The Seer – Snippet 54
“He wants his dogs, too, ser,” Naulen told Innel.
Easy enough, Innel thought, if that would get them the old king’s cooperation in the coronation ceremony.
“And to see his daughter,” she added.
That might be harder. Still, Restarn’s cooperation was worth a lot to the strength of Cern’s rule. It might be worth everything.
He gestured, inviting the small blond slave to sit at a table where a mug of hot wine and a plate of pastries waited. “Have all you like,” he said.
She sat where he directed, seeming bewildered, each movement somehow a graceful submission. She touched the cream-filled confections with her fingertips, as if she had never seen such a wondrous thing before.
Enchanting, he thought, wondering how much was pretense. All of it, he suspected, though it was nonetheless compelling. Beyond her value as entertainment, Naulen was proving her worth by regularly relating to him bits of conversation from the old king, who talked a great deal now that he had no one else but his blond slave to listen to him.
Naming names. Innel was gathering a very useful list.
As for Cern, that had turned out to be the work of nearly a tenday, starting with gentle suggestions, outlining his reasoning, gingerly turning her objections into his own supporting arguments. In the end he convinced her to see her father, to even try to be pleasant to him. To take to him the dogs she hated so much.
The king had always held the beasts with voice and will, but Cern had wanted nothing to do with them. Innel knew the king’s dichu dogs would fight harness and lead if Cern held the other end, so he had the kennelmaster give them something to make them more compliant.
The coronation, Innel had reminded Cern.
Outside the king’s room Cern took the leads of the muzzled dogs from the kennelmaster and went in. Innel waited in the hallway.
When Cern emerged a bell later, she vibrated with pent-up fury. Innel took her to her rooms, signaling Srel to fetch for him the previously arranged-for wines and twunta and infused oils. He spent the next hours in attentive application of the collection.
Day by day, as the coronation date inched closer, Cern became, if possible, even more tightly strung.
The seneschal continued beyond annoying, insisting on extravagant expenditures that would dwarf those of the royal wedding. Again, Innel objected.
“You can have it when you want it, ser Royal Consort, or you can have it for less coin, but you cannot have both. Trust me, ser.”
Innel bit down on his objections and again gave way.
If the ceremony happened — if Restarn did his part — if Cern was made queen — it would all be worth it.
It was high summer when the coronation finally began. It took the better part of five days, dawn to midnight, most of it loud and brightly colored, excessive and ostentatious. The spectacle would culminate with the single most important moment, the one in which the old king was to hand his daughter the Anandynar scepter, passed down through the generations, from monarch to monarch.
The object itself was a too-long, slightly dented stiletto encrusted with gems and worked through with various metals, so over-decorated and lightweight that Innel suspected it would break if one tried to use it for anything beyond ceremony.
At least it would not be too heavy for a sick old man. All Restarn would need to do would be to hand the scepter to his daughter. His heir and only progeny.
It seemed simple enough, so Innel worried.
During each day of ceremonies and all-night celebrations leading to the main event, Innel reviewed the seer’s words to him that night in Botaros, and the extensive resources he had now put into finding her. It was starting to seem to him as if he were dumping coins into the depths of the ocean for all that his various hires, Tayre most expensively among them, were providing him.
When Cern was queen, he would have more funds. But once he started tapping the royal purse, he would need to be even more discreet. He might even need to tell her, in case this all came to light. Another problem entirely, and for another time.
The final day of the coronation — then the final hour — arrived. The king was carried in his chair to the Great Hall, wrapped in red and black and gold.
It was the first time Restarn had been out of his sickbed in over six months, and he looked startled, eyes too wide, gaze flickering here and there as if not quite certain where he was. Innel felt an edge of alarm. Had the doctor given him too much of the various herbs intended to keep him calm and compliant?
Surely the man would be able, at the very least, to hand Cern the scepter. It was all he needed to do. Such a simple thing. But even after a lifetime of studying the man, trying to read his thoughts through his eyes and turn of mouth, Innel could not tell what was in his mind or what he would do.
“Get his dogs,” Innel hissed to Nalas and Srel. They hurried off, returning with the pair of brindled canines.
With one dog on each side of him, their heads in his lap, one licking his hand, the king seemed to calm, something like sense coming back into his eyes. Innel watched him intently.
When the moment finally came, the Great Hall packed with thousands of aristos and eparchs and royals, all falling utterly silent, the old king looked slowly around the room. His gaze settled on Innel. The moment lengthened. Innel looked back at the king, feeling sweat drip down his back.
Finally Restarn looked to his daughter, then handed the long, sharp scepter to her with a casual, almost disgusted look, as if it were an unwashed dinner knife that he was well rid of.
Innel could live with that. It didn’t matter now. Cern was queen.
The next morning Cern announced Innel as her new Lord Commander.
Innel sat in his small office as the day went on, receiving visitors, noting those who came — some to ask questions, some to explain past decisions at length, and some to lecture, as in the case of the seneschal — and those who stayed away.
Conspicuously absent was the now-former Lord Commander, whom Innel could well imagine seething as he paced the much larger offices Innel was now entitled to. While Innel thought a military rebellion highly unlikely, he didn’t want to inspire one by mishandling the king’s older and now more powerful brother, either.
Don’t push until you must.
Yes, but when must he?
Among his visitors were Cohort brothers and sisters, even those who had left years ago, all wanting to make sure he would not forget how passionate had been their support for him these many years.
“Put in a good word for me, when the time is right, hmm?” Taba had said, referring to the commander of the navy, who Innel had yet to speak with.
“No, really, Innel — congratulations. Truly.” This from Mulack, pushing toward him an excellent bottle of greened brandy, then eating the rest of the fruit plate Srel had brought, that Innel had barely touched.
“And the mage?” Tok had asked him.
“Under contract,” Innel replied. “When things settle, I’ll bring her.”
Quietly. Tempting as it was, it would be some time yet before he could parade a mage down the hallways without upsetting a significant number of influential aristos with whom he was not yet ready to lock horns.
The Great Houses seemed content to let Innel’s Cohort siblings represent their good wishes. Those Houses who had not been fortunate enough to have sons and daughters in the Cohort these last two decades instead sent notes. The pale red amardide envelopes were collecting in piles.
But a good many of the rest, generals and royals, eparchs and bloodlines, would be waiting to see how well Innel handled this powerful beast he had gotten on top of, over the next days. It was one thing to mount up, but another thing, entirely different, to ride.
They would be especially watching to see how he handled the former Lord Commander Lason.
He missed his brother’s advice keenly now. Opening a drawer, he pulled out a metal arrowhead. It was the only thing he had kept of his brother’s.