I was locked in the dungeon. They had been unable to remove my armour so the guard was watching me intently, or perhaps he was simply surprised to see a living draconian. It was entirely posible, given the confidence they had in their ability to construct a sturdy prison. The dungeon was built into a cave. The elves had used steel to forge the bars. Each corner of the bars was reinforced with a leech crystal. The guard post consisted of a desk and cabinet carved out of the stone. There were no other prisoners in sight. Footsteps came toward my cell from the entrance.
The white silk robes that my visitor wore, added to the fact that four guards surrounded him, led me to the conclusion that I was looking at the elven Royal One.
“Why did you come to Het Wald?” He did not waste any time on formalities.
“I was simply passing through on my way to Strecner.”
“Where were you going with my daughter?”
So, that was why Lynai had been running. I should not have allowed her to accompany me. Perhaps being completely forthright would somewhat assuage his suspicions. “We were travelling together until we reached the egress.”
“Why? What did you intend for her?”
“She asked me to let her accompany me. I saw no rational reason to deny her request. I was not aware that she was your daughter. She did not inform me of her surname.”
He turned his back to me. “When you’re ready to tell the truth you can let my guard know. Until then you can rot here.”
“I am telling the truth.” He ignored me and continued on his way out of the prison, followed by his entourage.
Within minutes of his departure the guard brought me a meal. It consisted of two biscuits, a glass of water and two carrots. As I consumed the food, the water began to ripple. Illyana’s face soon formed in the water’s surface. I knew that I was not hallucinating; the only alternative was a communication spell. “Hello Illyana,” I whispered in order to avoid being overheard by the guard.
“Michael,” Her voice started out distressingly high but quickly lowered. “Why are we whispering?”
“I am not in a position to speak freely.”
“I see. I’d ask why but the spell won’t last long. Sadow is coming to Wicadia.”
I felt my heartbeat accelerate. “You are certain?”
“Yes. The Magi are holding a meeting at the academy. If you can make it here you should be able to catch him. Don’t worry about the others I’ll…”
Illyana’s face vanished. The spell’s duration had ended.
That message made things abundantly clear. I would have to find a way to extricate myself.
The guest palace had been built out of stone on a hill that over-looked the main city. It was the only dead building in Het Wald. It was used for two things: diplomatic functions and ceremonies. I couldn’t help but wonder which one this counted as. It was surrounded by a fence. To reach the palace you had to follow the path up the hill and circle around the building to the gate. Currently the gate was wide open and I stood near it between father and Lais.
Father had fourteen rooms prepared: seven for our “honoured” guests and seven for servants. The palace could hold a hundred people, though. The guest rooms were large and luxurious. Each one had a small servant’s room next to it. Father wouldn’t tell me who the seventh suitor was.
Father had made me wear a heavy emerald coloured dress with matching jewellery. I fiddled with the jade broach that had been, supposedly, passed down for generations but looked brand new.
“You look lovely,” Lais whispered. “Don’t fidget so much.”
“I feel ridiculous,” I whispered back. “This kind of thing just isn’t me.”
We both looked as the first guest arrived. A heavy grey horse trotted to the gate. It was pulling a wooden cart with a passenger and bags inside. The rider was a clay golem. He gracelessly got off of the horse, barely managing to not fall on his face and nudged the snoring passenger awake.
The golem then bowed before us and said, in a deep booming voice, “Sir Steelspine Montgra of the dwarves has arrived.”
The dwarf trotted out of the cart. He was wearing a brown tunic and lots of jewellery. I noticed three necklaces, all gold. One was plain; the other two were decorated with small diamonds. He wore five rings, all with golden bands set with jewels. Two had amethysts, one had a ruby, and the other two had sapphires. He also had three bracelets. Two were on his left wrist; the other was on his right. They were all golden and decorated with garnet. In short, he looked like an ostentatious git. He had a long yellow beard that dragged on the ground. He was one hundred twenty seven centimetres tall.
He waddled forward and took father’s hand. “To see you is good. Where rooms be?”
“I understand that you’re tired from your journey. One of my servants will show you and your companion to your rooms.” Father gestured toward the palace door. The dwarf nodded at me and hurried inside. The golem followed, carrying the bags.
“Did something die in his tunic?” I asked. I waited until they were out of sight but I kind of hoped he’d hear.
“Lynai, that is inappropriate. Try not to offend our guests.” Father didn’t bother looking at me, instead he directed a servant to take the horse and cart to the stable.
“I waited to ask until he was gone didn’t I?”
“That isn’t the point…” The lecture was stopped by another arrival.
The coachman was a young troll boy. His tusks had barely begun to sprout. He stopped in front of us and, wordlessly, leapt down to open the coach’s door.
A barrel-chested troll got out. He was one hundred seventy five centimetres tall. His tusks were polished. He was wearing a thick, white robe.
“Thomas, it was good of you to come,” Father greeted.
The troll slapped him across the back. “No sweat. Thomas Frug treats his hosts proper.” He glanced at me. “Besides, the girl ain’t bad looking … for an elf.” He laughed loudly and then belched. “Me and the boy will settle in, then I’ll try for the prize.” I shot him a dirty look but I don’t think he noticed.
“Of course. One of my servants will lead you to your rooms.”
“Hey, thanks. Boy! Grab the bags!” Thomas walked inside, followed by the boy who was hampered by the weight of his master’s bags.
Father watched them move inside and began rubbing his back. He sent me a look that said “Be polite.” I restrained myself from answering with a rude gesture. There were still five more to go. It was already shaping up to be an arduous day.