How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 27


Royal Palace,

City of Talkyra,

Kingdom of Delferahk


          Thunder rumbled far out over Lake Erdan, and multi-forked tongues of lightning glared down the heavens. Heavy waves broke on the reed-grown shore far below the hanging turret, and Princess Irys Daykyn propped her elbows on the windowsill as she leaned out into the rough-armed wind. It slapped at her cheeks and whipped her hair, and she slitted her hazel eyes against its exuberant power.

          The rain would be along soon. She could already smell its dampness and a hint of ozone on the wind, and her gaze searched the heavy-bellied clouds, watching them flash as more lightning danced above them without ever quite breaking free. She envied those clouds, that wind. Envied their freedom . . . and their power.

          The air was chill, cool enough to be actively uncomfortable to her Corisandian-trained weather sense. March was one of the hot months in Manchyr, although the city was so close to the equator that seasonal variations were actually minimal. Irys had seen snow only two or three times in her entire life, on trips to the Barcor Mountains with her parents before her mother’s death. Prince Hektor had never taken her back there after her mother died, and Irys wondered sometimes if that was because he’d had no heart to visit his wife’s favorite vacation spot without her . . . or if he’d simply no longer been able to find the time. He’d been busy, after all.

          Thunder crashed louder than before, and she saw the darkness in the air out over the lake where a wall of rain advanced slowly towards the castle and the city of Talkyra. It was rather like her life, she thought, that steadily oncoming darkness moving towards her while she could only stand and watch it come. This castle had been supposed to be a place of refuge, a fortress to protect her and her baby brother from the ruthless emperor who’d had her father and her older brother murdered. She’d never wanted to come, never wanted to leave her father’s side, but he’d insisted. And it had been her responsibility, too. Someone had to look out for Daivyn. He was such a little boy, so young to be so valuable a pawn and have so many deadly enemies. And now the refuge felt all too much like a prison, the fortress too much like a trap.

          She’d had time to think. In fact, she’d had entirely too much of it in the months she’d spent with her brother as “guests” of their kinsman, King Zhames of Delferahk. Months to wonder if they’d escaped one danger only to walk straight into one far worse. Months for her brain to beat against the bars of a cage only she could see. To think about why her father had sent her and Daivyn away. And, perhaps worse, to think about who and what her father had truly been.

          She hated those thoughts, she admitted, gazing unflinchingly into the heart of the oncoming storm. They felt disloyal, wrong. She’d loved her father, and she knew he’d loved her. There was no doubt in her mind about that. And he’d tutored her well in the arts of politics and strategy — as well as if it might have been possible for her to inherit his crown. Yet her very love for him had kept her from looking at him as clearly and fearlessly as she now contemplated the lightning and rain sweeping towards her across the enormous lake. He’d been a good prince in so many ways, but now, trapped in Delferahk, fearing for her brother’s life, she realized there’d been a side of him she’d never seen.

          Was it because I didn’t want to see it? Because I loved him too much? Wanted him to always be the perfect prince, the perfect father, I thought he was?

          She didn’t know. She might never know. Yet once the questions were asked, they could never be unasked, and she’d begun to consider things she’d never considered before. Like the fact that her father had been a tyrant. A benign tyrant in Corisande, perhaps, yet still a tyrant. And however benign he might have been within his own princedom, he’d been nothing of the sort outside it. She thought about his ruthless subjugation of Zebediah, his rivalries with King Sailys of Chisholm and King Haarahld of Charis. His ambition for empire and his intrigues and relentless drive to accomplish it. The bribes he’d paid to vicars and other senior churchmen to influence them against Charis.

          None of that had made him a bad father. Oh, she could see now how the time he’d invested in his machinations had been stolen from his family. Was that one of the reasons her older brother had been such a disappointment to him? Because he’d been too busy building his realm to spend enough time in teaching the boy who would someday inherit it to be the man capable of ruling it? Perhaps he’d spent so much more time with Irys because she was his daughter, and fathers doted on daughters. Or perhaps because she reminded him so much of her mother. Or perhaps simply because she was his firstborn, the child given to him before ambition had narrowed his horizons so sharply.

          She’d never know about that, either. Not now. Yet she believed he’d truly done his best for his children. It might not have been exactly what they needed from him, but it had been the very best he could give them, and she would never question his love for her or her love for him.

          Yet she’d come to the conclusion that she dared not allow love to blind her any longer. The world was a larger, and a more complex, and an infinitely more dangerous place than even she had realized, and if she and her brother —  her rightful prince, despite his youth — were to survive in it, she could cling to no illusions about who might be her enemies, who might claim to be her friends, and why. She knew Phylyp Ahzgood, the man her father had chosen as his children’s guardian and adviser, had always seen the world — and her father — more clearly than she. And she suspected he’d been trying as gently as possible to train her eyes to see as his did.

          I’ll try, Phylyp, she thought now as the first heavy raindrops pattered against the stonework and splashed her cheeks. I’ll try. I only hope we have the time for me to learn your lessons.

* * * * * * * * * *

          “Is she hanging out the window again, Tobys?” Phylyp Ahzgood, the Earl of Coris, asked wryly.

          “Couldn’t say as how she’s hanging out the window, My Lord,” Tobys Raimair replied in a judicious tone. He stroked his walrus mustache thoughtfully, bald head gleaming in the lamplight. “Might be she’s closed it by now. Might be she hasn’t, too.” He shrugged. “Girl misses the weather, if you’ll pardon my saying so.”

          “I know she does,” Coris said, and smiled sadly. “You should’ve seen her in Corisande, Tobys. I swear she spent every minute she could on horseback somewhere. Either that, or sailing in the bay. It used to drive Prince Hektor’s guardsmen crazy trying to keep an eye on her!”

          “Aye?” Raimair cocked his head, still stroking his mustache, then chuckled. “Aye, I can believe that. Wish to Langhorne she could do the same thing here, too!”

          “You and I both,” Coris said. “You and I both. But even if the King would let her, we couldn’t, could we?”

          “No, I don’t suppose we could, My Lord,” Raimair agreed heavily.

          They looked at one another in silence for several seconds. It would have been difficult to imagine a greater contrast between two men. Coris was fair-haired, of no more than average build, possibly even a bit on the slender side, aristocratically groomed and dressed in the height of fashion. Raimair looked like exactly what he was: a veteran of thirty years’ service in the Corisandian Army. Dark-eyed, powerfully built, plainly dressed, he was as tough in both mind and body as he looked. He was also, as Captain Zhoel Harys had said when he recommended Raimair to Coris as Irys’ bodyguard, “good with his hands.”