Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 43

Irys’ heart leapt when he mentioned Corisande, but she tried — almost successfully — to keep that response from showing in her expression or her eyes. Was it possible she and Daivyn would be permitted –?

Don’t be silly, she told herself. Yes, the Archbishop — and Cayleb and Sharleyan — have treated both of you far more gently than you expected. But they aren’t going to let you return home without first making damned sure you won’t do anything to . . . destabilize their control. Archbishop Maikel may travel to Manchyr, but you won’t.

She knew it was true, and she knew the logic which made it so was irrefutable. That she would have made exactly the same decision, no matter how kind she might have wanted to be. She even knew Daivyn would be far happier to be allowed to remain a boy a few months longer, rather than be trapped in the role of a child monarch in the hands of a Regency Council over which he had no control. But it still hurt.

Maybe it does, but at least you’ll still be together, you’ll both still be alive, and Chisholm’s much closer to home. Maybe it won’t feel quite as lonely there as it did in Delferahk.

“Thank you for telling me, Your Eminence,” she said finally. “I appreciate the warning. Can you tell me when we’ll be departing?”

“Not for certain, Your Highness. There are several details that still need arranging. Lady Hanth’s travel plans, for example.”

“Lady Hanth’s? Lady Mairah is coming with us?” Irys heard the happiness and relief in her own voice, and Staynair smiled.

“Yes, or that’s the plan right now, at any rate. Emperor Cayleb’s recalled Earl Hanth to active duty — you knew he was a Marine before he became Earl, I believe?” He paused until she nodded, then shrugged. “Well, it seems Their Majesties have decided his services could be very useful in Siddarmark, and to be brutally honest, the Empire’s going to need every experienced Marine it can lay hands on for the summer campaign. So, since he’s going to be out of the Old Kingdom anyway, Lady Hanth is taking her stepsons to meet her parents and her cousin, Baron Green Mountain.” His expression saddened. “She may not have another opportunity for them to meet the Baron, I’m afraid.”

Irys nodded in understanding. Mahrak Sahndyrs, Empress Sharleyan’s first councilor in Chisholm, had been savagely wounded in one of the terrorist attacks which had swept through the Empire. He’d been too badly injured to continue as first councilor, and he’d been replaced by Braisyn Byrns, the Earl of White Crag, who’d been Sharleyan’s Lord Justice. White Crag had been replaced in turn as Lord Justice by Sylvyst Mhardyr, the Baron of Stoneheart, and although she and Phylyp Ahzgood had enjoyed a quiet chuckle over a kingdom’s chief magistrate being known as “Lord Justice Stoneheart,” he was actually an excellent choice, an intelligent and humane man with a strong legal background and over twenty years’ experience on the Queen’s Bench.

“I didn’t realize Baron Green Mountain had been injured quite that severely,” she said now.

“Well, reports at this distance tend to get garbled or exaggerated. It’s quite possible we’re being overly pessimistic. But I won’t deny that the Baron’s health is one reason the Empress is determined to set out for Chisholm as soon as possible.” Staynair smiled again, with a sort of wry sadness. “I doubt she’d be leaving, despite that, if Cayleb weren’t going to be called away from Tellesberg, as well. The amount of time they have to spend apart from one another to make the Empire work is hard — very hard — on both of them. It’s not often a marriage of state turns into the kind of love match that litters so many children’s tales, but in this case, it truly has.”

Irys nodded again. She’d seen enough of the emperor and empress to know what Staynair had just said was no more than the simple truth. And everyone in Charis seemed to know it as well as the archbishop did. In fact, Irys had come to the conclusion that the deep and obvious love between them — and the fact that they were so willing to let that love show — was a huge part of the magic which bound their subjects to them like iron. And the fact that Sharleyan had willingly come from distant Chisholm to stand beside their youthful king in the teeth of the Inquisition and hell itself had forged a fierce, fiery devotion to her in the hearts of Old Charisians of every kind, clergy, commoners, and peers alike.

They really are the kind of characters you only meet in legend, aren’t they?

Larger-than-life, beautiful, fearless, determined, beloved by their subjects . . . no wonder so many of their people are ready to walk straight into the fire at their heels, face even the Inquisition and the Punishment of Schueler at their side! Father’s subjects loved him, too, but not the same way. They respected him, they trusted him — in Corisande itself, at least — but they didn’t love him the way Charisians love Cayleb and Sharleyan. And whatever the Inquisition says, it’s not sorcery, it’s not some malign influence from Shan-wei or any of the other Fallen. It’s just who they are — what they are. And I wish . . . I wish some of that same magic would touchme.

Her eyes widened as she realized what she’d just thought, yet it was true. She envied them — envied them their love and their obvious courage, the depth of their faith and the strength of their combined will. The love of their subjects, the loyalty of their followers . . . and the certainty of their purpose. Their steadfast, unflinching commitment to all they believed and held dear. They might yet prove wrong, might yet discover that whatever they thought, they truly had served Shan-wei and not Langhorne. But mistaken or not, they served their beliefs with a bright, ardent intensity Irys Daykyn could only envy in a world in which so much certainty had disappeared into confusion and hatred and bloodshed.

No wonder she wanted some of that magic, that flame of reflected legend and bright honor, to touch her. It was, she realized wonderingly, what bound all their followers to them — that aspiration to be worthy of them as they had proven they were worthy of their crowns. The intensity of that awareness shook her to the bone, like some silent whirlwind, and in that moment, she recognized its seduction. To seize upon something, anything, that gave purpose and certainty and honor to a life in the midst of all the bewilderment and doubt — who could not crave that? How could anyone not long to say as Cayleb Ahrmahk had said into the teeth of the Grand Inquisitor himself, with scorching, fearless honesty “Here I stand; I can do no other”?

Back away, Irys, she told herself. Back away. Yes, you want it, but you need to think about why. You need to understand what’s driving that hunger. It’s too seductive, too strong. Father Davys would tell you you’re succumbing to all the undeniable goodness within Cayleb and Sharleyan, just as they themselves have been seduced into Shan-wei’s service through their very love of their people. It isn’t through the Darkness in our hearts that Shan-wei takes us; it’s the Light within us that she twists and perverts and uses against us.

“I hope the reports about Baron Green Mountain are wrong, Your Eminence,” she heard herself saying out loud. “Father had very few good words to say about him, I’m afraid, but even he admitted there’d never been a more capable or loyal first councilor in the entire world.”

“No, there hasn’t. And it’s particularly sad that Cayleb and Sharleyan have both lost the services of first councilors of whom that could’ve been said. But it’s even worse in her case, I think. She hasn’t completely lost him yet, of course, but he was effectively her second father after her own father’s death.”

“I can see that,” Irys said, her heart twisting as she thought of Phylyp Ahzgood and all he’d come to mean to her, and touched the archbishop’s forearm again, impulsively. “I can see that. And would you tell Her Majesty for me, please, that I’ll be remembering the Baron in my prayers?”

“I’m sure she’ll be grateful to hear that, Your Highness.” Staynair patted her hand briefly, then looked back across the crowded harbor.