The soldiers escorting Rory and Brastic into the tent. They had seemed uncomfortable chaining the two men, but did not remove them. Rory had said little, spending his time observing these strange people, allowing Brastic to engage those who would talk. Both men had grown accustomed to the other’s strengths and weaknesses. The soldiers had been courteous and talkative, so the chains must have felt a vital precaution. They must be protective of their leader. Rory respected that and the professional manner he had been witness to.
The tent was a treasure, although it was obvious that it had been in use for some time. Looking around the sumptuous furnishing, the same held true. Everything from the rugs to the silver ewers were well-worn, but of the finest quality. He was impressed. Even for his station, these surroundings left a certain impression.
Brastic had been joking with the soldiers, who had not been dismissed. This was their captain’s tent, not that of the leader. They gave a sense, though, of who held their loyalty. Captain seemed to be a similar rank to Rory’s own, although he was a prince in his home country. Thinking of that gave him a pang of loss. How many years had he been gone?
At the tinkling of a bell, the soldiers stopped talking and Rory was certain that they had snapped to attention. A large, heavily muscled man stepped into the room. He did not wear armor, but was well armed. He took position next to a divan piled with cushions. He was a professional, not wasting his time attempting to intimidate the room. He stood confidently and watched the entirety of the tent.
Next, several women entered, all dressed in layers of silk. Three wore thin, gauzy veils. The fourth was a matronly woman who set about with a kettle at a brazier in the corner. One of the veiled women took her seat on the divan, while the other two stood to the side, demurely clasping their hands.
Brastic looked puzzled and his eyes searched the space, but Rory realized where they stood. He took two slow steps forward, and bowed to the woman on the divan. Keeping his eyes lowered, he spoke in Netani, introducing himself and Brastic, identifying their pedigree and background. Brastic gasped when Rory admitted to being displaced royalty. This was a carefully kept secret between the two men. Brastic and the soldiers had spoken in a trade tongue that was sufficient for communication, but the likelihood that anyone else in the room could speak their native language was not possible.
Both men were surprised when the woman responded in kind with barely an accent.
“Greetings, your highness. My name is Ahlia and you are in my custody. Lacking in diplomats, I imagine it’s up to us to make all the pretty lies to one another.” There was a chuckle in her words, and Rory smiled at her impish humor.