Let the cards fall how they may,
for the Fates play only in chance,
no certain outcome awaits,
only hands already dealt,
a poor draw dictates no end,
for who’s to say what is held,
not the options laid before you,
but what is made of unknowns.
– Playing Fates, 135 E.R.
The Hand Dealt
Coria 40th, 650 E.R.
Mercu ran his fingers through his hair, and eyed the two letters on his desk suspiciously. Two troubling pieces of news arriving on the same day. He picked one up again, and reread it.
I have been a horrible traveling companion, and suffered for how my distraught state has kept me from others. We were only at Highpass that night. I tossed, and turned, and buried my head. I ignored the murmurs of night owls of the troop outside my wagon. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. I did not hear – for my self imposed seclusion – until Minterbrook. A midnight sun. The southern lights brighter over the north pass than they have been known to shine in Napir. Madness grips me. I do not remember more than a silver of the dreams that wake me, and yet I know what they are.
I am much beyond troubled. A face, far too familiar. A face one could mistake for a girl our tower. Yet one knows their children better than this. I have tried to ignore it. Tried to forget. Stopped myself from taking a carriage horse, and riding south.
I have seen a mirror in the dark. A reflection of a mark long cast upon the ages. I have seen a child before the sun. The words want to flow in poetry, and my tears threaten to smear the ink. I look east with dread, and south with frantic urgency. Yet a mad voice tells me not to return, that my instincts spiral towards only greater peril.
It gives me no comfort to see Oradin returning to court in close company to a courier I recognize as one of yours, who can tell me nothing of the correspondence he carries. I ask for word from the council, and the illustrious mage waves a gloved hand, and offers me reports weeks old, and nothing of recent events. The man wishes me well on my journey with a grin like a dealer in a rigged street game. Watch yourself, and all sides around. Watch our appointed guardian that she is not trapped by forces beyond our control.
Your hopeless companion,
Laurel – a man more distasteful of prophecy than any Mercu had ever met – complaining openly of troubled dreams on the night of the midnight sun. Of visions and portents. This alone would have worried him deeply, but unconfirmed reports that the mad priest Idolus was no longer in the care of the Clarion cloister near Nohrook, only deepened his sense of impending crisis. There was no confirmation of the absence, and no proposed location for this new wild card. Yet Oradin had again returned to court, and been seen discussing something with Arlen that had reportedly displeased the man greatly.
Time had taught Mercu caution around portents. Yet when circumstances and instincts converged, he was not one to be blind. His instincts had so rarely failed him. The right moment, and manner to nudge friend or foe. Yet who needed nudging, what to do with the signs before him seemed an open question with no answers.
He riddled over other factors. Katrisha’s continued mischief had escaped most, but not him, and while he knew himself to be clever, he did not make a habit of underestimating his opponents. If he knew, there was a good chance others did. The scandal of an impetuous and gradious Court Mage’s love affairs was manageable, alone, but the new lovers other affairs had him worried.
Pieces were in motion, but what games, and how many was not yet clear. Finding nothing new in Laurel’s words he set the letter aside. He opened an inkwell, and plucked a quill from its holder.
We do not trust prophecy. Yet however blurry the vision, one sometimes can see the cliff ahead. I cannot parse better than you the direction events are moving, only that they are. There has been no word from another troublesome mage, or her father. No sign our ally has caught wind of our suspicions. My instincts do not disagree with your course. The spiteful fickle moves of the east are more reliable than the vague hand of Fates. Stay your course, for if schemes move against us on the levels you fear, then defying orders cannot help.
Your trusted fool,
He considered his words carefully, blew to dry the ink, and turned the page over as a knock came at his door.
Katrisha stepped in, closed the door and considered Mercu silently a moment. “You are acting suspiciously,” she finally said.
“No, the world is acting suspiciously, I am merely in it.”
Katrisha’s measured expression turned to a frown. “You will tell me, if there is something I should know?” she pressed.
“I will tell you, anything that will help you. That which will not, I will weigh cautiously against the harm it might do. Though I will offer you this, for I think you do need to know. Idolus is missing.”
“Not good news,” Katrisha said measuredly.
“No. Though I am hard pressed to say how bad. What harm a babbling madman can do, I am not sure.”
“I presume as much as he ever could,” Katrisha wagered in dark humor.
“Quite a lot then,” Mercu said, and rubbed his temple. “Laurel sends his love,” he added.
“May I see?” Katrisha asked.
“You’ll forgive a man his private correspondence, I hope?” Mercu pressed.
“As you will,” Katrisha frowned. “I came because the King wants your council.”
“Goodness, not half a month and the kingdom is already in so much disarray.”
“I do not think it is anything dire.”
“Laurel always kept some distance between myself and the crown,” Mercu said. “Not much, of course, but it has helped in my ability to move freely through the court. Makes it easier to play the fool.”
“Being one, I’m told also helps,” Katrisha teased.
“Indeed,” he said, and followed her gaze to his desk. He snapped up the three letters, and tucked them into his vest. “Very well, I presume the king is in his antechamber?”
“Yes,” Katrisha answered.
⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃
Estae 8th, 650 E.R.
Katrisha checked the spell work Lauren had constructed before him. It wasn’t particularly functional, but he had matched the structure she had laid out. Katherine’s on the other side, had taken half the time, was wildly off the mark, and yet strangely seemed closer to actually doing something. Which the lesson had rather explicitly been designed not to. Lauren was very good at following instructions, slowly. Katherine quick at going completely sideways of the plan, and intuiting her way towards future lessons. Her work though, far more unstable.
Katrisha made a few adjustments to Lauren’s work, pushed a new conversion through the framework, and flicked a conjured orb into the then functional trap spell her sister and her had devised as little girls. It worked flawlessly, capturing the orb which bounced around harmlessly inside.
“Very good,” Katrisha said, and ruffled the boy’s hair. The process of training the two felt glacial, it had been much slower than Kat herself could recall learning. Yet what few hints Laurel had dropped about his theory of escalating powers in the world itched at how fast they were moving compared to what the books would lead her to expect.
She eyed Katherine’s spell dubiously, unsure what would happen if she even tried to activate it. It looked almost like it might work without further meddling, but work was perhaps a generous estimation. She added the necessary conversion to the spell, and watched it transform unexpectedly, fold in on itself, and send wild arcs of force out through the room whipping hair and clothes about. That should not have been happening.
Lauren’s nearby spell tore apart and threw the captured orb out in a long arc. New spell lines tracked out along forces the quasi stable spell was forming, and caught the orb pulling it in a spiral into the center of the configuration. Katrisha was about to stop the escalating chaos when the whole thing tore itself apart, and dispersed on the residual gusts.
“Structure is important Kathy,” Katrisha said measuredly, and straightened her hair and robes. “Also, what did you even use that was producing that much force?”
“It captured the orb,” Katherine protested.
“And destroyed it,” Katrisha chided.
The girl crossed her arms in a huff, and looked at the floor iritably. “I didn’t use anything clever. It was just the structure.”
Katrisha eyed the girl dubiously at the assertion. “You are clever, but you need to learn the rules before you try to break them,” Katrisha said crouching down, and placing a finger under the girls chin gently, forcing her gaze back up to meet her own.
“But I do get to break them?” Katherine said with an odd ernesty.
“Once you’ve proven you can follow them,” Katrisha said measuredly.
“I don’t want to break the rules,” Lauren protested.
“Not even the ones about bedtime?” Katrisha teased, glancing at the boy.
“I get tired at bedtime,” he said without any particular humor.
“No set of rules are perfect,” Katrisha lectured. “Yet one must begin somewhere. Rules give us the basis by which to accomplish reliable results, but are like railings. They keep us from going over edges, but sometimes those edges need to be crossed, and quickly. Knowing how things work, and why things work, knowing expected behaviors lets one invent new ones.”
Katrisha threw up a complex web of spell work that looked little like either of the children’s spells had before. If anything it bore more resemblance to Katherine’s, though far more clearly stable, and all the more ready to do something. “Lauren, if you would throw an orb in here.”
The boy took a moment to form a sphere of light, and gently tossed it into Katrisha’s spell. The spell caught the orb, pulling it along a track that formed, and spiraled as the cage folded, and gently collapsed until the orb was held tightly at the center, utterly imobile. The captured spell was then replicated at several points around the central configuration. Each slightly different than the original.
“The fundamental design was not on a bad track,” she said examining the result. “The collapse needed to happen in a structured way however. It’s a lot like my favored shield technique, disruption causes reconfiguration. Did you copy my spell?”
“Maybe?” Kathrine said. “It felt like something I knew.”
“Why did it copy the orb?” Lauren asked.
“Oh, just being clever,” Katrisha said, and walked curiously around the array. “Variant replication is a technique I’ve been working on mastering. Getting a spell to replicate with intent, but different structures. I’m not sure if it’s viable in combat, but it has been an interesting way to explore alternate spell structures quickly.”
She plucked one of the orbs out. “Hmm, this one is overly stable. Seems like it picked up some of the trap spells construction. Actually…” she tossed the spell to Katherine.
“It’s my spell,” she said almost excitedly. “This was what I was trying to do. Just much smaller.”
“That’s a shield spell more than an orb,” Katrisha said measuredly. “Try to dispel it.”
Katherine focused very carefully, and managed to pluck a major branch of the spell, only for it to shrink, and shed the filament she had plucked. She tried again, and it shrank again, but did not disperse. She plucked and pulled at the now marble sized ball of light to no avail.
“I can’t,” she said irritably.
“It’s not quite as good as my current shield, but at scale that would take a skilled mage some time to fully dismantle. This really was what you were trying to build?”
“Yes,” she said tersely. “I could almost see it, as I started the lesson.”
“I’m going to try something,” Katrisha said measurely. “I want you to know I would never hurt you, ok?”
“Ok,” Katherine said dubiously.
Katrisha threw an orb at the girl’s face suddenly. A harmless act, though one that would surely startle her dramatically. Her hand had already been up however to catch it before the orb even left Katrisha’s fingers, and Katrisha found herself staring at the little girl before her with some concern.
“What did you feel?” Katrisha asked.
“I saw a bright light, and…blocked it,” Katherine said.
Katrisha did not like the implication one bit. “Lauren, I’m going to try the same with you.”
“Ok,” the boy said, and moved to block.
Katrisha waited till he lowered his guard cautiously, and looked at her confused. She threw the quickly conjured orb when he seemed fully off guard, and though he reacted, not nearly quick enough. The orb clipped off the side of his hand, and swirled across his face in bright, but harmless arcs of decaying light.
“Katherine,” Katrisha said measuredly. “I want you to practice your spell for me, carefully. Lauren, you too.”
⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃
Estae 12st, 650 E.R.
Katrisha stood beside the throne. She had been far too absent to date in her tenure. One of the unwritten duties of a court mage was to sometimes simply be present. To put in a certain degree of time simply standing in court, as a reminder that they were there. That they could always be there. It was painfully boring, but as she did not really need to do anything, she occupied her mind running over the past month.
Mercu acting squirrely. Signs in the night sky. Oradin hanging about the court, rather than occupying a post along the northern border. The slightest hint that Katherine had the instincts of a battle mage. Even with all this on her mind it was she could do not to fall asleep on her feet by the fifth hour, having spent half the night digging through various books Laurel had acquired in her youth. After a near fatal incident between her twin and her.
The possible implications of the girl’s talent as a another portent, was hardly the end of her concern. The worry of a runaway emotional situation – as she had once experienced – was a very unsettling prospect. The girl was very obstinate after all. Yet she was hardly prepared to suggest to Horence he begin training his young daughter to spar. Particularly given it hadn’t really worked until Laurel had shown a willingness to connect with some force.
Training with harmless light orbs had shown some promise, but she was not at all sure if it was a viable means to train her to control the instinct properly. If that was even really battle mage instincts she was dealing with. Suden breakthroughs, and occasional precognitive reactions were normal. Particularly in those who came into their gift very young. She didn’t like the lack of obvious answers.
“The court recognized Council Mage Oradin Syberus,” the court herald announced, and drew Katrisha from more abstract concerns, to a present one.
“Your Majesty,” Oradin said with a bow. “I felt it was in order for me to inform you that the council has asked I remain at Broken Hill for the foreseeable future. They do not believe Osyrae has any intention to attack overtly, based on their observed, and claimed behavior to date. Yet, it has been deemed wise that the court have further protection in Laurel’s absence.”
“Our standing Court Mage did defeat you, did she not?” the King asked in an even tone. “Sent you flying when you pulled some unexpected stunt.”
“She passed her test…to some spectacle,” Oradin said with thinly restrained distaste. There might have been a few laughs, but the tension in the room held most back. “It is not quite the same, to pass a controlled test, than to actually fight in combat. Surely though, even the greatest mage, cannot suffer to have assistance, should dire times befall the court, and the girl cannot be everywhere at once.”
“Allies, are always welcome, of course,” Katrisha said measuredly. “Though a long lack of change does not preclude it. Osyrae has seemingly attacked, and subjected every neighbor not covered by council treaty. Except of course the Sylvans. They have intruded on our sovereign territory, repeatedly, and burned innocent caravans. Stopped perhaps only because the one power they have never been able to asail, did not like how close they were to their lands.”
“Allegedly,” Oradin countered. “The one band caught with outside assistance were outlaws from Helm. Even if the others were as you say, it seems Osyrae is intent to play games of subterfuge. There is little I can do to prevent such acts, only respond. Clearly the Council has some concern they might bypass simple border disputes, and try something more direct.”
“Once again you bring such matters to open court,” the King said with thinly restrained anger. “One wonders why you persist in stirring the fears of this court, rather than holding proper, and private council.”
“Your resistance to Council wishes has been noticed, and noted,” Oradin said standing up very straight. “It was deemed appropriate. That an open announcement would prevent any attempt to quietly dissuade me, from my appointed presence. Have your Court Mage, verify my orders.”
“Your appointed presence, then can be with the gate guard,” the King said coldly. “Feel free to ward the walls, and sleep very near, to keep watch.”
Oradin’s cheek twitched. “Of course, your Majesty.”
“Katrisha, if you would see to the Council’s official word on the mater.”
“Of course,” she said, and bowed. “At once, my King.”
Katrisha and Oradin exchanged one last hateful glare, before each turned, and walked in opposite directions out of the throne room. She was fuming as she reached the top of the royal stair. Her temper got the better of her, and she struck a stone in the wall with far more force than she meant to, a spell weaving instinctively around her fist, the only thing that kept her from shattering the bones. The stone, did not fair nearly so well.
She stopped, and stared at the web of cracks that radiated from the point of impact. She was distracted from feeling bad for the damage, and her lost temper, by the strangeness of it. She traced the cracks with her finger, and tried to figure out what she was looking at. It looked familiar. She wasn’t even sure what the spell she had used on instinct had been. She tried to form it again, but it didn’t quite take proper shape. Like a half mocking image of the damage she had done to the wall. It looked more like the work of her sister, or Katherine’s unstable clever experiments, but more rigid. Like she wasn’t getting it right.
She shook her head, and wove a spell to knit the damaged stone back together. Some had been lost, or turned to dust, but only a hair’s thickness spread across the uneven stone. Once the damage was repaired she could barely tell it had been done, save how smooth the patch was. She moved on, more measured in her ire, but even more bothered by her outburst.
Laurels parting words were not helping her mood, and yet felt all the more necessary. She would confirm as ordered, but she had no doubt of the response. She did not trust the Council. Less though, did she trust Oradin. The single glove he wore bothered her. It was mildly enchanted, but the enchantment seemed to not do anything. Maybe a standard protection spell to keep it clean and durable. Why the glove though? She had not really noticed it before, but in retrospect it seemed he had been wearing it only since his return.
Stopped, mulled her own thoughts over on last time, and turned suddenly off the stairs of the west tower. She stepped through a door distractedly, words already coming out of her mouth. “Have you noticed the glove?” Katrisha asked, having burst into Mercu’s room, and froze as she found a naked middle aged woman posed half covered by a blanket, and quickly more covered. Mercu pursed his lips, and made several more brush strokes on the canvas, before rinsing the brush.
“You’ve seen her in less, you know,” Mercu finally said to his guest. “I saw you at the testing.”
The woman’s mortified expression slowly cracked, and Katrisha – red as she was – laughed as well nervously, and averted her gaze.
“You can dress behind the screen,” he added, and she clutched up the blanket, recovered her clothes, and scurried across the room. He turned, and glanced at Katrisha. “You really do need to remember to knock,” he said in only the mildest chiding tone, clearly amused himself, somewhere under his measured expression. “I have found it to be a very inconsistent trait in your character.”
“I…sorry, I was on the way to the tower, to confirm Oradin’s permanent appointment to the court, and it occured to me. He’s wearing one glove.”
“That’s news,” Mercu said in a forced even tone.
“It is a lower appointment. Still, the glove though, have you noticed it?”
“I’ve seen it as a style before. Often clarion. One hand in this world, one hand out.”
Katrisha pursed her lips. She thought about it, and had seen a few people in South Rook do so. All very high lords, and barons. Castor himself. She didn’t buy it though. Oradin had not on all prior meetings adopted the style. He had been visiting the Nohrook Cloister, and his brother before arriving, or so the rumors said. Some deeper suden devotion was possible, but she didn’t like it. There was something about the enchantment, that all easy explanations failed. It didn’t seem like it did anything.
The maid outfit stepped out from behind the screen, and finished straightening her hair and uniform as walked across the room, leaned down, and kissed Mercu’s cheek. She stood back up, and fixed Katrisha with a hard to read look. She strolled toward the door purposefully, and Katrisha stepped out of the way. The woman caught the door, and leaned closer. Using the door to draw Katrisha to her.
“Did you like what you saw?” she asked, and Katrisha balked at her. The maid held her gaze a moment, seemed unsatisfied by the reaction, left, and closed the door behind her.
Katrisha screwed up her lips, and glared at Mercu. “Have rumors gotten out?”
“Not that I’ve noticed,” Mercu said plainly. “Yet one need not be betrayed, to betray oneself. Extra sheet changings for a tower chamber. One maid on call for the work. She’s posed for me too, if you want me to break the rules to give you comfort. She is a loyal girl, but far too young for my tastes. Still, a lovely subject.”
He got up, and walked across the room. He shuffled through some paintings, plucked one out, and revealed a painting of a woman who Katrisha all to suddenly knew she loved, as a small pang of jealousy undercut how perfectly Mercu had rendered her sheepish expression.
“You do know you are not the only one who’s sheet’s she’s changing, don’t you?” he pressed.
“Yes,” Katrisha said measuredly.
Mercu shook his head. “Laurel is right, you know,” he said with a sigh. “You are more my daughter than I surely could have sired myself. You are ok with it, aren’t you?”
“Mostly,” Katrisha said. “I have to be. My whole heart can’t belong to her…to either of them,” she admitted a bit pained.
“But you can’t help it if a bit does, can you?” Mercu said, and put the painting back away.
“No. Almost the moment I lay my eyes on… Even cursed Charles,” Katrisha said with clenched fists. “Even after. No matter how much I want to hate him.”
“There are those of us,” Mercu said. “Well, my philosophy. You are welcome to your own. Who are far too good at seeing the humanity in people. Who even under all the parts that agitate us, we still somehow love. Love almost everyone really. Some like brothers, daughters, fathers, mothers…some, far more…longingly.”
“Yes,” Katrisha said. “I think that sums it up. You, too?”
Mercu wobbled his head. “It’s not instant, but it is very quick. Not the moment I lay my eyes on them, as you say, usually, but by the end of a conversation. Yes.”
“I know on sight,” Katrisha said more non-comitally. “I don’t know how I feel about it, but I know. It’s sure not always a simple feeling.”
Mercu shook his head. “The glove,” he said changing the subject. “Now that our little spy has stopped listening.”
Katrisha glanced behind her at the still closed door.
“The glove is concerning, yes. Enchanted, but I’m going to guess you will tell me it doesn’t seem to do anything?”
“Yes. You could notice?”
“Sometimes. Confirm for me. The shoes? Anything of the robe above the hem?”
“No,” Katrisha said, thinking back. I don’t think so, just the cloak, the glove, and the hem of his robe.”
“Actual tradition is not to enchant the gloves. To show you how filthy, and filled with decay the world is, and challenge you not to dirty it I think. Some favor black gloves, but most white. Particularly in Nohrook. Many high adherent Clarions keep enchantments away from their skin. Fearing the entropic influence. The hem, and the cloak. Typical. Not the shoes, but the glove? No, it doesn’t fit.”
“So he’s hiding something?” Katrisha asked.
“Oh, that man is hiding a great many things,” Mercu said, rubbed his chin, and tapped his lip. “He’s better at most. This is not planned as well as he wanted. You’ve disliked him enough without my help, but if he has been appointed to court, and nor the border. Well, it’s time you knew that. However suspicious you are, be more so.”
“What should we do?” Katrisha asked.
“Confirm with the council, and use backup codes,” Mercu said with a more serious expression than Katrisha was used to seeing. “Set wards on the door lock that you can tell if they have been disrupted.”
⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃
Katrisha put the stone back in it’s case, and rubbed her forehead. Every code confirmed, backups switched, new backups provided. Even if Oradin had hijacked the stone, it was very unlikely he had done so long enough ago to have that information. Unless he had gotten it from the council in the first place. It wasn’t a replacement appointment, supplemental. Supplemental appointees had ranks lower than knight’s adorned. It was a dangerous move closer, if he had plans, but it was not a bald faced grab for power either.
She looked up at a knock at the door. She walked over, and felt a familiar presence through the door. She hadn’t really noticed it before. Ungifted so rarely had one. Her’s…it was strange, it was that moment with her hand on her cheek, a warmth there, and the warmth of a living thing near, but nearer than she actually was. Katrisha unlatched the door, opened it, and stared at Maeren who was holding her arm nervously.
“Mercu said, you were up here,” Maeren said through pursed lips. “He was waiting in your room.”
“I’ve not betrayed you, anymore than you have me,” Katrisha said. “By that, I mean we betrayed ourselves. The sheets.”
Maeren winced. “How many know?”
“Probably just your fellow maids who know the rules, and Mercu,” Katrisha answered. “Who it seems does too. Guess I always should have known.”
“He was only interested in me for my beauty,” Maeren said tight lipped. “Which I protested was nonsense, but…I probably would have,” she added. “He made me look so beautiful in that painting.”
“You’ll forgive me if I’m glad you didn’t, that would be awkward for me,” Katrisha said measuredly.
Maeren stepped closer, and took the very position her presence promised. Stood looking into Katrisha’s eyes, her hand on her cheek, her lips close, but not touching. Perhaps it was because she so unfailingly went to that moment, and held there. Her presence could be recognized, and that became a memory of how she so often placed herself. Like a rune in a spell, a sequence unfolding into expected conclusion. It was an odd thought.
“Is it too awkward?” she asked.
“They’ve all seen me naked,” Katrisha countered. “Is that too awkward for you?”
Maeren bit her lip, and shook her head.
⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃
Estae 13th, 650 E.R.
It was earnest, sincere, but not quite desperate, as Katrisha caught Maeren’s shoulder before she could escape her bed. It took the woman a moment to meet Katrisha’s eyes, and riddle over what lay behind them. They weren’t entirely human, and those little things that didn’t quite belong, they made one have to look all the longer, and see all the more deeply just how human they were.
“Nothing matters beyond this bed, these walls,” Katrisha added. “This, this is life. Stay with me, and forget the world.” She was trying to sound playful, it wasn’t working.
“You said you did not wish to be possessive,” Maeren chided.
“Then possess me,” Katrisha teased, and nervously smirked.
Maeren brushed back Katrisha’s hair, and half smiled at her. “What of your other love, not really even so far from here?”
“Let her come, and join us, and together we will all forget that anything else exists.”
“Cheeky girl, you would have us share you?” Maeren pulled away, and crossed her arms.
“Do you not already? Do I not share you each with others already? Let us all fall together, and belong to one another. Nothing else could matter.”
“And Osyrae, and its ever looming war?” Maeren pressed.
“Should they want it, then let them not have it,” Katrisha said firmly. “Let them have the world instead. Seems a fitting headache for them. They cannot fight us if we do not contest it.”
“A plausible argument, but you would trust them to rule?”
“Need I trust anyone? Even the King? He abides the Clarions. The Council abides them, and sends them to our court. I dare say let the Osyraens deal with them. I do not imagine they would be kind to these endless games. Do you know the Sisterhood walks Osyrae unimpeded, but the Clarions are kept on the tightest of leashes? Even then their words most often fall on deaf ears. Osyrae for all their scheming, for all their evil deeds…they treasure this world. They do not wish to abandon it.”
“Yet they do – as you say – such evil things, to claim their prize.”
“I have heard the words of evil men in our lands all the same. Surely you know of affairs in South Rook? It was Kiannae and I who heard a Duke and Baron plot to punish innocents, and reward the crimes of killers. There will always be evil men in this world, what do I care what banner they stand under? They just need to learn, once they have it, that they were fools to ever want it. Forget them all, and stay with me.”
“I would love nothing more, than to lay in your arms, and belong to you, or even you and your other little miss,” Maeren said, bit her lip, and kissed Katrisha softly. There was such joy in her eyes, but it was tempered. “You know I must go,” Maeren responded kindly. “What power you have, cannot keep me in this court, if I do not play my part. No more than it has yet returned your Celia to your bed.”
“What if I can? What if I do?” Katrisha half teased, but meant it more so.
“Accomplish this impossible thing, and the other, and we will discuss all that is then surely doable. Reign as Queen, and I shall gladly stand your concubine.”
“Not Queen Consort?” Katrisha countered, smiling smugly.
“Would you raise me so? I seem ill fit. What of Celia? Why not her?”
“Who – so long as we dream of impossible things – is to say I need have one consort? Nay if a land may have two Queens, I say let it have three. Then who better to be the voice of the people, than my consort who has lived as one of them, and at my other hand a kind, wise, spiritual advisor.”
“Then you shall need to fight Osyrae, if not the Council to keep your trice anointed Queendom.”
“Then at last I shall have one, worthy to fight for.”
Maeren kissed Katrisha long, and hard, till she was thoroughly disarmed, and the maid could slip quickly from her lover’s bed, and bound away playfully. “You’ve your task, my Queen.” She bowed with absurd extremity. “See it is done, and you may keep me so long in your bed as you please. Till then, in the mornings I must go.” She gathered her clothes, and began to dress.
“You tempt me,” Katrisha said, laying across her bed, leaned on one arm, and watched appreciatively.
“Tempt, tempt,” Maeren laughed heartily, and glanced back over her shoulder.