They stand in the open hallway for some time. The Citadel is silent. The only sounds come from the open market outside.
At last, a young woman with a dark veil over her eyes enters the room and rings a small handbell. “Eomer and Thu’fir”, she announces.
Eomer and Thu’fir step forward. A heavy iron door opens on its own, and they enter.
They proceed through through a large black door at the far side of the room. There is no handle, only a single silver eye afixed in the center of the door. The door opens silently as they approach, reveling absolute darkness beyond.
Once through, the door closes behind them. For a while they are in absolute darkness. At length, their eyes adjust and are able to make out a dim red light in the distance.
Their footsteps echo off the smooth marble floor. Despite it being late summer, it is quite cold here. Perhaps if there was enough light they could even see their own breath.
As the two men draw near the source of the light, they can see it comes from a very tall, narrow door ahead. The door is about two feet wide, and perhaps twenty feet tall. Beyond, there is a massive chamber.
Inside the room there is a great throne carved from pure marble. Before the throne is the Queen herself. She is robed, and wears a black mask that covers her eyes. Like the helmets of her soldiers, it bears the symbol of a single pierced eye in the center.
The room is bathed in steady red light, which comes from a point just above the queen. It is difficult to see the source of this light; it stings the eyes when looked at directly.
“Welcome”, her voice is otherworldly. It seems to come from the walls, echoing throughout the massive throne room. “Welcome, liberators of Mordan.”
There is a long pause. She seems to be waiting for them to reply. Thu’fir nods repectfully, “A pleasure, majesty.”
Eomer does not reply.
Her voice rises once again, “Gentlemen, I have a task for you. Mordan gathers power to the north. His power is diminished since last he walked the earth. If it were not so, we would be under siege by now.”
“Through my many spies I can see he is sending a servant to parlay with me who, even now, is riding south to this city. He will bring demands from the Dark Lord. I do not wish to hear them. It is forbidden to strike at one who comes as an emissary. All but the dark lord himself honor such etiquette. I will not move against him myself. However, you can. You do not serve me and are not under my rule.”
She pauses. Eomer and Thu’fir are both confused by this, but do not reply.
She continues, “I suggest that you ride north at once and slay him before he reaches the city in two days. He travels in a group of eight soldiers. Do not underestimate him. He is a deadly sorcerer. Strike at him while he sleeps if you intend to live. Once defeated, take any rings or small jewelry he wears and bury them at once. Do not take any of his jewelery, unless you mean to reveal to Mordan what you have done. Anything else you find you may keep or leave as you wish. Beware of Mordan. His power is growing. His grave walkers are abroad, hiding, throught my lands. They are becoming stronger. “
Thu’fir asks, “This emmisary… is it Noreeno?”
The Queen seems to approve. “You are very wise. It is your old employer, and my former servant, the traitorous Noreeno. He failed his master when he did not have the wit to take the orb from you. He reward is that he must now ride south and act as the mouthpiece for his master.”
Thu’fir dares another question, “I expect you know about the general?”
She nods. The word “Yes” fills the chamber. “I was also aware that Noreeno was not loyal to me as well, but I never guessed that he was a Child of the Citadel. Even the Mighty Lucan Forwinol believed them to be extinct at the end of the dark war against Mordan. Both Lucan and I thought their kind were extinct. Now we learn that it is not so. They have lived among us, in secret, all these long years. They have passed their corruption on through the generations. How they have done this for so long while escaping my notice is unknown to me.
“So I believed Noreeno was one of many fools I allow to serve me, full of schemes and foolishness, but useful at times. If I had even suspected that he was a servant of Mordan I would have slain him at once. The general was of the same kind: another Child of the Citadel.”
Finally Eomer speaks up, “How were they able to hide from you?”
Her reply comes, “This is a question I have asked myself many times since Mordan arose. Do not mistake my blindness. I see everything. All that happens within my land is known to me. I saw your ship flee Fort Bolland. I saw you fleeing south over Tinderward. I saw Noreeno hiding war supplies for himself, moving men around, gathering power to himself. I intended to displace him well before he had the might to attempt to overthrow me. But now I see much has been hidden from me. The children have made themselves part of my kingdom, as my servants, my generals and magistrates.”
Eomer offers, “Noreeno had a faithful cleric with him.”
“Yes this one is known to me as well.”
Eomer asks, “Majesty, if I may: Why would Mordan send a messenger at all? And why would he send this traitor?”
“He means to taunt me, by flaunting this traitor in front of me. Believing that I will not move against one who comes to parlay, that I would not dare kill an emmisary. Mordan remembers me from long ago, but my nature has changed since last we faced one another.”
Eomer smiles, “Well, I kinda already promised to kill him a while ago.”
She nods. Perhaps she already knew this?
Thu’fir asks, “Now, do you want just Eomer and I to do this or…”
“I would suggest you take such friends as you have. Noreeno will not be easy prey. He may dress and speak like a bureaucrat, but he wields a deadly magic that you should fear.”
Eomer again, “So you know who Endo is?”
“Is that your companion’s name?”
“He served you at one point”, Eomer points out.
“Yes. And you snatched him away. That doesn’t happen very often. But I never learned his name. His mind was too strong to penetrate. His will is great, and I could never learn anything of use from him, even when he wore the helmet.”
“I have a request”, Eomer adds, “I wish for Beck and Endo to be allowed to leave the island.”
“What you ask is not mine to give.” She explains, “Yesternight one of my ships arrived in Telwin port… burning. He has done this in the past, during our last struggle against him. Foul black birds will fly out from land and cover the ship from stem to stern. They sit on the railings, the yardarm, the mast, on every rope and on every place a bird might perch. They cry out with terrible shrieking voices, driving the sailors mad with their noise. When at last a bird is killed, the feathers scatter and burst into flames. Other birds are set alight, and the ship is consumed in the flames. Expect Mordan to block your escape from the island. He is able to block my powers. I can no longer see my lands to the north. Everything from Crossway to Fort Bolwood is dark to me. “
Eomer is getting bold by now, and decides to question her. He does so very politely, “Your majesty, I do not mean to question your motives, but I am curious as to why you have asked us to come in small groups like this instead of allowing all of us to enter…”
She holds up a single silencing hand, “It has been over a century since I had more than two visitors. In this very room, long ago, I had three visitors, who I believed to be friends. And I have never seen the sun since that day.”
Eomer and Thu’fir sense that this might not be the safest topic of conversation, so Eomer changes the subject, “We read a book. It was written by a man named Norvus.”
“Yes. The Exile.”
Well, the book mentions a place called the Mage’s Archives. We were hoping to learn where that is.
“I was hoping to wrest those secrets from King Dravis Lorman when we took fort Bolland. At the time, then-Commander Noreeno said that Dravis had fought to the death, which surprised me. Now I wonder if Dravis didn’t surrender as I expected, but was slain anyway by Noreeno.”
Their curiosity thus quenched, the Queen concludes the meeting with Thu’fir and Eomer. They bow and are led out by another of the Queen’s veiled servants.