The sun was setting above Berrem Lut, the City of Miracles.
Gilded by the soft, warm light, it proudly showed its many spires, domes and palaces of the High Quarter to the orb slowly melting down in the bright waters of the ocean, the Lower Quarters cascading down to it like a silken veil sliding down a dune in the desert. Like a woman of great beauty and pride, the City basked in the fading light, preparing its water gardens, squares and colonnades for the life the welcome night lured out of hiding from the blazing sun, falling to its death in the west.
Berrem Lut, the City of Miracles.
It was called the most beautiful place under the sun and the moon, and it was also the city Nikken fell in love with, completely, utterly, and hopelessly, on the first sight of the freedom it offered, and presented. It was the city he lived to see again (and more than to see, to be exact).
Some drinks you should never accept: the one offered by a woman scorned, the one offered by a man desperate, and the one offered by a noble. Seems like today is my day for breaking the rules.
The Queen was not very cheerful after their meeting; and neither were the First Chancellor and the Khalivar of the Southern Khaliv. They brought a bottle of splendid wine each and Nikken couldn't resist but to taste them (he never was the one to reject a free drink). As he lounged by the circular, water lily filled pond of his palace in the city he loved, he couldn't help but to snicker at the news his three visitors brought.
His father was alive, somehow. His cold, heartless self was now experiencing his own cellars, and from what the Queen had said, he would stay that way for quite some time.
The First Chancellor brought him an even more amusing gift: Nikkenai Tarzvaril, the Prince of Berrem Lut was now the owner of a whole fleet of caravels, all brothers and sisters of the marvellous Queen's Blessing.
And then there was the Khalivar.
He was a very smart man, and very simple, much like Nikken himself. They emptied those bottles of wine and survived, and the man's generous offer made him reconsider a few decisions. But he couldn't simply accept on the spot, something like that would be offensive to his other guests. We can't allow that, he thought with a grin. So he kept them all guessing his next move.
Finally, hours before night would fall before dawn, two men met in the water gardens of the palace. The smaller one gave the taller one a sphere of soft golden light; they shook hands and their paths parted, never to cross again.
Gliding through the warm shadows of the gentle night in Berrem Lut, Nikken was smiling with pride of his accomplishments. To steal something from the pockets of Duke Savaugh himself; well, that was something more than a bit of vanity could be forgiven for. And the money he made on selling the fleet... He could build a new one, twice the size. (Not that he wanted to do something like that, with all the wines he hadn't yet tasted.)
But his vanity profited the most from the deal he made with the Khalivar. No one will look for you under the sun and moon of this land, he said, his dark eyes glimmering with amusement. Go, with protection of the Southern Khaliv over you.
A Royal Seal seemed like a fair price for his freedom. Although I will be disappointed if he doesn't try to trick me as I go.
And so he went, wrapped in his old cloak and plain clothes, just another pickpocket on the street, avoiding the suddenly numerous mercenaries lurking in the shadows of the trees.
He could go wherever he wanted to, and now, just because he could, he decided he wanted to see the world. Berrem Lut would always be here, waiting. So he chose a road (it led to the south) and walked away. Sometime while travelling down that road, he made another decision. He would try to find his mother and give her a proper grave. It was a proper thing to do, after all, since she was the one who sent him to his uncle in Berrem Lut. We must give our thanks.
"Goodbye, you queen of joy," he smiled as he passed the gates. "I will come back to you some day."
Someone he will meet many years later (and deem worthy of his trust) will ask why hadn't he returned the Seal to the Queen. Nikken will raise his eyebrows, empty his chalice of wine and grin. His words will be remembered and repeated, but at the time, they will be a simple statement of truth.
"I never wanted to be a traitor, but I never said I was a saint."