I had been staring out the window for longer than I intended when Annalise presented me with the letter. I was supposed to be comparing the orange hues of the sunset to the paints mixed on my pallet. I only had a short time before the sun vanished behind the horizon and further work on the painting would have to wait until the following day. I had chosen to paint the landscape at that particular moment in hopes that I would find myself less distracted. The short span in which I was able to work was to provide me direction, motivation. Several other half finished paintings lay around my drawing room, and I was determined to finish at least one of them. Unfortunately, the time constraint wasn’t working as well as I had hoped.
When Annalise told me I had a letter, I had assumed it was from either Remilliard or Eardwulf, though I hoped it was from Cynefrith . He didn’t write as much as I would have liked him to, but I knew he was busy with his training and duties as Remilliard’s squire. I told myself I wouldn’t be one of those nagging mothers. For Heaven’s sake, I knew what it was like to have an overbearing mother whose own desires ruled over your decisions more than your own. Cynefrith, as much as it pained me at times, was a grown man and didn’t need my presence looming over him. I knew I had done my best to prepare him for dealing with the nobility of Taldor. He didn’t need my protection any longer. I just wished he’d write more.
The envelope was made from smooth, heavy paper. The feeling of it alone told me it was expensive, even for noble discourse. I felt my heart skip a beat when I saw the seal. A lion’s head in red wax. My hand moved up towards my hair of its own accord and my fingertips brushed against the head of a golden pin in my hair. I have worn it every day since it was given to me, twenty-five long years ago now, at the end of the most wonderful summer of my life. The wax impression of the lion’s head mirrored the one in gold on the pin.
I opened the letter eagerly, the landscape, and the fading sunset, quickly forgotten. I recognized Martella’s penmanship immediately. We had all made so many promises to keep in touch, and in truth she was the only one of us that had lived up to it. The request was simple enough. Travel to the capitol and meet her at a cafe on the last day of Armasse. I had a sneaking suspicion that I was not the only person to receive this letter. I had made a promise the same summer I was given the hair pin. While I had not taken my vows as a lay priestess yet, a promise was a promise. It was my duty to uphold it til my last breath, though this was a promise I was more than eager to fulfill.
The last few years of my life I had felt lost. Perhaps Lord Ragathiel had answered my prayers, and laid a new purpose before me. Annalise was surprised when I told her I would depart for Oppara first thing in the morning. As we walked towards the dining hall, I could feel a lightness in my steps, and I couldn’t keep a smile from my face.
24 Arodus, 4718 (Fireday)
I was the third member of the group to arrive at the Lazy Lion Cafe. It was a very nice establishment, with both a girl at the door and a maitre d’ to ensure that only the “right” clientele made it into the building. Oliver and Felyx had arrived before me. Oliver wore the parade armor of a Knight of Taldane Phalanx, and Felyx refined vestments of a priestess of Abadar. Oliver I recognized almost immediately, though I will admit it took me a moment to determine if Felyx was herself, or perhaps Verity. They were chatting about Felyx’s position as a priestess as I joined them. I must admit, I was glad to see them, even if things did feel a bit awkward. Twenty years is a long time, even between friends. When Oliver asked me what I had been up to since we saw each other last, I danced around the subject, saying I had tended to my lands and focused on raising my son. Neither of them pressed, though I can’t imagine they hadn’t heard the rumors of the “devil spawn” child of House Kastner, the supposed definitive proof my family was still in league with our Chelish relatives and devotees of Asmodeus.
We hadn’t been chatting long when a rather lavish carriage passed by the cafe. A pair of nobles sitting close by began to titter over it. The carriage belonged to Lady Marilla. From what I understand she is closely associated with the Pathfinder Society, and must have returned to Oppara from Absolom for the festivities. The way the people were talking about it, you would have thought all of Taldor’s woes could be laid at the feet of those “trouble making Pathfinders”.
Not long after this, Verity joined us. She had a smart business look about her, wearing a finely tailored coat that made me immediately want to ask her who had made it for her. After all, I needed to wear business attire occasionally. Verity had a somewhat serious but somehow friendly teasing personality when we were children, and I was happy that it was still present. Almost immediately we began to joke about when Verity had dared Oliver to climb a rather tall tree and he had fallen and broken his arm. It was no secret to any of us that Oliver had been trying to impress a certain someone with his bravery. Verity did mention to Felyx that they needed to have a discussion about some sort of fraud going on in their home province.
A pause in our good natured teasing allowed us to overhear a conversation at a nearby table. Rumors are circulating through Oppara that the Quadirans are going to use the festivities as a chance to kidnap Princess Eutropia. How such things get started I’ll never know. The night of the Grand Exaltation was probably the time the Senate building was the most secure. My friends and I shared a few eyerolls at the idea.
Before conversion resumed, the last of our friends arrived. Cornelius was wearing shades of purple, his coat studded with amethysts. I thought the lavender of his vest suited him very well, complementing his curly auburn hair. He smiled at Verity when he saw her, and she turned away, her expression turning to stone. I remembered them being close with each other that summer so long ago. We all knew that Verity had been married several times, and none of her marriages had been to Cornelius, but I hadn’t known that some sort of falling out had occurred between them. I found myself nudging her gently. It was a story I suddenly wanted to know.
Cornelius and Oliver spoke for a few moments about their pursuits in the arcane arts. Cornelius seemed surprised when Felyx mentioned that her daughter had recently been sent to page with other members of the Zespires. I’m not sure if it was surprising that her daughter was already ten, or if he hadn’t known that Felyx had a child at all. Oliver asked me if I was still fond of singing. I told him that I was, but that I didn’t perform nearly as much as I used to. My songs were different now, not quite as inspiring as they used to be. He told me that I would have to sing a few songs for my friends if there was time.
Not long after this exchange the maitre d’ appeared and escorted us to the Blue Room. The room was indeed very blue, though its large window offered a grand view of the capitol. A table covered in a blue tablecloth had many cheeses, meats and crackers laid out on it, along with a strange clockwork cricket that was emitting a low buzzing sound.
Martella greeted us with a simile. The air of confidence around her was quite refreshing. She had been so meek and quiet as a child. I was glad she had grown out of it, and found her place in the world away from the rest of the Lotheeds. I remember her older half siblings being insufferable. She greeted us warmly, and asked if we were ready to save Taldor. It sounded like a tall order indeed, but I found myself up for the challenge. A smile found its way to my lips as I awaited for Martella to explain why she had called the Knights of Summer back together for the first time in twenty years.