Festival spirit

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"You will follow the king's lead throughout the procession," Fenris Silt explained to Tranton. "He is likely to introduce you to numerous dignitaries and influential Lagonians. Say as little as possible while seeming polite."

Tranton grinned at the older man. "Worried I'm going to say the wrong thing?" He pulled at the tight collar of the shirt he'd been given, wondering how he was going to avoid sweating through the formal wear of long-tailed jacket, waistcoat and daft, broad neck-tie that made him look like a strutting songbird. It was late afternoon and the sun was still high - he could see the path beyond the palace foyer gleaming under its cloudless gaze.

"This celebration is bringing together powerful people from all corners of the valley," Silt said, half under his breath. "I would far prefer it if no conversation took place whatsoever."

"I'm sure they'll behave themselves."

Silt looked at him from beneath disapproving eyebrows. "The route will make its way down the mesa, through the city to the lake, where the royal party will take to the water for the fireworks display."

"Sounds delightful."

"There hasn't been anything like this for decades," Silt said, looking for all the world like he would rather have kept it that way for another decade.

"You seem worried," Tranton observed, wondering whether Silt was more concerned about him or what lay waiting for them at the base of the mesa.

There was a commotion from within the palace and a horn blared out, accompanied by a cry that announced the king's arrival. The man swept through the room, a heavy, regal cloak lined with plush furs dragging on the floor behind him, and Tranton noted that King Guijus was standing a little taller than he had seen him before. The man was followed and flanked on either side by royal guards, dressed in ceremonial garb which could only hinder their duties. Tranton had assumed the king would be surrounded by his best soldiers and was surprised to see such a thin entourage. For his own part, he put a hand to his waist, where beneath his jacket and ornate cloak he could feel the hilt of his weapon. He'd not been able to bring anything else from his room, having had to leave the other odd items he'd retrieved from the glacier on the table beside his bed, so the retractable sword would have to suffice.

"Tranton Seldon!" roared the king, first grasping his hand then moving in for an alarmingly enthusiastic hug. "Today the world gets the privilege of making your acquaintance."

Grinning, Tranton bowed every so slightly. "The world has known me for some time, King Guijus," he noted mischievously, "but I'm looking forward to meeting your valley."

The king paused, his hands resting on Tranton's shoulders, and a hush fell over all of those gathered in the palace's entrance. Behind the king, Tranton saw the honour guard rest their hands on their scabbards. Then Guijus laughed, clapped a hand to the side of Tranton's face, and spun him around, leading them all out into the afternoon sun.

"This is a new era, Tranton Seldon," the king continued loudly, as if declaring to the mesa's plateau and the sky and the city below. He turned to Fenris Silt and pointed a finger. "A new era, Fenris, I say. This is the moment we've all been waiting for."

"My breath is bated, sire," Silt acknowledged.

They strode across the crunching gravel towards a large, two-storied vehicle unlike anything Tranton had seen since arriving in Lagonia. It was twice as long as it was tall and sat upon a row of eight huge wheels. Windows lined its sides, thin and tall on the ground floor and wider at the top, with what appeared to be an open roof where the heads of passengers could be seen bobbing back and forth. It was a hybrid of farm vehicle and armoured transport, reminding Tranton obliquely of some siege-level weaponry he'd once witnessed in action to the south-west of Safast. If this had once been intended for military usage, it was now adorned with banners and ornate carvings and sculptures, many of which were animated as if a mural had come to life. A ramp was lowered at its rear, where more guards stood watch as they approached.

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