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The Arrival

by Jeff Daly

The Thyatian trading post had been destroyed almost 1000 years ago and yet the ruined walls and foundations were still strong enough to provide the framework for the city of Alpha. 60,000 people lived in the city or the surrounding farmlands. Most of them were Alphatian but there were quite a few people from the southern nations represented as well. Though the harbour could support many large ships, only a few were docked. There was no real Norwold Navy as yet.

The lords of Norwold and their king rode out from the city to the place of the magical disturbance that had been described by Lord Diego and the blind mystic Caine. It was a somewhat secluded spot at the edge of the mountains secured snugly between two foothills. Yet it was not difficult to find...

"Its huge," breathed an awe-struck lady of Ericall's court.

It was a circular swirl of midnight blue. Like the top of a flat whirlpool that had been removed from a dark ocean and set on its side in mid-air. It was too high to reach from the ground as the edge of the circle was a good 20 feet above the ground. Lightning flashes could be seen dimly behind the blue though the sky overhead was clear.

The Lords ordered their men to fan out and inspect the area. Hours passed with no explanation for the strange disturbance in the air. The mages present gave various theories...but of course information as yet was inconclusive. A few of the braver mages offered to use their powers to fly to the disk and observe it close, maybe even cast a few analysing magics to further study the aberration.

The king shook his head. He wanted to have the thing observed for awhile. Maybe even post a watch garrison. Oddly the thing was set near a pass in the mountains. A very strategic pass. King Ericall did not want anything to harm his loyal mages if the thing turned out to be some sort of attack.

In the end it was fortunate that none of them flew up to the disk. For all of a sudden the whole thing flashed once. Lightning rippled across the surface in threatening waves as thunder crackled ominously. Those gathered loosened their weapons and waited with tense apprehension.

Then...the point of something large and wooden appeared in approximately the centre of the spinning disk. Lightning ripped and danced about its edges as it came. It was like a huge arrowhead constructed of wood with a glass strip running across the top of it. People could be faintly seen moving behind the black glass. As more of the vessel followed slowly behind the fore, it could be seen the shaft with its walkway caused the head to resemble more a giant neck craning down. Then came the body which was fashioned very much like a ship complete with masts. Two more ship like structures, one on either side, were attached to this middle one.

With a sharp wrenching sound the thing broke free of the swirling mystical portal. Flying from one of the masts could be clearly seen a flag with the royal sphinx of Alphatia emblazoned on it. Lining the railings were many men in black uniforms with red body sashes. They were bearing staves and standing at attention. Wand holsters hung from their belts.

"Make ready!" a voice cried from the air ship, "Make ready for the arrival of his most illustrious highness the imperial prince Zandor!"

Court is held

"And so," the kind was saying to the hastily assembled lords in the palace of Alpha, "We must endeavour to show his imperial highness the respect and honour that is due his station. He is the likely heir to Empress Eriadna the Wise, and it would benefit our beloved Kingdom for him to remember us kindly-"

A black haired man with an arrogant expression came through the open double doors and announced, "His imperial highness, the prince!"

"You are correct baby brother. You would do well to be most respectful to me. However, as news must travel here very slowly, I must inform you that I am not the likely heir. I am THE heir. Ethandryl has stepped down in favour of ruling the ancestral lands. She was the only one standing in my way."

King Ericall cleared his throat, "We apologise for the oversight. We were indeed unaware of this development. But what brings you to our fair Kingdom of Norwold dear imperial brother?"

"Ah yes," Zandor smiled, "getting right to the point, I am here to discover why the taxes, which are this colony's loyal duty, are late again this season."

"We sent them over a month ago, so they should arrive at the capital soon. But speaking of late, We found it most unfortunate that the mother country did not listen to her vassal kingdom's pleas for aid. We would wonder that the crown considers us so frightfully unimportant as to allow our loss..."

Imperial prince Zandor rolled his eyes, "Must you use that silly archaic speech unfortunate brother? Very well. In any case it was indeed unfortunate that, just as the taxes came late, so did you message of aid request. But to see that such unfortunate occurrences do not happen again, I have had built the great gate which you saw back at the neck of the peninsula.

Count Diego and Countess Maximillian exchanged sharp glances at the implications of such a gate being built at the strategic neck of the Alphan peninsula.

"So it is a permanent gate?" Breathed Coiger de Mory, a recent noble who had been promoted rather quickly to count.

The imperial highness did not even look at Count Coiger, "Now it is a sad thing, brother, but the crown has started to see this slowness in paying your proper duty to be a sign of rebellion."

Ericall leaned forward ominously, "Are you accusing any of us here, of treason?"

Zandor waved his hand dismissively, "I am not making any accusations, Eric. I am merely stating what the crown has begun to think. And this is not a reflection on you necessarily. There are many who serve you who come from other lands. Their loyalty is unknown by the crown..."

Ericall exploded, "This is an outrage! I can stomach your petty insults and diatribes but I will not have my loyal lords questioned!"

"Oh calm down before you pop a vessel, lad."

The assembled lords stared in shock as the king seemed about to say something with a dread sense of finality. But Queen Christina Marie Alanira came forward and quickly whispered to the king. After a terse explanation of a quiet conference with his queen and loyal adviser, the two majesties departed.

His imperial prince Zandor waited with his eyes on the ceiling. About twenty minutes later the two returned.

It was the queen who spoke, "It is understandable that the imperial crown must question the loyalty of those who serve her whom she does not know. Therefore it is Norwold's decision to send a group of lords and attendants to the capital. There to pledge loyalty to the crown. It was good of you to deliver this message and helpful advice to us dear imperial brother." She smiled sweetly at him.

Zandor blinked.

"Further," Queen Christina continued, "as the crown must be aware of Norwold's extreme financial situation such a trip could do great harm to the people and meagre magical research of the colony. Surely the crown would be so generous as-"

"Certainly," Zandor quickly recovered, "Such a trip would be good for those who serve Norwold but first and foremost of course the imperial crown. They will learn of the Alphatian empire and those whom they serve."

"Excellent," Queen Christina's smile was that of a blazing sun, "I shall make contact with a friend from the capital and he will guide them in their exploration. All that is left is to decide who is to go. My thanks, imperial brother."

Zandor nodded, confused, and left.

Ericall looked up at the assembled lords, "Reactions?"

One lord muttered, "Seems to me this gate is situated strategically if an invasion of Norwold came from Alphatia herself."

"Careful Weston," said King Ericall, "You border on treason."

He nodded, conceding the point.

"Now, do we have any volunteers?"

The volunteers meet with the king and queen The queen said, "Master Terari is on his way here. We are very fortunate that he has elected to aid you in your tour of the Alphatian continent. He has taken an extended sabbatical from his teaching duties at the University of Sundsvall. Since the crown is paying for this trip I have outlined a course that will take you over much of the empire. Even so, keep in mind that the area you are seeing comprises less than half of the empire as a whole."

A messenger entered the room and spoke briefly with the king. He politely excused himself, and Queen Christian continued. She explained more fully the course of the trip including the tour of the ship facilities, and the tour of an Alphatian Man-O-War. She further explained that she, not necessarily the king himself, wanted the lords to keep an eye out for ship masters willing to invest in the "as-yet-to-be-built" Norwold Navy.