The Hand That Steers The Kingdom – Part 23
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Sorcha didn’t wail when her child disappeared. She’d learned early on that crying served no one. Unlike the king’s first wife, Sorcha didn’t come from nobility. She’d come from the slums and the brothel district, a spindly girl named Sia. Growing up, she’d ferried messages for the girls, taking love notes to their sweethearts or money to their families. In clothes too small for even her skinny frame, she’d learned to be quick, learned to have fast fingers and an even faster mind. She didn’t come from nobles, but she had the ambition of one.
It took a quick touch and she held a family heirloom in her hands. One that the family was so grateful to have returned, they gave her a job. She’d planned it out carefully, picking a family close to the crown that summered in the royal estates. Childless, the widowed matriarch doted on Sia, eventually adopting her secretly. Sia became Sorcha, a distant cousin, come to live with her socialite aunt. Sorcha had made good on the investment.
So, no, Sorcha didn’t cry when Sean vanished. She didn’t whine or simper to the council or Captain Pikkif. Her baby was missing, but he wasn’t lost, not yet. She sat down at her desk and considered her options. It took skills to go from the king’s mistress to his queen, skills she’d continued to hone. Pikkif hovered in the background, silent and waiting for her words.
“They’ll ransom him,” she decided. “It’s the most logical thing to do.” She glanced over at Pikkif. “Focus all our attention on our allies and keep the search up. I want to know as soon as we have their location.”
“Of course.” She heard his boots clop down the hallway. She was left alone with her new maid, who was trembling at the sight of her, likely wondering what type of mistress Sorcha would turn out to be after this setback.
Sorcha stared at the fire while the girl scampered about, preparing the room for Sorcha to retire. Truthfully, Sorcha wanted to be angry, to throw her teacup against the wall, but it wouldn’t accomplish anything.
“Leave me,” she commanded.
The maid jolted, but nodded and fled. Sorcha sighed and dressed for bed. Laying among the soft sheets, completely secure and comforted by the smooth material, she felt that Sia from the slums might be a bad dream. Maybe she had been too hasty to give her son everything she’d longed for as Sia, the life of ease and simple pleasures. It had seemed a good idea at the time. Now, she was left to understand the consequences of such parenting. Things would have to change once she got him back.
“It’s alright, my darling,” she whispered to the cloth of the canopy. “You’ll be home soon.”
Tristan watched the way Anfir’s nailless fingers hovered over the treaty. The man mumbled to himself as he looked over crossed out lines and underlined certain sections.
“Do you think it’s good enough?” she asked. Anfir sighed.
“I think it’ll have to do. I’m not a lawman, and I’d hate to have our visitors go over the policies regarding your country.” He rolled up the paper and handed it over to Fenrir for copying. “This will motivate the occupying forces to leave, but I doubt we’ll be rid of them entirely. Now we’ll have to do something drastic to convince the council to adhere to their young king’s wishes.” He folded his hands and considered the boy king playing in the corner. Sean had quieted over the past few weeks. Connor and Sarai had played a large role in that. “It’s just like when you were little,” Saria had whispered after handing Sean her prosthetic to examine. Tristan considered herself to have been a much more pleasant child than Sean.
“Won’t they act to save his life?” She didn’t know much about Doerma’s council, but she figured that they had that much humanity in them at least. Anfir raised a brow at her.
“They will act in their own self-interests. A king is replaceable. We have to convince his mother. Sorcha may not be able to take complete control, but she has her hand in quite a few pots, each more dangerous than the last.” Tristan grit her teeth, thinking of that woman.
“She told me she wants to take the south,” she admitted. “She wants to expand Doermas influence towards the desert metropolis’ and fund it all through our fields and trade.”
“Then we convince her it’s not worth the headache or her child.”
“How do we do that?”
“It’s quite simple, assuming we don’t die in the process,” Anfir smirked at her confused expression. “How do you feel about revisiting our dear Queen Sorcha?”
The proclamation was written up, then signed by Sean. Maybe it was wrong to have the boy sign an official document he didn’t understand, but it was the best option to avoid more bloodshed. The king’s seal that Anfir had stolen when they’d fled the keep was what gave the decree the same weight as a law. All they needed to do was spread the word.
Anfir’s spies carried copies to the major towns and ports, handing them to the Doerman governors and the soldiers at the forts. Anyone of any note received a copy saying that King Sean of Doerma had agreed to bequeath Vamaser back to its rightful ruler, Princess Tristan Elysia Julianna De Soriya, heir apparent of King Bankin. They didn’t stop there. The notices were tacked up in town squares and placed in the temples. Every mage in the rebellion made as many duplicates as possible and handed them out like candy at a festival. Meanwhile, Tristan and Anfir prepared to pay a visit to Sorcha.
With their allies’ representatives at their back, they left Kelna, a group of mages in their party keeping an eye out for the enemy. Petya decided to come with them, sticking close to Tristan. Their relationship had shifted since her escape. Petya didn’t seem to actively dislike her anymore, but she couldn’t call them friends just yet. When she’d tried to thank him for making a plan to rescue her, he’d brushed it off.
“Consider it thanks for dumping me on my ass all those times,” he said, gesturing at the sword proudly clipped to his belt. “It doesn’t feel as much like a burden now.”
Before they arrived at the keep, Anfir sent a letter ahead. Sorcha would either accept them back inside or send out her army. It was a stressful night of waiting. After much discussion, Aston had been chosen to carry the notice to Sorcha’s men. Connor had been left behind to take care of Sean, their final wild card. Freya sat near the fire, her nails between her teeth as she waited for her fiance to return. Tristan hovered near her, equally as nervous. Petya was staring directly into the flames and attempting to scry.
“Do you think it’ll work?” she asked. The older girl looked down with a frown.
“I hope so. I’d hate to kill him for dying on me.” Tristan chuckled at that. Petya looked over at them with a raised brow, abandoning the magic he’d been attempting.
“I hope you know this is why men try to avoid marriage.”
Their conversation devolved from there as the two girls did their best to tease Petya. Anfir and Sarai hovered around the edges of the light, fierce frowns on their faces, watching the young adults force themselves to relax.
“We have everyone in place, correct?” Anfir asked.
Sarai nodded. “I sent out the orders a while ago. Our allies should be bringing their people into place as we speak.”
“Strong-arming them out of your country may be indelicate, but if it gets the job done, we should see a true Vamaserian queen on the throne.” Over by the fire, the two girls had dissolved into giggles while Petya blushed. A smile crawled across Sarai’s face at the sight of her daughter enjoying herself. She leaned a little closer to Anfir. The cold sapped the world around them until even the trees held still. In the quiet, Sarai dug through the tangle of questions she wanted to ask, the most difficult one coming to her lips first.
“Why are you helping us, Anfir?” She tilted her head up to try and catch his eye but was avoided. “When we first met, you had no loyalty to this country or any other country. Why did you decide Vamasere was worth protecting all of a sudden.” Anfir sighed and leaned back, settling into a slouch that kept his face hidden from her.
“To be honest, I don’t know how to answer that question,” he finally admitted. “I could lie and say it was because you left such an impression upon me, but I believe it was more luck that I wound up here and couldn’t bring myself to leave.” He paused. “I met her mother, you know. When Julianna was round with Tristan she’d go by the temples and light the tapers, praying to have a child that could be a savior. I stuck around for a while, working in the gardens at Bankin’s hideaway. Julianna was a fierce woman, even heavily pregnant. When she killed the king to preserve her daughter’s future, I knew this would be an adventure worth sticking around for. This was a story I’d like to see play out and be a part of.”
“How do you mean?”
“I’ve been alive a long time, Sarai, longer than it may seem. I’ve watched countries rise and fall, learned new skills and trades. I’ve been a carpenter, a magician, a hermit for a few decades, and every time I’ve found that there is always something new going on. There is too much in this world that is still growing, still changing, and humans are never still. I follow where they go and I find myself amazed at your resilience.” Sarai frowned. She’d never considered that Anfir could have been alive for centuries. The new information was daunting, but she’d had a few suspicions from the beginning. He was always too calm, his fingers in too many pies. He had friends that had known him for a few years and others who had never met him but would die for him in a heartbeat.
“Are you going to tell me you’re some kind of eldritch being?” she asked, a little too cuttingly if his flinch was anything to go by. Still, he forced a chuckle.
“If you’d like. You deserve the truth though.” He turned to face her finally letting the light catch his eyes. Tired eyes, framed by that unruly red hair, the same hair she’d run her fingers through countless times. “I am a man, but I am more than a man, caught between humans and gods. Even I have no real answer, and I stopped seeking one a long time ago.” He reached up and cupped her face, gently. “What would you have me be, darling?” For once, the endearment didn’t sound like a tease.
“I’d have you be a man,” she said, reaching up and placing her hands over his. “But if I cannot have you as a man, I’ll have you as whatever you are, even if it’s just for a little while. Just promise you won’t abandon my daughter completely. She loves you so much, it’d break her heart to no longer have Uncle Anfir about.”
“Of course I’ll stay.” He pecked her nose. “Someone has to keep getting you into trouble while our little princess becomes the queen she was meant to be.” They shifted until Sarai’s back was pressed against his chest, his head resting on her hair. “We’ll see that Julianna’s death was not in vain. It’s the least I owe her.”
Photo by Brownyn Erb courtesy of Unsplash