The last rays of the sun had long faded away as Brayand sat at his desk in his personal study. His paperwork, it seemed, followed him through the castle; littered across the desk, onto the floors, and tucked into bookshelves between ancient volumes lay the ever-present sheets of parchment demanding his attention. A sapphire, mounted into the desk, gleamed with a warming light, allowing Brayand to see even in the darkness of night.
A knock on the door drew the governor from his work. “Come in,” he called, rising to greet his guest. Through the door came Lord Albindor, his expression cheery. “Lord Albindor,” he said, “what are you still doing here so late?”
“I was taking a walk. I figured I would stop by and say hello.” Albindor said, moving further into the room. Brayand knew it was a lie, but he didn’t pursue the point. With Castle Alden perched well over hundreds of feet above the port, let alone not exactly close to the harbors, it was highly unlikely that the older man just happened to be stopping by.
“It seems a decent night for a walk,” Brayand noted, glancing out the window. High above, the stars glittered in the sky, their light descending upon the city like rainfall.
Albindor nodded. “On the seas, the nights are almost perfect. But a ship’s too small for stretching your legs.”
The conversation faded away into silence. Brayand looked back to his desk, then back out the window. He had known the man for most of his life, and still, conversations over important matters were difficult at worst, awkward at best. As the tension grew, Brayand suspected this would be one of the latter.
“That was a dangerous play you made today, Brayand,” the harbormaster said abruptly, his tone sharper than normal. His cheery countenance faded as he spoke the words.
“I know that you and Telinstrom don’t work well together,” he continued, finding a chair amidst the cluttered workspace. “In fact, I believe that all of Alden knows that. You don’t need to be a wizard to see the growth of the markets and the ports, at the expense of the military.”
Brayand frowned. This was not the direction he had anticipated. “Our defenses are not a concern at present. If war should come to the Empire, it will be far from here. Unless you’ve heard something from the Daelish captains I should be aware of?”
Albindor chuckled, pulling gently at his beard. “I’ve heard new reports of pirates on the outer islands, it’s true. However, I think we have nothing to fear. Our fleet is capable of defending us as it stands.” He leaned closer to Brayand. “But that’s not the point. You made a fool of Telinstrom twice today. The first was in private, but I could feel his embarrassment from the other side of the room. The second was before the entire council.”
“Would you have done differently? Accepted his new fortifications?”
Albindor leaned back in the chair, nibbling on his lower lib. “If it were me,” he said, “I don’t believe I would have, no. But let me ask you this: of everything that makes Alden great, which is the greatest? Telinstrom would tell you that it is the people of Alden, the individuals that make up our city. He believes that if he had been around during the wars before the Empire, he could have led the people of Alden to rule the entire Juralen valley, Ilandri, and Halslad, all without any magic or wizardry.”
“I wouldn’t doubt it,” Brayand agreed.
Albindor raised a finger. “But,” he said, “when the governor of Alden agrees to build a tower for foreigners, rather than improve the defenses that protect our people, that doesn’t sit well with him. He sees that as an insult to the people of Alden.”
“Alden belongs to the Empire,” Brayand began, “we have no say in the construction.”
“That right there is the problem, in his eyes,” Albindor said, sitting forward again. “Alden belongs to the people of Alden, not to the Empire.” The older man sighed, lowering his head. “I’m sorry, Brayand. I know you’re in a difficult position. Your father struggled for years with Lord Telinstrom. He and I spent hours debating what to do about him. In the end, he probably got more from us than he ever should have.”
Brayand nodded. “I understand,” he said. “but I don’t intend to fight against him. He is an excellent general. Should the Empire ever require Alden’s strength in combat again, Telinstrom will lead it, just as he always has. But in this situation, he was wrong. There’s nothing more to it.”
Lord Albindor sighed. “Please be careful, that’s all I ask,” he said, raising himself from his chair. He shook out his coat. “I’m sorry if I disturbed your evening in any way. But remember, Telinstrom has allies throughout the city. One way or another, he manages to get what he wants in the end.” Before Brayand could respond, he ducked through the door, closing it softly behind him.