Chapter 2: A Long Day for a Princess
Somebody out there wants him dead, she'd said.
Those simple words should not have shocked her so. She had thought the very same not so long ago but to have those words said to her with such casualness made something within the princess seethe. How dare anyone even think to threaten the Heir to Grace? How dare anyone wish to harm the one genuine person in the entire empire? Even His Radiance, Grace Sulivivenne hid nasty shadows neath his golden robes and spoke with a poison tipped tongue. The High-priestess, most devoted daughter of the moon, traded in intrigue and murder. Even beggars on the street spat lies through broken teeth. But Ysdraille? If Ysdraille ever told a lie Seretice was fairly certain that he'd die.
And someone wanted to make that happen.
The thought sat wrong with her, like hands clasping her shoulders and yet... There was something twisted about this. Something smelt fishy, and it wasn't her soup. A random stranger, a Paladin Champion no less, had detached herself from the crowd and approached the princess directly to tell her that her own brother was expected to be assassinated. Not entirely out of the realm of possibility obviously but, odd to say the least. This woman was foolish and unfamiliar with Empyrean politics at best, a liar and planning something heinous at worst. Paladins weren't known for their political prowess but, they were known for being at least underhanded in their ways. Complicated people, and dangerous too. And now, the princess found herself face to face with a high ranking Paladin who she knew nothing about.
But she had her father's temperament, people said, and the Empirias bloodline was nothing if not welcoming.
"Oh, you must be one of the paladins come for the council, yes?" She began, motioning for the woman to sit.
"...Aye, Princess, I would be of their number."
"Excellent!" The princess exclaimed before becoming much more serious as the paladin took her seat, "Now paladin I know not what you know of how the nobles play their games, and I will not lie, this news has shaken me."
The princess shifted in her seat and leaned forward.
"You see paladin, this is Empirias. Walls have ears and there's always someone watching you with beady little eyes, judging your every move. In Empirias, you don't just blurt that out without some solid evidence to back you up. Pardon my manners here, but you must either be really confident or in over your head."
Seretice took a breath, heart hammering in her chest. A risky move, questioning someone's honesty at the lunch table, and someone who fought daemons and necromancers for a living. She expected insult, perhaps even anger. But when the princess looked over at her valiant champion companion all she saw was humour. Tempest eyes were calmer now, almost sparkling, and the stranger had relaxed into her seat more. She'd probably heard all this before from many others, each with their own brand of "perhaps you're just stupid". That's what the Empire was like sadly. Everything must be questioned lest one damage their social standing, or worse. There were those who were masters of this game, able to end careers and lives with a hand gesture. Seretice was not one of these people, she knew that without questioning it. She was like a bumbling child compared to some, and the paladin could see right through her. Best to maintain an air of confidence however, let the paladin know she's the one controlling this interaction.
"Now, Champion. You say that there is a dreadful plot afoot, yes?"
"Aye. I don't understand why she couldn't just send a message or a courier or somethink. I'm a busy woman, princess. But, that's not the point I'm tryin' to make 'ere. I said someone wants 'im dead out there and I meant it."
"It's dangerous to send letters these days, or so mother says." Seretice quipped before adding, "But, Champion, in all seriousness, this is not news I wanted to hear, today of all days with the Blood Moon Ball so close. So, please, regale me with the tale of how you came to be in possession of this knowledge."
The Champion just rolled her eyes. This was not how Seretice envisioned the knights of the Paladin Order, especially after reading tales of their exploits since she was a young girl. She expected noble warriors who rode into battle without a shred of fear, not ones who complained about their orders and slumped at the table. This little disappointment was lost in the sea of confusion and suspicion as the Champion spoke. Something about taking a walk through the courtyards of the Grand Cathedral after midnight, something about two shady priestesses. Something else about some hidden blah blah blah. She'd heard this tale a thousand times to the point her parents even joked about it. This toss was posted on noticeboards everywhere and in the printed papers that had begun circulation. She'd seen her father read those rags many times and laugh saying to his wife, "Look darling, apparently I'm having an affair with your sister!". It was one of the few things the empress laughed at, even if the princess found their jokes rather crude. She'd almost tuned out from the Champion's tale until she heard a name she really didn't want to.
"What was that again, Champion?" She asked, suddenly and a little too forcefully.
"That after we followed the trail from the priestesses, found the hidden letter, found the mysterious Broker, who sent us to some seamstress, who then sent us to some shady fellow in Eos who was working with one of the Battle-mages who blamed their whole mess on the Arch-mage and Grace?"
"And what does Arch-mage Kynethase have to do with this assassination plot, and his Radiance? They can't be behind this."
"Ya see that's what I thought! Why would the Grace wanna off his own Heir? That doesn't even begin to make any kind of sense. That and the Arch-mage wouldn't wanna do anything that could begin to even help the High Priestess. Lady Elda is fairly sure that that bitch, pardon my language princess, is behind this."
"That... wouldn't surprise me." Seretice sighed, "Esspecially with how convoluted this scheme is. However, there is one rather large problem."
"House Lithelliin itself. The High-Priestess has pretty much all of them doing her bidding, couldn't it be one of them?"
"We looked into that, princess. Found nothin'. Even with the Seekers gettin' involved. Of course they found the Arch-mage is involved in some shady stuff but, we've been aware of that for some time now. Found nothin' on the Grace but, he's the best at this game."
"But, what is this plot by the by?"
"To kill either your lord brother, for whatever reason. Or to try to get at the Emperor. Which, in my 'onest opinion, is a pretty flashy death wish. Ain't nobody slipping between them doors with ill intent these days."
Before Seretice could say anything the large bells of the palace garden clock tower chimed out, signalling the ending of meal time and the arrival of one in the afternoon. Knowing that she should leave now in order to be on time for her dance lessons, Seretice sighed. The paladin had both awakened a fear within her and assuaged it. She calmly bid the knight farewell, before making a swift exit. No doubt her tutor would already be waiting for her, pretty face permanently fixed with a look of distaste. The empress once said it looked as if someone had fed her something that displeased her and she could still taste it. The younger princess had thought it was a funny comparison but now, she could see her mother had been making a nasty remark about someone she did not like. Seretice supposed she kept Lady Bellerose around simply because she was damn good at her job. Dance lessons were always a bore but, she tolerated it simply to keep up appearances. It would do no good for people to see their princess stumble over her own feet in the ballroom. It wasn't that Seretice disliked dancing, quite the opposite, it was just she rather hated the ridged structure of what her tutor called "classical ballroom etiquette". She hoped that the Lady Melorie would be in a much better mood than usual.
Upon entering the parlour adjoined to the private royal ballroom Melorie was already snapping out orders to her three serving girls, voice already hoarse as a small dogs bark. The princess resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Everything was a nail to miss Melorie the hammer it seemed and the positioning of her teacup seemed to be her biggest bother. Seretice quickly scanned the situation. Three terrified maids and one seething noble woman, riding crop just within hands reach. Unfortunately for poor Melorie (and perhaps fortunately for her maids), Seretice had come just in time to crash her little tea party. Smile, she reminded herself. Let this stuck up noble think she's in your good graces. So, she brushed herself down, filed away the thought of "oh sweet goddess someone wants to kill my brother", and approached, the air of of utter royalty from before slinking its way over her like a veil.
"Lady Bellerose, how nice to see you today!"
She hoped she didn't sound too sarcastic as she watched the three poor maids almost deflate in relief.
"Oh, my dear Princess! You're here earlier than I expected, " Melorie greeted in an almost sickly sweet voice, "I was just about to have a spot of tea but, since you're on time I suppose I can hold off till later."
The princess smiled, still looking over at the three maids. One, a wood elf she assumed by her lofty stature, seemed to be less demure than her companions. A head of curls of golden thread and eyes of deep emerald, she should of been prancing in a silk gown in her native woods than stuffed into a petticoat too wide for her lithe form. The other two maids hid behind the taller lady somewhat, both nervous and wide eyed. The Bellerose bloodline was known for it's grace and savagery in equal parts. But, Melorie didn't seem to care about her family's reputation, snapping at her maids to hurry up and clean away the tea set and get into positions with their instruments because "The Blood Moon Ball is in a week and the Princess is still tripping over her feet!".
Seretice was not tripping over her feet, to be exact. It was just that the lady Bellerose just absolutely, positively had to pick dances that were far outside of the princess's skill. She was a graceful dancer, more suited to a light waltz than leaping across the ballroom, feet going this way and that. Melorie didn't seem to care much for her preferences stating that "a princess should be able to dance all manners of ballroom and then some!". Seretice, who was a real princess mind you not some overdressed tart thinking that just because she was noble she could do as she pleased, disagreed with such notions. She shouldn't be thrown in to deep water right away when she was still learning to swim. Start shallow and move deeper with time or you were likely to drown in the depths. But, that's just how the Bellerose bloodline was. Arrogant, overbearing and ever so judgemental. But, there was no time for the princess to dwell on such matters as the noble lady in question manoeuvred her into the correct stance, making her pretend she was in hold with some invisible mystery partner. With one signal from Melorie, her three maids jumped into action, violin, piano and bass sounding out a rather upbeat ditty.
And so the princess danced the best she was able, Lady Melorie following her every move like a hawk stalking unaware prey. Beady eyes looked for any mistake, any flaw in the princesses form but, she had yet to be called out. A tsk here and a tut there followed by scribbling in her notes but lady Bellerose was otherwise silent. And she danced. And she danced. And danced. Skirts blooming like a rose, feet aching but, she was nothing if not stubborn. Got it from her mother, one of her uncles once said. Headstrong when it suited, stubborn as winter but with her father's light and airy nature. But, that wasn't quite it. She adopted the stubbornness from her sister, her lightness from a brother and her airy, wispy nature she absorbed from Ysdraille. And if lady Melorie made one more tsk she was going to show her how stubborn she really was by sitting on the floor and refusing to move for the next two hours or so.
But it didn't come to that. No in fact despite her snappy nature the dance instructor seemed to be in a rather good mood declaring the princess's footwork to be at least passable. A rare occurrence to be sure! Seretice wasn't going to complain though, anything to be rid of this woman quicker. As it was, somehow, the dance lessons were wrapped up a whole five minutes early! More than enough time for the three maids to pack away all of the dance equipment and bits and bobs before Mira could rejoin her mistress. Seretice politely waved goodbye to Melorie, secretly wishing she could do something for her timid frightened maids. Perhaps she should make an appeal for an investigation to the High Council. Maybe she should just send an assassin. No, perhaps that was too extreme but, she did despise Melorie and most of her bloodline. At least they hadn't joined the Lithelliin's in their march for the imperial throne.
"Deep in thought, madame?"
Seretice could of flung herself into Mira's arms as soon as her maid made her appearance. As it was she settled with flinging herself onto the floor and wrapping her arms around the Sun Elf's waist instead.
"Oh Mira it was dreadful!" She wailed dramatically, "She made me spin so so fast and my poor feet!"
"Now now, madame, that's no cause for you to skid along the tiles, you'll get your dress filthy for Master Glenal. And you wouldn't like your great uncle to see his pretty niece covered in dirt would you?"
The princess reluctantly let go of her maid, pulling herself up from the floor. Usually Mira would give into her games and play along so there must be a true weight upon her mind. Seretice put it down to the stress of the Blood Moon Ball. Mira never liked having her job practically robbed of her in party season but, for appearances alone, she had to get on with the other maids who dressed her princess for balls. Manoeuvring a dainty lady into yards of silk, tulle and velvet was a task for a team of maids not just one. And Mira was not even on that team, forced to stand to the side holding the breakfast tray with a impassive mask on her face. Every time it left the princess with a sinking feeling in her gut. Every time she'd promise herself she'd make it up to Mira after the ball. There were very few times Mira would decline a box of salted caramels.
"Madame, you should know I did a little digging into our mysterious Arcane Instructor..." Mira began almost sheepishly.
"Oh Mira, honestly. I'm sure it's nothing to worry about!", Seretice sighed as she back down, "But, since you've gone through all the trouble I suppose there's no harm in hearing your findings."
"Y-yes madame! It seems that is Instructor is one of the Lord Arch-mage's inner circle, a collective of highly skilled and cunning mage's, able to go toe to toe with their master. I have found out from the maids and menservants that prepared the accommodation for this person that he is a man, Moon elf, with common features. I have not been able to gather a name, madame. It seems he will remain mostly a curiosity until you meet him."
The princess nodded. Common features, no name and a bucket load of power. Dangerous to send someone like that into a den of wolves whose predator eyes comb lesser men for knots and imperfections. But, from what little the princess knew of the Arch-mage, this man had to have some serious wits about him. From what the gossip said, people would prefer the Arch-mage's arcane punishments over his verbal lashings. Seretice had never met the man face to face (nor did she have a desire to from the tales she heard) but, she had seen him at his finest. His finest being when he put a noble upstart with boiling blood right back in his place with a stare so cold it made the Empyrean winters feel warm and words so sharp that a Paladin's blade was but a butter knife. Whoever he sent had to be on his level, or so unaffected by such chill that their emotions were frozen solid as well.
But, a part of her reasoned as Mira began to tease the tangles from her hair, would even someone like the Arch-mage send someone cruel and cold?
No, she reasoned. Not if the other rumours were true. Not if he was the same man who took in scared children thrown from their families for their gift of magic and made sure they didn't have to be so afraid anymore. Not if he was the man who, at the time of the great plague, worked himself into such a deep exhaustion that he laid comatose for a month. And definitely not if he was the same man who wore mourning's ebony for decades when his daughter came out stillborn. If he were that man, then no. No he would not be so cruel to send someone as ice cold as he. Instead, the princess believed that this Instructor would be soft, kind. A teacher. A warm person, she hoped.
Mira sprayed a mist of cooling perfume over her lady. Seretice wrinkled her nose in distaste. It was the kind of cloying scent that older ladies favoured. Strong and heavy floral scents that made her nose run and eyes water. She knew it was the wood elf made perfume her Great Uncle had gone all the way to the Gardens of Serenity to get for her last birthday. He was so pleased that he thought he'd gotten her the perfect gift that, even though Seretice hated the scent of it, she forced herself to wear it every single time Glenal visited the palace simply just to make him happy. The way his eyes sparkled and the way the wrinkles in his face all crinkled with his smile was a good enough reason for Seretice. Even if the last time he'd treated his favourite great niece and nephews to tea from the far off land of Hollandiris Ysdraille had to excuse himself for a coughing fit.
"All done, madame!" Mira announced proudly, "You look like you haven't even broken a sweat!"
Seretice thanked Mira with a small smile before her maid shooed her from the room insisting that they'd dallied enough and she'd be late. And the princess really didn't want to be late meeting with her Great Uncle. Elderly, long-winded and a little rank as he was, she loved him. Free spirited and excessive, Glenal had always been the black sheep of his family. He'd refused the hand of the head of House Lithelliin (as well as at least twelve other ladies of high standing) to pursue his love of travel and somewhere along the way met and married a rather peculiar Sun Elf. And he had been happy, travelling with his beloved around the world. Meeting new people, discovering new places. But, eventually, Glenal's beloved sunshine fell terribly ill and died. He'd never been the same after that, choosing to settle down in the midlands of Empirias and dote on his beloved great nieces and nephews. And that was that, she supposed. Never had she ever met her Great Uncle's partner but from the stories he told she knew she'd of gotten along with them like trees and rain.
It was only slightly annoying when Seretice found herself early for the meeting. Well, if Glenal wanted to assess her punctuality on top of her etiquette then she'd be scoring an eleven out of ten. With a sigh she sat herself at the little table by the parlour window, looking out over the softly glowing city. The sun was beginning to dip below the sea of crystal spires, the corona of colours blazing a heavenly glow that it was nearly blinding. The princess, in her own crystal spire, alone, could almost imagine the excitement of the youth in the city below scrambling with the last ball time rush. The Blood Moon Ball marked the finale of Empirias' season. After this date balls and parties were pretty much only held for special occasions. Everything would be rather dull till new years and even that seemed like much less of a big deal as it did when she was a child.
It was sad how things had gotten. She missed that small girl with snowy ringlets and big, big blue eyes who looked at the whole world through rose. Her mother was strong and clever, not a cold, snappish woman hiding her weaknesses behind war. Her father had been cool and collected, a lover of books. Now he was a husk of a man, hollowed out by depression and carrying the weight of an empire ashis prision. And she didn't want to get into her brothers issues. At least Varfariin seemed to be quite happy with his life, despite being forced into a marriage for political gains. And Ysdraille... the memory of that prone body filtered through her mind. The echos of his pleas for death echoing around her and goddess, the blood. A little girl should never have to see that much blood before she started growing up.
But, that was it wasn't it? She was grown up now and what had she accomplished? Nothing. Her brothers were heirs to the empires two most powerful thrones, her disowned sister was perhaps the next High-priestess and there was no chance on Edge that she would be able to become Arch-mage if the current one ever snuffed it. Seretice almost laughed at that. The only hope she had to become someone her parents would be proud of was to become the next Knight-commander of the Paladins. She did laugh at that thought, albeit bitterly. She barely could lift a sword, fighting was so far out of the question that it didn't even need to be asked. She was the youngest child of the royal family and while it was true she could still be empress one day she didn't want to wish harm on her own brother. But, what purpose did she serve? It made her want to laugh, it made her want to cry. None of that mattered now, she supposed. The Blood Moon Ball was coming and she didn't have time to pick at her worries. Wouldn't it of been nice though, she thought, to be one of those youths down in the city whose only concern was what they were wearing to the next party.
There was nary a second to question herself as the door was nearly torn from it's hinges as in strolled the man of the hour. Rich robes of purple and blue and a deep, deep ruby, all velvet and silk, trailed after him like the veil of a priestess. Seretice was surprised he hadn't tripped over his lavish attire. Like always, Glenal Valonde was dressed to more than impress but also embarrass those of lesser class. Dripping in gold and jewels, a habit borrowed from the Sun elven way of dress she guessed, and hobbling along with a cane bought from another distant land. It didn't matter that his once platinum blond hair was shot with grey and that his handsome features were weighted by age or even that he needed glasses to see now. Glenal was as impressive now as an eccentric old man as he was in his youth.
"Sere sweetheart! How has my favourite Great Niece in the WHOLE world been, eh?" He greeted jovially patting her on the shoulder once he was close enough.
It took her a moment to answer, tossing herself between truth and lie.
"I've been well, thank you for asking. Nothing much has been happening with us... well aside from battle planning I suppose."
"Now now, my dear, speaking of such things is for the dull noblemen and paladins of the Imperial Court. Best leave them to it, eh! Trouble your pretty head no further with the schematics of bloodshed, you weren't made for that!"
Glenal plopped himself in his seat with a huff, shaking out the ache in his back.
"Mmm, do I smell jasmine, honeysuckle, lavender and primrose, my dear?"
Ahh, there was that smile, worth every breath of the floral cocktail some poor wood elf had been forced to concoct. She could almost see the young man or woman, hair in intricate braids, frowning as they were assaulted by the sickening stench of their own creation. Such a stench! But, Glenal seemed to be impervious to a garden's worth of flowers and he was so very pleased with his selection for his dear great niece. Bear with it, Seretice reminded herself, bear with it for the sake of others. You are the rose, not the thorn. So she smiled up at the elder elf, and waited for him to settle more comfortably in his seat and set his ornamental cane aside. Ivory, all the way from Hollandiris, she'd be told, a gift from his sweetheart's family.
"Right!" He announced with a clap of the hands, jewelled rings clinking together,"I suppose we'd best leap into action without further ado, yes? Well... you've passed the etiquette test!"
"I'm sorry what now?"
"You. Passed, starshine. No need to quiz you on which spoon is for soup and which is for dessert. You know how to drink by now and I doubt anyone would let a lady such as your fine self pull out her own chair lest she chip a nail, eh?"
The princess couldn't argue with that. With the many feasts and formal dinners she had to attend there wasn't a rat's chance in the hunter's den that she'd need to brush up on her etiquette. As a lady, you must never seat yourself, don't fill your own cup because it makes you look like a glutton and never, under any circumstances, leave your eating utensils on the side of your plate or bowl, that's what the napkins are for. She'd been taught this since she was a tiny little thing with more curls on her head than she had body. It was a skill she'd picked up like reading and writing. It had been expected of her to know these things. She was just glad she wasn't a man because she was positive that she'd never be able to pull out some of the chairs she'd sat on for ladies. Crystal thrones adorned with pillows of silk woven by wood elves and stuffed with griffon feathers? She wouldn't even be able to budge it an inch! At least now the pressure for the day was off and she'd be able to goad Glenal into telling her one of his grand tales of adventures.
"So.." She started but was quickly cut off by a cup of tea and a scone being pushed in front of her.
"I know, angel, it's story time for my favourite! Now, have I ever told you the tale of how myself and my lovely Faris set off into the jungles of Hollandiris to find the Lapis Lake, located in the dead heart of the once fiery Valo-kein?"
The princess sipped at her tea in thought, relaying the tales he had told before. The masked ball in the capital of the Dreamer's province, being chased by violent fae, the audience with the fabled King of Wood elves. This story didn't seem familiar.
"I don't believe so." She replied, "It sounds rather inspiring!"
"Aye, finding that long lost lake was a challenge but, we made it. 'Twas always Faris' dream to see it, I'm glad I could give such a gift before... well! None of that. On with the tale!"
They soon fell into much more lighthearted talk of towering trees and burning sand. Of clouds on the horizon threatening rain so heavy one would swear on the Gods it was a waterfall. And somewhere, Seretice found herself running along side a golden haired moon elf in his youth and a sun elf with starry eyes, lost in the twisting tale of adventure and discovery. She could see, clear as day, the deep darkness of the jungle's depths, the only light coming from bio-luminescent plants and fungi, their foxfire blazing peridot in the dank. And she could almost smell through the bouquet of flowers adoring her skin the mud and rain and life hugging them from each side. Then, bursting from the tree line high up on the dead volcano's lip, clouds dancing under them, pure blissful sunlight so bright the eyes wept from the assault. But the view, oh how the view was worth the struggle. There, splayed out before them a great gaping maw of greenery like verdant fangs reaching from below and further still, waiting beyond at the bottom it lay like a jewel the Lapis Lake, so blue the sky could never hope to match it. Water so pure, so perfect and untainted by mortal hands. Surely, the princess thought, the water god Hydris had blessed this remote place.
Evening meal came and went, barely noticed until Glenal had suggested that they actually eat like they had intended while he could finish his tale for her but, sooner than she liked, the clocks were chiming and she was preparing to leave. Glenal reached into one of his secret pockets and drew out a bar of sweet white chocolate. To 'sweeten up that maidt of yours' he'd said as he handed it her.
"Ah before you leave, my dear, keep an eye on those pesky lads eh? Your brother's both have a habit of getting in to a little too much mischief. It'd be a real shame if something went bottom side up." The elderly man called after her as she left with a pearly smile and a enthusiastic wave.
Now there was but one more thing to deal with this day. A mysterious tutor sent by one of the five greatest powers of the empire. Supposedly to teach her. With the nobles hiding their daggers in their dress sleeves and armies clashing in the harsh frozen wastes, anything was possible. She hoped she was correct, that this was simply as innocent as it seemed. Magic was a common thing for the Moon Elves, so blessed they were with their ties to the heavenly halls of the All-father. You had to know how to use it for it to be of any use though and Seretice? She had just enough magic in her to be a danger to others. Sure she could frost up glass and freeze water with a touch but, if someone asked her to start flinging icicles here and there she'd be at a loss. There were children who had more skill with their powers than she. Perhaps that was why her father had met with the Arch-mage last month, to discuss how much of an utter failure his daughter was with her magic and to beg at his feet for help. The princess had to stop herself from laughing at that imagery. Her mother would not find it as funny.
Walking along the darkening corridors with only the silent guards to watch her pass, the nerves began to creep back in like the first chill of winter. What if she'd been given another Melorie? Snappish and never satisfied with a cruel streak a mile wide? What if this was a trap that had somehow managed to slip through their defences? Great Uncle Glenal's parting words made her jittery because despite her very best efforts to not think about it, someone wanted Ysdraille dead.
She pushed those thoughts back down and summoned her confidence as she knocked lightly at the door to the study. She half hoped this was the wrong study. There was hushed muttering and the rustle of papers for a moment before the door swung open revealing a small fae man who, despite all the odds, still managed to be taller than she was. The man stared at her with a bemused expression on his face, golden eyes studying the princess curiously. And she started back, equally confused and curious. Fae were rare in these parts, especially fae with ashen skin and eyes of sunlight. Children born from sin and suffering with the capacity for kindness. Surely this couldn't be her tutor. A man, for sure, but a moon elf with common looks was what Mira had told her and Mira was only ever wrong once in a blue moon. From the way he dressed, Seretice could easily tell he was no ordinary mage, if he was at all. Normal mages did not wear ebony black, nor did they carry quivers of arrows on their backs. And they, without a doubt, didn't tie off that particular look with a cloak of ruby red.
"I suppose you are the one Rosie is waiting for?" He asked, humour clear in his voice.
The man stepped back, bowing like a butler would, to allow her to walk past him into the dimly lit room. Papers were scattered about as if their owner had been caught in a wind storm and candles glowed warmly, a flickering fire burning merrily not to far away. There was a young man at the old oaken desk, pale hands writing at an incredible speed. Now this had to be the instructor. Dressed in a simple red uniform and adorned with gold, this second man was pale as snow with hair of moonlight and with sunken blue eyes intently focused on what was in front of him. With a sigh he set down the quill and blew of the parchment to aid the ink in drying before he folded his hard work in two and shuffled over to the princess and the mysterious fae.
"Take this. My translations are shaky at best so you might want to double check this with Arlathan up in the ruins of Teiyolgen'nee." He sighed shoving the paper at the fae, "Honestly why you chose to come here, to me, I'll never know. Just don't do it again, you hear."
"Thank you, my lord," He replied with a sultry smirk, "Anything for you."
"Esha." The elf sighed in defeat as the fae smirked in what the princess assumed was victory.
The man stooped in a mock bow before lifting one of the mage's hands and placing a kiss to there like a stamp. He just got a roll of the eyes and a flick on the nose in response. Seretice didn't quite know what was going on but, it was clear that the two had some sort of a history between them and that was something she wasn't going to stick her nose into. Her nose had far more important places to be after all. The fae man, named Esha she presumed, sauntered past her like he owned the place. Fae were ancient beings, their blood older than the oceans. It wouldn't surprise the princess if this man predated the Empire in age. The door slammed shut behind her as the mage sunk into his seat with a groan, rubbing at his eyes.
"Dreadfully sorry that you had to encounter... that. Some fae aren't known for their, ah, how should I put it? Tact, I suppose?"
The princess jumped at being addressed so suddenly. It did seem as if Esha did lack the usual manners found in most moon elves. That could easily be chalked up to having a completely different upbringing than most in the empire and being a semi-immortal being of pure magic. Her father had drilled the fact that all people were different, and deserved respect no matter what their background until they gave reason to be treated otherwise. She couldn't honestly give an opinion on Esha's manners or behaviour until she knew him better. And why he was garbed in the uniform of the Ruby Moon Roses. There was little reason to trust him, that was true, but, the princess had little reason not to either. Now how to respond to the tutor? It would be rude to simply stay silent and it would be rude to agree or disagree.
"Oh, never mind that!" She said with her best smile, "I came here to begin my Arcane Studies not ponder on things like that."
The man's eyebrows nearly shot into his hairline.
"Ah, yes right you are, Highness. Allow me to introduce myself properly. I am Lysanthir la Rosa, blood of House Valonde, at your service. An honour to be able to meet you."
"The pleasure is mine, Master la Rosa."
"O-oh my..." Lysanthir gasped with a shy blush creeping onto his face.
He coughed lightly into his hand, before smiling up at the princess. Seretice didn't think he'd be embarrassed so easily. It was nice to see that she was right in her assumptions that he would be soft and not some harsh tutor with too many sharp corners and a mean streak. Lysanthir offered her the seat opposite him that had been strategically placed so it'd catch the best of the fire's warmth. The princess wouldn't admit it (it'd be seen as rude to do so) but, she was beginning to feel a little chilly and it'd be nice to bask in the glow of the hearth. Lysanthir seemed to be wilting in the fire light, his eyes drooping and bruised and his hands lightly shaking. It had to be difficult running errands for the Arch-mage, the biggest workaholic in the empire, and perhaps he had been as nervous as she had been waiting for their meeting. But, he seemed nice. He seemed like he was trying and for that, she'd try engage with him the best she could.
"Right well, we wont be practising any real magic today, I'm afraid. It's far too dangerous in such a small environment and I've been told you haven't had any formal training before this, Highness. Am I correct?"
"Well...no. Not really."
It was Seretice's turn to feel a little embarrassed now. Most moon elves could cast a variety of simple spells but, her? Simple party tricks were all she could manage. Lysanthir in front of her could probably cast a great many spells. Devastating flames raining from the skies, lightning striking at foes and oceans rising to meet his feet. She had no doubt that despite his bashful nature and soft, sleepy exterior he could kill her in an instant. Magic, and the mages that wielded it, had been known to shake mountains to dust and rattle the stars with their rage. Forces of chaos wading into battle like an oncoming storm and here she was playing pranks by freezing her brother's drinks or frosting up her father's reading glasses. It felt like failure. She'd never had the sky to kneel like some, never tame the wild flames, never command the earth to move. She was like her mother. Stunted. Empty of Apocrypha's blessing and not desperate enough to whisper her secrets to the wind and make a deal with the Traitor God for power. But, Lysanthir sat there with his tired eyes and gentle smile and it all felt a little better.
"Well, that's okay, not everyone has the time to study magic and while it'd of been better for you to already had experience and training, it's not a problem, not at all. It takes years to get good with the arcane and that's why we start small." He explained gently, twirling a lock of snowy hair in thought.
"That makes sense, you can't just jump in the river and expect to swim."
"Exactly!" the mage exclaimed with a clap of the hands, "You're getting it already. Now we mages start with the basic; knowledge. Read. Learn. Understand. The more you understand, the better you'll get with magic. Knowledge is power, as they say."
The mage began looking through the piles of books on his desk, each one hefty and weighted with thousands of words worth of wisdom. Seretice was a lover of books, especially those written by adventurers telling of distant places beyond her reach and amongst those her favoured were, of course, Great Uncle Glenal's works. These tomes however, looked to be a struggle to just lift never mind read. Much work went into the study of magic and it's workings, she supposed, and many a mage needed to write down their findings. Then other magi would add to it their own discoveries until they all, somehow, manage to co-author a book of some description. Magic tomes were never coherent, except the Arch-mage's works because nobody would dare step on the work of the highest arcane power. Muddled tomes written by hedge-mages were becoming more and more rare nowadays but by just looking at what Lysanthir was pulling from his stacks, she was pretty sure she'd found his niche.
"Ah here it it, 'The Simplistic Guide to Beginners Arcanism and Magical Practice for the Budding Magician'." Lysanthir announced proudly pulling free the largest, and dustiest, tome the princess had ever seen from a pile of books teetering on the edge of his desk.
"Now," He told her, "I don't expect for a second for you to read all of this. About twelve magi worked on this beast so it's all a little muddled. I'd suggest reading most of what Acel wrote, she's printed in blue and what Luvon, in green, wrote about magic classification."
"And this will make me a better mage?" She asked, sceptically taking the offered tome.
"Well, I wouldn't say that exactly but, it will put you on the right path... and would you look at the time! It seems dealing with Esha ate up much of our allotted meeting time I'm afraid, Highness."
Seretice looked at the clock. It was getting rather late now, that was true. In fact, Mira would be expecting her back any minute to change for bed and take supper. She thanked Lysanthir graciously, causing the poor man to once again blush as crimson as his clothes. The book wasn't as heavy as it looked but, she'd never been one for heavy lifting. The mage bid her farewell, promising that their lessons would be at least weekly and that he didn't expect her to get much reading done with the Blood Moon Ball breathing down their necks. Seretice struggled to her rooms, silently cursing the still, silent guards standing at attention. Surely one would could spare them self to aid their princess but, no. That was too much to ask from suits of armour. At least Mira got a laugh when she saw her lady staggering through the door carrying a book as wide as she, leaking dust from it's pages like a waterfall. Seretice was more than happy to slide into a warm bath then into her nightgown and settle down for a warm cup of tea.
And as she sat there sipping her drink, the snow beginning to fall outside once again, she pushed down those unpleasant thoughts from before. She pushed down the woman paladin. She pushed down her tip off. She pushed down the fact that someone, out there in the harsh cold city, blanketed in a cloak of night, wanted to kill her brother.
Someone wanted him dead and Seretice? She wasn't going to let it happen. Not even over her own dead body.