Eadric set his glass down on the star that marked Aetheston's location on Zaria's northern continent. It was nearly thirteen thousand miles from Ansgar to the Istivani capital of Kyros, if one sailed through the Strait of Steimor and marched overland, and another eight thousand overland to the Etroiti fortress known as the Citadel. Even by rail it would take his armies nearly a month to reach the Istivani capital; it would take significantly longer to march his armies to Kyros.
There was always the option of sailing his armies to Etroit, but finding the ships to carry almost two hundred thousand soldiers would be nearly impossible and it would still take nearly a month to sail them to the Citadel.
“Your Grace.” Eadric's steward had entered, silent as a whisper. “Would you like me to summon your council?”
“Yes, please do Charles.” Eadric nodded and picked up his glass.
He studied the lands that he ruled and took note of the various sigils that marked the holdings of his many lords; the shields that marked the holdings of his Dukes were the largest. There was the sigil of House Jarmann at Agilard, the only duchy east of Aetheston; the black pegasus against white of House Chalmer in the West Valley, the castle nestled into the Spine Mountains against the border with Beldane; the blue hydra against orange of House Seward at Sea Watch, on the southwestern coast of Ansgar; the red centaur on a blue field of House Ridley in White Ridge, nestled between the Vast Sea to the south and the three peaks of the White Ridge on its north; the white great-eagle on black of House Croutcher was last, the Arndell Duchy was the largest duchy by miles but sparsely populated in the far western corner of the nation.
Other, smaller shields marked the eleven earls of Ansgar, two east of Aetheston and nine to the west. Shields smaller still marked the forty-two baronies that divided the rest of the nation. He was not as familiar with the baronies as he was with the earldoms and duchies, but then he rarely had the occasion to deal with many of them.
He had, of course, met every one of his sworn nobles at his coronation, or their ascension for those few nobles that had taken their seats after he had been crowned. But the lesser nobles had smaller estates to care for and could scarcely afford frequent journeys to the capital to pay homage to their king.
Eadric was still focused on the map when the door groaned open and his council entered.
“Your Grace,” Lord Alden Hanley, Earl of Hamilton, was a tall, slender man who walked with the help of a black ebony cane. His brown hair and full beard were well shaded with gray but his brown eyes were still sharp, and careful. He wore a white shirt, brown trousers and a blue tailcoat with a brown bear, the symbol of his house, sewn over his heart.
Before Eadric's ascension to the throne of Ansgar, Alden had betrothed his oldest daughter to the Crown Prince. The move had established the Earl as a close advisor to the new king when Eadric had come to power and the king gave extra weight to his opinion.
“Lord Hanley,” Eadric clasped the man's hands and inclined his head to his father by law.
“Your Grace, you are looking well today,” Lord William Richards said with a bow. Baron Saxan had long been one of Eadric's closest advisors. He had been brought to court at the age of five by his father to learn the ways of the capital and the court of the nation's ruler.
William and Eadric had been tutored by the same teachers, taught of swords by the same master at arms and had ascended to their titles at nearly the same time. Eadric had raised him to Lord Councilor as one of his first acts.
He stood nearly the same height as Eadric, with a similarly athletic build. He was shaved bald, the thin mustache and well-kept red beard the only hint of his hair color. He wore a pair of simple glasses over his crystal blue eyes. His blue tailcoat had a double row of golden buttons and his family's signet embroidered across his heart: a pair of red swords crossed over the center of the blue field.
“Thank you, William,” Eadric presented his signet ring for his friend to kiss.
“My King, I see that the sums you have been spending on Dragonsalt have not been in vane,” Lord Peter Wellstone said with a smile. As the Chancellor of Ansgar it was his responsibility to keep the kingdom's books and accounts.
He was the youngest man in the room, only just into his twenty-fifth year, but was by far the best with numbers. He had been an apprentice to the last Chancellor, his childless uncle the previous Earl Colby, and had taken to his studies with fervor.
He carried a stack of ledgers with him at all times, books filled with figures on the kingdom's incomes, expenses and coffers. He was a small man, not very assuming at first glance. His short black hair was well combed and his blue eyes glanced back and forth every so often as if of their own volition. He wore the black tailcoat and trousers that were popular with the Court as of late. His badge, three black huts on a gray field, was sewn onto his chest.
“A pinch before bed helps me sleep,” Eadric lied.
“Your Grace,” a voice said in a lilting, sweet accent. Altavius Dohr's accent was less pronounced than it had once been, or so Eadric was told, but it still marked him as one not native to Ansgar's common tongue.
The elf was the oldest member of Eadric's council. He was, in fact, the oldest person on this side of the world, at least as far as anyone knew. He had traveled across the Vast Sea twelve hundred years earlier with the first colonists to leave Welos.
Altavius had served as advisor to every single king since Liam the First King. Hundreds of years ago, one of Eadric's ancestors had tried to grant him a small estate on the ocean shore in the Elsdon Duchy, but the elf was a High Priest in some elvish order, and they were not allowed to hold lands.
Altavius' eyes had once been a deep sapphire, they were now a pale blue and his once brilliant red hair was now silver white and was tucked behind his long, tapered ears. He had once stood more than a foot taller than anyone else in the room but was now hunched with age and leaned heavily on his staff.
The apple sized emerald held in the staff’s heavy iron setting pulsed gently. He wore the brilliant green robes of an elfish priest, half a dozen heavy amulets hung on golden chains and jeweled rings sat on each finger.
Eadric's four advisors sat in the leather chairs. Each took a moment to adjust to the thick cushions in their own fashion. Lord Wellstone rested his stack of ledgers on the small table beside him. Altavius leaned his staff against the chair's arm. Lord Hanley hooked his cane on the back of the chair and Lord Richards pushed back into his chair and stretched his legs out before him.