Martim, known to the people of his town as Lord Mar, and to the kingdom of Artheri as His Majesty King Marthelem the Second, shuffled through the crowded city of Velas with a dirty and ragged cloak covering his body and face. A few paces behind him, dressed similarly, walked Nerron, known in the town where Martim was Lord as his cocky brother Ner, and to the kingdom of Artheri as the High Minister Neradius in His Majesty’s service.
The hot afternoon sun beat down on Martim. He pulled the cloak tighter over his face, shielding his brown face from the sunlight. He was used to the humid heat of his capital, not this burning heat directly from the sun.
Ahead of him, he saw his destination. A towering stone building – the finest hotel in Velas. It was made over two hundred years ago during Queen Perlanne’s rule. Legend had it she came here every year during winter and stayed a night before heading south to the plains for hunting season. She was good with a musket, it was said, and would always return to the palace with a new animal to mount on her bedroom wall.
Martim had always found the story incredulous. Hunting with a musket? Impossible. The weapon may have been effective against humans but against those lyons, panthas, and especially rhynosaurs with their thick hides it was all but useless. Even the current day long barrelled rifle was useless in hunting and these rifles were several times more efficient and powerful than the muskets of those days. Queen Perlanne must have had hunters hunt for her and claim the kill as her own.
Or maybe …
Martim felt at the blade of the sword slung on his back. Made of an unknown brown metal, the sword was a family heirloom. Passed from the ruling King or Queen to their firstborn, it was a symbol of their kingdom. It had been nothing more than an artefact, a dull one at that as the metal it was made out of did not even shine. The blade was matte brown and the handle made of wood. It had remained on private display in his castle until two years ago when Martim had picked it up and found it to be sharp despite centuries of disuse.
But it must have surely seen use before. Perhaps, Queen Perlanne had used it in her hunt. It was, after all, incredibly light and could cut through anything that Martim had ever come across. It could slice through steel, a rhynosaur hide would have been no problem.
Martim pushed his thoughts about the sword aside and slunk into an alleyway and waited there for Nerron to pass. He waited for five more minutes after the familiar figure draped in a grey cloak passed. He then exited the alley, his eye sweeping the surrounding area to see if anyone was following them. Not that he expected to be recongnized; he could throw away his cloak, declare his identity to the people around him, and still be taken for a lookalike. Nobody expected the king to roam such crowded streets of a city like Velas.
Still, it was good to be wary as Nerron put it. Being a king meant you had enemies, did not matter whether you had crossed them or not.
Once satisfied that no one had either recognized or followed him, he then crossed the road, narrowly avoiding being hit by a carriage, the driver cursing him as he passed by. Reaching the other side, Martim continued his walk to the hotel. Nerron must have reached it by now and be making the necessary arrangements.
His train of thought was momentarily interrupted by the sound of a guard cracking his whip nearby. He was red in the face, shouting at a scared old man in rags who clutched a child, perhaps his daughter, in his arms. What the old man had done, Martim did not know but it was enough to make the guard livid. He cracked his whip again near the old man who cowered at the sound. The little girl was crying. Martim itched to step in but controlled himself.
Not now, he told himself. He continued on his way, the stone building of the hotel looming over him.
As he stepped inside the large gate, throwing back his cloak to reveal his clean shaven but disguised face to the valets to show that he wasn’t a beggar trying to swindle the customers, he made a mental note to himself. The guard who had been abusing his authority in the street earlier would certainly be reprimanded.
Perhaps, a personal visit from the King himself was needed.
Nerron discarded the cloak that he had on himself in a deserted alley then proceeded inside the gates of Hotel Jarrom, the grandest hotel in the city of Velas. Named after its founder, it had been built half a century ago by Baron Jarrom in dedication to the ancient Goddess of old, whom he claimed to have had the fortune of meeting.
The minister did not much care about why it had been built as long as it served its purpose as one of the finest hotel in Artheri. Luxury wasn’t what he and the King were after. It was the status of the hotel itself.
Smoothing the creases on his coat, he strode inside the gates and inside the hotel’s front door, paying no heed to the bellboy offering his services. He knew this hotel inside and out, knew every employee who had worked here for more than five years, and especially the receptionist whom he swooned over every time he came here.
“Ferrina,” Nerron said, unable to contain his smile.
The receptionist, who sat behind a mahogany desk, looked up from the thick ledger that she had open in front of her to Nerron. She blinked in surprise as she recognized his brown face, tanned further by his stay in the town. He quickly put a finger to his lips, signalling her to stay quiet before she could shout his name in surprise.
“Nerron?” she said after composing herself. “This is a surprise. I thought you were on a hunt with the King!”
“Ah, the great hunt out in the southern jungles,” Nerron replied, amused. It was a story he had spread to explain Martim’s absence for the past two years. “Well yes, as you can see.” He pointed to his darkened skin. “The sun out there is really harsh you know.”
“Anyways,” he continued, interrupting Ferrina, “I am in a bit of a rush. Can you give me my room as usual? Oh and you might want to give this to old Germer.” He slid a sealed envelope across the polished mahogany surface to Ferrina. “Apologies for disturbing your afternoon like this.”
She hesitated a moment before taking the envelope. “Sorry, this is all so sudden. When did you return? Is it only you? Where’s the King?”
“I’m in a bit of a rush Ferrina,” Nerron answered. “Everything’s there in the letter. Can I have the keys please?”
Ferrina got up in a huff and disappeared inside a door directly behind her. She emerged a moment later, a key in her hand which she handed to Nerron.
“Anyways,” she hesitated. “It’s … it’s good to see you again Nerron.”
“Likewise.” Nerron gave a warm smile, causing Ferrina to blush. “I suppose you are occupied these days?”
“I could use some company tonight.”
“I’ll see you at ten. In the dining room. When your shift ends. And see that you take that letter to Germer right away.” Nerron nodded and then started walking away.
Ferrina held the letter in her hand, staring down at the wax seal on it. It was the official seal of the King himself. Then, she snapped as if from a trance, thinking back to what Nerron had said.
“Wait, how did you know my shift ends at ten?” Ferrina called after him. But he had already vanished.
Germer sat in his cozy little office smoking a pipe and reading a novel. The stone walls kept the room cool during summer, as was the season right now, and the thick velvet rug and the hearth, where he lit fire every day in winter, kept it warm in that season. Light streamed in from a large mosaic window, colouring the room a warm yellow and orange.
He had his feet up on his desk and the small novel on his lap. Removing the pipe from his mouth, he turned it upside down and tapped it on the ashtray on the table. Then he put it back in his mouth, taking in a puff and turning the page of the novel.
“Sir!” Ferrina shouted as she barged into Germer’s office.
The sudden shout surprised Germer. His body jerked in response, nearly kicking a priceless glass figurine off the table. That had been a gift from one of his guests, a famous sculptor from the kingdom of Brimmond.
“Do you want to kill an old man?” he exclaimed, his face red. He had his right hand to his chest, feeling his heart beating rapidly while with his left hand, he carefully hid the novel behind him on the table.
“If I wanted to, I would just feed you crepes, tarts, and cakes every day. Much subtler,” Ferrina retorted. “Here,” she said, holding the envelope out to her employer.
“What is it?” he asked, grabbing it from her. His eyes widened when he saw the seal on the wax. “Who brought this?” he asked rapidly.
Ferrina shook her head. “High Minister Neradius did. He’s here in the hotel. He gave me that no less than five minutes ago.”
She watched as Germer broke the seal and extracted the letter from inside. He unfolded it and started to read.
“Is the King coming?” Ferrina asked once Germer had put the letter down.
Germer nodded. “He’ll be here by sunset.”
“King Marthelem definitely knows how to send people into a frenzy. I’ll go tell the staff,” Ferrina said. Without waiting for a response, she exited Germer’s office.
Germer smiled as he put the letter down on the table. He looked at the handwriting on that letter. A little rough but beautiful and elegant on the whole. He chalked the minor degradation in the handwriting to Martim having spent two years in the wilderness.
He grabbed the novel from the table and put it on a shelf carved into the stone wall. That would have to wait for now. Presently, he had other matters to attend to.
The King was on his way home.
I have not decided on the name of the town yet so it shall remain unnamed for now.556Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡecwtf5DK1A