Stale. That was the best word Lord Nerison could find for Lord General Telinstrom’s offices. Gray stone for walls, black curtains with a golden trim covering what windows existed, the cold wooden floors bare of any decoration. Only the crystals embedded in the walls provided any sense of color. Nerison had been in the rooms of lords and nobles across the Empire. This had to be the most dismal of them all.
Guards stood vigilant outside each doorway, despite a lack of actual need. Their armor appeared to absorb the dull light emanating from enchanted crystal, reflecting nothing at all. Upon their chests rested the crest of Alden, a rising sun over a green and blue field. A few knights moved about as well, dressed to match their General – black armor from head to toe, a golden ring divided by a sword placed over the right breast. None of them so much as acknowledged the noble as he entered the room, yet Nerison felt all eyes turn in his direction at once.
Nerison knew the way, of course. Nodding at the soldiers he passed, the lord moved down the corridors that led to Lord Telinstrom’s personal chamber. A guard opened the door for him as he approached, his eyes fixed into the middle distance as he did so.
“Lord Nerison,” the general greeted, warmth filling his words. The older man was smiling, a sight Nerison was not accustomed to seeing. “Welcome. I was just looking over our deployments.”
He waved his hand over the massive table sitting in the center of the room. Upon it sat a model of the city so detailed Nerison would have sworn it was an enchantment. Telinstrom, he knew, would never have permitted such. Each building, each rise and fall of the ground, each road had been replicated to exactness by the greatest artisans of Alden specifically for the use of the Lord General. Models of soldiers stood scattered across the city, exactly where their deployments took them. Nerison noted that the walls on the western side of the city had already been expanded to match last week’s request.
“Lord Telinstrom,” Nerison began, bowing slightly. “What can I do for you, Telinstrom?”
The lord general took a step towards him, his smile fading as he moved. “Your report on Nostovol concerned me. You said that the northern kingdoms seek independence from Arhals. Is that correct?”
Nerison nodded. “They have made proclamations suggesting a straining of relations between their kingdoms and the Empire, yes.”
Telinstrom took another step, his eyes turning towards the model of Alden. “Did you see any action by their militaries, any preparations for war with the Empire? Any suggestion that they may act against the Empire in any way?”
Nerison hesitated. As the ambassador of Alden, he was accustomed to political positioning. It was a core of his duty to the city. Telinstrom was not a regular ally of his in the council, but he was not an opponent either…
“There were more soldiers than I recall from my last visit,” he said cautiously. “I believe Lord Nostovol cited concerns over bandits hiding in the forests, striking out against the freeholds in the surrounding areas.”
Telinstrom nodded, his eyes fixed on the table, his feet moving deliberately around it. “What would you say is the cause of this sudden change in relations between Nostovol and Arhals?”
“Lord Nostovol was promised a great deal in return for his services during the northern campaigns. Extended autonomy, a path for his daughter into greater positions of authority in the Empire. He also sought a tax relief for his city and people, as a payment for services rendered. I suspect that the Empire’s failure to grant any of his requests has not helped matters.”
“I served with him during those campaigns,” Telinstrom murmured. “He was a strong general. His men followed him no matter the personal risk.” He stopped pacing, his face turning sharply to face Nerison. “But he’s dying.”
Nerison nodded. “During my visit, he only had the strength to see me once. He is not well at all.”
Telinstrom nodded. “It is not him, then that is directing these actions. Perhaps the military, or the other nobles.” His eyes remained fixed on Nerison. “Who governs Nostovol’s house if not him?”
“I was not able to determine this, frankly,” Nerison admitted. “My suspicion would be a small council, possibly of their generals, nobles, and his daughter.” Telinstrom turned back to the map, his eyes dancing as his face remained passive. “My lord, you aren’t considering an intervention between Nostovol and the Empire, are you?”
Lord Telinstrom said nothing, his hands now moving across the map, moving pieces from one end of the city to the other. “Thank you, Lord Nerison,” he said at last. “You have been most helpful.” Turning back to the noble, he smiled again.” I trust that our conversation will remain between us alone?”
Nerison bowed, “Of course, Lord Telinstrom.”
“Good.” The general bowed in return, his hand forming a salute over his chest. “I have urgent matters that I must attend to for the good of our people, but I will need your help in the near future.”
“I am at your service,” Nerison said, “as you are to us all.”
“Thank you.” Telinstrom smiled. Once again, as Nerison left the chamber, a sense of unease settled over his form. The staleness of the chambers must have gotten to him, the noble decided. Nothing more.