Guard Duty: Part Two
Banquets in Faerieland weren't the grand affairs they had once been, but Fyora had been keen to give a good impression to the visiting Harkdale ambassador. The kitchens had been given orders to pull out all the stops with their now limited budget, and although Captain Smith could remember when far grander dishes had been served regularly, Ambassador Walters seemed rather impressed.
Smith stood guard silently at the side of the room as the feast continued. Walters, the blue Zafara, had been seated relatively near the Queen, and although Smith noticed the Ambassador kept glancing towards Fyora, he rarely made any conversation deeper than how nice the food was, or how he admired the architecture. The Ambassador was biting his tongue, that much was clear, and the reason was Major Brenham.
The brown Lutari still had the same harsh look on his face that he had worn when he arrived, and although Walters had been gushing with praise, Brenham was clearly unimpressed. He was too busy keeping an eye on the Ambassador. Every time he opened his mouth, he was watching, and making sure Walters knew he was watching.
Eventually the dinner ended, and the guests departed back to their rooms, or in the case of some back to their homes in the city beyond the palace walls.
"Ambassador," Fyora announced to Walters. "I will speak with you now in my throne room, if you would consent."
"Of course, your Majesty." Walters nodded, following the Faerie Queen out of the hall.
Fyora turned as she noticed there was another following them.
"Can I help you, Major?" she asked.
The Lutari smiled without a hint of actual politeness.
"I am under orders to accompany the Ambassador during all official engagements, and any other non-official engagements, at my discretion," the Major explained.
"Such discussions as these are normally conducted in private," Fyora told him.
"Then please consider this an exception," the Major said. "The Ambassador will not go anywhere without me."
Fyora exchanged a brief glance to Walters before nodding. "Very well, Major. Captain Smith, please lead the way."
Smith saluted, and marched off down the corridors, the three of them following in his wake until they reached the throne room.
There, Fyora, Walters, and the Major disappeared within as Smith stood guard outside.
Smith may have been a straight arrow, but every guard on the planet had perfected the skill of listening at doors. It didn't matter that he wasn't in the room, he could hear well enough that he might as well have been.
"Ambassador," Fyora began. "I am becoming increasingly worried about reports I have received from Meridell. Engagements between Harkdale and Meridell forces are becoming increasingly common. This can be good for neither country."
"Of course, your Majesty," Walters replied.
"If I may?" Major Brenham cut across. "Engagements are becoming more common because King Skarl has invaded our lands."
"As I understand it, Major, the conflict began when Harkdale troops raided Meridell settlements in the Cogham area," Fyora pointed out.
"Then you understand it incorrectly," the Major said bluntly. "Meridell are the aggressors, we are merely defending our own homes."
"Be that as it may," Fyora replied. "King Skarl has sent me messages that personally assure me he is willing to treat for peace."
The voice of Ambassador Walters was allowed a brief moment of life, "This is-"
"Lies," Brenham cut in. "It is a trick by Skarl, luring us to peace talks where the ruling military council will be destroyed. We will not fall for such tricks."
"And what say you, Ambassador?" Fyora asked.
"The Ambassador agrees," Brenham stated.
"Major, who is the diplomat here?" Fyora asked. "The Ambassador, who has been appointed as such? Or you?"
"I am here to remind the Ambassador of his duties," the Major stated. "He agrees with me. Is this not true, Ambassador?"
"...Yes," Walters answered, in a less than convincing voice.
"Then, Ambassador," Fyora said, though Smith got the impression she was in fact looking at the Major, "What would be ideal circumstances for peace between the two nations?"
There was a moment of silence before Walters answered. He clearly didn't agree with the words that came from his mouth.
"The complete withdrawal of Meridell troops from the Cogham Mountains, surrendering the territory to Harkdale," he answered.
"I see," Fyora replied. "Well, at least that much is clear. I have arranged for a joint meeting between myself, you, and a Meridell Ambassador tomorrow afternoon. The Meridell Ambassador has been staying in the castle for several days now; I don't believe you were introduced during dinner."
"Meridell scum, here!?" Brenham spat. "If I had known, I would not have shared a table with him. I hope you understand, Queen Fyora, that the only table we will knowingly share with a Meridell citizen is one at which they are signing a document of surrender!"
"Ambassador?" Fyora asked.
"The Ambassador agrees!" Brenham shouted. "It is time for us to retire!"
A moment later, the doors to the throne room opened and Major Brenham stormed out, dragging the Ambassador behind him.
Fyora emerged a few moments later.
"Well, that went as well as can be expected," Fyora remarked.
"Should I post guards outside their chambers, your Majesty?" Smith asked. "The Major should be closely watched, in case he meets the Meridell Ambassador."
"No," Fyora said quickly. "That won't be necessary tonight. The presence of soldiers may enrage the Major more. We should allow him to calm down before tomorrow's meeting."
Fyora rubbed her temples. "I, however, will be heading to my chambers. Something tells me that tomorrow will be a long day. Good night, Captain."
"Good night, Majesty," Smith replied.
Fyora made her way off to her own personal rooms, while Smith returned to the guard's room.
There, he found Habbard waiting.
"You're on night duty tonight?" Smith asked.
The Faerie Kougra smiled, nodding.
"Keep your ear to the floor; the Harkdale party is a little volatile towards Meridellians," Smith advised him. "But keep away from their rooms – Queen's orders, she thinks it might inflame the situation."
"Of course, sir," Habbard answered. "I wouldn't want to go near those people anyway. I had friends in Cogham before the raids, sir. When I think about what they did to them..."
The Kougra's fists tensed.
"Getting angry about it won't solve the situation," Smith told him. "If it could, Meridell would have flattened the place by now. We just have to hope the Queen will make them see sense. Anyway, how did you get on today?"
"The West Tower is completely finished, sir," Habbard reported.
"Already?" Smith questioned. "That's excellent! I should go and tell the Queen before I leave. You can take over patrols, Habbard."
The Kougra saluted, and both left the guard room, heading in opposite directions.
Fyora's rooms were on the upper levels of the palace, a private apartment for the Queen – and the only place she could truly be alone. Normally, the only person who was allowed in the chambers save Fyora herself was Celandra, the Queen's personal maid. Even then, she was only allowed there in the morning and the evening to see that everything was in order. The rest of the time, Fyora was the sole occupant.
It was with some surprise that Smith found Celandra opening the door when he knocked. He had assumed the pink Gelert would have left for the night soon after Fyora had arrived.
"Can I help you, Captain?" she asked, only holding the door open a little.
"I need to speak with the Queen," Smith answered.
"Is it urgent?" the Gelert asked.
"Not vitally," Smith admitted. "She had expressed interest in the progress on the West Tower; I only wished to inform her that it was finished."
"I will pass on your message," Celandra replied, moving to shut the door.
Smith wedged his foot in the way, and attempted to look behind the maid.
"Is everything alright?" Smith asked, confused by the Gelert's seemingly evasive behaviour. "Is Her Majesty there?"
Celandra hesitated. "No, if you must know. She has stepped out for a moment."
Smith released his foot from the door. "Where has she gone?"
"Just walking in the gardens," Celandra answered. "I'm sure she will be back soon. I will pass on your message when she returns, never fear, Captain."
With that, the door slammed shut.
Smith was a little confused, and thought it would be best to check out Celandra's story. It wasn't that late, after all. He could afford to waste some more time in the castle.
He made his way down to the castle gardens, a beautiful hidden oasis in the castle's central courtyard. It was maintained by the earth Faerie, Vyline, who could be found tending to the garden at all hours of the day and night. Smith found her near where the statue of the Darkest Faerie had once stood.
"Vyline," he greeted her. "Have you seen the Queen?"
"Lost her?" The earth Faerie giggled. "No, not since this afternoon. It's been quite quiet tonight, only seen your friend Habbard passing through."
A sudden sound interrupted the pair, a strangled scream on the night air that fell abruptly dead.
"That came from the guest rooms!" Smith hissed, breaking into a run and unsheathing his sword.
Smith reached the corridor that held the guest rooms, and immediately noticed that one was ajar, the light pouring out into the corridor. From the opposite end, Habbard was running to meet him.
"Did you hear that too?" he shouted.
Smith put his finger to his lips as he drew close to the open door, signifying that Habbard should be quiet. When they were both in position, they rushed inside, swords drawn.
The room had only one occupant – Ambassador Walters. The blue Zafara was sprawled on the floor, and as Smith checked his pulse, he shook his head.
To be continued...