The light of the noon sun danced brilliantly off of the harbor, reflecting up through the palace’s picture windows and painting the high ceiling with waves of cascading colors. The windows, lightly frosted from the mid-winter cold, were flanked by huge marble flower pots filled with purple lisianthus, white alba roses, and black veilwood tulips. The elegant notes of a string quartet gently reverberated throughout the ballroom, intermingling with the friendly, earnest voices of several hundred people.
“My word, there hasn’t been this large a gathering in the capital in nigh on eighty years!” exclaimed Erstadt, the elderly and quite rotund seneschal of Northrun’s high court. “With barely a fortnight to prepare, my my.”
His aide, the young Mikhail, merely nodded.
“Did you have the Ardenian ‘37 brought up, like I asked?”
“Yes, seneschal,” the boy responded.
“And the party from Vikingr, have they gotten settled?”
“This morning, seneschal, thank you” a loud, heavily accented voice boomed from behind the two royal staffers, coming from a handsome, dark-haired man who looked to be in his forties sporting a military uniform. “You really do know how to take care of your guests!”
“It is our duty and pleasure, Jarl Ragnar,” Erstadt said, his chins quivering. He was about to say more when he was interrupted by what he thought were daytime fireworks. A rapid staccato building into a roaring crescendo, with heavy bass tones pounding off of the plate glass picture windows of the ballroom.
“That must be quite the royal salu…” The Jarl’s words were cut off by a massive explosion in the harbor. The flagship of the Northrun Navy, the Bounty, had just erupted into a violent ball of flame, smoke, and splinters. The shockwave knocked the snow off of the first thousand yards of roofs near the shoreline, shattering windows and bursting eardrums. Alarm bells began to ring throughout Amberhold as the unmistakable report of gunfire began to crackle off from somewhere in the city.