The Heart’s Oath – Chapter 13

Dae didn’t want to go to war. Wars were messy, and costly, and in her current state a war would involve her sending a lot of people to die in her place rather than fighting for Alari’s domain like a good Queen’s Knight was supposed to.

“You will want to reword your statement ambassador,” she said, sitting back onto the Champion’s seat beside the Gallagrin throne. “You did not come here to declare war. You came to ensure that the Green Council would not come into conflict with the first and only realm to have successfully conquered another realm.”

“How can you claim to know the Council’s motivations for this embassy,” Gala asked. The dryad was still offended from Dae’s tone and manner of speaking, but Dae didn’t care. Gallagrin wasn’t in a position to be friendly with the Green Council at the moment, but it didn’t necessarily need to be hostile either. The sooner the ambassador could be made to see where their common interests lay the sooner the real negotiations could begin.

“The Council’s motivations in sending you here are clear because, and we are taking this as an article of faith, the Council is not composed of idiots,” Dae said. “You have nothing to gain from opening a new front in your war and likely everything to lose if you do.”

“If Gallagrin is allied with Senkin then there is nothing for the Council to gain from waiting, and everything to lose from allowing you to bring your forces together,” Gala said, their leaves quivering with suppressed emotions.

Dae wanted to bury her face in her palms. She wasn’t meant to be a noble woman. A good noble woman wouldn’t want to set an ambassador on fire.

“You presume that the conflict between Senkin and the Council has no other resolution than war.” Dealing with Alari had spoiled Dae. It was too easy to converse about weighty matters when the person you were speaking with could understand and see the ramifications of the things you said without the need for extensive elaboration.

“War is upon us. The only course open is to bring it to a swift and just end.” There was something odd underlying Gala’s words. Dae grasped at the shape of the sounds and the speed of the fluttering leaves in Gala’s crown.

Reading the body language of the dryad yielded little more than vague guesses as to what was going on in Gala’s mind, but Dae had the prickling sensation that Gala was struggling against the position she was in. They either didn’t want to be an ambassador or they were opposed to the war their realm was waging.

“Gallagrin agrees,” Dae said. “A prolonged conflict will have dire consequences for all of us, not just Senkin and the Green Council, and Queen Alari will not allow injustice between the realms to flourish.”

“And yet she is not here to listen to our cause,” Gala said.

Dae let her head slump forward before her frustration could tear itself loose from her throat. Losing her temper would cost the realms more than they could bear, and, worse, might endanger Alari.

Still though, the ambassador’s attitude grated on her. More than it should. As a yunger woman Dae wouldn’t have noticed that but she’d spent months since reuniting with Alari unraveling the lies she’d told herself that kept them apart. The practice helped her catch the other moments when she was lying to herself, the ones where she wasn’t consciously aware she was doing so.

Gala’s inability to accept Dae as a legitimate voice for Gallagrin was infuriating but when Dae looked at the source of that fury, she saw its roots grew down into her own insecurities.

She didn’t want to take Alari’s throne. Apart from loving Alari too much to ever want to see her diminished, Dae knew she wasn’t cut out to lead one of the realms. She didn’t have Alari’s talent for working with people, or for finding compromises that retained the essentials of what she believed in while allowing the other party to feel they had gained what they desired as well. She wasn’t good enough for the job in her own estimation but she was still stuck with it and Gala’s refusal to accept her as the Voice of Gallagrin made Dae feel the depth of her inadequacy for the role she was stuck in even more thoroughly.

“Queen Alari is not here,” Dae said, taking a deep breath and centering herself. She was afraid of failing, but it was a small fear compared to others that she’d faced. Even small fears though can be stumbling blocks for the unwary. “She is absent but Gallagrin is present. We are Gallagrin’s Voice and We pledge to hear you words and convey them to the Queen. Your claims will be weighed fairly against those brought against you by Senkin. This We declare.”

Speaking for Gallagrin was not a matter of letting the spirit of the realm possess her. Dae’s words were her own, but when she spoke in Gallagrin’s official voice they became something greater. What Dae declared more than a bound herself. Her words bond the whole realm. Alari herself would be required to abide by them or issue a formal declaration denouncing the pledge, which would in turn have unpleasant consequences for Gallagrin.

Gala rippled as Dae spoke, as though each word carried with it the weight of a surging gale. For a long moment the dryad was silent, processing what they had just experienced. When they spoke the tone of their voice was different, quieter and more thoughtful.

“Can you pledge Gallagrin to the Council’s side?” Gala asked. “Not will you, we do not ask that you commit to our cause yet, but is that decision within your power to make.”

“Yes,” Dae said. “Though we will make no rush to judgment without our Queen.”

It was the only sane alternative in Dae’s eyes. Whatever Ambassador Gala told her, Dae had to account for the fact that the Queen of Senkin could be refuting those same claims to Alari and offering a more accurate telling of what had transpired. Making any decisions without hearing both sides of the matter left open a huge possibility of being duped into supporting the wrong side of the conflict.

“The we shall accept you in the role of Gallagrin monarch,” Gala said.

“We are the monarch’s Voice and so act as an element of the throne,” Dae said. It was a bit of flowery verse she’d heard uttered as a refrain on sacred holidays. In passing she wondered how true the claim might be though. Only one monarch ruled each of the realms. If they chose to share that power, did doing so make the bearer of the new authority another aspect of the monarchy. It was a horrible thought since it led to the idea that Dae might already be “the Queen of Gallagrin” in some sense.

“Then we shall present our case to you,” Gala said. “You already know of the conflict between the Green Council and Senkin. As we are the first dispatched from the Green Council we must assume that your knowledge of the war’s beginning was given to you by Senkin or a Senkin loyalist.”

“Senkin has sent a representative to speak with Gallagrin,” Dae said, confirming the statement with a nod.

“And did they claim the attack was unprovoked?” Gala asked. “Or did they acknowledge their crimes and claim their actions as an early victory?”

“The representative we spoke to claimed the Council’s attack was unheralded and that they knew of no reason why it was begun,” Dae said.

“There was nothing unheralded about the retribution which was paid to Senkin,” Gala said. “They were the ones who broke the faith we have shared in each other for centuries. They were the ones who viciously attacked us first. The current state of the conflict, where we have shown them our might, has sent Senkin scurrying to your court, but they must not find support here or there will never be justice between the realms.”

“That is a strong claim to make,” Dae said, pleased to hear that the Green Council at least believed itself to have a legitimate grievance. With that in play, there was the possibility of resolving the conflict by resolving the issues it arose from. “We will need what details and proof you can provide.”

“We knew this,” Gala said. “And so we offer to let you see for yourself what transpired prior to our assault on Senkin:”

They held forth a small red marble.

“What is that?” Dae asked, her reading of ancient Green Council texts having missed a chapter on strange offerings to foreign powers.

“It a memory fruit,” Gala said. “If you ingest it you will see the memories of those who first discovered Senkin’s crime.”

“How can we know that the memories are not distortions or illusions?” Dae asked. The memory fruit could be a poison as well, but if the Green Council was willing to declare themselves irrevocably an enemy to Gallagrin, then Dae felt they’d try to get more out of the declaration than just the loss of one non-royal life. Also, since Kirios hadn’t abandoned her entirely, Dae was reasonably confident she could survive most poisons which Gala might throw at her.

“All memories are distortions and illusions,” Gala said. “In this case however, the memories do not need to stand alone. We can take you to the sites you will see in them. While you are not allied with Senkin, we will permit you to inspect the locations and confirm the memories for yourself.”

That offer was where a trap would lie if there was one, Dae thought, but put forth her hand anyways.

Gala walked forward and passed the red orb to Dae’s waiting hand.

“How long will these visions last?” Dae asked. Trapping her in a magical sensorium for a week wouldn’t count as an attack on Gallagrin but it would be highly inconvenient.

“The memory transfer is instantaneous,” Gala said, “but processing and understanding them may take a few minutes. You will likely be disoriented by the process unless you have experienced it many times already.”

“Please, wait here then,” Dae said and rose, calling Kemoral with her. On cue, guards from the Royal Army stepped into the room from all sides to keep an eye on Gala.

When they were back in the antechamber, Dae turned to Kemoral and asked the question both of them were wondering.

“So, is this reasonably insane or just flat out crazy?”

Faen drew in a deep breath and fixed Dae with a solid stare.

“For anyone else? Complete foolishness,” he said. “For you though? Just normal foolishness I’d say.”

“You’re not going to even try to talk me out of this are you?” Dae asked, please at that turn of events.

“My Lady Akorli, do you mistake me for someone incapable of learning?” Faen asked. “I’ve known you since before you bore most of the syllables in your name. Over time one does eventually notice certain…consistencies in your behavior.”

“Consistency? I suppose that’s an upgrade from ox-headed idiocy,” Dae said.

“Calling a new recruit an ox-headed idiot is done with the hope that it will motivate them to change their behavior,” Faen said. “Once that hope is lost, we simply say that they are ‘consistent’.”

“Well, in that case, I don’t need to ask you to watch over the realm until the Queen’s return if this doesn’t work out well for me,” Dae said.

“You need never ask me to do my duty,” Faen said. “I can be ‘consistent’ too.”

“Here’s to being consistently right then,” Dae said and popped the memory fruit into her mouth.

The world melted away as the fruit melted in her mouth. In its place, visions swarmed up from the dark roots of the earth and swallowed her mind. She’d expected the memories to be unpleasant but what she saw laid out before her was a wasteland and in her heart she felt the horror that gripped the Green Council at the abomination the world had become.

 

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