The sound of a gavel echoed through the expansive chamber as Lindin entered. The seat of the Grand Senate, the greatest authority of the old Republic of Halsland, was packed with men and women from all walks of life. Along all four walls, rows upon rows of benches lined the chamber, sloping downwards until they reached the center square. It was here that Argantin himself had appeared to humanity, and began the formation of the Empire. Here, it did not matter one’s station in life. All had a voice, be they wizard or commonfolk.
Not that it had truly been that way in Lindin’s lifetime. In this age, it was more a way for the commonfolk to hear what the wizards were up to. The true power remained in the archmages, and in Argantin himself. They met in the highest of all the towers, the Arcanum, and there determined the future of the Empire. The Senate was needed only for ratification.
Lindin made his way through the crowds, searching for Velsyph. He watched as the commonfolk pushed by one another, elbows and shoulders colliding in uncomfortable or unpleasant ways. His path remained free of such abuses, those before him clearing the way without a word. He stepped quickly, moving down the long stairways, the roar of voices echoing in his ears. At last, as he scanned the seats closest to the center of the chamber, he saw his former mentor’s gray hair and familiar features.
The archmage seemed to notice him as well. Looking in Lindin’s direction, he stood, waving his arms in beckoning. Lindin continued to move through the crowds, finding gaps as they appeared among the commonfolk. A couple of merchants, quite wealthy by appearance and engaged in negotiations, failed to notice as he approached. The wizard nearly crashed into them, distracted by the figures appearing on the central floor.
At their head was Speaker Amolieth the Glorious, the voice of Argantin among mortals. Lindin had never seen her before, but everyone in the Empire knew her at once. It was said that she remained in constant communion with the All-Knowing, so that she might reveal his will to the people. Dressed in a golden gown, covering her completely from head to toe, the Speaker radiated arcane power with each movement. A silver hue seemed to follow as she stepped onto the podium.
Behind her followed others of the higher courts of the Empire: archmages, judges, ambassadors, governors, all manner of other authority figures. Each wore the most formal outfits, and filled with power that anyone could sense within the chamber. Lindin was certain that, save Argantin himself, the gods could never appear in such grandeur as these.
The merchants, however, seemed not to notice, and continued to bicker. “You’ll pay me a fair price, or you’ll never see your seedlings arrive.”
“You thief!” the second barked, jabbing the first in the chest. It was at this time that Lindin walked into them, his eyes fixed on the stage below. “Hey! Watch where you’re… oh.” The two men backed away from each other, bowing hurriedly. Neither said another word until Lindin had passed, even then keeping their voices muted.
At last, Lindin reached the row where Velsyph was seated. However, the old archmage, who had seemed so eager at his appearance, was looking in the opposite direction. At the far end of the bench stood another archmage, dressed in a pale green robe, a hood over his head. Velsyph said something to him that Lindin couldn’t hear, then extended his arm towards the man.
Removing his hood, Lindin saw that the man was an elf. His tall, pointed ears stood far above the crest of his head, while silver hair trailed down and over his shoulders. His face was worn, but Lindin could not determine his age. The elf smiled, moving towards Velsyph. The archmage rose as he approached, and soon the two embraced warmly.
Lindin stepped up to the pair as they released each other. “Good afternoon, master,” he said, mustering energy that he did not feel. The last week of training had taken more out of him that he’d expected.
Velysph turned to see where the voice came from. “Oh my, Lindin! You startled me!” Pointing to Lindin, he said to the elf, “This is the apprentice I was telling you about. His name is Lindin.”
The elf bowed deeply, until his ears pointed directly at the younger wizard. “A pleasure to meet you, high mage Lindin.” Lindin froze. As the elf stood upright, he continued, “My name is Veladion, of the Suin elves. I have been a friend of your former master since his own elevation to high mage.”
“Has it really been that long?” Velsyph asked, frowning. The frown was quickly replaced with laughter between the two. “Come, sit! I’m glad my messenger found you, Lindin. I wasn’t sure you’d even be working today.”
Lindin took a seat next to the archmages. “Harsen gave me the rest of the day off. I suspect your new apprentice spoke with him first.”
“My new apprentice?” Velsyph asked quizzically. “I don’t have a new apprentice.” He turned his eyes downward. “Do you mean my messenger?”
Lindin nodded. “He introduced himself as your apprentice.”
Velsyph laughed under his breath. “He would, I suppose. No, he’s just one of the many hopefuls that saw your promotion as an opportunity. With so many young and promising wizards coming and going, it makes finding someone for simple tasks much easier than I expected after your promotion.”
The younger wizard sighed in relief. Veladion bent towards Velsyph’s shoulder, and the pair continued speaking in hushed whispers not meant for a high mage’s ears. Their conversation was soon cut short by another bang of the gavel. “Let the hall come to order!” boomed the voice of the chief justice. He sat behind a desk wrought from a single block of marble. All around him, the air hummed with energy, carrying the sounds of the central podium across the Senate.
Immediately, the commonfolk’s banter quieted, and seats were taken. After two more strokes from the gavel, the chief justice rose. “This session of the Grand Senate of Arhals is now in session. Presiding in this session is Speaker Amolieth. I will be conducting the proceedings.”
And off went the meeting. First, a list of those wizards receiving promotions to the ranks of high arcanist and archmage. The names were followed by the regions of the Empire from which they came – Suin, Juralen, Seralia, Baralen, Nivalien. One name was read from Daelia, another from Avaelan. As each was read, Lindin yearned once again for the chance to travel the Empire, and see each of these lands. The highlands of Halslad were beautiful, to be sure, but they were not enough for the young wizard.
Once the names had all been read, time was given to others to speak of various matters: the state of the treasury, the spellweave, commerce between Arhals and the rest of the Empire, and so on. One archmage, Lindin missed which one, spoke at length regarding the state of the Baralen territories.
“It is unfortunate,” he began, “that I must announce that negotiations over the recovery of the Baralen territory have ended without success. The dwarves of Tha’Haral have stated, in no uncertain terms, that the territory belongs to their people, and that its true inhabitants will not be allowed to return.
“Due to this unfortunate turn of events, our ambassadors have been recalled from their capital, and all high-level communications with Tha’Haral has ceased. We plan to apply sanctions on Tha’Haral, limiting trade and travel between Argantin and their nation. These sanctions will be made public in three days, by regular channels.”
“That won’t do any good,” Veladion murmured softly. “The Seralian plainsmen rely on trade with the dwarves.”
“I’m certain that it will be taken under consideration,” Velsyph responded, his voice barely more than a whisper.
Veladion gave him a hard look, but Lindin missed any meaning in it. The archmage below continued to speak of military movements within Baralen territory, and coordinated movements between the Empire and its allies in Noran and Avaelan. Brief mention was given to humanitarian efforts for the Baralen refugees.
A few more speakers came and went, delivering their reports with a practiced ease. Lindin’s thoughts wandered, trying to determine how long he had been seated. At last, the Speaker arose from her throne, and approached the podium. Utter silence gripped the Senate chamber, as every man, woman, and child present turned their eyes to the one chosen to speak for the All-Knowing.
“People of Argantin,” she began, raising her arms high above her, gesturing outward to the onlooking gathering, “this is a most glorious day for our nation. Those who live under the banner of Argantin have privileges and freedoms never before seen on the face of this World.” He voice was lilting, almost melodic, demanding attention not by force, but by its kindness. Having never head the Speaker in person, Lindin felt entranced by the music of it.
She continued to praise the achievements of the Empire: its cities, its trade, its economy, its exploration of the World, its command of the arcane, its understanding and learning of knowledge. At the end of each sentence, she paused, her eyes flowing across the Senate chambers. When she was finished, not a single person felt left out of the majesty that was the Empire. “Argantin is most pleased with all of our efforts,” she said, “and has promised that in a coming day, a glory that defies all that has come before will be bestowed upon our people. Let us continue in our labors, until the World has been reshaped by the All-Knowing into what it is meant to be.”
She bowed deeply, her arms still raised above her head. The crowd remained silent until Amolieth had returned to her seat. The chief justice returned to the podium. “That will conclude our session for this afternoon. Any who wish to have their voices heard may remain, and we will commence after a brief intermission.” The gavel struck the podium three times, ending the spell of silence upon the chamber.
At once, the crowd awoke, and voices young and old began to speak again. Velsyph stretched, placing his hands on his thighs. “Well, that was a very worthwhile session, wouldn’t you say, Lindin?”
Before Lindin could respond, Veladion interrupted, “Yes, quite fascinating. Although I do wonder what the Speaker was referring to at the end of her remarks.”
Velsyph rose, shrugging, “I’m sure I don’t know any more than you, my old friend. Whatever it is, I’m sure we’ll be told more at the next gathering of the Arcanum.”
“Mm,” Veladion answered, frowning. He turned to Lindin, “Did you learn anything, Lindin?”
Lindin nodded, “Yes, archmage. I was concerned about the negotiations between the Empire and Tha’Haral.”
Veladion smiled, crossing his arms across his chest. “Interesting, wasn’t it? I wonder why negotiations would have failed. I suppose we won’t hear a report until the ambassadors’ return.” Turning to Velsyph, he said, “Now then, shall we find ourselves something to eat? I believe I was promised dinner with this visit.”
“Always concerned with dining arrangements, aren’t you, Veladion?” Velsyph chuckled. He grabbed Lindin’s arm. “It was good to see you again, my friend. Take care of yourself.” Lindin nodded. Velsyph squeezed his arm for a moment, then moved off with Veladion for the exit.