Iana positioned the last of the the overstuffed chairs, looked at her handiwork and scowled.
“Wrong arrangement, wrong type of chair, or something else?” Dae asked.
The First Sorceress was garbed in her usual traveling leathers, leaning against the doorframe to the conference room and watching her adopted daughter prepare for the first meeting of the Princess’ Council.
“This is supposed to simple,” Iana said. “Why is it not simple.”
“Because you care about it,” Alari said, “and caring about things is never simple.”
The Queen of Gallagrin was dressed in an uncharacteristically common style, matching the traveling leathers Dae wore.
“Well, almost never,” Dae said. “Somethings don’t have to be complicated at all.”
She smiled and nodded to Alari, sharing some private bit of happiness that Iana felt no need to intrude on.
“So that’s why you’re leaving me alone to handle this?” Iana asked. “So that it won’t get too complicated?”
“Not at all,” Alari said. “The Princess’ Council is a brilliant idea.”
“We’re taking a vacation so that it’ll be yours without us overshadowing it,” Dae said.
“And if something goes wrong?” Iana asked.
“Not if,” Alari said. “When something goes wrong, you’re going to handle it, just like you handled the Shadowfolk.”
“So this is punishment for going off without telling you?” Iana asked.
“Off with your attempted assassin,” Dae said.
“You had your reasons for that, and they were good ones,” Alari said. “So no, this is not a punishment. You have my full and complete faith, you know that. And we’re not going so far that we can’t get back here if something truly dire comes up.”
“Jyl and Pelay and Undine and Eorn will be here too, and your Warbringer pack,” Dae said. “If you need backup against your allies, trust me, there’ll be plenty of people willing to step up beside you.”
“I don’t need backup against them,” Iana said. “I’m just not sure if I can make them comfortable.”
“This is something new,” Alari said. “No one’s ever tried anything like it in Gallagrin. So no one’s going to be comfortable, but that’s ok.”
“But I need them to work together,” Iana said.
“How did you get your Warbringers to work together?” Dae asked.
“Joint combat exercises,” Iana said.
“Ok, those could present some problems with this group,” Dae said.
Iana started rearranging the chairs, trying to find a grouping that would provide enough distance between her guests. As it was they were going to be worrying about surprise attacks, Iana wanted to make sure that if anyone tried for one, she or one of the Guardians would have time to react before it was successful.
“I am impressed that you managed to convince representatives from both the Faeneril and the Shadowfolk to be part of this,” Alari said.
“I’m impressed you survived meeting them in the first place,” Dae said. “There’s a reason we’ve never asked for help from either group before.”
“Wasn’t that your doing though?” Iana asked.
“My doing? Whatever do you mean?” Dae asked.
“There were some very interesting coincidences,” Iana said. “Interesting enough that I have to wonder if someone wasn’t magicking things up and influencing events from afar.”
“Dae? Is that true?” Alari asked.
“Guilty as charged, but far far less than you seem to think,” Dae said. “It’s true that I had an inkling of what was going on, and I did try to nudge a few things to work out ok. The thing is though that I don’t know if that made a difference or not.”
“You’re trying to say you’re not sure if you were powerful enough to influence events at a distance?” Iana said.
“The more I explore what magic can do, the more I’m learning that it’s less about outright power and more about vision,” Dae said. “Dropping a mountain on someone will solve whatever problem they’re causing, but it’s certain to create more problems in the process.”
“So you have to be careful with what you do then? Even now?” Iana asked.
“Especially now,” Dae said. “It’s something a wise queen has tried to tell me ever since she was a wise princess. Power can’t be exercised without restraint. There are always consequences, and none of us can foresee all of the outcomes of what we do.”
“So what do we do then?” Iana asked.
“Our best, and trust in those who’ve shown themselves to be trustworthy,” Dae said.
“Is that why you didn’t come after me personally?” Iana asked.
“That and I asked her not to,” Alari said.
“It was the right call too,” Dae said. “Neither of us could have made the connections you did. And Neither of us could have ended things as well as you were able to.”
“It was a close thing,” Iana said. “If it wasn’t for the enchantments you put on my clothes I would have drifted away into the Abyss.”
“Uh, what enchantments?” Dae asked.
“The special protections you put on my clothes.” Iana said. “I know I wasn’t supposed to notice the little glyphs in the hem but you picked my favorite type of flower so…”
Iana put down the chair she was moving and looked up to see Dae staring at her in disbelief.
“You didn’t put that enchantment there,” Iana said the pieces falling into place.
“I enchanted your knife,” Dae said. “I’m used to working with armor and steel. Metal holds the magic so well. It’s why I told you to hang onto it.”
“My clothes were definitely enchanted,” Iana said. “I’d given the knife away by then, so they had to be.”
“I believe you that they were enchanted, but not by me,” Dae said, squinting at Iana.
“If it wasn’t you then who?” Iana asked, looking over to Alari who shook her head.
“No one mortal,” Dae said. “The realm’s magic exists inside of creation. The Abyss is beyond that.”
“But who else could have…”
She’d stood before a god. One of her gods. She’d expected to face fury and condemnation but she’d found only love and kindness.
Iana had left the Green Council but that didn’t mean her god had left her.
She clutched her chest as a wave of raw emotion rolled over her.
Telliakai hadn’t tried to hold her back. The goddess of the Green Council had set her free, not because she didn’t care where Iana went, but because she knew that wherever Iana traveled she would there too.
“Are you going to be ok?” Alari asked, moving to help Iana settle into a chair.
“Yeah, it’s just…I didn’t realize…I thought I left everything behind me.”
“You left behind the parts of your old life that you don’t need anymore,” Dae said.
“And from here on out you get to pick the pieces that you make your new life from,” Alari said.
There was a knock on the door to the conference room, followed by a page entering.
“The Council members have begun to arrive, shall I show them in?” the page asked.
Alari looked to Iana.
“Yes, please do,” Iana said and straightened up.
“In a moment,” Alari said and turned to Iana. “You do not need our shadow hanging over you, but you can always have our arms to shield you and our shoulders to lean on.”
“Thank you,” Iana said. “I think I’ve got this.”
“We know you do,” Dae said, and threaded her fingers together with Alari’s a moment before the two of them simply vanished.
Yuehne the would-be-assassin was the first to enter, followed by Venita the dwarven sky carriage driver, with Wynni the Shadowfolk assassin and Che-chara the Faeneril warrior in their wake.
“As execution chambers go, there’s a remarkable lack of edged weapons around,” Wynni said.
“Execution chamber?” Che-chara asked.
“It’s one of the running bets as to the real reason the Princess invited me here,” Wynni said.
“How much do you stand to win when you return?” Venita asked.
“Enough to make me a moderately wealthy woman,” Wynni said.
“I have to confess, I don’t understand why we’re here,” Yuehne said. “Bets on execution aside that is.”
“It’s not complicated,” Iana said. “I’m not from Gallagrin. You all are. I need your counsel if I’m going to learn about this realm and be able to make the right decisions for it.”
“I get that part,” Yuehne said. “I mean why are we here. Us specifically. Or, well, me.”
“Why wouldn’t I want you here?” Iana asked.
“I tried to kill you,” Yuehne said. “Most people have a problem with that.”
“To be fair, I was going to kill her too,” Wynni said.
“And if she’d played her cards poorly when we first met, I might have had to kill her as well,” Che-chara said.
“I guess that makes me the odd one out,” Venita said.
“You tried to throw me off a sky carriage in flight,” Iana said.
“Oh yeah, almost forget that,” Venita said. “Kind of hoped you had too.”
“So you’re surrounding yourself with people who want to kill you?” Yuehne asked. “Is the idea that we’d be too busy trying to outdo the others that we’d never get around to attacking you?”
“While that would play well on the stage, no, I’m not insulting your intelligence like that,” Iana said. “You’re here, all of you, because you’ve given me good counsel and are willing to speak the truth to me despite any fancy title I get to wear.”
“I don’t recall ever advising you on anything,” Yuehne said. “I’ve just told you how wrong you are.”
“Yes, frequently,” Iana said. “The day I stop listening to that, is the day I become like my old superior, and I never want to become like him. If I can’t bear to listen to people telling me that I’m wrong, if I can’t modify my thinking when they’re right, or explain why I believe what I do, then I have no business leading anyone.”
“Elder Tonel used to say that a leader’s job was to make the decisions that the lesser people couldn’t,” Wynni said.
“He was a failure as a leader,” Iana said. “No one is ‘lesser’. Anyone can make decisions, especially if they’re stamped as correct just because of who made them.”
“So you think having us around will fix that?” Yuehne asked.
“Not just having you around,” Iana said. “I going to need more from you than occasional meetings to discuss strategy and tactics. I’m going to need you, all of you, to be out there in the realm, engaging with our people. I going to need you to bring their voice, to even bring them, to me.”
“That doesn’t sound like how Gallagrin governs its people,” Yuehne said.
“It’s not,” Iana said. “Gallagrin is my home now. My family is here. But I am not a part of it. Not yet. I can’t offer it the leadership it is used to, but I can try to bring in what I know and maybe those tools can solve some of the problems that have faced this realm for decades now.”
“That’s a tall order,” Venita said. “What makes you think we’re up to doing all that for you?”
“You were willing to try,” Iana said.
“If we try and fail, won’t a whole realm be turned against us though?” Che-chara asked.
“Possibly,” Iana said. “That’s why we’re going to start small.”
“How do you start small with ruling a realm?” Yuehne asked.
“Most of the land in Gallagrin is held by the various noble families,” Iana said. “But there are a few estates outside of Highcrest which are held directly by the Royal Family. We’re going to take one of those over.”
“Militarily?” Wynni asked.
“In a sense,” Iana said. “My sisters and I were part of an elite combat unit in the Green Council. We’re going to take command of the militia forces which guard one of the estates and with your help, we’re going to turn it into a center of trade to rival Highcrest. Before I take the crown, I want to make a jewel out of the Keep at Empty Rock.”
“What sort of support will the crown give us?” Venita asked.
“None,” Iana said. “They said I couldn’t run you through combat exercises, but they never said I couldn’t put a challenge before you. The question is, will you join me in this?”
“A month ago I couldn’t have conceived of hearing those words, a week ago I would have laughed at the pretender who uttered them, but today? I don’t know how you did it, but today I hear my Princess asking me to join her and I can only say yes,” Yuehne said. “Yes, I will.”