A Silent Game of Spies

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Romand tilted his head to the side and swiped the razor down his face again, keeping his hand steady. Terrence had been his steward since the days before time, and as such, Romand could tell when Terrence had that look in his eye. Terrence never spoke a word of his own life to Romand, and the steward kept his private concerns to himself. He kept himself healthy and never asked for time off unless he believed poor health might endanger Romand.

Romand stopped the razor just short of nicking himself and grimaced. This morning, when Terrence had woken him, there had been an odd expression on his face. Terrence was always expressionless. Always – much to Romand’s displeasure over the years. Romand had taken a look at the man he’d called steward for the better part of his life and dismissed him from the day’s duties. Terrence had regarded him for a few moments, considering perhaps whether to object, but in the end, he had excused him.

Romand swirled the razor around in the bowl of water to free it of lather and began again on the other side of his face. Odd, the things one grew accustomed to. Perhaps he would shave himself from now on, rather than Terrence. He splashed water across his face and toweled dry.

He inspected himself in the mirror. Not a bad shave. Not a bad shave at all. He smoothed his bed-tangled white hair into a semblance of normalcy.

Romand padded into his bed chamber and found that Terrence had spread the day’s clothing out on the bed for him. As he slipped his airy robe over his silken vest, he mused over what might have caught the steward’s attention to such a degree. He ducked to pull the clanking chains of his office over his head. Then his KingsGuard met him outside his chambers. Today was going to be a long day.

His staff wanted to relocate him to ArkenHeights, for it afforded more protection. He spent much of his time here at his Roarden North residence. He preferred the hustle and bustle of the great city to the prosaic seaside. At least he would see his lady-wife at ArkenHeights. Years ago, it had been much the opposite. When he was a younger king, he craved the peace and quiet that the secluded ArkenHeights offered, where his queen, basking in her social standing, enjoying all that a city the size of Roarden North offered, preferred their city dwelling.

Looking back now, the Twenty Years War had taken much out of her. Running a household that had to deal at times with the Northern Countries, other Coastals, or even Eastern armies, as well as protecting their children, had proven a difficult task. She had only wanted to live quietly after that. Women were not meant for war.

Now that he was older, a king confident in his own right, twenty years of war for experience, two grown sons and a daughter a S’hendalow Duchess now, Romand enjoyed the hustle and bustle of one of the biggest gems in all the West – Roarden North. But Romand knew his entire household would be packed and relocated within the week.

And Romand knew why. All the city, all of Corstarorden was talking of it. A sour grimace overtook his expression. The Northern Countries.

He’d heard all about Munsolryshe. Hell of a way to die. Pierced like a suckling pig and left to stew in his own juices. Romand knew of the songs and even the plays, but he had denied entry to entertainers who boasted them, and refused for them to be performed in his Court. Corstarorden was the first Coastal Country that the North called upon, either by land or by sea. If they were to find out that Corstarorden was mocking them – Ormon, specifically – in the slightest….

Romand had heard, as had everyone, that Munsolryshe had died at Myrischka’s hand, and that not a member of the entire royal family, extended or immediate, was found to step up to the throne. Perhaps Romand was just a traditional old man, but he wanted his wife, his sons and daughter, their children, all to live healthy, long lives – and he wanted the succession to his throne to remain in place as well.

And Romand was quite certain it wasn’t just the Northern Countries he needed to watch out for now. Munsolryshe’s death had been a shock, yes, and that his wife was commanding all of Ormon, more so.

But what really stunned him was the death of his neutral neighbor on his northern border. The Storden king, Harvick – had disowned and exiled his son… for the crime of warmongering, of all things, in a country hundreds of years neutral. Harley, Romand thought the boy’s name was. And then Harvick’s brother took the throne. Under different circumstances, Romand would not have thought much of that except that not two years ago, Harvick had married a woman from a village on the Corstarorden border, Kipper Cove, and unless Romand was mistaken, twins were born.

No matter. Romand would need to meet this new King Irving, for Corstarorden and Storden did an enormous amount of business together. Still, mused Romand, warmongering…. With whom was the boy conspiring? Certainly not the East, nor Clemongard either, for that little Queen had her hands full. Two interesting and far more plausible possibilities rose to mind….

Warmongering. If it had been his Kreston and he in Harvick’s shoes…. He shook his head a bit with disgust. To disown a family member, bad enough. To disown your own heir, banish him…. If Kreston had committed treason against the Crown – gods, what Harvick must have faced in making such a decision. Had it been Romand, well, how hard to separate King from father, for Kreston was the jewel of his eye. But to turn against his country and commit treason to the point of committing war crimes with the enemy. The Exile Isles wouldn’t even be good enough. It would have killed Romand, but he would have had Kreston executed. Publicly. Very publicly, to serve as an example. Treason was treason, and no one was exempt, particularly those born to royals and nobles. King Harvick had shown weakness by simply banishing that boy, for now the lad was free to run about the land creating havoc.

Romand considered the children of the rest of the rulers. Why, A’dair was now King A’dair and just a few years ago, he was a squire. That Queen Selby. He scoffed inwardly. Romand had no idea why no male kin had stepped forward for the throne. She was just a girl, staring war in the face. Ambsellon would carve Clemongard up soon enough, whether someone stepped up in her place or not. The Cleaver Queen, they called her, in the spirit of her forbear. They must be desperate for encouragement up there.

But the Eastern Shield now had a new daughter, hidden at birth. The Pop-Up Princess. He’d caught the second part of a mime show in the Great Hall depicting it. Of course, everyone thought the girl was just a springtime between-the-sheets Rhutgard was embracing, but t’was said she looked exactly like her twin brothers, blue eyes and all. He’d finally given in to curiosity and blown the dust off of an old History of the Era volume. Mayhaps if a man was just paranoid enough, after fighting in the Twenty Years War, losing two wives, a father, a child, and enough peers, he might spirit his only daughter away. Rhutgard had been a young man, that wife a young queen. Plenty of time to make more babies. Odd. Well, what’s done is done, the tide already rolled in, and that Pop-Up Princess had captured the imagination of people even in the West. Romand thought at first that they would roast her and the girl would need to retire from public life before she’d even begun it, but the common people loved the idea of a royal girl who knew what their lives were truly like, and so what little dramas he’d seen depicting her were more fanciful than harsh.

Romand now had the Tortoreen princess married to Cathall Eochair, Duke of Mendellion. Romand had not liked the prospect one bit, not at all. There was enough Tort blood flowing through Corstarorden veins. The fewer ties he had to King Almeric, the better, for that man was as slippery as a greased eel, whether by land or by sea. What had possessed Duke Eochair to marry out of the realm, indeed, a Tortoreen princess, Romand could not fathom.

Eochair enjoyed boundless amounts of wealth for a Duke, rivaling the Crown itself in fact, and so Romand held his tongue. The Duke pulled in a fair share of that wealth from his holdings – in large part productive agricultural lands. He owned prolific properties all over the west and he worked hard to see that they remained fruitful.

Romand could not help but respect a wealthy man with a work ethic. Too many men of affluence enjoyed their fortunes by living in coastal and Roarden North estates, spending time at Court among other lords, and traveling. Duke Eochair had a rather remote familial estate out on the northern border, and now his fifteen-year-old Tortoreen wife was the Duchess. Barely more than a child. It couldn’t have been wealth he’d been seeking, and if so, Tortoreen would be the last father-in-law to wed. Pirates under the guise of bankers. Romand scoffed, wondering if Eochair would have to pay a marriage tax on his wife each year.

Romand knew little of the children of the rest of the Land. King Hewett had three young lads. Harvick’s boy must indeed have been conspiring with Ormon. That took a sturdy set of balls. He frowned. If Storden was closed to the boy, and Clemongard risen up against Storden now, as it rightfully should, then the little shit was likely to turn to his new allies. The Coastals. Romand grimaced.

Well, he had his own problems to worry about now. He turned the corner, his robes rippling behind him, and stepped into the foyer.

“His Royal Majesty, King Romand of Corstarorden!”

Romand strode into the Cabinet Room before the announcement was complete, a bad habit he’d developed over the last several years.

They all bowed before him. He waved them all down with a precursory flourish of his arm.

Ah. The first War Council he’d assembled in nearly twenty years.

“I now call this new War Council to order.”

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