“Margrave Keith, I greet you in the name of the Council of Althelwick,” She stated in a hard voice as he bowed, then turned to me, where a less charitable look on her hardened visage. “The Venerable Greyslan Amberglass, your fellows of the collegiate have been most worried about you over these many cycles of days since you sent or received missives. I am glad to have found you under such a solid roof and in capable company.”
I took a deep breath. She wrinkled her strong brow, watching my reaction. El Endande seemed not sure what to expect from me. Her grip on her Ebony staff remained tight.
“You are well, are you not?” She wanted to know. Her expression was not sympathetic, however. Something seemed out of place, but I could not put my finger on what that was.
“All is well, Arbiter,” I offered mildly with a slight smile. “I was merely enjoined by the Lord Keith to a roof over my head during this Season of the Cold Sun. You know how soothing the lands’ warm marshes can be to one as ancient as myself.”
She took that in, expression unchanging, clearly evaluating me with every heartbeat. What had she been told? What were her orders?
“Of course,” she replied, appearing to relax a little. No, she most definitely did not believe my being here was as simple as that, but like all fellows of the council, wizard or not, she had obligations, restriction and orders and a principles of behavior and respect. I could take advantage of aspects of this, could guide in the direction I needed. “But, magister, you are required by council to report on your actions when traveling. And you have not over the past five cycles, and were expected to return to Council, as you were requests. You have duties, fellow Amberglass, as do I.”
Her attention was focused entirely on me. I could hear the Keith shift in his armor, but it would be disrespectful to look away from El Endande. I bowed.
“I understand most Arbiter El Endande,” I tried in my most ingratiating tone. “I will be ready to depart according to necessity as soon as Council requires. But of course, this puts council orders in conflict with the Margrave’s offers of refuge, whose offer of shelter I have accepted.”
I nodded to the man beside me.
“You will have to negotiate with him over the terms of my release from his generosity.”
I added weight to this, a glance to the Keith, then back to the Arbiter. I will admit that I often chafe under the layers of ritual that have developed as Council has strengthened and aged. But occasionally, they do have their uses. I kept my smile to myself. El Endande, it seemed, had little love for ritual either.
“I don’t believe you do, Councilor,” she told me, not altering her hard tone. “I have already been obliged to alter my calendar of arbitration to deal with your truancy from Council. I remind you, you have been errant for cycles with no explanation. And you are now found, hundreds of leagues from your last known location arranging transactions with badland lords. You do not have the sanction for such behavior.”
She pulled up her evenwood staff. It’s crystal glowed red to accompany her temper.
“Arbiter,” I tried to calm her, held out my open palms. “I can explain. There is no need for…”
But she continued her actions, ignoring my action. The angled her staff towards me. This did seem unwarranted. I tried to think of how I may have slighted her in the past.
“You will lay down your staff,” she ordered. “And accept the binding so I may have you transported without trouble to me or others on your return to council.”
I could not believe what I was seeing, hearing. I was not going to allow a provincial accountant of the arcane to take me into custody in such a humiliating manner. I grasped my staff, felt it curl into my grip and in one swift move dealt a bolt of subdual at El Endande. She immediately fell to the stone floor, her staff clattering as it dropped down beside her.
“Wizard!” The Keith called out in shock, pulling his greatsword from its scabbard. “What have you done?!”
I turned to him, glared.
“You heard what she was about to do?!”
“She was about to sit with us for a few words over some amber brew,” he told me, both strong hands gripping his great blade. “And you struck her down!”