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Fiction, Fantasy, Serial Novel
by: J. Dennis McKay
Yllek examined himself in the mirror with a concerned expression. The clothes the Domi tailors had sent up were no less expertly done than the last set they had sent up, and were cut in much the same fashion. It was the colours that concerned him more than anything. While the tan coat and black breaches and high black boots complemented Yllek's natural colours well, and the intricately patterned fine gold stitching of the coat blended well with the colour of the cloth, the significance of the colours themselves and the pattern of the stitching were not lost on him. He was still in mid contemplation when Papa Domi entered the room unannounced.
"You always were a little vain, friend Yllek," Papa commented wryly upon noting Yllek standing in front of the mirror.
"It's not my vanity that concerns me at the moment, Papa, but my presumption. Exactly when did I become the head of House Navillus?" Yllek confronted his elder.
Papa smiled and cocked his head to one side, "Why, twenty years ago, lad, when the rest of your house were killed off."
Yllek's eyes narrowed and glared at the old man, dressed in a similar manner in the colours of House Domi. "House Navillus died twenty years ago. Just because I keep the name and their blood runs through my veins doesn't make a House. I have no holdings, no manor, no staff. House Navillus is dead Papa."
Papa straightened and took on a lecturing posture. "I'm afraid you're wrong, friend Yllek, or should I say, Papa Navillus." Yllek cringed at the honorific. Drawing some papers bundled together with a set of keys, he handed them to Yllek as he continued. "House Navillus very much lives," he didn't pause as Yllek scanned the documents. "With these papers you lay title to your ancestral home. And as for staff," he turned and opened the door, allowing Ahrich, dressed as a guardsman officer in the black and tan of House Navillus, followed by a youth of perhaps twelve years in a black and tan page's uniform, "that, has been arranged for."
Yllek's eyes darted back and forth between Ahrich and the boy, and Papa Domi, before settling again on Papa. "What's your game?"
Papa just shrugged, "The same one I'm always playing."
"Have you slipped a cog in your old age? The timing could hardly be worse for this, with the Council only hours away."
"On the contrary, the timing could hardly be better. While many will scoff at the presumption, they will all, no doubt, be mindful that no sitting Head of House has ever been brought down by the Council. That privilege, by tradition, is saved for the poisoner's art and the assassin's blade."
"How comforting," Yllek noted wryly.
"Not to worry," Papa grinned. "Look at me, I've lasted well enough."
"But you're tempting fate this day."
~ * ~
After lunching with Ahrich and his new "page", who turned out to be the youngest of the lads Brant had enlisted, Yllek, and his staff of two, boarded a carriage and set off for the council. Not knowing any better, his page had at first entered the cab of the carriage, until it had been explained to him that a page generally rode standing on the outside runner. With the adventurism of youth, this idea appealed to young "Mouse," as he liked to be called, even more than riding inside the carriage.
With a vanguard of fifteen mounted men, and ten behind, the procession crashed through the streets, with pedestrians scattering for cover in it's wake. Yllek realised that this was the first time since his return that he had been about in the streets while the city was fully awake. Before leaving, he had never really travelled, and the size of the city had made no real impression on him. Only now, after his return, did it occur to him that Tovani, with somewhere near three hundred thousand permanent residents, was a truly massive city, larger by far than any other he had encountered in his travels.
As the carriage turned onto the Grand Boulevard, this impression of a mass of humanity deepened. Even given the width of the street, and the fifteen horsemen ahead of him to clear the way, the entourage slowed considerably in the press of people. Old, familiar noises greeted his ears as they pressed on. Hawkers shouting and banging cow bells to draw attention to their wares, Groups of men gathered in packs, arguing loudly and heatedly over who knew what, probably the cost or quality of some trinket or another. Horses whickering and starting at some noise or piece of flapping cloth. Small herds of sheep and cattle, with shouting herdsmen, making their slow way down the street to some butcher's or some House's private stable. Creaking, oxen pulled farmers carts, bearing fodder, grains and fruits on their way to market. For the first time in his life, Yllek felt a sense of awe and wonder regarding his native city, and began to understand the underlying truth behind the stories borne by travelling tinkers and bards through the outlying lands. Even in decline, Tovani was still perhaps the greatest centre of wealth and commerce in the known world.
As the carriage approached within sight of the harbour, the Grand Boulevard opened on it's left to a large empty space. Once the site of the Imperial Palace, long ago razed to the ground, it was a space now generally occupied by merchant's tents, which had for today been cleared away to allow space for the carriages, horses, and retinue of the men attending council. Behind was a block of buildings that housed the remnants of the city's administration, barracks for the City Guard, and the Council Chamber itself. Timed to arrive after the Council of Families had already begun, the outer courtyard was already filled with ornate carriages, horses, and assorted retainers whose duties didn't require their presence inside the building itself.
Coming to a halt in front of a broad stairway leading up to the central, Council building, Yllek sat for a moment gathering his breath even after the coachman had dismounted and opened the carriage door. Finally, he levelled a serious eye at Ahrich in the bench opposite him.
"You've come this far, but I won't ask you to come any farther. If you enter there, with me, dressed in that ridiculous costume, you're fate will forever be tied to mine in the eyes of the men inside."
Ahrich did his best not to show his underlying nerves. "Then, for my sake, don't make a mess of things," he managed a smile.
The tension of the situation, and the flippancy of the comment, brought forth a burst of laughter from Yllek. "If I had a hundred men as good as you, I would take this city."
Ahrich cocked a one sided grin, "There aren't a hundred men as good as me in this city."
With a flourish of his wide brimmed hat, Yllek offered the door to Ahrich, "Then lead on, good man."
Stepping out onto the cobbles in front of the steps, the men found themselves at the center of a loose circle of Domi Guardsman, and the Mouse quickly attached himself to Yllek's right heel. Kneeling, Yllek brought himself eye to eye with the nervous youngster. "To my left, and two paces back. Do you know who Gianni is?" The Mouse nodded in reply. "If anything should go wrong, find him, and stick to him, he'll see you back to the Manor safely." Yllek paused, still kneeling, and glanced up the steps, then back at the Mouse. "Did you ever think you would see the inside of that building?" The mouse shook his head. "Well, neither did I. What say we go find out what all the fuss is about?" This last finally brought back a smile to the youngster's face. Yllek remembered from his own youth being sensitive to the moods of others, and so rose the steps with as much confidence as he could muster, with Ahrich at his right hand, and the Mouse falling into place behind him and to the left.
Through the heavy bronze double doors of the entrance, they stepped immediately into the gallery level. The Council Chamber was rectangular in shape, and dropped off from the pillars of the gallery into the seating area. Three sides of the inner chamber were lined with tiers of seats, the fourth being a flat extension of the floor, where sat the Mayor and his clerks. The gallery itself was filled near to overflow, not surprisingly. Seated in the tiers were the representatives of every major House and Guildhall. Sometimes, in the midst of the games that the Houses played, the power and influence of the Guilds was forgotten, but never here in the Council.
Entering the gallery, all but two of the Domi guardsmen stayed back on the outside, and there was short span of time while the whispering words of the sycophants and courtiers continued to echo through the gallery, their attention focused ahead to the proceedings in the Council below. Then first one, then another of the people immediately near Yllek noticed his presence, and stopped whatever discussion they were engaged in to examine Yllek in slow and silent appraisal. This silence spread like a rippling wave outward, until the entire gallery, even those who could not see him, fell silent, and Yllek could hear a voice echo from the floor below.
"Are you saying he's laid claim to House Navillus? Gods, man, there has been no House Navillus for some twenty years!" A disembodied voice asserted, with responding smirks from those immediately around him.
"Well, doesn't that sound promising," Ahrich muttered to his right.
"Quite," Yllek rolled his eyes, then smiled graciously at the strangers around him and bowed his head before proceeding to the pillars surrounding the council and proceeding one step down one of the stairs that segmented the seating area. From this vantage, he could see a man standing before his seat in one of the opposite tiers.
"I thought I'd come to discuss more important matters than my rightful claim to my ancestral House, Papa Achilly," Yllek recognised him more for his uniform than the man who wore them.
Achilly, for his part, glared at Yllek in return, as the rest of the building became as quiet as a winter morning in a remote mountain dale. For what seemed like an eternity, Yllek just stood in silent defiance.
"Why don't you step to the floor and we can resolve this?" Mayor DiPietro offered from his seat.
"Yes," Yllek nodded, "why don't I?"
~End Chapter 9~