Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 20

Irys smiled faintly.

“I’m sure it did . . . sometimes, My Lady. But as you say, not always.”

“No,” Mairah agreed. “The thing is, though,” she turned her head to look into Irys’ hazel eyes with a gentle smile of her own, “that until she did try talking to someone about it, she could never really know whether this was one of the times it would help.”

Their eyes held for a moment, and then Mairah’s smile faded.

“You’re still worried about how she felt about her father, Your Highness.” She shook her head ever so slightly when Irys opened her mouth. “Of course you are.” She shrugged, never looking away from the princess. “When there’s been so much hatred for so long, so much bloodshed — when two families have stored up so many mutual wrongs — it has to be that way. And, if I’m going to be honest, I’d have to admit I believe Sharley — Her Majesty, I mean — had much more cause to hate your father than he ever had to hate her. For that matter, I won’t pretend that if your father had come into her power, she wouldn’t have found it very, very difficult not to take his head and call it justice, not vengeance.”

“And would you have agreed with her, My Lady?” Irys asked, so quietly her voice was scarcely audible through the sounds of wind and wave.

“I’m a Chisholmian, Your Highness. King Sailys was my King, not just my cousin’s friend. And I was over twenty when he died. I knew him — knew him personally, not just as a king — as well as how he came to be where he was and die the way he did. So, yes.” She met Irys’ gaze very levelly. “Yes, I would’ve called it justice. Perhaps it would’ve been vengeance, as well, but it would’ve been just, wouldn’t it?”

Their eyes held for a long, still moment, and then Irys’ lips trembled and her gaze fell.

“Sometimes justice seems to solve so very little,” she half-whispered, and Mairah touched her shoulder gently. She looked up again, and the older woman’s eyes were as gentle as her touch had been.

“Sometimes justice solves nothing at all,” she said. “And vengeance solves even less. Have you heard how Sharleyan addressed your brother’s subjects after one of them attempted to assassinate her on her very throne?”

“No.” Irys shook her head, her folded hands tightening on one another. She hadn’t learned of that assassination attempt until after she’d reached Destiny, and a part of her dreaded the way that experience must have hardened Sharleyan Ahrmahk’s hatred for the princedom of her birth.

“I wasn’t there myself,” Mairah said, “but the clerks took down a transcript of every one of her sessions sitting in judgment . . . including that one. She’d just pardoned four convicted traitors, and when she looked at the body of the man who’d tried to kill her, she said ‘Surely God weeps to see such violence loosed among His children.’ And then she said ‘Despite anything the Group of Four may say, God does not call us to exult in the blood and agony of our enemies!'”

“She did?” Irys’ eyes widened, and Mairah nodded.

“She did. And she meant it. Empress Sharleyan is a good hater, Your Highness, but it’s hard to make her hate in the first place. If that’s what you truly want, then you harm someone she loves or victimize the weak, but I doubt you’ll enjoy the experience in the end. She hated your father because he’d hurt someone she loved and because — much as I realize you loved him — he victimized a great many people weaker than he was. But she hated him, and because of what he’d done, not you or your brother, and she isn’t one to visit vengeance upon someone’s children or family. Neither is Emperor Cayleb — if for no other reason, because neither of them would stoop so low as to take vengeance upon an innocent for someone else’s crime. But it goes deeper than that, as well, especially with Sharleyan.”

“Why?” Irys asked simply, and Mairah smiled sadly.

“Because you and she are so much alike. Because she lost her father early, and she knows the pain that brings. Because she knows who was truly behind his murder, and who planned your brother’s murder, as well, and she is a good hater when it comes to the viciousness of a man who could kill a little boy out of cold, calculating ambition. Because people have tried to murder Cayleb, the man she loves, and she’s seen the cost of that, as well. And because people’ve tried to murder her, not just once, but four times — twice in the last five years, plus the two assassination attempts her Guard defeated before she was fifteen years old. Your Highness, her own uncle tried to have her murdered — or, at least, aided those who wanted her dead, whether that was his own intention or not — and the only reason I’m alive, most probably, is because her uncle was also my cousin’s friend and he ‘arranged’ the riding accident that left me with a broken leg when Sharleyan made her trip to Saint Agtha’s. But the stories you may’ve heard about Saint Agtha’s — the stories about how she picked up her dead armsmen’s muskets and killed at least a dozen of the assassins herself . . . they’re true, Your Highness. She knows what you’ve felt about your father, and she knows how terrified you’ve been, how desperate to protect your brother. She’s felt those things herself, and I promise you this — no matter what may lie between the House of Daykyn and the House of Tayt or the House of Ahrmahk, my Empress will never allow harm to come to you or to Daivyn. If the need were to arise, she would pick up a musket — or a rock, if that was the only weapon she could find — and defend both of you just as she and her armsmen defended one another at Saint Agtha’s. She couldn’t do anything else and still be who she is.”

Irys gazed at her, tasting the iron certainty in her words. Lady Hanth might be mistaken; she wasn’t lying, and Irys smiled a bit tremulously as she reached up to cover the hand on her shoulder with her own palm. She started to say something, but then she stopped, gave her head a little shake, and inhaled deeply. She squeezed the older woman’s hand, and then turned back to gaze at the passing fortress once more.

“I wonder if Daivyn’s finished pestering Lieutenant Aplyn-Ahrmahk out of all patience yet?” she said instead.