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The Royal Exposition

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Paolin Maxx hated King Harlan. No, despised him. That's why it was such a terrible irony that he worked for him.

         Paolin swaggered through the corridor, keeping his eyes trained on the embroidered carpet below his feet like a proper servant. That's basically what he was, after all: a slave subject to the King's every whim. But things had been different lately. Harlan hardly ever called for Paolin anymore. It was almost as if the King had forgotten his existence.

         And Paolin didn't mind one bit.

         "One moment, sir." A gruff, mustached guard approached Paolin as he neared the towering entrance of the throne room. "What is your business here? Where's your escort?"

         "Good evening to you, too," Paolin quipped, flashing a brilliant grin. He didn't slow his stride at all, or even spare the man a glance. "If you must know, the King himself summoned me." Mustache frowned. "Pity. Did someone miss the memo?"

         The guard sneered and hung back in the hall as Paolin strolled confidently into the toasty throne room. Pathos, the capital city of Karvoth, was known for its extremely cold climate and plethora of evergreen forests. Therefore, all establishments within the city were built solely from intricately carved wood and the furs of big game.

         But, of course, the castle itself was the most splendid sight in the entire province. Just the throne room alone was an unmatched spectacle to behold. Swirling beams crisscrossed the steepled ceiling, enormous stained glass windows filtered through speckled orange sunlight, towering fires raged in grated hearths along the walls, and at the far end of the chamber the King sat upon his throne, which was carved painstakingly to resemble a raging bear. Paolin's quick footsteps echoed throughout the enormous room, only ceasing when he reached the foot of the menacing throne. In front of the King stretched a short, sturdy table that ran the width of the hall. Seated to the King's right was a beautiful woman, about twenty-three years of age. Her honey-blond hair sat in a stylish pile atop her head, and her stormy gaze remained firmly fixed upon the rafters.

         Princess Taileen, King Harlan's only living child and the heir to the throne.

         Paolin guided his gaze back to the King and forced himself into a low bow. His shabby moose-skin cloak brushed the polished oak floor. "King Harlan. How may I assist you?"

         "In a very significant way." The King rubbed his graying beard thoughtfully, and Paolin stared into his unfathomable, black eyes. There was nothing to be found in them -- no kindness, no mercy. Only Paolin's face was reflected back at him: his rugged, dirt-scrubbed features; the flicker of long, snow white hair; vivid blue eyes, like beacons across a twilit sea. "It is obvious that my subjects have been growing restless about the state of the kingdom. They've become so detached from the capital that my jurisdiction seems nothing but a trivial nuisance." Paolin wasn't, in fact, aware that the citizens of Karvoth were growing restless, but he nodded anyway and pressed his lips into a thin, silent line.

         "I've conferred with my men and my daughter, and together we've decided that it's time to reestablish the Royal Exposition of Karvoth." The King spoke the momentous words so calmly that Paolin hardly registered them.

         "Your Highness?" He rasped, tense as pulled wire.

         "I know full well how the events of years passed have taken a toll on my kingdom, but I refuse to let my people live in fear any longer." Paolin's head was spinning as he listened to the King. "It has been three years since we last hosted the Exposition, and I refuse to postpone its return any longer. Surely you, of all people, remember the wonder and influence impressed on all who experienced the royal carnival."

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