Dannotali sat at ease, reclining on a comfortable divan upholstered in rich, green silk embroidered with golden thread. From the open window a fresh breeze blew, carrying the scent of cherry blossoms and jasmine. The golden light of the afternoon sun contrasted with the deep browns of the room’s richly paneled walls. If he bothered to look up, he could see the dreaming spires of the city, rivaling the mountains in their glory. If not their height. But give us time, give us time, he thought.
“Grace, the delegation is here,” announced his amanuensis, Sannianix.
Dannotali spoke to the empty air beside his couch. “Bid them enter.”
Soon the door opened and Sannianix ushered them in. Squat, ugly, misshapen creatures they were. Their faces were broad and unseemly; and above their eyes their brows were not smooth and well formed, as was his own. Instead, a prominent ridge cast their eyes into shadow. Their hair was dark and course, their skin an ashen grey. The arms, too long; the legs, too short. Blackened toads, walking like men, and likely soiling his carpets.
And the smell. They disgust me. Nothing of this showed in his features, he was long schooled in that art. And many others. He studied the light and shadow in the corner of the room, to spare his eyes. There was no respite for his nose.
With them was a factotum, a translator from one of the merchant guilds that huddled on the outskirts of the city. He, at least, was of the people. If only by courtesy.
“Grace, this one offers praise and worship.”
“Here is the embassy from Stighk, from the cold lands across the Ammeniana Veil.”
“Shick?” His tongue refused to form the barbarous word. The factotum visibly quailed at the thought of correcting him. Dannotali sighed. “Never mind.” He waved aside the factotum’s fear with a gesture. The man calmed, fear banished as his heart beat more slowly.
“What of these barrow-dwellers from the lands of frozen shit?”
The factotum knew better than to translate his words. Or his intent, for that matter.
“The barbarian chieftain who calls himself ri, king, wishes to trade.”
Dannotali narrowed his eyes. “He knows he offends me merely by the unfortunate knowledge of his existence, yet he suggests I roll in the mud like some common whore merchant?”
“Yes, grace. He claims to have something unique which he offers for certain consideration.”
“Unique? He lies. Or he is even more fool than he is ugly, if that is even possible.”
The factotum murmured something clotted and congested to the toad.
The toad grunted and began to draw his sword. The factotum screeched in fear. He covered his eyes with his arms and quivered with terror. Before the toad could pull the sword an inch from its scabbard Dannotali was up from the couch. He covered the distance so quickly that seemed to appear before the toad, standing arms upraised, fingers crooked in a curious manner. The toad’s eyes widened in fear and he drew in a ragged breath; not even the gaitz tximino of the cold wastes could move so swiftly.
Dannotali pushed. The toad king flew, like a cord had yanked him from where he stood to crash into the wall behind. The king seemed to pause for a second, unconscious, before collapsing bonelessly to the floor.
Standing, Dannotali towered over the other members of this so-called embassy. He looked down, and caused them to fear. He held out his hand. The factotum hawked and spat at them in their barbarous tongue. One, an infinitesimal fraction braver than the others, picked up the sword and placed the hilt gently and fearfully into Dannotali’s outstretched hand.
The sword was fine, very fine. “I’ve never seen the like.” The sword was long and straight, an uncouth design to his eyes. Some sort of writing ran part way up the blade from the hilt. A well made sword, to be sure. But the power… He extended his senses, and felt the great power that had been beaten into the very steel. Perhaps this is… Yes, with this sword, he could…
Yes. He focused again on the room around him. He pointed at the factotum. “Wake him.”
The merchant scurried over to the unconscious shit-king and shook his shoulder. No response. The factotum looked at Dannotali for permission, and at a nod took a glass of water from the table. He cast it in the toad’s face, which brought him sputtering to wakefulness. He jumped up. He reached for the sword that was no longer at his side and then, finally, realized where he was. Dannotali sensed fear, and resignation. And a keen sense of loss.
Dannotali pointed a long finger at the factotum, cowering and by the look of him trying to shrink into the carpet. “Translate most accurately,” he commanded. He turned to the toad, his face wet and dripping, his coarse features contorted by fear.
“I accept your gift. And in return, I will give you… consideration. I will gift you a clean death and quick journey to the night lands. These others… perhaps not.
“But first, what is the name.”
“No, fool, of the sword.”
Dannotali walked closer, blade held high.