to question your integrity. I
apologise.”


So you
should
,” Thadius said, suppressing a smile. “Men
have
been killed for
less. I would
remember
that, if you are to survive in these
parts.”

Matthias smiled. “Duly noted,” he said. “You might
not have any title, but I would imagine it is
safe
to say you
have
encountered many battles in your time as a
soldier?”

Thadius grunted as he clambered upward. “I have
seen my fair share. But of late all the troubles the kingdom has
are small skirmishes within the Tikritian Pennines. There are some
small pockets of eastern Aralia who feel they no longer wish to
support the king in his endeavours and would rather pledge their
allegiance to Adalric and his Empire. They were not trained
fighters and we put them down easily. Aside from that we have been
at peace with our neighbours for a long time now, and are all the
better for it if you ask me. The time of endless scuffles amongst
nations has
long
since passed.”

Matthias nodded. “All the same, your king’s men are ready to
fight should they ever be called upon to do so?”

Thadius turned his head abruptly. “Is there a
reason for this new line of questioning?” he said tersely. “Because
if my king
or
my country is in
any
sort of danger, I
need
to know about it!”

BOOK: The Flames of Deception - A Horizon of Storms: Book 1
11.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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