The Blue Tower of Longval reached for the sky with both granite and oak. The wooden steeple was painted twice a century. There would always be a bright cerulean streak Longval’s sky; even when the sun didn’t shine. Toikem found the gesture optimistic and somewhat lyrical. He slowed down Ardens to a walk to contemplate the monument in silent appreciation.
Longval was a homely town for a duke. It had been a shepherd’s paradise once, but the transhumance – the seasonal migration of the flocks towards summer and winter pastures – had stopped long ago. Tall grass covered the hillsides that were once grazed by hundreds of sheep. Silver and bleakstone – a powerful alchemical ingredient – had been discovered in the hills, two generations ago. The mines hadn’t known rest since.
Two generations ago, gold had flowed down the local count’s pocket faster than he could have ever spent it. Half a lifetime of alliance and intrigue later, he died with a duke for a son. The Blue Tower was the count’s achievement. The steeple had been the meager implementation of his heir. His grandson now sat in his chair, figuratively speaking.
The guards standing by the tower’s entrance laughed at Kayla when she told them she came to see the Duke. She gave Toikem a sharp look after that, blaming him for her ridicule. With words still amused they explained; the noble had never even set foot in the Blue Tower. The intendant met them in the audience chamber where he sat by the empty ducal chair.
He was a middle-aged man greying at his temples, all dressed in green, with green eyes. He looked down at them from the height of a dais. Although he tried to seem benevolent, his noble blood kept humility at bay.
“His Ducal Highness lives at Court, of course. I am… sorry you were mistaken.” He rolled his eyes quite ostensibly. “I am Bertel, Intendant of Longval, Counselor of the Duchy of Vertcol, and Baron of Ironwall.”
The fastidious presentation gave Toikem enough information to locate their interlocutor on the feudal spectrum. He must have been the second son of a second son. His barony had a Rean name, surely a created title to flatter his ego. Bertel of Ironwall was probably born without land to inherit. His highest rank was that of a glorified reeve.
“Intendant Bertel,” Kayla acknowledged him for simple salute. She often disregarded etiquette.
Annoyed by her lack of embellishment, the noble crossed his arms and sighed. Toikem was under the impression they’d been summoned by a forty year-old child.
“His Ducal Highness has requested your presence at Court for an urgent matter…”
“Then why were we asked here?” Kayla interrupted.
The guards had done nothing to ease her into the situation. As always, Kayla showed temper while Toikem kept still and wordless.
The noble had a smug smile. If anything, he seemed entertained by Kayla’s retort. He knocked on his armrest and a servant in a blue livery arrived. The intendant glanced at a ewer and he was served a drink. He sipped slowly from his silver cup and squinted at Kayla. Rather than anger, he aroused pity. The siblings had met woodmen more subtle than him.
“Commoners do not enter the Imperial Court.”
Toikem remained impassive although he knew this fact to be true. His sister did not, however. She rolled her eye in the same fashion the noble had before.
“Why bother then?” she asked.
The intendant smirked. He probably enjoyed the feeling that he knew things others didn’t. In fact, Toikem went as far as to speculate the man was rarely on this end of the conversation – which might have been why he enjoyed it so much. The main door opened.
“Bertel!” the visitor boomed.
Kayla immediately turned to face the newcomer. Toikem preferred to observe the intendant’s surprise and discomfort first.
A short shaggy-bearded man limped his way up the dais. He wore white and blue, coat and tunic, with a longsword swinging by his side. Toikem spotted the steel and red silk chain on his wrist. A man of the Emperor.
“Why wasn’t I told they arrived?” the newcomer asked the intendant.
“I told the guards to seek you,” Bertel lied without hesitation.