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Emergence (Concertverse) Chapter Cover

Emergence (Concertverse)
- Chapter 18
[]

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Art of Hospitality[]


Taking in the sights[]

Old Connaught
Arc-Royal, Arc-Royal Theatre
Lyran Commonwealth
14th November, 3142


The sights of Old Connaught, or of this side's Old Connaught, gave Eva an overwhelming sense of the uncanny.  The city was built the same way as the one she'd seen just sixteeen weeks before, after all.  But everything was… off.  Shops and restaurants were different in subtle or not-so-subtle ways.  What she remembered as being a cafe was, here, a delivery and take-out only eatery, while a laundromat was instead a corner shop.

And there were the other, less-subtle differences.  The memorial to Archduke Morgan Kell, raised after his death fighting the Oriento-Capellans on Sirius in 3062, wasn't around; in its place stood a more somber memorial to those killed by the Blakists during the Jihad.  A number of stores boasted of accepting Wolf "Kerenskies" or "Clan Wolf Scrip".  A snarling red wolf's head banner was flown on some structures, and "Wolf City" was touted as a destination on the large board outside the DropPort.

The locals were at least no less friendly than those she'd met on her side of the Glass.  Curious eyes took in the sight of her red duty uniform jacket and trousers before she was offered whatever was being sold by an establishment, usually with a discount referenced.

"Aye, lots of friendly folk, aren't they?" Kevin remarked.  He was in the same uniform; both wore sky blue Striker Corps berets with the 8th's Sunhawk patch prominent on the right side, with the single bar marking them as Lieutenants on the collar and their MechWarrior insignia - a gold stylized outline of a Black Knight BattleMech over a silver shield - on the collars by the shoulders.  "But they've a lot to be thankful for, I suppose."

Eva didn't answer.  Her mind wandered with thoughts of this strange war, in this mirrored distortion of the Inner Sphere she called home.  She wasn't a rookie pilot out of the Nagelring now, but a battle-tried MechWarrior with three confirmed kills in two battles.  She imagined the classmates who'd gone on to other units and might feel rather jealous of that fact, she was only three kills from qualifying for a Silver Wing, assuming the campaign continued.

"Now here's what I was hopin' for."  Kevin's words prompted her attention.  They'd arrived at a street corner.  The hanging sign resembled a Kell Hound insignia, with the ears only slightly shorter and set on a hexagon instead of a triangle.  "The Hound" was displayed in almost Gaelic cursive, with the name repeated in blocky Gothic letters translating it to "Das Hund".  "It's more like home.  Well, a little.  Is it just me, or are these Arc-Royal folk more… well, German?"

"The Lyran Commonwealth survived the Succession Wars, so it makes sense." Eva mused.  In their own timeline the predominance of German as an everyday language faded after the collapse.  It was still a fairly well-known trade tongue, competing with Star League English for that role inside the ex-Commonwealth, but everyday vernacular use declined save on those worlds which maintained Germanic cultural identities, such as Tharkad and Donegal and even some of the worlds in the heart of the old Arcadian Free March.  Their Arc-Royal, however, had more of a Gaelic feel to it than this one.

They entered and found they weren't alone, in more ways than one.  Kell Hounds were present, from both sides of the Glass, gathered around a pool table holding a competition.  Some of the seats were kept by men and women in gray mottled leather jumpsuits, including one who clearly had a specialized seat since he was two and a half meters tall and as wide as Eva and Kevin put together.  And a couple tables already had figures in AFRF red.  They turned towards them and there were raised glasses.  "Hey there, Eva!" one called out in an accented voice.  The group wore the winged swords of Aerospace Force pilots.

"Tony."  The small smile on her lips was one of the most genuine she'd had in weeks.  She stepped ahead of Kevin, arguably for the first time that day, and met Tony as he rose from the table, giving the man a hug.  Noting Kevin's interest, she said, "This is my cousin, Tony, from the Aghliesi side of the Penton-Vallejo family.  Distant cousin, I should clarify," she added.  "Flight Lieutenant in the 8th's Aerospace Group, but he's forgiven for being a flyboy."

"Hey now, where would you groundpounders be without us in the skies keeping the enemy's birds away?" Tony laughed, getting some cheers and chortles from the table.  "So these are my pilots."  He introduced the three others quickly, as well as a fourth figure who was a gunner from their assigned DropShip.  "My little cousin Eva, fresh from the Nagelring."

A whoop came from one of the others, a young male pilot of lighter complexion.  "Class of '40," he boasted.

"Class of '41," she said, grinning at her fellow alma mater.  "We don't all go to the Rivshal, after all."

"Why would we when we have the Nagelring?"

"The RSFA doesn't need defending," Tony insisted, referring to the Rivkha Shaltiel Flight Academy on Gienah.  "But hey, Nagelring's good.  Better than Sanglamore or TMI.  Don't want to get secesh brainworms."

So none of his buddies are from Skye or Tamarind.  It had to be true for him to diss those worlds' academies so loudly.

"This is my lancemate," Eva said, remembering her manners.  "Kevin Kilroy.  We both pilot PLD-3s in the 1st Battalion."

"Right.  You guys brought down that Falcon leader." another of the AFRF pilots said.

"Well, Eva did." Kevin suddenly chimed in.  "Brought down the Mad Khan or whatever it is they call her."

His voice carried enough that it won attention from others in the room, particularly the gray-suited figures.  The big hulking figure stood from his special chair and appraised her intently.  He's one of those Elementals, one of the battle armor-wearing infantry, Eva recalled.  God they make them so big…

"You defeated that bloodfoul dezgra Malvina Hazen?" he rumbled.

Eva licked her lips.  "I helped bring her down.  My lance lieutenant did most of the work before he died, though, and a Lyran pilot shared the final kill."

"Ah."  The giant nodded.  "So we have heard."  His head bowed.  "I am Point Commander Michael of the Wolves, and these are some of my fellow warriors of the Golden Keshik.  It is an honor to meet one of the warriors who stopped the Mad Falcon Khan."

"I… thank you," Eva said, not sure of what else to say.

"So we've got a real hero in here."  The voice came from the bar, a man with a prosthetic arm wearing Kell Hound colors.  "What'll ya be to havin', luv?"

Before Eva could answer, one of the local Kell Hounds called out, "Put it on my tab!"

"Ha! Your tab's high enough, Lieutenant Larsen," the bartender guffawed.  "Besides, the MechWarriors who brought down Malvina Hazen don't pay for drinks under this roof!"

"I…"  Eva swallowed.  A lot of eyes were still on her.  "Thanks.  I'll have an apple Scotch, neat."

"Same here." Kevin said.

"Good choice, luv."  The bartender got to work on the ordered drinks.

Kevin already had a table picked and Eva slipped into a chair, trying very much to ignore that she still had the attention of everyone.  "Maybe I should be jealous," Kevin said, a teasing grin on his face.  "Look at you.  Maybe you'll end up a Dame when we go back, if this fame spreads."

"Oh God, no," Eva groaned.  "I don't even deserve it.  I fired at her a couple of times early in the fight, and later got her leg after… after she killed Lance Lieutenant von Krager."  She swallowed.  "He's the hero of that fight.  And Captain Kincaid, she saved me taking out that Hellstar."

"Aye."

By now some of the activity was drifting back to normal, as eyes slowly turned from them.  The bartender brought their drinks.  Kevin raised his.  "To the Lance Loo and Captain Kincaid, may their souls rest."

"Amen." Eva took the drink, the apple taste providing the sweet, fruity flavor to make the burning liquor go down easier.  She lowered the glass to the table.  While the others were drifting back to their pool game and other matters, glances still came their way, and she never quite lost the attention of the Wolf warriors.  She found it almost unsettling.  "A shame we couldn't get Gupta and Norton to join us."

"Well, they're new to the outfit, give 'em time to finish adjusting," Kevin suggested.  "All of us need it.  Three months now and I still feel like it's all a weird dream.  Even after the fights, all the jumping, all of this."

"Makes you wonder how many other alternate Inner Spheres are out there, too."

"Aye." He glanced at his empty glass.  "But that's not somethin' to speculate without some more Scotch."  He looked towards the bar,, Eva doing the same, but the bartender wasn't looking their way but dealing with customers.  "How about I go get us a fresh round first?"

Eva nodded and provided him with her glass.  He walked off, to get the bartender's attention, while she sat quietly and hoped people were finally not simply looking at her.

"You are uncomfortable with your glory?"

The voice was rich and solid, feminine. and reminded Eva of her favored aunt Viola.  She turned toward it and faced a woman of slight bronze coloring and long white-blond hair tied into a bushy tail, more befitting a wolf than a pony.  She had the same tight gray jumpsuit, one she filled out quite well, and a self-assured expression.  A similar rank insignia to Michael's was set on her collar, along with a red star with one ray longer than the rest.

Another of these Wolves. "My lance lieutenant did the fighting, most of it, as did Lieutenant Palisser," Eva said.  "I was mostly fighting Hazen's lancemates.  I opened up on her after she killed Lieutenant von Krager and took her 'Mech's leg off, causing her to fall into a shot that smashed her cockpit."

"I know."  The woman smiled, baring her teeth.  "Your honesty does you credit.  Among the Clans, even my own, too many warriors might yet seek glory from such a thing, and embellish their part."

Eva couldn't keep the surprise from her face.  "You know?"

"A number of us have seen the battleROM footage after it was delivered.  I watched your 'Mech deliver the crippling blow, and the Awesome of the local forces took the bloodfoul's cockpit.  I particularly enjoyed watching you destroy the Mad Khan's BattleMech."  The woman's smile became a wolfish snarl.  "Better that a machine be destroyed, having known so much dishonor."

Eva flashed back to it.  Squeezing her triggers even after she overheated her 'Mech into shutdown, screaming at the BattleMech that killed her company commander and lance commander in the space of minutes.  She kept hitting her triggers until Major Perez's voice brought her out of the frantic state and back to reality.  "I was… furious, and terrified, and just… just wanted that thing to finally stay down." she confessed.

"That is battle, quiaff?  Terror, fury, and wanting your enemies defeated to bring it all to an end."

Eva opened her mouth to disagree, but found she couldn't.  She hadn't enjoyed killing, but winning and surviving?  That felt good.  "Yeah.  I've had only two so far, but it sounds about right."  She nodded.  "Evangeline Maria Penton-Vallejo, Lieutenant, 8th Striker Regiment 1st Battalion."

"I am Warrior Marissa of the Kell Bloodhouse.  Formerly of the 13th Wolf Guards Cluster, but after my battlefield successes against the Jade Falcons' 3rd Talon I was assigned a place in the Golden Keshik."

"The Golden Keshik?", she asked

"The bodyguard force of our Khan, I am a warrior of the Keshik's BattleMech Trinary."

"Trinary… right, a Clan reinforced Company.  So you're in a bodyguard battalion?  Like the Lifeguards."

"Something of the sort.  Battle with the Falcons is inevitable, otherwise I would seek re-assignment to a frontline Cluster."

Kevin approached.  "Aye, he finally got our drinks made.  Bigger glasses this time."  He handed her one such glass, which would serve to take four or five good gulps and leave her inebriated.  He nodded to Marissa.  "Makin' a friend?"

Eva went to introduce him, but Marissa shook her head.  "I heard you well enough the first time.  An honor to meet another fellow warrior in the battle against the dezgra Falcons," she said to Kevin.

"This is Marissa, she's with the Wolf Khan's bodyguard unit." Eva explained to him.

"Aye, rather young for that?  Most of the King's Lifeguards are in their thirties or older, I hear?"

"She fought the 3rd Talon before we did, so she got her spot that way."

"That'll do it."  Kevin lifted a glass toward her.  "Ye're welcome to join us, if ye like."

The look on her face made Eva think the woman was about to refuse, but after several seconds she said, "Yes, I think I would enjoy that."


Aside from the Planetary Defense Command chamber, Martin Kell maintained a War Room for the wider war along the Arc-Royal Theater.  He stood in the center now with the holotank displaying the region of space around Arc-Royal.  Tharkad was off in one corner, Coventry in another, flashing blue, and the Jade Falcon and Hell's Horse advances marked in angry green and red.  Timkovichi had a brighter blue matching Arc-Royal, Tharkad, and the other key Lyran systems visible, unsurprising given its newfound importance.  A white hawk insignia indicator reflected the presence of the Arcadian unit on-planet while a second hawk now joined Kell Hound and Wolf indicators on Arc-Royal proper.

It was quite a setup, and General Bridger saw that in most respects the equal of the March Defense Command facilities that Archduke Ethan Kell maintained on the other side of the Glass.  There was, of course, only one key difference, probably the biggest one; no HPGs to provide timely information.  Ghostly unit markets showed where units were only suspected as being, particularly on the opposing side.

A second screen reflected the recorded outcome of Great X, in terms of personnel losses.  The 8th Striker's losses were not insignificant, though not major as well, and in lives at least were light.  After battlefield salvage Brigadier Laguna's unit was down two companies worth of BattleMechs in hard-killed, unsalvageable machines, with another company of battle armor infantry lost and a couple aerospace fighters.  Both Kell Hound units came out even better, given they hadn't directly engaged the more dangerous 3rd Talon on the Vicar's Altar.  Regardless of those losses, the 8th was still very much a functional combat formation with replacements already called for via the fax machines and their forces on Timkovichi.

Not that we can sustain greater losses, not without going back, Bridger thought.  If the Falcons give us a bigger drubbing next time we'll have to withdraw.

"The recovered personnel are providing us some critical intelligence." Martin assured the gathered; General Bridger, Brigader Laguna, Colonel Ward his brother Evan, and the genetically-engineered hulk of Khan Patrik Fetladral. 
"The Falcons had them building specific sorts of parts that they'll now have some local shortages of, for instance, and we can make use of that."

"To treat bondsmen as they did, it is dezgra," Patrik growled.  "I am not convinced granting Roshak hegira was wise, or honorable."

"Hold on there, big man," Evan replied.  "Think for a minute. We want to beat the Falcons into something we can at least get to surrender, and Roshak's proof that actin' like a soldier'll get better from us than the Mongols do. Besides which, firstly I've been talking to some of our people, and from the sound of it, Roshak took some pretty big risks trying to keep the Watch thugs and his unit under control, with them and the civvies both. Ain't no saint, but," Evan aimed significant looks around the room, "we've all worked with way ******’ worse when we’ve had to. And second, even if we had smashed the Three-Seventy-first flat, unless General Bridger's got more reinforcements coming than we've been told, we couldn't have held Great X, just staked a goat out for tigers."

Noting the expectant looks he got from the Grand Duke and from Khan Patrik, Bridger added, "I've not heard anything yet about expanded reinforcements.  The 2nd Royal Cuirassiers are going to hold Timkovichi, and I've got continued authorization for raids, but that's about it."

"Then let us strike them again," Patrik urged.  "Between your information and that from our own recent battles, we know the Falcons have concentrated many bondsmen on Morges."

"Morges?"  Evan frowned.  "Cold world.  Not so nice as Great X.  But it's got resources, so they'll be workin' them to death for more parts."

"We owe it to our warriors to reclaim them before they die at the Mongols' bloodfouled hands."

Given his own history, Bridger couldn't fault the Wolf leader for his words. His mind went to the status of his units, and whether they could deliver as proposed.

"General Bridger?"

He nodded at Martin's unspoken request.  "Brigadier, Colonel, your assessment?"

"It's possible they might have a whole of one of their Galaxy units on Morges." Laguna pointed ot, noting the system's mix of solid and ghostly Falcon emblems.  "That's substantially more force than they had on Great X.  Three 'Mech regiments and friendly forces might be enough to counter that in a smash and grab, but it'll be riskier, and I'd like to get my battalions back up to strength before we make the move."

"We can fax to have the replacements meet us en route."v

"We could, yes.  Won't be the best for unit cohesion, no time to train," Deirdre Ward said.  "But if time's short, well, we can make do I suppose.  Keep the replacements in reserve and work them in only as needed."  She held her hand to the map.  "Morges is three jumps from here, so if we want to get there fast, we'll need to go soon.  We're looking at a month's trip even if we come in by pirate point again."

Bridger nodded, noting the look on Martin's face at that.  Pirate points could be dangerous and risking much of what the Lyrans had left on the front to a pirate jump was a big call to make.  "Our astrogation systems never fell quite as much," he said.  "We can calculate them more safely."

"And if they have a week to see us coming, well, by now word of Great X has to have spread."  Evan frowned at his brother.  "We come in at a conventional jump point, we give them a lot of time to dig in around their bondsmen camp, assuming they don't just slaughter them long before we hit the dirt."

"Still, if Brigadier Laguna's concerns prove correct, you'd be fighting a whole Galaxy worth of troops, probably frontliners," Martin pointed out.

"Yeah, but ones that are recovering from fights too, and it's likely a scratch Galaxy."

"It would be," Patrik agreed.  "The Clusters on Morges, according to this data, are from several of the other Galaxies.  They would not be used to fighting as a coherent unit, and any mix of Mongol and non-Mongol troops will add to their disunity.  Nevertheless I would be willing to commit myself to this battle, along with the Golden Keshik and the First Strike Grenadier Cluster."

"Leaving the rest of Alpha Galaxy and the Second Hounds to protect our world," Martin noted.

"Aff."

Bridger noted the thoughtful expression on both and had a feeling Patrik's decision was more than just evening odds for a strike on Morges.  He wanted to see the 8th Striker and Ward's Kell Hounds in action for himself, and he wanted to be involved in punishing those who'd harmed his kin and disgraced the idea of the Clans.  "We can burn out in a week's time," Bridger suggested.  "Meet the reinforcements a jump out.  We'll be landing before the year's end."

"Would give those poor captives one hell of a Christmas present."  Laguna grinned at that.  "Best they'll ever have."

Not a one of them noted the obvious caveat: If the Falcons don't finish killing them first.

Rather than be the one to voice such, Martin went another tack.  "There's more good news; we've received confirmation that the Federated Suns are sending help. Not as much as we might want, but the First Davion Guards and a strong naval escort group are on their way."

Evan laughed.  "Well, about time Caleb got off his arse and decided if he was gonna commit one way or another."  The grin on his face was greater than Bridger would have imagined; even an elite outfit, as he expected this side's Davion Guards to be as skilled as his own side's, was not going to change things alone, hinting at another reason for Evan's happiness.  "Here's hoping the prodigal daughter decides to come back with, huh, Martin?"

The expression that came to Martin's face was everything Bridger and his people needed to know just why they had that reaction.  "Hopefully," he ventured.  "Additionally, I received confirmation that the Archon's Fist passed through the Glass about three weeks ago.  Lady Trillian is on her way to Arcadia to negotiate an alliance between our peoples."

"Lady Trillian Steiner-Davion, you mean?" asked Laguna.  "I've heard her name come up. I hope she's a good diplomat and politician.  Federal politics can be difficult.  Makes me glad I'm not up to inherit Launum unless something very bad happens."

"She's one of our best." Martin said.

"Good. As the Brigadier said, Federal-level politics are difficult, given all the differing needs of the regions.  And if she's trying for an alliance to fight the Clans, well, she'll find some opposition for certain."  Bridger shook his head.  "But I imagine she'll find some friends too."

"You figure she'll have a rough welcome?" Evan asked pointedly.

"No, on that at least, I'm sure her welcome will be hospitable," replied Bridger.  "It'll be what come after that's going to be the hard part."


Trillian in Wonderland[]

Royal Palace
Roslyn, Eastern Islay
Arcadia, Arcadian Royal March
Royal Federation
19th November, 3142

The schedule for arrival was long laid out when Archon's Fist made distant orbit of Arcadia.  The system had everything Trillian might expect for a capital system and more, given the orbiting defense stations, the expansive recharge stations at both jump points, and the quantity of traffic.  It was more ships than she'd seen since Gray Monday sent the Inner Sphere's economy into a long-term nose dive.

An escort force of aerospace fighters met them a couple of hours out, following the ship and now Trillian's DropShuttle as they made the final approach.  After some searching in her mind for why the design looked familiar, she finally consulted her DropShuttle's flight crew.  "They look like Sabres if you ask me," her pilot said.  "Although not like ours.  Must be a new model of them."

The Sabre aerospace fighters were a relatively flat aerospace design, sleek and sharp as their names implied.  Their livery design put blue on the main fuselage and body with golden wings and a red border between these two distinct colors.  A white hawk with a stylized golden crown and golden wings marked the top of the body whenever she saw them from that angle.  Her final glance revealed the outline of a traditional shield under the hawk.  I've seen that logo.  The Lifeguard Regiment.  The personal bodyguards of the High King or Queen.  It was undoubtedly a gesture of support that reassured her, given the difficulties she knew were to come.

They made atmospheric entry over Arcadia's expansive main ocean and came in toward Roslyn from the east.  The shuttle's approach vector and her windows gave Trillian a sight of a crystal blue ocean that, as it drew ever closer, occasionally showed distant islands or the pinpricks of seagoing vessels.  Only in the final seconds did she get a glimpse of tall buildings before they were among the confines of the Royal Palace grounds and the surrounding parkland.  The marble-white structure had a classical quality to it.  It was less Teutonic than the Triad back on Tharkad, more Anglo or Anglo-Gaelic, like something one might've taken from London, Edinburgh, or Glasgow back on Terra.  Looks almost like Skye, but with its own character.

Her eyes didn't linger long on that architecture.  Figures already waited for her, soldiers in ceremonial red uniforms with rifles at parade rest, and the distant uniformed figures that had to be the High King and his Court.  As soon as the shuttle was confirmed solid on the ground she released her harness straps.  She took a moment to smooth out her formal court uniform, a feminine jacket of Steiner blue over an ice blue blouse, the state insignia visible over her heart, with the matching dress shimmering down to her ankles and the dress shoes below.  She breathed a quiet prayer of thanks that high heels were no longer the "in" thing in Tharkad fashion, and that Arcadian fashions seemed to be likewise inclined from her viewing of their holonet programming.

"My lady."  One of her assistants provided the mirror to make sure her hair was kept in its formal bun and hadn't lost the careful grooming given it before the Archon's Fist stopped their deceleration burn.  She quietly thanked the older woman at confirming she looked appropriate and made her way towards the DropShuttle hatch.

Honor guards in LCAF formal attire went through first, the detachment from the 1st Royal Guards kept at her side in the event of such diplomatic affairs.  The moment she stepped out of the shuttle and into Arcadia's warm sun, a band took up the anthem of the Lyran Commonwealth.  She got a full look at the honor guard awaiting her, men and women in ceremonial uniforms.  Both were in the same red parade dress uniforms, but the unit emblems on their shoulders were different.  To her right were those with the same emblem as were on the Sabre fighters that escorted her planetside.  To the left, the insignia on their uniforms depicted a human hand with the white-and-gold-winged hawk set over the palm.  After a few seconds she remembered seeing the patch among the listing of units of the Household Guard Corps: the 2nd Proctor Guards.  Similar colors of both sets were found on soldiers further afield, save those who were in power armored suits (although not full-sized battle armor) that were instead colored in the livery of their respective units.  The color guard, made up of the red-uniformed infantry, were holding up the flags of the Lyran Commonwealth and the Royal Federation.

At a barked order from the honor guard's sergeant, the soldiers moved their rifles to parade ready stance in crisp, solid movements.  A couple were almost imperceptibly slower than the rest, which spoke to how well-drilled they were that this was the worst of their collective performance.

Trillian took in her surroundings carefully while approaching the greeting party to the strains of the Lyran anthem.  This DropPad was clearly meant for such ceremonial greetings, given the shape and sizing of the grounds and the layout.  Before her the side entrance of the Royal Palace was visible, albeit only by the upper archway, as the door itself was behind the waiting Court.

The Court itself were in an array of what looked like formal business dress suits.  One woman was in a sari of high Bolanese fashion.  A couple male figures were in Skye tartans and kilts.  The uniformed men and women all had high rank, with multiple stars on their collar rank tabs, epaulets of gold and silver piping along aiguillettes on the left shoulders binding to the uniform breast, to mark staff officer posting.  Most were silver; department head aiguillettes were gold, and at their head was the Chief of Staff of the AFRF, Grand Admiral Stewart.

They were still slightly off to a side.  Centered ahead of her were four figures.  She recognized the Speakers of the Assembly and the Senate immediately, as well as Prince Peter Proctor-Steiner, the grand-uncle of the High King and Lord of the Privy Council, wearing the crown sigil of his formal office as well as gold hawks on his jacket lapels.

Between Prince Peter and the Speakers was Nathaniel himself.  This was the first time they'd met face to face given the costs of video HPG transmissions, although she'd seen his image as well in newsvids and reports during the trip to Arcadia.  By her eyes he was a handsome younger man, still years shy of his thirtieth birthday, with a light complexion and the hint of Indic ancestry in the structure of his face, with blue eyes of the same Steiner shade as Trillian's own and dark brown hair in a well-combed fashion.  He was, curiously, in military uniform as well, an oddity given that this was more a civil occasion and he was by all indications not a military-minded ruler.  He lacked his senior officers' aiguillettes, indeed might have come off as a field officer if not for other aspects of his uniform such as the various orders associated with the Royal Federation, markers of his formal leadership of those Orders. On his collar's rank tab sat a large golden hawk insignia, its wings and tail feathers stretching beyond the tab's square and a crown at the upper edge of the tab.  On his brow was a ceremonial light crown of platinum and gold bands with a hawk figure shaped above the forehead, its silver polished and gleaming.

The thought struck her as she took the final steps to Nathaniel.  The uniform was itself a message.  He, personally, was ready to fight the Clans.  He might even be planning to lead the campaign.  She found it relieving and yet very intimidating.  How would the Court back home react to a foreign ruler personally intervening?  She didn't imagine Melissa would be as happy.

The band ceased playing once she was in position.  The Court Chamberlain Lord Harold Murray, an older man in formal court uniform, spoke aloud, revealing as he did an Anglo accent with the barest hint of a burr.  "Presenting Her Excellency the Lady Trillian Steiner, Emissary Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Archon of the Lyran Commonwealth, with staff, to His Majesty Nathaniel Ethan Proctor, by the Grace of God High King of the Royal Federation, Archduke of Arcadia, of Donegal, of Tharkad, and of Skye, Prince of Bolan and of Atreus, Count of Roslyn and of Mount Olympia, Baron of New Salem."

Formally presented, Trillian politely bowed in a light, Tharkadian fashion for ladies, drilled into her from childhood by the Tharkad social scene.  He has other titles, but at least he appears to have insisted on the short-form.  Thank God. Tharkad society rarely agreed to such, and the highest nobility could spend a minute having every minor title they held spelled out.  She also noted that while it was known here that she had the hyphenated "-Davion" formal name, the Chamberlain used the form she'd provided during the burn in, omitting the "Davion" part entirely.  And he did the same for Nathaniel.  Does he cut the '-Steiner' part of his family name for political reasons or personal?

Once she finished bowing the young ruler spoke in deliberate, practiced tones, the burr practically non-existent such that it sounded more like an Anglo-British equivalent of a Star League English accent.  "Welcome, Lady Trillian, to Arcadia."  While a ceremonial greeting, there was real warmth to it.  "You have the hospitality of my Palace and the Court for the duration of your stay."

"Thank you, Your Majesty," she answered, an equally formal reply.  "I look forward to the hospitality, and a chance to expand upon the relations between our peoples."

"I hope for the same.  Your suites await your pleasure, as does the reception hall."

Her real pleasure was that this was the end of the reception, at least this portion of it.  Nathaniel stepped away and, as King, re-entered the Palace with his immediate advisors.  She followed in herr appropriate place.  The honor guard sergeants bellowed the appropriate orders to put their soldiers at ease while the power-armored soldiers followed along, continuing their bodyguard duties.

The inside was a form of opulence and function Trillian thought was fitting the character of these people.  It was a subdued approach to displaying the wealth of the state; the carpets, lush, were also quite functional, the portraiture made by fine artisans and showing the great figures of the past, including Lyran and Leaguer figures like Alistair Marsden and Sir George Humphries, as well as historic scenes, giving a sense of continuity to the peoples that made up the Federation.

She had little time to take it all in, and made a note that she would have to tour the palace at leisure some time, as the party brought her to a set of lifts.  Nathaniel and his leadership joined her and her Chief of Staff, Landgrave Georg von Marienberg, for the ride up.  They went about ten stories while a symphonic piece Trillian didn't recognize played.  "Majesty, what is this music?"

"A piece not from your side, Your Ladyship," he replied.  "It is the third movement of Thomas Angelous' Ode to Liberty, composed in 2929 to commemorate my ancestor Sara Proctor's victory in the Liberation War."

"It is certainly a joyous piece," she said, while energetic violins and pipes played a joyful sequence.

"It is… at first."  He grinned and said no more.  Trillian stifled a giggle at recognizing what he meant; even the nicest piece of music lost its charm when repeated day after day in lift rides.  "The benefit of being the King is that my personal lifts do not play music."

I imagine they do not.  She allowed a smile to remain on her face.

The lift opened and she followed them out.  A security checkpoint waved them through a foyer and into a hall lined with more portraits and artwork, the wallpaper a repeating sequence of the Arcadian white-and-gold hawk set on bands of red and blue.  The hall was just wide enough to accommodate a power-armored trooper to each side, additional pairs to be found at certain junctions and corners, with more standing watch at the set of fine wooden double doors they ultimately arrived at.  They were opened by the handle - although she did spy the electronic lock set above it, which would provide security - and she was escorted into the parlor of her temporary living quarters.

She found no issue with them; they were well-furnished, with the walls bearing fine nature pieces as framed art.  Ballistic glass doors framed a balcony to one far side.  Plush chairs, recliners and sitting chairs alike, were to be found, along with a couch in the central sitting area and coffee tables that were sturdy enough for the work she would expect to put them through.  Electrical ports for personal computers to be set up lined one far wall, along with desks of fine craftsmanship, and bookshelves with a number of volumes already present, their titles yet too small for her to read without drawing closer.  Doors before and to her right led to what she presumed were the bedrooms and the washrooms of the guest suite.

"I hope our hospitality does match your expectations," Nathaniel said.  "If you will excuse me, Ladyship, affairs of state await my attention before we commence your reception dinner."  He stepped through the door with the rest of his leadership.

"Lord von Marienberg has the neighboring suite," said the Chamberlain, taking over for the now-departed King.  "Secondary rooms in this suite and the other rooms of this wing of the Palace remain for your staff, as arranged."  He motioned to the bookshelves.  "Given your expressed interest in our history the shelves contain volumes of several accounts of our histories since the fall of the Great Houses, courtesy of the Royal Library and His Majesty's private collection  The kitchen staff is instructed to provide meals as requested."  He indicated a commlink device on a stand in the room's central sitting area.  "Public CommNet services are available, wirelessly, as is an open account with ComStar to relay information to the Atocongo HPG, where daily drone couriers are set up to relay messages through the Glass as needed."  He motioned towards the hall to the right.  "The suite's master bedroom awaits your pleasure, as does the washing room and wardrobe.  The King's tailors await your pleasure as well.  If you have any further needs, do not hesitate to bring it to my attention or that of the Palace's concierge service.  By your Lady's leave?"

She nodded.  He departed with Landgrave Marienberg, leaving her be for the moment as the doors came to a close.  Her things not already on the shuttle would be delivered in due time, of course, but for now she would await the arrival of her formal evening gown for the reception and prepare herself for meeting the rest of the Arcadian capital's elite.

A press of a key at the balcony doors loosened the digital lock.  She stepped out and found a view of the palace courtyard.  Beyond were opened gates of ferro-fibrous armor set into the marble walls, giving admittance to the parkland beyond, and allowing the populace to enter the palace grounds on this end.  Below tiny figures milled about, some in groups and some alone.  Visitors to take in history, or perhaps here to petition the Palace for some matter or another, they added to the life she felt here.  It was not the Triad, but in its own way, the Palace was just as grand and as her home on Tharkad had been.

Nor were there mountains to obscure the view of the capital city itself.  Majestic spires of glass and ferro-crete and steel rose towards the heavens, running along districts following the shining waters of Sinclair Bay.  The winding course of the Rha River was faintly visible far to the north and west, as were the many structures of the city's residential and commercial districts.  The Bay itself teemed with vessels.  Cargo ships, small private craft, and even fishing boats filled the Bay to it's northeastern opening.

Her mind flashed to images she'd found in the online historical archives of the University of Timkovichi.  It showed Roslyn, her universe's Roslyn, and the difference was painful to consider.  That city lacked anything like this view.  The greatest towers were the remnant broken towers from a Marik nuke fired in the 2nd Succession War.  Instead of the Royal Palace she now stood in, the Ducal Palace of the Duncans was nothing but shattered rubble.  There was a city around those wastes, but it was a rather smaller city, reliant upon the ocean and the adjoining lands for sustenance.  It was nothing like this Roslyn, this shining jewel that was everything the capital of a great Successor State should be.

Her mind wandered to the other images she'd taken in during her voyage here.  The images of the Triad here, in this Inner Sphere.  It was rather robust, certainly, a center of government for an entire world and beyond, but just as this city was a gleaming contrast to the sad remnant Roslyn of her side of the Glass, the Triad and Tharkad City she grew up in made the one on this side look like a shell abandoned by the crab that once called it home.

It's all so much.  To think of how destiny, or fate, might lead to things so different.

"Lady." The voice brought her attention back inside, where her staff were already bringing in the bags from the DropShuttle.  "I have your reception gown in the bedroom.  You can change whenever you're ready."

"Thank you, Frau Meyer." she said.  She took one last look at Roslyn before stepping inside from the balcony.  I look forward to seeing the city up close.  Watching holovids is one thing, but I need to see what these people are really like if I'm going to convince them to fight.


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