Change is rarely easy when it comes and with the slaying of the Consort-King the wheels of change began to grind once more in the Blessed Realms.
“Please tell me again that it’s a good thing that we’ve been summoned to the Royal Castle,” Ren said, trying not to fidget in the richly appointed chair in the Queen’s study.
“I will never lie to you,” Teo said, placing his hand on Ren’s and giving a comforting squeeze.
“You know, I’m stronger now than I’ve ever been, but I don’t think I’ve ever been this scared before,” Ren said. “It doesn’t seem like those two things should be true at the same time.”
“And yet they often are,” Teo said. “As we get older and wiser, I think the principal lesson we learn is that we are smaller than we ever imagined. And part of something much larger than we can ever hope to handle on our own.”
“This definitely qualifies as ‘larger than I can handle’,” Ren said, looking around the oversized study.
In addition to the quartet of comfortable chairs arranged before an dark wood desk which was polished to a shine so rich is practically illuminated the room on its own, there were the towering bookshelves which adorned every inch of the curving walls and gave the room an aroma of concentrated knowledge, which would have lent authority to anyone who took the empty seat behind desk.
“I will say that this is a more imposing sort of venue than the last place I saw the Queen,” Teo said. “From that experience though I believe we have less to fear than we have on similar occasions when your father called you to account for something.”
Ren tensed at the mention of the Duke, but managed not to curse, which was progress of a sort.
“Even after his death, he is still causing trouble for me,” Ren said. “I think he would be proud of that, if he remembered that I was his son at all.”
“He has no hold on you any longer,” Teo said, moving his hand from Ren’s hand to his shoulder.
“But he’s still a problem from Gallagrin though,” Dae said, hobbling into the room at a respectable speed on her crutches.
“Lady Akorli!” Teo said and stood so quickly that it appeared he’d never been sitting at all.
“Master Si’Nostrum,” Dae said, nodding her head in place of a bow. “You can sit down, we’ve got some time before the formal meeting starts.”
“Formal meeting?” Ren asked.
“There’s a few other guests coming,” Dae said and smiled as she dropped into one of the chairs on the same side of the desk as Teo and Ren.
“It sounds like you know what the purpose of this meeting is?” Teo asked. “Could you perhaps fill us in?”
“The Queen has a few questions for you,” Dae said. “I do too.”
“And what would you and the Queen like to know?” Ren asked, clutching tighter to the arm of his seat.
“You have a Pact Spirit now,” Dae said. “How’s that working out for you?”
“Well,” Ren said. “We seem to be agreeably matched.”
“You’re lucky,” Dae said. “Some folks fight with their spirits for a long time. How does it like you feeding Teo?”
“It finds the notion intriguing,” Ren said. “It’s never been bonded to someone who was bonded to a vampire before.”
Dae let out a chuckle.
“They’re strange little beasts, but predictable as hell sometimes,” she said. “Give them a unique experience and that’s all they’ll ask for from you.”
“I understand there might be some concern over my bonding,” Ren said, not yet releasing his grip on the chair’s arm.
“There’ve been worse bondings,” Dae said. “That’s not why the Queen asked you here though, that was just something I was curious about.”
“Why?” Ren asked.
“I was curious if when I fought your father there was a contest for his Pact spirit,” Dae said. “If you’d laid a claim on the Tel Pact Spirit, it would have weakened him significantly.”
“No, I was given a different spirit,” Ren said. “Not one of my family’s ancestral ones.”
“That’s good to know,” Dae said. “I’m glad that was a fair fight.”
She thought for a moment and then added. “How do you feel about the outcome?”
“Do you mean, am I glad that he’s dead?” Ren asked.
“That and how do you feel about the fact that the person who killed him is in the room with you now?” Dae asked.
“Those are two separate questions with at least three answers,” Ren said.
“Leave me out of it for the moment then,” Dae said.
“Then the answer is simple,” Ren said. “I don’t know yet.”
He paused and Dae waited for him to continue.
“I could say that I am glad, and I certainly feel enough joy to make that true,” Ren said. “My father was a horrible man. I’ve known that since I was too young to put the thought in words. I dreamed of him leaving, or dying, thousands of times, but now that he’s gone it’s like I’ve been left with a lot of things undone. It’s a relief, but it’s also a burden too. It’s hard to describe because I never saw myself in this position as anything more than a day dream.”
“That’s a fair answer,” Dae said. “I think anything else might have worried me.”
“For the other part of your question, there are two answers I can make,” Ren said. “I could settle on one of them though if I knew more about why Teo and I were called here.”
“You were called here because we have an offer to make to you Rendolan Greis Telli,” Alari said. She was carried into the room by her attendant river sprites and while her body had healed remarkably well in the days since her injury, the Queen of Gallagrin was still far from whole.
“An offer your Majesty?” Ren asked. “I do not deserve your kindness, not after the woes my family inflicted upon your noble house.”
“Our offer is neither a kindness nor a punishment,” Alari said as the river sprites carefully laid her into the regal chair behind the grand desk. “I am in need of a trustworthy overseer for a grand endeavor and my Knight has recommended you.”
“You want to give me a job?” Ren asked, his hand slowly unlocking from the arm of his chair.
“More than a job,” Alari said. “This is a role of authority which will report directly to my Knight.”
“I am honored your Majesty,” Ren said.
“You should ask what the job is,” Dae said.
“Yes, we put this forth as an offer and not a royal command Rendolan Greis Telli,” Alari said. “What we will ask of you will be no easy task.”
“What would you have of me, my Queen?” Ren asked.
“She wants you to clean up the Dawn March,” Dae said.
“I’m sorry Lady Akorli, I believe I misheard you,” Teo said.
“No,” Dae said. “You didn’t.”
“How am I to undertake this task?” Ren asked.
“You will start with one small piece of it,” Alari said. “We will appoint you as the Commander of the Dawn March division located in Nath.”
“There’s no commander there now?” Ren asked.
“Strangely, no,” Dae said. “Somehow when the Dawn March returned from its fool’s errand to comfort Prince Lorenzo’s family with an army, Commander Ketel wasn’t among their numbers.”
“He fled his post?” Teo asked.
“It’s not advisable to be under the patronage of a traitor to the crown,” Alari said.
“About that Your Majesty,” Ren said. “My own familial connections…”
“Are of no concern,” Alari interrupted him sharply. “The evil of the former Duke of Tel will be buried with his remains. We will not hold anyone liable for the sins of their father. Our own ledger would run far too red if such inheritance were to burden the generations to come.”
“Then my brother will be the next Duke of Tel?” Ren asked, neither hopeful nor protesting.
“On the condition that a trial of his noble peers cleared him of any involvement in his father’s plottings, that might have come to pass. Word has reached us that your brother has quit his home and fled though. We do not look well upon this.”
“You know where he’s going, don’t you?” Dae asked.
“Inchesso,” Ren said. “He seeks the aid of my father’s allies there.”
“Nothing good will come of that,” Teo said.
“We expect you are correct,” Alari said. “If we could invite any assassins he might find to aid his cause to make another attempt on our life that would make for a diverting pastime. Since he likely is aware of that however, we believe he will focus his attention elsewhere.”
“He’s going to try to kill Ren isn’t he?” Teo asked.
“And he will fail,” Alari said. “We would offer you a position as Lord Greis bodyguard, but it is not an offer when you are unable to refuse it. So instead allow us to offer to make you one of our Personal Guardsman. You will report to my Knight as well, and will be on special assignment to Nath for so long as it takes my new Commander to return the Dawn March to the organization it was meant to be.”
“I am to be Lord Greis then?” Ren asked. “Is it true then that you will grind the Tel family to nothing? I received reports that your oath against my father was rather all encompassing.”
“That was our original intent, but my Knight has given us another interpretation of our vow which we will hold to,” Alari said. “Your father will be stricken from the Tel family record. His remains will be ground up with offal and buried in an unhallowed grave along with all of the belongings which he carried. His personal riches will be distributed to the poor of the Tel Duchy, and as he no longer has a family, the Tel fortune will be untouched.”
“You’ll need to be Lord Greis for another reason though,” Dae said.
“Yes,” Alari said. “You will act in my place, to accuse the nobility and stand against them when they commit the crimes which no one else can bring them to account for. As such you can be loyal to no one house.”
“Who will rule Tel in my brother’s absence?” Ren asked.
“The second heir of Tel is your sister,” Alari said. “She is the one who gifted you with your Pact Spirit is she not?”
“Yes, she is.” Ren said, shrinking back into his chair.
“We will bring her to court,” Alari said. “It has been too many years since we have seen her, and we would see Tel ruled by a Duchess who is up to the challenge.”
“She may not wish to come to court,” Ren said, thinking of his sister’s unique circumstances.
“Then I might pay her a visit in Elinspire,” Dae said. Ren had no illusions as to the nature of that visit. Despite the aid she’d rendered to him, Ren’s sister could still be a threat in the Queen’s eyes and the Queen’s Knight existed to investigate and eliminate the people and things which might threaten Queen and Country.
“We will strive to renew her acquaintance under more favorable terms however,” Alari said. “We will likely need her aid against the troubles which are brewing.”
“Troubles Your Majesty?” Teo asked.
“Yes,” Alari said. “There is war on the horizon.”
“Who is left to wage war on Gallagrin?” Ren asked.
“Paxmer,” Alari said.
“Would they dare?” Teo asked.
“She sent them back their stud prince,” Dae said.
“No, we sent them back a piece of their prince,” Alari said. “The head, torso and limbs we gave to Prince Lorenzo’s family in payment of the debt owed to them.”
“The Inchesso can do terrible things with dead bodies,” Teo said.
“Yes, we are rather counting on that,” Alari said. Her smile was small, unkind and entirely heartfelt.
“Your Majesty,” a page said. “Officer Javan Kael of the Dawns March is reporting as ordered.”
“Send him in,” Alari said.
Kael walked into the room with his head held high and proud. Then he saw Dae pouring a set of drinks for everyone and his whole body sagged in resignation.
“Ren, meet your new second in command,” Dae said. “Officer Kael here can help you find every last bit of corruption in the Nath March. If you leave him a piece of it, he’ll even make up some new corruption for you to find, so I suggest limiting him to only his standard wages.”
“Do you hate me Kor?” Kael asked. “The fences alone are going to string me up from the bridges in Nath. All of them!”
“All of the fences or all of the bridges?” Ren asked.
“Both,” Dae said, her smile as wicked as Alari’s though tinged with a dram more kindness. “Unless of course his very powerful commander is pleased with him and agrees to keep him safe.”
Teo took the glass of fine wine which Dae offered him as Kael sank down into the last open seat at the meeting.
The vampire smiled and saluted his new boss, as Dae relaxed into her chair, closed her eyes and enjoyed a well deserved moment of peace.