They followed the chamberlain provided for them down the polished marble steps. Finally, they would be able to ascertain the needs of this country so they might report back to Father. Both they and the Queen – or Selby, as she had bid them call her – sent birds back to Fairview last evening, but carrier pigeons didn’t fly far in the evening after they’d been fed, so it was hard to tell how far the birds had gotten.
“Beautiful palace,” remarked Ronan with an eye to the artwork as they passed.
Keldrick snickered at his lifelong friend. Ronan always had displayed an eye for the arts and music.
Ronan shouldered him, knocking him a bit off balance on the steps. “Just because you’re a cretin doesn’t mean the rest of us are. This is an oceanside country, and that was a portrait of her whole family by the sea when she was a girl, which you’d have seen, if you noticed details more often. A shame we can’t see the sea while we’re here.”
And that was why Ronan was in the position he was in – he noticed the little things. He would make a good king someday, mused Keldrick, a very, very long time from now. No one ever wanted to think of the passing of their parents, but when it came to having to look at your friend and know that he would be the man to step up and change the guard after his father… well, you couldn’t help but assess him a bit. Until then, Uncle Gerard was as hale and hearty a man as he would ever be.
The chamberlain led them to what Keldrick assumed was the Queen’s War Room, for it was heavily guarded by Ericorian. Now, they were a sight to see! He and Ronan had only seen men that tall in carnivals during celebrations, but these Ericorian men were formidable warriors in the white and sky blue of Clemongard, with specially cropped hair. Ronan had told him later last night that Ericorian were trained in most all weaponry but was surprised to see them guarding the Queen.
Keldrick thought not so much, considering the circumstances of how he had just gained a sister. When the Queen told them how she’d lost every heir to the throne, just like that, he thought it wise of her to surround herself with the most lethal fighting men Clemongard had to offer, as she had no heirs. Ronan conceded to that.
Two Crown Guards stood before the War Room. They bowed low and then asked for Keldrick and Ronan’s weapons.
Keldrick raised an eyebrow and placed a hand on his sword hilt. “We’re allies.”
“So is everyone in that room, Your Highness. Weapons, please, or I shall have to ask you to leave.” The guard stared at him with insistence.
Of all the –
“Kel,” Ronan said lowly as he detached his sword from his swordbelt.
“Very well.” And Keldrick removed his sword and scabbard and handed them to the waiting guard, who placed them in a bin.
Still, they blocked the way.
“Ah. Bootknife,” Ronan realized, and bent to pull his bootknife from his boot.
“You can’t be serious,” muttered Keldrick as he pulled his bootknife from his boot and surrendered it to the Crown Guard.
“We are very serious about Her Royal Majesty of Clemongard, Your Highness. You may enter.”
Keldrick glared at the guard as he passed.
Inside Queen Selby’s War Room sat several men, some in decorated uniforms, others her Cabinet members and advisors. And all about the walls were inked parchments and maps of various types, most of Clemongard, some of the ocean, some of Storden and Ambsellon.
A hush fell over the room as he and Ronan entered.
Queen Selby, her hands on her hips in a confrontational stance, suddenly relaxed.
“My Lords of the War Council. We have visitors.” And she gestured Keldrick and Ronan further inside the room.
“Let me introduce to you our allies from the Eastern Alliance: Prince Keldrick, son of the Eastern Shield, and Prince Ronan, son of King Gerard of Ghiverny. They will be sitting in our War Council with us.”
And for the first time, Keldrick saw her smile. It was a lovely smile, but out of place in her tired face, framed by long waves of platinum hair. Well, perhaps he could change that drained expression.
Ronan, behind him, had cleared his throat. Damn. What had he planned to say?
“My lords of the War Council, we are glad to be here with you, to help you in this fight. And, to help you win this fight. We all have a common enemy, and we cannot let that enemy win, nor even survive. Let us not be afraid of what we can overcome.”
That was nothing at all like what he had planned to say, and Keldrick wondered if his father would approve. The uniformed men looked skeptical but several of the Lords nodded their heads with approval.
Then Ronan muttered under his breath, “How’d you pull that off?”
Keldrick smiled then.
An older lord stood up and said, “It’s glad we are of having you both here, Your Highness, glad of this Alliance with the East.” He had long, white whiskers that rode down the sides of his face. “You know our beloved Queen is a tough woman. You know what we call her?”
Keldrick and Ronan exchanged a brief glance. This might not be a good question to answer… and Keldrick saw Queen Selby look down and shake her head slightly.
All in the room broke into grins.
The older lord said, “She’s the Cleaver Queen, after her grandfather. I nearly lost my fingers to her, right here at this very table.” He waggled the fingers of his left hand and then pointed to – was that a gash – in the wooden Council Table? Even Ronan was staring.
“That’s why she wears that cleaver at her side now. She can take care of herself, she can,” said the lord proudly.
Keldrick shook himself and could not resist a smile, for Queen Selby – or should he refer to her as the Cleaver Queen – was looking quite rueful. And there was indeed, a cleaver sheathed in a fine leather scabbard hanging from her slender waist.
A beautiful woman who was determined to win a war, a Queen who was his own age, who cursed, who used a cleaver to make a point? Keldrick liked this woman very much….