The council chamber emptied quickly that morning. Everyone, Brayand included, was intent on reaching the final festivities before they were over. Liatur could understand this. He, too, was proud of the accomplishments of the Empire to establish a lasting peace. But a celebration, a gathering, was not at the height of his interests at present.
He remained in his seat, staring at letters and documents from the past weeks, letters he had received from Arhals. Not that they had been sent in such a form, of course; the wizards of the Empire needed not rely on such rudimentary forms of communication. Rather, Liatur had written them down himself, in order to share with the council.
First, the letter approving the expansion of the wizard’s tower. Next, the document advising of the arrival of dwarven stone. There were others, relating goings on in the capital and elsewhere, but all of it seemed to be lacking substance. It was as if the archmages had begun to consider Alden an afterthought, instead of the seat of humanity it truly was.
When Liatur had first arrived in Alden, he had not considered the ancient city as such. Born in the northern city of Danental, he had been raised believing that Arhals was the epicenter of all, that nothing important could ever take place beyond its hallowed walls. There, Argantin himself dwelled, and blessed his chosen people.
Yet the people of Alden did not see it that way. Within the ancient walls of their city, they clung to their history, their identity, as if it were more precious than gold. Here, they said, was the first bastion of humanity. From this place, humankind spread across the World. What greater legacy could there be?
Liatur frowned. Whether Alden’s history was true or not, it was vital to the region. To disregard it so was unthinkable. Soon, the Arcanum would feel it, if they weren’t already.
“Reviewing your notes, high mage?” Liatur’s eyes looked upward as the voice spoke. Before him stood Lord Telinstrom, his face a mask. Dressed in his formal attire, he appeared almost regal, such as one might expect from true nobility.
Liatur nodded tersely. “Letters from Arhals,” he said, in explanation. “Mostly regarding the work on the tower.”
Telinstrom nodded slightly, but said nothing. There was nothing that had not been said in the past council meetings. The lord general had made his opinion quite clear regarding the matter.
“We live in a golden age,” Liatur noted, skipping past the unspoken remarks. “Such a time as ours has never come before. The weapons of the past…”
“Are not your expertise,” Telinstrom interrupted. “Nor are the needs of our people.”
Liatur frowned, but did not let the interruption stop him. “The weapons of the past are not required today. Alden will not face an armed assault again. The wars of the future will be of the mind, and the arcane.”
Telinstrom’s expression darkened, if such a thing were possible. “Tell that to Baralen,” he said bitterly. “Tell that to the scores of men, women, and children massacred by the dwarven armies as they swarmed down the mountainsides. Tell that to the city of Bên Haral, razed to the ground while innocent blood was spilled.” He closed his eyes, lowering his head to regain composure. Liatur suspected the general had not intended to show his emotions.
When he had settled himself again, the lord general continued, “I will not allow such atrocities to befall Alden. I will not allow the Empire to weaken our city, or our resolve.”
Liatur rose, meeting Telinstrom’s gaze evenly. He felt no malice towards the man. To the contrary, he admired Telinstrom’s spirit and determination. Choosing his words carefully, Liatur responded, “What happened in Baralen was a travesty that should never have been allowed. We were caught off guard, unable to predict the dwarvish invasion. New defenses have been established along the border of their lands, so that we do not misjudge them again.”
“The dwarves should never have been allowed to cause such ruin,” Telinstrom repeated. “You tell me that the Empire is watching them now, keeping them at bay?”
“But what of other threats to our lands?” Telinstrom asked. “What of those that we cannot yet see? What of our enemies that are yet to lift a sword against our peace? How can you defend against that which has not yet been born?”
Liatur did not answer. Telinstrom gestured towards the letters on the table. “All of this means nothing, if we cannot defend ourselves. Build your tower, but remember that it is my sword, and the swords of Alden, that will ensure it does not fall. Not spellcraft.” Without another word, Lord Telinstrom turned on his heel, and marched out of the council chamber.
Frowning, Liatur glanced towards the letters again. Telinstrom’s voice continued to echo in his mind, as he gathered them together, folded them gently, and placed them inside his satchel.
Perhaps not all within the Empire saw the benefits of the wizards, or the arcane. But few spoke so harshly to a wizard of any rank, let alone a high mage. Lord Telinstrom could be a danger to the very city he swore to defend, if left unchecked. Liatur would need to speak with Brayand about this.
Leaving the council chamber, he heard cheers from below as the celebrations continued in the city square. Liatur had missed the start of the procession. He didn’t mind. His mind was turned towards what came next, not what had come before. The door silently shut behind him, as he made his way through the castle to the road down the sloping hillside.