The Heart’s Oath – Chapter 6

Alari sometimes understood her late father’s desire to burn the world to the ground. Not to the extent of breaking out the head chopping axes but enough to indulge in some fairly gruesome daydreams as she waited for her Petitioner’s Court to assemble.

In the early days of Gallagrin, the Court had been setup to allow those with worthy cases to present their plight directly to the monarch of the realm. It was intended to serve as a protection against the noble’s being able to abuse the citizens who lived within their Duchy.

Over time the Court had grown to include Petition Reviewers whose duty was to sort the cases that came before the throne into one’s with legitimate grievances and ones whose issues could be handled by other judges.

Under the reign of King Sathe, the Petitioner’s Court had first devolved into a mechanism for eliminating political rivals and then been abandoned entirely once the nobles discovered that convincing the Butcher King that someone needed to be eliminated was far too easy. There were as many nobles who died from accusing their rivals of disloyalty as there were who died from being on the receiving end of an accusation of treason.

Alari had reinstated the court, over the complaints of a wide number of the noble houses. Even her supporters believed that time spent on minor individual problems was time that was more profitably used sorting out concerns that touched on the whole realm. To Alari though, the Court represented a chance to learn of the wider state of her realm from those who were most affected by the policies her nobles were discussing.

A part of her felt that if she could just find the time to become fully invested in what was happening within her realm that she would be able to see the solutions to the problems it faced. Nothing was impossibly complex, or at least none of the broader problems that Gallagrin had to deal with were. There were relatively simple solutions to its issues, and to the problems faced by the Blessed Realms as a whole. The trick was finding those solutions faster than the peoples of Gallagrin, and the Blessed Realms in general, were able to devise new problems to vex her.

“Jaan Lafli is recovering,” Dae said as she entered the small courtroom and took her position at Alari’s right hand. “The geas she’s under seems to be meant to inflict pain if its restrictions are pushed, rather than doing real damage. It’ll probably take her long enough to recover that you could see a few petitioners in the meantime if you want though?”

“I’m tempted to wait for her,” Alari said. “If the reports I’ve received already are correct, we may have to cancel Court for the immediate future.”

“That bad?” Dae asked.

“Maybe,” Alari said. “Possibly worse.”

They’d known for weeks that the success of their campaign against Paxmer would lead to repercussions that would be felt throughout the realms. By all their projections though, armed conflict shouldn’t have become an issue until mid-summer at the earliest and that was still months away.

Alari watched Dae sag into her seat and pinch the bridge of her nose. It had been customary for past monarchs to make a showy display of the Petitioner’s Court. Alari had chosen an alternate path though. To her, the point of the Court was to allow the petitioner to speak frankly to their queen and explain the problems they were facing. A small courtroom, without unnecessary observers, seemed more conducive to that than forcing the petitioner to present their case in front of a thronging mass of spectators.

The one exception that she’d made to her policy was to allow her Knight to join her. With the Spirit of Gallagrin to back her, Alari had little to fear from anyone in her realm, but the demeanor she wished to project was not one of awe inspiring power. For the Petitioner’s Court to work properly, she needed to be approachable. That left Dae to provide the proper level of menace so that the more quarrelsome petitioners would not make the mistake of assuming they could treat Alari with anything less than the utmost of respect. If she had to correct them, it wasn’t likely to be an experience they would enjoy, or potentially even survive.

“There is another special petitioner who’s waiting to see you,” Dae said, her eyes still closed.

Alari sighed. “More new problems to deal with? I thought the world falling apart would be enough for today.”

“This one’s not a new problem,” Dae said. “It’s the Duke of Tel. He wants to discuss what your plans are for the nobles.”

“His timing is…” Alari started to say and cut herself short as an idea blossomed. “Perhaps fortuitous.” Her smile broadened as the idea took hold further. “Yes, let’s bring him in.”

“You want to speak to him?” Dae asked, confused by the sudden change in Alari’s mood.

“Yes, we’ll bring him in when Lafli gets here,” Alari said. “Having one of my former supporters in the room while speaking with a scion of one of the opposing houses will present the right air to the situation I think. Each side will assume that I’ve nominated those two to act as their voice.”

“Are you ready to talk about what you plan to do with the nobles yet?” Dae asked.

“No,” Alari said, “But we’re going to have much more important things to cover.”

“Something tells me that I should bring the other Queen’s Guard in on this one too,” Dae said.

“I suspect you’re correct,” Alari said. “If things are progressing this quickly I don’t believe we’ll have long to debate our actions.”

***

Alari watched Jaan Lafli enter the room and enjoyed the brief flash of surprise and concern that flashed across the elf’s face when she discovered that more than the Queen of Gallagrin awaited for her.

The courtroom was small as royal chambers went. On the other side of the petitioner’s table there was just enough space for Dae, Jyl, Eorn and Undine to sit comfortably in their chairs. Alari sat on the throne in the center of them, the slight elevation reinforcing the impression that her position was the centerpoint of the room, despite being set back against it’s far wall.

A seat had been left open for Jaan beside Duke Ren Telli but it was the Duke’s husband who drew Jaan’s gaze. Teo was well fed, so there weren’t many tells as to his vampiric nature, but the ones he retained; the slightly washed out complexion, the discoloring of his irises, the preternatural stillness he naturally adopted, these were able to unsettle her enough that even from across the room Alari could see the catch in her step as she walked to take her seat.

“You bear a message,” Alari said, nodding toward Jaan, “and you come with a question,” she added, shifting her gaze to Ren and Teo. “The one will impact the other so let us hear the message House Lafli wishes to send to us.”

“Of course Your Majesty,” Jaan said. “I am instructed to inform you that the Duke of Laf has received reports from our contacts within the Green Council that there has been a breach of their sovereign border which they have responded to with force. The treaties between the Green Council and Senkin have been renounced and the Green Council will be declaring war shortly.”

“We have received other reports of the disturbance on the Council/Senkin border,” Alari said. “What else does House Laf have to report?”

“Our contacts there say that they Green Council is unwilling to send a representative to your court,” Jaan said. “They claim the Council believes any diplomat they send will meet a dire fate and that your court will not support the prosecution of their rights against Senkin.”

“Their judgment relies on the history of this realm without sparing an eye towards the particulars of our reign,” Alari said. “But that is not all you have brought is it Lafli?”

“No Your Majesty,” Jaan said. “My grandfather the Duke also instructed me to offer our services to the crown in this delicate hour. Our family can trace its origins back to the Green Council in the early days of the Realms.  In the last several years, we have reached out and renewed old ties which had lain dormant for centuries.”

“It’s always good to have bolt holes in another realm when you’re planning to betray your ruler,” Jyl said.

Alari had heard of Jyl’s altercation with her sister and wished she’d been there to see it. From the looks of things, one word would be all that was required to trigger a renewal of the brawl, but for the time being Jaan Lafli was more useful intact and cooperating.

“And what would those services entail?” Alari asked, neither chastising Jyl nor allowing Jaan a chance to deny the accusation.

“We can send an emissary to meet with the Green Council and negotiate on behalf of Gallagrin once their demands and motivations are understood,” Jaan said.

“And the surety House Laf would provide as to their intentions on behalf of Gallagrin would be what exactly?” Alari asked. Expecting a disgraced House to be allowed to negotiate on behalf of the throne it tried to usurp was just the sort of insanity Alari had come to expect from her nobles. In that sense Lafli hadn’t let her down, but she also knew that Duke Lafli wasn’t quite the idiot that some of her other opponents were.

“The Duke of Laf will formally cede command of the Laf Army to the crown,” Jaan said.

“So he’s going to give away something he already lost?” Dae asked. Alari hadn’t formally seized control of her noble’s private armies, but the question as to whether she would was on most of their lips.

Jaan scowled at the jibe but had the political acumen to hold back any return barbs. Instead she offered, “We can also vouch for Gallagrin’s intentions with our contacts on the Green Council and provide any hostages against Gallagrin’s good faith which the Council might require.”

Alari knew exactly who the first hostage would be and felt a brief pang of sympathy for Jaan Lafli. The nobility valued their offspring, and cherished them, but all too often that was in the same sense as a merchant valued and cherished their gold.

“The Green Council has long been a peaceful neighbor to us,” Alari said. “As has Senkin. If we are to meet with one, we must meet with the other as well or we shall be taken as having chosen a side in their conflict.”

“The Green Council is the offended party, from the reports we have received,” Jaan said. “House Lafli wishes to suggest that a delegation be dispatched to meet with the Council first, so that they can reveal the details of what has occurred. Our contact on the Council claims that once those are known, siding with their interests will be the only path which Gallagrin would wish to pursue.”

“I suspect a representative from Senkin would say the same thing for themselves,” Ren said, joining the debate in response to Alari’s nod of encouragement.

“Your suspicions are correct Duke Tel,” Alari said. “A representative from Senkin arrived a short while ago. She speaks of personally witnessing the Green Council attack on Senkin and the brutality of their tactics.”

“You must speak with the Council then Your Majesty,” Jaan said. “Their side of the story will surely help the truth emerge.”

“Indeed,” Alari said. “That is why Gallagrin will visit both Senkin and the Green Council.”

“If we can be of service Your Majesty, I do have some friends in Senkin, associates the Tel family has done business with for the last few generations,” Ren said.

“Your offer is accepted Duke Tel, as is the Lafli family’s offer,” Alari said.

“And which of the Houses will lead the delegation Your Majesty?” Jaan asked.

Alari could see the wheels spinning behind Jaan’s eyes as the elf weighed the balance between the prestige of heading the delegation and the ability to dodge the responsibility for the failures it was likely to endure.

“Neither,” Alari said. “When we said Gallagrin would visit Senkin and the Green Council we were not speaking in metaphor. We shall lead this delegation personally as we take our fellow monarchs to task for breaching the peace of the Realms.”

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