Excerpt: The Ambassadors

One

Anike didn’t look up as the door to the conference room opened. He kept sketching the outline of the room, ignoring the prince’s voice as he spoke in the grand and pompous tone that meant the ambassadors from Marana were with him. Anike continued sketching, adding in an outline of the painting that hung on the far wall.

Anike continued to ignore them until the prince mentioned his name, and then his attention was drawn away from his sketchpad. The prince was still talking; something about recording the momentous occasion of receiving ambassadors from Marana after the century of hearing nothing from that country, but Anike wasn’t paying attention.

He was too busy staring at the two ambassadors. Anike had never seen their like. He’d heard the rumors that Maranans were strange looking, but he’d dismissed them. How strange could they be, living in a country just to the east? He’d put it down to imagination and the fact that no one had seen anyone from Marana in decades.

But the ambassadors were definitely not normal. They were both thin, with long faces and cheekbones that slanted at an alarming angle. Their mouths were strangely shaped and their eyes were slanted to match their cheekbones and their pupils were not round, but oval. Their noses were flatter than any nose Anike had ever drawn before and they both had jet black hair. Anike was willing to bet they were either related or that everyone in Marana looked the same.

Anike recovered himself with a blush as they both grinned at him, showing off the curve of fangs. Ducking his head, he focused on his sketch, hoping he hadn’t offended by staring. The prince seated himself at the head of the table, as Anike had known he would. Adding a bit more detail to the prince’s hair where he’d already drawn him in, Anike waited for the ambassadors and the prince’s bodyguards to settle in so he could sketch their outlines.

He’d finish the drawing completely later, but for now it was just important to get everyone in place where they were, and add a bit of detail. He’d have to focus on the ambassadors more than he’d originally planned—he had a good memory, but they were so different looking that he would need to get as much down as he could before the meeting was over.

Since it was just a short welcome meeting, Anike wouldn’t have much time. The ambassadors took the seats to the prince’s left, which gave him a good view of them. Anike immediately began sketching them, trying not to be too indiscreet as he glanced up at them.

It didn’t help that one or the other was always staring at him whenever he looked up, and Anike decided that he was going to have a permanent blush after the meeting. Sketching in the ambassadors’ eyes, Anike hoped he wasn’t making them look too alike and half-wished he could have a chance—a real chance, not hurried sketches—to draw them. They were so different from the people he usually drew, and Anike wanted to make sure he could record how graceful they looked.

It seemed like no time at all before the prince stood again, and Anike realized he had missed the entirety of what had been said. Not that it mattered, since he wasn’t a scribe or anything, but he’d been a little curious. Shrugging it off, Anike snuck one last look at the ambassadors as they stood. He didn’t bother to get up, knowing he wouldn’t be disturbed in the conference room. He could sketch out the rest of the room in peace, and detail the ambassadors before the lines of their faces slipped away from him.

The room fell quiet as the prince left, and Anike smiled a little as he settled in to draw. He’d sketch a bit where he was, and then move to the table so he could add in more detail.

Anike’s head jerked up at the sound of a soft laugh, and his eyes widened a bit to see the two ambassadors were still in the room with him. That wasn’t good—perhaps they wanted the room to talk privately and he hadn’t heard because he was paying too much attention to his sketchbook?

“Sorry,” Anike said quickly, all but tumbling out of his chair in his haste to stand. “I’ll go.”

“Go?” The closer one smirked, showing his fangs. He was taller than the other, Anike noted. He was also sauntering closer to Anike. Anike wondered briefly if that was how he normally walked or if he was doing that just to discomfit him. “No, you’re not going anywhere.”

“Um,” Anike replied intelligently, gripping his sketchbook tightly. He couldn’t help but stare at the ambassador, noting the fine lines in his face—peering closer, Anike realized with a start that the man’s skin was made up of tiny little scales that shimmered a little in the light.

And he was staring again. Anike glanced away—right at the other one, who was smirking to match the first. Anike jumped when the first touched his cheek, his fingers brushing lightly against Anike’s skin and drawing his attention back. Anike stared at the man—what was he doing and that really was rather obvious. Only, he was an ambassador, and Anike didn’t know how to get out of the situation without doing something to offend them—and their country—or even if he really wanted to because they were fascinating.

“I think you’re scaring him, Calo,” the second said, his words hissing out softly. Anike shivered, taking a careful step back, away from that soft, cool hand—covered, he realized, with the same small scales Anike had noted in his face.

“I don’t think so.” Calo smiled at him, his eyes intent as they focused on Anike. His eyes were a pale gold-green, and Anike blushed; he had quite a bit more detail he could add to the sketch.

“Hmm? Are you scared, pretty artist?”

Anike blinked, startled. He wasn’t pretty. He was plain, with ordinary light brown hair and a too-big nose, and his teeth were slightly crooked … Calo laughed, sauntering closer and Anike noted absently that his brother—or maybe cousin, though they still looked an awful lot alike to be just cousins—moved forward as well.

“What do you want?” Anike asked warily, folding his sketchbook closed and tucking his pencil behind his ear. The ambassadors looked at each other and laughed at the same time. Anike blushed, because really, the way they were looking at him—the way both of them were looking at him—it was obvious.