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Imperial Visit from Natopia

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Day 1: Haraldsborg


Standing at the beginning of a red carpet at Fulltrui International Air- and Spaceport, a delegation led by the Lady High Justiciar, which is composed of members of the High Council of the Realm as well as royals, nobles and local officials, and Lady Esther Maryam Amirdokhtar of Ayreon-Kalirion, the special guest of the Lady High Justciar, is awaiting the Natopian rigid airship which is carrying His Bovic Majesty Emperor Nathaniel of Natopia.


The red carpet is lined by an honour guard which is composed of alternately members of the Valiant Vixens, the army of watchwoman which since time immemorial guards the Vanadísarhall, in full ceremonial dress, as well as women dressed in their local Bunad who are carrying the flag of the area of the Storish Yeorlskapp they hail from. Next to the red carpet is the Imperial Piper and Drum Band which will perform both nations' national anthems.


At a safe distance, but still within earshot, is an artillery battery manned by Imperial Gunners of the Alexandrian Guard who, upon the arrival of the Emperor of Natopia, will honour His Bovic Majesty with a 21-gun salute, which is known within the borders of the High Realm as the Kejserlig Salut.


The Lady High Justiciar is holding a young girl in Bunad called Lady Árný Vigfúsdóttir of the House of Tjeldsund by her hand. The little noble lady will present His Bovic Majesty with a bunch of roses, sing him a Storish folk song, and bid him welcome to the High Realm.

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Nathaniel was looking out from one of the great windows of the airship. He could see the majestic city of Haraldsborg become bigger and bigger, more and more majestic, for every metre that the airship descended.

This city is huge, Nathaniel thought for himself. And it looks so clean.

The city appeared to be dipped in a sea of light. It was a beautiful sight.

Once the ship descended to the mast, and anchored there, the stairs were pulled down.

"It's time, Majesty," a Natopian guard said and saluted his emperor.

"Thank you."

Nathaniel walked slowly and surely down the steps. It was a windy day but sunny, without a cloud on the sky. The people on the ground stood all still. He could see the well-renowned guard, a little girl with flowers together with two ladies: the High Justiciar and his long-lost aunt. Catching eye contact with her brought a tear to Nathaniel's eye. He quickly dried it away with his finger.

Now, he stood in front of the ladies. The little girl started singing a quaint folk song, whose lyrics he somewhat understood, the language was after all very similar to Hurmu's. She then handed him the bucket of flowers, after which she curtsied.

"Thank you, my young lady" said Nathaniel. "What's your name?"

"Árný Vigfúsdóttir, your Most Bovic Majesty," she replied. Nathaniel smiled and shook her hand. She curtsied once more.

Nathaniel turned to the two ladies. By protocol, he would now be greeted by the High Justiciar, but overwhelmed by seeing his aunt, he forgot all about protocol. He rushed to Esther's arms and they embraced, not saying any words to each other.

He was now crying softly. He couldn't control himself. This was embarrassing. He remembered his faux-pas, ended the hug with kissing his aunt on the cheek, and looked at the High Justiciar with an apologetic face.

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Lady Unna sensed that Jarla Wenche Gulbrandsdottir, the Secretary of the High King's Private Cabinet was on the verge of uttering a protest regarding the breach of protocol. The Lady High Justiciar quickly turned to Jarla Wenche and friendly but firmly thwarted the Lady Coutier from speaking up with a regal and commanding look from her eyes. She then directed her attention to His Bovic Majesty, giving him a reassuring smile full of understanding after he and Lady Esther had broken off their hug.

The Lady High Justiciar was very happy for Emperor Nathaniel that he was reunited here, on this joyous day in Stormark, with his aunt whom he had for many moons thought that she, just like the vast majority of Hurmudans, had perished during the dark days of the Siseran-Jingdaoist genocide. That she was here, alive and well, greeting her nephew was nothing short of a miracle.


"Your Bovic Majesty", Lady Unna spoke happily and beamingly after she and the Emperor of Natopia had exchanged kisses and handshakes, "allow me to, from the bottom of my heart, welcome you to the Lands of the Longships Throne. We, the Imperial Government of Stormark as well as the People of the Realm of Joy are profoundly honoured to may receive you in this fair country of ours."

"In accordance with your expressed wishes, the Sovereign House has prepared and shall carry out an Imperial Itenary befitting an august monarch and head of state of state of a country in good standing with the Twenty-Six Jarldoms. We may only hope that you will get as much joy from visiting the High Realm and the Kingdom of Humlebæk Island as you get from being reunited with your aunt."

The Lady High Justiciar raised her hand. The Imperial Piper and Drum Band directly commenced with playing the Natopian national anthem, "O Great Nation", which is to be followed by "Sailing Home", the Storish national anthem; the Imperial Gunners of the Alexandrian Guard started firing the Kejserlig Salut.

"Your Bovic Majesty and Lady Esther", Lady Unna said, "may I invite you to inspect the Guard of Honour, which is so proudly composed of Valiant Vixens in full ceremonial dress, as well as ladies dressed in their local Bunad who are carrying the flag of the area of the Storish Yeorlskapp they hail from, with me?"

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It was an impressive guard of honour. Never before had he seen an all-woman guard. There were many of them... he didn't count them, but they surely impressed him.

Once the inspection was complete, it was the time to get the cortège going.

"Lady High Justiciar -- how far is it to the Vanadisarhall, both in distance and time?"

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"Your Bovic Majesty", the Lady High Justiciar said, "the Vanadísarhall is situated about 40 km from here and it will take us about three hours to get there. As the way to the Vanadísarhall is quite beautiful and relaxing with everywhere the lush greenness of flourishing fields, parks and Godsgroves; numerous romantic streets and squares with picturesque buildings; and countless clear waters such as ponds and canals, time will really fly."


After the exchange of pleasantries and the conducting of other formalities pertaining to welcoming a high delegation under diplomatic protocol had ceased, the members of both the Storish and Natopian delegations were ushered towards a line of gilded open carriages which were awaiting them near the Imperial Gate, a private gate situated at the outskirts of Fulltrui International Air- and Spaceport which is reserved for the exclusive use of the Imperial House of Ettlingar Freyu and their guests.

The Storish hosts had elected to have the open carriages, which would bring them and their honoured Alexandrian guests to the Vanadísarhall, escorted by mounted knights and Imperial Cuirassiers of the Alexandrian Guard, a body of top-notch Alexandrian soldiers who are stationed in Stormark under the provisions of Article 3 of the Glorious Brotherhood Treaty, had been added to the accompaniment. The escort is to be led by the famous lady knight Dame Kendra Harcourt, who is the winner of the Combat on Foot as well as the Jousting at last year's Grand Tournament of Southport, the most important and prestigious tourney in the High Realm.


The Emperor of Natopia, the Lady High Justiciar, Lady Esther Maryam Amirdokhtar of Ayreon-Kalirion, and Jarla Wenche Gulbrandsdottir, the Secretary of the High King's Private Cabinet are to be seated in the first carriage of the procession. Several tall and strong footman assisted the Storish hosts and their Natopian guests with getting into their carriages. When everybody was seated, Lady Unna gave the departure signal and off to the Vanadísarhall they went.

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After three hours, this beautiful yet windy day, with the cortège from the air- and spaceport to the Vanadisarhall, Nathaniel was finally at the imperial palace. A huge imposing building. He was tired from his long journey and secretly looked forward only to eat and rest, he wished he had enjoyed the streets lined with people waving Natopian flags more. He did make an effort though.

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Having noticed that the Emperor of Natopia was tired, Lady Unna took leave of him and told His Bovic Majesty that she would arrange that the private audience with the High King would be postponed until tomorrow. She also bid goodbye to Lady Esther Maryam Amirdokhtar of Ayreon-Kalirion.


The Lady High Justiciar subsequently instructed Jarla Wenche Gulbrandsdottir to bring His Bovic Majesty and Lady Esther to their guest quarters in the Guest Tower of the Vanadísarhall. The Emperor of Natopia had been assigned the Imperial Suites, his aunt the Goodwife Apartments.


In those ultraluxurious guest quarters His Bovic Majesty and Lady Esther will be attended to by a sizeble staff of footmen and Lady Housekeepers and they can refresh, rest, relax and enjoy various dishes and foodstuffs originating from Stormark, Natopia and the former Hurmu as well as several kinds of drinks from the same nations.


The Lady High Justiciar then went off to the Fulltrui Tower of the Vanadísarhall to advice His Imperial and Royal Majesty the High King of the change in the itenerary.

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Day 2: Haraldsborg


Nathaniel woke up refreshed. His jetlag was almost gone. He walked to one of the windows and looked out. The sun was just rising. It looked like a bit cloudier than yesterday today but less windy. "Another beautiful morning" he sighed to himself.


He called his manservant.


"What's on the itenary today?"


"My Lord, first there is the audience with the High King, then the visit to the Temple of the Lakes, and then in the evening the reception with the Hurmu Community"


"Oh yes. Thank you."


A few of the lady housekeepers knocked on the door, bringing breakfast. It was a good meal.

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It was a beautiful morning in the Imperial City of Haraldsborg. High King Harald was in his solar in the Fulltrui Tower of the Vandísarhall, awaiting the arrival of his Imperial Cousin His Bovic Majesty Nathaniel, Emperor of the Natopians who is to be received in private audience.


He was dressed very regally: a royal chieftain's tunic and matching breeches, both made of the finest pristine white Valtian Silk. His Imperial outfit was completed with a royal blue cloak of cashmere, which was fastened with a Two Silver Longships brooch. Boots made of the skins of several Wild Boys provided the finishing touch.


The Sovereign Lord of Stormark was standing by one of the solar's magnificent stained glass windows enjoying the effect of the morning light on it. The window depicted various scenes surrounding the writing of the Epistle of the Peaceful Pastures and watching it brought back many memories. In a couple of days it will be twelve years ago that the Pact of the Heartland was signed, allowing him to ascend the Imperial Longships Throne. Time flies!!


His thoughts went to the relations between Natopia and Stormark, which always, aside from a tiny blip on the screen a couple of years ago, had always been well and the High King was quite happy with that situation.

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Time is strange... Thanks to the apples of Idunn, the man, whom Nathaniel was about to meet, was looking as young as ever. The man he was meeting had met his father Elijah, worked with Elijah's father Daniel, and with Daniel's father Rashid Arsalani (or Richard Lyon as he was often known outside Babkha). It was very strange.

Nathaniel looked forward to entering the chamber though. The High King was renowned. He once was duke in Elwynn, too. And Nathaniel still claimed princeship over Elwynn, though this was not really recognized by the authorities there, especially as the pre-revolutionary government faked Nathaniel's death and banned his return. Oh, the world is a strange place.

He entered the room where the High King stood. He was impressed by the High King's clothes and hoped that his own did justice to the occasion. He wore a black tunic, black trousers and a burgundy-coloured cape.

He greeted the high king -- it was always weird greeting other heads of states, especially monarchs. Somehow there seemed to an unspoken difference between them. Though nominally equal in international protocol, kings would often bow to emperor Nathaniel, princes and dukes even deeper, but Nathaniel assumed that as high king, both he and Nathaniel would be equal and a normal greeting between imperial cousins would be costumary.

Oh, his thoughts wandered away. He gave the high king his best smile.

"Good morning, Imperial Cousin" he said. "Thank you for having me."

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High King Harald quietly observed His Bovic Majesty, taking the measure of this Lord Sovereign he had heard so much about through the diplomatic dispatches of his ambassador to Natopia, Her High Holiness Forn Siðr Fúrstafrúa Sigrdrífa the Priestess of the House of Vanadís, Ærkejarla of the Idunn Isles, Yfirstormarksgythia and High Priestess of the Thingeyri Temple.


To his delight the Sovereign Lord of Stormark noticed that the Emperor of the Natopians was the spitting image of his great-grandfather Richard Lyon of Elwynn whom His Imperial and Royal Majesty had met for the first time ages ago in Shireroth when he became Baron of Hurmu and with whom he had worked very pleasantly. The High King had also good memories of his interactions with Richard Lyon's son and grandson.


High King Harald also fully approved of Emperor Nathaniel's choice of garments which he regarded as modest and conservative, but still regal and classy. That is definitely the blood of His Bovic Majesty's Lady Great-Grandmother Princess Gunvor Torkelsdatter, the Mistress of the Robes of the Nidarosian chieftain Halvdan Hothead and later one of His Imperial and Royal Majesty's closest Lady Advisors, stirring inside him.


"Good morning and welcome to Stormark, Imperial Cousin", the High King warmly said. "How was your voyage to the Lands of the Longships Throne? I may hope that you have enjoyed the Storish Imperial hospitality so far?"

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For all the formality of the occasion, the meeting between the two Imperials progressed fairly informally.

Nathaniel was impressed by the High King's knowledge of many of his ancestors, it pleased him to hear of many anecdotes and tails that were new to him. Nathaniel found a connexion in Harald, as if he were an uncle, or a mentor of some kind.

In turn, Nathaniel told the High King how much he enjoyed being in Haraldsborg, of the beauty of the city and the kindness and affection of the people. "It's a very strange land for me," he said, "but I like it here."

He didn't dare say that some of the textile-free city-dwellers were quite some eye-candy, but just the thought brought yet another smile on Nathaniel's face.

When the audience was about to end, two hours later, which seemed like only a quarter of an hour, Nathaniel graciously thanked his host for his kindness and hospitality.

"I understand that the next part on the itenary is visiting the Temple of the Lakes. Will your Majesty come along?"

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High King Harald had really enjoyed every second of the private audience with the Emperor of the Natopians. The invitation to join His Bovic Majesty on his visit to the Temple of the Lakes, at Haraldsborg therefore came as a very pleasant and welcome surprise.


The Sovereign Lord of Stormark gracefully accepted the invitation and phoned Jarla Wenche Gulbrandsdottir, the Secretary of the High King's Private Cabinet, that he would accompany Emperor Nathaniel to the Temple of the Lakes and that the necessary changes to the transport arrangements were to be made with due haste. A couple of minutes later Jarla Wenche phoned him back telling him that arrangements had been made. The High King then invited his Imperial Cousin Nathaniel to walk with him to the Gate of the Goddesses where the Imperial Motorcade was awaiting them.


The walk took High King Harald and Emperor Nathaniel through several of the gardens and Godsgroves of the Vanadísarhall. It was a relaxed walk where they enjoyed the scent of the flowers, the singing of the birds, and the happy purring of the numerous Imperial Cats. There were also several stops to accomodate visitors to the Vanadísarhall who wanted to have their pictures taken with the two Imperial Lords, including a class of Natopian children on a school trip.


Having arrived at the Gate of Goddesses, the High King kissed Lady Esther Maryam Amirdokhtar of Ayreon-Kalirion's hand and complimented her on the way she looked. He also regally acknowledged the Lady High Justiciar and Jarla Wenche before all of them, including His Bovic Majesty were ushered into the first of the line of Imperial State Limousines. Their limousine was to be driven by Lady Flora Auðricsdóttir of the House of Ljóshjól, who is His Imperial and Royal Majesty's favourite driver.


The High King gave the go-ahead and the Imperial Motorcade set itself in motion towards to the Temple of the Lakes in the Hurmu Quarter of the Innlandish Quarters of the Imperial City of Haraldsborg. Aside from several Imperial State Limousines, the Imperial Motocade was composed of police motorcycles and cars of the Imperial Protection Unit of the Imperial Constabulary which led the way as well as followed. It truly was an impressive sight!!

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Remarkable indeed was the Temple. Having recently finished construction, the new temple was a pyramid-shaped tower of worship, slightly over a kilometre high, shimmering like a diamond in the sunlight.

The rest of the site was a garden, in wild Hurmu style. It reminded Nathaniel of the tropical forests and fields of Natopia -- he knew that the park would be reminescent of Hurmu, but sadly, most his memories from Hurmu were only from the towns and the palaces... never from the nature.

Their Majesties went on a guided tour through central halls of worship to the rooms of meditation. Nathaniel found the ice room to be his favourite.

The ice room was like one big fridge. With grand pillars of the whitest marble supporting the whole floor, the ice room was in fact the whole floor, on level 32. The great windows on all sides made the room feel very light, but once you walked into the ice room, the sheer coldness of everything swept one.

Apparently, the floor was ice... Some moved about in the room on skates, but the guide offered the Imperials to sit on a small ice-sledge, while eight young and strong men pulled the sledge around the room with such elegance and strength it was hard not to be impressed.

The whole room was beautiful and the acoustics were magnificent.

Nathaniel told Harald the significance of ice in Hurmu culture. In the Heartland, snow very rarely came, but for the Hurmudans it reminded them of their creation. An icey meteor had impacted the Heartland and formed the lakes that came to be holy -- so in essence, water in all its forms were holy for the Hurmudans.

The next room, floor 33, was the steam room. In here it was hot, maybe 60 degrees or so, and it was misty and steamy. Water in all its forms...

They had no time to access all the 100 floors of the Temple, they only went to a few, but it was a good trip for them.

A light meal was served in the gardens, just by the great river of Haraldsborg, after which they went to the Hurmu Archives in the lower floors of the temple. There the Imperials were showed artifacts and items that had been recovered from the Jingdaoese genocide and invasion. Among the valuable items, a letter from High King Harald to the tribes of Hurmu, promising them freedom. In Hurmu culture, this letter was called "Letter of Guarentees" while in Storish, the name is much more poetical, the Epistle to the Peaceful Pastures.

High King Harald and Emperor Nathaniel ended their visit by observing a moment of silence by the Memorial to the Fallen.

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While in the Imperial State Limousine on their way back to the Vanadísarhall, High King Harald in silence comtemplated the visit to the Temple of the Lakes. In spite of him having been a Prince of Hurmu for a while the visit had been quite entertaining and enlightning, significantly increasing his knowledge about Humue worship and culture.


The Temple itself, a true masterpiece of architecture and engineering, had been quite impressive to the Sovereign Lord of Stormark as well. So very tranquil and serene, as an constructional achievement of such magnitude that it could rival miracles such as Thorfinn's Tower and many of the foremost Valtian buildings and constructions. He resolved to visit the Temple regularly in future.


The High King had also been pleasantly surprised to see that the Hurmudans had managed to salvage so many of their historical artifacts and objects from Siseran-Jingdaoese genocide and invasion, including many items he recognized from his own tenure as Prince of Hurmu. He was glad to see that at least such a large chunk of Hurmu history would be preserved for posterity.


When they had almost had almost arrived at the Imperial Hall, His Imperial and Royal Majesty's thoughts wandered to the event ahead of them which would take place in the Hall of Hundred Hearths of the Vanadísarhall, the place where anyone can eat like a king and feast like a God. In spite of it being an informal reception, staff at the Vanadísarhall would do their utmost to make it an unforgettable experience for the participants, which brought a large smile on his face.

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"I thought you said this was supposed to be an informal affair," chuckled Esther to Nathaniel as they entered the Hall of the Hundred Hearths.

Nathaniel laughed back. "I think it's just their way of saying that it's okay to get hammered!"

Esther smiled. Dressed completely in red, with a silver diadem over her forehead, she looked marvellous, Nathaniel thought. She looked a bit like his father Elijah. They shared many features. Aw, he missed his fathers. Both Elijah and Nathan.

The aunt-and-nephew couple mingled with the guests who curtsied and bowed. Exchanging pleasantries, both Nathaniel and Esther thought this party to be one great one.

"It's not as formal after all..." Nathaniel said.

"Well, it's more like an after-work!" Esther added.

After a few meals, Nathaniel was looking for a suitable woman (or man, perhance) to dance with. Esther said that she'd only dance with a man she'd found attractive, and Nathaniel, although she thought him to be very handsome, was to closely related for her to entertain any of the thoughts.

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"… What a woman ... she is beautiful, so … so beautiful", Storjarl Hallbjörn thought, the firelight from one of the numerous hearths of the banquet hall shining on his handsome face.


From a discreet alcove the Imperial Chieftain of Tronderike had for some time been watching every move of the very sexy and regal woman who had caught his attention. Ever since this stunningly beautiful Lady, every inch a princess, had entered the Hall of Hundred Hearths, he was totally mesmerized by her presence.


As always High King Harald's son made quite the dashing figure. For the reception, albeit an informal one, he was dressed in a manner befitting for an Arvjarl of the Twenty-Six Jarldoms, a Member of the Imperial House of Ettlingar Freyu in the Line of Succession to the Imperial Longships Throne: a royal chieftain's tunic and matching breeches, both made of fine black Valtian Silk. fastened with a golden belt adorned with precious stones.


Storjarl Hallbjörn's Imperial outfit was completed with boots of brained sturgeon leather and a cape of alpine green satin lined with ermine. The cape was fastened with a golden brooch depicting Klædaská Rock, which is the ancestral hall of his Lady Mother, Storjarla Geirbjörg Gefialdrsdottir, ancestral hall on the Mysterious Isles and also serves as the sigil of the House of Utenlov, the Mysterian Archnoble House where Storjarla Geirbjörg originally hails from.


Enough watching, the Imperial Chieftain of Tronderike firmly resolved. He left the alcove and confidently walked towards to the Lady of his interest. Many a guest was quite surprised to see Storjarl Hallbjörn and some attending females even squealed with delight, but the High King's son had only eye for one woman, whose feminine power and regal beauty were so apparent. Having arrived at her, he took the Lady's hand and kissed it.


"Lady Esther Maryam Amirdokhtar of Ayreon-Kalirion", Storjarl Hallbjörn said with sparkling eyes, "you look lovely tonight! May I have the tremendous honour to have the next dance with you?"

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"Who is that stunningly beautiful young man heading my way?" Esther whispered to Nathaniel.

"It's the high king's son... and he's about my age."

"Shut up."

"Hehe, he's probably after that server-girl behind us."

"Didn't I tell you to shut up?"

"Oh God, you do have my father's jargon."

Esther smiled and patted Nathaniel on the back. "I miss him too".

But contrary to what both Nathaniel and Esther thought, Hallbjörn did invite Lady Esther for a dance. And of course, she accepted.

They danced to some folk melody from the Vaan Aujoen, she wasn't too familiar with it, but she remembered an old man humming it all the time when she was in hospital.

As she danced with the storjarl, she felt free, she felt young again. The rhythms seemed to be in her body. She didn't want the song to stop.

What a graceful companion she had!

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Song after song Storjarl Hallbjörn and Lady Esther Maryam Amirdokhtar of Ayreon-Kalirion graciously whirled the evening away, dancing solely with each other nearly the whole time.


Very fortunatly this reception at the Hall of Hundred Hearths of the Vanadísarhall was only an informal event, otherwise the Imperial Chieftain of Tronderike and the princess from Hurmu would have landed themselves in very hot water for breaching Imperial Protocol due to almost only having attention for each other.


In stead of being offended the other guests, the men and women alike, were all looking at the High King's son and the aunt of the Emperor of the Natopians with the purest of admiration, although the pair outshone all of them. They simply could not help themselves admiring Storjarl Hallbjörn and Lady Esther who seemed the perfect royal couple!!


While dancing through the evening, the Imperial Chieftain of Tronderike and the princess from Hurmu were happily and animatedly talking, exchanging tons of information about each other, their lives and families. His admiration for Lady grew exponentially; not only was she an exquisite beauty but also very intelligent, witty and endearing: what a woman!!


Unfortunatly all good things come to an end. With a few words of courtesy and thanks Jarla Wenche Gulbrandsdottir, the Secretary of the High King's Private Cabinet, drew the reception to a close and Lady Esther was to beckon Jarla Svanhild Gísladóttir, the Mistress of the Robes as well as a Valiant Vixen to escort her to her guest quarters, the Goodwife Apartments in the Guest Tower of the Vanadísarhall.


"Lady Esther Maryam Amirdokhtar of Ayreon-Kalirion", Storjarl Hallbjörn said, "before you leave for your chambers, I would like to ask you one last question."


"Go ahead", Your Imperial and Royal Highness", she said with a big smile on her lovely face.


With a slight hint of nervousness, the Imperial Chieftain of Tronderike cleared his throat. "My Lady, when is under Hurmu custom a widow allowed to remarry?"

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After the storjarl's surprising question, Esther could only laugh, saying "good night, I'll see you in the morning when you're sober". That said, she could not stop thinking about the evening, about the very kind and gracious man who danced with her.

Esther and her nephew shared a room at the Vanadisarhall. If you could call it a room, that is... It was more like an apartment. Before both going to bed, they sat down by one of the great windows overlooking the city and drank some hot chocolate.

"This was a tradition my father always had... drinking hot chocolate before going to bed" she said.

Nathaniel smiled. "My dad, Elijah, had the same... when he died we didn't do it any more."

Esther smiled.

"But tell me about the hot-blood prince!"

"Oh you're too young to hear my thoughts about him," Esther chuckled

"I'm 29 years old."

"My point exactly."

"Esther! Don't tell me you actually fancy him!"

Esther smiled. One could never know what she was thinking in any given moment.

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Day 3: Hurhaeng / Lyrika / Köpingsvik


Even against the backdrop of a clear blue sky, there is no doubting the sheer size of the Imperial Helicopter.


Up there the gargantuan Borgarish-built rotary-wing aircraft already looks extremely impressive. But it's only when the aircraft lands that observers are truly able to appreciate the magnitude of the helicopter, the world's largest. Designed and built by Köpingsvik-based Mylne Helicopters A/S, this Imperial rotorcraft stands roughly the same height as a three-story building and its rotors have the same span as the wings of a widebody jet airliner.


The Sovereign's Rotorcraft had just taken off from one of the many gardens of the Vanadísarhall and was on its way to the Land of Plants and Nuts where it would deliver the Imperial Party, which included the Lady High Justiciar and the Emperor of Natopia, to its three-fold destination: first the Hurmu Ruins and Remains at Hurhaeng, then the Hurmu Ruins and Remains at Lyrika, and finally the Bear's Den in the Royal City of Köpingsvik, the capital of the Jarldom of Borgarrike.


Inside the extremely lavish Imperial Helicopter, which basicly is a flying hotel, Storjarla Æsileif Haraldsdóttir of the Houses des Vinandy and Ettlingar Freyu, Imperial Chieftainess of Borgarrike, Arvjarla of the Twenty-Six Jarldoms, Storjarla of Stormark, Lady Imperial on all Continents, Queen of the Ravarians, Princess of Tecklenburg, Duchess of Austerlitz, Countess of Zeafort, Hereditary Jarla of Lögleysafjørður, Heir to Klædaská Rock, was walking up a flight of stairs which led to the floor where the cabin of Lady Esther Maryam Amirdokhtar of Ayreon-Kalirion is situated.


Having arrived at Lady Esther's cabin, the Imperial Chieftainess of Borgarrike knocked softly but firmly on its door.


"Who's there?", a regal but ultrafeminine as well as very musical voice asked.


"Wow! What a voice!", Lady Æsileif thought, "listening to that truly is soothing and relaxing".


"Æsileif Haraldsdóttir of the Houses des Vinandy and Ettlingar Freyu, Imperial Chieftainess of Borgarrike, Arvjarla of the Twenty-Six Jarldoms, Storjarla of Stormark, Lady Imperial on all Continents, Queen of the Ravarians, Princess of Tecklenburg, Duchess of Austerlitz, Countess of Zeafort, Hereditary Jarla of Lögleysafjørður, Heir to Klædaská Rock", the High King's daughter replied.


"Please do come in, Your Imperial and Royal Highness!", the lady's voice cheerfully answered.


Storjarla Æsileif curtsied deeply for Lady Esther and the princess from Hurmu happily acknowledged.


"Please take a seat, Lady Æsileif", the aunt of the Emperor of Natopia said while gesturing towards a comfortable Valtian leather chair opposite of her chair.


The Imperial Chieftainess of Borgarrike graciously seated herself.


"So it shall not be too surprising to you, Your Imperial and Royal Highness, that I'm very curious to learn what gives me the honour of your company?", the princess from Hurmu asked.


"Well, I just wanted to talk you, Lady Esther, since you and I have a lot in common. We're both widows and mothers hailing from ancient Imperial lines to whom life in the past has thrown a lot of rotten things our way, but we managed to survive, get on our feet again and enjoy life."


A very cordial, amusing and enlightling conversation with lots of witty banter arose between the two Ladies in which they talked for hours about various subjects, from schoolgirl silly to drop-dead serious.


Suddenly, truly totally out of the blue, Storjarla Æsileif said: "Lady Esther, I now fully understand why my brother dearest, Storjarl Hallbjörn, is so smitten with you!"

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"Your brother, yes!" Esther let out a big cheer. She felt like she was a teenager again.

She smiled at the high king's daughter. "You're very much like him. I thought he would have joined you here... Ah well. You're such great company."

She rose up and went to the cabin window. "The Heartland is beautiful from up the top."

"Shall we see what my nephew's up to? I feel sort of responsible for him. Is that weird? I mean, he's an emperor... but both his parents died when he was young, and... he seems a bit lonely."

"Come on sister!"

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"Yes, Sweet Sister", the Imperial Chieftainess of Borgarrike said while smiling from ear to ear, "let's pay the "poor" bloke a little visit".

Storjarla Æsileif took Lady Esther's arm in hers and the both of them walked swiftly through the belly of the Imperial Helicopter towards the cabin of the Emperor of Natopia.


"By the way, Sweet Sister ... My brother dearest, Storjarl Hallbjörn, has a very good reason not to have joined us on our trip Borgarrike."


"Really! Please tell me!", Lady Esther said. "Your are making me burn with curiosity!"


"Well, that depends on how well you beg, Sweet Goodsister of mine", the High King's daughter said with a mischievous grin and a big fat wink to the princess from Hurmu.


"Please ... pretty please.....", the aunt of the Emperor of Natopia feigned in an over-the-top manner.


Storjarla Æsileif burst into almost hysterical laughter!


"Hallbjörn has departed for the Jarldom of the Sólareyjar, the Old Courthouse in the Royal City of Tara to be exact", the High King's daughter said when she composed herself.


The jaw of the princess from Hurmu dropped almost to the floor. Wow! That Hallbjörn doesn't let the grass grow under his feet!


"My brother dearest will be looking for the documentary evidence that you, as daughter of the late Daniel Kalirion, are wife material for him under the Law of the Land since members of the Imperial House of Ettlingar Freyu may only marry individuals of Imperial or Royal rank."


The aunt of the Emperor of Natopia nodded enthousiastically. Hallbjörn really means business!


"As your late father had, through legal action in the Court of First Instance of the Sólareyjar, successfully claimed Archroyal status, you, as his eldest child, automatically inherited that status upon his death, making you an Archroyal in your own right and therefore meeting the requirements of the Law of Ettlingar Freyu."


Lady Esther squealed with joy!


"So as everything goes well, Sweet Goodsister of mine, you could, my daddy willing, be exchanging wedding vows in a Godsgrove with Hallbjörn very soon!"

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An hour later and the whole party was on the ground at the ruins of Hurhaeng. The weather was rather bad over Hurhaeng, torrential rains to be exact, so the tour was quick.

In one of the guests house, light meals were served and Nathaniel got a chance to catch up with his aunt.

"So..." she said, "it seems that the prince has been stalking my imperial credentials"

"Pfft..." Nathaniel replied. "You're the grandchild of a shahanshah and a kaiser... not sure you can get more imperial than that... unless you're an... wait for it... an EMPEROR!"

"You have your father's sense of humour..." she replied dryly.

"Please don't say you've already developed a crush on him."

"Your father? He's dead."

"You now what I mean..."

"Oh shut up. You know nothing of infatuation."

"By Lest, you are crazy!"

"Why did you think they had me locked up for so long?" Esther let out a big laughter.

Nathaniel hugged his aunt and sent her off to speak to some of the pilgrims.

He then approached Lady Aesileif, exchanged a few pleasantries, before getting to the point.

"Your brother, my Lady... is he serious about this? How would you describe him?"

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"Your Bovic Majesty", the Imperial Chieftainess of Borgarrike replied, "Storjarl Hallbjörn really has got the hots for your aunt, regarding her as perfect wife material!".

The Emperor of the Natopians was relieved and smiled.

"My brother dearest doesn't let the grass grow under his feet! He already has commissioned an engagement ring with the Imperial Goldsmith, has approached Her High Holiness the High Priestess of the Thingeyri Temple to conduct the wedding ceremony, and is bugging our Lord Father for his permission to marry your aunt."

"So true", His Bovic Majesty said. "He seems to be in quite a rush, like the world is coming to an end."

Lady Æsileif laughed throatily and musically.

"Storjarl Hallbjörn never seemed to be in a hurry with regard to matrimonial matters. No wonder because as the son of the Sovereign Lord of Stormark he is able to pick and choose at his leisure from a nearly endless supply of exquisite women willing to serve themselves up to him. The staff folks at the Vanadísarhall are baffled and wondering what has gotten into him", the High King's daughter chuckled.

Emperor Nathaniel couldn't help himself and chuckled too. "Same here!"

The Imperial Chieftainess of Borgarrike got a dreamy look in her eyes.

"As for my brother's character: he very much is his father's son; strong, kind, reliable, generous and magnanimous. If he weren't my sibling, I would have married him myself", Storjarla Æsileif said with a big fat wink.

"And what about my aunt being a widow and a mother and two decades senior in age to Hallbjörn? Would that cause any issues?"

"By the Goddesses, absolutely not!", the High King's daugter exclaimed. "Our Lady Mother, Storjarla Geirbjörg, is almost four decades the senior of our Lord Father, the High King; and he would have married had he known that she was pregnant with us. His Lady Wives Divine, the Sacred Queens of Stormark, are even numerous millenia his senior."

The Imperial Chieftainess of Borgarrike paused for an instant and then confidently continued.

"As you may know our Lord Father also married High Queen Asa who at the time was a widow as well as a mother and he always treated her daughter Lady Chloe as she was of his body. In Valtia widowed mothers were usually regarded as excellent wife material, and we adhere to a large extent to Valtian customs at the Imperial Court at the Vanadísarhall. So expect no issues with regard to that matter!"

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