The noon sun had risen to its height in the sky as the carriage made its way along the path. Several members of the Titan Guard surrounded the carriage in a protective formation with extra guards in front and behind followed by group of senior magi from the College. Erin sat by window on right with a book in hand, doing her best to relax as a lady-in-waiting fussed over her clothing. It was the seventh day of their journey from the capital city of Natel to Castle Arx. They’d taken a ship down the coast and from there had chosen to travel by coach. Erin was beginning to grow tired of sitting in these confined spaces for hours on end, though the break from her usual duties was welcomed. This journey had provided her with ample to time to read at her leisure as opposed to rushing around trying to keep the peace between the nobles and see to the needs of the commoners. Had it not been for their destination and her nerves which kept her on edge, she would have almost considered this trip a vacation. “My lady,” Rukin Lenox said from his place across from her, “We’ll be arriving presently. I suggest you prepare yourself.” The man looked young for his years. He was still sporting reddish brown hair with only a few wisps of grey appearing at his temples. His figure had seen leaner days, but he was still a strong man. Warm brown eyes lit up his face, masking the clever individual that lay beneath. When men met him for the time, most assumed he was just an overgrown child with well-connected parents. It wasn’t until they’d been speaking to him for a while that they would realize he’d maneuvered them right where he wished them to be. Erin laid down her book and sighed, “We’re there already?” Rukin smirked, “I remember a different response the first time I made this trip with you. I believe the only thing you said for the last two days of the trip was ‘Are we there yet?’” Erin returned his smile despite the tension she felt. She always felt a little jittery before meeting with foreign dignitaries, fearing she wouldn’t be able to convince them to take her seriously because of her age. It was getting easy as she grew, but even now it felt like a battle with each new meeting. Today was different though. This was no simply trade negotiation. She would have welcomed a trade negotiation at the moment; at least then she knew what to expect. This meeting should have been simple. Arx had been allies with Natel for years and she’d even met with representatives in the past though only a few times. There were relatively few issues to work out and she had little time for social calls. There was so much riding on this visit though, more than any mere commerce deal. And the only thing she had to do was act the part of a queen. No enemies to win over, no deal to broker, nothing more than honoring a contract that had been drawn up when she was still a baby. “Your majesty,” the woman next to her gentle touch her arm, bringing her back to the present, “I apologize, but could you look to the left?” Erin complied, realized she’d zoned out for several minutes there. Rukin smiled sympathetically, “There’s no need to be nervous, my lady. These proceedings are mere formalities. Everything had been taken care of ahead of time. All that is needed of you is to accept the young lord’s gifts. Simple as that.” “This whole affair is ridiculous,” Raph Drummond grumbled. The magus sat next to Rukin, his rusty brown hair and dull brown eyes making him look twice as old as the eternally young man next to him. He sported a beard as well, handsomely trimmed, but it added years onto his lined face. Despite it all, Raph was not an ugly man. Many of the older women at court spent hours chattering about which lady would be lucky enough to claim him as a lover. His cold, no nonsense demeanor only seemed to encourage their antics. Rukin smiled at the man, “Your opinion has been dually noted, Arcane Advisor, and my advice is that you lighten up. We’ve known this day was coming for years now. It was only a matter of when.” Raph continued to frown, crossing his arms, “That may be so, but I still don’t see the purpose of all of this nonsense. It’s a waste of time. The nobility just want another reason to throw their coin around to impress one another.” “You underestimate the important of events such as these, Drummond,” Rukin replied, fixing his attention back on Erin, “Her majesty understands that this event is the perfect breeding ground for good relations with our allies. If you can impress them at a formal gathering, the next time they come to you with a complaint or other agenda, they’ll remember you more kindly and make the negotiations smoother.” “Do you ever think about anything other than playing other people, Lenox?” Raph asked. Erin glanced over at the two men, “That’s enough bickering, there’ll be more than enough time for that when we’re in private. I need you both to be focused during this ceremony.” “Of course, my lady,” Rukin agreed, settling back as though nothing had happened while Raph looked out the window of the carriage. The two tended to get under each other’s skin, especially in close quarters. They would never expose such dissent in public, but a carriage was hardly public. Erin supposed it was simply their different personalities that did it. Rukin was a wonderful negotiator and one of the friendliest men she knew, but he could also be a little childish at times. Raph kept his focus on his work and interacted with others a little as possible, quickly reminding anyone who believed they deserved his time that he was there to assist his queen, not entertain the nobility. Erin focused her eyes on the floor for a moment as the servant next to her asked her to look down. She was fixing her pale blonde hair to be sure it looked perfect for the upcoming meeting. It had been left down for the day, adored with a simple silver diadem with a single opal that hung from the front. The woman, Sarah by name, ran a brush through it once more to keep any knots from forming. Erin wished she stop all the fussing. It only made her more nervous the more the woman pulled at her. Sarah moved from her hair to her dress again, straightening the wine red material to keep it from wrinkling. The bodice wad fitted, as was the style in Natel at the time, with wide sleeves and a modest neckline that extended out to show her shoulders. It had been designed for this day to both enhance her feminine qualities and her self-confidence. There was another call from the front of the carriage to announce that they were nearly there. Erin just about cursed out loud, though he face was a mask of peace. Her hands gripped the book in her hands tighter as she worked to calm herself down. Rukin seemed to notice again as he sat forward, confidence beaming from his face, “Nothing will go wrong, my lady. Just have a little faith in yourself.” “I know, Rukin,” Erin replied, “It’s only foolish nerves. There’s no need to worry about me.” Raph glanced her way for a moment before returning to his window gazing. Erin knew it was foolish to worry this much. She needed to be calm now, to think clearly. Personal fears had begun to crop up in her mind despite her best efforts to quiet them. She hadn’t seen Lloyd in years after all and now all of this was happening. This agreement was to help Natel and that had to be her primary focus, but there was a small part of her that wished for something more. Something she didn’t dare give voice to. She’d thought those hopes had died years ago, but now that everything was happening things seemed different. Sarah took the book from Erin’s hands, pulling her from her thoughts once more. Today wasn’t about her, though she would be at the center of the attention. She had to represent Natel and cast her own thoughts aside. When all this was over, she could think of herself but not until this deal was secure for Natel. Her hands came together in her lap as she worked away her nerves, finding her confidence by letting go of herself. She didn’t matter, not right now.