The Meaning of Loyalty

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Chapter 1: Tziala in the Library

“Are you pleased to be going home, Your Grace?” The sandy-haired man who was Ilyich Vondokryl, Lord Chancellor of Tziala, inquired.

“Yes, Excellency. Very much so… which is not to imply that my stay here or your hospitality has been deficient in any way.” Tertius glanced around at the library they sat in; the shelves and cupboards filled with scrolls, books and documents of all kinds seemed to insulate them from the heavy opulence of the rest of the Vetrovol Palace. It was one of the few places in which Tertius could almost forget that he was in Tziala and imagine he was home instead. Soon he wouldn’t have to. Soon he would be home. The thought was alien to him, after two years in Tziala.

Ilyich inclined his head briefly, his brows drawn low in the thoughtful frown that had etched his face with many worry-creases over the years. “Of course, from my perspective it is a pity you shan’t be staying longer. There are some issues about Solnian and Tzialan trade-waters that need to be worked out, and some other concerns that I should like to put to rest…”

“But the time we have had Namrik has been quite productive, Excellency, as I’m sure you’ll agree.” Petrov’s voice descended from above them, and Tertius leaned back on his elbows to look up at the young baron.

“Namrik indeed,” he said, with mock offense. When Petrov had initially called Tertius ‘namrik’, (which he had eventually discovered was a Tzialan word for a young boy entering primary school for the first time) he had meant it as an insult. Now even the servants used the moniker as if it were a title of great respect, although Tertius still wasn’t sure they weren’t all participating in a giant joke on him. “At least I have taught you that there are some good Solnians.”

“Ha!” Petrov sniffed scornfully. “I still think you are all untrustworthy, lying cowards, and… and you…” He paused.

“And?” Tertius prompted, savoring the moment as Petrov floundered for something to say. Two years ago, he could have thrown insults at Solnians all day long.  

“-And I shall refrain from going on. It would be disrespectful and wasteful, in view of the limited time the esteemed Ambassador of Solnia remains with us.” Petrov took an easy way out. He started to give a ceremonial bow, but became distracted in the middle of it. “I have heard that you are planning to take your pet orphan with you?”

“Dmitri? Yes, he’s coming with me.” Sensing Ilyich’s interest, Tertius turned to the older man and explained, “I did get permission from the proper authorities – you have no cause to worry that I shall abduct any of your citizens.”

“Well, that is a relief, because that exact worry is the reason my hair turns gray.” Ilyich said dryly. “Is this the same little street mongrel who tried to rob you the day you arrived in Solnia?”

Tertius grinned and Petrov broke in, answering for him, “Oh yes, and to my mind, if anyone tried to leave this Dmitri behind, he would swim the whole sea in order to follow Namrik.”  

“Still, after two years? Such constant loyalty is a blessing.” Ilyich said thoughtfully, his vague gaze focusing on one of the chairs that none of them were using. They fell silent, and for a moment there was no sound except three people breathing and the almost-audible sound that came from the torch-flames as they flickered.

It was completely possible that he might depart on his ship and never set foot in Tziala again, as long as he lived, Tertius realized. He might never again set eyes on Ilyich, or Petrov, or any of the people his life had revolved around for the past two years. It was a strange thought, and it caused a strange, twisted feeling in his stomach.

True, most of his time in Tziala had not been so peaceful. He had dined with foreign princes. He had tersely exchanged lies with fellow diplomats while trying to seem pleasant and at ease. At the beginning, at least, he had engaged constantly in the exhausting dance of saying exactly what he wanted to say and making sure his translator repeated it correctly; now he had a rather good grasp of the Tzialan language, and he relied on translators only in emergencies. Tertius had not liked all of Tziala. He had looked with bitterness on the gray color of the land, comparing it unfavorably with the greenness of home, and had hated the constant dry cold that made his lips bleed and his skin itch.

Now though, he was in the library with Ilyich and Petrov, and right now Tziala was the warm glow of the torches, the thick carpet beneath him, and the books and parchments that surrounded them. Tziala was Ilyich and Petrov, two people whom he trusted, despite the fact that they were governed by different rules and answered to a different liege than he did. He knew he should be glad to be returning home. He was glad to be returning home, in a way. It was just that now seemed so real and vibrant, and home was so… far away.

Muffled footsteps on the carpet sounded behind them, but no one turned until the man’s voice said, “His Grace the Duke of Armerus’s transport is ready.”

Well, that was it. Everything had been packed and loaded yesterday and they had simply been waiting for the ships to prepare to sail. Now there was nothing to do but leave. When Tertius and Ilyich stood up, Petrov said, “I shall write to you, and you had better return the favor, Namrik.”

“Oh, I shall, but I fear my correspondence will be rather boring compared to plotting in the library,” Tertius replied. Nothing truly honest could be exchanged in correspondence between nobility of different nations over such a distance – far too dangerous.

“Do it anyway.” Petrov commanded gruffly, and Tertius nodded.

“I shall miss your presence, Your Grace. The court will be less enjoyable, less honest, and far less interesting without you.” Ilyich said.

“Oh, I am sure.” Tertius gave a wry smile, conscious of the entertainment his improper directness and his many blunders had afforded the Tzialan court since his arrival, but he still felt the pleasant heaviness of the wise Lord Chancellor’s praise. Swallowing, he promise, “I will write, Petrov, and – and… I shall try to put to good use what I have learned in my stay, Excellency.”

There was nothing left to say. Tertius bowed to Ilyich. He embraced Petrov. Then he turned and took his leave, following the man out the door and leaving Tziala behind him in the library.