Today’s blog is the continuation of, Welcome to the Valleys. If you would like to catch up with the tale, the first section can be found at this link
Satal sat, silently staring at Tollen as he ate his roll. The retired guard held the president’s gaze, maintaining a wicked grin as the chewed. Walter also stared at his old friend in disbelief, finally shaking his head and tossing his napkin on to his plate.
“Tollen, I thought you were staying in your room at the Hall of Healers.”
“I was, Old Fox, but seeing as you lot are taking your merry time getting down to business I thought I’d pop in and say ‘Hi.’” He leaned forward and picked up a second sweet roll. “Thanks for breakfast, by the way. Healers have no idea how to cook.”
“How did you get past my security, Tollen? I didn’t give you permission to enter the residences this morning.”
Tollen peeled a piece of sweet roll and tossed into his mouth. “Well you see, Madam President, you’ve been spending the last few years rescuing reputable guards from Merkot to bolster your own troop. And many those reputable guards something in common.”
“There were all trained by me. They’re loyal to you, Satal, but guards don’t forget who taught them what from what. You’ve given them respectability, I made certain they’d be alive to enjoy it.”
Satal remained expressionless for a moment, finally relenting with a stiff nod. “Very well. As unexpected as Tollen’s arrival is, he is not incorrect. It’s time we headed down to the Senate Floor.”
As everyone at the table stood, Walter turned to Jeremy, “Did Satal tell you what we’ve agreed upon?”
“Yes, Walter, but Sheilak isn’t very happy with it.”
“Tell her she’ll get over it, we’ve got enough problems without smacking people’s fears in their faces. And what about what we agreed to say about you?”
Jeremy nodded. “I haven’t been able to try to see colors since we’ve gotten into the Inner Valleys anyway, everything’s still purple. And it’s not like I know anything else I’m supposed to be able to do.”
“I suppose that’ll have to do. Do you need to do anything else before we head down?”
“No, I think I’m ready.”
“Not entirely,” chimed in Satal. Jeremy turned toward the president, an unspoken question on his face. “You are heading into the floor of the Senate, young man, where you will be brought into the highest social order of this land.” Tollen wretched vocally at these words, which Satal ignored. “‘Travel worn’ may be an acceptable hairstyle for a merchant’s apprentice, but it will not do in the Senate Camber.”
“Satal,” cut in Walter, “Do we really have time for fashion? The lad looks fine.”
“‘Fine’ is a relative thing, Walter. I am staking my reputation on Jeremy and he will look his part.” Satal motioned toward Michael and Terrin. “Gentlemen, please escort Jeremy to the fourth floor of the residences. There you will find a barber who is expecting you and will prepare him for his presentation. When he is finished, please bring him to the Senate chambers.”
“Yes, Madam President,” responded Michael. Terrin nodded.
“Really, Satal, the fate of The Valleys is hanging in the balance, and you’re worried about the boy’s haircut?”
“Mister Tollen. I tolerate your presence, and give you and your people far more access than has ever been politically expedient, because I value your work and opinions. But you will indulge me in this, or you will head back to your offices.”
Tollen sighed and nodded, but Jeremy noticed Walter was as unhappy with her decision as the old guard. Satal also noticed Walter’s frown and held up pointed finger toward the old trader. “No comments from you either, Old Fox.”
Walter shrugged, “As you wish, Madam President.”
Satal allowed herself a minimal smile as she began to sweep away from the table. “Good. Tollen, Walter, let’s head down to the Senate chamber. Jeremy, Gentlemen, I will see you all soon.”
With that the President left the room, and Tollen followed after picking up a third sweet roll. He grinned at Jeremy as he left, and saluted in farewell. Walter, however, strode over to Jeremy and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Are you nervous?”
Jeremy swallowed and nodded. “A little.”
“That’s understandable. You’ll be fine, though. I’m sorry she’s splitting us up right now, lad, but you’ll be ok. I’ll see you soon.”
With that, Walter patted Jeremy’s shoulders, turned, and left. Terrin pointed toward an exit opposite from the door through which the others passed and Michael ushered Jeremy toward it. “The lifts are this way, Jeremy. Though I suppose I’ll have to call you ‘Representative’ soon.”
Jeremy followed along with Michael, but looked at him with alarm. He wasn’t keen on having one of his friends not referring to him by name. “What do you mean, Michael?”
“That’s the title you’ll be given, Jeremy,” responded Terrin. “It’s the title of a Senator in training. And, as Walter and I are guards in service to the President, it would be improper for us to refer to you otherwise.”
This made Jeremy even more troubled. “Oh,” was all he could say in response.
Michael, however, grinned, “Though, I suppose a certain familiarity would be appropriate in private. We are, after all, friends.”
Jeremy smiled. “I’d like that.”
“Good, because Walter already told us if we stopped your name entirely he’d hang us from a pole and leave us…” Michael squinted in thought and turned to his fellow guard, “What did he say about the pole, Terrin?”
Terrin beamed a smile, “He said he’d hang us there until we were baked so red even Ama’s ointments wouldn’t provide relief.”
Michael laughed. “Yes, that’s it. So, I’m glad you’re pleased to have us continue using your name. I hate sunburn.”
The three laughed and chatted at they head to the nearest lift. The doors opened and Michael escorted Jeremy in as Terrin set the controls for the fourth floor. The car unexpectedly stopped after ascending a single level, however, and the doors opened to reveal a man of medium build and kindly bearing. His brown hair was long and pulled back into a pony-tale, and his clothing was ornamented with elaborate patterns. His warm eyes were a deep blue, and with these he scanned the occupants of the car before stepping in himself. As he did so, Terrin and Michael tensed noticeable, and Jeremy became inexplicably worried.
The man looked directly at Jeremy and spoke as he held out his hand. “Ah, you must be the mystery apprentice Satal has shoehorned into our morning agenda. It is a pleasure, young sir. I am Senator Merkot, and I suppose we’ll be seeing a great deal of one another very soon.”
Shocked, Jeremy reached out and dumbly took the offered hand. As he did so, his crystal link with Sheilak became cold as ice.
“Beautiful liar,” she hissed in his head.