tagSci-Fi & FantasyA Dream of Empire Ch. 019

A Dream of Empire Ch. 019

byWhimsicalRepertoire©

This takes place just after the events of Chapter 18. If you don't recall, the party met an elf in the woods, then Talos tells Alanna and Tanya to go find the King. There's lots of character development this chapter, and some politics; not the most exciting thing, I know, but it's a critical development chapter for Alanna.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Alanna

Eastwatch, Kingdom of Solais

22nd of Starset, 1282 D.f.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Alanna blinked in rapid succession, acclimating to the new and sudden reality where she stood before a bustling castle-town, rather than within an isolated forest in the easterlands. Her gaze scanned the forty-foot wall of stone before her and over the large square towers interspersed throughout it, which rose skyward as if they were the many pegs of a gargantuan table laid upside-down. The great wall encapsulated the massive citadel of Eastwatch, the long-standing war-time fortress of the King of Solais. Outside the walls of the castle stood many a house with thatched roof, many a field still yet to be harvested, and many a peasant milling about their day.

"What an ingrateful idealist!" Tanya, riding just beside her atop her black stallion, huffed but a moment later. She groaned, moaned, and otherwise made her displeasure of the situation well-known.

"Tanya, behave. He'll be fine," Alanna replied with a roll of her eyes, willing her horse towards the gatehouse of the castle. "You've no right to be angry with him, nor do I believe that you truly are. You're only worried for him."

"Oh, but I am angry, Alanna," she oh-so-obviously retorted. "I'm absolutely vexed that he would send me away to be your wetnurse, when all logic dictates that I should have remained beside him and supported his efforts directly."

Alanna let out a nervous giggle, repeating, "he'll be fine. He loves you, too."

Alanna couldn't enlighten Tanya to the true purpose of her temporary exile, of course. The fact that Talos distrusted her enough to believe she'd sabotage his efforts at reconciliation with Casiama wasn't a fact which would put her in an amicable mood, and so Alanna let that thought remain private.

"Were you reading her, Alanna? Was that the reason she attacked?" Tanya seriously asked her whilst they trotted closer to the gatehouse.

"Mm," Alanna frowned. She guided her horse around an immobile cart, it's wheel stuck deep in a rut in the road, and shrugged off the stares and thoughts of the many peasants around her as best she could. She instead steeled herself to the conversations to come; convincing the King Alfred of a new and greater threat to the east, and persuading him to raise an army worthy of defeating it. Alanna's heart hung low in her chest as she reviewed these objectives, and felt quite out of her league as well; but, Talos' utter confidence in her helped to harden her resolve.

"It's just like Talos to run off and try to save the world on his lonesome. What an absolute buffoon," Tanya sighed.

"Shush, Tatiana. Trust in him."

Tanya shook her head in disgust. "Oh, I do! But it seems my trust in him doesn't prevent him from acting a fool! Just because you find him infallible, Alanna, doesn't mean I can't peer through his deceptive shroud."

"Gods you're daft," Alanna chuckled with a shake of her head.

"This is wrong. I should return to him," Tanya muttered to herself a moment later. The girls cantered around an older man in the street offering a pass to the castle for only four silvers; Alanna hoped she wouldn't need it.

"No, Tatiana. You're tasked to protect me, remember?"

"All too well," she huffed in reply. Alanna willed her horse to canter ahead of Tanya's, and turned about to halt her progress whilst she glared into her eyes.

"Then protect me! Be that fucking canvas you told Talos you would be, and stop being his damned mother. You're fears are making you selfish, and are falsely convincing you to distrust a man who otherwise slays armies and dragons on his lonesome. Just trust in him like he trusts in you, and know that all the so-called weaknesses you perceive in him are merely aches that must come to pass when doing the right thing. If you've ridden with him for as long as I have, you'd see things the same."

Alanna made sure to emphasize the word 'weak', reminding Tanya that she was mindfully present during her heartfelt conversation with their man weeks ago. She held her glare for another moment before resuming her trek towards the gatehouse, feeling somewhat proud that she'd stunned the otherwise-formidable Tanya to silence.

"And do be quiet," Alanna added over her shoulder. "Let me do the talking."

"As always, enchantress," Tanya softly complained. Alanna shrugged it off, smiling instead for the pair of guardsmen draped in purples-and-blacks at the gatehouse.

"Good tidings to you, loyal soldiers of our King! How's the day treating you?" she warmly greeted the pair. The guards straightened their poise, a sudden smile overcoming both men when they gazed upon Alanna's contagious glee.

"Greetin's li'l miss! Jus' about as good'a day as could be, fer standin' around that is," one of the guardsmen replied. "What can we do fer ye?"

"That's great to hear," Alanna giggled. "I'm seeking the King's attentions, as I have urgent news to bring to him. May I enter the castle?"

"Ye may, ye may," the other guardsman instantly agreed, "but I should inform ye that our King ain' here at the moment."

"How unfortunate," Alanna pouted. "Are you awares of his whereabouts?"

"Naw," he answered with a shake of his head. "But the ravener could help ye deliver a message to 'im, or mayhaps the Lord Castellan Bernard could assist?"

"I see. Could you escort me to the ravener, good sir?" Alanna asked, repeating, "it's most urgent."

The two guards tripped over one another to assist the adorable sorceress-in-red, but ultimately the one on the right won the honor of escorting the sorceresses through Eastwatch and towards the south tower of the keep, where the raven-keeper worked and was domiciled. Tanya shot Alanna a look of disgust as they dismounted just outside the tower, even going so far as to mutter the word 'psychopath' under her breath.

"What's that, dear?" Alanna teased.

"Quite the... draft," Tanya murmured instead, glancing at her shuffling feet.

The pair were then led inside the tower, where with some effort they ascended the spiraling staircase within, and were ultimately left at the door of the ravener's chambers at the top of the tower three minutes later. Alanna thanked the guard for his services of escort with a wink and a wave, then rapped her knuckles against the door. She heard some shuffling within, but wasn't immediately greeted. She then glanced at Tanya, who was still pouting and otherwise looking unconvinced.

"Is he okay?" Tanya softly asked with more than a hint of concern.

"Tanya, it's literally been fifteen minutes," Alanna giggled, getting a shrugging pout out of her.

"Could have been an ambush?"

Alanna rolled her eyes, then shut them for only an instant. "There's a ward over the castle," she explained, repeating for the thousandth time, "he's fine, though."

"But-"

The door in front of the sorceresses swung open, revealing a tall and lanky man with disheveled brown hair and horrendous black bags under his eyes. He leaned against the door frame, greedily scanning the gorgeous women before him.

"Yes?" he said with a deep voice.

"The ravener, I presume?" Alanna warmly greeted, sticking out a hand and pushing out her chest. "I'm Alanna, from Catriona. Sorceress. I've important news for the King, and were told you could deliver a message for me."

He stiffly took her hand, squeezing her far too tightly. "Peter. Come in."

"Gratitude," Alanna replied with a forced smile, ensuring she didn't take her hand back too quickly. Peter led them in to a large, dark room which took up half the tower's floor, with a stack of blank papyrus and a bed on one end, and a cluttered desk with all manner of emptied ink well scattered about it's surface on the other. Besides a few of what Alanna assumed were Peter's personal things, it was quite the bare accommodations. The shrill cries of a hundred ravens could be heard from above that room through the stone ceiling. Peter trudged towards his desk, leaning over it.

"What is the message?" he bluntly asked, shaking an ink well in hopes of content. Alanna smiled.

"I need to deliver it personally. I only wanted to know how the raven knows where to find our King," she softly replied.

"They just do. Ravens are intelligent creatures," Peter sighed, turning about to lean against his desk.

Alanna tilted her head. "Oh? Perhaps you could release one to see the King, and I could follow it with my magics?"

"I could. But, that is a waste of resources."

"But it's urgent. The King would be most displeased if you denied me this, Peter. I am a Hero of Solais, after all."

"Hero of Solais, Count Whomever of Wherever, High Cardinal Sorceress, whatever. Releasing bird without message is a waste."

Alanna did her best not to groan. "Then write 'Alanna urgently needs to speak with you at Eastwatch!'" she exclaimed.

Peter nodded, otherwise returning his attention to the desk without a reaction. "Now that is a message. One moment."

Alanna shared a look of exasperation with Tanya as the ravener began scribbling down the message. He spoke aloud as he wrote, "'Alanna the busty mage requires your attention at Eastwatch, when convenient.'"

"Busty?! Are you toying with me, Peter?" she asked unamused. Peter nonchalantly tied the scroll in string, then ambled towards the door at the opposite end of the room.

"No games here," he dryly replied over his shoulder. "The King meets many a people, and oft needs a descriptor to know who is being referenced. I'm merely reminding him."

"Oh, he'd remember me, Peter," Alanna declared with a hand on her hip.

"As the busty mage, I know. Excuse me, I must go fetch the bird."

Tanya let out a less-than-polite giggle as Peter vacated the room, covering her mouth with a gloved hand. Alanna shot her a glare, pointing at her.

"Don't you start!"

"I-I'm sorry," Tanya giggled again, swaying in place as she looked over the unamused enchantress. "Um, Alanna, you know your enchantments will snap once the raven clears the ward, yes?"

"Right... of course they will," Alanna sighed with a roll of her head. She'd forgotten all about the ward.

"But it's no matter. I can cast a geomantic trace to counteract the aetherial diffusion of the bird's root, so we can better follow it past the ward," Tanya explained with a wave of her hand.

"... huh?"

"The fuzz, Alanna. It removes the fuzz."

"You can do that?" Alanna thinly asked.

"Mhm."

Huh. Alanna smiled, ever-appreciative of Tanya's companionship and intelligence. Just as she was about to compliment the beautiful sorceress, Peter re-entered the room.

"Bird is away," he said with a coy smirk. "Our King should receive the message in ten to fourteen days."

With worried glance did the girls look at one another, and they rushed towards the room's only window. Alanna spied the aforementioned raven flying through the cloudy sky, past the castle's ward and past her ability to enchant it. She nearly turned to Peter to tear him a new one before she saw the bird dive towards the ground, towards a column of knights riding under a banner of black-and-purple. The banner of the King.

"Damn you, Peter! Did you know the King was just returning?!" Alanna exclaimed, waving a hand towards the window. The ravener gave her a shrugging smirk.

"Aye. But now he knows the busty mage is looking for him," he retorted with another scan of Alanna's assets. She brought an arm to her breasts in futile attempt to hide them.

"Well thank you kindly, Peter," she seethed through her teeth, grabbing the giggling Tanya to rush down the stairs.

-=-=-

The two sorceresses returned to the castle courtyard just as the King and his retinue arrived. Alanna noticed the raven released at her request swoop down towards the King, then land on an outstretched arm offered by one of the men riding beside him.

Alanna gripped Tanya's hand and made her way towards them, getting a polite nod and a smile from the King when they neared. Then the bald, muscled man beside the King unrolled the raven's note, and shooed the bird away.

"Sire. I've been advised that the busty mage Alanna requests your audience at Eastwatch," he monotonously and obviously informed his liege. Alanna couldn't help but blush as the King dismounted, then imperiously trode towards her.

"Sire," she greeted him with a formal curtsy, averting eye contact and placing one foot in front of the other. She smiled at him when she lifted her gaze.

"What a surprising delight to see you again, Alanna," the King smiled in turn. "Yet I cannot explain this deep dread lurking in the pit of my stomach. I hope you bear good news this time, and that the dread is unfounded?"

"No, sire," she pouted, shaking her head. "Worse news than last time, I'm afraid. I must speak with you alone, or perhaps with only your most trusted of advisors."

"And I can tell from the look in your eyes that there isn't time to waste. Solomon, gather the Lord Castellan and the High Bishop, and meet me in my study at once."

The bald man placed a fist on his chest and bowed. "Sire." He walked off without delay. The King then chivalrously held out his arm for Alanna; she took the offer without delay, daintily slipping her hand through his arm to rest on his bicep.

"I see you brought Tanya with you as well," the King warmly said, glancing Tanya's way. She flashed him a nervous smile and a haste curtsy.

"Sire," Tanya murmured with her gaze cast towards her feet.

The King nodded at her. "Hero. Come, let us settle in with tea and bread in my study, before the drudgery that is my council finds us there."

-=-=-

Alanna and Tanya were then personally escorted by the King to his study in the West tower of the Keep. They - specifically, the King and Alanna - shared small talk and courtesies on their way there, whilst the King did his best to avoid calls for his immediate attention from courtiers and knights alike. His demeanor remained collected and calm as they sauntered through the castle, and he did not pressure Alanna for the reasons for her visit immediately.

Only five minutes had passed before the three were joined in the King's opulent study by three others; the bald man Solomon, who Alanna had regularly seen at the King's side before, and two others she didn't recognize. The men shared pleasantries and formalities at first, and the King chivalrously introduced Alanna and Tanya to them. Soon they had all found their seats at the small oak table in the center of the room, and were driven to silence by a monarch's stern visage.

The King then fetched a small stone from his pocket and tossed it onto the table, which clicked and clacked across the oaken surface before settling at the center. The stone then hummed and glowed a deep red, before seemingly drawing most of the light from the room towards it, darkening the chamber.

"I, the Sovereign and Protector of Solais, on the twenty-second of Starset, twelve-hundred-and-eighty-two years since the Dragonfall, call this meeting of the High Council to order. I am joined by the Chancellor Solomon, the Lord Castellan Bernard, the High Bishop Odo, and the mages Alanna and Tanya Vittori from the Empire of Man. With our Marshal and Court Sorceress providing regency in the capital, we have reached quorum."

The King folded his hands and looked towards Alanna, who had suddenly decided to fidget nervously in her chair. "The mage Alanna has requested this emergency council, and will now speak."

Alanna cleared her throat. She glanced around the room. She muttered, "um, okay," as she absentmindedly played with a lock of her hair, then finally reminded herself to talk.

"My King... my lords... but two hours ago my companions and I crossed paths with an elf in the easterlands of Solais. I-I should say for clarification that my companion Tanya is a teleporter, and I am an enchantress. A-anyway, after a short conversation with said elf, she suddenly and without warning attacked us, where she was soundly defeated by the Lord Talos of Evora. Whilst pressing her for the reason of her attack, she declared that she was attempting to prevent me and my companions from knowing that there was an army approaching. An army of thousands of elves, marching west along the straightened shore and towards Solais. As an enchantress, I saw said army within the elf's memories before she was sent to the afterlife."

Alanna felt as if the mood in the room had suddenly darkened. The Chancellor Solomon spoke next.

"Is there a second witness to this claim of invasion? We have no knowledge of said incursion," he asked seriously, glancing at Tanya.

"Talos saw the same thing. The same memory," Alanna answered instead. "There's more, my lords. The elf said that the army was being led by Kianra, the elven goddess of the wind."

"Hah," Solomon dryly laughed. "A likely claim." The King held up a hand to silence him.

"If I may be so bold," the High Bishop Odo spoke next, "I believe the young Imperial and her claims. At least, so far as the elf's words to her. If you recall, our spies in Cormina mentioned the very same weeks ago; that the elves believe Kianra has returned to Mundus."

"Which we agreed was more than likely just elvish superstition," Solomon dryly retorted.

"Divine general or not, let us focus on the original claim," the King interjected, nodding towards Alanna, "that an elvish army that we did not know of is at our doorstep. Have we heard anything from our spies in Tor Asuria?"

"Nothing, sire," Solomon answered. "Which further leads me to believe that the claim is false."

"Or your spies in Tor Asuria have been found out, or-or have otherwise turned," Alanna swiftly replied in her defense. "And there's more. We met another human out there, a... hermit, I suppose, who mentioned that he hadn't seen any Asurians since the Emerald Moon. Whereas, he oft would beforehand, you see. This led us to believe that there may be a connection between the moon, the goddess, and the silence from Tor Asuria."

The King sighed, nodding across the table towards Odo. "Since we appear to be unable to avoid the subject... Bishop, if you would enlighten us of this 'Kianra', and why she would be leading an army against Solais."

Odo softly cleared his throat. "Of course, sire. Kianra, or Penelope to us humans, has been long-prophesied to be the harbinger of the Fourth Age by the elves. Her presence on Mundus is a herald of the fall of man, though, like our Armageddon, the elves did not know when this series of events would come to pass. As for the goddess herself, no mortal can truly ascertain her intentions. Like the wind, her wants are fleeting and impossible to know. It was said her arrival would be preceded by plague and storm, decimating the realms of man to ensure a simple conquest."

"And have we yet been visited by plague and storm?" the King rhetorically asked.

"No, sire. I would also advise not to take elvish prophecy too seriously; they're very colorful with their language."

"And how would you advise a gods-fearing King to thwart the unknown intentions of said goddess?" the King continued.

"Crush her army with your own, sire. Penelope will be cross, sure, and perhaps another hurricane will come to Solais. But, the rest of the gods shant be angry with us for defending our homes."

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