Chris was getting tired of waiting and it had begun to show in her expression
as she fought the urge to vent on the nearest breakable object, or person.
The night at Brass Castle seemed longer than any shed been forced to
endure alone out in Iksay. She had tried to lie down on the couch, but even
Boruss wine didnt relax her enough to find sleep. After a futile
hour of staring at the ceiling of Salomes quarters, she gave up and
took a seat near the window.
The breeze chilled her as she pushed the paned panel open, but not in an uncomfortable way. So many things held on her mind as she looked out across the training yard. Would the Council approve of her return? The last time she had stood before them, she had defied them. They had offered her a great deal of money to retain the True Water Rune and to keep her position in the knights, but she had refused. Then, true to their unscrupulous nature, they resorted to drastic tactics in a desperate attempt to change her mind. Her title and status in the Federation were abruptly revoked and in a single night her family home and fortune were confiscated. Even so, nothing they had said or done would change her mind. Not even the words of Chairman Sohortwords that she would never forget nor forgive him foronly reinforced her decision. If you insist on denying your country of your service to marrying a penniless farmer, then well be glad to change you from a heroine of war to a whiskey house whore.
Still, she hoped that now, just this once, they would be reasonable. She was sure that Louis would support her request, although his allies on the Council were waning. She also knew that Salome would stand by her and, regardless of what the Council decided, defer his rank to her. A twinge of guilt smacked her in the face, colder than any night breeze could ever be. Was this still the right thing to do? Percival had told her a hundred, no a thousand times, to never get involved in this war. He had begged her that should something happen to him to stay at home and raise their children, and find someone new to share the rest of her life with, should she desire that. They both knew the risks of battle, and denial of any sort could never change the outcome of that fact. But she couldnt change her mind now. She knew, somehow, that he was still alive, and she also knew, that no matter how selfish it was, that she had to do everything possible to bring him back.
She glanced over to the bed where the boys slept. Soft rays of yellow sunlight had finally begun to peek over the horizon, painting highlights onto the childrens faces. Despite this they didnt stir or wake; they were exhausted and with good cause. No matter what Ryan had said about not being tired the night before, he was still curled up next to his little brother, who was contently sucking his thumb.
She smiled at them proudly. Although they were still very young, she knew they would grow to be very different and important men in their time. Ryan, with his dark hair and mischievous eyes, was the spirit and image of his father. He had already proven himself to be a talented rider, and he would become better with time. She knew he aspired to become a knight, and while she dreaded the day he would leave for his training, she knew he would make her proud.
Geoffrey, on the other hand, would never be as physically powerful as his brother, and a childhood illness was to blame for that. It had been only eight months after he had been born when some sort of strangling sickness took him. By the grace of Sadie, Percy had been home with her when it had happened. To this day, she doubted she could have managed it alone.
Although her husbands presence had been somewhat comforting to her during that ordeal, Poor Geoffreys fever was so high that his face was drenched in sweat even as he shook with chills. He gasped and coughed constantly as if someone was choking him and a strange rash of white, leprous spots covered his throat. No healer in the village had an idea of what to do and several feared to even enter the room to try. One even muttered about curses and black magic being beyond any mortals reach. Chris was sure they were only trying to hide their ignorance and fear of catching it themselves but she also knew that the nearest castle with a chance of a doctor being there was four hours ride. Fortunately, a neighbor had volunteered to go to Budehuc and seek help, but Geoffrey would have to suffer in the meantime. Many times that horrible night Chris had been sure they would lose him and every time he choked on his breath, her eyes filled tears.
Percival refused to give up hope and kept reassuring her and Ryan that it would be all right. Although he sounded convincing, she knew he was fearful as well. At one point that night she had put Ryan to bed, and then went to the kitchen to heat some honey to try and soothe Geoffreys throat.
Upon returning to the keeping room, Chris had thought the worst had happened, but quickly realized her assumption had been premature. What she had seen was something she could never forget nor interrupt. Percival was on his knees, holding the baby with one arm and wiping his tiny forehead with a cool rag, trying to bring some comfort to the sick child. She heard him whisper a desperate prayer to Sadie. Percy had always been quite devout, much more so than she. His faith had always been strong, even when things were dire, and at that moment, as her heart was sinking with every cough, he was begging for the life of his child, no matter what the cost. The words he strained to speak caused tears to slip down her face, and she would always remember them. Blessed Sadie, I beg you to spare this childs life. Let him know the world, not just the cradle. Let him live to be one of your servants in your fields. Let him find joy in celebrating your harvest. If a life your scythe should want tonight, pray take mine in his place.
Chris stood in the doorway as he had repeated the simple prayer a few times, each time his voice slipping some more as he cradled the child. Before she had found the courage to disrupt him, a knock came on the door. Percivals prayers had been answered faster than anyone could have anticipated. The neighbor had returned with a nurse and some medicine. By the morning, the childs fever was gone, and after a week, he wasnt coughing at all.
Still, to this day, Geoffrey had to be careful, especially when the air changed. Sometimes he would wheeze, but they had a remedy for it. Lavender, fennel and garlic ground to a pulp and then dried and inhaled eased the problem, but didnt cure the disease. He lived and for that she would be eternally grateful, but he would never become as strong as his brother. Though even now, as a small child, he always put more effort into his thoughts before he spoke, and in that way, he resembled his father. Level headed, contemplative, and far less impulsive than his older brother, Geoffrey often surprised others with flashes of wisdom well out of place in one so young.
Chris shook the memory of that frightening time from her senses and turned to watch the sun climb over the hills in the distance. The wait was over. It was time to wake the children and ride to Vinay del Zexay.
Louis pulled himself along the streets of Vinay del Zexay, being careful to avoid the many loose cobblestones that hed never noticed before his injury. He had become used to walking with his crutches and wooden leg over the past four and half years, but the noise it made still bothered him. The looks of curious people as he limped past sounding more like a lame horse than a man still haunted him. Whether half-concealed over their shoulder or done outright, the stares were impolite but expected. But regardless of his personal discomforts, he had something important to do, and only a lunch hour to do it in if he wanted to beat the messengers.
He headed down towards the trading district, a short walk from the Council building. This was his regular route during his lunch break, but today it seemed longer. The same stores were there with the same vendors, and he offered a few customary greetings to those he knew, but they were emptier than usual. Passing the shops and piers, he paused for a moment to pull his scarf closer to his neck. It was April, but the chill was still in the air. As he neared his destination, he looked up to see the angered ocean. The winds wrestled with it, pushing white caps up onto the hulls of the docked boats and rocking them against the roped piers, as if taunting them to set sail and tempt the fates.
A few more steps and a few more stares brought him to the place he soughtRedrum Wines and Dry Goods. It was one of the citys largest shops, owned for generations by the same affluent family, and infamous for its exceptional ability to turn a profit in even the hardest of times. He pushed the door open and was greeted in the usual way by the proprietor.
Hail Councilman Keeferson! Its good to see you sir! The portly man with thinning blonde hair and a smile full of wrinkles bellowed.
The same to you Lord Robert, Louis answered as he grinned at how much of a stark contrast this jovial man was to his two intense sons. Perhaps that came from their mother?
Robert offered his hand, which Louis shook after adjusting his crutches. What is it we can do for you today? Or are you just here to whisk the lovely Victoria Maserdon to lunch? Shes in the back, helping a customer with some fabric, but Ill fetch her as soon as shes done.
Straightening himself up as much as he possibly could, Louis nodded. Yes, of course, but I fear I may need to steal her for the day, if thats all right with you, milord. I regret that I have some rather disturbing news for her.
Louis whispered gravely. I fear her dear uncle has been lost to us.
I see, the old man said as he shook his head sadly. Take her for the day then sir, and the rest of the week, if she needs it as well.
Thank you, milord.
No, thank you, Councilman. Your diligence in questioning the length and reasoning of this war brings me hope that I might see my errant son out live me. He paused as a pensive thought pulled at his face. I wish they were still allowing us to write to our children involved in this, but I understand the need for caution, given that weve found traitors among our ranks.
I know it is difficult for the families of our soldiers, but Im glad that you understand why we had to stop it, Louis said as met the mans eyes. I cant promise anything, but next time I send word to Brass, Ill be sure to include your regards to Lord Borus.
I appreciate that, more than I can express.
The two men stood in silence for less than a moment, when Torrie and her customer reappeared in the store. As soon as she saw Louis, her face flushed, but still he gave her a smile. Lord Robert flashed a knowing grin between them, and then went to relive relieve her of her sale.
Torrie patted her cheeks with Louiss handkerchief as she sank deeper into the small sofa that occupied most of her living room. Has anyone told Chris and the children yet?
Salome went himself, the Councilman answered as he gripped her hand. Im sorry.
She shook her head at him, her long brown curls accentuating the motion. Youve said that many times, but theres nothing to apologize for. You did nothing wrong, and Im glad it was you that told me and not some impersonal messenger.
Louis gave a faint smile as he draped his arm across her shoulders. I wish you didnt have to hear it at all.
Yes, but still.
He didnt bother to respond to that sentiment. She had summed it up quite well. This was something denial wasnt going to fix. Drawing her closer, he felt her head touch his shoulder. It wasnt much comfort for either of them, but it was something.
A few moments later, she straightened up and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. Oh! I best fix lunch or Ill make us both late.
His face warmed with her touch, and he shook his head. Dont bother yourself. Lord Robert said you could take the day, and tomorrow, if youd like.
Thats quite kind of him, but Im sure that the Council would not be so forgiving of your absence at this afternoons session.
No, they would not, would they? Louis said, as his green eyes grew dark. I will have to leave you.
Then let me make you some lunch, since its my turn, all right?
He gave a weak smile as she rose to her feet, knowing he could not argue with her. All right.
Watching her walk away into the adjoining kitchen, Louis couldnt help but shake his head in amazement at how much that woman had changed him in the past few months. He actually cared that his hair was combed and his clothes matched! He walked taller even as he limped down the streets. He had something to look forward to after the Council meetings. He had someone to live for, and he never thought that would happen, especially after his injury.
It had all happened so suddenly. There he had been, standing in the Redrums store, just about to make a purchase of some special wine, for a not-so-special occasion, when she smiled at him. She had remembered his name she had remembered him but he couldnt place her. She had told him who she was, and then it came back. She was the little girl he had danced with at a wedding of two very good friends so many years ago! How she had grown! He had offered to take her to lunch in an attempt to make up for being so rude and forgetting such a lovely face. She had accepted the offer, and it had gone from there.
Torrie constantly amazed him with her independence. Even though she could have lived well with Lord Robert and his family, she had chosen to find her own home and pay for it from her own earnings. It was a small well-made place, simple, elegant, and warm even in the coldest of winter nights. It was, in truth, very much like Torrie herself. Louis knew he had found someone very unique in her, one willing to see him and not just his missing leg. With her strong-willed nature she would never try to serve him, or feel sorry for him. More and more they had begun to function as a team, a pair. Theyd work together to cook, or take turns at it. When walking on the streets, she let him use her for support, even as people stared at them. She made him feel human again, and most importantly, she never made him feel like a burden.
Percival wasnt sure exactly where he was, but he was convinced by the sound of waves and the constant rocking motion that he was on a boat. The men who had dragged him from that underground hell didnt offer much information when he had finally awakened, and neither did his current guards.
His new quarters were quite an improvement over the pit. It was a typical brig; walls of bars, a patch of straw for a bed, no windows, no chains, and the smell of the tar used to seal the floors barely hid less pleasant ones. For company, he had two men that held an unwanted vigil on the other side of the iron bars. There was nothing remarkable about neither their clothes nor their voices, but one was considerably taller than the other. They blathered on constantly, never making much sense and arguing about nothing like an old married couple. He had tried to talk to them, but each time, they seemed to become nervous and would continue their idiotic conversation with their backs to him. Annoyed and exhausted, Percival took a seat on the floor and continued to listen to what they were saying in the hopes of gaining some information about his fate.
Its been twelve hours since we brought him here, the tall man said.
At least he gets to sleep.
Hes a prisoner. Wed rather have him sleeping, methinks.
Why? Theres nothing special about him. With all hes been through he wouldnt put up much of a fight. I heard they barely fed them down in that place. Hes probably weak as a kitten.
Ill wager you hes not. I heard these Zexen fellows starve themselves when they train.
Oh just how the hell would you know that?
Me sister told me so.
And she knows how?
Says she spent a few nights with one em.
So youre telling me that pretty gal isnt as chaste as you make her out to be?
Ill have your---
Just as the conversation was about to devolve from stupid to down right inane, and the spreading grin on Percivals face about to be noticed, heavy footfalls came on the stairs leading down into the brig. The two men pulled themselves to their full heights and prepared to offer some sort of salute.
The fat blonde man from the pit was the visitor, flanked by two other men. All three of them wore a dark blue uniform with a golden bulls eye-like seal on the breast. The Upon their arrival, the two inept guards were quickly dismissed. A moment later the fat man realized they the idiots had the keys to the cell and sent one of his officers to retrieve them.
Percival smirked at him as he rubbed the sores on his neck left by the collar from the pit. Good help is hard to find?
Shut up! The fat man snarled. And get to your feet!
The knight stood up just as the officer returned with the keys. Ive got them, sir.
Very well, Celton. Open the cell. He glared at Percival, Keep your hands up where they can be seen at all times.
Again Percival did as he was told, and the door was opened. The fat man entered first, and then motioned for the second officer to step forward. Celton remained outside holding a drawn blade, just in case.
Our Captain has requested your presence at lunch, the fat man said formally. He requests that you clean yourself up and look presentable. So we have brought you some fresh clothing and a shaving blade.
Thats rather civil of your Captain, given where Ive spent my last week, the Zexen said dryly. What will happen if I refuse?
A grin smeared the fat mans round face, Well kill five of your men.
Well then, Percival replied as he took the bundle of clothes from the officer. I guess Ill be needing some water to wash and shave with, wouldnt you say?
Torrie placed a cup of tea and a pot in front of her visitor and sighed. Although she was glad to see Chris and the children, their arrival only confirmed the worst for her. Even the discussion they had engaged in before Louis and Salome left for the afternoon session didnt convince her otherwise. To her, it felt like false hopes, but at the moment she chose to carefully indulge them, and to enjoy the company. In a quiet voice she offered her thoughts on the entire situation. I pray Louis will be successful. The Council has been harsher than usual lately against those who arent screaming for blood.
Chris smiled as she reached for the cup. They always had their own agenda, and never have listened to anyone who really knows what is going on, but I believe in Louis. Hes never let me down, and Salome will support him, even if some of the others on the Council wont.
I cant believe they refused to see you, the brunette said as she lowered herself onto the small pastel sofa.
You know the law, Chris said with a shrug. Anyone without a title cannot speak before the Council, nor vote, nor have anything to do with politics.
That law makes no sense, especially since it is only enforced half of time. If a common woman marries a titled man, she assumes his rank, but it doesnt work in reverse.
Chris took a sip of the tea, and glanced over her shoulder at a noise from the bedroom where the children were playing. A mans law written by a Council of men. Such is life.
Im sure theyre fine, Torrie said giving a nod in the direction of the sound before turning back to her aunt. Id expect more of a fight on something like that from you.
I know which battles are worth fighting. Besides, some day theyll realize they need women.
Without us, they wouldnt have sons to carry on their precious names.
The young woman gave an embarrassed grin. I suppose youre right.
Torrie, she said, her tone growing serious as she put the teacup back on the small table. Do you think Im being selfish?
In regards to what?
Leaving the children, heading off on this quest.
Perhaps, but I cant blame you for it. What else would you do?
I could just return to Iksay, Chris said, reaching for her cup again.
And never know what really happened? You told Louis you believe hes still alive and Salome said that Borus confirmed that.
But what? You dont strike me as the type of woman to just accept something like this or join the other wives who have just had their husbands declared legally dead.
I dont understand why someone would even consider such an action.
Maybe to just have closure.
I suppose, but it still turns my stomach, Chris said as she placed her cup on the small table in front of the sofa.
Reaching for the other womans hand, Chris finally voiced the guilt she had been harboring since Brass Castle. Youre sure this isnt too much? Taking care of my children for me?
I wont lie, it wont be easy. I finally earned my independence, and now Ill have to ask Lord Robert for time off
Ill talk to him if you want, the former knight interrupted.
Torrie shook her head quite emphatically. No, I can handle it. Im tired of having things just given to me. Its been that way since I left Iksay all those years ago.
Its admirable that you want to strike out on your own, but Im not going to let you starve. Im going to leave you money, and youre going to take it.
Victoria sipped the last of her tea, but didnt offer an answer. A few moments of silence past and then Chris tried a lighter subject. So, it would seem that my former squire has found a new friend to eat lunch with, at least.
Yes, she said as a streak of color tickled her cheeks. But hes not just a lunch date.
I know, and theres no need to be embarrassed. Hes a good man and hes honest. Thats something rare these daysespecially in Council members.
Yes, he is, Torrie said softly, the blush still holding on her face.
The children interrupted the conversation before it caused any more distress for the young woman. Geoffrey came running into the room, screaming at the top of his lungs as his older brother chased him. Leaping into his mothers arms, he cried, Ryans gonna eat me!
Ryan made his grand entrance wearing a piece of green cloth that was draped over his small body. He hissed and growled, trying to imitate a dragon or other sort of mystical creature.
When his performance yielded nothing from the audience, he pulled the cloth off and said, Mother! Theres a whole closet full of things! Things to play with!
Chris glared at him. Isnt it rude to go pawing through other peoples property?
Im sure no harm was done, Torrie supplied as Geoffrey wedged himself between her and his mother.
He knows better, and picking on his little brother is wrong, she chided.
Im sorry, the dark haired boy muttered as he hung his head in shame.
As he stood in front of her, Chris noticed a thin chain hanging around his neck. It wasnt something she recognized, so she reached for it. Ryan watched as her fingers followed the chain to the medallion it supported under his shirt. Set in a thick gold pendant was an image of Sadie with her hands raised to the heavens. It was exquisite, and certainly not something she could afford. Fearing that it was taken out of the closet with the cloth, she asked sternly, Ryan, where did you get this?
He smiled at his mother, clearly proud to wear the charm. Uncle Borus gave me that this morning. He said its supposed to be good luck.
Chris closed her eyes for a moment in thought, considering a few choice words to say to her friend about endowing a child with such a valuable. Although she was bothered by Borus unnecessary generosity, Ryan seemed to be waiting for an approval of the token, so she gave it. Its beautiful. Take good care of it.
I will, Mother. I promise, Ryan said with conviction as he tucked it reverently back beneath his shirt.
The afternoons session had already dragged on for an hour, but Salome still hadnt been received. Louis had promised he was on the agenda, but also warned that some of his opponents would do their best to stall the meeting before his issues could be heard. Since the Captain had no business in there while matters such as taxation were being discussed, he was forced to sit outside.
In that hour, many things entered his mind begging for consideration, and he did his best to dismiss them. One refused to leave him alone, though, and that was the information Borus had given him about the weapons. Why would someone take the time to create such an elaborate display with their enemies arms? Was there significance to the bulls eye?
The clanking of armor caused Salome to turn his head. Standing next to the door, a marshal had appeared and offered a sharp salute. They are ready for you, sir.
The Captain returned the greeting, and thanked the man as he went into the room.
The Council Chamber was how Salome had remembered itornate yet cold. At the center was a massive, wooden, round table with seven elaborate chairs set around it. A large fireplace consumed most of the back wall with the crest of Zexen suspended above it. The whole room stunk of polish, but no amount of cleaning could remove the stains of corruption that marred the men within.
Chairman Sohort pointed to a chair that had been added. Thank you for waiting, Captain.
Salome took a seat as the testy Sohort continued speaking, his tone irritated. Make it fast, Councilman Keeferson. You bore us with your diatribes daily.
Louis didnt gratify the man with a response, and instead just began the task that Chris had given him to do. As Im sure youre aware, we have lost many men in the effort to retake Dubios. We believe they have been taken prisoner by the enemy.
Or killed, added Justin Plasser, one of the more reasonable men in the room.
Such is the price of war, said Arthur Flynnic, another one of Sohorts comrades.
True, Louis conceded. But Lady Chris and Lord Salome disagree.
Chris Lightfellow, or whatever the hell her name is these days is not a woman of title, nor one who deserves the time of this Council, Zelowick added sharply.
Louis narrowed his eyes. Fraulein. Her name is Fraulein. She is married to one of our top Lieutenantsa man who has spent his entire life serving this country and whom you all have denied a title to over and over again.
Ah, Sohort grinned. Now I see. Percival Fraulein is one of the missing. Your loyalty to your former Captain and your current distraction is clouding your judgments again, Keeferson.
No, Louis said, holding back the furor in his voice over the insults. But I admit that Lady Chris has already approached both myself and Lord Salome about returning to the Army.
The thin blonde man with frigid eyes who was seated next to Louis asked skeptically, She wants to come back to chase down a corpse?
She wants to come back to win the war for the glory of Zexen, Salome said, glaring at the obnoxious cynic named Mathias Caulder.
Captain, Sohort said, his eyes trying to stare down the other. I dont believe I recognized you to speak. But since you have offered your opinion already, tell me, do you believe any of our men are still alive?
Salome didnt flinch at the Chairmans pathetic attempt at intimidation. After speaking with Lord Borus, yes, I do.
What bit of wisdom did he provide you? Caulder inquired in his grating nasal voice.
The Captain of the knights answered the question directly, while keeping a sharp eye on the rest of the men in the room. No spoils nor bodies were found at the site of the attack. Plus, the weapons of our men were arranged in a pattern that all but calls for us to find them. It deserves some investigation.
So you think the enemy is taunting you? Plasser asked.
You dont think its a trap?
I cant tell without looking into the matter fully. We need to know who left it and what they have to do with Tinto.
Keith Drever, one of the few men in the building that Louis truly respected, finally spoke. If this is true, and its also true that Tinto isnt fighting this war, it definitely calls for us to find some answers. Perhaps we will be able to exploit a weakness in these apparent mercenaries.
We shouldnt waste our men on such a pointless mission, said Zelowick. Our friend Keeferson tells us our numbers are dwindling.
Keith turned to Louis. If LaChris wants to return to our service, then we should appoint her ambassador and charge her to investigate it. She had a long friendship with the Pendragon daughter, didnt she?
Lilly Pendragon hasnt been seen or heard from in a few years, Caulder added flippantly. We dont even know if shes still alive.
Im surprised you havent heard the rumors, Louis said, a tinge of sarcasm floating on his words.
Ive heard many rumors, but I dont know to which one you are referring.
May I explain it to your obviously ill-informed colleagues, Councilman Keeferson? Salome asked in a most formal voice.
Louis gave a nod and waved for his friend to continue.
Youve been hiding something from us, Louis? Flynnic demanded, his accusation sending a rush of whispers around the table.
No, he was not, Salome said firmly. I asked him to keep the information to himself because at the time we could not confirm or deny any of the facts. Now, however, I believe that it is pertinent to our cause, so I will explain.
Go ahead, Captain, Sohort said, a contemplative frown dragging across his face.
Salome took a breath and relayed the story in a most succinct manner. A few weeks ago, a group of merchants traveling through the Grasslands saw Lilly in Karaya village. Strangely, she was alone, with not even so much as a bodyguard. By the time we sent men there to find her and question her, she was gone and the Karayans said they werent getting involved.
They were harboring her and they dont want to be involved? Zelowick scoffed. That doesnt make sense.
It makes perfect sense that they dont want to burden themselves with our problems, Salome said decisively. Besides, I believe the information to be correct, although it raises a very important question.
Which would be?
Why would the daughter of our enemys president be wandering across the Grasslands without any protection, especially when its so close to Zexen?
Those savages have tricked us before, Flynnic said, his voice full of scorn. Perhaps they took it upon themselves to guard her. That would make sense if she was trying to form an alliance with the Six Clans.
Salome shook his head. I doubt it. The Grasslanders have vowed time and time again to stay out of this border clash. Lilly knows they are neutral in the matter as well as we do. Still, I suggest we find and question her before making any judgments. He looked back to Flynnic with a glare of resentment for the others intolerance. As you said, we cannot be sure of her motives, but either way, it couldnt hurtproviding shell talk to us.
Lilly will speak to Chris, wont she? Drever asked.
As you mentioned, they were close friends at one point, Louis replied.
I dont care if she speaks to her or not, Caulder snorted. All we need is to capture her and Gustav and his army will leave us alone for a change.
If we are indeed still fighting Tinto in a border clash and not some rebels in a uprising, Louis said.
True, but either way we gain valuable information at little expense, Plasser agreed. Therefore we should assign Chris to seek Lilly out her while our Captain and the rest of our men to take back Dubios. The port city is essential to our trade.
Agreed, Salome said with a nod. But Chris cant go alone. No one should go alone.
Then select an appropriate escort for her, Sohort said. One man, thats all were authorizing, Captain. Shes not to take over for you, nor is she to command any unit.
It will be her choice, Salome retorted. Im not sending her with someone she doesnt trust.
So long as it doesnt affect your repeat engagement in Dubios. We cant afford another embarrassment like that, Captain. Keep the battles turning in our favor and youll keep your rank, and your head.
When the meeting finally ended, Salome followed Louis into his office and closed the door. Although it was well appointed, the room just didnt seem to fit the young man that occupied it most of the time, mostly because it was in such a disarray. There was a large desk covered in papers with a chair behind it, and small sofa across from it for guests. Against the western wall stood a bookcase, filled with volumes of law books and other such mundane reading that all appeared to have gathered a nice collection of dust. The small window against the back of the room that let some light and air into the room was the only thing that didnt really need a washing.
I apologize for the mess, Louis said as he pulled himself around his desk to his chair. Unlike some of my fellow Councilors, I dont feel that paying someone to clean up after me counts as a justifiable expense. Unfortunately, Ive been so busy the past few weeks I havent kept up with it.
Salome nodded as he looked around the filthy office. That went better than I had expected.
Yes, although I cant help but think I failed Lady Chris.
The Captain took a seat on the sofa facing Louis after moving some papers that were occupying it. I dont think we failed her in the least. Its a reasonable compromise, and it will keep her off the front lines.
True, the younger man said as he released the straps on his wooden leg and leaned it against the side of the desk. But then I wonder why those who would normally oppose any such move were suddenly supporting our proposition.
Perhaps they saw merit in it?
They usually only look for things that will benefit themselves.
Salome considered a moment. Perhaps they believe that by allowing Chris to come back, our troops will be more inspired. Lately, the number of losses has taken a toll on morale.
The Councilman shook his head. Id hate to think were using her like that.
Louis, she wanted this and she knows damn well that the Council will use herthey will use any knight for that matterin any way they see fit.
I know. I know shell just say its her duty to Zexen or something like that, but I still feel horrible about it.
The knight gave a slight nod of understanding. You know, its better this way than to have her riding in front of an army and putting herself in mortal danger.
You have a point, my friend.
Salome pinched the bridge of his nose in pensive thought as a moment of silence held between the two men. I know she wants to be what she once was, but those children deserve to have at least one parent.
Louis rested his chin on a hand and looked the other man in the eye. I remember when Percival returned after the treaty broke and you tried to send him away, but he wouldnt have it. What convinced you to take him?
The older man looked out towards the window. He told me if I didnt allow him to fight with us, Chris would return in his place and he didnt want her near a battlefield ever again.
Thats our Silver Maiden, Louis said with a fond smile that vanished a second later. Are we dishonoring his wishes then?
Salome closed his eyes for a second in thought, and then spoke, his voice holding its usual gentle tenor. We all have a love for Chris. She is an extraordinary woman, and quite capable of making her own decisions. Still, we must look out for her, because Goddess knows, sometimes her judgment is too brazen. If we didnt help her, shed just do whatever the hell she would have to in order to accomplish her goal. He glanced at down at the floor, When I trained under her father, I took an oath that I would protect her, and I know you promised the same to her.
Yes I did, Louis said as he picked up a rolled paper on the desk and held it out to the other. I took the liberty of drafting this, just in case something happens to her.
What is it? Salome asked, reaching for the scroll.
The Councilor rubbed his forehead in anguish. A document that guarantees the children will be placed in my custody should something unexpected happen to Lady Chris. Id hate see their fate determined by a Council who clearly despises their parents.
Salome frowned as he placed the parchment back on the desk. What about Torrie? Shes family to them.
Torrie may be able to watch them for month or so, but I dont know how shell support them in the long run. He shook his head in frustration. My esteemed colleagues would probably do whatever they could to snatch them out from under her just out of spite and send them to live in an abbey or some other remote place where theyd be forgotten.
Have you discussed this with Chris yet?
No, but I will tonight before she leaves. Shell have to sign it anyway. Im sure Torrie wont have a problem with it. She knows how little this Council cares for anyone that does not turn them a profit.
Im proud of you Louis. Youre my strongest ally in this city, and unlike some of your comrades, you always do the right thing, even if it is not lucrative.
Thank you, milord. That is high praise indeed. Although I only wish I could do more.
Spoken like a true knight,. hHe said with a grin as he rose to his feet. Shall we return to Torries then, and tell Chris the news?
Louis nodded and reached for the scroll, inadvertently knocking a stack of papers to the floor.
Salome bent down to retrieve them, and one in particular caught his eye. It was written in too clean a hand to have been penned by a man, and the paper smelled of roses. A quick glance at the closing and signature caused a knowing smile to break on the tired face of the reserved knight. Placing it on the top of the stack, he said, I was going to ask why you were at Torries earlier, but I think I understand now.
Louis gave a nervous cough, a dash of pink rushing across his face as he grabbed the note and tucked it into his jacket pocket while desperately trying change the subject. Yes, well who do you think Chris is going to choose as an escort?