The Seer – Snippet 48
Restarn gestured, quite clearly, to the chair by his side. An order. The moment stretched. “It will be,” the king said, sounding surprisingly hale. “Come on, boy. I knew you’d take Cern. I knew it all along. Pohut was too soft-hearted. It made him slow and stupid. Now come here, sit, and we’ll talk.”
“I don’t have the time, Sire,” Innel said, feeling stubborn.
“Oh, I think you do, Innel,” he said with an unpleasant smile. “You never know when I might die.”
Now that he had something of a yes from Restarn, Innel pushed as hard as he could. But moving the coronation forward was a choreography of coordination, conciliation, and inducement beyond anything Innel had ever experienced.
Too many people, from Houses to military, had an opinion, an agenda, or something else that Innel needed, that wouldn’t be offered without reciprocation. Sorting out the pieces was confounding.
As events proceeded forward at an interminably slow rate, Innel discovered that the only thing worse than facing a seneschal who was annoying, opinionated, and stubbornly devoted to the crown was facing one who wasn’t. He remembered the wedding, how it had come together, and reassessed the man’s skill and necessity. Swallowing his pride, Innel went to talk with him, making clear that if he worked for the princess now, he would work for the queen later.
Also, Innel told him, this event, unlike the wedding, would not dip so deeply into the royal coffers.
“It’s a coronation, ser Princess Royal Consort,” the seneschal said, pronouncing each word with care, as if unsure of Innel’s hearing. “It reflects the honor of the Anandynars. All near a thousand years of it. You cannot pretend it is a simple winter festival ball.”
“What you propose is an obscene expenditure that –”
“That employs half the tradesmen of the Lesser Houses, and puts coin in the pockets of the Eight Greater Houses whose support the new queen might well need from the moment she takes the crown. Raised in the Cohort, you say?”
“Careful where you step, seneschal.”
The gaunt man’s lips pressed together, making his face look even longer than it already did. “Do you know, ser Royal Consort, what year it was I began to serve the king in my current capacity?”
Innel could not remember any other seneschal. He shook his head in answer.
“Just so. Before you were born. Many years before. You may find it beneficial to consider the empire’s challenges during that time.”
Innel took a deep breath, let it out slowly. It was a compelling argument. “As you say, then,” he allowed. “But I want to approve all expenses.”
“No, ser, you most certainly don’t.” Then, with a look that bordered on pity, he added, “You’ll have to rely on me sooner or later. Why not start sooner, when I can do you the most good?”
“Midsummer, latest.” Two months hence.
At this the seneschal laughed outright, annoyingly unconcerned about offending Innel. “Invitations alone will take that long. There are foreign dignitaries to be notified. House eparchs and aristos traveling far from home to be called back.”
Innel made a sound that came out a growl. “Listen closely, seneschal: without a monarch on the throne, the empire and all her tangles of trade and production falter. Do you track the price of the metals that are key to Arunkel wealth?”
“No. That is not my –”
“No, it isn’t. But I do. You are going to have to rely on me, too, seneschal. Spend what the council will approve, but the coronation happens by mid-summer, even if no one shows for it. Send the notice. Now.”
The seneschal exhaled, taking a very long time about it to make his displeasure unambiguous. His look told Innel that the man was wondering how sick the king really was and if he might be persuaded to come back to health and rule again.
He appeared to come to a decision. His head inclined very slightly. “As you say, Royal Consort.”
Innel smiled thinly.
It was a good title, Innel reflected as he walked back to his small office, but there was another one that he wanted very much, and he meant to have it.
“What do they say about me today, Srel?” he asked as the slight man poured a dark stream of bitter tea.
“That the coronation is to be the grandest, most splendid affair since the Grandmother Queen was crowned one hundred and six years ago. That it will be a tiny affair sponsored by the Eight because the crown is bankrupt. That the king is not really sick, but only testing loyalties. That he is away on campaign, conquering the wild lands past the Rift. That the king is dead.”
“That would seem to cover the range of possibilities,” Innel responded. “Seed a few more: the king is delighted to see his daughter ascending the throne. The royal consort is about to be promoted.”
Srel raised an eyebrow, but did not ask. “Yes, ser.”
Best would be to have the king seen happily supporting his daughter’s succession. Could the old man be persuaded to be at the coronation? To at least seem willing?
If Innel put it to him right, perhaps.
Time to ease the man’s isolation. A little.
Innel’s two guards stepped into his small office, escorting a small blonde slave. Her golden hair fell to her waist, her wide blue eyes flickered around the room.
“The slave Naulen.”
She was a startling sight, small and slender, her white silk tunic hanging to her calves, a thin gold chain showing off her long neck. Dwarfed next to the tall guards, her slight build made her look even more delicate.
With a nod, Innel dismissed the guards, watching her while she looked around.
It was obvious why she was Restarn’s favorite. Her face was something a master painter might have considered a life’s work, from the pale, arched eyebrows to the wide, angled, sky-blue eyes. Even the way she rubbed her slender wrist, a simple move, was somehow exquisitely graceful. As she stepped forward slightly, Innel found himself distracted by how the heavy silk outlined her curves.
“The king trusted you,” he said. “You slept in his room many nights.”
“Then I will trust you, too.”
“Thank you, ser,” she said, voice a delicate, breathy tone, like a wooden flute. She looked at him with a soft, grateful look that made his breath catch.
Yes, she would inspire the king to tell her things he would tell no one else. He could see why.
“He misses you,” Innel said.
“Thank you, ser.” Her look and tone were just the right mix of demure, uncertain, and eager to please.
“He may not be king for much longer. You understand that, don’t you?”
“I do, ser.”
He could not quite tell from her expression if she did or not. The Perripin liked to claim that dark hair and skin meant a capacity for sustained and complex thought. This was why, they said, the blond northerners had been so easily conquered and enslaved. The implication that Perripin were smarter than their lighter-skinned Arunkin neighbors was the foundation of a great number of Perripin jokes that were rarely told this far north.
“You work for me now. Do that work well and I will make sure you are not sent back to the slave’s quarters. Perhaps kept privately by someone who will treat you gently.”
“I will do all you say, ser.” She stepped close to him, looking up with a flawless, eager smile. “Anything and everything.”
He laughed lightly at the implied offer, sweeter for how unnecessary it was, and for a moment caressed her shoulder with his fingertips. He dragged his gaze from the large, mesmerizing blue eyes, with effort reclaiming his focus, and reluctantly drew his hand away.
“You’ll visit him daily,” he said. “You’ll be brought to me afterwards to tell me what he has said. This conversation, though, you will not repeat to anyone.”
She looked up at him, and her expression turned sober. “I understand you perfectly, ser.”
This time he believed her.
“And Naulen, don’t excite him too much.”