Tellesberg Harbor,


and Tellesberg Palace,


City of Tellesberg,


Kingdom of Charis


            No guns boomed in salute as the small, unarmed galleon made its way through the opening in the Tellesberg breakwater . . . but at least none of the batteries opened fire on it, either.


            Which, Trahvys Ohlsen reflected, was far better than things might have been.


            The Earl of Pine Hollow stood by the ship's rail, gazing out at the city of Tellesberg while gulls and wyverns cried and whistled overhead. Like most harbors, the water close to the docks was less than pristine, although the stern injunctions of the Archangel Pasquale where things like sewers and garbage were concerned kept things from getting too bad. Actually, the harbor smelled better than Eraystor Bay did, Pine Hollow reflected, despite the fact that Tellesberg was considerably larger than the city of Eraystor.


            In fact, it was the largest city Pine Hollow had ever seen, and its roofs stretched away from the incredibly busy waterfront, whose activity contrasted sharply with Eraystor's blockaded stillness, towards the mountains looming bluely to the south and southeast under their caps of eternal snow. The warehouse district was vast, with straight streets which had obviously been planned for the passage of heavy freight wagons and draft dragons. The housing clustered around the docks was modest-looking, for the most part. He could see no single family-sized houses, but the multi-story blocks of apartment houses and tenements looked well kept. Most of them appeared to be built of brick, and from where he stood at the moment, at least, there were no signs of slums. That was impressive, too, although he felt quite certain even Tellesberg under the notoriously enlightened rule of the Ahrmahks must have at least some of them.


            Beyond the docks — which extended as far up the Telles River as he could see — the city rose on modest hills where the more well-to-do lived. There were single-family homes as one got further away from the harbor district. Some of them were extremely imposing — obviously the townhouses of the noble or of wealthy merchants and manufactory owners (or, here in Charis, both at once, more probably) — but others were considerably more modest. To be honest, Pine Hollow found the existence of those modest homes much more impressive than the townhouses. In almost any other Safeholdian realm, it would have been unheard of for anyone but the rich and powerful to own his own home in a city as large and wealthy as Tellesberg.


            The Royal Palace was plainly visible as his galleon moved towards the wharf where it had been instructed to moor. The Palace was set well back, with the river washing the foot of its western curtain wall, although not so far that someone looking out of one of its tower windows didn't have an excellent view of Tellesberg Bay, and Pine Hollow gazed at the large banner flying from the top of the tallest of those towers. He couldn't make out the device it bore from here, but he didn't have to see the golden kraken on the black field or the crown royal which surmounted it. The fact that it flew from the top of that particular tower informed all the world that King Cayleb was in residence, and Pine Hollow felt his stomach muscles tighten at the thought.


            Don't be any stupider than you have to be, Trahvys, he told himself sternly. Meeting Cayleb face-to-face is the entire reason you're here, you idiot. Wishing he were somewhere else — anywhere else — is pretty damned ridiculous when you look at it in that light.


            Somehow, that thought didn't seem to make his stomach feel any better.


            A deepmouth wyvern sailed past him, barely twenty feet from the ship, and its lowered jaw hit the water in a flurry of white. The wyvern slowed under the braking effect of its dragging jaw, then rose once more, all four wings beating hard, as it lifted back into the air with its flexible jaw sack bulging with fishy prey. A pessimistic man, Pine Hollow decided, might be excused for seeing that as an uneasy omen of Emerald's probable fate, and he looked back at the trio of Royal Charisian Navy galleys hovering watchfully as his unarmed galleon eased her way towards the docks. He couldn't really blame them for watching him attentively, although exactly what a single galleon without so much as a matchlock musket aboard was going to do against the garrison and population of a city the size of Tellesberg eluded him. He'd decided to treat their presence as a mark of respect, and if he pretended very hard that he really believed that, he might be able to convince a particularly credulous three-year-old that he truly did.


            His mouth twitched in a reflexive smile, and he snorted a chuckle at the thought. Which, he discovered, had actually had at least some easing effect on his stomach muscles. It was undoubtedly temporary, but he decided to make the most of it while it lasted.