Medi moved through the iron halls as quickly as he could, balancing a tray with three pitchers of water on his spindly fingers. Around him, the staff of the fortress barely noticed him as they went about their business.
That had always been Medi's gift, not being noticed. Barely more than a boy, he was small, able to blend into places people never spared a glance, like a rodent, some said.
An overweight washer woman almost strode over him hurriedly, but he slipped round her, keeping the tray perfectly poised.
A slave, Medi had been sold into the Septarch's service as a servant. He had only been a young boy then, and remembered little of his life before he stepped into the iron halls for the first time.
Not that he was complaining, mind. In the servant's quarters he was never alone, and never wanted for food. His dedication had eventually put him in service to Artz Krieg, one of the highest ranking politicians in the Inner Sanctum.
A severe man, but he had never mistreated Medi, and Medi found serving him interesting.
He often penned his letters, and in return for his service, he was allowed to read many of the rare books Krieg had procured over the years.
He stopped at Krieg's office and knocked twice.
"Enter," Krieg's voice bellowed.
Medi entered and saw Krieg in a heated discussion with a man in a cloak he recognised. Aldor Zane, one of the Speakers, the servants of the Septarchs. The only ones who ever truly saw the city's mysterious rulers.
In his impressive black and red uniform, Krieg towered over the smaller man, but there was a sense of deference.
"Water, m'lord," Medi said, quietly.
"Lay it down there," Krieg said, before returning to his conversation. "They won't even leave the chamber for this? We must consider our next move."
"The Septarchs have been informed, and will decide the best course of action when the time is right," the man hissed quietly, like a snake. "But they will not leave the chamber."
Medi stood out of sight and disappeared again. Like a rodent.
"The sanctum has a right to be consulted," Krieg said. "The Septarchs have not been seen for more than a year, and now this-"
"The Septarchs have long been expecting the passing of King Aradane, and have made preparations," Zane said. "For now there is a more pressing matter at hand that requires your attention."
Krieg took up a pitcher and poured a drink. He offered it to Zane, who refused politely.
"Oh?" Krieg asked.
Zane reached into his robe and removed a scroll, unfurling it and laying it on the desk in front of them.
"This arrived this morning by hawk, before our agents in the city were able to report," Zane said.
"A notice of the king's passing," Krieg said, quietly.
"And an invitation to both his funeral in a fortnight and the imminent coronation of his heir, Her Majesty Princess Orabella."
Krieg pulled the notice closer to him with a gloved finger.
"The Septarchs have decided we will be sending an ambassador," Zane said. "The royal house wishes to present a united front, refusing the invitation would create needless tension."
"Me?" Krieg asked.
"Of course you will not be alone," he said. "As ambassador you will have a full complement of Iron Men."
Medi shuddered. The Iron Men frightened him, faceless blades in thick, black plate, the Septarchs' special guard. In his first year in Ironhaven, Medi had seen them silence a protester by severing his legs with a broadsword and tearing his head from his body. The bloody image had remained with him since.
"The masters trust this will not be an issue?" Zane asked.
"Of course not," Krieg said. "I would be honoured to pay respects on behalf of the Septarchs. If that is all?"
"There is one more thing," Zane said as he turned to leave. "The masters would also like you take another for your detail. You know him as The Quiet One."
Medi saw the blood drain from Krieg's face, but the name meant nothing to him. The young servant had never seen his master so frightened.
"Ironsail will be departing within the week," Zane said, moving to the door as Medi slipped in to open it. "Safe travels, ambassador."
Krieg stayed seated for a while after, in silence, before he sat forward and gruffly said: "wine."
Medi answered immediately by taking a bottle from the nearby rack and pouring it into his empty pitcher, returning quickly to his spot by the wall.
Krieg never thanked him, but Medi knew he was thankful, so it was not necessary.
"You are from Skyhaven originally, yes?" The man asked. He had never asked a question like that before.
"Yes, m'lord," Medi said.
"Do you remember much of it?"
"No, m'lord. I was only young when I was taken by the slavers," Medi replied.
"Do you still have family there?"
"A sister, sir," Medi said. "We were separated."
Krieg did not answer this time. He simply stared out the window. Medi could never tell what he was thinking.
"You will come with me on the Ironsail," Krieg said. "I will need a servant as much as I need blades and..." he seemed to struggle for a word to describe the 'Quiet One' Zane had mentioned. "Other things."
"Of course, m'lord."
Krieg stood up.
"Go to Patron Seizster," he said. "Have him prepare my ceremonial armour for the journey."
Medi bowed and left Krieg looking out of the large arch window, across the glittering lights of Ironhaven.
Only when he had left the office and was three halls away did Medi stop and allow himself a smile.
He was returning to the place he had been born, the place where, almost eight years prior, he and his sister had been wrenched apart by men too big for him to fight back against. Bold, this one, they had said, good for working.
Medi looked through the huge window to his left. Soon, he would leave Ironglade for the first time in longer than he could remember, and he was going to find his sister.