Kilthanis would have stopped and stared, his mouth agape, but the large beast beneath him kept going. Indeed, it seemed to pick up its pace a bit as it sensed the journey was at an end and that both rest and safety awaited it on the far side of the walls. The walls themselves were massive. They must stretch up thirty feet into the air and Kilthanis couldn’t really estimate how thick they were from his vantage point.
Above the walls soared spires and minarets, marking ornate and alien buildings, of a type not seen anywhere else in the Empire. Even the embassy maintained in the Imperial Capital did not match the unique architecture that Kilthanis could see peeking over the high walls. Kilthanis wondered why the artisans of Et’alash kept such beauty to themselves.
Kilthanis craned his neck back as he approached the walls until a combination of pain and loss of view forced his eyes back to ground level. Before him stood two ornate doors. They swung open at his approach. As they did, he got a better idea of how thick the walls surrounding the city truly were. He began to wonder where the residents found all the stone in the surrounding jungle.
“The walls...they’re so thick!” he exclaimed.
“They have to be,” Erith replied. “As you can see, the residents keep the jungles at bay for a long way around the city. This has both benefits and disadvantages. It allows them to see any enemies coming from several hundred feet away, and it keeps the dangers of the jungle at bay. But at the same time, it provides clearance for catapults and other siege weapons. Thus, to balance out the disadvantages, the city planners called for extremely thick walls.”
Kilthanis nodded. Over the course of his journey, he was picking up an appreciation for military defense. Despite the relative peace that had pervaded the millennium of the Empire’s existence, its tumultuous past was written in the very stones of its major cities. All of them, he now realized, were designed in one way or another to withstand assault from an external threat. What that threat might be, he wasn’t sure.
He swallowed heavily when he realized it might very well be him.
Erith continued speaking, resuming his role of tour guide. “The city itself is divided into five sections. In the middle lies the palace and the Imperial district. This was traditionally held by the King of Et’alash and has now been delegated to the Prince, his family and functionaries, and the Imperial garrison.
“Surrounding this central hub, the city is divided into four quarters, each given over to one of the four military orders that have historically controlled politics in Et’alash. The Order of the Golden Toad controls the northwest corner of the city, while the northeast is the domain of the Order of the Fighting Fish. The southern half of the city is divided between the Order of the Dragonfly to the west and the Order of the Salamander to the east.”
“Is there a difference to the four orders?”
“There was at one time,” Erith said. “They each had a military specialty, and so you chose your order based on your particular proclivities. Ever since the Empire took over, the specialties have broken down, and instead, each order maintains a rank of honor. But some of the original divisions remain. For instance, the Order of the Salamander still boasts the best swordsmen in the principality, while the best archers tend to be found in the Order of the Dragonfly.”
“It seems nearly impossible to keep track.”
“It can be difficult at times yes. But if you heed nothing else of what I say, heed this, Kilthanis. It is vitally important that you learn the ways of these people, especially if you hope to gain their aid. Honor is the primary concern of these people. A slight to that honor, which might be considered minor in the Empire, could be fatal here. They make some allowances for foreigners, but if you plan to rally them to your cause, they will not forgive easily. Pay close attention. Your very survival could depend on it.”
As if to emphasize this dire warning, the gates slammed shut with a large, hollow boom, trapping Kilthanis inside this strange and dangerous city.