Bōdric and I reeked of salt water and countless days of uncomfortably close proximity with humans. Consequently, before our audience with Empress Sathril, we were bathed with hot water and scented oils, and clothed with magnificent perfumed silken garments.
I almost felt like my old self again. Alas, there was no time to rest and enjoy our improved condition. We were ushered before the Empress straightaway.
The unearthly beauty of Her Most Serene Highness, the Empress Sathril the Eighth, Queen of All Worlds, surpassed even the brilliance of the Ruby Throne on which she sat. We were careful to avert our eyes from her angelic face until she permitted it. Even so, my half-brother could not gaze upon her for more than a few seconds, tears threatening to stream from his awestruck eyes.
Although I too was impressed by her exquisite beauty and grace, my entrenched ambivalence toward all Melnibonéan authority thankfully shielded me from similarly being besotted. In addition, my suspicious grey eyes spied a brooding figure by her side, no doubt her chief advisor, First-Husband-Concubine, Prince Quire.
It is difficult for me to recall the interview with the Empress. I felt dizzy with anxiety the entire time, constantly worried that I might commit some inexcusable faux pas. Her voice sounded like heavenly music to me, sweet wine for the ears, whereas my words seemed like cracking glass.
In response to her queries, I related to her, as best I could, the tale of the fall of the House Yrvim, including the ancient and once-mighty Palace of Yr. I reported the death of my half-brother (and heir to the Yrvim demesne and other properties) Carac, in combat with the Mereghn assassins and their mercenaries. Drawing on what Bōdric had told me before we left Ilmar, I stated that High Lord Serec Yrvim was still alive when last seen, but in mortal peril. (I refrained from pronouncing my sincere hope that my accursed father had in fact met his justly deserved doom!) Finally, I conveyed the fate of the House Salamir, as related to me by the warrior-slave Myluk.
Strangely, the collapse of Melnibonéan power on two continents seemed to trouble the Empress little. She did seem quite distressed, however, at the fate of House Salamir, and in particular Lord Salamir’s daughter, Coru-Dro. I assured the Empress that my half-brother Bōdric and I would do everything we could to recover the members of House Salamir, that we were determined to travel to Ryfel and save the Melnibonéan noble family from the indignity of the slave market. She seemed pleased at my words, strangely emphasizing the importance of saving Coru-Dro above all others.
Much of the rest of the audience is a blur to me now. I do not believe that it lasted very long. Subsequently, Bōdric and I were escorted to the Yrvim apartments in the city. I had been hoping to relax and enjoy a glass of rare yellow wine before preparing for our travels, but we were interrupted mere moments later by a royal messenger. It seemed that Prince Quire had come to our apartments in order to discuss certain matters!“Yet more stress,” I moaned quietly, teeth gritted, “By Kakatal, my ulcer is afire!”
My half-brother and I welcomed the Prince as best we could, our skills at royal courtesy somewhat rusty from lack of use. Quire, however, did not notice, as he was interested only in some frank discussion. He pressed us on our plans for rescuing House Salamir, and emphasized the importance of rescuing Lord Salamir unharmed. I ascertained an agenda somewhat different from that of the Empress. Whereas the Empress seemed to prioritize the return of Coru-Dro, the Prince stressed the primacy of the Lord’s safety.
Prince Quire also made some speculative, rather intriguing remarks about the possible need for Melniboné to abandon this world, and focus its energies on conquering a new one, one in which the humans might still be malleable to the Bright Empire’s capricious will. Somewhat foolishly, I blurted out that our human friend, Adralat Na-Keth, seemed knowledgeable of other worlds. (Catching myself, I held back my own suspicion that Adralat himself was from beyond this world.)
“Interesting,” the prince said distantly, a weird glint appearing in his clever, cruel eyes. “I should speak with this human.”
And with that, Prince Quire departed without a further word.
My half-brother and I busied ourselves preparing for our upcoming voyage. After a few hours, much to my astonishment, Adralat was brought to our quarters. It was a most unusual event, to have a (non-enslaved) human brought into Imrryr proper!
“I just had an absolutely fascinating conversation with that intriguing Prince Quire fellow,” reported the strange human, “He seemed most curious, most curious indeed, about the nature of the Million Spheres. I tried to answer his questions as best I could. What a compelling specimen, Prince Quire is. What dreams he must have! Absolutely fascinating…”
Sighing, I said to Adralat, “I regret that my loose tongue implanted in the prince an interest in you and your knowledge, my friend. I fear that Prince Quire’s interest in other planes of existence is not purely academic. Rather, my impression is that he dreams of conquest, namely, establishing a new Bright Empire, cruelly ruling over humankind, in another world.”Adralat looked at me somewhat startled. “Oh … ah … er, I see…”