Kilthanis clung nervously to the large saddle horn as the beast bent each of its four knees, lowering itself to the ground. He slid gingerly to the ground, following Erith’s example. He patted the beast lightly on its flanks, before turning to face the gate, Erith standing at his side.
Despite it still being relatively early in the day, the gates to the inner city were closed. Armed men stood atop the crenellated walls, looking down with knocked bows held loosely at their sides. The wariness of the men was palpable, tension in the air. Kilthanis stood still as he felt the large beast rise up behind him and lumber to the side, moving away from the walls. The tension seemed to ease, but only slightly.
Erith stepped forward and lifted a large knocker, slamming it against the gate in three measured strokes. A wooden panel, at eye height, opened in the door and a man peered out suspiciously.
“Who goes there and what business do you have in the inner city?”
Erith stepped forward, and raised one hand in salute. “Greetings sir. I am Erith, factor to Gilead Yekath. I bring a visitor from Dekiyem who wishes to offer salutations to his Imperial Highness, Prince Tyrol.”
“What is this visitor’s name?” The man’s tone indicated he was no less suspicious, even though it was clear that neither visitor was a native of Et’alash. Kilthanis’s eyes widened slightly, as he realized Erith was about to give his name. He fought a wave of panic and tried to remain calm.
“His name is Kilthanis D’Endray,” Erith replied, placing an emphasis on the surname. Kilthanis’s eyes flicked involuntarily upward, searching for the guards, certain that the bowstrings would be pulled tight, his freedom ended after all these months. He returned his gaze to the guard at the door just in time to see his eyes widen in shock. They flitted from side to side, before the guard leaned forward, pressing his face up to the grate.
“D’Endray?” he hissed.
Erith nodded silently. The guard hesitated for just a second, then turned to the side and snapped out an order. “Open the gates! Do it at once!”
Kilthanis couldn’t help but gawk as the gates swung open. He leaned close to Erith and whispered frantically. “Aren’t you taking a rather large risk? With both of our lives?”
Erith gave a slight shake of his head. “The man who answered the knock is a member of the L’nian family. A lesser member, certainly. Possibly a second or third cousin of the Prince. But he knows the power your name carries, and if he were to allow you to be arrested, or perhaps worse, turned away, he knows that these walls would not last the night. He had no choice but to admit you and to ensure that you make it back out of the Imperial Quarter safely.”
“You don’t think the Empire would come to the aid of the Prince?” They had entered the inner portion of the city as they talked, and Kilthanis noticed the arrows had finally been unknocked. But not until after the gates were closed and firmly secured.
“I have no doubt they would. But given that it took the combined might of the Empire nearly three decades to take the city the last time they made the attempt, the L’nians could have no hopes of rescue. They have only two hopes. Make you disappear without word reaching the populace, or guarantee that when you return to the city proper, you have a good report to make. I took steps to make sure the first option was not available to them.”
“You may have noticed that your passing garnered a great deal of attention. That is because word of your coming preceded you. All of the people along the main boulevard know you came to see the Prince. And among those people were high ranking members of all four of the Orders.”
Kilthanis looked impressed. “I can understand why Gilead places so much faith in you, Erith. You are a formidable man.”
Erith gave Kilthanis an open handed shrug. “I but offer what service I can, milord. But I’m afraid it will end at the palace. Your name will grant you an audience with Prince Tyrol, but I’m afraid I will not be allowed entry to the royal presence. You will have to be very convincing, if you wish him to grant you asylum from the Empire. They are his backing. It will take quite some doing to convince him to turn his back on the source of his power.”
“It will take more than you think Erith.”
Erith gave him an inquiring look.
“I don’t just ask him to shun the hand that feeds him. I’ve come to ask him to bite it.”