Journey to the North
#1
Written in collaboration with Meltor

Perisu

A few days have passed since the King of Candanadium had sent her a letter of invitation to his palace, perhaps there were people who truly wanted the best for Meltor and her people? But even then she thought, it would be reckless to jump straight into the laps of our supposed angelic saviours. 

“My Empress, the plane and your luggage are ready.” Swiftly opening the doors of the lounge the Royal Protector, Sieion von Actu arrives to attend to his waiting Empress.

“You seem nervous, surely you can open yourself up a little bit to the idea of going there.”

“Going into what is for all intents and purposes a nation that is against Meltor due to our… problems. Would spark some worry for any sane many wouldn’t you think?” The Royal Protector responds.

“Regardless of my sanity, you need to lighten up. It would be unwise for it to appear as if I’m protected by some nervous wreck of a man.” 

“This nervous wreck here has feelings, please care about them.” 

“I’ll think about it.”

---

El Majestu, The Majesty. A name that truly befits the plane of the Meltorian royalty. The thing was about twenty years old, and the scratches and thinning paint have been beginning to show for years, The words DEU UNIA MELOTEY were just about visible on the fuselage, and the decal on the tail fin was missing more than a few stars. This was the first time in over six years the Empress had actually used the thing instead of leaving it in storage. El Majestu was an Akarean make, bought secondhand from All Akarean Airways, and according to the technician they had flown in from Lao Shaodu it should be airworthy enough to make it to New Konigstadt, provided it had enough fuel. Whether it could come back, however, was a different story.

In front of the doors of the plane was a man the Empress did not want to see here, or really at any time, at any place, ever again. The man in question was the ever-detestable Chancellor Gacrein Von Garic, the man who was supposed to be incorruptible and fair, who would lend his ear to the Emperor or Empress should they ever seek advice. 

These words were entirely antithetical to this man.

Von Garic was corrupt, morally (but certainly not financially) bankrupt, and couldn’t give less of a damn about the Empress’s wellbeing unless he got the chance to gloat at her or to make sexual comments that would have gotten him beheaded in the Meltor of yore. It seemed to her that when a man sold his soul to the corporations, there was nothing that was beneath him. The Empress was sure that, at some point, a Candanadian or Kreyerian Chancellor (she couldn’t remember which) had said that the man was an eternal disgrace to the title of Chancellor everywhere. He was not at all like the elected man (or woman) of the highest civilian post in Candanadium or Kreyermark. He was an industrialist, a slaver, and cared not a Statglo for the welfare of Meltor nor its people, as long as slaves and cheques changed hands and the Kaltach and Terran world continued buying the cheap plastic knick-knacks his factories pumped out. All in all, Von Garic was the physical embodiment of the Meltorian corporate elite, and that made the Empress’s stomach churn every time she had to face the man.

She was trying to keep the inevitable conversation between them as short and diplomatic as possible, so that maybe she’d be able to leave the place in a semi-pleasant mood. The bulging man had a receding hairline that was almost past his puffy little ears, and the stench of cheap perfume clung to him perpetually. She could only feel sorry for his wife and children, constantly sidelined for his personal pleasure. She hoped that he at least treated them with more dignity than his slaves, but knowing Von Garic, that was unlikely.

“Ah, Your Majesty.” He said in a lazy voice, not even bothering to bow. He was decked out in a double-breasted naval jacket with a tall bicorn hat that was made even taller with the addition of a white feather plume, which only accentuated his short and stout stature. The rows upon rows of fake medals that weighed down the front of his jacket only added to the ridiculousness of the outfit. All of them were issued in her name, the Empress knew, but if it were up to her she’d strip him of all his meaningless awards in the blink of an eye. “I hope you enjoy your trip to the foreign lands. Perhaps you may even find a good nobleman to marry. Or, perhaps, you would prefer me?” 

The Empress could feel her ears turning red as her hands clenched into fists. She had to actively strain herself to not throw a punch at this man, right between his two beady little insect eyes. 

“Thank you for the offer, Chancellor,  but I’ll pass, you’re simply not my type.” She forced the corners of her mouth up into the most disingenuous smile while continuing to stare daggers at him.

“Your Majesty! Oh, how you wound me, I would treat you well and ensure the prosperity of Meltor. After all, I, as your Chancellor, am both your humble servant and advisor. Perhaps it is time for my vast ocean of expertise to be put to good use?” His voice was dripping with sarcasm and he tilted his fat head and blinked at her in an oh-so-innocent way. The Empress gnashed her teeth together.

The bastard isn’t even bothering to hide his power plays.

“Come, ma’am,” Sieion quickly realized that the conversation could only end with two black eyes. “We must make haste, lest we miss our chance to show the good side of Meltor to the world, I’m sure our Empress can talk politics when she returns.” He quickly gives her a quick jab as a sign to calm down.

“Yes, of course. Ensure that the World sees our good side and nothing else, Your Majesty.” Taking the cue from Sieion, he waddled to a nearby limousine. “On second thought, don’t be too good, little empress. I hear the King of Candanadium is the most powerful bachelor in the world, and I wouldn’t want him of all people to steal our fair Empress Melotey.” The door closed with a thud.

“You-” The Empress had to fight to restrain herself as the limo disappeared in a cloud of smoke. 

“Does he hear himself? ‘Little Empress’?” Sieion muttered once the limo was out of sight.

“The fat slob only wanted to annoy me.”

“What else were you expecting exactly?” Sieion shook his head. “At least you’ll be rid of him for a while.”

---
Mutterhafen

The official invitation from New Konigstadt had given the date of February 1st, but the ambassador had advised them to arrive the day before, as was customary when it came to these visits. In reality, they had to leave even earlier than that. The flight from Perisu to New Konigstadt would take at least 11 hours if they flew directly, but El Majestu was nothing like the modern long-haul jets used by Royal Candanadian Airlines. Instead, the diminutive plane would first make the three-hour hop to the Candanadian island of Hautsing, sandwiched between the Akarean Danpian and the insular part of Hykko. There, it would refuel and make the second leg of the journey to the southernmost city in mainland Candanadium, Freigrad, on the edge of the great Caskhomirian desert, which would take about eight hours. From there, it was another three-hour hop across western Caskhomir, Alpenraum, and Maple Bay to New Konigstadt City Airport, on an artificial island in the bay. All of this meant that the Empress was already standing on the tarmac of Perisu’s airport on January 30th, prepared for the journey ahead. 

They had informed the Candanadian ambassador of their flight plan, and he had assured them that arrangements to refuel and resupply the royal jet at Mutterhafen and Freigrad would be made in advance. As El Majestu taxied across Mutterhafen International Airport’s runways, it seemed that he had kept that end of the bargain as well. A fuel truck and catering truck were waiting near the main terminal, alongside a set of airstairs and a red carpet, with an impressive looking SUV parked next to it. 

“Why is this island in the middle of the Akarean sea part of Candanadium?” The Empress said, to nobody in particular. Sieion had appeared in the seat next to the Empress’s at some point, and the Empress’s remark made him turn around and peer outside the window.

“The Candanadians used this island as a base for trade with Akarea, when it was still profitable to sail all the way and do so, and when they created their federation they decided to keep the island.” The Empress mentally sighed at Sieion’s attempts to lecture her. Two men had stepped out of the SUV, one in military uniform, with a white pith helmet that made his tan skin look much darker than it actually was. 

“Yes, I know that. I was simply thinking to myself. If, today, the Candanadians can reach halfway across the world for some little island, then just think about what they can do to us if we cross them tomorrow.”

“They have a good reason for keeping Hautsing under their belt. Look in the distance.” Sieion gestured with his hand, and the Empress peered harder. “Those skyscrapers you see? Casinos, banks, and luxury resorts. The Akareans work hard and play hard, and this place caters to both. Hautsing charges no tax for corporations or casinos, only New Konigstadt, which is altogether much less than what Fujing charges.” Towering above the rows upon rows of palm trees in the distance were a line of skyscrapers, as far as the eye could see. Their sharp angles and glass exteriors reflected and manipulated the sun’s light to seem as if they were constantly flickering.

“If that’s so, then we can never be certain where Candanadium’s allegiances lie. Who’s to say they won’t be persuaded by a fat cheque from the corporations?”

“Think about the long run. They might turn a profit in the short run, working with the corporations, but it’s the least popular side to take. For the government, it means they’ll suffer in the next election once the media does its job. If they’re siding with us, it means they’re going to expect at least some kind of preferential treatment in trade after we win the war.”

“So what is your advice?” The Empress turned away from the window and looked Sieion in the face.

“Observe. Make no promises. There are going to be many opportunities for that, like now, for instance.” The exterior door of El Majestu opened with a hiss and a thunk. “You’re up.” Sieion gestured to the door.

--

“Your sublime majesty. It is an honour for Hautsing to receive its first-ever visit from a foreign monarch. Truly, we are blessed.” The small Akarean man in the suit greeted her with a bow and a firm handshake. He spoke in Kanadiaans as well, albeit flavoured with the sounds of the far east.

“Your words humble me, sir.” The Empress responded as Sieion traded salutes with the man in military uniform. 

“How do you mean? I thought the Akarean Emperor had visited Hautsing once before, after the formation of Candanadium.” Sieion had evidently overheard the man’s greeting.

“Yes, the Son of Heaven has indeed visited us here, so has His Majesty the King, but we can hardly consider either of their majesties to be foreign.” The man slapped his own forehead, almost theatrically. “Ach! Where are my manners? I have the honour of being Wilfred Gwo, Premier of Hautsing. This is His Majesty’s viceregal representative in Hautsing, His Excellency the Magistrate Julian Shan.” The Premier gestured to the man in the pith helmet beside him. That explained why the man didn’t bow to the Empress. “Hautsing is at your service. Would you like to perhaps rest at the terminal while the aircraft is refuelled?”

“That would be most welcome. The journey here has been turbulent, to say the least.” El Majestu had rattled and bounced all the way from Perisu to Mutterhafen like it was about to fall apart. Thankfully, it didn’t.

“Right this way, please, Hautsing Eastern Airlines has vacated its First Class lounge especially for this occasion.”

---

The regal wooden doors opened wide to reveal a luxurious lounge bathed in cyan and white. The walls a collage of cyan swirls interrupted only by paintings and majestic white pillars of marble. The floor and roof both made of pristine marble that reflected her face almost perfectly. 

“This is the lounge, your Sublime Majesty. Please make yourselves comfortable, we shall return soon.” The Magistrate and the Premier had bid them farewell at the terminal, and they had been escorted inside by an attendant in a vest and tie, who had now turned away and hastily made his way to his next destination, scurrying down the hall.

In the middle of the lounge were some sofas and chairs, coloured a deep blue, embellished with jewels and gold strapped on like a snake, twisting and curving around the edges of the furniture.

“It’s a bit… much, don’t you think?” Sieion moved his way through the furniture and leaned against a pillar, turning his neck to look out the floor-to-ceiling windows, past the tarmac and into the jungles of Hautsing, beyond which loomed lush green mountains, shrouded by a thin layer of fog.

“Unlike in Meltor, these people aren’t dirt poor and aren’t governed by complete buffoons. So I guess it would appear rather much.” Moving her way onto the sofas, the Empress picks one that appears the comfiest, a small dark blue couch, perfect for her rather diminutive stature. “Plus, they’ll need some way to spend all those casino Thalers.” The small coffee table in front of her had on it a selection of drinks, most unfamiliar to her. The wall above it boasted a grand painting of some Candanadian military official with a moustache almost as thick as his unibrow, standing triumphantly on the head of a dead tiger, his high riding boots gleaming and his hand on his sabre hilt. The Empress peered at the plaque.

“The Right Honourable Sir Jon Hochsteiger, first Lord Mayor and Founder of Mutterhafen”. She read. “Even from this portrait alone you can sense how self-absorbed he was.”

“Come now, you have similar portraits back in the palace.” Sieion called from the window, a grin beginning to spread from ear to ear “And what about your portrait that makes you about 2 metres tall? I know you are conscious about your height but that’s taking it too far. And shall I remind you of all your official titles?”

“I thought I told you never to talk about that blasted thing, It’s not my fault that delusional artist insisted he would paint me in my ‘size to come’, whatever that’s supposed to mean. As for the titles, you know as well as I do that it’s just tradition.” The Empress snapped back.

“You’re still embarrassed about that?” The Empress’s reply was interrupted by a quiet knock on the door, revealing Herish Klomon, a maid to the Empress and one of her most trusted confidants.

“Sieion, you’re a terrible influence on Herish.” Looking away from Sieion she directed her gaze at her maid. “Yes, Herish?”

“My Empress, I have come with the Himosta you requested before you departed the plane” The food in question laid atop a plate covered by a silver cloche.

“Very good.” She pointed to the table “Please, on the table.”

She pulled up the cloche and revealed the Himosta, which was a dish of steamed cod and Meltorian rice, fish being an important part of the Meltorian diet (and has been such for hundreds of years). This was also why Acolio was the most prosperous, debatably peaceful, and safest of all the kingdoms of Meltor, as they had the best fishing waters and had therefore bought out every other kingdom with their ample amounts of fish. If for some reason, another kingdom got on Acolio’s bad side, then they would expect to see all their fishing boats and stock in Acolian waters seized and their fisherman banned from further access, forcing them to settle for less fish of lower quality. The rice is a common sign of nobility in Meltor due to its rareness in the market. It is said that, many years ago, an Akarean trader took pity on some poor Meltorian peasants and gave them a sack of rice seeds. After many years of journeying and adventure, those peasants created the first of the Meltorian rice farms in Elisi. Meltorian rice was not easy to come by, as the country’s climate did not allow for the creation of layered rice paddies like in rainy, jungled Akarea. Thus, though Meltorian rice was arguably of poorer quality, its price was sometimes double that of Akarean rice.

“You may want to save some room.” Sieion pointed to the buffet and bar at the far end of the lounge, staffed by three waiters. “Maybe get used to Candanadian food.”

“Good idea.”

---

El Majestu took off from Mutterhafen fuelled and refreshed, much like her occupants, who found themselves curled up in corners and reclining in their chairs after having been hosted by the government of Hautsing.

As the mid-afternoon sun disappeared over the horizon, El Majestu crossed over the Tropic of Cancer into the airspace of Great Kaltachia. Nobody onboard, however, was awake when it happened, except, of course, for the two pilots in the cockpit.

Many hours later, the Empress found that she had woken with the sun. As she emerged from her private section of the plane, she saw Sieion peering out of the porthole-style windows. It was obvious he had just woken up as well - stubble covered the lower half of his face, and his thick brown hair, which was usually slicked back with a touch of hair wax, covered his forehead and stuck out in random places. He was not quite fully dressed, at least not by court standards. He had switched out his royal uniform for a Kaltach-style button-down shirt and slacks, which the Empress found strange, at least on him. She supposed that she should probably also dress in a more Kaltach manner and not in the traditional robes of Meltor, lest the Candanadians find her too plainly dressed for the palaces of New Konigstadt. Right now, however, there was no need yet, as the stop in Freigrad was supposed to be a short refuel only, taking less than an hour. They would not have to disembark, and no official reception awaited them.

“My Empress.” Sieion emerged from his seat. As derelict as El Majestu looked from the outside, no expense was spared for the internal furnishings. The chair Sieion had presumably spent the night in was a modern brown-leather recliner, with the imperial cypher of the Empress’s father burned into the armrests. The chairs could be folded out into cots for the night, which is why Sieion had no reason to leave his seat to rest. “Good morning.” Sieion bowed his head.

“Good morning, Sieion.” She motioned for him to raise his head. “What could possibly be outside that window that could be more interesting than preparing for our summit?” 

“My Empress, I know that you are anxious for our arrival, but you might wish to look outside.”

“Why would I-” She glanced out the window and stopped mid-sentence. El Majestu had just begun banking to the left, giving her an optimal view of the scenery below. 

The Alpenraumisch Alps, the mountains that gave that country its name, basked in the morning sun, their snowy peaks glittering in the golden rays. Or maybe it was the Southern Cask? The Empress wasn’t sure. She hadn’t touched geography or looked at a proper map of Kaltachia since her childhood, when, under her father’s watchful eye, she was lectured by a gaggle of tutor-slaves about the great mysteries of the world. Back then, though, places like Kaltachia and names like the Alps sounded foreign and exotic to her. Her only impression of the Alps was that they were represented by little raised ridges on the globe she had used as a child. Now that she had seen them with her own eyes, she felt as if she finally had some closure on that particular part of her childhood. She paused, and let her eyes embrace what she saw in front of her. 

“Is that snow?” She half-muttered. Having never left Meltor in her nineteen years, she had not stopped to consider how the terrain and environment of the outside world might differ from the palm trees, beaches, and deserts she was used to. Hautsing was close enough, as although Meltor didn’t have any jungles, it wasn’t anything she found too exotic. 

“They call it Kaltachia for a reason. You know the Kanadiaans word for-” Sieion tried to interject, but the Empress interrupted him with a thought of her own.

“Cold. Kalt. Yes. Trefjalli too.” She mused. “It will be cold. Sieion, instruct the servants to prepare the heaviest coats I have.”

---
New Konigstadt

As El Majestu’s door opened, the Empress knew that she had made a prudent decision in wrapping herself up in the heaviest wools and scarves her servants had packed for the trip. In Meltor, late January was the height of summer, but in New Konigstadt, it was the polar opposite, quite literally. The waters of Maple Bay around the artificial island built for New Konigstadt City Airport were frozen, and a thick layer of snow draped the city in white. The dark-grey tarmac, however, was cleared of all traces of snow, and a red carpet had been rolled out for her arrival, lined on one side by an honour guard, in dark-blue greatcoats and tall bearskin helmets.

“Ehrenbataillon! Augen, links!” Came the shrill cry from the commander, who saluted the Empress with his own sabre as well. The honour guard snapped their heads to the Empress in salute. A youngish man stood beside him in full morning dress, tailcoat and hat and all. He removed his hat and bowed before the Empress, a lock of his light brown hair tumbling before his eyes. The Empress descended the stairs, each individual step covered in red carpet as well. 

“Rise, good sir.” She said to the bowing man, stepping off the stairs. She nodded to the commander of the honour guard, who broke his sabre salute. She knew that it was royal protocol in Candanadium to not speak to a monarch unless spoken to, and although it wasn’t observed as diligently in Hautsing as it was here, that was only natural, given the fact that more preparation had obviously been made for her arrival here. 

“Your Sublime Majesty. Pieter von Juppertal, humbly at your service.” The Chancellor donned his hat once more. “This is Oberst Samuel Göß, of His Majesty’s Palace Guards.”

“Humbly at your service, your Sublime Majesty.” Colonel Göß echoed. He spun on his heels and brought his right foot down in a loud stamp, marching back to his troops. 

“Thank you, Herr von-” She suddenly realized who it was that had come to greet her. “Herr Reichskanzler. It is my honour to visit Candanadium at last.”

“The honour is all ours. I hope you found the arrangements in Mutterhafen and Freigrad to your liking?” 

Aber natürlich.” Sieion had descended the stairs as well, along with some of her ladies-in-waiting. “This is my loyal Royal Protector, Sieion von Actu, who is accompanying me on my northern journey on behalf of my elected government in Meltor.” Sieion stepped forward and saluted the Chancellor, who offered his hand.

“A pleasure. I suppose it is with him that I should liaise for the coming days then?”

“I would think so.” Sieion nodded as well. 

“Alas, the Prime Minister unfortunately could not join us on this expedition. I’m sure you will be able to empathize.” 

“I understand.” The Chancellor was undoubtedly briefed about this matter beforehand. “I hate to cut our conversation here short, ma’am, Herr von Actu-” he nodded to both of them in turn, “but I would like to invite you to inspect His Majesty’s honour guard before we proceed to Magnarplatz Palace.”

“It would be our pleasure.” The Empress responded. The Chancellor nodded to the Colonel.

Ehrenbataillon, Augen geradeaus!” The heads snapped back to looking to the front. “Ehrenbataillon, Präsentiert das, Gewehr!” About fifty boots came stamping down as the honour guard presented their arms in salute, their bayonets gleaming in the mid-afternoon sun. The military band arranged in a tight square behind the honour guards broke into the Kanadiaansischer Präsentiermarsch

The Empress walked down the red carpet.

To be continued

[Image: pTaBLJC.png?1]
Kingdom of Candanadium
Königreich Kandanadium

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