The white palace
“Can you see it?” Asked his father as he looked up, trying to see his son’s face as he was sitting on his shoulders. “It’s the largest building of the whole city.”
“Yeah, I see it!” Exclaimed the young Thrista with a huge smile, eyes sparkling with excitement at the sight of the huge port city that was Eneleïa.
He marveled at the scale of the city walls that guarded the entry to the harbor and at the sight of the palace, as imposing in its size as it its past history. It was the first time in his young life that the seven-year-old boy laid his eyes on such a huge city, his father had some business to attend there and when he had offered to the his son to bring him along the young boy had been extremely excited. The tall man had promised to show him how amazing Eneleïa was compared to the small village where he had grown up. What’s more the city was turmoil as it prepared to celebrate the tenth birthday of the young princess during the next few days. Even if it was not an event as major as some others that occurred and would occur there from time to time it was a time of intense activity. Thrista marveled before the bright colors and the endless swarm of people in the streets that extended before him, everything seemed minuscule from the high grounds where they were standing.
“Normally there are a lot of people in the city but not as much as today, it’s a special day, it’s the tenth birthday of princess Silena. I thought you would enjoy coming with me to see what a really city is from up close. Are you excited to be here?” Asked his father with a smile.
“It’s awesome dad!” Exclaimed the young boy with a huge grin. “Say dad, can I invite so many people for my birthday?” Asked Thrista with enthusiasm as his father was bringing him back down to the ground. The adult stopped and shot a surprised look towards him. Then he laughed as he realized his son was completely serious, despite the eccentricity of his request. This surprised the young boy who looked at him, not understanding what in his innocent question was funny enough to make his father laugh. He crossed his arms and pouted, thinking the adult was mocking him.
“We’ll see young man, we’ll see.” Replied his father with a large smile as he ruffled his son’s hair. “We’ll see…”
He remained still for a long time, remembering this scene, the impression he had had of the City of Two Worlds when he had come the first time nine years before. He had lost track of time and realized he hadn’t moved for a long time when one of the merchants came to ask him if he was okay. He almost jumped back as the face of the old woman appeared before his eyes brought him back to reality, it was so close he could clearly see the details of the wrinkles around the eyes of the old woman. He thanked her after reassuring her that he was fine, just lost in his thoughts, that yes he ate enough and that no, he didn’t need further help. As full of goodwill as she was he was forced to convince that he didn’t need that help and, after a long moment, finally managed to convince her to go back to her stall full of fruits and vegetables. Thrista started to walk again, strolling calmly between the stalls. His mind was focused on something else entirely though : why did the heir princess of the kingdom of Tebor resort to such methods to notify him she wanted to meet? Had she known he had been back or had she just been lucky enough to cross his path that day? He was sure of it, only Silena could have left him such a message.
The fact that the princess was walking the streets of the city unattended two days before her wedding wasn’t very surprising to him, she had always found the way to get out one way or another when she had wanted to. The royal couple had never been able to prevent her from doing so. Her father had tried everything, ranging from posting guards in from of her room to making sure every exit of the palace had been closed off to her, but she had always found the way to get out. Thrista knew about that from experience. He decided to answer her demand, for it was a demand, knowing that if he didn’t go to her, she would come to him, and that would not be good. Let’s hope the gardens haven’t changed so much… The young man decided to find something to drink before going back in the direction of the tavern, he had walked quite a bit after the incident in the market district and found himself in the furthest part of the north district of the city. This walking around and the warm weather had made him thirsty. The sun was setting in the sky as he stopped by a small drink store, he bought some freshly pressed juice before getting on his way, walking back to Carmen’s fine establishment.
“Are we there yet?” Asked the young Thrista for the tenth time. His father sighed before answering him once more that it wouldn’t be long anymore, a few more minutes by foot and they would be there. The young boy became silent again, apparently satisfied by his father’s answer but still wondering how they could have walked so much and still not have arrived to their destination…
They finally reached a large building made of white stone towards which Thrista’s father walked without hesitation, the young boy following quietly in his steps, relieved as he understood that they were almost there. As they got closer to a large metallic door guarded by two guards the young boy took his time to look around. The street in which they were walking, even though it was a secondary pathway, was almost as big as the main ones. He also noticed that the white stone that composed the walls of the building were in fact very precisely cut and went from one end of the street to the other, rising up about fifteen meters from the ground. A few large windows strew the length of the wall but the only entry visible was the one towards which they were walking. They stopped before the two soldiers guarding the door. The two guards seemed to be of close age, in their early forties, they showed no emotion whatsoever as they saw the duo approaching and seemed to be surrounded by an intimidating aura of power. They were both dressed in the formal attire of the royal army, a blue and grey ensemble of light fabric, but one could easily discern the coat of mail that both of the men wore under their clothes. Each also wore a short sword on their belt and held a long lance in one hand. The man on the right looked at Thrista and his father as they stopped before them.
“What business brings you here?” He simply asked in a neutral tone.
“I have been summoned here today for an interview, my name is Ellias Daener.” Replied Thrista’s father as he gave the guard a parchment.
The young boy didn’t take much notice of the exchange between the first guard and his father, neither did he pay attention to the fact that the guard walked over to the door to notify the people inside of the arrival of a guest. Thrista was too fascinated by the second guard to notice that, he couldn’t take his eyes of the man who hadn’t moved since they had arrived, he dominated his father of at least twenty centimeters and had a much larger build. The young boy, who had never seen someone so huge before, couldn’t help but stare in amazement. He looked away only when his father touched his shoulder to tell him they could go in, but as soon as he started walking his eyes shot back to the guard. The tall man seemed to finally notice the intense stare of the young boy as he shot him a smile and a quick nod before focusing back on the street before him. Thrista finally had to tear his eyes off the soldier as they penetrated inside the large white building and the doors were closed behind them. As soon as he had closed his mouth, unable to see outside anymore, he opened it again as soon as he started looking around.
Around them were huge and endless corridors, all built in the same polished white stone, from the ground to the ceiling, almost five meters over their heads. Huge and beautifully embroidered tapestries made of rich fabrics were hung along the walls and the windows seemed even bigger than on the outside. The ground in the middle of the corridors was covered in large and dark red carpets, reminding a little bit the color of blood, with a slightly violet shade. A few busts and armors were displayed along the walls, in between the large windows.
“Each one of these leads to a room.” Ellias explained to his son as Thrista was looking intently at one of the many doors, wondering what could be behind. “It could lead to a bedroom, a bathroom or simply a closet, but it leads somewhere.”
The young boy was wondering how someone could have built such a palace without being a king and, even stranger than that, how his father knew that person. He wanted to ask that question and many others, but his father was now talking with a man who had come to take them to their destination which was… which was what by the way? Now that he thought about it he realized he had no idea where they were and where they were headed, nor who they were supposed to meet… It was only when they arrived to another large set of doors that he got part of an answer to his interrogations. The man who was guiding them stopped before the two guards who were guarding the large oak door.
“Master Daener is here for the interview with his majesty.” He announced before bowing to them and leaving.
The two guards silently turned towards the doors and knocked three times in perfect synchronicity before pushing them open. Thrista was once more amazed as the two sides of the door disappeared to reveal a gigantic room and its walls strewn of stained-glass windows, the ceiling could have easily been the one of a cathedral. A dozen of tall pillars, built in a gothic style, supported the whole structure and gave to the people in the room a feeling of smallness. In the center of the large room stood a long table made out of millennial oak wood and almost twelve meters in length. On one end of the table sat a young girl and a young woman, seemingly playing a game of chess, while on the other side two men seemed to be intensely arguing. Behind the men was a raised platform directly cut in the stone, resembling a stage, on which one could see two large thrones, one made of extremely beautifully carved floating wood, a few gems and precious stones had been set on its surface. On it sat fair-skinned man with already slightly graying blond hair, he wore a thin golden crown with a single blue diamond set in its center. On his right stood a second throne, made of the same material as the first but with less detailed carvings, it was empty at the moment.
Thrista was so amazed by everything he saw that he noticed his father was already walking towards the table as he was already a few strides away. When the blond man noticed the visitors he stood up and smiled, signaling the two men who were still discussing that they were dismissed. They both immediately went silent and left by one of the side doors after bowing. As he watched them leave the young boy noticed the guards posted all along the walls. He still wasn’t quite sure where his father had brought him but he was captivated by the architecture and the colors that the light passing through the windows spread inside the room. Only when they reached the table and his father saluted the man who had been sitting on the throne did he finally understand where they were.
“Your highness Marco, king of Tebor, it is an honor of meeting you again.” Said his father as he bowed in turn. The king looked at him for a moment before laughing loudly and talking him into an embrace.
“As rigid as ever on protocol I see my dear Ellias. Will you ever let it go as I ask you?” Asked the king as he let Thrista’s father go and took a step back.
“Never.” Replied Ellias with a small smile.
Contrary to the king, who always seemed to be smiling and always bore a welcoming and friendly attitude, Ellias Daener kept on a serious face at all time and rarely gave in to amusement when he was in public. The young man knew immediately from his father’s attitude that he had known the king for a long time and that they were on very friendly terms, otherwise Ellias would never have allowed himself to act like this. What surprised him the most was that his father was friends with the king of Tebor, he had trouble believing what he was seeing. He watched the two men talking in silence, admiring the situation he was now living : he was standing only a few feet away from the king of Tebor who was good friends with his father. That was almost unbelievable, why had his old man never told him any of it before?
“Say Ellias, I see you are not alone. This young man seems to have the same unbelieving look on his face as you do sometimes, might it be your son?” Asked king Marco after releasing his friend from his embrace.
“Yes indeed, this is my son Thrista. He’s only seven years old but everyone tells me he looks just like me when I was young, that he has the same attitude at least.” Said Ellias as he motioned to his son to come closer. “Thrista, I have the honor of introducing you to his highness Marco, king of Tebor. I know you weren’t expecting anything like this but I did promise you a surprise didn’t I?!” He added with a smile as he looked at his son. Thrista looked in turn at both of the men before replying.
“I am honored to meet you your majesty, I am Thrista Daener.” He replied with a bow as his father had taught him to do during one of his many lessons on politeness that he had received since his early days.
“I am honored too to meet you my dear Thrista Daener. I am Marco, an old friend of your father, we worked together when we were younger.” Replied the king with a smile. “Oh, and you can call me Marco, no need for formalities with us.” He added before inviting them to sit with him at the long table behind him. They walked over to the woman and the young girl that were sitting at the other end and the king introduced them to Thrista and his father.
“Ellias, you already know my daughter, even if the last time you saw her she was just a baby. Thrista, may I introduce you to Silena, my daughter.” He said as the girl with long blond hair stood up and turned towards Thrista and his father to salute them with a small bow
She looked directly at Thrista for a moment, he just had the time to take notice of the slight boredom reflected in her blue eyes before she sat back down. The young boy was captivated by the thin and graceful figure of the young girl. Contrary to her father she had dark skin, which she had inherited from her mother, but her long blond hair and blue eyes created an exotic but harmonious combination. She was dressed in a simple light blue dress and wore a small and thin silver diadem, partly holding her hair which went down to her hips. The king then motioned towards the young woman who was sitting opposite to his daughter.
“And this is Julianne, Silena’s guardian and governess. One of the best in the country!” He exclaimed with a smile.
The young woman, who was barely in her mid twenties rose up and, blushing slightly at the comment, saluted both of them before sitting back down. Thrista didn’t take much notice of this as he was fascinated by the thin and graceful hands of the princess as she moved one of the pieces on the board. He almost didn’t hear the king offer him to stay and watch the match while his father and he would be talking. He agreed happily, pleased to be able to have an excuse to watch the young girl play, he sat on her right, shooting a quick look towards the board where the chess pieces were fighting a fierce battle.
The sun had already passed its highest point in the sky as he walked towards the gardens of the palace the next day. He had had a good night’s sleep at the tavern and had completely recovered from the exhaustion from his bout the day before. He felt ready to face anything and he knew he needed this motivation if he wanted to meet with her. He sighed as he played with the small coin he had mysteriously received the day before, he had wanted to surprise the princess with his arrival just before her wedding, but of course, he had forgotten it was Silena he was talking about. She would always sweep in and scatter his plans into the whirlwind she created everywhere she went. He smiled at the thought, indeed, a whirlwind, nice choice of words!
As he reached the outer walls of the palace, just on the other side of the gardens, he looked around, making sure no one was looking, he focused his mana on his surroundings just to be sure. Once he was positive he wouldn’t be caught, which would be extremely annoying to explain, he focused the mana in his legs and took a run-up on a few steps before jumping and easily scaling the high wall. As he landed softly on the clean-cut grass on the other side he took a look around, things didn’t seem to have changed much since the last time he had been there, which reassured him. He thanked the gods for this because he knew how easy it was to lose oneself in these tree-lined paths that many of the visitors had nicknamed the labyrinth. Fortunately he also remembered most of the way that he had taken so often when he was younger to get to the center of the gardens and the giant fountain. The teenager reached his destination without much trouble and could hear the soft lapping sound of running water. He was about to enter the clearing when he heard a sound behind him and suddenly, as he passed through the perfectly trimmed arch of foliage, he felt a cold blade press on his throat. He immediately recognized the sharpness of the knife that was pointed at him. Then he heard a feminine voice behind him ordering to stop.
“Do not move if you want to live.”