Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 19

“I don’t want to see them lose any more, either, Your Grace,” he said after a moment, then smiled quirkily. “On the other hand, I am their legal guardian and chief political advisor. I don’t doubt, somehow, that my notion of ‘any more’ probably won’t be exactly the same as the Empire of Charis’ notion.”

“Neither do I, My Lord,” Aplyn-Ahrmahk acknowledged with a grunt of laughter. “Neither do I.”

* * * * * * * * * *

“I don’t know how big those guns are, Daivyn,” Irys Daykyn said as patiently as she could. “Why don’t you go ask Hektor — I mean Lieutenant Aplyn-Ahrmahk? I’m sure he knows.”

“Can I?” Daivyn looked at that her, then shifted his gaze to the blonde-haired, gray-eyed woman beside his sister. “I promise not to get tar all over my pants, Lady Mairah — really I do!”

“Your Highness, you’re a ten year old on a sailing ship,” Lady Mairah Breygart, the Countess of Hanth, pointed out with a smile. “One ounce of encouragement and you’ll be swarming up the ratlines like a spider monkey, and you and I both know it, don’t we?” She shook her head. “You really shouldn’t go around making promises you can’t keep.”

“But I promise to try really hard!” He shot back with a smile of his own. “That should count for something!

“Miscreant!” Countess Hanth smacked him on top of his head with a chuckle, then threw up both hands. “A charming miscreant, though. Go ahead — pester the Lieutenant. Maybe he’ll toss you overboard and your sister and I will get some rest.”

“I’m a really good swimmer, you know!” the prince assured her over his shoulder, his smile turning into a triumphant grin as he trotted quickly away.

“Is he really?” Lady Hanth asked, cocking an eyebrow at Irys.

“Not as good as he thinks he is . . . but probably a better one than I’m willing to admit, My Lady.” Irys shrugged, watching him slide to a halt by Aplyn-Ahrmahk, grab the lieutenant by the sleeve, and start gesticulating enthusiastically in the direction of the fortress. “He’d be perfectly willing to jump off the ship and swim to that island for a closer look at the artillery.”

“I shudder to think what’s going to happen when we finally get around to introducing him to young Haarahld,” Lady Hanth said, watching the same tableau. “Tell me, has Daivyn discovered marsh wyvern or duck hunting yet?”

“King Zhames wouldn’t’ve dreamed of letting him out with a firearm in his hands,” Irys replied with much less amusement. “And he was too small for anything like that before we left Corisande, of course.”

“Of course.” Lady Hanth agreed. If she was aware of Irys’ changing mood, she gave no sign of it. “I wonder if I’ll be able to convince Cayleb and Sharleyan to let the two of you spend some time with us at Breygart House? Young Haarahld’s only about a year older than he is, and Trumyn just turned nine. The three of them would have a wonderful time tearing around the countryside together, and Haarahld and his brother Styvyn — Styvyn’s only a year or two younger than you are, Your Highness — are both already accomplished hunters. Well, enthusiastic ones, in Haarahld’s case, anyway. I’m sure we’d have to take along an entire Guard company as bodyguards, but Hauwerd swears by the marsh wyvern hunting around Lake Zhym. I understand it’s a great deal of fun, and while I’ve never quite grasped the reasoning behind that myself, he seems delighted by it for some reason.” She rolled her gray eyes expressively. “I know he — and the boys — always come home covered in mud with all sorts of explanations for why the really big marsh wyverns got away from them this time, at any rate.”

Irys chuckled, the shadows retreating from her eyes.

“I imagine Daivyn would enjoy that a lot, My Lady. Assuming the Emperor and the Empress really would let him.”

“Oh, I imagine I could talk Her Majesty into it if I put my mind to it. I’ve known her a long time, you know.”

Irys nodded. If anything, “a long time” was a gross understatement, for Lady Mairah Lywkys had been Queen Sharleyan of Chisholm’s senior lady-in-waiting. A much younger cousin of Baron Green Mountain, Mairah was a decade senior to Sharleyan, and in many ways she’d been the older sister the youthful queen had never had. Mairah had accompanied Sharleyan to Charis to meet her betrothed husband, Cayleb Ahrmahk, and she walked with a slight but permanent limp from the “riding accident” which had prevented her from accompanying Sharleyan to Saint Agtha’s for the visit which had almost ended in the empress’ death.

Since that episode, Sharleyan had decided to dispense with formal ladies-in-waiting entirely. Charisian practice had never involved the crowds of nobly born attendants the mainland realms enshrined, and the Empress had become a firm proponent of Charisian traditions in that regard. Chisholm had been closer to the mainland in that respect, but she’d never really liked surrounding herself with ladies-in-waiting — an attitude which had hardened into steely determination since her unexpected ascent to the throne, when she’d been forced to fend off the sort of fluttery attendants most courtiers would have considered suitable for a twelve year-old queen.

As part of that campaign, she’d fought hard to convince Green Mountain to make Mairah her chief lady-in-waiting. The baron had resisted the idea, fearing the possible political repercussions if it had seemed he was deliberately surrounding Sharleyan with his own adherents and supporters. But Sharleyan had insisted, and Mairah had served as the child-queen’s buttress against all those other attendants, which explained why Sharleyan had insisted upon bringing her to Tellesberg with her when she’d gleefully left every other lady-in-waiting home in Chisholm. She hadn’t had any of those ladies shipped to Tellesberg since, either. Nor had she selected any Old Charisian ladies to add to Mairah. In fact, Irys suspected, the empress’ deep affection for Lady Hanth was the only reason Sharleyan had delayed two years after her wedding — until Mairah’s own wedding to the Earl of Hanth — before formally abolishing the post entirely.

Lady Hanth hadn’t explained any of that to Irys, but Phylyp Ahzgood hadn’t been her father’s spymaster for so many years without learning a great deal about the Kingdom of Chisholm’s internal dynamics. It hadn’t taken him long to update his information on her, and Irys agreed with his analysis. Having Mairah Lywkys Breygart named as Irys’ official “companion” (since the term “lady-in-waiting” had been so . . . enthusiastically eliminated by Empress Sharleyan) was almost certainly a good sign.


hope it is, anyway, she thought, gazing across the water at the slowly passing island. Phylyp’s right about this being the best option open to us, but “best” doesn’t necessarily mean “good.” And Hektor’s a good man, like Seijin Merlin, and he obviously trusts Cayleb and Sharleyan. But still, they’re both Charisians and

“Sharleyan used to have an expression just like that when she was worried,” Mairah said thoughtfully. Irys glanced quickly sideways, but all she saw was Lady Hanth’s profile, for the older woman’s eyes were fixed on Lock Island. “About half the time,” she continued in that same considering tone, “if anyone could convince her discussing what worried her wasn’t a sign of weakness, she’d find out it wasn’t quite as bad as she’d thought it was while she was wrestling with it on her own. Not always, of course. But sometimes.”