Wind both natural and man-made shrieked across the concrete field, Neuanfang international airport was such in name only, the public terminals were months away from being in any way completed and the recent Hessunland debacle had stalled work even further. What was operational were the dozen or so concrete military landing strips, a long dreary line of prefabs and radio towers, thousands of military and diplomatic personnel disembarked from this zone every month, the constant deafening sound of propeller blades made an unpleasant first impression of Essalanea with most of the arriving troops. Gaiseric gritted his teeth, between the sound of aeroplane turbines and his brother munching on a kebab his head felt like it might explode. Their jeep sat next to airstrip one, a fenced-off zone reserved for high ranking diplomats, Gaiseric had departed from it countless times on diplomatic business, it seemed only appropriate to meet his guests here. 'How in Ziu's name did you even get a marmot kebab!?' Gaiseric said eyeing Alric irritably as the latter continued gnawing on a long strip of grilled meat, oblivious to his annoyance 'Old lady sells them a few strips back, Norsian's love them!' Alric said with a full mouth Gaiseric rolled his eyes and raised his binoculars, it was an overcast day but he could just make out the distant blur of an approaching plane. 'The first delegation should be arriving in twenty minutes, my lord!' The radio tower informed Gaiseric, the message filled with the buzz of static 'Almost time' Gaiseric thought suddenly anxious, he had met diplomats before but seldom in his homeland, first impressions would leave lasting ones. 'So this Toby, you think he can actually bring down a wolf?' Alric said tossing aside the greasy stick of his kebab 'That would be Tobias Lothbrok III, King of Prydania' Gaiseric corrected with a raised eyebrow 'Yeah, you think he can do it?' Alric said ignoring his brother's irritation 'Hard to tell, he's spent most of his youth among hunters and soldiers, I'm sure he's dealt with beasts before' Gaiseric said thoughtfully Gaiseric had met the young king twice before, once in Pataliputra at the Gala and again at the founding of the Luscova Pact, he came across as a genuine and honourable man. Gaiseric had heard bits and pieces of Tobias's story, a prince forced to fight for his life and his crown, but he knew only very little of the man himself, this hunt more then anything was a chance to change that. 'Not our beasts' Alric said grimly 'No, not our beasts' Gaiseric replied affirmatively The king had eagerly expressed his desire to hunt on the steppe, to kill a wolf with his grandfather's rifle, it was a rite of passage every clanborn knew well, Gaiseric had happily invited him to the steppe to fulfil that desire. The King had clapped him on the shoulder and proclaimed his intent to gain a pelt to wear to his wedding with Alycia, the wolf queen of Norsia herself. Gaiseric had not thought much of his offer at the time, truth be told he had been surprised when Tobias had actually informed him of his acceptance, now the practicalities of the affair began to worry the High chief. Essalanean wolves were big, wickedly smart and they always travelled in packs, he had no desire to see a man maimed or killed while under his protection. 'And what about that Princess...Claidie? no that's not right' Alric said interrupting his train of thought 'Madeline' He corrected again 'Did you actually read the briefing I sent?' Gaiseric said prodding Alric accusingly Alric batted his hand away and gave him a mischievous grin 'I may have skim read' he said with a chuckle Gaiseric rolled his eyes 'Madeline, and she's a prime minister, not a princess' Gaiseric said with a sigh 'Eh, some unhorsed noble then, you think she will handle things well?' Alric asked Gaiseric had to think about that, he had read that Sil Dorsettian youths were trained in survival during their formative years...but this was Essalanea, nothing save the Essalanean way could truly prepare someone for the harsh land of the clans. He knew she was a powerful figure in her homeland, a woman used to being busy and Helbrandt Karg had been gushing over her love of firearms since their meeting at the Gala in Syrixia. 'She knows her guns I know that much' Gaiseric said 'No wonder Helbrandt all but begged you invite her, I think the Karg is going soft' Alric chuckled mischievously 'It didn't really require any great convincing on her part, she sounded eager to be here like she had something to prove' Gaiseric said letting the last word trail off Both men sat in silence for a moment, they both knew that the Steppe had a way of drawing seekers to her great plains, Essalanea was a proving ground for the worthy and a destroyer of the weak, Gaiseric did not think his guests were weak...but how would they handle the hunt? the steppe was home to terrible creatures, he would have to ensure the security for both parties were briefed again before they began. The blur on the horizon had begun to grow larger and more clear, the first plane's arrival was imminent, Gaiseric breathed in deeply and set down his binoculars. 'Alric I want you to do something for me' Gaiseric asked his tone suddenly soft 'Anything Brother' Alric said absently, he was lounging on the back seat of the jeep as though he was on some Ceretian beach 'Like a lion between meals,' Gaiseric thought with an amused smile 'I need you to keep our guests safe' Gaiseric said in a serious voice 'Anything gets too dicey I intervene, don't worry brother, they are my guests too' Alric said meeting his gaze with a sincere look 'That they are' Gaiseric thought with a frown 'Time to go meet them and take their measure, may they not be found wanting' In the sky above the plane began its descent like a great bird coming to roost.