The Queen’s private wine reserves held not only some of the finest quality wines in the kingdom but also some of Gallagrin’s the most potent liquors.
“We will require our senses about us for the remainder of the day,” Alari said, filling a tiny thimble of a glass half full with a thick amber colored spirit.
“You are free to tap out whenever you like, Your Majesty,” Dae said, a wicked gleam of challenge in her eyes.
“Oh, is that how it shall be?” Alari asked, and poured the thimble glass into a flagon larger than both of her fists, before continuing to fill the flagon, and two others like it, near to the rim.
Dae had never managed to drink Alari under the table, but it hadn’t been from lack of trying. The two were careful when and where they held their impromptu contests, which limited the damage of people finding them in a less than coherent state when they discovered, and exceeded, their limits.
“This draught smells unique,” Mayleena said. “I don’t believe we’ve had its like before?”
“Odds are you won’t again either,” Dae said. “From what Her Majesty has told me, this barely qualifies as drinkable for most people.”
“And we are imbibing it why then?” Mayleena asked.
Dae inhaled the aroma of the Beesting Brew from her flagon and felt the sharp burning prickle spread up her nose and into her sinuses. It wasn’t an especially enjoyable sensation, but the warm afterwave that followed left her lightly swaying in a pleasant enough manner.
The trickle of magic that Kirios fed Dae was enough to easily throw off the more toxic effects of inhaling the brew. The same wasn’t going to be true by the time she reached the bottom of the flagon though, but that was what made the drink an adventure.
“My Knight is something of an inebriate and she demands company in her debauchery or she grows unbearable,” Alari said, lifting her flagon and taking a long pull from it.
“Our Queen, as is her privilege, omits to mention how it was she who placed me on the path of potable wickedness,” Dae said. “Or how she has always been my guide post and milestone. Also, if you are the sort to easily lose control, I think I would rather not be entirely sober when that happens.”
“Lose control?” Mayleena asked. “This is a test?”
“The Queen trusts you,” Dae said. “If we’re going to work together though, I need to know where your limits are.”
She took a long drink her flagon, matching Alari’s. The Beesting Brew was as bad going down as she remembered it being, and despite her familiarity with it, she had to swallow the liquer carefully to avoid choking on it.
“And if we refuse to drink?” Mayleena asked, staring at the beverage in front of her.
“That’s one option for ending the test,” Dae said. “It’s not a bad one either. I can appreciate someone who knows their limits or at least is willing to set boundaries to protect themselves.”
Mayleena took her flagon and drained a quarter of the liquid from it in a single swallow.
“Interesting,” she said. “This really is toxic isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Alari said. “For those without Pact Spirits to call on, it over stimulates the nerves and can produce paralysis or death. We are very careful whom we share this particular vintage with.”
“We are honored then Your Majesty,” Mayleena said.
“You’re also unaffected by the toxins you just drank,” Dae said, observing Mayleena’s reactions. “Would you care to provide a more elaborate explanation for what happened to you?”
Mayleena looked to Alari and the Queen nodded to her.
“I blamed my father for our state,” Mayleena said. “The truth though is that I can as easily blame myself for what happened to us.”
“Us?” Dae asked.
“You can see, and Kirios can sense, that we are not simply Mayleena Telli,” May said. “Our story begins when Mayleena sought a Pact Binding without her father’s approval, in order to avoid a marriage arrangement when she was fifteen.”
Dae noticed May call Kirios by name, something which no one other than Alari or one of the other people present at Dae’s pact binding could have known.
“Mayleena didn’t have the proper training,” May said. “But we were still compatible. She snuck down into the lowest basements of the Telli estates at Elinspire to perform the binding ritual alone. We discovered in the process that Oxina was first woken there.”
“That should have made the binding even harder though,” Dae said. “You were are the primary locus of the spirit’s power, right?”
“Yes, and that’s what made it ideal,” May said. “Mayleena’s natural talent was more than Onixa had bargained for and Onixa’s power was more than Mayleena could handle.”
“That sounds like the makings of a tragic disaster and yet you sit here at peace and more in control than I can imagine anyone in your situation being,” Dae said. She took another drink from her flagon and felt a slight wave of numbness wash over her head. Gone were the days when she wished to obliterate her consciousness and with the difference in quality between what she’d tried to drown herself in when she was an officer of the Nath Dawn March and what the queen’s private reserves could supply Dae was able to enjoy the sensation of the Beesting Brew as a reminder of the childhood misadventures she’d shared with Alari, which only added to the overall pleasantness of the experience.
“We are only a tragedy to those who would call us a tragedy,” Mayleena said. “Within ourselves we are complete and content.”
“Mostly content,” Alari said. “Tell Lady Akorli why you wished to pursue a place on the Queen’s Guard.”
“Our union is a unique one,” May said. “Onixa and Mayleena, from a certain point of view, no longer exist. We are both of them but we are more than that as well, and we need help in becoming our new self.”
“That doesn’t sound like a reason to join the Queen’s Guard,” Dae said. “It sounds like a calling to one of the meditation houses.”
“We have meditated for long enough,” May said. “When we first worked the binding, we fought against each other until it became clear that there was no future to be found in tearing ourselves to shreds.”
“You still think of yourself as being two separate beings though don’t you?” Dae asked.
“We try not to, but I find it difficult sometimes,” May said. “Mayleena’s reactions to a situation can be very different from Onixa’s and both can be different from what feels right to do when we’re confronted with an immediate decision.”
“What happens when your facets are too far out of alignment with each other?” Dae asked.
“We don’t go berserk,” May said. “Whatever I am, it’s only looks similar to a Berserker. If the parts of me disagree too strongly, I seem to fall apart briefly, with one side or the other holding greater sway over what I do.”
“That’s what we saw in the garden, wasn’t it?” Dae asked.
“Yes,” May said. “I was nervous about the meeting and lost my touch on this world for a brief while.”
“Where did you go?” Dae asked.
“To Onixa’s realm,” May said. “I have learned to control that, but not perfectly yet.”
“What was it that scared you about today’s meeting?” Dae asked.
“I was afraid you would say no to my application,” May said.
“Even if I did, the Royal Guard would definitely take you,” Dae said. “And the Queen is more than capable of overruling my objections on a candidate.”
“We would never overrule your objections on a matter like this, my Knight,” Alari said.
“That’s because all of my objections are excellent,” Dae said, taking another drink from her flagon. Alari rolled her eyes and took a drink from her flagon too.
“I’m afraid I am simply greedy,” May said. “The Queen’s Guard promises to have what I need most in this life; challenges.”
“It’s true that we don’t seem to be short on those, but why would that be so important to you?” Dae asked.
“I need to forge memories that are unique to me,” May said. “I need to do things that neither Mayleena nor Onixa could do on their own. When I feel two instinctive responses, I need to be able to pick the third path that’s true to what I believe, not just what Onixa and Mayleena can agree on. Without those memories, it feels like I’m going to fade away someday and then all that will be left will be the Berserker urges that live at the base of everyone’s mind.”
“What if those memories aren’t good ones?” Dae asked.
“I don’t understand?” May said.
“We’re the Queen’s Guard,” Dae said. “There will be people who hate us just for standing beside her. There will be people who we will very likely have to kill, and there will be people who survive them who will have every reason to hate us even more.”
Dae watched May’s face and saw recognition widen the younger woman’s eyes.
“People like Mayleena’s father,” May said, and looked down. “I hope to be able to live outside of his shadow, but I know it is a long one.”
“His crimes cast no shadows on you,” Alari said.
Mayleena coughed out a bitter laugh.
“We fear he will always darken our life,” May said.
“The past is hard to escape,” Dae said, casting a glance at Alari, who nodded in acceptance of the sentiment.
“That is another reason we were nervous for this meeting,” May said. “Though it isn’t something you should ever need to ask for, please know that you have our forgiveness and our thanks for your actions last fall. You saved my brother and stopped a man neither of us believed could be stopped. You even spared us from an ill-conceived marriage to the Consort King.”
“You’re thanking me for slaying the Duke?” Dae asked.
“Yes, neither Ren nor I could raise our hands against him, but it is still a relief beyond words that he is gone,” May said.
“From what I knew of the man, I’d hoped it would be,” Dae said, “There will be others like him though. Including people who are beloved by those they favor.”
“It seems like, with those people, discussion and diplomacy might work where they would have failed with my father,” May said.
“Sometimes that will be the case,” Alari said. “I believe my Knight is concerned that the Queen’s Guard will more often be called upon to deal with the occasions where peaceful means are not an option.”
“On those occasions I will need to follow my own heart,” May said.
“That may not be what the Guard needs,” Dae said.
“But it will always be what the Queen needs,” Alari said. “My Knight is pledged to support us beyond reason, as we are pledged to her. We do not ask anyone else to offer us such allegiance. From someone we do not know as well as Lady Akorli, we would mistrust such devotion. Instead we would ask our guards to protect us from all threats, including the ones we bring on our self.”
“I can pledge to do that with an unreserved heart!” May said.
“Then consider yourself part of the Queen’s Guard,” Dae said.
“That’s it?” May asked. “There’s no trial of battle? No other tests?”
“You survived the Duke of Tel’s reign, you were instrumental in freeing your brother last fall and a trial of battle would only confirm what I can already see,” Dae said. “The truth is, if I had to, I’d be arm wrestling Sir Kemoral in the town square for you to be on my team.”
“You only tell us this now?” Alari said. “We feel as though we have missed an opportunity for a diverting entertainment there.”
She finished her flagon of Beesting but thanks to the Gallagrin Pact Spirit was feeling no more of its effects than May was.
“You don’t want me to humiliate the commander of your Royal Guard, Your Majesty,” Dae said. “Think of what it would do for next year’s recruitment efforts.”
Kirios was able to take the worst of the Beesting’s bite away, but enough was left to quiet Dae’s fears of the mission that lay ahead of them. Even if it was only for one night, it felt good to be able to let her guard down, especially knowing that in Paxmer that would be impossible.