"Pallian!" called a voice behind him, and Pallian turned to see a man of his own age approaching. For a moment he didn't recognize the face; the man was taller and stockier, and of course older than he remembered. "Back from the dead, are you?"
It was the voice that did it. "Koplis!" he called, and extended a hand.
Koplis ignored the hand and came in for an embrace instead; Pallian managed to avoid spilling his wine down the back of his old friend's velvet cloak, but it was a near thing. "How have you been?" asked Koplis. "Where have you been? You just sort of disappeared. We all wondered."
"A bit of study, a bit of travel," Pallian said. "What of you? Still determined to earn your place at the head of a troop?"
"Father agreed that I was ready last year. He had me serve six months with a scouting unit, then put me in charge of a battalion of skirmishers." Kolpis grinned happily. "We just got back from the assault on Marinul, and Father sent me here to represent the family. Has Edrias arrived yet?"
Pallian resisted the urge to look around. "A few hours ago. I expect they'll be here shortly." It was interesting that Kolpis' father had sent his heir instead of coming himself; that might be a show of trust in the Wizard-King, or it might mean the nobleman was busy with something else. Pallian had no idea what the current political landscape looked like; the bits and pieces he had known, mostly gleaned from Kolpis and the other noble hostage-students he'd shared his lessons with, were three years or more out of date now. "Formal introductions were made earlier; this meal is strictly a social event."
Kolpis chuckled at that, and Pallian nodded to acknowledge the irony. Nothing here was ever free of political significance. He studied Pallian for a long moment. "The Wizard-King's son... I would never have guessed. Why didn't you say anything?"
Because it wouldn't have made any difference. Because I was just as much a prisoner in that classroom as anybody else. He shrugged. "I liked the anonymity. How well do you think we'd have gotten to know each other if I'd announced it?"
Kolpis laughed. "Fairly taken," he said. "Oh! I think the guests have arrived."
Pallian turned, looked, nodded. "House Edrias," he said. "High Magister Tamirya, second-princess Arwidden, and third-princess Ashmiren." Counselor Barias had stepped forward to greet them, and the leonine body-servant had positioned himself discreetly beside the High Magister, in easy reach of the counselor. Pallian looked away again.
"Word is they're eager for an alliance, after the thrashing we gave them at Marinul."
Kolpis sounded smug, and before he could stop himself Pallian said, "Word is, there's been an Emissary from the Tomb of the First."
Kolpis deflated. "Oh," he said, sounding as if Pallian had just punched him in the diaphragm. "I should've known they wouldn't be that impressed with our military prowess, even with Black Knight there to break their champion."
"Was he?" asked Pallian.
Kolpis nodded, then looked past Pallian at the House of Edrias again. "...But this may not be the time to discuss it."
"We should meet later, then." Pallian told him.
"I'll see what I can arrange." Kolpis' expression was sober now, cautious. "And I'll let the others know you're back, if I see them."