The volcano rumbled and spat fire again. Éldorine's eyebrows twitched and her hands clenched on the railing of the balcony. It was just like the Southerlings to attempt to invade them right at this moment. Hopefully Lady Lyrienne would roast them all with her volcano.
Unfortunately, with Lady Lyrienne cooking the Southerlings and Éldorine's own father brokering peace with the Northern coalition, both completely cut out from all contacts for the foreseeable future, that left Heir Lyrienne free to roam and cause mischief.
"My dear Heiress Alyssenne." The nuisance in question appeared behind her, undoubtedly summoned by her thoughts.
She turned reluctantly towards the interior of the drawing room to see him sauntering inside, all footmen suspiciously absent from the area. As usual, he was dressed in elegant deep blue robes cut in the high-quality silk his family was famed for producing. With a tall and elegant figure and his dark hair carefully styled away from his handsome face, he made a striking sight that was just as annoying to see as always.
"Heir Lyrienne." She barely deigned to dip her head in greeting and had to refrain from pinching her lips at the elaborate bow he gave in return. "I know that our two Houses have long been allied and that our families' magics have blended together over the centuries, thus allowing you to go through our wards without our permission. However, this is not because you can do it that it is polite for you to do so."
"But my dear," he answered as he rose from his bow, "it is such a deep alliance that we have. Why, our parents always say that we are as precious as family."
Éldorine gave up on her perfunctory protests and gestured for her unwanted guest to sit on one of the sofas. She waited for him to do so before taking another one, making sure to have the low table stand between them. He gave her a knowing look but did not comment.
Since he had sidestepped all of the footmen supposed to welcome him, Éldorine had to put her fingers on the runic diagram engrave on a corner of the table and pushed her magic into it. While she waited for her people to react to her call, she forced herself to smile politely.
"To what do I owe the pleasure of your surprise visit, Heir Lyrienne?"
His magic was buzzing and fizzling around him in a shocking display he was usually much more careful to hide—both of their families had magical sensitivity among their line-gifts, and their parents would have found the sight unseemly. What was he plotting?
He gave her a charming smile. "There is no need to be so suspicious, Heiress Alyssenne. I merely wish to offer you the opportunity to join me on a business venture."
"That is certainly suspicious."
"A delegation from the Northern Islands is coming to discuss the possibility of direct trade exchanges between us. Since the resuming of our war with the Northern coalition, their profits have suffered and so they are open to taking more risks than usual. I would provide safety from the Western storms thanks to my family's line-gift and this would allow them to venture further South. They are attracted by the prospect of accessing high quality wares they normally have to pay at greatly inflated price. Lyrienne silk is highly prized in their countries."
"And you sold that idea on the prospect of them getting Alyssenne crafts too, I presume?"
"Of course. I would never think of not including you in such a project."
How very nice.
She was hit by a sudden intuition and looked at his fine clothes again. "And when would that meeting take place?"
"Oh, it will not inconvenience you too much, it is just in one hour."
She gave him a flat look. "What a coincidence that your mother is absent right now. Has she even approved of your little scheme?"
"Come on, Alyssenne. If we wait until our parents' death to do anything, it will take centuries given their magical power. We are hardly teenagers. As for the war," he pre-empted her as she was opening her mouth to protest, "it is never ending, and we cannot pause our lives until it stops."
This was extremely stupid. But correct. And very tempting.
Éldorine sighed. "Very well. I will attend your secret meeting."
He gave her a superior smile before rising and offering her his hand. She reluctantly put hers in it and let him guide her to her feet and out of the room. Of course, they met one of the footmen with a drink tray on the way out. But everyone was used to Heir Lyrienne by now, and the footman did not even frown at their behaviour.
Lyrienne led her to her bedroom. He barely left Éldorine anytime to change into a dress fit for meeting a foreign delegation, impatiently waiting outside the door, before he led her back to the entrance of the Alyssenne manor. He already had his location pentagram keyed to the Lyrienne manor out and, as soon as they stepped into the entrance hall, he put a hand around Éldorine's waist and activated it. His magic surrounded them in a heavy cloud of iridescent particles.
Between one blink and the next their surroundings changed—marginally, the Alyssenne and Lyrienne manors being quite similar in style, with floor and walls made of colourful marbles, exquisite paintings on their walls, and their corridors filled with delicate magical crafts showcased on pedestals.
They barely had any time to settle down on the waiting bench in the entrance hall before the island delegation arrived. They were easily identifiable thanks to their tanned skin and long hair worn in a similar trend as the people of the Northern coalition. However, all of the Islanders wore the expensive cloying perfumes for which they were famous and they were dressed in duller colour than what was usually worn on the continent, in restraint shade of light brown and black with runes sewn in golden threads.
Éldorine's eyebrow rose as she recognised some of them. The unbalanced scale was the emblem of the Stridiace, one of the primary Houses ruling the Islands. And the symbol with the three horizontal lines below the scale that was worn by the leader of the delegation signified that he was an ambassador. Lyrienne had really scored nicely with that one.
No wonder he was so smug. Getting an ambassador to sign a trade deal would be a major victory for the Lyriennes and Alyssennes, and by extensions for the whole of their alliance. The Northerners would be furious.
Éldorine felt some of Lyrienne's smugness filled her at the idea of presenting the deal as a fait accompli to her father when he would come back from his peace brokering. Having such a major influence on their coalition was certainly not something anyone in her family had been able to do before reaching their fortieth year. That would consolidate her position as Heiress of her House despite her being the youngest of her generation. And grant her a measure of independence from her elders.
All right. Lyrienne may not have been completely out of his mind with this scheme.
Once the members of the delegation had settled down from their arrival, translation crafts were activated, a lot of bowing was performed, and Lyrienne's envoy stepped forward.
"My lord, my lady." He bowed deeply to them. "May I have the honour and pleasure to present to you his Excellence Ambassador Mélinien Stridiace, representing the House of Stridiace and the Island Alliance."
Oh. One of Lady Stridiace's son even. Nice.
"I am pleased to finally be able to welcome you in my Land, Your Excellence," Lyrienne declared in a grand tone. "As promised, I also have the honour to present to you Heiress Alyssenne who has graciously accepted to attend today's discussions. May they prove fruitful and beneficial for all of our Houses."
They all bowed deeply towards each other as a sign of respect for the Houses they all represented.
When they straightened, Lyrienne gesture in invitation before leading them all to his family's best drawing room where they settled down for some small talk.
The meeting was going just as Éldorine had expected. Even if she had not personally met with Islanders before, she was familiar enough with high-stake politics and trade negotiations thanks to her status as the heiress of one of the two most powerful Houses in the Southern coalition.
They were finally getting ready to start the real talk—or at least to circumvent their way towards it—when footmen came to discreetly serve them refreshment. Éldorine let their arrival distract her, all too happy to leave Lyrienne his occasion to shine. He was brilliant at making people at ease so as to get what he wanted out of them—just as he was brilliant at everything to which he put his mind.
She took the glass handed to her and grimaced at the sight of the wine—a sparkling green one with a strong fruity scent, obviously chosen to please the foreigners. Lyrienne's wonderful idea to have the both of them partake of it with their guests, undoubtedly.
The ambassador greeted his glass with visible pleasure and lost no time in drinking half of it.
Lyrienne, he, had no problem drinking the liquid without losing his pleasant expression—or he would have if he had not frozen when his lips came in contact with the wine.
His face lost all colour and Éldorine stiffened. Neither of them had time to do anything before the ambassador's glass crashed to the ground, soon followed by the man.
AS Lindsey (Pan)
Nice opening! I'm quickly drawn into an intriguing world, and you really nailed Lyrienne's smugness and Éldorine's cautious desire to do her house proud; I love their chemistry already. Couple of minor points:
Drake's Dozen | Magic and Tech and Identity, oh my.
Summer Camp 2022
AS Lindsey (Pan)
Never mind; on a re-read, I understand that the ambassador just collapsed and no-one was paralysed.
Drake's Dozen | Magic and Tech and Identity, oh my.
Summer Camp 2022
Amélie I. S. Debruyne
Thanks for the comment :D Critique is very helpful so thanks for taking the time to write that! Good suggestion for the translation crafts, I'll add a quick description soon - they're some pieces of jewellery, mostly earrings, pins or as you've suggested lapel clips.