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Authors: David Wells

Tags: #Epic, #Fantasy, #General, #Fiction

Thinblade (56 page)

BOOK: Thinblade
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“I can’t fight this enemy alone. I call on all who would see their children grow up free to stand with me. Can I count on your support?” He looked at the Mage first.

Mage Gamaliel looked at him for a moment as if weighing the content of his soul. He spoke softly, yet his voice carried clearly to every corner of the room. “My order has waited for this day for two millennia. The Wizards Guild of New Ruatha was founded by Mage Cedric for the purpose of serving this cause. You are the one he has marked to lead us in this fight. I pledge my support and that of my guild.”

“Thank you.” Alexander had never meant any two words more. The Mage was a formidable ally. With his backing, Alexander was one very large step closer to reuniting the territories of Ruatha into a nation capable of fielding a real army. He looked to Regent Cery next.

The Regent looked a bit uncomfortable, but he was a man used to making decisions even when he didn’t like the options. “Mage Gamaliel has verified the mark and Glen Morillian has recognized your claim to the throne. I will recognize your authority but you must understand that I only speak for New Ruatha and the surrounding lands. Many of those who govern other territories in Ruatha will not recognize you unless you can present the Thinblade. Even then, I doubt Headwater will bow to your claim.”

“Thank you, Regent Cery. I will deal with Headwater another day. I would have you retain the duties of Regent of New Ruatha. I don’t have time to govern and you are clearly far more capable of it than I. I have only two instructions for the time being. Secure the palace and begin raising an army.”

The Regent nodded as an aid came up and whispered in his ear, while placing a knife on the table. “It seems that you killed the assassin. Your knife pierced his heart.” Regent Cery handed the knife to Alexander. “Also, your suites are ready.”

Alexander felt dead tired. It was well into the morning and he wanted to be clear-headed when he sat down with the Mage. He had so many questions.

Alexander stood. “We’ll talk more tomorrow.” He turned to the aid. “Please show us to our quarters.”

In spite of his fatigue, Alexander couldn’t help but feel slightly awed at the magnificent construction and design of the palace as he walked through the labyrinthine hallways. The floors were polished marble in many of the larger halls. Others were covered with rich, thick, artfully woven heavy carpets. Still others were inlaid with thousands of tiny one-inch, multicolored square tiles fitted together so closely that the grout between them wasn’t even visible. The tiles spread out in complex patterns or beautifully designed scenes of the city. The walls were adorned with rich colorful tapestries, remarkably detailed paintings that were clearly ancient yet held their vibrant colors flawlessly, and expertly carved woodwork either polished to a sheen or gilded in gold.

Ornate benches, chairs, and small sitting tables were placed along the walls at convenient locations. Elaborate yet functional chandeliers hung from the ceilings of the larger rooms and halls, while polished brass sconces held fine crystal oil lamps along the walls in those passageways where the ceilings were too low to accommodate hanging lamps.

Many of the arched ceilings were adorned with colorful frescos. The ceiling of one hall was painted to appear open to a partly cloudy sky in mid-spring. Big fluffy clouds broke the light blue of the background and the lamps were placed to make it look as though the clouds moved on the breeze as Alexander walked down the hall. It was a remarkable effect. Another hall’s ceiling was done in polished black tile with points of mirror to create the effect of a night sky overhead.

Everything was well kept, in good repair, and brightly polished. Alexander thought the palace must employ an army of servants just to keep it clean. It was much bigger than the palace in Glen Morillian and much more elaborately decorated.

The north wing was the set of quarters reserved for visiting heads of state and it was secured by providing only one entrance. Alexander and his companions made their way up a flight of stairs that opened onto a stone bridge leading across an artificial chasm built into the palace. The bridge ran the fifty or sixty feet across a fall of easily a hundred feet to the courtyards below and it was enclosed in an arched wrought-iron cage set with crystal-clear panes of glass. The lamps lining the glass tunnel were all glowing brightly.

Alexander stopped for a moment to take in the sight. When he looked around, he noticed that there were six guards on a platform just behind the opening in the floor where the stairs came through. All were armed with crossbows and they had a number of long pikes that could easily reach the staircase below. When he looked to the other end of the glowing crystal tunnel, he saw another six guards standing watch over big double doors.

He marveled at the artistry of the enclosed bridge. He could see the lights of the city all around and the stars overhead as he walked down the softly glowing bridge. He took Isabel’s hand and she gave him a warm smile while she too marveled at the beauty around her.

When they reached the doors, a young, burly-looking guard with markings of rank on his breastplate bowed to Alexander. “I am Captain Sava, commander of your guard force, Lord Alexander.”

Alexander looked at his colors and liked what he saw, so he offered the man his hand. Captain Sava was a little surprised but took it enthusiastically.

“Captain Sava, thank you for taking this duty. I have enemies who are ruthless and cunning. I urge you to take great care in your duty. The enemy will not hesitate to kill your men to get to me. My companions may come and go from these quarters as they please without question or challenge. The Regent and Mage Gamaliel are welcome without invitation. Stop all others who wish to pass and obtain permission for them to enter before allowing them to cross this threshold.”

The burly captain bowed. “As you command, My Lord.” Then he stood straight and proud and nodded to his men to open the doors.

The suite of rooms was more than Alexander would have expected or ever asked for. The heavy, brass-bound, engraved oak doors opened to a large oval receiving room with a high vaulted ceiling and a brass-railed semicircular staircase winding up along the left wall of the room to the level above and ending in the railed balcony of an open hallway. A giant crystal chandelier hung from heavy chains in the center of the arched ceiling forty feet overhead and filled the room with warm clear light. Large arched passageways led out to the left and right and an even larger archway straight ahead passed under the balcony above. Along the right wall of the oval room were three large, ornately engraved, brass-inlaid armoires each with a cushioned bench resting before it. The floor was a mural of inlaid tiles, each of a different shape and color and each fitted perfectly in an impossibly complex puzzle that produced an image of the Ruathan coat of arms.

The Regent’s aid stopped in the middle of the floor. “On your left is a dining room with the servants’ entrance. Your staff is quartered in the levels below. There are six trusted servants, all of whom have served in the court for their entire lives. The servant and food preparation areas for this wing are entirely self-contained. The only way for them to leave is through the main door. The door leading to the quarters below can be locked and barred to ensure privacy and security.

“On your right is a council chamber with a meeting table and several writing desks complete with lamps, parchment, ink, quills, and sealing wax for any correspondence you may wish to send. Directly ahead is a sitting room and lounge area with a balcony overlooking the square below. Eight bedchambers line the hall on the second floor. The chamber at the end of the hall to the right has been prepared for you, Lord Alexander. Each chamber has its own water closet with a bath and each has a direct line from the heated cistern in the main palace so our guests can have hot water whenever they like. If you need or want anything, use the pull cord in each chamber to summon the serving staff. If they are unable to fulfill your needs, please make your request to the security staff just outside the door and they will see to it that your wishes are met. May I be of any further assistance?” Minister Savio asked.

“No, thank you, you’ve been very helpful. Please convey my gratitude to the Regent for his hospitality.” Alexander wanted to be polite but more than anything he wanted to sleep.

The aid bowed and left the large entry hall, closing the door on his way out.

Anatoly grunted as he looked around. He put the heavy bar in place on the double doors and set the locking pins into the floor, then gave the door a tug to be sure it was secure. “I’m going to have a look around before we settle in for the night,” he said before he went about securing the already very secure suite of chambers.

Alexander wearily climbed the stairs and went down the hall to his room, saying good night over his shoulder. His room was actually two rooms: a sitting room that doubled as an entry room, and a bedchamber. Alexander barred the door and took a quick look around to make sure he was alone before undressing and quickly washing the trail grime away. He was asleep before his head hit the very fluffy goose-down pillow.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 47

 

 

 

 

 

He woke to daylight peeking through the cracks around the edges of the heavy curtains. He got up and dressed in his full finery. He didn’t really like the expensive clothes. They weren’t more comfortable than his traveling clothes, but they did convey authority and he still needed to win the loyalty of the people of New Ruatha if they were to going respond favorably to his call to arms.

When he came down the staircase, he heard voices coming from the dining room and found everyone else was up and at the table. The middle-aged serving woman looked nervous when he entered. She’d already brought food for everyone and they were all eating without waiting for Alexander. He smiled to reassure her.

“Good morning,” he said around a yawn as he took a seat at the table.

The serving woman bustled up quickly to pour him a hot cup of tea. “Lord Alexander, what would you like for breakfast? The chef can make just about anything you wish.”

She seemed eager to please, but Alexander was already surveying the food on the table. There was a platter of fresh-sliced ham, link sausages, and strips of bacon. A large bowl full of steaming scrambled eggs, baskets of hot biscuits, a loaf of bread on a cutting board, and pitchers of juice and milk. It looked like a veritable feast after days of trail rations.

He smiled up at her and her eagerness to please. “What’s your name?”

She blinked before answering. “Mrs. Bree, at your service, My Lord,” she curtsied.

“Mrs. Bree, what is your first name?” Alexander asked pleasantly.

She stammered a bit before she answered. “Adele, My Lord.”

“Adele, this is a wonderful-looking breakfast just the way it is. Please convey my compliments and thanks to the chef.”

She beamed at his praise. “I will, My Lord, he will be most pleased. If there is anything else, you have only to ring.”

“Thank you, Adele, I’m sure we’ll be fine for now.” He smiled at her again before she hurried off to deliver his compliments.

Alexander ate his fill. When he finished, Lucky was still eating biscuits with butter and jam. Everyone else was sitting in the big high-backed chairs, sipping tea and talking quietly about the grandeur of the palace. Isabel had found a simple off-white dress and a green ribbon for her hair. Abigail was wearing a similarly cut powder-blue dress. From the clean luster of their hair, both had clearly taken advantage of the hot bath in their rooms.

Alexander looked at his sister and considered teasing her. She didn’t usually wear a dress. He knew she was much more comfortable in riding gear or simple work clothes. When she saw the mischief in his eyes, she beat him to it.

“You’re the one who said I have to pretend to be a princess,” Abigail said. “I might as well look the part. Besides, the serving staff was kind enough to stock my room with a number of dresses that fit quite well. I wouldn’t want to disappoint them.”

Alexander just smiled. He was glad to see that she could still be lighthearted and enjoy the moment, even after the terrible ordeal of losing their brother and their home and their quiet life on the ranch.

He turned to Isabel and took in her simple beauty. He couldn’t decide if the fabric of her dress had a hint of green woven into it or if it was just the vibrant color of her eyes that created the effect. Either way, she was stunning. He took her hand and allowed himself to get lost in her piercing green eyes for a moment.

“You look amazing,” he whispered softly. He pulled his attention away from her with an effort but kept hold of her hand.

“We have a lot to do before we leave for Blackstone Keep. I feel like I’ve slept away half the day,” he said to the rest of the table.

“That’s because you have,” Abigail said teasingly.

He gave her a look in return but couldn’t help smiling just a little at the jibe.

“We’ve accomplished the most important objectives I had for coming here,” Alexander went on. “The Regent has recognized me as King, and Mage Gamaliel has pledged his support. I still need to talk with him about my magical calling and I’d like to confer with the Regent about the state of his military and what we can expect going forward. What else should we try to do before we leave?”

BOOK: Thinblade
8.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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