The Seer – Snippet 55
When he and his brother had been boys, during a particularly foolish game in the woods, Innel had grazed Pohut’s leg with an arrow. While Pohut pressed his hand against his leg where blood seeped out around his fingers, he had explained to the younger Innel that injuring your allies is a poor practice. As an apology Innel had broken the arrow, then broken the bow as well. Pohut had called him a fool, mocking him for wasting a valuable weapon, so Innel was surprised to find the arrowhead from that broken arrow among Pohut’s few possessions all these years later.
Holding the bit of metal now, he ran his finger lightly over the still-sharp edge and considered the former Lord Commander and what do with him. Innel had every right to pressure the man as hard as he wanted now — he could push Lason past his temper, if he chose. It was an extraordinarily tempting idea.
But it would be a short-term satisfaction. He did not need to push yet. He would give Lason a few days first to spend some rage and digest the meal of having been replaced.
Then go in with all you have.
At times it was difficult to believe Cern had been training to be queen her entire life. As Innel sat at the table of ministers, she was silent, tense, barely answering.
It was almost as if she expected her father to show up at any moment and tell her it had all been a mistake, or a poor joke. He supposed she, too, would need some time to absorb what had happened to her.
But if she appeared weak, then so did Innel.
When in the meeting, her answers proved truly inadequate, a few questioning looks came Innel’s way. He returned them ambiguously. He would contact the ministers later, make sure they knew this was temporary.
Much later, when he was alone with Cern, she said, “It’s too much, Innel. No one could keep track of all this.”
“That’s why you have ministers and advisers, Your Grace.”
And me. Which he did not say. She had spent a lifetime being told what to think. He had distinguished himself, in part, by refraining from being one of the many who did so.
She wouldn’t admit it, but he could see it in her body, and hear it in her tone, that she was scared.
“One step at a time,” he told her, gently. “That’s how we got here. That’s how we will go forward.”
“They expect me to be Niala,” she said bitterly.
That was true. Many were looking at her for signs of her famous great-grandmother. Another thing he couldn’t say to her.
“You will make your own mark. Together we will show them who you are.” He put as much warmth and conviction into his voice as he dared, knowing she was used to being told all manner of flattering lies.
At this she laughed a little, but there was no pleasure in it. “Whatever that is,” she whispered.
He looked into her dark green eyes. She turned away and went to the chest where she kept her rods and hooks, flats, and now the set of bells that Innel had given her as a wedding present. Eyeing the ceiling from which descended a small chain, she began to put rods between the links, starting another of her in-air creations.
Best to go now and let her comfort herself with this thing she did. But he could not bring himself to let the barely mouthed words go by without comment. Not after all he had done to get them to this moment.
“The queen, Cern,” he said softly. “You are the queen.”
Almost imperceptibly, she shrugged.
“That was fast work,” Innel said of his reflection in the mirror while Srel adjusted the buttons and collars, cuffs and seams of the red and black uniform. Especially remarkable given that it had come from both Houses Murice and Sartor, working together, in under a tenday.
Innel found his eyes locked on the reflection, especially the gold trim of neckline and arms that marked him as the queen’s high command. He touched it wonderingly. “Did you give them my measurements?”
“No, ser,” answered Srel.
Well, so, even more impressive: the two Houses had gone to some lengths to tailor a new uniform for Innel. They wanted him pleased and well aware of their support.
And he was. “What do you think?” he asked Nalas.
Nalas gave an approving nod. “You look very much the part, ser.”
“The part?” He frowned at his second.
“I only meant, Lord Commander, that –”
Innel waved the explanation away. “Yes, yes. What do they say about me today, Srel?”
“That you are young and inexperienced. That you should give the position to someone else.”
Innel snorted. “My age and credentials would never matter. It’s my bloodline they object to. Would they rather keep Lason?”
“Some would,” he said.
Innel suppressed annoyance at this undecorated answer. That Srel didn’t dissemble, his loyalty manifesting in such directness, was one of the reasons Innel kept him close.
Nalas he kept close for his cleverness and speed, though his tongue did sometimes stumble. At least he knew when to keep his mouth shut. Mostly.
Lason had still not shown any indication of being aware that he had been replaced. What, Innel wondered, would the old king have done now, had Lason not been his brother?
There was no question in his mind, and Innel had seen it countless times. Restarn would say a few words, and Lason would vanish. Lason’s wife and children would hastily relocate, far from the capital city. Lason would not return. If anyone went looking for him, they would not return either.
A lifetime of watching Restarn’s ways had long ago resolved him to do things differently when Cern took the throne.
Nalas handed him his sword belt and sword. It was the first time in his life he’d carried a weapon openly in the palace, let alone a sword. To do otherwise was an implicit questioning of the king’s power in his own house, an insult and offense. But now Cern was queen and Innel was Lord Commander. He buckled the weapon on.
They stepped outside his small office, where a tencount of Innel’s new guard waited. Nalas and Srel had selected the set of them together. Innel was pleased with the men and women who looked back at him now.
Who looked back at him. Under Lason, direct eye contact was discouraged.
“Look at me,” he had told them when he first met with them. “If you’re going to protect me, you have to know what I look like, where I am, and what I’m doing. Yes?”
Nods all around. A few grins.
Now he made a gesture, telling them to stay where they were, and only took Srel and Nalas with him.
“Is Lason still in my offices?” he asked as he walked.
“Yes, ser,” Srel answered.
“Are you certain you don’t want a few more than only the two of us, ser?” Nalas asked.
To go with force was to expect to need it. Something his brother used to say.
When Innel rounded the corner, Lason’s guards, two on each side of the Lord Commander’s office doors, shrank a little, looking away. That Innel had only Srel and Nalas with him made this even more remarkable. Innel would later have Srel and Nalas determine whether this cringing was driven by fear or prudence, to see if these four would keep their posts after today.
As he opened the door to the offices, none of them moved to intercept him. Once inside, Nalas and Srel left beyond, he shut the door and dropped the bolt behind him.
Maps covered the walls, hung between a scattering of swords, spears, and slings.
The gray-haired Lason looked up from his desk, his face twisting in fury. Under his hands was an old map Innel recognized. Pre-expansion. Lason was reliving an old victory.
“These are my offices,” Innel said, cutting off whatever the man might have been about to say. “It’s well past time for you to leave.”
Lason slammed the flat of his hand hard on the desk. “You are nowhere near ready to take over this office. You haven’t any idea what it means. You are nothing like qualified.”
“The queen disagrees.”
Lason drew himself upright. “She’s barely twenty-five. A child. When the king returns –”
“There was a coronation. Did no one tell you?”
A look of loathing. “The king will recover.”