The Queen of Salem
By midmorning the next day, they reached the docks of Manchela. The Deleria docked close to the heart of the city. Captain Starley and her crew bid them farewell and safe travels. Gregorim and Tauren waved goodbye, thanking them for the ride. Seida and Sadra both waved as they walked down the wooden ramp and onto the limestone docks, thankful to be at their destination and away from the sailors. As nice as they were, their influence on the boys was not something they needed any longer, especially with their audience with the queen later that day.
Barely five steps off the boat, an entire company of royal guards marched down the stairs from the upper level of the docks to greet them. Their steel and leather armor glinted in the morning sun, bearing the royal seal on their chests: a green sea dragon surrounded by a ring of pearls and seaweed. The captain at the front of the group bid them welcome and asked that they follow him. The crowds parted for them, watching as they made their way through. People whispered, some seeing excited, others sneering at the thought that they might be in trouble.
“That was quick,” Gregorim remarked. “I wonder how long they’ve been waiting for us here.”
“Why so many guards?” Tauren asked, seeming hesitant.
“Undoubtedly, they’ve been waiting for us most of the morning. They were expecting us,” Sadra answered. “Her Majesty wished to show us courtesy by ensuring we arrived safely at the palace. Salem and the Order have had increasingly strained relations until recently.”
“Please be on your best behavior while we are here, boys. Queen Rivaille could be a major ally for us in fighting Mons if we play our cards right. We need all the help we can get right now, and she’ll help us make more connections through the Grand Assembly and House of Lords.”
“I’m always on my best behavior,” Gregorim insisted, drawing a wry smile from Tauren. Sadra had to withhold an eye roll.
The guards led them up several flights of carved stone stairs from the docks to the main part of the city. Fewer people stopped to watch their procession, seeming far too busy running their own errands to pay them any mind. Sadra was glad for the lack of attention here. It meant that no one had learned of Ist’Heom’s fate either, nor knew who they were. She feared what would happen once the public learned the Order of the Four Winds was gone. Would the queen take the news well? There was only one embassy for Ist’Heom in Salem, but the Order brought money into the kingdom. Now that the gold would cease to flow, it was only a matter of time before people may look to blame them for what was coming.
The Blue Palace sat at the top of the mountain from which the city had been carved out of. As its name would suggest, the roof was a brilliant blue, standing out stark against the pale limestone. Two statues standing a good fifteen feet high guarded the gates. The armored stone knights held halberds in their hands. Hanging down their chest plates, the blue banners bearing the kingdom’s seal fluttered in the warm breeze. The ornate golden gates swung inward as they reached the top of the stairs, allowing them to enter. More guards lined the courtyard on either side, saluting as they walked between them.
The steward stood at the top of the steps to the palace entryway. His long, wavy black hair was tied back neatly away from his face. The deep green robes he wore were almost as piercing as his eyes, which stood out in sharp relief against his olive complexion. He looked stiff and proper, but Sadra could see the excitement in his eyes. Seeming the very soul of dignity, he stood perfectly still with his arms folded behind his back. Only once they’d reached him did he greet them in a level and calm voice.
“Welcome to the Blue Palace,” he said. “It is good to see you again, Miss Seida. It’s been a long time since the Order has sent an agent with your level of tact and manners.”
Seida and Sadra exchanged glances. Would his hospitality falter when he found out that they were all that was left of the Order? “Thank you for the opportunity, Silrend. It is good to see you, too.” He and Seida shook hands warmly. A very pleasant smile spread across his face, melting his initial cold exterior.
He stepped aside, motioning for them to enter. The boys eagerly took the lead, looking around in awe as they always did when they went somewhere new. They whispered to each other as they looked around at the grand entryway, admiring the vaulted ceilings and the beautiful paintings and sculptures decorating the corridors. Silrend bid them to take the left corridor.
“You’ll be staying in the guest wing. Hopefull...