The Heart’s Oath – Chapter 15

Alari was pleased with the reaction her party provoked when the exited the Royal Sky Carriage in Senkladel, the capital of the Senkin realm. There was a fantastic flurry of activity as news of their arrival had somehow spread ahead of the fastest Wind Steeds.

“This is most unusual…” Senkin’s Chief Seneschal started to say as Jyl exited the carriage clothed in royal finery but not Pact armor. Alari followed immediately behind her Guard and made it down to the platform before anyone understood who they stood before.

“We would speak with Senkin at their earliest convenience,” Alari said, meeting the Senschal’s gaze with a pleasant smile. The Senschal’s expression rapidly melted from annoyance to pure terror.

Alari didn’t blame the woman. The unannounced arrival of a reigning monarch at the court of another monarch was unprecedented in the history of the Blessed Realms. The Senschal couldn’t be sure if this was the diplomatic event of a lifetime or the opening of a new front in the war which was sweeping up the realms. In a sense it was both, which was why Alari kept her instructions simple and brief.

“Who should I say…” the Seneschal began before the absurdity of the question silenced her. Alari doubted that her face would be recognizable by the majority of Senkin’s populace but somehow as highly placed as the person responsible for greeting new arrivals on the Senkin Royal Air Platform would be familiar with the royalty of the realms and their immediate families via portraiture and glamour facades.

“You may inform Senkin that Gallagrin and Haldri of Paxmer wish to enter discussions with Senkin on the matter of the the Green Council,” Alari said.

The Seneschal absorbed that and twitched as Alari finished, jerking her head to the Gallagrin Royal Carriage from which Haldri was exiting as though prompted.

Alari knew that Haldri was a dangerous choice for an ally. The former Queen of Paxmer was not well loved by any of the other realms. Worse, she still had every reason to hate Alari, and the loss of her realm was recent enough that hope still had to live within Haldri’s heart that she could somehow win it back.

When the former Queen of Paxmer stepped down onto the arrival platform though, she did so without theatrics, instead quietly walking to stand beside and slightly behind Alari in the position a favored advisor would take.

The rest of Alari’s retinue spilled from the confines of the large carriage, forming a small diplomatic strike force. That the two Queen’s Guards could easily overwhelm the entire defensive guard that was stationed on the platform was something neither Alari nor Haldri missed. Under normal circumstances that was a perfectly understandable state of affairs. With the onset of a war though, security should have been tighter. Unless Senkin did not believe that the Green Council posed a real threat to them.

“”I will inform Her Majesty the Queen of Senkin at once,” the Seneschal said and scurried off, leaving the Gallagrin party without oversite or supervision. That was also a testament of sorts. No one rose to the position of Chief Seneschal while being easily flustered. Not in Gallagrin or Paxmer at any rate.

Alari had never made as in-depth a study of her neighboring realms as she might have. There were simply too many problems with her own to leave her with the time to do so. Her instinct towards expediting involvement in the Senkin / Green Council conflict was driven less by her knowledge of her neighboring realms and more from an awareness of the shifting geopolitical landscape of the Blessed Realms as a whole.

Haldri maintained that their conflict had set the world out of balance. Alari didn’t believe that, but only because, to her eyes, the world had never been in balance. Not even before dreams took the Sleeping Gods from them.

History spoke of wars and border skirmishes between the realms. The wars were brought to an end by treaties between the gods. Fighting along the borders never ended though, with each realm slowly nibbling into its neighbors or being pruned back as the tide of leadership and strength for each realm ebbed and flowed.

And there was the Ocean Blue.

No Sleeping God had ever claimed dominion over the ocean’s waves and yet so much lay beyond the farthest horizon anyone from the realm could see.

With Paxmer’s fall, the Sunlost Isles were once again the masters of the Far Waters. The voyages were incredibly dangerous, with the lands beyond the Blessed Realms holding no fixed position to one another, but the rewards were a siren’s call for the courageous and foolhardy. Precious metals, rare spices, medicines of unparalleled potency, and magics the like of which the realms had never seen.

The Sleeping Gods had forbidden voyages to the Far Waters, but even during their reign that rule had been a loosely observed one. Alari imagined her descendants would one day tread those distant shores, but that was only going to happen if she could prevent the Realms from tearing themselves back to ruin and savagery.

“Should we wait in the carriage?” Jyl asked. She was scanning the platform they’d landed on and all of the vantage points around it, no doubt concerned by the variety of positions an assault could come from.

“That would reassure Senkin,” Alari said. “But that is not why we are here.”

She started to march to the door the Senschal had fled through.

“Shall we barge in on her directly?” Haldri asked.

“No, we shall visit the city,” Alari asked. “We wish to see how Senkin readies itself.”

It was a calculated move. Senkin’s Queen wouldn’t want Alari wandering around in the capital collecting intelligence for too long but also couldn’t afford to anger a potential ally. If the Queen of Senkin had planned to have a productive day of meetings with her staff, those plans were going to come tumbling down in flames. Alari didn’t necessarily want to sabotage Senkin’s war efforts, but she felt like the sooner she understood them the better it would be for everyone.

The Queen of Senkin apparently thought along similar lines. Before Alari’s party could reach the exit from the sky platform, one of the Senkin Royal Guard approached them.

“Your Majesty,” he said. “I see that Captain Suncourt has delivered her message to you and produced exceptional results. I am General Skybright Phillip, and I am to escort you to Her Majesty Marie the Queen of Senkin’s reception chamber.”

General Skybright led the party, including Captain Suncourt Corrine, into a large receiving room similar to the one Alari used for greeting official guests in Highcrest. The room was neither warm, nor comfortable, nor intimate. Polished marble seats were colored by the stained glass of the windows that bathed the room in a rainbow of light centered on the central dias where the Queen of Senkin awaited them with her advisors flanking her.

Wisely, in Alari’s view, there was also nearly a hundred Royal Senkin Guards arranged around the edges of the room. As a sitting monarch, the Queen of Senkin would be difficult to kill, but there was little reason to allow foreign visitors to even make the attempt.

“We welcome you to our realm, Gallagrin,” the Queen of Senkin said. “Your arrival was not anticipated or announced.”

Marie Senkin had sat upon her through since Alari’s grandmother had ruled Gallagrin. From all of the reports Alari had read the two women had gotten along well. Relations at the time between Senkin and Gallagrin were in a cool period due to some bad contracts between minor nobles on the two sides. Together Marie and Alari’s grandmother had sorted out the mess and returned the two countries to a stable and friendly footing.

The early part of King Sathe’s rule had seen a continuation of those policies but as the Butcher King descended into madness the warm relations the two realms enjoyed chilled until they froze. The lack of support from outside realms had been one of the contributing factors to Alari’s eventual victory, but in the wake of King Sathe’s overthrow Alari had found that her neighbors were still wary of connections with Gallagrin.

It had taken seven years, and a fair amount of gold, to build a new foundation for trust between the realms. Those were seven years Alari refused to toss away.

“We have heard your messenger’s words and we recognize how dire the situation is,” Alari said.

“As yet we face nothing more than a persistent foe at our borders,” Marie said. “A situation not unlike one Gallagrin struggled with until recently.”

Alari heard a faint huff of laughter from behind her. Haldri.

“You face a very different foe than the one Gallagrin did,” Haldri said, speaking out of turn and directly addressing Marie Senkin as though speaking from one monarch to another.

The Senkin Queen’s eyes took on a hard set.

“My advisor speaks the truth,” Alari said, before the Queen of Senkin could object. “Gallagrin and Paxmer skirmished with each other since since the reign of the Sleeping Gods. We knew each other’s strengths and limitations and weaknesses. Between Senkin and the Green Council there has been only peace for centuries. You are not ready for this war, and you never should be.”

“You came here in such haste to tell us this?” Marie asked.

“We came here with haste to listen and observe,” Alari said. “Your Captain Suncourt provided testimony to the start of the conflict. We wish a clearer view of the conflict so that we may help mediate a resolution, or failing that, joining cause with the aggrieved side.”

“This conflict is of the Green Council’s doing,” Marie said. “We have been assaulted and our borders violated. There will be no mediation until redress if made for those offenses. Had we need of Gallagrin’s forces to defend our border, that is the word we would have sent.”

Alari forced herself not to sigh and not to take offense. Senkin’s description of the conflict was like listening to her Inner Lords, the one’s who’s castles defended no borders and who rarely saw the need to draw arms. They, like the Queen, were unused to seeing the depths of violence the Mindful Races could sink to and were quick to deny evidence that any serious problems were occurring. As with them, Alari believed the answer to Senkin’s Queen had to come from a place of calm and patience.

“In times past those forces would have been lent willingly and swiftly,” Alari said. “Even today, there are bonds of friendship between our nobles that might pull some number of Gallagrin’s northern lords across your border to aid their partners and allies.”

She needed Senkin’s Queen to remember, in spite of the chaos of the day, that in Gallagrin she was dealing with a potential ally and not another complication to be resolved and discarded.

“Yes,” Marie said, memories of happier times flickering across the back of her eyes. “We may have aid whether we would call for it or not. As seems to be the case here.”

“If your court could provide us with the testimony and details that we require, we will be in the best position possible to intervene with the Green Council and work out the redresses which need to be made.” Alari didn’t want to promise anything specific until she’d heard the testimony of both of the realms, but she knew that for the war to end and not simply lie fallow waiting to blaze up again when it was stoked, there would need to be some restitution made by at least one of the parties involved.

“That testimony and evidence are being assembled now.” Marie said. “It’s possible that we will have resolved the threat the Green Council presents before the operation is complete however.”

As though in direct punishment for tempting fate, General Skybright reappeared in the room.

“Your Majesty, a message has arrived from the border,” he said. “The invasion is pressing forward and none of our troops can stand against them!”

“Senkin, in kindness, please expedite that testimony collection,” Alari said. “While that is being done, we will journey to the invasion’s front and speak with the forces there.”

“Our forces?” Marie asked.

“And the Green Council forces,” Alari said. “This invasion needs to end today!”

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