Nisrioch stood by the Great Gates of Castle Terribel. A small crowd stood with him, the High Steward Breus le Fidelé among them. “So… sir,” said Breus to the young Erl. “I suppose Her Excellency will be her shortly,” he noted.
“Yes,” replied Nisrioch in a bland monotone.
Breus glanced at the boy, then glanced away. After a moment, he looked up at the sky. “Lovely weather, eh?”
“It is pleasant,” said Nisrioch, his voice as flat as ever.
Breus nodded. This was the last effort he made at conversation with the young Erl for some time. After several minutes of silence, Clarin Bluebell leaned towards the High Steward. “Do you think she’ll have elephants?”
“Not really,” said Breus.
“Pity,” said Clarin. “I’d like to see elephants.”
Nisrioch raised his hand. “Silence. She is near.”
Clarin looked around in unease. “How do you…?” And that’s when the noise made its way to them. Horns played in the distance. A dust cloud rolled into view, the vague image of forms moving in it visible to a discerning eye. It moved closer, and closer.
Nearly a hundred Ogres were marching, playing horns as they did so. A chariot, pulled by a pair of grphons followed behind it. Seated on it was a young female Erl, her long black hair done in a braid, guiding the gryphons with an expert hand. She wore a great gold headdress, and fine blue robes, and she smiled brightly. As the group reached the gate, she raised her hand. “Halt!” she yelled. The Ogres ceased their movement with eerie precision. The gryphons on other hand, kept moving. “Thistlewhistle! Gewgaw!” shouted the Erl maiden. “I said--’halt’! Halt’!” With a shake of their heads the gryphons stopped moving, and took to chewing their bridles sullenly.
The maiden stepped out of her chariot, and placed her hands on her hips. “Honestly you two! Can’t you behave?” The gryphons snorted. She sighed. “Look, I know you guys want to fly. And you can later, okay?” The gryphons eyed her suspiciously. “Come on,” she said in a wheedling tone. “I’m sure these nice people have plenty of slightly-rotten meat just hanging around…” The gryphons nuzzled her and licked her hands. “Ahh! Down guys! Down!”
One of the Ogres coughed. The maiden stiffened. “Oh. Right.” She waved. “Do the thing.”
The Ogres blew their trumpets. “Presenting Her Ineffable Excellency, Shamhat Sekhmetides Maganza, Dark Lord of the Blasted Heath, Geat to Irem, Maganza of the Silent Tomb, Heir to the Majesty of the Sekhmetides, and the Bastetides, and the…” declaimed the Ogre who’d coughed.
Shamhat took a deep breath. “Cut to the chase,” she hissed.
“Nerystides,” said the Ogre apologetically.
Shamhat waved at the crowd. “Hi!”
The crowd was silent, as if trying to figure out how to process this… occurrence. Shamhat ignored this, and dived before Nisrioch. “Ohh! You must be Lord Shaddad’s son!” she announced.
Everyone besides Nisrioch shuddered. One did not speak of Nisrioch’s relation to the Dark Lord. It was one of the many topics that Shaddad did not like discussed. Like what had happened to his brothers, or why certain hallways had to be sealed off, or quince jellies.
Shamhat continued to ignore their reaction. “Well, look at you! Aren’t you darling?” She pinched Nisrioch’s cheek. “Awwwww!”
“Please stop,” requested Nisrioch.
Shamhat let go of his cheek. “Sorry.” She smiled at Nisrioch brightly. “So… where’s my… husband?”
“He is subjugating Altaripa and Altafoglia,” replied Nisrioch levelly. “He should be finished with that shortly.”
Shamhat bit her lip. “Ahh. Business with the… northern branches of the family.” She took a deep breath, and shook her head. “Oh, well. They don’t get along with… my side anyway.”
Breus coughed. “Dark Lord… do… you wish us to take care of your… animals?”
Shamhat turned to smile at the Steward. “Don’t worry. My men will do it. Just give them some scraps, and they’re as happy as can be.”
Clarin looked the Ogres over. “Always thought you’d have… well, Ghouls.”
Shamhat chuckled. “Yeah, well, let’s just say our arrangement in the Heath involves vast amounts of ignoring each other and leave it at that.”
Clarin turned to her and decided to try his luck. “You… don’t have any elephants, do you?”
“Just back at home,” said Shamhat with a shrug. “I thought about bringing some, but they’re tough to transport.” She wrinkled her nose. “And the messes… ewww.”
Nisrioch tugged her sleeve. “Does Your Excellency wish to be shown her chambers?”
“Well, if it’ll let me slip out of this,” said Shamhat, rubbing her headdress resentfully. “It’s heavy, and I only wear it for ceremonial occasions.”
Nisrioch bowed. “This way then.” As he turned he rubbed his cheek. It still stung from where she’d pinched it.
Oddly enough, he found this less irritating than he would have imagined.