“I give you my word,” said Celeste. “As Princess-Elect, Haradan to the Pharohim, the city of Bizapul shall be returned to its rightful owner, the Adukwe, their Royal Guard reinstated.”
Ubarak nodded as he rose from his couch. He circled the table fixed in the center of the room, probably the largest on the landship, while his Mage remained implacable in the corner, his three grey-garbed attendents discretely behind. He stopped before Celeste and began to raise his face as she realised that they had not actually had eye-contact. They looked into one another’s eyes.
“Why this sudden change of heart?” he asked, and began to admire the movement of her mind in response.
She felt his presence, calm like a great mountain lake, deep in repose. She felt like an insect buzzing over its surface, a faint reflection of her self in his eyes.
“And why the change of apparel?” he asked, appraising her well-worn leathers, suitable more for a barab than a Royal Lady.
Celeste felt the beating of her heart, her breath in her lungs and she returned to herself, here in his mobile palace, talking with His Lord Ubarak of Ring Toloese.
“There is much to explain, My Lord,” she said and presented herself. From the moment their eyes had met, an answer had been drawn from his first question and then she had returned to herself. It had been the best part of a year since Celeste had felt the subtle and seductive immersion in the magic of the Solozo presence. And yet she was predisposed to politely ignore the invitation of his second question and return to the cause of her being before him. Having collected herself, she presented her own intent.
Ubarak admired her sensitivity and courage, but considered the possibility that Celeste was slavishly following her own will, that she was in fact behaving mindlessly. Was she ignoring a level of sensitivity between them and merely being bullish with her own concerns? It was expected, after all, she was Gal. So he waited, standing before her, his steady gaze upon her eyes.
Only now did she feel she met him. He was actually waiting on her. It was like she had delivered a message, something written, something externalised, and he had received it. And rather than read the message, the receiver, this Lord whoever-he-was, was ignoring it! He was looking at the messenger, looking back at Celeste. Ubarak remained gazing into her eyes, not in an invasive way, just awaiting at the edge of her self. Attending to her patiently.
This all happened in a flash. Their gaze lingered in this way for a couple of seconds at most, and she knew without it dawning in her consciousness: in this direction, love.
Ubarak confered with his Mage silently, then: “I can see you are here, naked of pretence, dressed in your true colours,” he said, a smile playing on his lips. “Then let us meet as equals,” and he gestured with his hand: his visage fazed before her, his face now showing its age, his hair thinning to grey and his eyes softening as his masq dissipated.
“I believe the conflict between us is misplaced,” began Celeste. She admired his grace as he offered her wine then resumed his seat, the elegance in how he moved his head and laid eyes upon her once again as he rested into the chair. Everything calculated yet natural, an exceedingly well cultivated Solozo Lord. “A greater threat faces us all, and it is not the barab. If my son and the heir of the Pharohim is to inherit anything, then my first priority is to my people, that all Gal may survive this threat. We are not our enemy. Our annihilation at your hands will serve little purpose.”
“Well said,” said Ubarak softly. “However, if you are here to tell me of the monsterous enemies gathering at the edges of Everdark, I already know.” He smiled, and with a magesterial apologetic air never witnessed in a Solozo Lord, he added: “I know, for I started it.”