Friday, December 13, 2013

The Hunter Prince: Two Views of the Great Hall

This section won't be part of this story. I have, upon consideration, decided to remove it. It may yet make an appearance in some other story about Caijar and his friends, but for this story it's a distraction (and from a writer's perspective, therefore a roadblock as well).

The last time that Caijar had visited the great hall was a full season earlier, when Master Barigil had brought his students there. The great hall, he explained, was older than the rest of Castle Eldwark. Once it had been a hall unto itself, the last building standing amid the ruins of a fallen fortress-city. The castle had taken shape around it. In its earliest form, the castle was little more than a fort: a crude stone wall built from the stones of the older city, to hold back the beast-men of the hill tribes. The hall was the center of the fort, and the only stone building in the compound.

When Lord-General Edorn was banished to Castle Eldwark by order of the Immortal Imperor, he brought no only his soldiers and his serfs, but crafters and stonemasons as well. He established a new outer wall, marking the boundaries of a much larger town. Rather than tear down Eldwark Hall, he made it a part of his keep. The stone building, with its great double doors, became the great hall at the heart of the keep, where Edorn received petitions, entertained guests, and passed judgements.

By the time of the Great Death, when the Immortal Emperor was slain and the empire fractured, Eldwark had grown from a border keep into a massive, sprawling castle that covered the whole of the hilltop: well beyond the boundaries that Lord-General Edorn had marked for his town. The town, now a city, lay at the foot of the hill. It stood outside the castle walls, and was surrounded by a wall of its own. The beast-men of the hill tribes were no longer enemies; they were citizens, and they remained citizens of Eldwark even after the empire fell.

When they had come as students, the great hall had been dark and cold, empty and echoing. Even with a dozen servants bearing lamps, it was little better than a cave. It was easy to see it as something apart from the rest of the castle, something old and dark and private. Columns and arched ceiling aside, the room was basically a large rectangle, with the double doors at one end and the throne at the other.

Tonight, Caijar barely recognized it. The tall, heavy doors stood open, guardsmen posted like statues in front of them. The room inside was warm and bright and loud. Caijar stepped inside, and waited while the steward announced his arrival to a crowd of people who probably couldn't hear the man at all.

A single season, Caijar thought, and the contrast couldn't be more complete. The fireplaces had been filled and lit, one at the center of each long wall. Shimmers danced overhead, their small, graceful forms filling the room with soft light as they moved. Paintings had been hung, and busts and statues had been set in place along the walls and among the columns. Each had been carefully chosen for the occasion; Caijar knew that from talking to his mother. Over and around the toneless hum of conversation, he heard a soft, soothing tune: a group of musicians occupied one of the four balconies that overlooked the hall.

The crowd was not large; even counting the children, it numbered only fifty or so. The great hall could hold far more, and Caijar could remember several times when it had. Most were people, as Caijar knew the term: finely dressed, in the bright colors dictated by current fashion. Some were part of the court; others were visitors from other courts.

Still, there were others, and it was there that Caijar found his attention drawn. By the fireplace to his left, he saw a pair of the hill people, their fur carefully cleaned and in places braided, talking to the emissary of the Botarin, who had a well-known fascination with the not-people of Eldwark. To his right, and well away from the fires, stood one of the Deathless Ones of Farmont. It was easily indentified its dark gray robes and black veil, but if there had been any confusion the eye-cystal in its staff would have settled the matter.

"Do you plan to stand here all night?" asked Janiva, and Caijar realized that he'd been standing just inside the doors for several minutes.

"Of course not," he said, to cover his embarrassment. "At some point, there'll be food."

He looked back at the crowd, and saw that servants were moving among them, directing people towards the tables that had been set in front of the throne. "Now, I believe," he said, and stepped forward.

Janiva snorted and walked with him.

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