In Brayand’s experience, the coming of a high-ranking official from the Seralian plains to Alden was generally regarded as a moment of celebration. The arriving party, well over one hundred individuals, would begin to blare trumpets announcing their approach as soon as the city was within their sight. As Alden sat at the lowest point of a valley, its castle placed atop a crag-ridden hill all its own, this was generally before anyone from the city could see them.
As the band would approach, riders would be sent to the city, each wearing the banner of the particular city or lord over their cloaks. These, too, bore trumpets, responding at intervals to the main group’s chorus. Upon reaching the gates, they would dismount, often without slowing their steeds, then their leader would read the formal declarations requesting entrance to the city.
The declarations, written before the Empire’s existence, invoked the names of kings and princes long dead, and the oaths that they made to bring about the end of conflict between Juralen and Seralia. Only once permission was given, the riders would turn, and announce to the main group that they may approach.
Once the prince set foot within the city, he would bow, and swear to cause no harm to the throne of the High King for as long as he remained within the city. Then, the highest authority, such as the city governor, would likewise swear that the visiting party would be treated as citizens of Juralen, equal to its own people. It was only after this, that anything could take place.
Many, including Brayand, found the custom awkward and outdated, and yet it continued. In his time as governor, twenty such visits had taken place. Princes from Leden, Valience, Raelia, Astellia, and Keto had come as diplomats, seeking an audience with the council, or wishing to conclude a trade deal in person. At least one time, Alden had taken part in this twice in two weeks, as a noble from Astellia had made his way to the Daelin islands. In every instance, it had caused confusion and turmoil as nothing else could have.
It was for this reason, that Brayand stood, awe-struck, as he watched three horses, bearing the banner of Keto, approached the city gates without a trumpet in sight. Besides being so few in number, the governor also noted that there was not a single trace of the rest of their party, who also remained conspicuously silent. When the riders had been spotted, Brayand had moved to stand just outside the gate to greet them, with two knights flanking him on either side. Standing as he did, it was he that felt out of place.
The lead rider of the trio slowed as he approached, dismounting as his mount turned to the side. He landed gracefully, bringing himself upright in an instant, his shoulders back. His face was worn from the sun, any remaining youthfulness worn away by years of travel and the stress of life. His black hair curled upon itself, retaining the appearance of a recent trim despite its length. His beard entwined itself in much the same way. His clothing was thick and rugged, but it took no master of tailoring to recognize the careful work poured into each stich and crest.
He stepped quickly towards Brayand, taking a knee before him. Without bowing his head, he said, “On behalf of the people of Keto, I ask permission to enter the city of Alden.”
Brayand started, although only the man before him seemed to notice. His mouth turned upwards in a small smile as the governor fumbled for words. “As governor of the city of Alden, we welcome you and your companions,” he managed.
“Excellent!” The man rose, almost jumping to him feet, then clapped Brayand on the shoulder. “Governor, you said? Then you’re Lord Brayand Hathen?”
Brayand nodded. “I take it that you are Torel Rator?”
“No, he is my father,” the man admitted as the other two riders dismounted nearby. “He sends his regards, but regrets that he is otherwise occupied and cannot be here during the celebrations. He is leading an expedition to the Baralen refugees to bring them new clothes and additional food.” He extended his hand to Brayand. “My name is Niel Rator, prince of Keto.”
Brayand shook the prince’s hand. “Well, Niel, welcome to Alden.”
The governor dismissed his knights, the formal welcoming clearly not about to take place any longer. As the other two approached, Niel extended his arm towards them. “Let me introduce my companions, elders Helin and Benan.” The two others bowed.
Brayand returned the gesture. “Welcome,” he said to them.
The woman spoke first, “Thank you, Lord Hathen. I have looked forward to visiting Alden for some time.”
“Then let’s not waste time with standing around,” Niel interrupted. To Brayand, he whispered, “She’s been looking forward to this visit since the arrangements began.”
“I see,” the governor responded. Louder, he added, “May I give you a tour? It would be my pleasure,” he added, as Helin started to protest.
“Lead the way!” Niel said enthusiastically, wrapping his arms around the two elders. Helin smiled faintly as he guided them through the city gates, Brayand jogging to stay ahead of the group.