“So what’s going to happen now while I wait for whatever hearing or whatever’s going to happen to determine If I get a passport?” said Y’lanna.
The elves exchanged a look.
“Well,” said the Chancellor of the Customhouse, holding Lord Ruili’s gaze a moment longer, “now, young mistress, you shall be presented to their Serene Graces, the rulers of these isles, who have asked especially to see you. It has been a good while since a visitor came to us from the Vortex Zone. I’m sure you will do your best to make a good impression.”
“Of course, she will,” said Ruili, “and when she’s done it,” he clapped his hands, “we’ll have luncheon. Come, let’s to it. I’m famished.”
Ruili stood, and that put an end to the immigration process. The Chancellor finished up by applying the official seal of the Sovereign Duchy and its patron deities, Lyr of the Sea and Manawydden of the Winds, to the three visas. Quickly and efficiently, with long years of practice, she used a candle flame to melt red sealing wax onto each sheet, and pressed the medallions into it, and as each was pulled away, leaving its impression, a small, papery kind of voice that almost could have been the mere rustling of papers in the cavernous chamber seemed to whisper.
The Navigators open their gates to Y’lanna Sparti.
Y’lanna Sparti is permitted to enter.
Welcome, Y’lanna Sparti, to the Grand Navigators.
The Chancellor then folded the visas, creasing the paper down into neat little rectangles using a the flat of a letter knife. She dropped two into a basket — how carelessly bureaucrats treat documents after impressing on others how important they are — and handed the third to Y’lanna.
“Now do not lose that.”
Ruili held out an arm to invite Y’lanna to walk with him, hardly giving the Chancellor time to gather up whatever papers she needed to bring to their Serene Graces and catch up with the lord and the alien.
The trio made a casually brisk walk of it into the depths of the castle complex. The two cousins, the admiral and the chancellor, made small talk along the way, and the Chancellor filled Ruili in on news of hurling and theater, two topics of particular interest to the selkie lord. It was doubtful their talk would have meant much to Y’lanna, even with her Dragon Tongue amulet translating for her, but she would have much else to occupy her attention, in addition to contemplating her own situation.
Their walk took them through and out of the elegant but spare and cold halls of government offices and departments, with clerks, officials and guards everywhere. Thence across courtyards baking from the heat of sun on paving stones, through ornate gates in the form of more monsters of the deeps, and onto a long, grassy avenue of lemon trees, with ornamental gardens full of fragrance and birds on either side, and a mansion at the end as delicate and shimmering as a spun-sugar bird-cage.
“The Villa Grippio, Milady Sparti,” said Ruili, “the ducal residence.”
Guards dressed in iridescent, scaled armor and armed with long spears opened the tall main doors, carved and inlaid with mother-of-pearl and exotic seashells, letting them into the vast entrance hall. Liveried footmen bowed low and accompanied them up a grand staircase and along hallways adorned with treasures and artworks from all over Aeldreth, under a vaulting ceiling supported by spiraling columns of gleaming white marble. Finally, they came to another pair of massive, ornate doors, these painted a soft, powdery blue, in front of which sat a secretary at a desk. The desk was also powder blue and so was the secretary’s silk suit, suggesting that somehow table, suit, and doors formed their own discrete space which belonged to this person. Rising as they approached, he bowed and pushed open the doors, and performed one of the most important functions of his working day. He announced the guests.
“His Excellency, the Lord High Admiral of the Navigators, Ruili Windwolf Ereonis. Her Honor, the Lady Chancellor of the Customhouse, Enlei Graystar Ereonis.” But here the secretary paused, letting the Chancellor whisper in his ear before he concluded, “The Lady Y’lanna Sparti of the Cerebral Moon.”
At the far end of a vast room as ornate as the rest of the Villa, two persons rose from two long, wide, gilt-edged desks.
“Ruili, darling!” cried the Duchess Olimea as she swept in a train of pale green silk across the room to grasp Ruili’s shoulders in her slender hands and kiss his cheeks, one and two. “How is your arm, my dear boy?”
“Hello, mums,” Ruili said, returning the kisses. “It’s a bit stiff, but what isn’t these days? What-ho, dads.”
“Don’t call me that,” said Duke Yirie in a voice as rough as gravel. “Welcome home, son. So, is this our visitor, then?”
So came another point when the attention of every elf in the room was directed at Y’lanna. Ruili in his naval finery and braid, his hat under his arm and hand resting on the hilt of the sword on his hip, the Chancellor in her fashionable suit, and now the Duke and Duchess of the Grand Navigators themselves.
Duke Yirie towered over Y’lanna, as he did most everyone, his muscular, broad-shouldered figure imposing in his trademark black, and his face, framed by unruly gray locks lying loose over his shoulders, his face that was so like Ruili’s, was half mangled by a twisting scar from forehead to jaw, as if some terrible claw had sought to blind him once upon a time. Beside him, his lady wife, Olimea Talinaan Ereonis, seemed as delicate as a flower, if a dark one in her wine-red robes with the strands of pearls looped so liberally around her arms and throat and pinned into her deep brown hair.
“Oh my,” said the Duchess, echoing the first reaction of the Chancellor upon taking a good look at Y’lanna. “What a pretty little thing you are. Husband, don’t you think she’s pretty?”
“No doubt, no doubt.” The Duke looked Y’lanna up and down quite intently.
“But Ruili, whatever have you dressed her up as?” the Duchess continued. “Are those sailor’s plains? This will never do. We shall have to see her properly equipped.”
“Your Graces,” said the Chancellor, “there is a matter concerning her status,” and she proceeded to explain, presenting papers as she spoke.
“Hm, well,” said the Duke, “we’ll have to come up with something, I suppose. It’s not as if she can go back of her own accord, after all.”
To which Olimea said, “I’m sure it will need only a wave of the hand. Lady Graystar, will you join us for luncheon?”
“I regret I cannot, Your Grace.”
As the Chancellor, bowing, took her leave, Duchess Olimea slipped her arm around Y’lanna’s and led her, followed by Ruili and Duke Yirie, out through tall glass doors to a balcony overlooking the sea. There, in the diffuse light under a white awning, a table was already set with a small feast of seafood of many kinds, fruits, and decanters of golden mead.
“Now, Mistress… Sparti, was it? You must tell us all about yourself. I insist upon it. Come, sit by me.”