A Silent Game of Spies

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Her fingers thrummed the gilded carvings of her chair.

At her request, the old chair had been removed and this one created. Enough jokes were made about a woman sitting in a man’s seat – she did not need to be approving policy while sitting in a man’s seat in her own Council Chamber.

Selby did like it, she admitted. It sat up higher that she might look, if not down upon her Councilors, than at least at eye level. And, of course, it was of a woman’s dimensions, rather than a man’s. And by the gods, more comfortable! More cushioned – for some of these sessions went on for ridiculously long periods, and, to be frank, that old chair left her ass sore.

Perhaps this new chair had a few too many adornments, but Selby wasn’t picky. And it had to look the part, after all.

This Council Meeting was going to be a memorable one, she knew. Perhaps even historical. She would love to listen to what the walls heard when some of these Councilors left today….

And here they all came, filing in, half of them fat old men, growing fatter off the Clemongardian coin they turned to mint in this room. The other half were cunning and danced around diplomacy like maidens around maypoles. At least half of them had served twenty years at this same table.

Selby nodded to the scores of “Your Majesty’s” as they walked in, but, as a woman, none of them would seat themselves until she permitted them or sat herself.

And so they stood, expectantly at the back of their Council seats. Soon, a silence developed, during which she looked each Council Member in the eye. Drawing out a lengthy silence was a power tactic, one she enjoyed employing. She used a number of them, for a queen not yet eighteen had to appear serene and impartial at all times. Such as today.

After both a quiet cough and a nervous clearing of the throat sounded within the room, Selby said, “Good morning, Councilors.

“Before you seat yourselves, please note that there are two parchments placed before your chairs. Pick up the first parchment, on top, and read it.”

It had taken Selby half of the evening last evening to pen out all these parchments, but when she thought of all their political springs and traps that she had either had to deftly avoid at the last moment or had even fallen into upon occasion, this, this day, would be such a rich reward. And this morning, Selby arrived early and placed each parchment carefully, perfectly atop the other. Just for today.

Each Councilor was reading through the details of her Coronation, none of which she had included them on.

“As you can see, I have chosen a date for my Royal Coronation. I have, after all, sat the Throne now for over six months, and it is time for my Coronation. I expect all of you to attend.”

Some of them drew in breath to comment, but Selby shook her finger at them just once, for not only was her Coronation anything that would be up for discussion, but they had another far more pressing matter to discuss.

“Now,” she continued. “The second parchment. Many of you have served loyally and contributed to Clemongard’s finest ideals.

“Because of your remarkable service to the Crown, your retirement is a rich one, well-rewarded, and know that the Crown is appreciative of your service. You are, of course, welcome to stay on within the Court, or retire to your personal residences, as you please, effective immediately.

“Those of you still have a seat at this Council, please be seated while your responsibilities and obligations from this day hence are explained to you –”

“Why you, you –”

“You can’t do this –”

“You can’t –”

“This is unlawful!”

… and several other similar protestations arose around the room from Council Members whom Selby had permanently retired. These men had served her father, not her. So, actually, had the men remaining, but she valued their input, their abilities, or their connections enough to keep them close.

Ah, again, to listen to what the walls heard, she thought as they filed out, arguing like wet hens. Selby wanted to smirk, however ungracious it was of her. She was never raised to be a ruler, so she was not accustomed to licking the wounds of old mens’ pathetic egos every time they got a sliver under a fingernail. People were trained in such arts, but Selby had not been, so she wondered often just how much her reign would stand out from other rulers.

Left sitting at her Council table was less than half of her Councilors, many of them alarmed and wide-eyed.

One Councilor still seated, Lord Lemrond, sniffed and laid his parchment on the Council table.

“No. I was given this seat by King Garmond of Clemongard. I will not be allowed to keep it by a girl who sits his throne, daughter or not.” He shook his head and stood up.

“Then,” Selby returned smoothly, for his words to her sounded dangerously close to treason. In fact, she was right, for her guards behind her immediately slammed their spears to the floor. “… if you do not leave, you will be removed from this Council Chamber. Lord Lemrond, your Council retirement privileges are hereby revoked. You will leave Court at once, permanently, to return to your personal estate. Or, perhaps, you should leave Clemongard altogether….” Selby suggested dangerously.

Lord Lemrond’s eyes widened with outrage. “This is outrageous. It’s unlawful.”

Selby beckoned one Ericorian guard to follow her to her Council Chamber door while the other Ericorian guard forcefully removed Lord Lemrond by his collar to the door.

He hung there before the door from the Ericorian’s hand when she signaled the guard with an upraised palm to stop.

“It is lawful. I am the Queen of Clemongard. I am the law.”

She gestured then at the Ericorian guard. He threw Lord Lemrond out of the Council Chamber, where he landed on his ass on the marble and skidded into the wall.

Queen Selby smiled and closed the door to her Council Chamber.

Now that Selby had called her own Council to order, she gazed around at all the empty seats. Though she had been quietly researching new replacements, she first had to see how her current Councilors upheld their new positions. Once she had established their abilities to work as a new conglomerate, she would choose new Council Members that would fulfill the gaps left.

Feeling pleased with herself, Selby asked, “Any questions?”

Lord Dansherd, an older gentleman with white sideburns and a compact frame, leaned back in his seat. He laced his hands over his stomach. “I have.”

Selby nodded for him to continue.

“Are these… men, your guards, necessary, here in the Council Chamber?”

“You mean the Ericorian?”

“Well, of course. Over our Crown Guard, that is,” replied Lord Dansherd.

The Ericorian were Clemongard’s finest warriors, trained in all manners of weaponry and war, and only those of the highest honor, the best fit, and the utmost able became Ericorian after the most rigorous of training. Selby saw no reason why Ericorian should not have them as her personal guards.

“I, of course, have the highest respect for our Crown Guard,” Selby returned with a practiced grace. “They are our Royal Guard, and Clemongard’s defense from start to finish, and the finest of men.

“We have thousands and thousands of fine Crown Guard. There may be perhaps two or three fine men… who make a poor choice… upon occasion.” Selby allowed her last words to linger for just a few seconds, for she truly did appreciate the daily sacrifice of her Crown Guardsmen. “And also,” she continued, “there is the matter of uniforms. Any non-soldier with… unsavory intentions… might possibly purloin a uniform.”

Selby saw the various expressions upon her remaining Councilors’ faces – curiosity, interest, shock, astonishment, complacency….

She continued. “You recall that not yet seven months ago, King Garmond and all three of my brothers were… lost… at RainsCourt, a castle our family has known our entire lives, and for generations, of course.”

All eyes were on Selby.

Selby had very personal beliefs as to whether the reports sent back from RainsCourt were true – slipped on the icy stairwells, fever.... When her brothers and father had all been in the best of health before departure and all of them, including herself, knew those steps inherently… and never had ice formed on them at any time of the year.

Selby herself had remained here at FalconRise at the time, and felt sure that if she had accompanied her family to RainsCourt then, she too, would be dead as well.

“Since I am the last remaining of the immediate Stevanrhut Royal bloodline, I think it only wise to protect my promise to the people of Clemongard in the best way possible, and that starts with securing my life.

“Sadly, anyone can masquerade as one of our beloved Crown Guards, though we hope that is never the case. But, as you can see,” and Selby gestured to the nearest Ericorian behind her, “it would very difficult to infiltrate the Ericorian ranks. Sheer height requirements alone would impede most attempts, though our Ericorian men are also tattooed and their uniform requirements are of a different nature.” Selby waved at the Ericorian’s hair, for their hair was shorn very specifically.

She bestowed a smile upon Lord Dansherd. “You’ll grow accustomed to their presence.”

Lord Dansherd nodded slowly, though he studied the Ericorian at her side from head to toe.

“Which now brings me to the subject of my Coronation. All preparations are being made, so you need only see that those within your villages, townships, parishes, and cities are alerted. This will be a small affair, and only the most prominent of Lords and Ladies may attend, as well as those whom I have already invited. That list will be provided for you before our next meeting, but before you send word to anyone, I will approve the list of those whom you propose to invite. Be sure to have that list ready by our next meeting as well.”

Selby believed her Councilors to still be in shock from the dismissal of their compatriots and so they remained silent as they nodded in assent. Hm – a first. She held her amusement back.

Ah – so close. “Your Majesty, I do have a concern that is somewhat related….”

“Lord Fraynard. If your concern is noteworthy then by all means, please share it.”

“You are, as yet, unmarried.” Lord Fraynard had brown eyes set close together and a habit of rapidly blinking twice, which he did now. He also had frizzy brown hair that hung just over his eyebrows, shot through with grey. She did not know which irritated more, the frizzy hair, or the rapid blinking. As he continued to double-blink at her, Selby imagined small pins propping his eyelids up and decided the blinking, yes, definitely the blinking.

Selby cradled her hands over her elbows and replied, “I am actually aware of that fact.” She braced herself for another argument on this very subject.

“You’re one to speak of protecting the bloodline, Your Majesty, with all due respect, but you must provide a line of succession for it. You must marry and provide an heir,” Lord Bralwin commented. And not for the first time, Selby thought tiredly.

“Let us take one event at a time. First, my Coronation, in six weeks.”

She paused. Two years ago, one year ago even, she would never have thought herself needing to fend this very moment off. Now…. She sighed.

“You do all realize, that I am wearing black, don’t you? From head to toe?”

Her Councilors glanced nervously at each other, realization dawning upon them.

“Yes, that’s right. I am in mourning, my lords. I lost a father and three brothers just six months ago. Four dear family members at once.”

Though she would have loved to asked them what in the names of all the gods were they thinking, Selby elected instead to say quietly, “While they meant little to you, and their loss has made little or no difference in your lives, they meant a great deal to me and their loss has echoed tremendously through my life.

“I fully expect to wear mourning for a period of one year, as is expected of women, Queens or otherwise. And I expect each of you to respect the thought that entertaining thoughts of courtship and betrothal prospects are highly inappropriate. There will still be men with marriageable designs six months from today.”

Again, Selby’s Council Chamber was silent. However, each Councilor was nodding with respect. She knew she would not need to address this subject further.

“Now. We have another agenda to pursue.” Upon her own papers, she had a copy of the day’s agenda, which she slid down the marble Council table.

And now the silence would come to an end, Selby thought smugly.

Near the close of the meeting, Selby leaned her head in her hand. “All right. One last thing. Lord Branshaw,” and she swung her attention to the Council whose pewter hair always seemed fly-away.

He raised his eyebrows. “Your Majesty?”

“You are my RiverWorks Councilor. I need bridges. The Rournebourke, particularly, for the distance between BrevisPort and the Mickel Bridge is just too far. The Trellis as well. People are traveling far and away from their destination just to get to a bridge.

“Lord Branshaw. This should not be nearly a frightening a prospect as you’ve suddenly become.” The man had suddenly taken in a deep breath and become very apprehensive.

“Oh. Frightening, no, Your Majesty, not at all. It’s just – it could be – costly.”

Selby frowned. “The Crown is giving you the coin for this project. These bridges will be sturdy, brick, and designed by a Crown architect. You need only provide the best locations.”

“Right. Right then,” replied Lord Branshaw, though he did not sound convinced at all. One Councilor coughed and another pulled at his collar.

Selby turned to the side in her seat and cocked her head.

“If I didn’t know better, Councilor, I would think that you’re concerned about this prospect.”

Lord Branshaw saw that she was studying him and realized that he would not be able to hold back his objections.

“Well, Your Majesty, it’s simply that – rivers do overflow their banks, in flood season,” he offered weakly.

Selby raised her eyebrows. “Interestingly, I was aware of that fact.”

“And they do sink below their banks in drought periods….”

Did he think her an idiot or was he one?

“Keeping those important facts in mind, Councilor, the necessity of bridges, water beneath them or no, is to allow and even encourage our citizens to travel. This means that trade will increase. What that means, is that coin will, if you will, flow into our Treasury.

“Also – travelers from other countries, Storden, even the East, will be more likely to visit once they see how many Clemongardian destinations are accessible.

“More bridges means more travel, and more travel means more access. I expect your ideas by our next meeting, Lord Branshaw. Beyond that, I expect to see your research – proposals on bridge placements based on yearly weather issues, citizen demographics, land, etc.. The start date for this project will be no later than four months from today, Lord Branshaw.”

Lord Dansherd cleared his throat, recognizing that the meeting was ending.

“Yes, Lord Dansherd?” Selby was not overly fond of the man, but she was fond of his connections, and so humoring him was requisite.

“Just one question, Your Majesty. What do you think your father would feel of your sitting on his throne?”

“I’m not sitting on my father’s throne, Lord Dansherd. I’m sitting on my own.

“Today’s meeting is adjourned.”

Selby stood up from her chair and watched her Councilors bow before her as they left. Lord Dansherd seemed pleased with her answer, for he gave her a respectful nod before he left. That battle had been won, she thought, though Lord Branshaw looked increasingly nervous as he left the room. Her eyes narrowed.

Selby didn’t wonder what her father would do. She was too busy doing it herself.

The Council Chamber doors closed and the room was silent. Ah. Finally. Alone.

Well, nearly alone. She had her two Ericorian with her.

Selby turned around and stared at them, tapping a finger on her mouth.

“You. Your name?”

“Durain, Your Majesty.”

“Durain, please approach.”

Durain immediately stepped forward.

“Walk with me.” Selby walked half the length of her Council Chamber, then crossed her arms.

“I know that you two heard all. What did you think of that man, Lord Branshaw?”

Durain immediately replied in one tone, “Ericorian have no opinion, Your Majesty.”

Selby frowned and shouldered her hair behind her. “Durain, right now, I need you to have an opinion. I don’t trust anyone else. My father and my brothers were murdered six months ago, and people believe that they just fell on the steps.” She sniffed.

“Durain. I am not asking you to become a Council Member. But that squirrely little man that just left. There is something about him that I don’t trust, and I need to know what it is.” She peered up at the man. Those height requirements were impressive, but at the moment, it was making her neck hurt.

Durain suddenly glanced down at her. Ah! A spark of singularity, an individual behind those blue eyes. She knew it.

“Durain,” and Selby leaned forward, “do you… know of anyone who could find out information for me? Whom you personally, you, trust? Someone who could, maybe… watch Lord Branshaw… someone of the utmost discretion?”

Durain swallowed calmly. His face was like stone, Selby thought.

Quietly, he told her, “I do.”

Her heart skipped a beat and her mouth dropped open.

“Would you like an introduction?”

“No!” Selby whispered. “No! It would be best for … that person, and for me, for us, that we never meet. And perhaps, that person might find other… people of similar natures who could provide services of the same manner. If so, they would be greatly rewarded.” Selby stared up at Durain with all seriousness.

He nodded just slightly. “Understood, Your Majesty. It will be seen to.”

Selby’s breath whooshed out of her. “Thank you, Durain.”

She was a new Queen – and the first lesson she was learning was that she could not do everything by herself.

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