Anguish. Frustration. Indignation. Anxiety. Bitterness. Doubt. Uncertainty. Anger. The emotions roiling my mind just kept washing through me, one after another.
Actually, add resentment to that list. What kind of nonsense was Rod spewing? Start treating yourself like a pregnant woman, my ass!
Okay, although he was agreeing with them, he was only relaying the words of the Fairy King, and intellectually, I understand what Oberon meant. Mother and Little Sister are already depending on me for their survival. The spiritual energy from Gaia’s amulet sustained them, and it seemed, according to Morrígan, that my physique stabilized or even sustained the amulet as long as I wore it. In effect, a spiritual umbilical already tied them to me.
That didn’t mean I was ready to crawl into a hole and stop participating!
But Serera sensed what we were discussing somehow, and she and Dilorè joined in on Rod’s side, quietly counseling me to let others handle things outside the Castle as well.
“Deharè is depending upon you, Your Highness,” Serera reminded me.
“Everyone is here to support you,” Dilorè promised. “We can take care of everything for you.”
But I want to take care of it myself!
I had been feeling more and more like I wasn’t in control of anything happening around me, ever since that day in Cara Ita when we got the dreadful news of our parents’ disappearance. And from then onward, Events just kept happening on their own and I was along for the ride. I had busied myself with my grief and worries, with restoring my health and with travel, but these didn’t address the problem! I was ready to explode from the need to go out and do something and these people were telling me to take it easy!
Who could take it easy in this situation?
Once back upstairs, Rod drew Viscount Amalis aside and quietly warned him to stop insulting a princess of Faerie with his attitude toward Amana. I was at his side and vouched for her identity, so the surly aristocrat finally had to accept the bitter fact that the ‘fake fairy’ he had been at loggerheads with was, in fact, an actual, honest-to-goodness faerie and an important one, being Deharè’s daughter and a granddaughter of the Fairy King. And Rod made it clear that he, the Royal Prince, endorsed her actions.
But not necessarily her theory of how the attack had transpired. He smoothed down the Lord Mayor’s feathers somewhat by delegating Sir Topas and Lady Halet– it was the first time I heard the name of the supremely quiet knight mage who always followed him, carrying his communication orb– to take over the investigation, requesting Serera and Dilorè to assist.
Once the knights, the viscount and the entourage had left, I wondered, “Didn’t you need Lady Halet close by, to handle your communications?”
“You’re with me,” he replied.
“All I have are connections to Ged, Amelia and the Fairy King!” I protested. Getting Lucy to learn anything else required negotiations and help from someone like Dilorè.
“And Central Command in Atianus,” he reminded me. “But that’s not what I meant. I’ve already confirmed with Amana that Deharè’s communications mage survived the attack, along with her equipment, so you have full access to your mother’s connections, once we meet up with her. She’s based right here in the Castle.”
Rod then charged Amana and Matthias with putting together a team to go into the Highlands, to find Mother’s and Uncle Owen’s resting place and spoke with Colonel Morgas concerning handover of control of the ongoing resurrection of the central command in Narses, before deciding it was enough for the moment and it was time for lunch.
The whole while, I just sat there stewing.
Well, not the entire time. While he was consulting with this person or that and issuing orders to them, I reminded Serera by spiritual voice to have the two Reladorian mages check Amana out before the fairy warriors set out on their first mission. They would be escorting the mages out to rendezvous with the handful of fairies and fairborns fighting for Pendor, to warn them and scan them for parasites. They were not yet officially part of Pendor’s forces, so I also reminded her to work out their flight permissions through Amana and not just take off on their own like typical fairies.
Naturally, she was already on it. In her replies (because she is one of those able to reply in kind to my spiritual voice), she transmitted the amused impression that I was fretting over nothing and she already had it handled.
That didn’t help my mood at all, a fact that must have been on my face once Rod and I shared lunch in Mother’s suite. I wasn’t dressed to have it in the tatami room, where we would have to sit on cushions, so we were eating Atian-style at the little breakfast table in her sitting room. The close quarters allowed Rod to reach over and put his hand on my arm.
He shrugged at my questioning look. “Aside from your soup, you’ve hardly touched your meal. I will end up eating all of the smoked trout myself if you don’t claim some. And you’ve hardly spoken. Please share what’s on your mind, My Lady.”
I hesitated and looked over at the door. Genette was currently organizing our things with Mireia, who was acting as Rod’s attendant, and Terese would stay with Amana and Matthias until they retrieved Uncle Owen and Mother, so a maid I didn’t know, one of Mother’s attendants, was serving us. Sir Gald, standing beside her, nodded to me and told her, “Let’s leave the room, Miss.”
She looked at him blankly as he held the door, so he repeated, in clumsy Dorian, while gesturing, “You. Me. Out.”
Once comprehension lit, she bowed before exiting, and the door shut behind the two.
I picked at my food, having discovered that a portion of the trout had somehow jumped onto my plate while I was looking away.
Once he understood I wasn’t ready to talk, Rod said, “I’ll state the obvious, that you hated being told to stay here when they go to retrieve our parents. I don’t think that’s all that’s bothering you, though. Have the fish while you think about it.”
I gave him a dark side-eye, then cut a bite-sized portion of the fish with my chopsticks. But I didn’t pick it up. I put my chopsticks down and sat back.
“Do I have a purpose here?” I asked him. “Aside from being a baby-making tool, I mean?”
He looked shocked for a moment– that had been way too crude for Tiana in any mode– then pressed his lips together and gave my question some thought.
“Obviously, you do, but you wouldn’t think it, the way things have gone since we arrived, would you?”
He picked up some pickled vegetables and put them in his mouth, chewing thoughtfully. Then grimaced.
“Take the rudeness of that viscount. He only greeted me and didn’t even acknowledge you. It’s difficult to believe he’s my friend Morin’s father. Lord Amalis’s second son is a close acquaintance from school, and a much more likable man.”
I remembered Rod frowning at Amalis after introducing ourselves to him and realized it had been for my sake. Amalis had only responded to Rod, without greeting me.
But a thought occurred to me. “Which side did he leave your school with, Your Highness?”
It wasn’t relevant at the moment, but it could be important. If the son left with the Southern students, it would mean he was loyal to the rebels. Which could give us a clue to his father’s loyalties. I still didn’t trust the fellow.
“Neither,” Rod stated with a frown, but also a nod. He understood what I was asking. “He can’t serve in the field. He’s diabetic, and requires a steady supply of healing potions or [Healing] magic to survive. When the school closed, he went to his fiancé’s family to train as his father-in-law’s heir. But I feel fairly confident he’s on our side, My Lady. Anyhow, that Morgas seemed to mostly avoid you as well.”
He put down his chopsticks and took a sip of tea, then commented with a grin, “They’re all about to get a rude awakening.”
“What do you mean?”
After studying me for a moment, he grew a slight smile. “Ged told me to give you some advance warning, so I suppose this is it. Up until now, this has been only known to Ged, the Privy Council and myself.”
I pursed my lips. I have no magic like [Realm of Silence] to stop eavesdroppers. But Rod guessed my concern and said, “It will be announced publicly once Dad and Deharè are home, and we’ll be telling the castle staff in advance, so I’m not too worried about it at this point.”
“Have they decided on Pendor’s administration?” I guessed.
“Yes. And you will have lots to do, once it’s public, My Lady.”
The plan that I knew was that Rod would marry me and take over as Duke, but this didn’t sound like that. “You can’t mean they’re going to make me Duchess?”
“I can, and they are,” he answered.
…the Privy Council would never allow another vampire to inherit Pendor.
Those words died on my lips as I remembered that we were no longer talking about the same Privy Council. It’s a panel of Comital-rank nobles– Marquesses and Earls– elected by the King to the Council and approved by the Five Duchies, but at the top sit the three senior dukes of the land. Before the rebellion, that meant Parna, Fiorene and Roand. Pendor and Arbole, the two junior dukes, had no seat. Most of the Comital members were loyalists, being Owen’s picks, but Parna and Fiorene were the two duchies out of the five that were participating in the rebellion.
In other words, the Privy Council now consisted of mostly the same marquesses and dukes, but the top was completely different. When Parna and Fiorene returned into the kingdom, they would certainly be under brand new, very junior lords. Roand, formally the junior, was now the chair, with Arbole and Pendor seated as the second and third most senior. Pendor, of course, was currently an empty seat.
I frowned. “Even if the Council approves it, it’s a terrible idea. The people will never accept it.”
He drummed his fingers, thinking. It was a Ged mannerism, and I half expected Rod to push non-existent glasses into place next.
“The commoners will be allowed to believe I’m in charge,” he stated.
I narrowed my eyes, wondering if I should just up and refuse. This sounded like a terrible idea.
“Hear me out, My Lady,” he requested. “They really have thought this through.”
“Okay,” I answered, silently reserving my right to say no.
“The Duchy has currently conquered all of Lower Pendor County, nearly all of Suldor, is well on the way to conquering East Pendor County, and now controls a swath of territory north of Suldor and Lower Pendor. Add to that the protectorate of Lang Doria. All of that was under the control of your mother, but it’s too much for the Duchy to control. They’re naming me Viceroy of the South, naming the other territories as my vassals and you as my peer. But as I will be your husband, the people will believe I’m the one in charge of the Duchy as well.”
“Even though I will be known as the Regnant Duchess?”
“Commoners tend to assume a wife does as her husband says. They don’t understand the law.”
I frowned again.
“There’s a few restrictions as well,” he continued. “You must give pass your dukedom to an heir within fifty years, and that heir must be mortal. If you can’t bear one yourself, then you must adopt my child by a concubine as an heir.”
“Who is in charge until the wedding?”
He cleared his throat and looked away.
That was no Ged mannerism. Rod was being himself this time, and I knew what that meant.
“Tell me,” I ordered, flatly and directly.
“For the record, both Ged and I asked them to reconsider, but the law gives the Privy Council the final say on this issue, My Lady…”
After a long silence while I waited for him to speak, I repeated, “Tell me.”
“The engagement is recorded in the Temple in Atius, and the Privy Council acknowledged it, so it’s really a done deal…”
“Rod!” I all but yelled.
By this point, I knew what was coming. But dammit, I wanted him to admit it out loud.
He finally did.
“We can follow up at the Temple when we return to the capital, but we are to conduct a Dorian ceremony immediately. Before the bodies are recovered, if possible.”