Chapter Forty-Four

“You realize, if our timing is off, if we're just a little late, Galen could completely shit on us,” Faer said, sinking into his seat. His robes, though they were his finest set, were not earning his admiration today.

“Galen's not going to shit on us,” Guy hissed back, though the nervous flattening of his Executive General's coat and the sweat beading on his brow did not inspire confidence. Then again, the sweat could be just because it was sweltering in this part of the Palace. “You've got the papers for Galen's family ready, right?”

“All we have to do is drop them by the moment they're safe,” Faer said, as he had said half a dozen times before. “One word from Galen, or if Cole's Relay plan doesn't work – if the horses are just a little too tired – if they have to stop to care for the wounded–”

“Cole won't be late. He knows what's at stake.” Guy sighed, futilely trying to calm himself with steady breaths, and rubbed his forehead. His spangled Executive General's coat had an unfortunate thickness, but a happy tendency to spangle in ways that just managed to disguise sweat. “I sent orders to the Capitol Guard, so that should be settled.”

Faer scoffed and for a moment both of them deflated in mutual complaint. The reason it was so hot in this wing of the Palace was because servants were thin on the ground, and thus there weren't the hands to open all the myriad of windows across the vast grounds. Traditionally – and because they couldn't stop it – most of the Palace servants were let off duty for a Royal Wake, in order to properly mourn their sovereign by getting loudly drunk and tell dirty secrets about said dead royalty in the Capitol's vastly overcrowded pubs.

“Getting anything done in the Capitol right now is a mess,” Faer grumbled.

Guy nodded, and for a moment both listened to the growing cacophony outside. The wake for the dead King had started in earnest, and ceased only in those odd hours when the early revelers finally wound themselves down enough to sleep and the late revelers hadn't yet awakened and recovered from their previous exertions. Even buried so far in the Palace as Guy Faer now were, they could hear the faint din, the odd cry that reached a volume over and above the others, and the incessant insect whine of distant, disparate horns. Soon the early revelers would hit their noonday pitch, before mid-afternoon swallowed them like their last ale, in weary sunburnt gulps.

But the hot hallways of the Palace were empty.

Guy threw himself up from the bench and opened two of the windows himself. Fortune could fuck Protocol for all he cared. If any assassins got in, their window-opening violations could be added to their list of treasons. The faint breeze as he sat back down was worth a slow death.

“Everything is in place,” Guy said, “...except for this.”

“And if Galen decides to shit on us,” Faer added. Then it wasn't the heat, leaving Guy to assume that luxury itself put Faer in a foul temper. From the minute he put on his fine robes he had been fretful.

Or it could be that this scheme reached higher – went farther – than even the previous one. And it did so on less foundation. And it was a great bloody leap in to the unknown, and could potentially get them instantly killed. Guy could see that getting to him as well.

“Galen won't shit on us,” Guy said, irritation in his voice.

Faer raised his brows.

“He won't shit on us because Cole is doing exactly what Galen wants him to do. And he doesn't want to die any more than we want him to, and that's exactly what we're preventing. No matter how much he thought he had to, the fact remains that he couldn't predict us.”

With a grumpy sigh, Fear settled back into the bench, letting the plush satin seat annoy him with its comfort.

“And,” Guy said, guiltily, “he sort of gave me the idea.”

“What?” Faer swiveled to look at him again.

“Not directly. He just said some things about the Ambassador. You know... being... Hawath, or something–”

Guy cut himself off, pulling straight his jacket for the millionth time as he stood. The door at the end of the hall had opened, and Princess Aodhnait stepped out, turning to sweep the edge of her dress out of the way before it shut. It was a strangely endearing gesture, he felt privileged to witness; usually there were maids for that.

“I was wondering how you got so knowledgeable about national politics so quickly,” Faer said into Guy’s completely unhearing ear, as he slowly rose to his feet.

The Princess' dress was still edged with mourning yellow, sneaking vines of gold tracing up the green cloth, pointing like knotted rays of sunshine towards her smile, turned to him. From all the way across the hall – she smiled at him. The silver of her pin, the argent otter couchant, glinted across the hall like a lighthouse beacon. Like a ship bound for the rocks, Guy stood rapt.

“You know,” Faer said in a conversational whisper, “a Hawath was present when Keadar-Ainjir founded the nation. They don't mention it much, but you learn about that if you get into Diplomacy at Academy.”

Guy kept his posture respectful. Faer checked the cuff of his boots, then rocked a little on his heels.

“A Hawath convinced the Emperor to agree to the Black Powder Ban.” Faer went on.

As the Princess neared, they both bowed.

“A Hawath convinced the AllKing of Geron to invade Teorainn instead of Ainjir, preserving the Six Nations in the first Crisis after Keadar-Ainjir’s death.”

“The Ambassador has agreed to see you.” Aodhnait said, turning to indicate they should accompany her. As Guy drew alongside, she lifted her chin just slightly, head cocking to the side in question – but all Guy noticed was that she was still smiling at him. She walked with them down the hall.

“She expressed some curiosity as the inspiration for the visit,” the Princess said. “I said nothing, which is frighteningly easy given I know almost nothing about the matter.”

“My deepest apologies, Your Royal Highness,” Guy said, with the attendant 'deepest apologies' bow. He had been practicing his bows with Reynard and the other Tower people whenever he could. That is, whenever Reynard was sober enough – and sometimes when not. At any rate, he didn’t fall over, and she noticed – and in spite of the stumbling he was getting quite good.

“‘Aodhnait’, please, General Guy,” she said, smile flashing with minute chagrin. “Let us save the titles for company.”

“Certainly, you– Princess Aodhnait. And you are welcome to... uh...” Guy considered his name, “…call me ‘Guy’.”

Nonetheless, he glowed. Probably, Faer reflected, because he was too idiotically dazzled to realize she could call him anything she pleased, seeing as how she was direct-line royalty and he was from sheepfucker country. Either way, nobody cared to ask to what they could call him, which was probably for the best.

“A Hawath negotiated the peace between Ainjir and Wulsh after the Campaign of Six Weeks, at the request of the Wulsh,” Faer said. “Actually, if I remember my ollamh right, it was actually a Hawath that helped negotiate recognition of the separation of Ainjir and Geron, all those years back before this land was even its own kingdom. I believe the story goes that she ‘just happened' to be in the neighborhood.”

Guy's hopes that Faer's badgering would cease in the face of their royal company thoroughly dashed, he managed to tear his eyes away from Princess Aodhnait long enough to reassure him. “I have done some reading into the subject, Faer.”

“I don't doubt it, Guy,” Faer replied, stopping before they reached the door – which made Guy drag to the halt, and Aodhnait, gracefully and in polite confusion, just after him, “but I want to know that you know exactly who you're talking to, and exactly what you're going to say in there.”

“Wouldn’t that be fascinating?” Aodhnait added. “I would be most interested, as well.”

To Guy’s enormously crushing embarrassment, Faer hardly acknowledged her gracious support as he went on.

“A Hawath Ambassador is like a burning star, Guy, practically a portent of evil. I want to know that you've got some kind of plan, and you're not just going to pull some seat-of-your-pants, threatening bravado bullshit – many pardons Your Royal Highness – like Cole would.”

“Faer,” Guy said, attempting sternness, “I assure you–”

“Don’t pull that Galen shit – begging leave, Gracious Lady – and try to tell me that I’ll figure it out, because I’ve already figured it out, Guy – you’re not that deep, my friend – and I must emphasize, that these are neither of their most appealing traits, but people put up with them because they both exert every effort to have the reputation to back up being bastards – excuses, honored Princess – which you lack.”

“Oh, my,” Aodhnait said, her smile tending towards a very un-royal tilt, “your lawyer is quite forward, isn't he?”

Faer opened his mouth to respond, but Guy beat him to it.

“Though for my very life I vied
Let honest men be at my side
For better than a shining sword
Is true companion's faithful word.”

Faer fell silent – silent as his wish for death – while the Princess smiled admiringly.

When his heart began to beat again, Guy stepped up to the Ambassador's door.

The lone available servant showed them in, and the Ambassador dismissed him to go back to nursing his hangover. She stood at the center of the room, a long Ainijr-style robe over her shoulders – managing to look comfortable rather than warm – and inclined her head to them each in perfect accordance with their rank (and maybe a little more than was strictly appropriate out of consideration for Faer's lack of rank). She had a book in her hand, opened, as if she had been reading, her very posture noting the difference between ‘looking welcoming’ and ‘being welcoming.’

After a deep and poignant silence, in which Faer wished it was permissible to loudly berate himself for not more forcefully insisting Guy elaborate on his plan, and the Princess wondered delicately if she should… perhaps… ‘help’ somehow?… Guy said, “Your Excellency, I would like to speak to you on a matter of grave import.”

Ambassador Hawath held her statuary-esque stillness. Then spoke.

“I have been trying unsuccessfully to meet with Esras Cole for the better part of three days, requesting in every polite and incidental fashion available to me. And now I receive an urgent message to meet, not from he whom I sought, but from the new Executive General of Ainjir, perhaps standing in his place in a most unorthodox manner. This message rather abruptly insists we meet at the earliest possible moment, but it is – in a yet more unorthodox manner – delivered by none other than Her Royal Highness, herself.

I can only suspect that this meeting is, in itself, rather unorthodox, or will dwell on unusual topics, and yet I can’t refuse, out of both respect and admiration for the Princess Aodhnait. However, I will reserve the right, and betray my inclination, to refuse to entertain this parlay, which, however murky in subject, seems bound to complicate what is, in fact, my actual duty in visiting the nation of Ainjir at this time.”

She paused for a moment, leaning forward only a fraction of an inch, which nonetheless seemed a dramatic gesture as her straight black hair cascaded forward from around her shoulder. “Do you even know what my duty is here? No – I doubt this extremely – that would be assigning malice to inexperience. But, I do ask that you tell me why I should accede to such a demanding and uncourted audience after having been so markedly ignored?”

“Because we can offer you what you really want,” Guy replied, voice sharp and unwavering as the embroidery of his coat, “and because the offer does not come without demands, which must be fulfilled regardless of your favor. So the heart of it is less of politesse or offense, than it is of whether you will negotiate with the right people – or not.”

The Princess, for all her courtly training, stared at Guy with wide eyes, while Faer's staunch posture was less confidence than it was furiously restraining himself from throttling Guy on the spot.

The Ambassador smiled, a gesture as whole in its appearance of friendliness as it was torn by its coldness.

“Bluster works on battlefields and before great audiences, but it is a tool ill-suited to intrigue – and you do intrigue. So do you know my duty, or not? Or do you act unmeaning to both abuse my courtesy and undermine my position as a representative of the Emperor Most Wise?”

But before Guy could answer, she snapped shut her book, sweeping it behind her to join her other hand. Slowly, eyes wandering but seeming never to lose sight of them, she wandered towards the table between them.

“What is it that you think I want? What are your demands, I wonder, and does their cost accord with the price of your offer? Or, perhaps, the medium of exchange is an ill-chosen metaphor – you are a military man, after all. There is a great deal to be said of sallying, fighting, defending which I studiously avoid in speaking to Ainjir, as their experience will always outweigh mine. I think, perhaps, the medium is in discovering what you mean by ‘the right people’ – the right people to negotiate exchange? Perhaps peace? Or,” she said, smiling at them again, “perhaps conquest?”

Guy – who truly hadn’t had a plan for what specifically to say except to bluster – opened his mouth, then shut it. It made him look foolish, yes – but he noticed that the Princess, at his side, had gone silent and still, a perfect statue of herself, a perfect Princess. And Faer – whatever annoyance he held at Guy – had also stilled, in his own way, which was to be at an ease that any moment could break into a fight, physical or verbal.

There had been a lot of words. A lot of words, he realized, which weighed much more than it seemed.

“You could do us a favor,” Guy said. “A favor, in this matter, opens more ways than it shuts, and explains more than it offends – and we are the right people for whom to do favors, because we are the ones who know what’s going on. All we really exchange is knowledge, and all we really negotiate are private circumstances, and the reach of these things lies more in their nature – their virtue – than in the acts themselves. We offer to explain in exchange for the courtesy for which Ambassadors Hawath are known – nothing more. In truth, it is small matter.”

Guy hesitated, trying to find the balance in his own words. “A small matter, perched very high up. Like a lamb. On a hill. In… in a storm.”

The Princess un-froze enough to blink very slowly. Some of Faer’s simmering rage returned.

The Ambassador smiled again, but it was a much warmer example. “Very well done, General Guy. You are not well-known, but I see that you stand on the dais was not a fluke… forgive me for being concerned that you needed the support of Esras Cole.”

Guy blanched, the barb a little too unerring, and threatened to offer some fumbling excuse with his polite bow, so Faer stepped in.

“What makes you think Cole isn't around?”

“The rooms allotted to him at the Academy are not occupied,” the Ambassador replied.

“He's staying with his family in town for the wake,” Guy said.

“The family from which he is estranged?”

“The war's over,” Faer said. “Time to make peace all around.”

“And he took two units of Elite soldiers with him?” The Ambassador's expression didn't so much move, as become invested with amusement. “That must be some tailor's shop.”

“Those Elites were specifically given leave when they returned to the Capitol,” Guy said. “If they've dispersed to places unknown for the duration of their leave, after their long and loyal service who would blame them?”

“And what do you say to those who bring up that there are witnesses who saw him galloping off?” the Ambassador asked.

Guy shrugged. “He returned.”

“We've got witnesses, too” Faer added.

“One of my Ladies in Waiting practically fainted when she ran into him in the hall yesterday,” Aodhnait added.

Though the heads of Faer and Guy turned to look at her, she stared at the Ambassador, cool as a spring breeze at night.

“Grace and Goodness, she was bragging about it all day. To everyone.” Aodhnait said, the carefully cultivated touch of delicate weariness not diminishing her insistence.

“Ah, well…” The Ambassador bowed to Aodhnait, but when she brought her head back up, her eyes fixed on Guy in a way that he could only interpret as boding ill for him, if only because of the frightening depth even so casual an acceptance as ‘ah, well’ seemed to have.

“It is not usually my habit to give such speeches, so I feel I should offer you all an apology for your tension.” She then gave them all a general, deep, and perfect Ainjir-style bow. “I imagine almost the whole endeavor depends upon the full involvement of all whom we have here assembled, and there is little room for doubt in any one, so I have, perhaps unduly, tested you.”

“Not at all,” the Princess said, offering her own gracious and sincere smile.

“Yes,” Guy said, hoping the deep breath he just took helped him look more confident than relieved, “tests are sometimes necessary.”

Faer realized, at this point, it was probably safe to slap him, but demurred.

The Ambassador widened her smile at Guy. “Indeed, so let us bypass what is unnecessary. Since you know what it is I want, you must also know that we can't begin to discuss it by fooling ourselves, can we?”

She turned, as if she had forgotten, to put her book on the table. “And since you know what I want, you know that we can't negotiate without clearly delineating what demands we are prepared to make of our various offices.”

She turned back, leveling her smile at Guy once again and gesturing with an open hand to invite them to sit. “And since you know what I want, you know that we should not waste more time posturing. Time is short. So let's all have a seat and we'll make sure everyone knows how much treason is involved and how much more we want to add.”

Guy and Aodhnait turned simultaneously to look at one another. Her eyebrows knit, expression full of graceful concern, his full of miserable guilt.
Faer sat.

“Princess Aodhnait,” Guy said, with earnest sorrow and carefully practiced courtly phrases Reynard had recommended he familiarize himself with. “I had hoped not to get you so involved; I promise, we do not intent to threaten your brother's throne. It's just...”

He winced, but he couldn't lie – not to her, though it broke his very heart to have plotted with such duplicity (Reynard had encouraged him to peruse a few courtly romances for useful phrases as well – alas, all a waste). “It’ll just... we’re just going to... piss him off. A lot.”

Aodhnait blinked at him. She pulled a chair out from under the table, and tossed her skirts to the side to sit, turning to the Ambassador. “I do hope you'll accept my deepest apologies, Your Excellency, for not having visited earlier.”

“You mourn, Your Royal Highness,” the Ambassador replied, seating herself with a bow, “and to mourn in this moment is to be greatly occupied.”

Aodhnait tapped the table in front of the sea beside her, priceless rings making a gentle tinkling sound, as she looked back and up and Guy.

“It is as my brother said on the dais, 'audere est facere,'” Aodhnait said, wrinkling her nose like an exceptionally powerful bunny. “Though he laid the groundwork himself, we go into great danger should we go forth from here; even in speaking now we move forward.”

The Ambassador only smiled, spreading her hands. “Malo periculosam libertatum quam quietum servitium.

Aodhnait's grin in response was bright like drawn steel. “I believe I quote, Alterius non sit qui suus esse potest.

She turned to Guy again, her gaze serious, but not bereft of keen pleasure. “What has transpired here, the war, the splitting of our country, has been no one person's fault so much as Ainjir's, and as it is Ainjir's, it belongs to her twinned branches to repair. As a representative of her royal family, I will take responsibility for nobility's efforts to mend what has been broken.”

She turned her glance to catch both Faer and Guy. “Gentleman, the war is over, but still Ainjir must change.”

Guy was the only one left standing, in part due to shock, in part due to the peculiar soaring of his heart – or no, not a soaring, but a feather-lightness, a float. He could not help but see the Princess' pin, her symbol, the silver otter couchant, the light through the open window striking it such that it seemed born of fire and metal and devious curves.

“General Guy, if you please,” the Ambassador said, gesturing to a chair, “come, take a seat. This is all part of your plan, after all, you simply needn't waste so much of your valuable time convincing us to play along. Either way...” she gestured again.

Either way, Guy sat down.

“Now,” said Ambassador Hawath, “let us all discuss how we shall abuse our power.”
Chapter Forty-Two  by OllamhRemi
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Artist's comment:
[icon by the incomparable StGibbs [icon=???]]

Warning! This story eventually includes these elements:
Violence (battles and rough sex, a twofer); Homophobia (internalized and familial, but no slurs or violence, the world is too gay for that); Religious Intolerance (mostly language and for fantasy religions); Explicit Sex (obvs); Female characters in non-sexual, plot-central roles (just minding the TOS here)

Individual chapters will be tagged with relevant filters but be forewarned and consume at your own discretion.

Start at the Beginning: Chapter One

AN: I ended up redoing a lot of the Ambassador's talk... hopefully improving it. And, why, yes, Faer may not greatly appreciate the nobility's role in society. Also, I realize that we don't get a whole of background on the nobility in this story, but it is an interesting mix in Ainjir of the formal and informal... having almost been eradicated really had an effect on the nobility's place in society.
Content details:
• Category – Literature
• Critique – Optional
• Filter – N/A
• Series – Original
• Theme – Rivalry
• Theme – Romance
• Theme – Supernatural/Fantasy
• Time Taken – Who knows?
• Tools – Literary Work – Prose/Stories
Posted on 2021-03-09 @ 5:42 PM
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