Mynar and I stand at the top of the stairs leading to the front door of the Keep, clearly visible to the crowds lining the side streets.
Both of us are arrayed in rich clothes and jewels, awaiting father’s arrival. It is part of our duty—the people provide taxes and manpower as required and we provide protection and pageants. Sometimes I really believe they would easier forgive lapses in the former than the latter.
Father has ridden to the border to escort the Halft Ambassador because he needs to smooth feathers. The King of Halft had proposed an alliance with us against Mysk. He had a list of bogus grievances and a desire to annex part of Mysk’s lands. And thought he could manipulate father into agreeing.
Of course father said ‘no’. Afred of Halft withdrew his ambassador. Father still said ‘no’. After almost a year of pouting Afred has been persuaded by his burgers to let the ambassador return. So father met Ambassador Aker at the border to show that there were no hard feelings, and has been providing a fine parade through all of the towns and larger villages between the border and here.
We are the final act, Mynar and myself, and half of the Lord Advisors decked out in our finery, bored, with our feet hurting. But judging from the noise, the citizens of our city consider it all a fine spectacle, and are enjoying themselves.
Mother isn’t here, of course; she hasn’t the stamina for pageants these days. I don’t think she misses them. On her birthday she waves to the crowds from one of the upper balconies. People travel for days to stand in the plaza below and cheer her.
The noise level increases as the first of the outriders comes into view carrying the flags of Abalem and Halft, then a contingent of knights of both realms Following them should be father and the ambassador, but three horses and riders come into sight. As they ride closer, I see a woman between father and Ambassador Aker, and she has a long braid of dark red hair pulled over her shoulder.
I look at Mynar and see him looking back at me with the same shocked expression I am wearing.
“ I had thought Celeste sent me the warning because she knew father was not in the capital.” He kept his voice low, with the noise of the crowd, I was the only one who could possibly hear him. As father leans toward the woman, Mynar continues, “I’m now think that isn’t the reason.”
The red-headed woman’s name is Alys. She is supposedly the ‘daughter’ of one of the ambassadors’ secretaries, and father has spent three weeks making a fool of himself over her.
It does not behoove a warrior princess to throw vases so I go to my private training room and throw knives. Repeatedly.
Mynar finds me there. “Are you pretending the target is Alys or father?”
“I haven’t decided yet,” I admit, since my training master isn’t there to hear. He is easily shocked.
“Lord Ekal is going to talk to father,” Mynar tells me. “Again.” I can tell from his tone how successful he expects yet another attempt to talk sense to father is going to be.
For a long moment we stare at each other. I start throwing knives again, because I can’t think of anything else to do. Mynar watches me throw knives, which is marginally more useless than me throwing them. Eventually we admit that we can’t hide forever, and go search for Lord Ekal. We finally find him in one of the reception alcoves off the main hall, with half a bottle of wine and a morose expression.
“There are rumors and angry mutterings in the market places,” he tells us what we already know. “The King doesn’t care.” We know that too. The people feel that father is not treating mother respectfully, and they don’t like it. Not one little bit.
Father might be the King, but mother is the peoples’ Heart, living symbol of the sacrifices that saved the realm from a reoccurrence of the Plague Year.
“Maybe a riot or two in the town will wake father up,” I suggest. “He’s certainly not paying attention to us.” And if there are riots, I won’t use the Weapon to quell them. I don’t say that last out loud. Mynar will know, and Ekal doesn’t need to.
It could easily come to that. A hundred years isn’t enough to erase the terror of two out of three people in the realm dying when the plague came ashore with an Outland raiding party. It had looked as if the whole realm would die, fell smoke laying over the land from the pyres of the dead. Isal and Halft sealed their borders as the plague slowly moved north, archers killing from a distance anyone who tried to cross. We did not blame them for that, but there are still frictions and bad feelings from their attempt to divide our weakened land between themselves after the plague died out. They found that even the weakened army we were able to field was still able to defend our borders when backed by the Weapon.
And mother represents the heroes who prevented the plague’s return. Father is usually smarter than this.
“Someone needs to talk to mother,” Mynar says, and looks at me. I stare back as if I don’t know that ‘someone’ is me. I feel the hopeful gaze of Lord Ekal from the other side without needing to look at him. I shake my head at both of them, but nonetheless get up and head upstairs wishing I had the sword on my back—maybe it would whisper something useful.