Aerema: Founding of A Kingdom
Author: Artesian Different

Chapter 20
Arrival of the Snake

Bronze pulled his scarf closer around his neck. The groping fingers of the frigid wind off the waterfall were slowly worming their way through his thick fur. Ever since Ryath had moved the Coronation date up, Bronze had been substituting for Alexandra in almost every public appearance. She was just too busy to appear, though Bronze had a sneaking suspicion she just didn’t want to expose herself to the chill January wind. He didn’t blame her, personally.

Today was the official opening of the castle’s army barracks. Bronze wasn’t sure why that required the presence of the captain, but he obligingly went along with it. It wasn’t much, and the troops appreciated seeing one of their leaders.

A fluffy husky was handing out the keys to the officer’s rooms now. She had finally finished the long ranks of privates; there were only a few more paragraphs of corporals, majors, and miscellaneous special posts. Bronze couldn’t wait to get back to his warm rooms and nestled down by the fire. He idly let his magic run through his fur, warming him once more. With a hiss, the snow around his feet melted – he’d over shot again. He pulled his magic back inside him once more, noting with dismay that a few of the nearby privates were staring at him. He hadn’t meant to cause any disruption.

“Uh, sir?” The white husky tapped his arm cautiously.

Bronze blinked his bright blue eyes. “Yes?”

“There are two corporals assigned to the same room…” she murmured to him. Bronze bent over the papers and studied them for a moment.

“No, they aren’t, see, it’s just the handwriting that’s bad. That’s a one, not a seven. Room Fifty-one has no resident yet,” Bronze said, pointing out the incorrect number with a single white claw.

“Ah, I see, sir.” The husky continued calling to the corporals. Bronze tried to ignore his itchy ear. It was undignified for an assistant captain to scratch himself in public. He flicked his ear impatiently, willing the itch away. His efforts didn’t work.

“And that’s it,” the husky said. “Did anyone not receive a room?” The gathering was silent.

“Good,” Bronze said, his ear twitching again. “Please, inform Miss Tarragon here if anything is out of order. She will deal with it as soon as possible.” He cleared his throat. “Dismissed!” The gathering filtered away.

He scratched his ear vigorously, and turned to the husky. “Well done, Miss Tarragon. That went quite smoothly, don’t you think?” he praised.

“Oh, yes, sir!” Tarragon replied.

“This will go on your record. I’ll see you again soon.” Bronze flicked his tail and strode towards the gate and home. Septimus’s ferry was due any moment now. If his presence hadn’t been required at this event, he would have greeted the spy back himself, but as it was, he would have to hurry to return to his home in time for the snake’s visit.

Bane smiled out at the choppy waters. For the first time in ages, the ferry was able to cross. It was a good thing Septimus had arrived when he had. He might have had to wait for weeks before he could have crossed. He trained his sharp jaguar's gaze on the slick ferryboat trundling across the river. Ryath’s channel cut a strange calm stroke in roiling waters, like a single gleam of clear color through a turmoil of swirling shades.

The ferry bumped up against the docks. A muskrat and a ginger tomcat rushed up to tie the boat and unfold the gangplank. A babble of conversation echoed out of the boat as two wolves, a black bear, a donkey, and two shaggy terriers trotted down the gangplank. The bear looked a little queasy. Bane smiled a wry grin and leapt up to greet the small green viper that slithered down the deck.

“Greetings, Septimus,” Bane said, extending a paw. Septimus slithered the last few feet to his side and snaked out the tip of his tail to shake Bane’s massive spotted paw.

“Good to see you again, Bane. Still no position?” Septimus replied, a little uneasily. Bane reminded him unnervingly of Discord lu Tartarus, though Bane’s eyes were different, green rather than gold.

“I’m afraid not, but I have been able to be useful. I expect Alexandra will provide me with a position in the spring,” Bane said regretfully.

“If it is Alexandra, that is,” Septimus corrected.

“True,” Bane said. An odd feeling was buzzing in his mind. He felt edgy for some reason… Pah, it’s just my jealousy that’s making me upset, he reassured himself.

“I’ve been asked to take you to Lady Alexandra and Lord Bronze; they wish to speak with you as soon as you’ve arrived. Do you need any time to rest, or something to eat?” Bane asked politely.

“No, thank you,” Septimus replied. The two turned the corner, heading towards the marketplace. Bronze’s fire was blazing in the middle, throwing sparkling dots of light in the air. Septimus took an inward hiss of breath.

“Bronze created it during the December blizzards. The fire had gone out and he took extreme measures to light it again,” Bane said with a chuckle. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

“Hmm, yes. I wouldn’t have believed it,” Septimus answered.

Bane felt an irrational prickle of worry, but he pushed it away. They walked past the fire and down another tree-lined path to Alexandra’s office and quarters. He rapped on the door a couple of times. Bronze opened it quickly.

“Hello, Septimus, welcome back,” Bronze said cheerfully. “Come in; Alexandra’s been expecting you.”

“Thank you, sir,” Septimus replied, slithering in the doorway.

Bronze moved back to let him pass, before turning to the panther. “Thanks, Bane.”

“You’re welcome, sir,” Bane replied. Bronze gave him a small smile and allowed the door to swing shut with a soft thunk. Bane stood for a few minutes on their doorstep, thinking.

That snake’s been in Throb’s court… something’s wrong. He couldn’t shake the feeling that Septimus was… wrong… something’s gone very wrong. Bane hissed at himself. Snow was beginning to fall again and he was due back at his post in mere minutes. I can’t waste time with this nonsense. He flicked his tail irritably and padded down the path again.

Bronze moseyed down the hallway, Septimus on his heels. The green tree snake was slithering wordlessly across the wooden floor, his tongue flicking out and tasting the air. Bronze broke the silence. “It’s good to have you back, Septimus.”

“It’s good to be back, sir,” Septimus replied.

Bronze’s whiskers twitched. “Alexandra and I are pleased with your work.”

“Thank you. It wasn’t that difficult,” Septimus responded. Bronze opened the door to Alexandra’s meeting room. The silvery-white wolf was shuffling papers at her desk again. The coronation was a very complicated procedure, especially providing enough guards to keep the new king safe. She looked up as the two entered the room and smiled widely.

“Welcome back, Septimus,” Alexandra said.

Septimus bobbed his reptilian head. “Thank you, mi’lady.”

“Please, sit down and make yourself comfortable,” she insisted. “I have a few things I’d like to discuss with you.” She put the papers down on the desk and padded over to the fire. The warm glow seeped through her fur as she hopped into an armchair and instructed Bronze and Septimus to do the same.

“The Coronation is taking place two moons early. This has caused quite a crush in our operations. I’m afraid Bronze and I are completely swamped,” Alexandra said, as Septimus coiled up neatly in an armchair.

“Mmm, I see,” Septimus replied.

Alexandra cleared her throat and summarized Ryath’s conclusions for Septimus. “…I’m going to put you in charge of spying inside the camp,” she finished.

Septimus almost laughed, it was only with great difficulty that he managed to hold back his mirth. Spying out plots, eh? Well, I shouldn’t have to look far - I am one! “I’m pleased that I can assist you, mi’lady,” Septimus answered gratefully. Bronze’s whiskers twitched again.

“A good place to start might be Bane lu Tartarus. We have our suspicions… Other than that, I really don’t know. But I have complete confidence in you.” Alexandra smiled warmly.

Bronze cleared his throat. “Your new quarters will be in the Warrior’s dormitory in the castle, Room Twenty-Three.” Bronze handed Septimus a dull iron key.

“Inform us if you need any men assigned to your mission, or if you find anything that we might be interested in,” Bronze finished.

“I will do so, sir.” Septimus nodded his serpentine head


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