“I said, allow them to pass.” She gestured to Durain, and he immediately stepped forward to wrestle a path clear.
Her generals were loathe to allow these two – travelers – near her, for they would not relinquish their weapons. Furthermore, they demanded a personal audience, an audience without her War Council.
She admitted being intrigued as they stepped forward. One of them, a bearded man, wore two swords crossed behind his back. He was not nearly as tall as Durain, but had a strong, sturdy build and muscled arms that undoubtedly knew how to swing those two swords.
His slender companion trod the floor of RainsCourt’s polished Great Hall with an ease that suggested that he was comfortable in his own skin and not in the least intimidated by the senior military men demanding he relinquish the sword she saw hanging at his hip.
“And who are you?” Selby asked as they stopped before the throne.
“Two men with messages of extreme import for Your Majesty. We have traveled a great distance, at danger to our lives to be here,” added the bearded man with the two swords.
That sounded foreboding. “And have you names?”
The man was silent, though his eyes flicked about the Great Hall to suggest he would say no more in the presence of the crowd.
She took a breath. If she dismissed all of the War Council, Durain and his partner Ericorian could dispatch these two should they try anything against her. Though the travelers looked highly capable of wielding those swords….
“Very well. All of you are dismissed.” Suddenly, Selby called out, “Ambassador, please remain.” Keldrick would be an added protection and an extra voice.
Grumbling, her War Councilors began to leave.
“Your Majesty, I really must object –”
“But, Your Majesty –”
Selby brushed her hands at them. “We shall meet later.” Not for the first time, she knew that, if she were a King, many of these men would never think to doubt her commands.
Keldrick joined her at her side.
Selby saw the slender traveler studying Keldrick and wondered what the news they bore that was of such import it must be delivered in privacy.
“Now then, you have my attention, and I have even dismissed my War Councilors,” she said.
The bearded man remained skeptical and glanced at Keldrick. “Him? And your Ericorian?”
“Surely you do not expect me to dismiss my own guard for two travelers whom I do not know? This is a time of war, and I have no reason to trust you, sir. My Ericorian I have every reason to trust, and this man, the Ambassador to the Eastern Alliance has already saved my life at least twice. I have no reason to distrust him politically or otherwise. Either they stay or you go.”
The two considered and then the bearded men told her, “I am Renfry, and this is my – partner, Topher, Your Majesty. We are at your service.” And they bowed low before her.
Selby bit back her impatience. “Thank you. Now, what have you come to tell me?”
Renfry frowned. “We have traveled through the enemy lines to reach Your Majesty, from Corstarorden. Ormon forces have massed in the Riverlands and plan on striking, though when, or where, we know not. But that is not what we came so far to tell you, Your Majesty.” Here, Renfry exchanged a look with Topher.
He sighed. “I know of a plot to kill you, Your Majesty. Ormons plot to kill you so that no one sits the Clemongard throne.”
His raspy voice hung in the Great Hall.
Selby stared at the man.
But before she could answer, Keldrick said, “She is a royal entity, man. Her entire family has been the object of Ormon death threats her entire life and yet she sits the throne. Tell me you have more than that.”
She laid a light hand on Keldrick’s to silence him. Her entire family was dead by the hand of a man whom she’d just killed. If there was a plot afoot to kill her, she wanted to hear more, and she owed it to her people to hear more….
“He has the right of it. I and my family have been the target of death threats my entire life. I think you need something more solid than just your word, sir.”
A sour look crossed Renfry’s face. “Very well. Overlooking the fact that we have crossed enemy lines at great risk to our personal safety to impart this information, I would ask a boon of you –”
“You dare! In mine own Hall, you dare to ask a boon of me after insulting me so,” flared Selby.
“We are here for your benefit,” said Topher.
Selby glared at him. “Before I grant you this boon, what is it, that I may consider it?
Renfry returned, “A simple one. That our identities be kept secret, and that what we discuss here before you be kept secret as well.”
Selby stared at him flatly, tempted to say no. “And why is that? Are you hunted men? Are you wishing me to grant you asylum, when I hardly know you or your motives?”
“To my knowledge, we are not hunted men, nor are our motives impure,” said Renfry in a quiet tone.
Selby considered and then said, “Very well. I grant you the secrecy of your identities and what may be discussed here. Ambassador Keldrick, your word on this.”
Keldrick looked distinctly displeased, but gave his word nonetheless.
Renfry said, “We are part of a private order, a centuries-old order called the Brotherhood of the Two Blades. We are Land-wide and we assist and help people like yourself in their time of need.”
“People like myself,” Selby cut in.
“Royalty, nobles, individuals of importance and significance to the land, though very few Brothers assist the Northern Countries,” Renfry answered. “We are instructed in weaponry and all levels of education –” here he looked at his partner, “some more than others, that we may be of service.”
“I have never heard of the Brotherhood of the Two Blades, and I’ve had an extensive education,” commented Keldrick with suspicion.
“It is a private Order. Secret, one that is unknown to those whom we do not serve.”
With curiosity, Selby nodded at Topher. “He does not wear two blades.”
“He is still in training. But I believe him to be more intelligent and more learned than most Brothers I have ever known.”
Selby raised an eyebrow.
“Very well. How did you come to learn of this plot against my person?”
“We have traveled from Corstarorden. I overheard the plot being discussed by Stordish mercenaries. If Stordish mercenaries knew of the plot, you may be sure, Your Majesty, that the Ormish and the Ambsells are aware of it. We came to tell you that a price is on your head, and to offer our services. Stay as close to your Ericorian as you can, Your Majesty, for they are as impermeable a force as one might hope for.”
“I shall, and I do. As for your services, what services do you offer?” Selby inquired, chilled. She had removed one threat, only to find out of another….
Topher said, “We will search for any threat against you. Quietly. Within your ranks, from your troops to your War Councilors.”
“Many of my War Councilors just arrived from the East; they are Allies.”
“Even Allies like the taste of gold, Your Majesty,” Topher replied soberly.
How awful! “I agree, then, and accept your – assistance… provided you are quiet about it.”
“We shall be,” replied Renfry.
The Great Hall doors burst open. Both of her top Generals stood at attention.
“Your Majesty! Please forgive the intrusion, but this news is of an immediate nature!”
With impatience, Selby gestured for them to approach.
They hurried forward. Her top General nodded stiffly to Keldrick and then announced, “King Hewart and his sons are dead! All three of them!”
Selby pretended shock.
“What!” She turned to Renfry and Topher. “Did you know of this?”
But their jaws had dropped open in astonishment. “No, Your Majesty!”
“Dead!” echoed Keldrick, shocked himself.
“How credible is this news?” Selby asked.
“The entire Ambsell army has withdrawn, it’s all their ranks are talking of. All our scouts have reported the same thing. Murdered in the night,” the General reported.
“And they are retreating?” asked Selby.
“Retreating toward Rockdale Pass,” replied the General.
Selby turned to Renfry and Topher. Her Brotherhood of the Two Blade spies, sorely needed, it seemed. “You will excuse me, this is of enormous import,” she told them.
“Of course,” Renfry said, shock still registered on his face over the death of the Ambsell family.
Retreating, Selby thought.