Paperwork. Mounds upon mounds of paperwork. If he had to guess, Brayand Hathen would say that his primary duty as governor of the city of Alden was to act as scribe and secretary for nobility too self-important to do it themselves. Reports on trade between Alden and its partners, both within the Juralen valley and without. Reports on work done at the port. Requests for additional supplies to be allocated to the military. But of course, Brayand didn’t have to guess. For the past two years since his appointment to the governorship, that had become his primary duty.
He sighed, resting his head on his hands as he leaned over the massive wooden table before him. The ancient oak table sat in the center of what once had been the throne room of the High King of Juralen. Now, it served little purpose beyond a meeting place for the council of nobles. The chamber was long, capable of holding well over one hundred men with ease. Large balconies extended from the eastern and western walls, allowing views of the city to the east, and the Ilandrian Sea to the west. Graceful arches rose and fell across the wall, revealing the outer areas while providing shelter to the interior.
Had any of the ancient kings seen this day, they would have mourned. Of this, Brayand was sure. Where once had sat men and women of renown, whose very words could turn the tides of battles and empires alike, now dwelt those whose titles came as inheritance alone. Their power was in their wealth, nothing more.
By the time the last of the line of kings had died, the nobles had divided the city amongst themselves. Political self-interest took the place of wisdom and justice. With no heir, and no desire to appoint another, the kingship faded into memory. The city governor was appointed to preside over the council of nobles, and life went on.
The door on the far wall opened, returning Brayand to the moment. The door’s enchanted hinges remained silent as it swept open, allowing Lord Sielvern to enter. He was adorned in his formal attire, almost complete green and silver. Silver embroideries of dragons crossed his chest and shoulders. Silver fire ran down green sleeves and pant legs. Brayand rose to greet him, forcing a smile despite his turmoil. Paperwork could come later.
As the younger man’s gaze found Brayand, he started slightly. “Lord Hathen,” he said, bowing hastily. “I apologize if I have interrupted your preparations.”
“Don’t worry,” Brayand said, bowing in return. Uncomfortable, Lord Sielvern’s eyes danced across the floor. “I know you are new to the council, but let me give you a word of advice. There is no good way to prepare for a council meeting, so it’s better not to search for one.”
Sielvern smiled faintly. Before he could respond, the door swung open again. Sharp, metal boots cracked across the stone floor. Brayand watched over Sielvern’s shoulder as Lord General Telinstrom entered the chamber. Short, graying hair shone in the dawning sunlight, in sharp contrast to his dark, shadowed eyes. His armor, blackened though it was, also gleamed in the sunlight. Upon his chest rested the symbol of his house, the rising sun divided by a sword, encircled by a golden ring.
“Speaking of which,” Brayand muttered, nodding towards the doorway. Sielvern opened his mouth to speak, then wheeled towards the door. As the lord general approached, Sielvern hastily bowed and shuffled out of the way. Telinstrom ignored the younger man. He planted himself before Brayand, saluting sharply, his fist across his chest. “Lord Hathen,” he said, his deep voicing ringing in the hall.
Brayand bowed. “Lord Telinstrom,” he responded, his baritone voice far subdued in comparison.
“I trust,” the general continued, “that you received my report?”
“Of course,” Brayand replied, gesturing to the table, his gaze never wavering. Sitting atop the piles of paper was the report in question, Telinstrom’s signature clearly placed at the bottom.
Telinstrom nodded, noting the gesture. His eyes remained fixed as well. “And you have read my suggestions on the expansion of the walls and barracks?”
“I have,” Brayand responded.
“Do you have any questions regarding the material?”
“My reasoning was clear to you?”
Lord Telinstrom did not allow so much as a waver in his voice, but Brayand felt the lord general brace himself. “Then, you will enact my proposals?”
Brayand allowed himself a sigh. Politics was over. “Lord general, you must know that construction of added fortifications is not a necessary cost. We have been at peace for generations. Of all the cities in the Empire, ours is more likely to require naval defenses than additional fortifications.”
Lord Telinstrom grimaced, his face clouded against the morning sun. “Lord Hathen, should we be faced with a military force against our city, out current defenses will not be sufficient. Our reliance on the peace of today is too great. We must consider the future.”
“The only enemy the Empire has is Tha’Haral,” Brayand countered, “hundreds of miles from here. Do you suggest the dwarves will march across the wastes of Baralen, through Seralia, deep into Juralen, all to besiege Alden?”
Lord Telinstrom straightened. His eyes burned hot, boring deep into Brayand. “Of course not,” he responded, his voice bitter. “But our land does not have a long history of peace. Suppose the Ilandri should take up arms again against us. We are not prepared for what they could bring against us.”
“True, but it is more likely that pirates will seek to take our port, than a military exercise be required at the scale you are describing.”
The two stared at each other for a moment, neither speaking. Lord Telinstrom’s face burned with anger; Brayand’s remained firm, revealing only what he wished to share. At last, the general said, “I would, of course, expect that yours is not the only voice that will speak regarding this matter.”
Inside his mind, Brayand groaned. It was always this way. When the governor was in favor of an action, it was presented privately to him. That way, it could be enacted as the will of the governor, without comment from the council. When he was against a motion, a vote was demanded. Why should he expect any different from the Lord General?
Rather than voice any of this, he responded, “Of course.”
Lord Telinstrom nodded, his face stern, then walked past Brayand without further comment, taking his seat at the table. As he sat, the door opened for Lord Albindor, the harbormaster. His face bore his signature wiry beard, worn by the sun and the sea to the color of rust. His smile accentuated his round face, filling the chamber with his presence as he entered.
“Ah, Sielvern!” he called out upon entering. “I was hoping I could talk with you, before our dreadful council convenes once again.” As he spoke, his hand reached for his beard, stroking it gently, pulling at its hairs one by one.
Sielvern turned to Brayand, his face contorted into a question. Brayand laughed under his breath. “An omen of much talk of little importance,” he whispered.
Albindor came up behind Sielvern, grabbing the man’s arm under his own. “Let me tell you what captain Geander found off our coast recently. As records keeper, I am quite certain you will want to hear this.” Without waiting for protest, he dragged Sielvern towards the western balcony, his tale already starting to unfold. “It was like something out of legends…”
The rest came in quick succession: Lord Dausilund, Lord Nerison, Lady Elisten, and Lord Laisonen. Each of them wore their house crest in some fashion. They spoke quietly amongst themselves, their voices overwhelmed by Albindor’s booming voice, even from the balcony. “And then the sailor nearly fell off the ship…”
Brayand approached Lord Nerison, who sat alone at the table, parchment in hand.
“Lord Nerison,” Brayand began, “I’m glad to see you again. Your presence has been missed in the council.”
Lord Nerison looked up, startled by the interruption. “Thank you, Lord Hathen,” he replied. “It was a long journey from Nostovol, but I believe it was worth the trip. Although I am grateful to be home again.” He paused, setting down the parchment. “The lady Alisandria sends her regards to you, of course,” he added, smiling.
Brayand smiled, more forced than not. “I hope you conveyed my own,” he said.
“Of course I did,” Nersion replied. “She looks forward to your next visit to her city.”
“I’m certain she does,” Brayand said, sighing. Nerison chuckled. “Where did she get this notion?”
“Perhaps her father suggested it,” the nobleman said. “He always wanted stronger bonds with Alden. A union between you and his daughter would do just that.”
Brayand shook his head at the idea. “Such an alliance is too great a threat to the region.” He looked up at the head of the table, where the ancient Juralen throne sat empty. “It would assert a right to the throne.”
“Perhaps,” Nerison said, “but that may be his objective. Many in the north would support an effort to restore Juralen independence. Karden, Mesoshire, and Leden have all voiced objections against the Empire in recent months.”
Brayand sighed. “How is Lord Nostovol?” he asked.
“His health continues to wane,” Nerison responded, his face somber. “The royal healers do not expect him to last another year. They tell me that by winter, he will pass.”
“It’s a shame,” Brayand noted. “He would have preferred death with a sword in his hand.”
Nerison scoffed. “So long as he wasn’t fighting one of the Juralen kingdoms,” he said flatly.
Before the governor could respond, his attention was drawn away to the door, which again swung open. Through came the final member of the council, High Mage Liatur. His stride conveyed both confidence and power, his leather boots clicking gently. Compared to the nobility, his clothing was quite lacking: white silken shirt with metal buttons, a blue robe bearing no marking save a silver feather embroidered on the shoulders, plain pants of no particular color. In his hand, Liatur bore a sturdy wooden staff, etched from top to bottom in runes. His black hair was cut short, as was his beard. His blue eyes radiated unshakable power.
The room fell silent as the high mage stepped through the door, leaving only Lord Albindor’s voice to echo in the chamber. All bowed from where they stood, those already seated rising to do so. Had an outside been present, Brayand suspected they would take Liatur to be the true ruler of the city.
“Welcome, high mage,” Brayand said.
Liatur bowed slightly. “Thank you, lord governor,” he responded. “I have come with a message from Archmage Velsyph regarding our recent request for expanded facilities in Alden.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Brayand could see Lord Telinstrom’s burning gaze. The governor ignored it. “Then let us convene, and hear his message.”