~ The stranger's visit ~
Together with his guests, King Henric went on his hunt, in the Portnan Forest. This meant Pallas was free for the next couple of hours. While he didn’t need to worry about someone suddenly coming over and checking up on him, this didn’t mean he could slack off. The king’s horses were probably waiting for him to return and let them out of their stalls to run on the riding ground. Some were probably just waiting for the usual grooming routine. This meant picking their hooves, combing their hair with a curry comb, dusting with a brush made of some dead horse’s tail nailed to a stick, rubbing over their legs with a hand of straw wreathed hard together, rubbing them over with his wet hands, and finally shining them with a clean coarse cloth. Although they enjoyed the feeling of being properly groomed, Pallas wasn’t exactly the best one to do this. As a result, most of the horses tried to remind him of the proper way to do it by either biting, hitting, or bumping into him.
Pallas would have enjoyed running back to the Hanagoya lake and taking a long nap there, but duty called him, so he headed back to the Royal Stables. The idea of going through another grooming session with the horses didn’t please him in the slightest. As such, he took his time walking slowly, admiring the sky, the clouds, the walls, and the Ivory Tower, the biggest man-made structure in the entire kingdom.
The Eldenguard castle was surrounded by a nine meters (thirty feet) tall, three meters (ten feet) thick stone wall with six built-in fourteen meters (forty-five feet) tall archer towers. Each offered the stationed guards a perfect view over the surrounding city. The castle itself was a large construction situated right in the middle. It had a training area for the knights on the left, together with a small stable for their horses and a garage for the royal carriages. The Royal Stable was on the right together with another smaller training ground. Far in the back of the castle, from the exit and all around the Ivory Tower, a beautiful garden could be seen.
The castle itself was nearly sixteen meters (fifty-two feet) tall, and it was separated into four different floors, each filled with various rooms and chambers. The most important one was certainly the king’s throne room, it made up almost the entirety of the ground floor. The royal bedroom was situation directly above the throne, it was a large room where only the king and queen were allowed to sleep. The rest of the castle was filled with various study rooms, libraries, and guest rooms. The kitchen and servant quarters were located on the first level of the basement, while directly under them, at the second level, were the cells of the castle’s jail.
Pallas was allowed to sleep in one of the servant’s rooms, but he also had his special little chamber in the Royal Stable, so he could be closer to the horses. Most of the time, he slept in his room in the castle, it was less noisy there. Last time he tried to sleep in the Royal Stables, the animals kept him awake by neighing all night and hitting the walls of their stalls with their hooves. He barely got a wink of sleep that night.
The castle was decorated with a beautiful sculpted wall art of leafs and branch designs, especially around the main entrance where the granite statue of an elf and a man shaking hands stood tall and proud. That statue showed the friendly relationships between the Dumveille Kingdom and the Summest Kingdom to the south, ruled by never aging elves. The Niffle Kingdom in the north was also ruled by elves, but relationships with them had always been rigid, almost threatening at times.
The Ivory Tower was built right behind the castle and compared to the other towers, it was of gigantic proportions. With an octagonal base, it reached up to eighty five meters (two hundred seventy eight feet) in height, reaching up to the skies like a defiant white spear that wished to pierce the heavens. Both the castle and the tower were covered in a beautiful white marble, sculpted and decorated by some of the greatest architects of Dumveille.
The entire Eldenguard castle was a construction that stood as a testament of mankind’s ingenuity. Hundreds of tons of stone and marble were used centuries ago when it was built. To reach such incredible heights, the king from back then ordered his magic users, mages and sorcerers alike, to enchant the walls and make them last. They say it took more than ten years for the magic users to cast the proper enchantments. They had to go through every stone used in the construction.
Now the difference between the mage and the sorcerer was quite simple. The mage dabbled in the theoretic part of magic, while the sorcerer in the practical application of it. In a sense, this made the mages wiser, but less powerful than the sorcerers.
When the Ivory Tower was completed, the king ordered for it to be used by the kingdom’s top mages, sorcerers, and their apprentices. It was separated into multiple levels used by the magic users both as housing and for their experiments and studies. While the lower levels were used by a lot of mages and sorcerers, the top one was reserved only for the Grand Sorceress. It was her personal chamber, her study room, and her experimentation laboratory. She had all that she needed in there and because of this, she was not often seen outside of the Ivory Tower.
The Grand Sorceress, although she had her own personal apprentices, there were many mages and sorcerers who requested her aid. It was rumored that her knowledge of magic was so vast it rivaled even that of the old elves. So far, she had yet to test her might against them.
Although Pallas had to admire this beautiful building, getting inside of it was something akin to impossible. He could have easily just dashed inside, but status wise, he was just a simple stable master. He had no purpose or reason of being there without a proper summon. Only those who knew how to wield magic were allowed to enter the tower, but even then, they weren’t permitted to pass the second floor. The Grand Sorceress decided by herself who was allowed farther in and who wasn’t. She was very pretentious and because of this, many nobles found themselves rejected, despite their ability to use magic.
Pallas hoped from day one that whatever was pulling him to this castle wasn’t inside the Ivory Tower. He really didn’t want to try to sneak inside there, but this was mostly because he had no idea how to deal with magic. He knew that some mages needed time to cast their spells, chanting complicated verses before even a small fireball came out, while others only needed to point and shoot.
Approaching the Royal Stables, Pallas looked away from the Ivory Tower. It’s beauty and greatness was matched only by the degree of its inaccessibility to people without magic. It would be a miracle if Pallas ever managed to get inside.
“Didn’t I close it?” he asked himself as he stopped and looked surprised at the entrance to the stables, the doors were cracked open.
Pallas slowly approached the entrance. He wondered who could have dared to enter without the king’s permission. At first, he thought it might have been one of the guards or maybe one of the king’s guests who stayed behind. He realized then neither of them had a reason to trespass. They could have just waited for his return, after all, he was the stable master.
“Hello? Is anyone here?” he asked as he carefully stepped inside the stable.
The horses welcomed him with an annoyed neigh, which Pallas ignored, but at the same time took notice of this. Whoever was inside was certainly of a noble lineage, otherwise these arrogant horses would have sounded the alarm long before he got there.
He took a few steps inside and looked around for anything suspicious. He stopped when he saw the intruder.
It was a woman.
She was standing near the last stall on the other side of the stable. She was gently petting one of the king’s horses and by the content look on the animal’s face, she was without a doubt a noble. She was also a little taller than Pallas, but he couldn’t see how she looked like. On her head, she wore a white hood, and she was dressed in a beautiful matching dress. As she gently petted the horse, a gentle smile could be seen on her lips. She didn’t seem dangerous, but rather harmless, innocent maybe.
“Excuse me, but I don’t think you are allowed in here…” Pallas said, but then he noticed neither of the horses backed away from her like they did with him, instead they moved closer as if they wanted to be touched and petted by her.
Pallas knew these horses for two months now, and they wouldn’t get near a commoner even if their lives depended on it, but a noble was something else, even a newly proclaimed one, but not in such a manner. They would let them approach them, even ride them, but they would never gather up to be touched like they did now with this woman.
She slowly turned towards Pallas, but the white hood hid most of her face. Only her pink lips could be seen as they formed into a gentle smile. Without saying a single word, she suddenly turned around and ran towards the other side of the stable.
“Wait!” Pallas shouted as he dashed after her, forgetting for a moment the fact that she might be some important noble.
This thought didn’t even cross his mind. She seemed different, as if her presence had a real impact on him, and there was something strange that pulled him to follow her.
She was slower than him, and her long white dress didn’t really help with her speed, but just when she was about to be caught by him, a horse pushed a nearby broom in front of him, making him stumble. Lucky for Pallas, he had good reflexes and managed to safely land on the ground, without getting most of his clothes dirtied by the filth. The horse neighed amused, but nevertheless, it was all the distraction the woman needed, and before Pallas could raise his head up to look after her, she was gone.
Stupid horse! I need to go after her! She couldn’t have gone that far! thought Pallas as he got up and started to run.
After he walked out of the stable, he found himself on the path that led towards the Grand Sorceress’ rose garden. He perked his ears up, but he couldn’t hear any running steps and there were too many beating hearts around, some from the servants, others from the guards, the rest from the horses. Two of them were from the garden keepers, or maybe only one. He tried to sniff the air as well, but the strong scent of manure and horses overpowered the one of the roses. He sighed and gave up.
“She’s the guard’s duty, not mine…” Pallas said as he tried to console himself for the failed tracking attempt.
When he returned to the stables, a few of the horses awaited him with a mischievous grin on their faces. Pallas knew clearly what it meant, they needed a new bedding. With a heavy sigh, he walked over to inspect the mess. This was probably going to be another long day, especially since he had to start grooming them.
“So what do you think of him?” a woman asked with a low voice.
She appeared to be around the age of thirty. Her hair was long and black like a raven’s feather, while her eyes were sharp and violet like a perfect amethyst. A smirk formed on the corners of her lips as she looked down from the balcony at the Royal Stable.
A pair of red eyes with a slit pupil gazed past the woman towards a floating cloud, and a smile appeared on her pink lips.
“I sense fear in him, sorceress… is he really that special?” asked the other with a calm and gentle tone of voice, but filled with a slight tinge of worry.
The sorceress with raven hair and violet eyes turned around and walked casually towards her. She wore a long black mantle that dragged a small part of it behind her, floating lightly, just an inch above the ground. It was enchanted with a simple spell. She wanted to keep the dust away from it. She also wore a pair of long leather boots, which could barely be seen from under her long purple satin dress. A corset covered her top, but it was merely a decoration, it didn’t restrain her breath or tightened her waist to impossible lengths.
The sorceress’ smirk turned into a smile as she lifted her hand and the windows closed slowly, without making a single sound.
“You asked me to use a spell to make sure if it was him, and the spell proved that which you already knew. Now, do you even need me to do all of this when you can already feel it by yourself? He is the one isn’t he?” the sorceress asked as she looked straight into those red draconic eyes.
The woman nodded once, admitting the truth behind the sorceress’ words. Ever since he arrived in the capital, she felt him calling out to her, and she pulling him closer and closer with each passing day. It was no mere chance he arrived just when her father needed a stable master. The strings of fate were already working their magic, pulling them together in a destiny yet unknown to them.
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