The ecclesiastical city state of Chyrellos was gearing itself up for a state visit the like of which neither the city, nor Elenia itself had seen before. Sarabian, the Tamul Emperor, was travelling from his distant empire for epoch-making negotiations with the Elenian kingdoms. It was rumoured that the Emperor would be accompanied by several companies of fearsome Atan warriors, led by their Queen Betuana. Wilder rumours still alleged that representatives of the Thousand of Styricum would be in attendance and join the talks.

The event was unprecedented and the citizens of Chyrellos, who had heard much about the dazzling splendour imperial city of Matherion were determined to impress the Emperor. The devastating fires that had accompanied the election of the Archprelate several years ago, had suddenly become a gift from God himself - a chance to rebuild the city in a grander, more imposing style.

The reconstruction had been on an awesome scale. For the previous few years, teams of builders had laboured to rebuild the city from the ashes and the works had also provided an excellent source of employment for the demobilising soldiers returning from the fateful battles of the Cynesgan campaign. Incredibly the rebuilding efforts had now been redoubled in anticipation of the state visit. The streets were scrubbed and decked out in colourful silken banners, buildings were covered in marble sheeting and new gardens were dug out and filled to overflowing with flowers. Chyrellos had long been a city dominated by dark colours, with its citizens wearing black in the hope of being associated with the Church and its power, but suddenly the fashion was for colour and the city streets had become a kaleidoscope of shifting hues.

And so, in two weeks time, the Tamul Emperor himself would enter a reborn Chyrellos and celebrations would be held to recognise the sacrifices made by the Armies of Elenia and the Elene God, and to honour those who fell. There would also be time to renew the ties between these mighty nations. Every person in the city could see the possibilities inherent in this event. For the soldiers it was a chance to reflect on victories painfully won and remember lost comrades. The merchants clamoured for trade concessions and access to the dizzyingly lucrative markets of the East. For the Church and the Hierocracy this was the chance to reach out and shine the light of God on ruler of a huge heathen empire. The underside of the city: the thieves, the whores and beggars, saw the chance for rich pickings among the multitudes thronging the city. And for a select few, it was a chance to renew the friendships forged in the tumultuous months when they had battled the forces of Cyrgon across the Tamul Empire.

Foremost among this last group, was Sparhawk - Prince consort of Elenia and Preceptor of the Pandion Knights. That he was also Ankaha, the man without destiny, and slayer of two Gods was seldom referred to and he preferred it that way. Indeed, it would be better if everyone would just forget those last two facts, Sparkhawk mused to himself, as he walked through the marble paved halls of the Elenian Royal residence in Chyrellos. It had been the same in the Basilica today - any number of junior churchmen hinting with varying levels of subtlety that he was duty bound to return the Bhelliom to the Mother Church and that the legend that had grown around his feats against Azash and Cyrgon, were an affront against the Church. As always it had only taken a flat unfriendly stare from the grim faced and still powerful warrior to send them scurrying off, but Sparhawk wished that that they would leave him in peace. He had made his report on the nature and fate of the Bhelliom direct to the Archprelate himself. Dolmant had been disquieted to learn that Bhelliom was gone, but in his heart was glad to be rid of its awesome power. With this in mind he had issued a proclamation praising Sparhawk's efforts in the name of the Elene God and noting that the powerful and disruptive artefact know as the Bhelliom was gone, with God's grace, forever.

Sparhawk strode on through the building towards the gardens where he knew his wife and daughter would be waiting. The last few years had put some grey streaks into his dark hair and his face was growing more worn, but he still walked with the graceful, well-balanced stride of a warrior and his frame was lean and powerful. It was just that bit dammed harder to keep his body that way these days he thought, and recalled with a sigh that he should have joined Bevier on the practice field after the service, but the prospect of trading blows with the considerably younger and frankly much fitter Cyrinic knight for the fifth day on the trot held little appeal.

Infact, that was another reason to be glad that Tynian and Ulath were due to arrive later today. They were much better at redirecting the Cyrinic knight's energy and if they had managed to join Sir Berit's detachment of Pandions from the Motherhouse at Demos then they would be able to set up Bevier up with some axe duels with someone younger than he was and almost as good.

Sparhawk squinted as he walked out into the bright sunshine of the walled garden at the centre of his temporary home. Ehlana, his wife, was taking tea on a elaborately carved bench in the shade of a large oak tree and Danae, his nine year old daughter, was holding forth on the why she had to attend the grand banquet that would be held in honour of Sarabian in three weeks time.

'But Mother, I actually know Sarabian, why would all those lords and ladies be able to go, and not me, an old friend?' Sparhawk saw his wife fight back a smile at her daughter's words which from her tone made her sound as though she had known the Emperor for at least fifty years.

As always, Ehlana sensed him watching and turned to him with a smile. And as always, Sparhawk's heart skipped a beat as their eyes met and he beheld the beautiful woman who was his wife. Ehlana rose and he was at her side in two strides, placing a gentle kiss on her cheek.

'Afternoon my love. I'm sorry I took so long to get back from the Basilica but the usual queue of the impertinent and curious appeared!' Sparhawk said as he sat on the bench, Ehlana beside him. He turned to his daughter as he saw her take a deep breath ready to launch into another impassioned plea, 'No speeches now, Danae, I just want to relax and enjoy a few minutes peace with my family. We will discuss the dinner later.'

Danae closed her mouth with a snap and then grinned, 'Okay father, but I'll hold you to that promise.' Her grin suddenly twitched, 'Shouldn't you be practising with Bevier?' she added innocently.

Sparhawk rolled his eyes to heaven and then shrugged, 'I've got too many bruises already and have tendered my apologies for today.'

'I still think you're the best Daddy, anyway. All that experience must count for something!' Danae said with a laugh.

'That's enough dear,' Ehlana interrupted, 'let's try to enjoy this bit of time together. I'm looking forward to seeing all our friends, but we'll have little time to ourselves once they arrive.' With that royal command, the family settled down to talk of inconsequential things happy in each other's company.

A quarter of a mile across town on the practice field shared by all the militant orders, Sir Bevier, the Cyrinic Champion was sparring another hapless knight into submission.

'At least he's not using that bloody axe', Sir Rhydian thought as their swords clanged together, 'I'd be mincemeat'. He decided not to dwell on the fact that he was being well beaten while the other man used his second choice weapon. Then Bevier stepped back leaving an opening and Rhydian took a heaving breath and lunged. Unfortunately for Sir Rhydian it was a feint and he found himself face down on the hard packed ground a sword negligently pointed at the back of his neck.

'I concede, Sir Bevier' he said spitting out bits of gravel and felt the sword being lifted away and heard it sliding back into its sheath. He sat up and took Bevier's hand, who hauled him to his feet.

'You are an excellent swordsman, Sir Bevier. Congratulations.' Sir Rhydian was magnanimous in defeat and pleased to see that Bevier's chest was also heaving from the exertion.

Bevier inclined his head politely at the compliment, 'Thank you Sir Knight, you are also accomplished with the blade. It was a good bout.'

The two knights clasped hands and walked towards the small shelter at the side of the practice yard. A young novice handed them both a towel and a glass of chilled and very watered-down ale. Bevier dried the worst of the damp from his dark curls and unbuckled the breastplate of the practise armour which the novice then helped him lift off. The lightweight linen shirt he was wearing underneath was soaked in sweat and clinging to his chest. Bevier loosened the laces at the neck in an attempt to improve the ventilation and he leaned against the wooden upright of the shelter and watched a pair of experienced Alcione knights wearing massive Derian armour thundering along the tilt yard with blunt ended lances. He winced as the nearest knight was caught square in the chest and toppled off his horse. The knight suffered no serious injury but Bevier doubted he'd sit comfortably for a week or so.

With a glance at the Sun's position Bevier realised that it was time to return to his quarters. He was staying at the Elenian Royal residence at the invitation of Queen Ehlana. It had been more of a command than an invitation, Bevier reflected as he thanked the novice for his assistance and took his leave of Sir Rhydian, Ehlana had laughed at his suggestion that it would be more appropriate for him to stay at the Cyrinic Chapterhouse and insisted that all of her family's closest friends should stay with them. Although Bevier felt rather guilty about abandoning his brother knights in the austere Cyrinic chapterhouse he was glad that he had submitted to Ehlana's plan as there were few opportunities for Ulath, Tynian, Kalten, Sparhawk and the others to spend time together.

Bevier collected his horse and swung into the saddle. The short journey across town took twice as long as normal as the streets were packed. Everywhere people bustled on important business, the whole city in uproar as preparations for Sarabian's visit continued apace. A pair of teamsters stood shaking their fists at each other and shouting sulphurous oaths at one intersection where the contents of several barrels had spilled on the road. Bevier urged his horse forward to intervene just as the City Watch arrived and began clearing the road. Bevier reined in his mount and turned onto one of the major boulevards, a road which housed a number of important buildings in addition to the Elenian Residence.

Ehlana's personal guards stood watch at the entrance to the Residence. They stood smartly to attention and then waved him through. The portal was elaborately carved, but like the rest of the building it spoke of restrained grandeur rather than the distasteful opulence of many of the buildings in the city.

In the inner courtyard a groom rushed out to take his horse and he walked quickly to his chambers. He noted that a bath had already been poured and was steaming in the small room to the side of the bedroom. He pushed to bolt to and pulled off his boots and then stripped off his shirt, muscles rippling lightly as he pulled the fabric over his head. He glanced out the window and was struck again by the Elenian royal family's attention to detail. He was certain that it was no accident that he had been given the room with the finest view of the Basilica and he was thankful to have friends who understood his devotion to the Church.

He crossed the room and entered the privacy of the bathroom. After pulling off his breeches he sunk into the steaming, lightly scented water. He slowly relaxed as the heat permeated his tired muscles. Sir Rhydian had been a worthy opponent and had slipped a number of blows past his guard, which were sure to ache like fury tomorrow. If the truth be told he'd been relieved when Sparhawk had bowed out of this morning's bout. Their match the previous day had been exhausting and Sparhawk had won. He really hadn't felt up to trying to regain the lead in their series of duels.

Bevier would have been happy to remain immersed in the bath, but he knew that he should join Ehlana and Sparhawk so they could greet Ulath and Tynian when they arrived. He gripped the side on the bath with calloused fingers and heaved himself to his feet, water splashing over the side. He dressed rapidly in his what Ehlana termed a knight's 'civilian uniform' - comfortable hose and a richly embroidered tunic. He and Sparhawk had both objected, but had been informed that they were not going to clank around the house when they were on holiday. The fact that Church knights were not entitled to holidays had impressed her not a whit, and Bevier and Sparhawk had retreated as gracefully as they could in the face of overwhelming superiority.

Bevier left his suite and a servant directed him to the garden. He could see that Ehlana and Sparhawk were sitting holding hands and leaning in to each other intimately. Princess Danae was nowhere to be seen and Bevier stood awkwardly at the edge of the lawn feeling that he was intruding. Sparhawk looked up suddenly and smiled, waving him over to join them. As he sat down Bevier was thankful that God had granted him good friends who always made him feel welcome. His thoughts took an uncharacteristically wistful turn as he wondered what it would be like to share a love like that of Sparhawk and Ehlana.

'Did you win today Bevier?' Ehlana asked touching his wrist to regain his attention.

Bevier nodded and then changed the subject, embarrassed to boast of success, 'How was your afternoon?'

'Wonderfully relaxing' Ehlana said bestowing another gentle smile on her husband.

Sparhawk nodded then added wryly, 'It got considerably more relaxing once we agreed to let Danae attend the dinner in Sarabian's honour. She's off somewhere planning her wardrobe.'

There was a sudden commotion at the edge of the garden and suddenly a wild- eyed Princess Danae appeared escorting a dark haired stranger in a simple monk's habit.

The stranger bowed low and said, 'Your majesty Queen Ehlana, your highness Prince Sparhawk, Sir Bevier, forgive this intrusion but a matter of grave urgency has arisen and I must ask that Sir Sparhawk and Sir Bevier accompany me to the Basilica immediately that we might take counsel with Sarathi,' he paused and then waited expectantly.

Bevier and Sparhawk exchanged glances unsure of what to say, but Ehlana had no such reserve, 'And who, might we ask, are you to demand my husband's presence? Sarathi and I have spoken before about the manner in which it is appropriate to request that Sparhawk attend. There are other knights you know.' She paused for breath and then continued, 'Or, if this is a security matter, then I, as one of the sovereigns of Elenia have a right to know!'

The monk looked very taken aback and rather offended, but said nothing in reply. Sparhawk was suddenly aware of his daughter staring daggers at him and he heard the whisper of her voice in his mind. 'You have to go with him father, it's terribly important. I'll look after Mother.' Sparhawk had seldom heard such a note of fear in Danae's voice and he started to stand immediately, then he heard his daughter in his head again, although this time it sounded as though she was thinking through gritted teeth. 'He's such an idiot! I'll have words with him about the ridiculous manner of his summons. I've told him he needs to get out more!' Sparhawk assumed she was referring the monk and decided that he was very glad that he wasn't in his shoes.

He leaned over and kissed Ehlana's lips before she launched into further cross examination. He felt his wife melt and felt a stab of guilt for manipulating her, but in his heart he knew that it was the only way that he could stop her in mid-flow without relaying Danae's message and accrediting it to a certain child goddess.

'Bevier and I will accompany this good monk to the Basilica,' he said gesturing to the monk who was regarding the Queen in open mouthed astonishment, 'we'll get to the bottom of this and be back before you know it.'

Ehlana glared at them all and then nodded, 'Very well, but you had better be back to greet Ulath and Tynian when they arrive.'

Sparhawk assured his wife that they would be, knowing how much the forthcoming meeting of all their old comrades in arms meant to her, and then gestured for the monk to lead the way.

The Elene God, in the guise of a lowly monk, stalked across the lawn, Ehlana's comments still echoing in his head, a less than harmonious counterpoint to Aphrael's irate internal scolding. He closed his eyes briefly, Sparhawk was undoubtedly a braver man than even he had suspected if he could cope with Ehlana as a wife and Aphrael as a daughter. He winced as he realised the sudden silence meant that Danae had probably picked that thought up.

The knights paused to collect their weapons and then mounted their horses in the courtyard. The Elene God sat upon a hastily saddled bay and then led the way across the city towards the Basilica.



Thanks for the kind reviews of the first chapter. I'm really sorry about the basic error with Aphrael's hair colour - this should have been corrected now. I've decided that this means I need to read all the books again, so updates might be a bit slow!!