Despite my having said ‘no’ twice, Daver is still arguing. The staff wants me to postpone the wedding until the first blizzard, so they can decorate the castle with ice sculptures. He is right in his assessment that none of the nobles will travel to a wedding scheduled for Winter Day, lest bad weather makes it impossible for them to return to their own holdings until Spring, so moving the date back won’t change anyone’s plans. He is wrong in thinking he can convince me to delay the wedding by so much as a day. I worked too hard getting it moved; not changing it.
And Daver is not giving up. I try to think like father. “I will not change the date,” I tell Daver for the third time, “But, I will ask Mother if we should have a ball celebrating our one month anniversary. If she says yes, then you would be able to do the ices sculptures then.”
“And”, I think to myself, “A month should be long enough to recover from the balls and celebrations of the wedding itself.”
Daver decides to agree, and wanders off, probably to design ice sculptures.
I go to the weekly court early, since it is unlikely wedding details will follow me there. Alan and Taver are both already in the hall, huddled in a corner looking slightly battered. I would be worried if they weren’t grinning.
“Blowing things up again?” This is a rhetorical question, of course they have been blowing things up.
“We’re getting close to having something useful,” Taver tells me. Alan only gives me a hug. Not sure I believe them, but at least they are having fun. I realize I am turning into a skeptic, and try to decide if I should be worried. Then I realize this group definitely needs someone standing around with a wet blanket to keep them grounded.
I have managed to talk (nag) Alan into testing his new levitation spell on inanimate objects instead of himself, so when he decided to see how high he could levitate something, it was a chair that crashed through the roof of one of the huts in the village instead of Alan. Luckily it was an empty hut. Hunk thinks they will have the hole in the roof fixed before the first real snow storm.
I can feel my guards starting to shuffle their feet, Alan’s hug having lasted longer than their notion of propriety. We ignore them, and I lean against Alan, probably with my own grin but for different reasons, as people slowly gather. I do finally go sit beside the throne as the time nears for father to enter and call the court to order.
Father arrives, the people quieten without being told to, and the first issue is resolved in five sentences, four of explanation and the fifth father’s agreement that they may take responsibility for one of the empty buildings. Father would be very happy if there were no empty buildings in the city. The second and third issues are almost as simple, and I decide this meeting definitely counts on the ‘you owe me’ list I’m keeping to present to Mynar at a suitable moment. Suddenly a commotion from outside spills into the hall. I stand up, trying to see the people encircled by city guard as Alan moves to my side and Taver to father’s.
As the guard Captain moves forward to report, I get a clear view of the five people in the center and recognize Evert—Sloan. Four of the five look travelworn and hungry, the fifth, lying on a litter, looks worse.
I look for one of the staff to send for Adl and Mychl, but before I can give the order both women run through the door, ignoring father and ignoring the guards. Adl grabs Sloan and one of the other three men, while Mychl kneels beside the litter, taking Rage’s hand as if she is afraid her touch will bring him pain. She looks up at me, her eyes reminding me of my promise.
“Daver,” father’s voice cuts through the onlookers’ speculations, “Our guests need food and medical care and rest.”
A groan of disappointment goes through the room at being denied the story the travelers so obviously have to tell.
I can hear father sigh slightly; he knows our people. “They are weary and injured,” he chides them. “You will hear the news they bring in good time.”
I move to Rage’s other side, but I talk to Mychl, “I have not forgotten.”
Rage struggles to sit up and Mychl braces him so he can look at father. “The Wassak is dead.” His news delivered, Rage sinks back down, ignoring everyone except Mychl.
Father nods his understanding, even as the staff rushes forward to provide the care the travelers need. At a look from father, I whisperer orders to one of my guards that all of the five should be closely watched. We don’t even know who the two extra’s are, but neither could possibly be a feared Creel warrior.
“They insisted on coming straight to you,” the guard Captain is reporting to father and the completely silent room. Silent so as not to miss a word for later retelling in the town. “I thought it best not to argue with them, since they claimed they were bringing news you expected.”
The silence in the room grows even more intense. Father might be able to send everyone on their way, but it would probably involve guards and a lot of pushing. Our people believe it is their right to know what is going on. They would have fits in the streets if they knew how many secrets the royal family is keeping.
“We have been expecting them,” father finally admits. “And their news is good. The Wassak is the name of the swamp-wizard who sent assassins after my daughter.”
Well, that took care of the silence. And father’s patience. We follow him out, leaving a couple of guards to keep the door closed behind us.
By the time father and I reach the barracks which contains the castle infirmary rooms, a covey of nursing sisters lead by Sister Mays has joined our resident priests, has, in fact, pushed them aside and taken over.
“We will need tubs of hot water, bandages, and clean clothes.” Sister Mays just speaks to the room at large, and seems a little surprised when the items she just listed start appearing. I know Daver, I would have been more surprised if they hadn’t instantly appeared.
“We are just in the way. Father, why don’t you go and tell mother; Alan, Taver, go make things explode. I’ll report anything I find out at the evening meal.” They actually listen. I chase the guards out too, they can watch the doors and windows from outside.
“Dear, we are going to move you to your own room,” one of the sisters has realized the person I took to be a young boy is actually a slender young woman. She just looks at the sister with wide eyes and grabs hold of the older man who is the fifth person in the party.
“She’s deaf, sister. And mute.” He pushes her gently toward the sister, trying to smile. She looks doubtful, but goes.
“You don’t have to worry,” I tell him. “You are all safe now.” He looks at me as if the very concept of being safe is inconceivable.
“She was The Wassak’s favorite slave because she couldn’t tell his secrets. We will never be safe.”
I look at the hard old man, weathered and scarred from a life of fighting, and I smile at his ‘we’. I draw my Sword partially from its sheath and the small lightnings play for a second without my needing to ask. “You are safe here. In this place there is only danger for anyone who would attack you. I am Adava, Princess of Abalem, and this is The Sword.”
“I am Canor, a warrior too old to be of any use, except for scrubbing pots in the kitchen. Her name is Flower.” He bows stiffly, having recognized my formal declaration for the oath it is.
I smile, and watch as one of the priests leads him away to the washroom set up for the men. I think someday he will trust me enough to tell me their story.
Adl is sitting in a corner, crying happily, her sons restored to her. She doesn’t need me. Mychl does, as she holds Rage’s hand while Sister Mays, herself, unbandages his leg. Rage only has eyes for Mychl, doesn’t seem to notice anyone else is in the room.
“I promised Dker if I lived and he didn’t that we would treat Byne as our son.”
Mychl only nods, hope and fear chasing each other across her face. Rage has returned to her, but he is still far from safe.
I touch her lightly on the shoulder, “Sister Mays is the best healer in the land.”
“And your leg has been tolerably set. You will likely limp, may need to use a walking staff, but still I am surprised by the lack of infection. Infection is the greatest danger when the bone breaks through the skin.” Sister Mays smiles at his unbandaged leg, pleased with its condition.
“The black cats insisted on licking it.” Rage sounded tired, but not delusional.
“Later Princess,” Mays insists. As much as I don’t want to, I have to agree.