Saenni followed the man called Nell back to the parlour, where a short woman with dark hair and dressed in a fine green coat waited. Nell bowed politely to her before turning to Saenni and giving her the instructions she needed to get to where the others were waiting. Following his descriptions, Saenni headed up the stairs to the next floor and took a left down the finely decorated hall.
'Hey,' Meriall called from the end of the hallway, giving her a slight wave. 'How did it go?'
'It went fine,' Saenni replied once she reached the shorter woman. 'I learned some things about the history of the world and what happened with Linette and such. But our talk was cut short, so I suspect I'll learn more later on.'
'Linette wasn't happy that she got sent away,' Meriall commented as she led the way through another hallway.
'I can imagine she wasn't.'
Meriall snickered. 'Was a lot of fun seeing that. She even muttered under her breath. This is your room,' she added and opened the door. 'One of the master bedrooms, for our esteemed guest.'
Saenni chuckled at her tone. 'Where are you staying?'
'More or less just below you. I share a room with one of the maids.'
The room was spacious, with tall windows overlooking the back garden, and a large bed pushed against the wall to the left of the door. It had fine curtains framing the windows, and a rug in matching style and colour, but otherwise was fairly bare. She stepped over to one of the windows as Meriall closed the door.
'How come Nell didn't greet you when we arrived?'
'I'm just a servant, like him. There's no need for him to greet people like that,' Meriall said with a shrug as she joined her, leaning her shoulder against the window frame. 'Linette and Armant are both of noble status, so he's required to greet them. He doesn't know who you are, so he's polite to you while focusing on them.'
'Is this the way everywhere?'
'What do you mean?'
'He ignored you because you're not considered important enough. Is that how everyone behaves?'
Meriall sighed. 'Away from the bigger cities it's less of it, but it's still there. I don't necessarily think it's about the nobles, but rather... it's very human, to want to be kind to those of higher status or importance so that we can one day perhaps be given a chance to be like them. I don't blame him, it's part of his job.'
'Would you like to be of the same status as Linette and Armant?'
'I wouldn't say no if it was offered to me,' she shrugged. 'I just don't need it. I like my life as it is, and I don't see the point in bowing to people just because they have more money, or were born into a specific family. I'll bow to the people I consider worthy of it, but in general, I don't think bowing is needed. I'll help the people I want to help, no matter their status, that's it.'
Saenni nodded. 'I see. Have you met Rowen before?'
'Yeah, he lives here so whenever we come by, we meet him. Can't say I've spoken a lot with him, though. He usually keeps to himself or speaks with Linette. Why?'
'He's an interesting character, that's all. Not at all what I expected after having spoken with Linette.'
'What do you mean?'
'They don't share much in the way of mentality. I expected them to be more similar, to be honest.'
'Well, Linette didn't meet him until she was an adult. He didn't help shape her as a person.'
'I suppose you're right. Have you spoken to him?'
'Not really. Nothing beyond small talk anyway. Usually, it's just Linette that does the talking, since they're talking a lot about the prophecy and all that work stuff. Speaking of, we're meeting with the king tomorrow.'
Saenni looked at her with a raised brow. 'Already? Doesn't it usually take longer to get an audience?'
'She mentioned that a requirement was summoning you, right? She told me it's simply an introductory meeting more for your sake rather than an actual political talk. That's why it's happening so soon.'
'I see,' was all Saenni said.
The next day, Saenni was guided to the dining room by one of the boys who had taken care of the horses for them. He held the door open for her and bowed politely as she stepped inside. Armant, Meriall, and Rowan were already seated by the table, which was large enough to seat at least twelve people comfortably, and Saenni took the seat to the right of the elder when he indicated it.
'Good morning, Lady Saenni,' Rowan said and made a wave with his hand. A second later, Nell stepped up and poured her a cup of tea. 'I hope the room was to your liking.'
'It was very generous,' she said and gave Nell a polite nod as he stepped away.
'I understand Meriall told you we are meeting with the king today?' Armant asked and waited until she nodded. 'The three of us will be picked up by carriage in about three hours and be taken to the castle, where we will present ourselves before the king and queen.'
'Three of us?'
'You, Linette, and I.'
'And what about Meriall?'
'I'm not of noble status,' she said with a shrug. 'I won't be allowed to be in the presences of royalty. I'll be taking it easy in the city instead, while you're busy playing politics.'
Before they could continue, Linette entered the room. She gave them all a polite nod and took the seat opposite Saenni as Nell poured tea into the cup before her. 'It's not playing politics, Meriall. Depending on how it goes, it can decide the outcome of how much support we will receive.'
'I was under the impression that it was a simple greeting today,' Saenni said and sipped the tea.
'It is. However, a simple greeting can still have an impact on later talks.'
Saenni nodded. 'I'd like Meriall to be there either way.'
Silence fell on the table at her words. Linette and Armant shared a hesitant look before she cleared her throat and straightened her back. 'I don't think it'd be a good idea. As much as we like Meriall, the royalty tends to be less open-minded about who they meet and allow in their presence.'
'I'm not of any status at all but they're willing to meet with me.'
'You are a special case, to be fair,' Meriall commented with a chuckle.
'Meriall is right,' Linette said with a nod. 'It would be best to not antagonise them, we do need their help.'
'If you want me to go, she will be there.'
Linette sighed but nodded in the end. 'As you wish.'
Two horse-drawn carriages brought them through the city to the palace overlooking the lake. Saenni watched the buildings and people as they passed by. The clothing was different from what she had seen before. The clothes were layered, making the jackets puff out over their hips and shoulders, and many wore extravagant hats that bordered on ridiculous, Saenni noted. The colours were of the softer tones, rather than the muted she had seen in Domica and Naservo, and the lighter ones in Jadna.
Linette and Armant had taken the first carriage, while Saenni and Meriall had been instructed to share the other. While the latter two had retained their usual clothes, Linette and Armant had changed into fairly extravagant clothes that followed the style of the people on the street, each of them having coats pinned to their shoulders with different golden insignia. A quick question to Meriall had revealed that the symbols represented their individual families.
The palace was an intricate and fragile-looking building. Five spires reaching for the sky, with walkways in-between high up, and the base being low and wide, disappearing into the small forest grown in-between the palace and the wall surrounding it. It was groomed to perfection, not a leaf out of place. The moment they passed through the gate at the wall, the background sounds of the city faded away.
'This place has a lot of magic,' Saenni commented.
Meriall nodded. 'Thanks to the elves. Why were you so adamant that I came along?'
'For entirely selfish reasons,' Saenni replied easily as she looked out the window. 'Linette might attempt to put these people at ease to secure the support she needs, but I want to see how they react. If they want my help, Linette will have to give me a proper answer. But,' she said and turned to look at Meriall, 'even more so, I want to know what kind of people I'd be helping.'
'So you're using me.'
'I'm afraid so. I hope you don't take offence.'
Meriall shrugged with a laugh. 'I understand why you do it. Plus, I get to see the inside of the castle without having to sneak in.'
The carriage came to a half in front of a grand staircase leading up to two massive wooden doors, currently wide open. Linette headed up the stairs without a word, and Armant motioned for them to follow. At the top of the stair stood three soldiers dressed in fine green robes, each of them carrying a sword at their hip. They bowed politely as the party came to a halt in front of them.
'Greetings, Lady Linette, Lord Armant,' the one in the middle said. 'We were told you would only bring one more companion.'
'Yes, I apologise,' Linette said with a nod. 'Our honourable guest insisted.'
'I understand. Please, follow me,' he said and turned on his heel, heading into the palace.
The other two soldiers walked several steps behind them but said nothing. They walked through several hallways in silence. Servants, soldiers, and nobles all stopped to stare after them, whispering before they were out of earshot. They walked up several sets of stairs and through many more hallways, before they came to a halt in front of another set of double doors, these flanked by soldiers and the wood was reinforced with protective magic.
As they swung open, a large room was revealed. A long table was placed in the middle, with enough space to seat twenty people, and wide windows lined the walls. Beyond that, the room was surprisingly sparse compared to there rest of the palace. At the far end of the table sat a dark-haired man wearing a gold crown and a forest green tunic, and next to him was a tall woman dressed in a dark blue dress, with an identical crown on her head. They stood as the doors closed again.
Linette stepped forward and curtsied, while Armant bowed politely. 'Thank you for seeing us so quickly, your majesties,' Linette said. 'I hope you have been well.'
'Welcome back, Lady Linette, Lord Armant,' the queen said, her voice gentle. 'Please, step up and introduce your companions.'
Linette motioned for them to step forward. 'This is Meriall, one of my trusted companions, and this is the Great Dragon Saenni of the prophecy.'
'Oh my,' the woman said lightly as she looked her over. 'Please pardon me for saying, but you don't look at all like I imagined you would.'
Saenni tilted her head slightly. 'So I have been told. This appearance has been easier to travel in, as you might understand.'
'Of course. Please, sit down,' the king said and motioned to the table. 'Allow me to introduce us. I am Eterihan, King of Normery, and this is my beloved wife, Queen Diviar. We are honoured to meet you, Great Dragon.'
'Please, Saenni is enough.'
'As you wish,' he said. His gaze slid to Meriall, who had taken a seat next to Saenni. 'I haven't seen you before, young lady. Where are you from?'
'I am a traveller, your majesty. I don't come from anywhere.'
He nodded slowly. 'I see. It must be a great honour to be allowed to travel with such esteemed people.'
'It is,' she replied with a tight smile.
'I am afraid we will have to be rude,' he said and turned back to Saenni. 'We need to know that you are in fact the real dragon of the prophecy.'
She let the magic slip from her face, revealing her scales and eyes. Once she had given them a minute to take in the change, she shifted back into her human appearance. The king and queen looked at each other for another moment. Then they nodded slowly, and Linette straightened up in her seat.
'Very well,' the king said and cleared his throat. 'Let's discuss our cooperation.'