Sprawled on the floor outside King Rhutgard’s Study, they were trying to stay quiet. Getting caught would only mean that they’d never be involved. A real War Council!
Keldrick and Kendrick sat across from him, and Dougall next to them. They had their own small council out here on the floor, their ears pressed up against the wall and the door of King Rhutgard’s Study, where all five Kings of the Eastern Shield had just met for the first day of the War Council.
“They’re just laughing,” Ronan shrugged.
“Give them a moment to reacquaint with each other. When was the last time they were all in the same room with each other?” Kendrick whispered.
Ronan thought on that.
“King Reaghann’s Coronation?”
They glanced at each other and shrugged. “Could be,” Kendrick whispered back.
“Wasn’t my father’s Coronation. He’s old enough to be everyone’s grandfather,” Dougall grinned.
“I’m just sharing this with you because we’re cousins – somehow – but,” whispered Keldrick as he put a hand on Dougall’s shoulder, “your father scares me.” Then he grinned.
Dougall grinned. “My father scares everyone.”
Ronan waved at them to stop talking. “They’re talking.”
They all pressed their ears against the wooden paneling.
“Laughing. Discussing wines. Do you believe that?” Kendrick rolled his eyes.
“Oh, here we go – women,” whispered Keldrick. Then, “Ew, she’s ancient. Old enough to be our mother.”
“Oh, gods – may I forget I heard that…” Kendrick whispered.
Ronan buried his head in his knees. Only his father would share a story like that. But they were all laughing hysterically, even King Driscoll.
“And you – Reaghann – Hound of the Eastern Shield –” King Gerard’s voice was clearly heard outside of the Study from drink. “You Hardewold men are ever the dogs. What’s your number up to this time?”
Kendrick and Ronan’s mouths both dropped. “Thirties! Impossible!”
Kendrick looked at Keldrick. “Have we ever had thirty ladies-in-waiting even in residence here altogether?” he whispered.
“Is that really what the “Hound” of Hardewold has actually meant all these years?” whispered Dougall.
Ronan grinned. “I think they try to out-do each other – it’s a family tradition of some sort, how many by the end of their lives. I can’t imagine what their wives must think.”
Keldrick and Kendrick looked at each other and grinned. “Oy – I sense a competition arising – get it?” And Kendrick dug Keldrick in the ribs.
Ronan snorted. “The only thing my father and I could compete in is wine-drinking,” he whispered.
“What are they saying now?” Dougall whispered.
Ronan pressed his ear up to the door. Then he shrugged in disgust. “They’re all just laughing. Oh – wait, no, Reaghann just made a toast to –” and then he laughed.
“To what?” asked Dougall.
“To all the working units of a King.”
“Cheers to that,” Keldrick raised a fake toast.
“True, and then some,” snickered Kendrick.
“All the working units of a King?” Dougall asked.
“A King’s working units –” and Ronan gave a meaningful glance at Dougall’s groin and upward again.
“Oh, bloody hell.”
Ronan grinned and then whispered, “Oy – if we ever have to have a War Council, then it sounds like to me that we just to need to bring wine, women, and get totally racked.”
They buried their heads in their knees and laughed.
“Oh – right – your father’s calling them to order,” Ronan whispered.
Kendrick pressed his ear up against the wall.
Ronan’s mouth dropped suddenly, as did Kendrick and Keldrick’s.
“He didn’t just say that!”
“Shh – keep your voice down!
“What’d he say?”
“Ormon has 400 fucking warships! And they’re getting ready to launch!”
“400! Where is she sending them?” whispered Dougall.
Ronan waved at them. “Shh!”
“Clemongard…” whispered Kendrick.
“Clemongard?” whispered Keldrick.
“Alliance treaty –” Ronan whispered.
“An alliance with Clemongard –” whispered Kendrick as he pushed his head to the wall even closer.
“That’s Queen Selby. Did you see her a few years ago at the Seasonal?” whispered Keldrick.
All of them nodded.
“She’s what, our age, or just older. All that blonde hair. Wow.”
“Yes, Kel, and now she’s the Queen of Clemongard, fighting a war alone against Ormon and Ambsellon, and our Ally. And look at all of us, sitting on the floor with our ears pressed up against a wall. Pathetic, aren’t we,” remarked Kendrick in a whisper as he glanced around at the four of them.
“A Stordish Army attacking in Delsynth?” And Ronan sat and looked at Dougall.
Kendrick and Keldrick looked at Dougall as well.
Dougall’s mouth fell open. “How is that even possible? Storden is neutral. They don’t have an army.”
“That’s what they’re saying,” Ronan pointed a finger at the door and stared at Dougall.
“But – we’d know.” Dougall’s face was suddenly very serious.
“How did they get there? By sea? They’d still have to travel up river. Or up land. They’d still have to travel across Romeny,” Kendrick mused. “Or up north of Romeny and into North Delsynth. Surely the Queen would have made note of that somehow. Or they would have attacked her….”
Ronan suddenly made sense of all the soldiers coming upriver while he was in South Fairview. “They came upriver, disguised as commoners. I was on assignment and saw a number of them for myself, but no one knew what direction they were traveling, or who they were fighting for. My assignment was just to watch and report, so I did. I don’t know what was done with the intelligence I sent, but if those men are in Delsynth somewhere, then you can bet they’re well-hidden and that there a lot of them. Several units of them, in fact.”
“Then who are they attacking? Not Delsynth? Surely they know how irrational that is. We have Crown troops alone that would be five to their one, at least. And that’s before our Stafford Spears. Are they going elsewhere, then?” whispered Dougall.
Ronan felt suddenly very cold, for Ghiverny was a small country. Not as small as Shaw by any means, but it had always depended upon the Wolf Wall to the West to keep Ormon out, the Ice Isles to the North, and the EverWinter Mountains to the East to keep attackers from invading. Ghiverny was only vulnerable from the South, where it faced both Romeny and Delsynth. If Ormon wanted to attack from the South….
King Rhutgard’s Study Door opened just then. As King Rhutgard, the Eastern Shield, stood looking down at the four of them sprawled upon the floor, he lifted a slightly amused eyebrow and said, “Perhaps you lads would like to join us now.”