Spring – 1024 YD
West of Waylin, Lenyol
The sheep rotated in their pens like woollen whirlpools. Their bleating was echoed by the bellowing of cattle from their yards.
__Custodin Màtac surveyed the movement around him, of carriages riding in, shepherds and drovers guiding their stock, dozens of servants tending the tents, and a subdued rainbow of personages tarrying this way and that.
__‘My Lord,’ the Countess of Riverton quietly murmured, touching Màtac’s arm and nodding toward the north-east. The Custodin turned to follow her gaze, the Baron of Waylin oscillating with him.
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Mounting the horizon was a caravan of carriages, Lenyolan in design—the quiet nature of the trade precluded the use of Miggestian carriages. Squads of Miggestian warriors bookended the procession.
__When Countess Edalene gestured to Lady Régan, the Princess stepped beyond her tent. Régan’s inclusion in the event had been orchestrated by High Priest Arnaud in a bid to ease tensions between father and daughter. On parting, he kindly yet firmly instructed Régan to do nothing but ‘observe amicably’. The first she could do, and had done well.
__She observed Màtac’s irascibility and High Commander Boadicae’s steely silence; the removal of flags and change into plain carriages at Alendae; their departure in the dead of night and addition of warriors to their party; the arrival of High Trademaster Faolan, an architect; the flocks and herds awaiting them in Waylin; the aggressive moving on of peasants who wondered why so large a convoy was travelling so far north.
__Régan felt Brennan’s absence more than she imagined—she had been ordered to leave him behind, and had no companions in the journey to Alendae. Countess Edalene was a very welcome sight in Alendae Palace. Edalene was the closest thing Régan had to a cousin, for both called the Duke of Alendae uncle. The Countess was the Princess’ age and similarly educated, titled, and wise to the reality of life beyond Offenure. Infinitely more diplomatic than her would-be cousin, Edalene said the correct things to His Majesty; truths which might cause discomfort for the Custodin she saved for Princess Régan. The Princess was quickly informed of how close Miggest had come to disaster and how deeply opposed certain nobles were to Màtac’s negotiations.
For the past two years, Màtac had corresponded with Lady Galluel through intermediaries and messengers. He had not met the Miggestian Custodia, and awaited her arrival with some tension.
__The Miggestian warriors stopped a hundred yards from the site, as has per arrangement. Galluel’s carriage was drawn up to the main tent. A man in colours stepped out, offering assistance to the door. A fine hand took it, and the sovereign of the northern region stepped out.
__Lady Galluel took in the scene with large and intelligent eyes. Her crown was set in an arrangement of braids adorned with a single black rose while an ebony gown artfully embroidered with traditional knots complimented her frame. Her dark brows and wide lips gave her rounded face symmetry, and for all he had heard it was a surprise to the Custodin that she was uncommonly beautiful.
__The decorated man, High Counsellor Dalan, helped Galluel to the ground and walked before her to Màtac—distinguishable by his golden circlet and gilded breastplate.
__Dalan bowed deeply. ‘Your Majesty, may I present Custodia Galluel of Miggest.’
__Lord Màtac bowed also. ‘Your Majesty.’
__Lady Galluel curtseyed, holding a hand to her chest. ‘Custodin Màtac.’
__‘If you will accompany me to the tent, we have refreshments and lounges to revive you from your journey.’ He offered a hooked elbow, into which she graciously looped a ringed hand.
Reclining slightly into the lounge, Galluel assessed the Custodin. The veins of his cheeks shone from chronic drinking, and his belly ballooned. Permanent folds on his brow suggested a poor temperament. The length of their negotiations, she quickly surmised, were a symptom of detachment rather than hard bargaining. This did not commend him in her estimation; starvation had prowled her subject’s periphery before rain had come.
__‘It is an honour to finally make your acquaintance,’ Màtac was saying.
__‘Yes,’ Galluel replied, leaning forward. ‘At last I have a face for your good name.’
__Màtac was flattered. ‘This is my daughter and heir, Princess Régan.’
__Galluel stood to receive Régan’s curtsey. Had the region’s princesses come along for amusement?
__‘And is this your cousin?’ Galluel inquired, indicating to Edalene. ‘You look very much alike.’
__‘This is Countess Edalene of Riverton,’ Régan answered, hardening at a fleeting glint of acrimony in Galluel’s eye. ‘She is the daughter of my unblooded uncle’s brother.’
__Galluel smiled very slightly. ‘You are Duke Nóe’s niece?’
__Edalene nodded in surprise.
__‘I am sorry to hear of your father’s passing. I am sure your title is small consolation, as mine was to me.’
__Edalene spoke quietly. ‘Your Majesty is very kind.’
__A small moment passed. Màtac spoke. ‘I suggest the Custodia and I enjoy our meal with the High Counsellors, and work through the formal elements of our assembly. What say you, Your Majesty?’
__‘That would be fine indeed. Let us have the business side done with, and break bread.’
__‘Excellent. Thank you, Countess. Thank you, Princess.’
__The ladies made to exit. Màtac knew Régan had intended to confuse the Custodia; before the tent flap closed he shot her a look of fire, and in the open air Régan flinched at her own indiscretion. Edalene pinched her harshly; Régan swore under her breath; and yet in a quick glance between them it was clear neither trusted Lady Galluel.
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