The Exile

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At An Impasse

Trystane was once again playing the waiting game, by far his least favorite pastime. He spent the abundance of time he suddenly had to spend in his own head fretting over his course of action, and his utter lack, as of yet, of any idea how to move forward. Was this what came along with every decision a king made? Crippling uncertainty and bewilderment? How did they ever manage to do it while seeming so sure of themselves?

He supposed he would—indeed, would have to—learn the way of that eventually, best before long. In the meantime...

Trystane had been brought up as a man of action, not a man of idle thought, as dramatic and action-packed as his thoughts may be now. He was trained to do, not wait.

But then he had been trained as a warrior; all he had had to await was the king’s orders before going in the direction the king told him to go and drawing the blood the king told him to draw. Now, he was the king, and the decisions regarding which way to march and what to do when he got there were his. And those decisions would affect two kingdoms and several million people in one way or another. Gavin had raised his sons to believe that a king must be aware of and sensitive to how his actions affected all his people, from the royals all the way down to the children of the most seemingly interchangeable peasants. For they were not interchangeable; they were people, and ones who depended upon their leaders to protect them.

And all he could do at the moment was fucking wait. For word from… someone. Anyone who knew more than he did now about what was happening across the Crystalline: Barron Mikelton or King Julius, more likely the former than the latter. There was very little Julius could do at this point in the game without possibly riling Dunmar or—worse and more likely—Rohannon into defensive action. Foreign kings sending messages across and into their lands or marching across them without good reason tended to rub a king or queen the wrong way, especially if the king in question had soldiers marching with him. Aside from that, even if Julius were willing to take that risk, to what end?

Mikelton would have his own problems getting messages across a continent and then an ocean—less ready access to messengers that could travel that distance and ships to put them on, for one. And if he did manage it, it would take quite some time to get from there to here.

No, he suddenly decided. The first communication would have to come from him. Deeanna would be more likely to notice, and just now might even be looking for, unusual travelers or activity coming in from the west; but not the east. He would have to risk a message into Rohannon.


The one person Trystane cared most about protecting and affecting with his actions was not herself of late.

Clío had been so strong, to the point of dumbfounding him, in the wake of what she had been through. Too strong, it seemed. And indeed, now that she no longer had fleeing her home, the relief of being back with her husband, fleeing her home again on a much larger scale, enduring a long, hard, secret oceanic passage, and taking in the wonders of a foreign realm to occupy her mind, she seemed to finally be in the throes of mourning violation and loss, belated though it may be.

She still was every bit a queen, taking meetings, meals and such with the empress whenever requested and socializing with poise and grace that never wavered for a second. Trystane may have felt wholly unfit for his new station as king; but Clío, that beautiful, amazing woman he had the privilege to call his wife, was born to be a queen.

However, when she was not expected by anyone outside the opulent chambers at the Shield of the Heavens given them by the empress, she rarely left them. Some days she rarely left their bed. She refused the service of her ladies more often than not—not out of any sort of disregard for them, but simply because she didn’t want to be fussed over. Trystane often found her weeping on the balcony off their bedchamber, and his heart broke every time.

He could not presume to have any idea what she had had to endure: what it felt like inside or out, or how it had affected her mind and her body. But it couldn’t have been anything less than horrific.

All he could do was hold her when she would let him—even this was no guarantee lately—and let her cry until she slept.

After, he would stalk out into the nearby woods, refusing an escort, and hack savagely at a tree with his sword against his burning fury at what had been done to her, all that had been taken from her.

This is what he was doing one afternoon when a meek voice spoke up behind him. “Majesty?”

He spun around, automatically sliding into royal mode as he did so, catching his breath.

Angelique stood watching him, eyes wide with uncertainty. “Is this a bad time, Majesty? I asked after you, and a man sent me this way…”

Trystane sheathed his sword. “No,” he answered hoarsely. Normally, it would have dismayed him to be caught at such a moment—vulnerable and out of control. But Lady Angelique had a calming presence, and a way about her that said the humanity of her king didn’t unsettle her an iota. Though she did seem slightly… what? He couldn’t put a name to what he sensed simmering under the surface in her. Not secrecy; he wouldn’t have trusted her to pseudo-spy for him if he sensed that in her. She seemed… hesitant? Careful? “What can I do for you, my lady?”

“Do for me?” she murmured in confusion before suddenly seeming to remember to whom it was she spoke and hurriedly dropped a curtsy.

“Angelique. You do not need to do that anymore.”

“Not ever?” she inquired incredulously.

He smiled. “You are not new at this. You will know when it is called for and when not. Walk with me.” He offered her his arm; a lady should never be left to navigate a forest floor in heavy skirts without at least the offer of support.

She seemed almost to physically waver as she accepted it, but accept it she did.

Something began to dawn on him, but he dismissed the thought, entertaining casual conversation instead. “Oliver asked after you again yesterday.” He smiled at the mildly questioning look she gave him. “Actually, he asks after all of you, including the queen, quite often. He is a gentleman concerned for the ladies for whom he feels partially responsible. But there is a special look in his eye when he utters your name. Have you gifted him with your presence, my lady? That is, of course, if you wish to?”

She blushed. “I do; and I have.” She answered somewhat evasively.

“I am sorry, my lady, I mean no offense. I suppose I am… looking for positive things of which to speak when I can. And my court has become considerably smaller of late.”

She giggled softly. “No offense taken, my Lord. Someday they shall call you the Matchmaker King,”

He considered and remarked, “Better than the monikers some other kings wound up with.”

“How is the queen today?” she inquired, sobering.

“Quiet and melancholy,” he answered. “Like most days now.”

Angelique was quiet herself a moment. “I cannot imagine…” she mused aloud before throwing him an apologetic look. “I am sorry, my Lord, I should not even mention it.”

“How did he treat you and Princess Haylia while you were there?” he asked curiously.

“I think he forgot Celeste and I were even there,” she replied. “Not that I’m complaining. May I speak freely?”

“That is exactly what I have asked you to do, my lady.”

She considered that. “I suppose it is.” She paused. “I think he did… what he did… to one princess and her ladies specifically to hurt her… and you. But he needed the other princess as malleable as he could make her, for reasons that are clear now. I don’t think I, or Celeste, would even be alive otherwise.”

He brooded on this for a moment before moving on to a less personal—and, he hoped, less hurtful—subject. “Anyhow. What is it you sought me out for?”

“Well,” she answered. “To be perfectly honest, I have been able to glean very little, other than first impressions and the atmosphere in the… my Lord, what would you call this? A palace? A fortress? A city?”

“All would be appropriate, I think,” he replied. “It looks more like a palace, but it is more of a fortress than some might guess. And it is as large as a small city.”

She smiled in mild amusement. “That, it is; I’ve gotten lost in it twice now, and probably will again. But in so doing, along with the wanderings I actually intended, I’ve managed to get an impression of the empress’ Consorts. The empress herself remains an utter mystery to me, though.”

“You have not been following princes around, I hope,” he said with concern. “That is more danger than I wish you to put yourself in, my lady.”

“No, no,” she assured him. “But, as we both know, servants tend to whisper behind their hands about their masters. Especially the ones they are…” she cleared her throat self-consciously. “The ones they are bedding. There is a heavily pregnant chambermaid that swears her baby was put there by Prince Dmitrius.”

“That is hardly surprising,” Trystane mused. “Though I fear for that chambermaid’s safety, should her baby resemble the prince too closely. Or at least her continued occupation here.”

“Is it not fairly well known that the imperials are… erm… promiscuous?”

“It is. But I would guess that Persephoni would prefer it to remain outside the Shield. At least the ones they get pregnant.”

“I imagine so,” Angelique agreed. “The Consorts. Dmitrius is the most approachable, and it seems the most well-liked. He doesn’t exactly engage in casual interactions with servants, but he’s the one who seems… least intimidating to them. Though if you cross him, you won’t like the consequences.”

“Naturally.”

“Konstantinos is rarely spoken about. The feeling I get is not that he’s particularly feared—any more than he would be anyway—only that he is so high above them. Like they’re not worthy of even whispering about him.”

Trystane nodded. Servants afraid to speak of their masters out of turn were not unheard of.

“Cristos is… well, he’s the one the ladies seem most fixated on in a… certain way.”

“He’s the one to whom they are most attracted,” Trystane put in.

“Yes, that. And he seems to be the most… erm… active amongst them, if you get my meaning.”

“I do.”

“He is the only one I’ve found myself face-to-face with; I believe I overheard Sir Edric describe him as ‘cool.’ That is a fitting descriptor.”

“Did you speak with him?”

“No. I simply dropped a curtsy and waited for him to pass, as Sir Edric advised. But–” She looked away slightly and colored a little.

Trystane looked at Angelique. “What is it, my lady?” he prompted.

She seemed hesitant in her reply. “He has a way of looking at one that… has a certain effect.” She uttered those last four words quickly, as if embarrassed to admit such.

Trystane let that pass without comment. There was no need to embarrass her further by asking her to elaborate.

“Sotiris is feared,” she continued. “Not in a he-might-kill-you-for-the-slightest-reason way. More in a we-have-no-idea-how-he-might-react-to-what way.”

“He makes people nervous,” Trystane clarified.

“That is exactly what it feels like. Like the other three—Cristos and Dmitrius, at least—there are those who claim to have bedded him. But you do not approach him; he approaches you.”

“Mm,” Trystane nodded thoughtfully.

“And… some say that he has a certain relationship with Cristos.”

Trystane looked down at her at his side, raising his eyebrows in inquiry. “A particularly-close-allies sort of relationship? Or the middle-of-the-night sort?”

“The second one,” she said quietly, as if uttering something particularly scandalous.

Trystane didn’t find it so; it was not spoken of, but men did fraternize with other men, as some women did with other women. Particularly here in Faradesh, where carnal relations tended to be more… adventurous than in the west, it didn’t seem especially out of place.

“Oh, and Sotiris and Dmitrius are brothers.”

“Are they?” Trystane had not been aware of that. Faradeshi Consorts all but disowned their House of birth once married to the sovereign, so their surnames were never mentioned.

None of this was particularly shocking or even seemed much of import, but good information to have nonetheless.

9.3. The king awoke the next morning to no queen next to him. He sat up, slightly alarmed; Clío was never out of bed before him, especially not these last few days. He heard stirrings in the privy on the far side of the enormous bedchamber, but the door had been left open, so he rose to check on her.

He found her on the floor in her dressing gown, leaning over the privy seat as if she might be sick. “My love?” he inquired softly.

She burst into tears in response, hiding her face in the crook of the arm she held draped across the front of the seat to support herself—hiding it as if in shame.

But what in the world could she possibly have to be ashamed of? She’d done nothing wrong.

“Clío,” he murmured, lowering himself to the floor beside her, taking her in his arms.

She curled up against him as if to hide from the world, but still said nothing. As he had almost every day for a week, he simply held her and let her weep, this time heaving great sobs, as if her world had come to an end.

This was not just another crying spell; something was horribly wrong, and she was clearly loathe to tell him what it was.

Since when had they ever been ashamed to tell each other anything? This was beginning to frighten him like war and the enemy’s sword never had.

“Trystane,” she finally uttered after long, long moments, after her sobs subsided somewhat. She still seemed unable to look at him.

He was not prepared for what she said next.

“This is exactly how I felt before Marietta told me I was with child. My love, I am pregnant again… and this child might not be yours.”

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