Liars and magicians

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Being chief protector of the heir to the throne and head of palace security had its benefits, among them chambers in the palace with views across the valley. Fenris spent most of his time there when not on official business in the city or farther afield, taking advantage of the proximity to his ward and to the security offices below ground. But despite the undeniable comfort of living atop the mesas, he had never considered the well-appointed rooms in the palace to be a home. They were an extension of his work, which as the years had spun slowly by had grown to consume most of his waking life.

Fenris Silt had another house in the city, on the outskirts of the poor quarter, near to the river. It had belonged to his parents, handed down to him as it had been to them, and though he seldom found cause to return there it was still the place where his thoughts returned to when the stresses of his duties began to feel overwhelming.

As he sat in the back of a chariot, bumping its way down the winding road of the south mesa, he gazed idly out through the meshed window at the passing streets and houses. The military barracks gave way to ambassadorial residences, then to the wealthy cliff side abodes, which gradually decreased in extravagance as his ride descended into mass of the city. After twenty minutes the automated vehicle came gently to a halt, refusing to go further and risk a journey into the less prosperous parts of the city. The door popped open and steps clicked out and into place. Barely a second after Fenris stepped onto the ground the steps retracted, the door closed  and the vehicle wheeled away on its return journey to the plateau high above. Fenris brushed down his coat and straightened his wide-brimmed hat. The sun was high, beating down upon the stones of the buildings and the dust and dirt of the street. He walked through markets, inhaling the smells of spice and fruit and bread, resisting the urge to stop and sample and instead maintaining his course towards the river. His gait was not one of a man in his late seventies but of a spry sixty-year old. He knew that time - or perhaps mesa life - had been kind to him.

As he crossed the bridge he could see the old house, perched on the edge of the water and nestled in a terrace between many others, the lines of their roofs undulating with the terrain and the withering of shifting foundations. It had been many months since his last visit, perhaps even a year. The intervals between visits had been lengthening each time, as his duties increasingly demanded more of his attention. When he had first been promoted to a high position in the court as a young man, he had resisted moving to the palace, insisting that he could only protect the king if he understood the people living in the city below. Somehow, at some point, that notion had gone by the wayside and he'd relented, settling for the luxuriance of mesa indulgence, while expending not inconsiderable effort convincing himself that it was practicality rather than indulgence that drew him there.

Reaching the front door, on the far side of the building from the river, he unlocked it with the heavy key and pushed against the creaking, reluctant hinges. The base of the door brushed an arc of dust and rat droppings aside as he entered.

Inside all was gloom, with only pinprick shafts of light managing to infiltrate through the shutters over the windows. Fenris could afford to pay for a housekeeper but there seemed little point; and besides, he didn't want anybody else poking around in the memories of his parents' house.

Firmly closing and locking the door behind him, he advanced inside, not bothering to open the shutters or light candles. He could find his way around in complete darkness if need be, the layout etched into his mind from childhood. Even in the dimness memories were triggered, recalling happy days of working with his mother and father, training and preparing for his application to the city guard. Thus had begun his long and, as it turned out, illustrious career. They had pushed him towards it, insisting that it was the best choice for him, never knowing what they were really requesting, or the inevitable toll.

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