The silence of the nearly empty room was filled by the crackling of the roaring fireplace,s that lit the room with their amber glow. A large table dominated the space, with a fireplace in the centre of each of the three closed walls, with massive double doors on the remaining wall, which served as entrance from the drafty corridors of the palace. Beddigan sat quietly at one end of the table next to William, replaying the events of the day in his head.
He barely remembered what he had said in his hasty explanation of sorcery and crystals fromthe lands back home, but it must have been informative or intriguing enough because the Lord Regent had nodded along and dismissed them when he was finished with an offer to continue the discussion over dinner. After that, Serina passed them off to some other aid who assigned them each a Page to show them to their guest rooms, so that they may rest before the meal.
The Page who had been assigned to Beddigan was a quiet young Tiger lad, who was courteous and respectful is procuring some warmed washing water and towels when asked. Despite wanting to speak with his companions a great deal to strategize before dinner, Beddigan had found himself compelled to stay in his room and lay on the soft feather-bed. It only took a moment for him to test that feeling to see if it was a thrall. He had been fairly sure it was his own weariness that kept him in the room instead of speaking with Ragnon in William, but he couldn’t be sure of that. He had made a note to ask the Lord Regent for a summary of their own skill with magic, if for no other reason than to protect himself and his companions while they were in the Empire.
When the sky began to darken into dusk, his Page knocked once on the door and opened it, proceeding to lead him through the palace to the Lord Regent’s private dining room, which was empty when he arrived. Not long after he had taken a seat on one of the plush chairs, the doors has opened and William joined him. They waited now for Ragnon, and the Lord Regent himself, and whoever else was going to be sitting in on this momentous occasion.
Beddigan’s stomach growled hungrily, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten since breakfast. He cast a sidelong look at William and noticed the Bear seemed even more subdued than usual.
“Is everything all right, old friend?” he asked. William looked at him a moment, his eyes glittering in the amber firelight.
“No.” he said softly. “No, Beddigan, I am not all right. We are in a strange land with a strange and dangerous people, and we have no idea what is happening back home.” Beddigan saw the naked fear in his friend’s eyes and felt the clutch of fear tighten around his own stomach. He had been keeping his mind off of what may be happening back in Katheyra as much as he could; focusing on moving ahead, but the fear was real. Everything could be falling apart already. They could already be too late.
The doors opened again and Ragnon entered, ushered in by his Page. He grinned at them both, ignoring their fallen expressions.
“Hope the grub is up soon, I’m starving!” He took a seat on the opposite side of the table from William and Beddigan. Beddigan eyed the the Wolf curiously,
“You’re awfully chipper.” The Wolf grinned in response,
“A wash and a nap does wonders for the spirit.” He looked at Beddigan and William’s sallow expressions and frowned. “Well at least it does well for my spirit.”
The great double doors opened again and the Lord Regent entered, followed by Serina and an unknown Lion in similar robes to those Serina wore. Another Mage… Beddigan thought, as he rose. William and Ragnon hastily followed suit and they all bowed. The Lord Regent nodded to them.
“Please, sit my friends. You are guests here!” Beddigan smiled and sat, as he watched the Lord Regent take the end seat of the table opposite him, and the two Mages took seats flanking him.
“It is a pleasure to dine with you all this fine evening. And a pleasure to see you again, my lady.” Beddigan said with a nod to Serina. She smiled coyly at him,
“And you, my dear Mouse.” There was a momentary lapse in conversation as servants scurried into the room, bringing with them trays and bowls of food which they set around the table. Two other servants brought plates and cutlery and set places in front of each of them, and lastly a servant brought heavy pewter mugs of something warm and sweet, with the punch of alcohol.
“Honey-wine from the Tigerlands. A delicacy of ours! Just mind that a mug or two of this will have even your big Bear friend there under the table.” Ragnon grinned at Beddigan and sipped the heady brew, before turning to address the Lord Regent.
“Hooo boy, yes, this stuff could be dangerous. I like your style!” The Lord Regent chuckled as two young Lionesses began serving food to the table, beginning with the Lord Regent, then the guests, and lastly the Mages.
“How rude of me,” the Lord Regent said as he was about to spear a mouthful of a soft bread-like substance that was dripping in some sort of oily sauce. “This here is our Arch Mage, Allgaron.” He said gesturing to the smaller Lion, who was dressed in black and purple robes. “He is the leader of our Mage Council, and sees to training of any young ones that show talent among our Empire.” Beddigan met the Lion’s eyes and felt an immediate sense of discomfort at the bland expression on his face, and the way he was staring at William.
“Uh, nice to meet you, Arch Mage.” The Lion simply inclined his head in acknowledgment, and returned his gaze to William. Beddigan hastened a look at his friend, who had no doubt noticed the Arch Mage’s interest and was trying to ignore it.
“Well, let us eat and then we can discuss what getting involved with your war could mean for the Empire.” Beddigan offered a small smile and nodded, and began to eat from the generous portion of food the serving lady had placed in front of him.
When the plates were nearly cleared, Serina leaned back in her chair and fixed Beddigan in her gaze.
“Did you manage some rest this afternoon, Beddigan?” Beddigan’s eyes snapped up to hers at the question, forgetting about the bite he had been about to take, as he searched her face and eyes for any hint that it may have been a thrall he was under that afternoon. He was relieved to see no evidence of that and nodded.
“Yes, thank you for arranging accommodation for us.” The Lord Regent interjected, signaling for the servers to remove their plates.
“You can stay here as long as we have business together.” Beddigan was about to nod his thanks when his eyes fell on the Arch Mage again. Clearing his throat he decided that he would risk the Lord Regent’s offence, and address his concerns openly.
“That is most kind of you, my Lord, and we will gladly take you up on that offer, if it can be sworn that no attempt to influence our minds or compel us in thrall will come of our staying here.” A moment of shock in the Lord Regent’s eyes, and then he turned to face Serina who looked as if she was suddenly trapped in a box.
“You have used your compulsion on our guests? You know how I feel about that!” the Lion growled. Serina rubbed her paws together nervously.
“Yes, my Lord, but I feared that the crowd that had gathered would scare them off before I would have a chance to speak with them.” She looked nervously at Beddigan, and then back to her Lord. “I promise, my Lord, I only had the Empire’s best interest in mind.” The Lord Regent sighed then, reclining in his chair.
“Yes, yes, I’m sure that you did. I hereby declare that no such magics will be used upon our guests for the remainder of their time in the Empire. Should it come to light that your or any other Mage’s compulsion tricks have been used upon them, you shall be made to immediately leave your post and be held on criminal charges of misconduct to the Empire.” Serina gulped. “You two are dismissed.” He added. Serina stood quickly, bowed hastily, and fled the room. The Arch Mage stood more slowly, bowed to his Lord, and left, eyes clinging to William the entire way.
“I don’t like the way that one looks at me.” William growled, not low enough to keep it from the Lord Regent’s ears. The Lion chuckled,
“He is a talented Mage but a bit odd. I assure you though, no harm shall come to you while you are here as my guests. And I deeply apologize for Serina’s use of the thrall on you. She is eager to please me and I am eager to learn all there is to know of magic.” Beddigan met the Lord’s eyes and nodded, that much had been made clear in their first conversation. “You see,” The Lord continued, “I have no touch of the gifts of magic. Many of my people do not. It does not flow easy in our lands as it appears to in yours. I wish that I could tell you why, but I am afraid that those answers must lie still with the Dragons.” Beddigan nodded again. He had explained to the Lord Regent earlier about how the Dragons and Dragon-Born had gifted their lands with magic, which had come as a complete shock to the Lion. They knew nothing of how or why their gift manifested in the way that it did among the Felines and other species in that part of the world.
After a beat of silence, Beddigan spoke,
“When was the last time your people have recorded for seeing Dragon or Dragon-born in this part of the world?” The Lord Regent sipped form his mug of wine before answering.
“We have only ever seen Dragons, none of these Dragon-Born that you speak of, and it was well before the Empire stood, and beyond even my greatest grandfather’s memories.” Beddigan mused on that for a moment. The Lord Regent must have caught something in his expression because the Lion’s eyes narrowed. “Why do you ask, Beddigan? When was the last time you lot saw a dragon?” Beddigan exchanged a look with William before speaking.
“Earlier this Turning, actually.” The Lion nearly choked on his wine.
“But the Dragons have been gone for ages!” Beddigan shook his head slowly and let out a soft sigh,
“I fear you are mistaken, my Lord. A dragon was terrorizing a town in my surrogate home country of Katheyra, and I was sent for to slay it. I, using the magic of crystals, caved in his hideout in Mt. Lileen and thought him dead last Turning. But he lived yet and returned to terrorize the town in hopes of getting his revenge on me. I bargained with the beast, and receive a scale from him for some information. But he yet flies free. Galantus flies free, and to where, no one seems to know.” The Lion leaned back in his chair looking stunned. “The same powerful sorceress that helped us get to your lands also insinuated that the Dragons still roost up here, and could possibly be of a great help to us…” Beddigan ventured.
The Lord Regent’s balled fist came down so hard on the table, everyone’s mugs jumped and sloshed honey-wine over the rim.
“No. You will not bring the Dragons down upon my head, Mouse.” The Lion growled. Beddigan head up his paws in a plaintive gesture,
“It was only a suggestion, my Lord.” The Lion growled and leaned back in his chair again, though his anger seemed to fade and he was left sighing in what looked and sounded like frustration.
“We know very little about the Dragons, and their relationship to the peoples of our lands. But one thing we do know is that a bargain was made with them around the war times, when we all fought amongst each other for power. They could have dominated us all easily with their magic and ferocity, but instead they made a deal, that should we stay in our established borders, and not head south to conquer, they would let us fight our battles and work things out amongst ourselves. Many have tested this, oath, especially the Ehl-Indrah Rams who have no mountains or landbridge to contend with, and none return from those expeditions. The mountains that you crossed, we call the southern wall because they grew instantly icy and impossible to climb when we made our deal with the Dragons. Shortly after we made this agreement, the Empire was formed and peace came to our lands.” Beddigan listened enthusiastically, weaving this new information into what he knew of his own lands, the Dragons, and magic.
William spoke then, his voice carrying a queer edge that Beddigan recognized as a mix of fear and anger.
“Without this… binding oath with the Dragons, you would seek to conquer the lands South of you then. Our lands.” Beddigan’s eyes widened. He hadn’t even considered that undertone to the conversation. The Lord Regent eyed the Bear and spoke carefully, choosing his words in the diplomatic fashion that those that rule often do.
“We have expanded our Empire as far as we can in this part of the world. We seek only to be stewards of peace and bring prosperity to countries that could benefit from their alliance with us. Surely you can see that we do not seek to quest and conquer by that of the nations that we let stand alone from us. The Deer of Haven and the Rams of Ehl-Indrah have no quarrel with us. We trade peacefully with them and seek not to occupy their spaces.” Beddigan nodded, but kept his eyes on William to see the Bear’s reaction. After a few beats of near silence, with only the crackling of the fireplaces, the Bear nodded curtly. Beddigan swallowed a sigh of relief.
Ragnon had been oddly quiet, so he snuck a peek at his friend who was softly snoozing. He looked to the Lion hurriedly, worried that the Wolf had offended the Lord Regent. He saw only laughter in in Lion’s eyes.
“Your friend has imbibed a bit much it seems.” The Lion said. He stood then before continuing. “The hour grows late, my friends. Let us take a cue from your friend there and adjourn for the night. We have exchanged much information this evening. In the morning, we will discuss what the Empire may be able to do to help you with your war.” He said, making his way to the large doors. Just as he was stepping out, he looked back at Beddigan with a small smile and added, “And what you can do for the Empire.” And with that he was gone, leaving the trio in the flickering light of the fireplaces.
To be continued…
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