The Heart’s Oath – Chapter 12

Gallagrin’s throne didn’t intimidate Dae. It was just a chair. A large chair that seemed to hone the craziness of anyone who sat in it to a fine point. But there was no reason to be afraid of it. Nevertheless, she plopped down on the Champion’s seat which stood beside the throne. Fear was a terrible motivator, but knowing one’s own limits was a sign of wisdom, and with Alari gone, Dae felt like she was going to need all the wisdom she could get.

I’m already crazy enough thank you, Dae thought, glaring at the chair she had no interest in ever occupying.

She’d left Eorn and Teo behind at the sky carriage platform. If Alari felt matters were dire enough to race off on the spur of a moment, Dae wasn’t going to delay Teo from performing his ambassadorial duties to Inchesso.

Dae trusted Alari’s judgment in the matter, in part because she trusted Alari and in part because she suspected there was some amount of magical augmentation that Alari was drawing on in her appraisal of the course of world events.

The Pact Spirit of Gallagrin granted physical might and sensory powers but not intellect or wisdom. At least not directly. Alari had plenty of those qualities on her own, but Dae had long guessed that her princess knew the workings on the Royal Pact Bond better than any of her predecessors.

While the Spirit of Gallagrin didn’t speak directly to those it was bonded with, it did contain the memories of all the former rulers of Gallagrin, and it seemed to be closer to Alari that it had been to the Gallagrin monarchs for several generations. That may have been due to Alari being the first monarch in several generations who fought for Gallagrin – both the realm and the spirit. Her father, grandmother and great grandfather had all inherited their rule without any particular effort on their part. The spirit was passed to them because they were the chosen successor. In fighting for and defending Gallagrin, Alari seemed to have won a connection with the Gallagrin Spirit that was missing for a long time.

That connection didn’t extend to a spoken dialog from what Alari said, but she did have the sense of a broader perspective than- her own when she considered matters outside of the scope of her experience.

“I can’t picture the details, or hear the voices of my ancestors, but when I observe a poltical situation, or consider how the realms might act overall, I get a sense of what feels right, and if I ponder it for a while, I start seeing the reasons why. It’s not enough to trust on its own but it helps me work things out faster than I could without those insights, I think,” Alari had explained when she and Dae were discussing the matter one lazy winter afternoon when the snows howled and there was little work to be done.

Those memories plus Alari’s native wits were a foundation Dae felt comfortable basing her own actions and thoughts on. That didn’t mean she felt comfortable trying to take Alari’s place however. Negotiating with the representative from the Green Council was one of the duties she’d never expected she would need to fulfill as the Queen’s Knight.

“Why exactly am I here?” Sir Faen Kemoral asked. “I’m not a negotiator, and there are roughly a thousand things I need to see to in the Royal Army since the Queen has gone off to wage a solo war without giving us time to keep up with her.”

Dae was happy to see that Kemoral was as uncomfortable about playing international receptionist as she was. Neither of them were suited to the role but he had more of the Charisma of Command than she did, and they both knew it.

“Think of this as doing the army’s job proactively,” Dae said. “If we can deal with the Council’s representative properly, we may not need to involve any other part of the army to clear this mess up.”

“Do we even know what they’re here for?” Kemoral asked.

“They wouldn’t say. They would only demand an audience with the queen.”

“And they will be pleased to see you instead?”

“Probably not,” Dae said. “But that’s going to tell us something too.”

“So this is a fact finding mission?’ Kemoral asked.

“Yes, though the representative is protected by their diplomatic credentials,” Dae said. “So our facts will probably come mostly through inference.”

“This is insanity,” Kemoral said and straightened his posture.

“Welcome to Highcrest,” Dae said. “Hell, welcome to Gallagrin, or maybe even the Blessed Realms in general.”

“Is there a reason we haven’t brought the Council representative in yet?” Kemoral asked. “The soon we start the sooner I can get back to things that actually matter.”

“They’re acclimating to the realm,” Dae said. “So the delay is on their part.”

“Acclimating to the realm?” Kemoral asked. “The Council’s not that far away by sky carriage, how could they still be travel-sick?”

“Because the Council’s representative is a dryad,” Dae said.

“A tree-lady?” Kemoral asked.

“No.” Dae said. “They are a sapient wood elemental. Regardless of the form they take, they are still a dryad and neither a tree, nor a lady, not a gentleman.”

“Dryad, tree-lady, what does it matter?” Kemoral asked.

“One will make them feel welcome, the other will construed as an insult,” Dae said. “They may hear that sort of insult from people on a daily basis, but they will not hear it in Queen Alari’s court.”

“Sweet Merciful Sunrise,” Kemoral said. “This is why I shouldn’t be here. I’m going to put as at war with the Council before five minutes is up.”

“Don’t worry,” Dae said. “I’ll run interference for you. You’re here primarily to address questions of Gallagrin’s military readiness. The Council knows about the situation with the nobles being held on for an extended Grand Convocation, and they know the Ducal armies outnumber the Royal army significantly. That could have factored into their calculations about attacking Senkin.”

“So, I am to make it seem as though our armed forces are one well organized whole and not the fractious lot of bickering malcontents I actually have to deal with every day?” Kemoral asked.

“Nope. Your job is to explain how, with just half the Royal Army, you would break the Green Council like a piece of kindling if they tried to expand into our lands.”

“Half the Royal Army? Why would I need that much?” Kemoral asked.

“Yes, excactly,” Dae said and signaled the page at the other end of the room to summon the Green Council’s representative.

Dae had chosen to meet with the Council’s lackey in the castle’s Grand Reception Hall, thinking that the seat of Gallagrin’s power would give her the advantage she needed in dealing with a foreign power. She looked over the room and began to question her choice though. Without the nobles and without Alari, the room was still physically grand, but it was the grandeur of a great past rather than a reflection of the realm’s present power.

“Their Humble Embassy, Gala Ragranprimort of the Green Council,” a page said, and stood aside to allow the ambassador to enter.

Dae had read of the Green Council, but the ancient texts hadn’t prepared her for meeting a dryad in person.

Gala Ragranprimort’s form only suggested a resemblance to the common morphology of humans and dwarves and elves. Their limbs curved away from the central trunk of their body as a branch springs from the body of a tree rather than through any complicated shoulder or hip mechanism.

Gala’s central trunk was long, making them easily eight feet tall by the time it formed a vaguely head shaped area which was crowned by a canopy of leaves which was similar to hair only in terms of being atop the dryad’s body.

Where a face would have been, the wood of Gala’s body bore features that looked like they’d been stamped into the wood by a mighty pressing machine. Eyes, nose, and mouth were all cast from the same wood as the rest of the body but there was an animation to them which no natural wood could have possibly mimicked.

That same unnatural quality captured Dae’s attention in the dryad’s movement. Gala didn’t so much walk as flow, rolling like a supple tree caught in a wind which blew it long, steady, gusts.

Dae weighed the idea of rising to greet Gala as they moved down the wide aisle leading to the throne. It would have been a friendly gesture, but Dae stayed seated. Gallagrin wasn’t necessarily interested in retaining the Council’s friendship. Not if Alari decided Senkin was the victimized realm.

“What insult is this?” Gala asked. “I come before the throne of Gallagrin, but Gallagrin will not treat with the Council?”

“Ambassador Ragranprimort,” Dae said, remaining in her seat but leaning forward. “Gallagrin will hear the Green Council’s petition. We speak with the Voice of Gallagrin in our queen’s absence and have been given full license to treat with you until her return.”

“When is Gallagrin expected to return to her throne?” Gala asked.

“Queen Alari’s has instructed us to treat with you,” Dae repeated. “She will return in due time, but the matter you have to bring before her is one of some urgency is it not?”

Dae felt the confines of Royal Speech twisting her tongue. She knew she wasn’t quite managing to sound properly royal but under the circumstances that might play in her favor.

“I bring news of greater import than a simple seneschal can be entrusted with,” Gala said. “You must urge for your queen’s immediate presence.”

A tremor ran up Gala’s body and shook the leaves one their canopy.

For that, and for their words, Dae stood.

“Have care, Ambassador,” Dae said, letting her voice drop low and dangerous. “We are no seneschal. We are the Queen’s Knight, We are Gallagrin’s Champion, We are the Crown Successor. Present your petition before you try our patience further.”

“You carry many titles, but you do not carry the weight of the realm,” Gala said. “If we treat with you, we will be forced to assume that Gallagrin places the Green Council as being of secondary importance.”

“Good,” Dae said. “Because you are.”

A tremor rippled through Gala’s body and was followed by a rigidity which Dae couldn’t interpret as anything other than shock and rage.

“The welfare of Gallagrin and its people is, and ever will be, of primary importance to Queen Alari,” Dae said. “The concerns of the Green Council will take second place to that. That does not imply however that the Council’s concerns are unimportant to Gallagrin, or that Gallagrin is unwilling to balance its own needed with the broader needs of all the Blessed Realms.”

“And what of the needs of Senkin?” Gala asked. “Will Gallagrin place the Green Council’s needs ahead of those of that traitorous realm?”

“No,” Dae said.

Gala’s reaction was muted this time. They learned quickly it seemed, which worried Dae.

“Gallagrin makes no judgment at this moment between its neighbors,” Dae said. “We would listen to your testimony on the conflict which has erupted before reaching a decision on who, if anyone, we will support.”

Gala went silent in response to that, but Dae could see the leaves on the ambassador’s canopy swaying independently of each other and their roots twitching in tiny motions.

If Dae’s research was correct, Gala was speaking which someone, or even a group of people, back in the Green Council. Via her Pact Knight bond, Dae knew how to eavesdrop on distant conversations, but that was a result of enhancing and refining her hearing. There was no magic she knew of which would allow her to tap into the Green Council’s distant speech magics.

“We cannot allow that,” Gala said, emerging from their conversation. “Gallagrin must not side Senkin. We will declare war to prevent the possibility from occurring.”

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