Sesus, Raurugia, seat of the Floating Throne of Lyrion.
There were those who said that the royal city of Sesus never touched the land, that like a true Queen of the Seas, it was a floating island tethered to the nation of Raurugia by secret moorings. The truth of such tales would likely be known only to the royal architects and engineers and to those who had, over the generations, sat upon the Floating Throne itself, but it was the common wisdom among the Lyrian people that sailors would not lose their sea legs in Sesus, where half the streets were water and boats outnumbered carriages by twenty to one at least.
The Feast of the Triumvirate was in full swing in Sesus. The decennial festival of the three gods of trade and craft, Gofannon, Nuada, and Llew, celebrated all things mercantile, and the great cities of the world swelled with an influx of merchants, manufacturers, bankers and investors from all over the realms for the whole of the festival month. The already crowded and busy port of Sesus was overflowing with foreigners come to do business under the triple gods’ blessing, from the lowliest peddlers to the richest financiers. Hardly an empty space to lay one’s head was to be found, and every lane, canal, bridge and plaza was a carnival of exotic goods and brilliant fashion.
A phlegmatic observer might say the city Guardians had their hands full. It would be true enough, what with the exalted classes of the city vying with each other to be seen and yet not seen in the outlandish styles of the day. The often conflicted Aeldrethian love of both fame and decorum had reached its highest expression, according to some wags, in Sesus where nobles and the wealthy went about masked to hide their identities from gossips and the press, but made up for that anonymity by competitively elaborate and distinctive modes of dress. Nearly every crossroads watcher on the Guardian force had to be a sartorial expert to tell who was who in the event of a chase through the streets and canals. The task was made all the more difficult by the throngs of festival visitors, thousands of whom adopted the fashion “in the spirit of things,” and by the fact that the Throne had deployed two divisions of the Lyrian Marines under the direction of the Lord Protector of the City to assist the Guardians with crowd control. Those able warriors were mostly unused to reading the subtle signals of identity in the City of the Seas and required near constant supervision.
Still, both business and entertainment carried merrily on, and the gods might be pleased to see the fortunes large and small that exchanged hands during their sacred month. Under the harried but watchful eyes of the Guardians in their green and gold coats and the Marines in their scaled doublets and helms, all manner of trades were made. Amid the colorful bustle of street performers and service hawkers, in the shadows of the city’s elegant arches and towers and balconies, in rowdy pleasure houses and quiet taverns, deals were struck among those who had never seen each other before and likely never would again.
“Pick a card,” a vendor invited.
“How much?” the customer asked, looking over the promising backs splayed across the table.
“How much do you have?”
Gold coins were counted out upon the baize. The vendor’s hand swept back all but a few of the paper rectangles. “That will buy you one of these or two of these others.”
The buyer’s hand hovered before the quivering fingers snatched out a pair of the less expensive ones. The vendor smiled at that financially cautious decision.
Turning the cards over, the masked face of the buyer was unreadable, though a sharp intake of breath may have been lost under the general noise of the surroundings. “And the instructions?”
The vendor handed over a small, scrolled sheet. “Comes with.”
In the street, two masked, cloaked figures would have made their ways in opposite directions through the mobs and the bright, flashing sunlight, one with a new trinket in a wallet, the other with the price of said trinket in a purse. Just one of thousands of transactions completed that day, and watched by who knew what enterprising eyes.