Bonus chapter 3 of 3 thanks to my legendary supporters on Patreon.
In the short few hours the diplomatic party was waiting for permission to walk the last quarter-mile or so to the Northern Horn, Leon practiced drawing objects into his soul realm. Unfortunately, he didn’t make much progress.
The key to performing this technique was actually rather simple to understand; Leon had to project some of his magic power outside of himself and envelop an object with it. Then, he had to draw that magic back into himself while keeping the object within completely submerged. Leon was confident enough in his knowledge of the theory and his skill in mana and magic power manipulation, but even though he was only practicing with finger-nail sized pebbles, he was still unable to draw them into his soul realm.
The problem for him wasn’t projection of magic power, but drawing it back into his body—he’d never done that before, and he struggled to reel in his element-less magic power. There was a moment when he wondered if using lightning magic would be easier, but he quickly dismissed the idea, as the lightning would be more likely to destroy whatever he was trying to absorb rather than contain and store it.
He was forced to give up for the time being once Aquillius returned with a Legate, three Tribunes, and a dozen other knights that were a part of their entourage. Lapis was formally allowed to enter the Bull’s Horns while the non-aggression pact was reviewed by Prince Trajan—not that anyone actually thought that the Prince would reject it—and the group finally walked that last short leg of their journey. As had happened when they left, Antonius led the soldiers across the plain back to the Southern Horn, while Aquillius led Leon, the other diplomats, and Lapis up through the Northern Horn and across the wall back south.
Lapis had a little trouble with some of the gates, as two or three within both Horns weren’t quite giant-sized, but it eventually made it through and followed Aquillius back to the Diplomatic Corps’ headquarters. The other diplomats then separated for a couple hours to rest and get cleaned up before the briefing with Prince Trajan, while Leon and Alix escorted Anzu to the Beastmaster.
The Beastmaster’s office was right next to the main stables, which took up almost a fifth of the entire mesa the Southern Horn occupied. When Leon walked through the gate and entered the enormous bailey that housed all mounts and large pets of the knights in the Southern Horn, he expected to be assaulted by the nauseating smell of animal filth and a cacophony of neighing horses and roaring beasts. Instead, the stables were impeccably clean, and even barely appeared to be stables at all, with several dozen huge stone buildings that resembled villas with numerous archways than more typical wooden barns.
Alongside each of these buildings were fenced off sandpits where the animals could be taken out for daily exercise. Leon and Alix passed many of these pits on their way to the biggest building in the bailey, where they assumed the Beastmaster could be found. There were dozens of knights riding horses in the sandpits, a few riding lions and other big cats, and even one Leon saw riding a bright red stag.
Alix slowed down a little, being fascinated with the skill that these cavalry soldiers were displaying, so Leon slowed down a little to give her a little more time to watch. They couldn’t waste too much time, however, as it was starting to get late and Anzu was getting restless with so many other beasts and new people around. In fact, Anzu got so agitated that Leon was forced to pick up the little griffin and carry him toward the main building.
Leon and Alix were greeted upon their entrance, and after explaining the point of their visit, were taken to a fifth-tier beastmaster—The Beastmaster was a sixth-tier Legate and dealt mostly with logistics and keeping everything running smoothly, so Leon had to see one of the Legate’s underlings.
“What do we have here?” the woman asked as soon as Leon walked into the stable with Anzu in his arms. “Oh, it’s been so long since I’ve seen a griffin, and such a rare color, too!”
The woman hurried over from where she had been observing a pair of second-tier mages tending to an injured horse to examine Anzu closer. Leon could sense that she was a fifth-tier mage, so all he asked her was, “I take it you’re the beastmaster for this stable?”
“Yes I am…” the woman said slowly, distracted as she was with Anzu struggling in Leon’s arms trying to get away from her. “Right! I have to introduce myself! I’m Cecilia! Well, Dame Cecilia!”
“I’m Sir Leon,” Leon replied with an awkward smile while Alix and Cecilia’s squire quietly introduced themselves to each other.
“I guess you’re here to register this little one with us?” Cecilia asked with an almost comically hopeful expression.
“Then come with me!” the beastmaster said happily, and she led them out of the stables.
Just like the outside, the entire inside of the stable was made of bright white stone, with a vaulted ceiling and enchantments in the walls keeping the temperature perfectly controlled. There weren’t any ostentatious decorations, but there were several halls each with more than a hundred stalls with red wooden doors for horses and other beasts. Leon could see what he estimated to be around five hundred lower-tiered mages—and even quite a few mortals—running around with armfuls of animal feed, or keeping the place clean, or tending to the horses in the stables.
But the stalls weren’t their destination. Cecilia led Leon and Alix through the building to a private examination area, with a small table and several chairs, and little else in the way of furnishings.
“Please put the little guy up here,” Cecilia instructed as she tied her shiny blonde hair into a bun. She then gave her squire a look, and he nodded and scurried off. “We can’t start in earnest until he returns with some paperwork, but there are a few small tests we can do before then.”
Leon nodded his assent, and Cecilia reached for a still-agitated Anzu. The griffin wasn’t having any of that, however, and he turned around and bolted for Leon.
“He’s a bit skittish,” Alix said, “so maybe it would be best for Sir Leon to hold Anzu until his exams are done?”
With a shrug, Leon picked up Anzu and sat him back down on the table, then held him there while Cecilia ran her hands through Anzu’s fur and downy feathers. She pinched and massaged the griffin’s legs and stumpy undeveloped wings, which Anzu barely tolerated with Leon holding him in place.
“He doesn’t have fleas, and there aren’t any obvious deformities or disabilities that I can find,” Cecilia said after a few minutes. “That being said, we’re still going to need to keep him here overnight to complete our tests and make sure he’s completely healthy.”
Both Leon and Alix frowned, and Cecilia figured she knew why; Anzu had barely cooperated since arriving at the Horns, and it was likely that he’d go berserk if Leon weren’t there.
“Anzu…” Alix hesitantly began, “… well, Sir Leon managed to imprint on him, he was there when Anzu first opened his eyes…”
“I understand,” the beastmaster responded. “You won’t have to be here for the entire thing, we can put Anzu to sleep, do our tests, and you can come to pick him up in the morning. As for after that, you can keep him with you, but if he gets too big you can also keep him here. Regardless, you’re going to have to come back here to pick up his food and to make sure he gets regular exercise.”
“Got it,” Leon said.
After a few minutes, Cecilia’s squire returned, and they started working through a small stack of paperwork. By the end of it, Cecilia had used a sleep spell on Anzu, knocking the griffin out cold, and Leon and Alix entrusted him to her care.
With that done, they rushed back to their rooms to clean up and get changed, as they had less than an hour before they were to go before Prince Trajan with the other diplomats.
At sundown, Leon and Alix reported to the conference room where they had first met Lucilius, Eleanor, and Juliana. There, they found not only those three diplomats, but Aquillius, Antonius, and Anna, the junior diplomat that had shown them around on their first day.
“You’re finally here,” Aquillius growled. They were less than five minutes late, but he was still more than a little annoyed.
“I’m sorry, Sir, taking Anzu to the stables took a little longer than expected,” Leon explained.
Aquillius stared at Leon and Alix for almost half a minute trying to decide what to do with them, but he seemed to decide that it wasn’t worth it and moved on.
“Let’s get going,” he ordered, and the other diplomats rose and made their way past Leon and Alix.
While Anna took Leon and Alix’s arm and dragged them after the group, chatting their ears off, Lucilius strode up to walk at Aquillius’ side. “Have you decided what to do with him, yet?” he quietly asked.
“Not yet,” Aquillius replied. “I’m sorely tempted to transfer him out of the Diplomatic Corps, though.”
“I’m not sure that would be the best idea…” Lucilius said. “He did deliver to us the non-aggression pact we wanted, even if he did do something stupid in the process.”
Aquillius frowned, wondering not for the first time what ‘power of the gods’ Leon possessed that would make the giants not only forgive him for whatever he did that destroyed the Cradle but also put a final end to the hostilities between them and the Bull Kingdom. ‘It is just lightning magic? His lightning did look a little weird…’ he wondered. Aside from outright asking Leon, though, Aquillius had no concrete answers, a silver-blue lightning bolt instead of the usual gold for lightning mages wasn’t nearly enough information for him to make more than just a general guess.
“Maybe we should just let it be,” Lucilius suggested, seeing the scowl forming on Aquillius’ face. “He accomplished our mission, but he did something he shouldn’t have. Let them cancel each other out, or maybe just give him a slap on the wrist. Whatever the reason the giants had for their behavior, I doubt they’re going to be appreciative if we punish Sir Leon too hard.”
Lapis had been put up in the largest unused pavilion until suitable guest rooms could be built for it, and Aquillius wasn’t too worried about it spying on them. Still, though, he knew that Lucilius was right and that punishing Leon too harshly might not be the best course of action.
“I’ll think about it a little more,” he said. “I’ll reach a decision tomorrow.”
Lucilius nodded, not quite satisfied but understanding that Aquillius was done talking about it.
The group continued on their way to the central keep. The white marble building had been dyed red in the light of the setting sun, but the group didn’t get much of a chance to admire the glittering edifice as Aquillius wasn’t going to stop just to sightsee. Fortunately, they didn’t have to wind their way through a warren of hallways to reach the Prince’s chambers; they simply to walk down the massive central hallway from the front door all the way to the end.
The Prince’s chambers took up the entirety of one of the five massive towers, with six floors devoted to the offices of the Prince’s personal staff, two more floors for the Prince’s office and private archive, and finally three more floors for his residence.
Once the group arrived outside the Prince’s office, his assistant had them wait for a few minutes while he went and informed Prince Trajan of their arrival. While the assistant was gone, Aquillius turned to Leon and said, “We are about to see a Prince. As he is acting as the Consul of the East, there aren’t any particular ceremonies that have to be observed in his presence but keep your demeanor and attitude in mind. No need to be servile, but don’t be disrespectful. Always refer to him as Your Highness, but only if he speaks to you directly—if he doesn’t, then keep your mouth shut.”
Leon nodded in acknowledgment.
The assistant soon returned and ushered them into the office. The room was dark, illuminated only by a few small magic lamps between the two rows of decorative pillars that separated the room into thirds. There weren’t any desks, but there were four scribes sitting at tables around the edges of the room waiting to record everything that was said in the meeting. There weren’t any tables in the center aisle, but there were two rows of chairs facing each other with their backs to the columns.
At the far end of the room was a raised dais, with a dark figure sitting cross-legged upon it—without a chair, Leon noticed. The figure was huge, almost seven feet tall and with all the muscle a descendant of the Sacred Bull ought to have. As Leon slowly followed the others into the room, he saw the figure look up, casting more light onto his serious and stoic face. He had deep brown hair streaked with silver, an angular face, a prominent nose, and pitch-black eyes.
Most eye-catching of all was the figure’s aura. His magical presence towered over everyone in the room, from the diplomats to the dozen or so Legates and other officials already in the room. His aura put immense pressure on Leon and made him feel like his every move was tracked and judged.
It didn’t take a great leap of logic for Leon to know exactly who that figure was: Prince Trajan. And the Prince looked extremely unamused at their lateness.
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