"So in exchange for an annual tithe and the Riverrund land, you will cease all hostilities with us and our neighbours. You will also lend us your expertise towards the rebuilding of our military might," the boy proclaimed, ignoring one of the commanders chortles.

"If that's okay with you, emperor," the boy added a bit uncertainly. One of his advisors stifled a groan of frustration and the boy looked down shamefacedly, clearly remembering his advisors instructions too late 'Never show hesitation, fear or uncertainty in the face of the enemy.'

All eyes fell on a man seated on the opposing side of the roughly hewn table. Dressed in varying shades of blacks and greys, he was nearly impossible to see clearly in the flickering shadows thrown by the candelabra.

All eyes watched as he leaned back in his chair, causing a screech as stone scraped across beaten gold. One of the advisors couldn't stop a little growl in his throat at such an affront to the Sacred Hall. "That candelabra represents this country well enough," said the emperor in most melodious tones as he observed the room," rotten, broken in areas and ever dimming. I am Emperor Alayd II and you are but a boy, not even the true king so why, pray tell should we accept any terms."

This last comment was too much for one of the advisors, who leapt forward clearly bent on exacting retribution. He never saw the blade, at least not whilst his head and torso were connected. The emperor calmly ran the blade along his tongue, slowly drinking the advisors blood. "Perhaps now I will finally have some intelligence, at least according to my barbaric traditions," he laughed and was accompanied by a crescendo of threatening laughter.

"Tell me, boy, what trials did you have to complete to become king," the emperor relaxed in the cold, stone chair, no easy feat and relished the looks of shock and revulsion he saw in their eyes. 'A bunch of soft, pampered, mewling weaklings,' he thought savagely, 'I wonder what they would do if I lunged at them.'

"Well, boy, I'm waiting," he growled.

"I had to do trials of wit, dexterity and leadership," the boy quaveringly replied.

"So, no trials of combat or death rituals. Nothing that makes a real man," the emperor sneeringly said,"No wonder your country was so easily brought to its knees."

This time, not one of the advisors moved. 'Cowards,' he thought contemptuously,' Not one of them will defend their country's honour.'

Then, callously using the advisors slumped body as a foot stool, he looked at the boy and opened his mouth in a yawn, clearly showing them his blood stained teeth and saliva.

"My lessons taught to me through love will stay with me long after yours taught through the force of a belt have faded," the boy king responded blinking in revulsion at the degradation of his senior advisors body. This statement, proclaimed clearly if not loudly, was met by guffaws by the emperor and his men.

"Boy, do not trifle with me. I am really taken with this hall, if only because your father committed suicide here ..." the emperor said.

Finally a reaction, the king looked at him with hatred in his eyes and replied,"My father did not commit suicide, he was assassinated by one of your agents."

"Oh, is that what they told you. Well, if that's what you want to believe than by all means go on believing in that delusion," the emperor snorted, but looking at the boy kings face could see his faith was unshaken.

"Now where was I before I was so rudely interrupted? Ah, yes," this directed with an amused glance towards the king, whose only response was a glare," I think I will take this city and perhaps the country, if only for sentimental reasons. I can pay homage here to the last king of the Eirucsh on my way to accept the subservient pleasures of your people."

At this the kings' tutor stepped forward and with abrupt, clipped sentences stated," My liege is a true king of our people. He has been judged, not just by us but by our people and has not been found wanting."

"So the fact that he is not of the blood and is just some commoner who was adopted is?," the emperor questioned.

"Irrelevant. As I seem to recall, your imperialness was not of the blood of the countries you rule," the tutor continued on, impervious to the mimed reprimands of his liege or the sound of swords being drawn from their scabbards. "In fact, I do believe that your imperialness has only mountain blood in his veins." The last few words of this statement rang bell clear and far louder, but the tutor seemed oblivious. He was waiting for the emperors' reaction.

The emperor was watching him very carefully attempting to gauge the tutors' emotions but soon gave it up as a fruitless endeavour. Instead he turned his attention to the boy king and saw that he was afraid, not for himself but for his servant, although he hid it well.

"I did not come here today to be insulted," the emperor said in a tone so low that even his men had to strain to hear. "No, only to insult," the king replied with an insolent air.

The emperor could feel his men's amusement radiating behind him. 'An insolent pup. Oh, how I shall enjoy breaking him,' the emperor thought sadistically but only smiled humoringly at the boy, who scowled and was oblivious to the emperors dark thoughts.

"So, do you want a treaty or not?," the boy king demanded opening his eyes from their half-mast position of contempt. There were gasps from behind him but he ignored them, staring steadily at the emperor, who couldn't tear his eyes away from the soulful depths of the boys dark green eyes flecked with gold and ruby red. The emperor was disturbed from his reverie by a hand grasping his shoulder. The hand squeezed to ensure he got the message, that now was not the time.

"Well, I'm waiting," the boy said mockingly, clearly trying to annoy the emperor.

"Whatever happened to that diplomatic skill I've heard so much about," replied the emperor and pausing for a moment continued leeringly," Or is it not that so much, but the favours you do." This was met by the raucous laughter of his men, but by blank stares from the opposition, until realisation dawned for the tutor and his mouth opened to give another infernal tirade."

The emperor smoothly interceded by turning to the boy who still looked puzzled and saying," Here is what I'll do, being such a fair and reasonable man," he paused and allowed the few titters to fade and paused some more just for fun," I will agree to all your terms and will in fact not take the Riverrund land, if you will give me a small thing in return."

"Such as?," the king asked distrustingly.

The emperor smiled, a disarmingly, singularly devastating smile and inwardly relished the boys look of surprise as he leaned forward. The boy had clearly expected a barbarous savage and was evidently shocked to see a suave, sophisticated albeit piratical looking man. "If you give me your entertaining jester, I mean tutor then I shall ...." This was as far as he got, as the attending advisors quickly bawled him out.

The tutor leaned down and started whispering in the kings ear. "Now, now. None of that, no secrets allowed. After all are we not all friends?," the emperor said waving a genial finger at the pair.

"No you can't have Henrik," so saying the king the king slammed his hands on the table for emphasis. Then all argument ceased as white lines made of light suddenly welled up from beneath the frozen kings fingers. The lines spread out across the stone, table-top creating wonderful and fantastical designs. They continued spreading onto the floor causing many of the emperor's men to hop about in avoidance of the lines. The light stretched across the roof eventually reaching the candelabra. The room was illuminated and the emperor could only grunt his approval for the room was beautiful. Beaten gold for the floor and the walls, now with a tracing of silver filigree which offset the emeralds and rubies embedded in the walls.

"How much do you think it is worth." was the uncouth question, one of the commanders asked, which caused baleful glances from the kings advisors, one of whom responded with a vehement ,"None of your business."

"What is this?," one of the junior advisors wondered aloud. "It is the confirmation needed to show our king is our true liege," the royal tutor responded," only the true liege can bring the sacred chamber to life."

"Huh, nice to see they have such confidence in you, boy," snorted the emperor, amused by the obvious looks of relief on the advisors faces.

The young king appeared to not have heard him. He looked entranced by the glimmering beauty of the room. Many of the emperor's men were similarly occupied, but a few of the more entreprenising souls were seeing how firmly embedded the jewels really were.

The mutterings of his advisors finally brought the king down to earth, who promptly glared at the emperor. 'He is trying for a regal glare,' the emperor thought amusedly,' And he is barely pulling it off.'

The young king didn't speak for several moments, instead holding his glare. Finally he said," You may not have Henrik or any other of my advisors. Think again." The emperor could barely hear the whispers of the advisors or the snickers from his men but he clearly saw Henrik lay a cautionary hand on the kings shoulder.

"Or perhaps I should say ask again!," the king amended, and clearly unable to resist added cheekily ,"And maybe I'll grant it, provided you are nicer to me of course." More stifled groans arose from the huddled mass of advisors accompanied by glares at their young master. Which, if the Eiruosh's glares could wound as their retorts could, would have reduced to a lump of unrecogignisable meat that even his own father wouldn't have recognised. The emperors good humour was greatly restored by this gruesome thought and was further improved by his musings over which method of tortue would be most suitable for the boy king.

"Well do you know what I fancy?," the emperor mused aloud," Your crown...." The Sacred Hall erupted in angry voices objecting to this demand, some of whom were the emperors very own.

This outcry was abruptly stopped by the boy kings outstretched hand, all but one of the advisors whose shrill, outraged tones rang clear across the room,"... dare you even think of taking King Ash's crown. Who are you, but a filthy..." It is likely he would have continued railing against the emperor but for a fellow advisors hand being clamped over his mouth, effectively blotting out his cries.

"Well if not your crown, then your body for a night," the emperor threw out in the ringing silence, effectively derailing the boy kings constructed reply.

"Ahmm...," was all the young king could manage and this time he went unreprimanded by his advisors, they were all clearly as stupefied as him.

Reeling from the shock, all one advisor could do was dumbly repeat the emperors words," your body," as if he had suddenly become witless. "What sort of a name is 'Ash' for a king, not a bit regal," the emperor commented relishing the stunned silence he had created and intrigued to see what sort of response his antagonistic remarks would reap.

"Maybe it has to do with the fact that you are only a pretender, for were you not adopted into royalty?," he slyly inserted," It is not yours by birth-right."

But surprisingly all the young king said was," I will need a moment with my advisors." Upon receiving the emperors nod of consent he proceeded to leave the Sacred Hall accompanied by jeers and heckles from the emperors men which rapidly subsided as the unnatural silver light faded in the kings wake, leaving them in near darkness once more. The only source of light the flickering candelabra which shone across the self-satisfied face of the emperor as he commented merrily," This will make a lovely place to summer. Don't you think?"