The sturdy knock at his chamber door he knew was Gerard’s. “Enter!” he called, and then he dismissed his steward. Damn, he’d forgotten how heavy ringmail was.
He heard the heavy oaken door open, then swing shut.
“The last time I was in this area of Fairview Palace, ’twas your father’s chambers, and I never did get an invitation,” called out Gerard.
Rhutgard smiled a little. Only Gerard would remember such a thing. Ah, how he missed Father, especially at a time like this….
“Are you going to come out, Rhudy, or – oh.” Gerard took in the sight of Rhutgard in his full ringmail once he emerged. He grinned a bit. “I’ll bet the last time you wore armor, you were a bit thinner around the torso, hey?”
Rhutgard snorted and glanced down at his midriff. “I looked an awful more like Kendrick, I’ll tell you that.”
Gerard said, “Oh, please, Rhudy, you don’t look that far off. Me, on the other hand,” and he guffawed, patting his belly. “I’ve a wine belly that Ronan couldn’t hope to put on in twenty years.”
“Well, you’ll lose that wine belly in two weeks, I guarantee you. Wearing a suit like this every day, swinging a sword, constant exercise – you’ll look like Ronan again in no time,” Rhutgard gibed. He moved his arms about. The jingling of the steel rings was a little exciting, he had to admit….
Gerard grimaced. “Yes, and only water to drink. I don’t want to think about it. You’ll be back to being a skinny runt again in a week. I won’t be able to tell the difference between you and Kendrick.”
“Of course you will. Kendrick hasn’t got a beard yet. I couldn’t keep a full beard until I was – hmm, twenty-one,” chortled Rhutgard as he ran his hand across his beard. He needed this lightheartedness before they rode out tomorrow, perhaps that was why he’d called for Gerard up here.
Unfortunately, however, there was still business to attend to….
“My friend, on that side table,” and Rhutgard pointed. “is a communication you need to read.”
He watched Gerard’s face immediately change to one of concern, both for his son and his country. In two quick strides, Gerard had approached the side table and swept the communication up. As he read it, Rhutgard watched his brow furrow. Finally, he looked up.
“You’re letting him stay? Are you mad?”
“Gerard. What would you have me do?”
“Do? Rhutgard, he’s your son. Issue him a Royal Decree or some such whatever you would do. Send for him to come home. That country is about to get sliced to pieces, and your son in the middle of it.”
“He is my son. He will not return, I am sure of it. It is an honorable thing he does –”
“Honorable! Shit on that! You know I love him like my own, he’s my nephew, Rhudy. I don’t want to see him get killed or worse, become a prisoner to the Northern Country soldiers. Once they find out who he is – Rhutgard, send for his stubborn little Rommish ass to come home. He’s done his Ambassador duty. We got the map, we got the information. What’s he doing there, playing at fairy tales with the Western Queen?” Gerard slammed the communication down on the side table. “That’s it, Rhudy, you know. He wants to swoop in and save the Queen. His fool head is in the clouds –”
“That will be enough,” Rhutgard said lowly. It was one thing to express concern for Keldrick, much of what he was already experiencing. But he – and Principea – were the only two people who could insult any of his children. Not even Gerard had that right, uncle or no.
Gerard said nothing for a moment, aware that he had pushed Rhutgard too far.
Then he said quietly, “I am only concerned for the boy, Rhudy. He doesn’t know any more of war than you and I did when we stepped foot onto the battleground the first day. And out there, whether she’s an ally or not, he hasn’t got anyone at his back. Here, he has you, Kendrick, all the Alliance.”
“All of what you say is nothing I haven’t thought of constantly since I received that communication. But his reasoning is sound. We need an Ambassador –”
“Then send one, and send your son home –”
“–That we can trust, who won’t be swayed by the enemy.”
“Send a loyal man who won’t be swayed by the enemy, who isn’t your son. Rhutgard. See sense in this, I beg you. I’d send for Ronan were it me. Ronan may be seasoned by the street assignments he’s had, but he’s never been in war before.”
“Answer me these two questions: What would you have done at his age, and is the position he’s chosen an honorable one?”
Gerard glared at Rhutgard.
“The position he’s chosen has merit. If I send for him now, it will seem that I don’t trust him or believe in his abilities to serve the Alliance. He would lose face. He will have to learn. You and I did. Do you think I want him half way across the Land in a war-torn realm, Gerard? But I trust him. I trust his instincts, and I believe in the boy. Keldrick wouldn’t stay in a war-torn realm just to play at fairytales. This will make a man of him. He’s smart, he knows our ways, and he can advise her. He may just know what he’s doing, Gerard.”
Two Kings flanked him to either side, and two Crown Princes behind him rode. Rhutgard appreciated the uniformity, if nothing else. He found himself thinking how Principea would find yet another opportunity for a portrait, though the artist would have a hard time portraying the grimness of the Romeny Royal Guard that surrounded them on all sides, like a tide bearing them forth to war.
To his left, Rhutgard felt sure Gerard was sulking. And unless he missed his guess, the ever-dignified Silver Statesman, Driscoll rode silently, keeping his concerns to himself after conferencing with several of his personal advisors. Both men would turn off to the north and the east, respectively, to meet their own Armies in due time.
Rhutgard had dismissed both Rickstan and Reaghann a week ago, shortly after he had announced to the people formally that the East was now at war with the Northern Countries. Neither Rickstan nor Reaghann had any experience with war and he sent them home to get their affairs – and their castles – in order. They had been away a month now, and Reaghann had expressed concern over that especially. His ports were now clear and ingoing and outgoing ships of all sizes were docking from each port throughout his entire coastline. His own army occupied the coast now, so any further Stordish who had attempted to come in to Port Stanton, Ferrisport, Chesterport, or any others were immediately dissuaded, though the damage was already done, for a sizeable faction of both Ormon and Stordish troops awaited them at the northeasternmost corner of Delsynth, in a pocket of the EverWinters. And undoubtedly more arriving from Ormon, if Rhutgard were to judge.
And that was where they rode.
Principea had not understood at all, and these last few days had been difficult for them both. He’d spent as much time with her as he could, and a long, tender night last night that unfortunately had a morning today. This morning, as his steward dressed him in armor, Rhutgard reminded his SweetPea that while he was away, she would be taking over as many new duties as necessary. Principea already ruled the much of the Fairview household, and what she did not, the Seneschal did. But Rhutgard also reminded her that she would have Mirelle to lean on, and Mirelle would need to lean on her as well.
Rhutgard hated to leave his Principea behind as upset as she was, but there was nothing for it. He was the Eastern Shield before he was a husband, a father, or a King. And today the Eastern Shield led the five countries of the Eastern Alliance to war.