Two Mourish Gifts
Aldrono stroked his dark beard as he examined the parchment map on his desk. He may have ruled as King of Oragan, but one glance at this map of the entire Hisborian peninsula showed his domain's paltry significance. It covered little more area than any of the other petty kingdoms that squabbled in the north. By contrast, the Mourish Empire, those sooty invaders from across the sea, had conquered Hisboria's whole southern half.
Aldrono had heard too many reports of how the Mours had established great libraries, universities, public baths, and other luxuries of high civilization in their controlled territory that his destitute northerners could only dream of. Never mind that they were heathens who bowed before wooden idols and sacrificed servants to join their dead kings. Any more rumors about the superior culture of the Mours and Aldrono would explode into a rage more fiery than hell itself!
Growling his most vulgar curse, he stabbed a knife into the map's southern area. Someday that region, and all Hisboria, would be his, even if he had to soak the earth with blood.
"Are you all right, my King?" Prince Elcidos, Aldrono's brother, peered into the bedchamber from outside.
"I'm fine." Aldrono wiped sweat off his reddened brow. "Just still a little pissed about the Mours."
"Funny, I've received word that a Mourish envoy has just arrived in Oragan. They request your audience this instant."
Aldrono stared at his chamberlain and scratched his hair. Many times before he had sent out his own envoys to the Mourish capital of Kardabou to demand their submission, but the Mourish Emperor had snubbed each and every one of these.
"Why? What in God's name are they up to?" Aldrono said.
"They say they offer gifts for Your Majesty,” Elcidos said. “It surprised me too, but they claim no malicious intentions.”
“Gifts?” Aldrono grinned from the image of Mourish gold cascading like a waterfall into his treasury, among other benefits. “Let's see what they've come with.”
He threw on his crown and kingly cape and followed Elcidos through his castle's drafty corridors. They opened out into a wider audience hall where his other courtiers were gathered in a chattering crowd. Aldrono seated himself on his throne at the room's end and leaned into it, sighing with pleasure. Nothing could comfort the future ruler of all Hisboria like sitting in his biggest chair.
Trumpets blared. The mass of courtiers parted to leave an open aisle going through the middle of the room. The high doors at the hall's opposite end creaked open, letting a wave of sunlight wash into the room. Afterward there sounded the thumping of drums.
Into the hall marched a formation of Mourish soldiers with spears, swords, and wicker shields. They wore no shirts over their dark brown torsos, but gold and copper jewelry decorated their necks and limbs, and they had vibrant colors splashed onto their kilts. Alongside these soldiers, musicians pounded their drums and chanted, filling the audience hall with deafening echoes. Young women carried bowls of gold treasure which they tossed at the Oraganese courtiers.
In the center of the procession, a team of servants hauled a gold litter veiled with linen drapes. Aldrono could make out the contours of a dark human figure through these sheets. Had Emperor Olango himself chosen to patronize Oragan in person? There was one other alternative that occurred to Aldrono, a prospect that every young man would find even more pleasing.
The drums silenced with a final crack like thunder. The soldiers that led this whole party halted to make way for the servants hauling the litter, who set it on the dais supporting Aldrono's throne.
“Is this for me?” Aldrono asked.
The whole Mourish entourage snickered and giggled. Aldrono's cheeks flushed pink.
“Come and take a look,” a sultry female voice said in a Mourish accent. Through the litter's drapes, Aldrono could see that the figure within was beckoning him with a curl of its finger. A warmth grew in his loins as he tread towards the litter and pushed its drapes aside.
There sat a young Mourish woman whose obsidian-black skin glistened even more than the jewelry decorating her. Except for a colorful skirt and head-wrap, her slender yet curvaceous figure bore little clothing. Looking up at Aldrono and batting her dark eyelashes, she curved her full and glossy lips into a smile.
Try as he might, Aldrono could not force out any words to do her beauty justice.
“Well, aren't you more handsome than I expected?” she said. “I am Jeboye, daughter of Emperor Olango. He sent me here with two gifts to bestow upon you and your kingdom.”
“And what would those be? I can already guess the first one.” Aldrono winked.
“Your guess would be correct, O King of Oragan. It is indeed my hand in marriage! Such would bring our once distrustful countries closer together. Which brings me to the second gift.”
Jeboye fished out a papyrus scroll and handed it to Aldrono. Its upper half had writing in native Mourish glyphs with a translation in his own Oraganese language below that. The papyrus trembled in Aldrono's hands as he read it.
“You mean...you'll surrender your Empire at last?” he said. “You've finally caved into my demands? What brought about this change of heart?”
“We understand your passion to unite all of Hisboria under one throne, and we concur wholeheartedly with it,” Jeboye said. “With unity will come peace. No longer shall the blood of armies pollute Hisborian soil.”
Aldrono clapped, as did all his courtiers and the Mourish entourage in a great applause.
“Beautifully said, my future Queen. Together we shall rule the peninsula, with you by my side.” Aldrono lent Jeboye his hand, kissing hers as he helped her off the litter.
“Wouldn't you like to...try me out before we wed?” Jeboye said with lips almost touching his cheeks. She glided her hand down his tunic and swayed her hips sidewards. “I want to see what this northern gentleman looks like underneath his kingly attire.”
Aldrono nodded. “We shall, after supper. You must be famished after all that travel.” He embraced his new bride, rubbing his face against her neck.This was too good to be true.