The sun had, at last, fallen. Waiting for darkness had felt almost as frustrating as the delay in the man's arrival at Treydolain. But, at last, he was here. Fenris closed the window and retreated back into the palace, lifting his cloak from where it hung in the corner of his room and wrapping it around his head and shoulders. In a few short moments he had traversed the staircase and was in the entrance hall, then out onto the forecourt, the mesa stretching before him, all the way through the gardens and to the airship docks at the far end.
A safe route had already been cleared through which they could lead the man without drawing attention. It was a funnel inside of which guard patrols would be low, so that even palace staff would be largely unaware of the presence of the man from the south.
Everything that happened from that moment onwards would cause drastic shifts in valley society, he knew. King Guijus had to move his pieces just so, if he was to avoid instability spreading out from the traveller like a stone cast into a calm pond. The king had a notion of revealing the man to the rest of Lagonia in some kind of grand ceremony; the type of public event that gave Fenris restless nights.
First, though, they needed to get a measure of the man. Tranton Seldon was his name. Roldan had forwarded some information, though it was sparse and incomplete, offering only an out of context snapshot of a confident, stubborn man with a general distrust of authority and a resistance to responsibility. It didn't sound to Fenris like somebody to place on a pedestal.
Then there were the larger questions: how did he manage to cross the Barrier Mountains, a task long considered impossible? Had he come alone or was he part of a larger force, as yet undiscovered? Was he a man to revere, or to imprison? Perhaps a bit of both, Fenris mused. It was the question of his key achievement which intrigued Fenris; that of traversing a territory blocked for centuries by geologically inexplicable rock formations and predatory animals raised above their natural abilities and temperaments. What had changed to enable him to accomplish such a feat? Was his arrival the herald of further change, or was his achievement an isolated case of remarkable fortitude and luck?
Fenris grimaced. He disliked having so many unanswered questions.
It was an unusually cool night for the time of year, as if the airship bearing Roldan and his companion had also brought the glacial air. Fenris remembered Lagnin well and had fond memories of its people. He should visit there again someday, especially if Seldon's arrival proved to have positive consequences.
The airship was moored, floating effortlessly next to one of the piers which stretched out from the edge of the mesa, extending into space as the cliff dropped away. Its cargo had already been offloaded and the area was mostly deserted, the only sounds being the creaks of ships in their berths. There would be crews on the other moored vessels but they would be busy with their own business; the darkness should be sufficient to move Seldon to the palace. The ramp into the airship was open, warm, inviting light glowing from within the cabin. Two of the crew sat on crates outside, while another could be seen up on the top deck. Fenris knew each of them, of course, for they were all in his employ. They nodded wordlessly as he passed through into the interior.
The man, Tranton Seldon, was waiting, standing next to Roldan Stryke. Fenris cast his eye over the new arrival, careful not to betray his thoughts through facial tics or his posture. For there to be even the possibility of this encounter going well, he had to be friendly but honest; welcoming but sincere, in spite of his worries and uncertainties. In the official historical record there was little information about the old times, with the war between Lagonia and Hollanhead being nothing but half-mythical tales told to children to make them appreciate their life in the valley.
Seldon was tall, perhaps a head taller than Roldan, and broad shouldered. He carried a solidity about him, despite having supposedly been in the wilderness for years, other than a hint of gauntness around his face, half-hidden by a veneer of dark stubble. He was wearing traditional clothing sourced from Lagnin, with the addition of a long, worn and re-patched coat which looked as if it had accompanied him on his travels and somehow survived to tell the tale. Fenris noted a tool of some sort hanging loosely from the man's belt, looking perhaps like the handle of a hammer without its end. One of his hands was freshly bandaged, obscuring a wound of some sort. Roldan had reported that he had been delirious and on the verge of death when the villagers had found him. Whether the full extent of his journey was true or not, there was no doubting that he had undergone significant hardship prior to his arrival.
Then there was the man's skin, a rare sight in the valley. Even Fenris encountered others like him only very occasionally, when venturing below, and never skin as dark as Seldon's. There was significance to this simple aspect of the man's appearance, lending credence to his story and also resurfacing old tensions and historical, mostly forgotten scandals. There were reasons that Seldon's appearance was unusual in the valley; reasons which would be uncomfortable to explain to their new guest. That would have to be a conversation for another time.
Lowering the hood of his cloak, Fenris bowed slightly before the other two men. "My name is Fenris Silt," he announced. "I presume you are Tranton Seldon, our exciting new arrival." He turned to Roldan and nodded again. "It is good to see you returned to the capital, my friend."
"Fenris," Roldan acknowledged, nodding with a wry smile.
Seldon cocked his head slightly in an oddly feline movement, then took a step forward and outstretched his hand. "It's a pleasure, Fenris," he said. "I look forward to discovering your city and its people."
"It is not my city, Mr Seldon," Fenris said. "But it will be my honour to show you it, nonetheless."
Making a show of looking past Fenris to the open gangway, Seldon grinned. "So how do we do this, then?"
Fenris removed his cloak and held it out to the other man. "I must request that you wear this. Though I'm sure it wasn't your motivation, you arrival has many political and social ramifications. Your achievement is something to celebrate, but we need to tread cautiously and ensure that understanding prevails, rather than confusion."
"Yeah," Seldon said, "Stryke said something along those lines." He turned to Roldan. "'Fear drives people to unusual and terrible decisions', wasn't it?"
Roldan exchanged a quick, awkward glance with Fenris. Inwardly, Fenris sighed, wondering at the conversations the two may have had over alcohol during Seldon's convalescence in Lagnin. It was of no matter: the man was in Treydolain now, where Fenris could control the situation, though he sensed that Seldon was not a man to be ordered about or treated as a subject. He would have to brief the king accordingly to avoid any dissonance in their meeting. Fenris would, in the meantime, play to what he perceived as Seldon's strong individualist nature. It made sense, really - one would not venture into the wilds alone if they valued the input of others.
"I'm certain you have questions for us, as we do for you," he said. "So that you understand my intent: I have a room for you in the palace. You are not a prisoner, I should stress. You are free to go whenever you wish. However, I would make one more request of you: that you sleep at least one night here and hear what I have to say in the morning. Beyond that, your fate is your own."
"That's it?" Seldon looked between Fenris and Silt, eyebrows askance. "No interrogations? No hiding me away? No demands and orders?"
Fenris shook his head. "I prefer conversation, Mr Seldon."
"Well, then," Seldon said, taking the cloak and covering his head with it, "that just leaves me with my one request."
Roldan shifted his weight nervously and coughed slightly.
"Which is?" Fenris wondered at the man's proclivities. He knew almost nothing of the man himself and less of the Headland's culture - not counting vague reports from centuries prior. He had already prepared food, drink, women and men, both singular and in multiples, for this eventuality - they awaited in various rooms of the palace, ready to be delivered to Seldon.
Seldon shifted the cloak on his shoulders and stretched his neck. "A warm bath," he said. "Lagnin was a nice enough place, but they really skimp on the water heating."
YOU ARE READING
The Mechanical CrownFantasy
An explorer, a princess, a slave and a sword. A belief that the world can be better. The Mechanical Crown is an epic adventure full of intrigue, mystery and romance. When Tranton Seldon becomes the first to cross the mountains in hundreds of years...