Chapter 424: Meeting
Roy latched onto the ceiling once again and climbed like a lizard. Down two stories he went, until he came to a door big enough to fit a carriage. The door was covered in Cintra’s coat of arms.
Two servants in white robes stood outside, spaced out and oblivious to the witcher hanging on the ceiling.
A sparrowhawk flew in and landed on the ground. It hopped over to the servants, flapping its wings and nodding at the servants as if telling them to pet it.
That caught the servants' attention. They smiled and watched the little animal as it pranced around.
The servant on the right suddenly scratched his head and looked up. The first thing he saw was a green triangle, and he shivered only to stand up straight like a puppet.
The servant on the left was still staring at the sparrowhawk. The critter was looking at him in disdain and pecking at its feathers. Suddenly, someone patted his shoulder. He turned around, and his eyes were filled with confusion at first, but then clarity returned to them.
Roy stuck his ear to the door and activated his witcher senses, but the servants acted as if he wasn’t there.
A rectangular table stood in the center of the hall. Around it sat about a dozen people. All of them were in the best attire money could buy. Silk shirts, leather boots, and rings and necklaces.
Eist Tuirseach. King of Cintra, a man with a tanned face and a crooked nose. He wore a thick cloak made of bear hide, and at the moment, the man was leaning back in the main seat, his face inscrutable, but the fury in his eyes was unmistakable. Underneath his calm façade slept a volcano that was ready to erupt.
His queen sat to his left. She had the face of a stubborn woman, and she was fiddling with her emerald necklace. The smallest emerald on it was the size of a hornet. Her eyes were on the guests around the table, but they were filled with resignation and exhaustion.
Mousesack, a druid and Skellige's magic advisor, sat on the king's right. He was wearing a black hat adorned by three antlers. The man was burly, and his beard extended until his chest, his face chiseled. His eyes were glinting with unease and worry.
Mousesack looked outside the window. The sun was still shining bright, but a strip of pitch-black darkness was already spreading across the great azure. A storm is coming.
"Guests, the meeting has gone on for two months. I trust you have had enough of the sea breeze and sunshine. Today is the day we reach a conclusion." Eist tapped his armrest. "Let's start with Skellige's ambassador.
Mousesack stood up and bowed to everyone. He announced, "Your Majesty, your brother, the ruler of Skellige, King Bran Tuirseach, has agreed to the collaboration. Once the southern barbarians make their move on Cintra, he shall release Skellige's impregnable naval fleet to assist you in the battle."
The other guests nodded, but they didn't seem surprised at all. The king of Cintra and the ruler of Skellige were brothers. Skellige people were straightforward. Naturally, they would help one of their own.
Eist smiled at his queen and turned his attention to the bald, pudgy, mustached man. "Claude, what is your decision on the matter?"
"I am honored to be here, Your Majesty, Your Highness. You have shown me nothing but generosity over the last two months. I shall try my best to convince King Ervyll to send our troops out to fend off the southern invaders."
"Can't you give us a straight answer, Claude?" Calanthe frowned, and a hint of anger flashed in her eyes. "It's been two months. Is that not enough time for your king to think it through? Is he still cross about what happened last year?"
Calanthe shook her head, and she sighed in silence.
For a long time, Verden was Cintra's vassal state. They were under Cintra's protection, but following their recent development, Verden was slowly breaking free of Cintra's control. But they were still being vague about this matter because of one thing that happened the year before. Ciri went missing while she was on her way to get engaged to Prince Kistrin.
Mousesack brought her back eventually, but Calanthe formally called the engagement off, bringing the marriage to an end. At the same time, Freixenet, a relative of Ervyll and the one tasked to pick Ciri up in Nastrog was still missing. Everyone thought he was killed in Brokilon. It was because of this that Ervyll refused Cintra's call-to-arms.
"No, of course not. His Majesty has always been grateful for your generosity. He would have come himself had he not been unwell." Claude hung his head low and knelt on one knee. He kept explaining their difficulties and even tried to cry over it. "But we're finding it difficult to defend ourselves at the moment. Internal strifes need to be quelled, and we need our soldiers to deal with the bandit—"
"Enough explanation." Eist waved Claude down. There was disappointment in his eyes. These landlubbers are so dishonest. "Tell Ervyll we're a team. If we fall, then Verden will fall as well. We trust he won't give up his kingdom over one little incident."
Eist turned his attention to another guest. His hair was greying, but the man still looked handsome. The man's name was Fyodore, the representative of Lyria and Rivia.
"I am honored to be a part of this talk. It is a pleasure to have seen Queen Calanthe. And listening to you has been an honor, King Eist. But my decision still stands. Lyria and Rivia is too far away from Cintra. Making the trip alone would prove to be a difficult task. Queen Meve won't expend our kingdom's resources for an uncertain threat, even if you're her relative, Queen Calanthe."
Eist leaned back into his chair and closed his eyes. He looked upset. Calanthe instead smiled at Fyodore. She knew Meve. Meve was as stubborn as she was. There was no use in trying to change her mind.
But then Fyodore said, "Unless… Unless our kingdoms shared a closer bond. Prince Villem is still single, and he's about the same age as Princess Cirilla. They're a perfect match for each other."
The mention of Ciri's name caught everyone's attention. Calanthe's husband was getting old, and Cintra only acknowledged a male monarch. Sooner or later, the control of this kingdom would fall into the hands of Ciri's future husband. Most of the smaller kingdoms sent their representatives over just to see if they could have a chance to take the princess' hand in marriage.
"If you agree to the marriage, Queen Meve will of course assist you all she can." Fyodore bowed.
Eist held Calanthe's hand and shook his head. "Ever since the accident last year, Calanthe and I have decided to choose Ciri's husband when she turns fifteen. There are still a few years before that."
Eist made his decision clear, and he scanned all the guests. Most of them stared down at the table, and a moment of silence fell on the room.
Eist asked the remaining guests about their decision, but their answers were vague. They did not refuse nor accept the proposal, but the king knew they could not be relied on.
Some of them claimed the invasion was uncertain. Should Nilfgaard try to advance north, they would have to pass Marnadal Valley in the southeast of Cintra. All Cintra had to do was fend them off, and there would be no need for this alliance. They would only send their troops out if they lost.
Calanthe sneered in silence. If Cintra falls, these bastards will only cut all ties with us and watch us fall.
But no matter how much the Cintran rulers tried to convince the representatives, everyone remained vague. Calanthe was sure they wouldn't convince their rulers to send in any reinforcements. Furious, she cursed in silence. These fools. Do they have no shame? They enjoyed our generosity for two months and won’t even lift a finger to help?
Esit turned his attention to the last guest—Raymund of Toussaint. He was a handsome man with black hair and a muscular body. And he was the only ruler to join the meeting.
"Sorry, but I can't help you, Your Majesty. Toussaint used to belong to Nilfgaard. In name only, maybe, but we still can't go against our patron state. And my wife is a relative of the current Nilfgaardian emperor."
"That wasn't what you said a week ago." Eist pinched his beard, his anger beginning to show. "You said if Nilfgaard were to invade us, you would renounce them. You promised you wouldn't help them."
"I can't call the shots here," Raymund said calmly. "Half of Toussaint is under my wife's governance. I need to discuss this with her before I can give you my answer."
"Excuses," Calanthe snapped coldly. No longer could she stand these fork-tongued politicians. A smirk of mockery tugged on her lips. "If you care about your wife so much, then why did you find yourself five lovers in the two months you were in Cintra?"
"Your Highness!" Raymund blushed in embarrassment for a moment. He raised his voice. "I will not allow anyone to doubt my loyalty to Anna!"
"I can get all your lovers for you if you want. You can take them back to Toussaint and have fun with them."
Raymund's face turned crimson. He looked around him, but everyone's eyes were filled with a look that said, Look at this guy. He relies on his wife for everything he has, and now he's fucking around with other women.
"I, Raymund of Toussaint, stake my honor and status on a duel!" He shot up, his eyes filled with a hint of insanity. The man shouted, "A fair duel with your husband!"
And then the guests erupted into discussion. Some shook their heads in disdain, some sighed, while some were whispering amongst themselves and thumping on the table. They could not believe a duke from another duchy would challenge a king in his home kingdom.
Is he mad?
Everyone was laughing at Raymund, wondering how much longer he could live after issuing that challenge.
"Are you sure?" Eist stood up. He looked like a bear standing on his hind legs, especially with that cape hanging on his back. He was more than six foot six, and his muscles looked like boulders.
The king stared down at Raymund like a beast who was preparing to kill its prey. The duke of Toussaint was nothing but a chicken in front of this beast of a man. "Are you sure you'd like to duel me?"
"No, let me explain. I shall send out my best knight to duel the best you have," Raymund explained stiffly. "If you lose, then Queen Calanthe must apologize to me. Ambassadors, be our witness." He looked around and announced, "Let this battle draw the conference to a close. Nobody can deny this bet. Not when there are so many witnesses around."
"What if you lose then?" Calanthe asked languidly, her eyes filled with fury.
"Then I shall apologize and return to Toussaint. Never again will I return to Cintra." He gulped. "And on my name I swear I shall convince Anna to refuse to help Nilfgaard in their brutal invasion."
Eist looked at Calanthe, and the queen nodded.
"Skellige men will never turn down a fair challenge. Very well, you have your duel."
Raymund was shivering, but he heaved a sigh of relief. "Your Majesty, I have to remind you that my knight has been the reigning champion for Beauclair's knight tournament for three years. Please send the best knight you have for this battle."
Oh ho. The best they have, eh? Roy snuck out of the palace as quickly as he could.
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