It was a warm, southern-hemisphere spring day. A gentle breeze blew through the
wide-open windows of the Palace, finally having the chance to clear out the stale air that
had been trapped inside all winter. True, this winter had been warmer than most, bringing
only dismal, dreary rain on days that should have ended with a blanket of angelic, powdery
snow covering the palace grounds, but today just seemed fresh. Like a new beginning.
High above the Palace a pair of Griffins soared, riding the wind in long lazy circles.
The sun glistened off the rooftops, still wet from yesterday's rain, and the sounds of the
swollen Teal River could be heard over the activity in the Palace courtyard. It was almost
as if nothing was wrong with the world, thought the figure who watched from the balcony of
his sleeping chamber. Nothing wrong at all.
The man continued to watch, finally turning his attention to the courtyard. To his
left, two mounted patrols undoubtedly discussed the latest news. One of the three-man
teams was just setting out, the other had just returned. Fortunately no sign of any
incursion had been seen. The Erathian capital, for now, was safe.
Off to his right he could see a group of refugees, seemingly identical to those he had
traveled here with just two days ago. Even from this height he could make out the
frightened and shocked faces of women and children. But no men. Like those he had arrived
with, the men had been swiftly recruited into the Royal Erathian Military Command. I
should have gone with them, he thought. I have made knowledge my life's work, at least I
could have put it to good use.
The balcony was high enough that he could see the Military's practice field across the
river. Nearly two hundred soldiers were arranged in great double lines, apparently
sparring with each other. At that moment he was grateful that he had not joined the other
men. That sort of activity was definitely not his style.
Just then there was a knock at the door of the suite. He took one more look around,
noting the irony of a people engaged in a destructive war, all beneath a spring day that
was striving to give life to the land. Turning, he stepped back into the room, feeling the
chill of the still-cold floor through the soles of his shoes. Reaching the center of the
room, he stopped. "Come in," he said.
The door opened just enough for a chubby little man to enter the room, obviously one of
the Courtiers of the late King. The man took two steps, stopped, and bowed cleanly and
deeply before speaking. "Professor Xanthor," he said, "they will see you
Xanthor followed the courtier through the palace. The warm breath of spring had not yet
penetrated the interior halls, and Xanthor found himself wishing he had put on some warmer
clothes. The courtier did not speak, but he somehow managed to perspire in the chill air.
The only sound was that of their feet, and the *swish swish* of the fine silk garments
that the courtier wore.
"What happened here?" Xanthor finally asked, hoping to strike up a
conversation. No one had come to see him in the two days that he had been at the palace
except for the servants who had brought him food. The guard posted outside his door would
not speak, except when Xanthor attempted to leave, only telling him then that, for his
safety, he needed to remain in his quarters. It wasn't until he demanded to see the King
that he learned of the Gryphonheart's death, and he had spent the better part of yesterday
trying to bribe information out of the servants with food off his own plate.
The courtier did not even break stride. "I'm very sorry, but I've been forbidden
from discussing anything with you, Professor." He then glanced around, making sure no
one was nearby, and continued, lowering his voice to just above a whisper. "What
would you like to know?"
Xanthor smiled. At last, someone willing to talk. "Well," he said quietly,
"you could start with why I've been a prisoner the last two days. "I'm a
scholar, not a thief."
"I know how you must feel, but you have to understand that ever since the Royal
Military Command took control following the King's death, they've been hoarding
information regarding everything. The war is going badly. Not only have the Kreegans
overrun the eastern borders, but the Dungeon Overlords have vanished. The Military claims
that the Kreegans finally defeated the Dungeon Overlords, driving them all the way back to
Nighon, but there wasn't actually a fight. The Dungeon Overlords just, well,
Xanthor struggled to remember his geography. He knew that the eastern third of the
continent was riddled with caves, as were several regions in the west. Could the Overlords
have really given up their control of Eeofol? If so, why would they have done it without a
fight? Xanthor realized that the Courtier was still talking.
"There have been reports of refugees as far north as AvLee. Half of Erathia has
been overrun, yet that whelp of a Lieutenant Darvin continues to tell us that nothing is
wrong, that the fight with the Kreegans is merely a border skirmish. They have kept the
royal court cooped up in this palace for the last month, and continue to deny us
"Wait a moment," Xanthor interrupted. "If the Military Command is being
so secretive, how is it that you know what's going on? Are you on the Council?"
The Courtier cleared his throat, then stopped in front of a door. "Here we are,
Professor," he said, changing the subject. He knocked twice before opening the door.
Xanthor followed the chubby man into the room. He did not recognize any of the faces of
the seven men standing around a large table, nor had he really expected to. The Courtier
announced him, then bowed cleanly and moved toward the door to leave, pausing only to wink
in Xanthor's direction. Then he was gone, and as the door was closed heavily behind him,
Xanthor realized that this probably wasn't going to be much fun.