The Seer – Snippet 42
Innel would need to get the generals on his side, and quickly. Lismar, the king’s sister, first and foremost. Make a point of showing great humility. Have it known he was only complying with the king’s direct command.
A tricky prospect, politically. It would take a not insignificant amount of effort to arrange. But it could be done.
Cern was watching him, waiting for an answer.
“It would be my great honor to serve the crown,” he finished.
“Yes,” she agreed, shortly, but she did not sound happy.
“What is it, my lady?” he asked, unable to contain his tension at this unexpected reaction. “Do you think it is a bad decision?”
It wasn’t. The more he thought about it, the more convinced he was that it was a good outcome. A far better one than to promote him to colonel or even general. He was, after all, marrying the heir to the throne.
She stood, her hands waving about aimlessly, a motion that signified frustration. She turned away, took a bite of a smoked cheese flower and chewed slowly.
That she was not looking at him was not a good sign. With effort he said nothing, knowing better than to press.
“I’m to offer it to you,” she said at last.
“You? Forgive me, my lady, but you are no –”
A sharp gesture cut him off. “I know, Innel. I’m quite aware I’m not queen. I’m not an idiot.”
“Of course not, my lady.”
“Of course not, my lady,” she echoed, mockingly. “Because he told me to, is why,” she spat.
“Shut up, Innel. I know perfectly well what you’re going to say. But here it is: you can have the lord commandership from my hand, or you can petition him for a colonelship.”
Petition? That’s what his hard, bloody work these last months had gained him? He would be allowed to petition?
Tempted as he was to reply, he had already opened his mouth once without thinking, and with Cern in this mood, that was a misstep. He clamped his mouth shut and considered.
He could not take the Lord Commandership from Cern. It would put him in a weak position and spark controversy, but to refuse it from her hand would be an insult to her, which he could afford even less.
A typical Restarn move, to force him into an impossible situation with no good choices.
He also could not push the decision back on her, tempting as that was; her faith in him was based in large part on his ability to navigate challenges like this one.
She watched him as he thought.
He desperately wanted to ask her to relate the conversation she had had with her father that had led to this outcome, to gain clues as to what was in the monarch’s mind, but that would underscore her weak position with her father, doing little to reassure in this difficult time. Cern’s confidence was already a thin thread.
It would be best to get through the wedding and coronation. Then any decisions she had made, like promoting Innel to the highest military position in the empire, would be far harder to question.
But here and now, what to do?
Well, he was wearing her colors. He had laid everything he had at her feet. Really, he could not refuse.
“It would be my great honor to serve you in this capacity, my lady.”
After a time he convinced Cern to wait to name him as lord commander until at least after the wedding. It would seem a more obvious move then, he explained.
And she would be one step closer to the throne, all her pronouncements carrying considerably more weight.
“Whatever you think best, Innel,” was all she had said. She was relying on him to make sense of the tangled political forces at play, a challenge she seemed to care little for. A challenge he had been studying his whole life.
She had been tinkering with one of her collapsible in-air creations, a set of wooden rods with twine and chain between them, some pulled tight, others balanced delicately on top of each other. In the years since she had shown him these works, he’d seen her use stiffened fabric, small lengths of metal and wood, and even straw.
This particular set was suspended from the ceiling, in an equilibrium of many parts. As she touched it on one end, the pieces of wood at the other clinked against each other, making an almost musical sound.
Collapsible so that they could be taken down and hidden quickly when her father came into her rooms without warning, as he used to do often.
From their conversations, Innel knew her father had not confided in her his embarrassment at her marrying a captain, as he had to Innel.
So be it. Innel would petition no one. Let Restarn decide how much embarrassment he could stomach.
Regardless, once they were wed, Innel would no longer be the mutt who had somehow survived the Cohort. He would be princess-consort.
The thought sent a chill through him. For a split second, he found himself thinking he must find his brother and tell him.
“I’m busy,” Innel responded to Mulack, putting a snap into the words, even though it was a good idea; it had been too long since he’d felt out his support in the Cohort.
He was truly busy; the king had called him back into service, and he now faced interminable council meetings that required summary reports, ongoing House contract negotiations with high-stakes outcomes, and again the near-daily work of sitting in the steam-filled royal bath to hear the king complain.
In a way it was reassuring that the king had not forgotten him, but it rankled that he had not yet made good on his promise to promote him, either.
Nor had he petitioned. Still a captain.
But, as the saying went, not all captains had the same rank.
“Taba is in port,” Mulack insisted. “A good sign.”
“It’s no sign at all. She was scheduled to be here.”
Mulack waved this away. “We must celebrate your victorious return.” He managed to keep his mocking tone to a bare hint of derision. “You’re a hero, after all.” He clapped him on the shoulder.
Innel looked down at the shorter, thicker man he had, for excellent reasons, not liked since early childhood. “I have a report to prepare for the king.”
“Oh, come on, Innel. Give us a chance to spend too much money on you.”
Too much money? Was this Mulack’s way of saying he knew about Tok’s investment and might be offering similar backing? He couldn’t tell, which was how Mulack liked it.
“How can I refuse, when you phrase it so seductively?” Innel said dryly, acting as if lack of coin meant nothing to him, as he and his brother had always tried to do.
Mulack probably knew better; he had a nose for money. Despite everything — the promotion to captain, Innel’s proximity to Cern, the assumption of wedlock to come, and even Tok’s support — with all the gifts Innel was giving to everyone from guards to maids to stablehands to keep rumors flowing toward himself instead of away, Innel continued barely short of poor.
A strange state in which to live, in-palace.
He hid it as well as possible, of course; only Srel knew how bad his finances really were.
Mulack, on the other hand, was House Murice’s eparch-heir and swimming in the coin of the House of Dye. With Murice’s multitudinous contracts for textiles and amardide, anyone who wore sanctioned clothes had paid to swell Murice’s holdings.
Innel took a look at what his cohort brother was wearing. Boots and gauntlets tastefully trimmed in red and black — a nod to the crown — but the rest entirely Murice’s purple and white. A bit of a cacophony of color, but clear enough, as far as loyalties went. Mulack was clearly done looking for his future at the palace.
Mulack’s father, as sardonic as his annoying son, was vibrant with health. Mulack would have a long wait to become eparch. In the meantime, though, he had plenty of money.
“Tonight we celebrate,” Mulack said decisively. “I’ll tell the others.”
“So be it,” Innel said, feeling it best to make a show of reluctance to impress on Mulack how busy he was with the king’s business. “Where?”