Incitement: Winter, 1129
I never should have come, I should have stayed in the field.
I pulled my collar tighter as I ducked through a torrent of icy rain overflowing the Karsai’s gutters. The Reception Hall felt no warmer than the street, but a marble room the size of a tosca-ball field just can’t be warmed, not without enough fire to blacken every wall in a half-hour.
Worse, there was a line. There’s always a line when you’re impatient. A slow line. I blew on my hands and studied the bas-reliefs of events and people most Galantierans barely remember. Could we build this today? Would we bother? Impressive as the Karsai is, Galantier doesn’t need a cube of marble covering two acres. A millennium ago, the Founders feared another black rain, but now…
This tenday’s bitter, freezing rain wasn’t mostly ash, but I understood why the Founders commissioned this fortress. I craved shelter, too. I can’t, I won’t do it, but I can’t get out of this alone. Bright god of the sun and holy mother of wisdom, send me somebody who’ll listen.
The reception steward had sent away everyone before me, but me, he eyed dubiously. I bored him, sure as sand and lime make mortar. Worse, I was inconvenient, and Sardan knows, someone like him didn’t like inconvenience. Worst of all, he must deal with me. Another Pronator might be shunted off with an appointment, but the Optimus’ son had to be heard, no matter how acrid relations between the Razin and the Prava. I could see his boredom turning to resentment, and from there, I’d see petty revenge if I wasn’t careful. Why had I come, today of all days, to see the Monarch? Don’t I know the Razin is a busy man —
“Just tell him — ” This professional skeptic would label me a nutter and hustle me out if I blurted the whole story. I wasn’t sure he wasn’t wrong. “It’s about the Reform faction. It’s urgent, His Majesty needs to hear it.”
“Pronator Tiwendar, I am sorry — ”
“Just tell him.” I knew what I looked like — a journeyman engineer, fresh from two years building for the Army. Rough hands, windburnt skin, worn clothing, wild about the eyes. Wet. What wealthy scion of the second-most politically powerful house would be walking in full sun, much less in a killing storm? Only a madman or a crank. Not someone the Razin need hear. People like me are why professional skeptics like him exist. “Would I be here at all if my message wasn’t of the highest urgency?”
He didn’t roll his eyes in my face, but I heard his sigh as he departed and could supply the contempt. I paced the slate floor, unable to settle on a bench. If His Majesty won’t see me, I’ll ask for Ragin. The Razin’s nephew would listen, though I didn’t want to drag him into this, because I endangered him, too. He needs no more messes, has no more power than me, not when it came to our fathers. Parent, I amended. Ragin never acknowledged Mathes.
This… this couldn’t happen. What crime can I commit to make the Metropolita detain me for the next two days? Can I run where I won’t get caught? How far can I get in a half-day? I’m in the Karsai — how to get to the private quarters from here? — I squashed that thought. I’d never find the Razin or the Prazia before some guard caught me. Though that might get me thrown in jail. Last resort, then.
I think I wore a furrow into the floor before the professional skeptic returned.
I didn’t expect the woman beside him, nor the two men trailing her. She stood in the doorway like a wisp of smoke, easily my height, but narrow and almost frail, excepting her expression. I’d only seen her on state occasions, in the finery befitting the Prazia of a kingdom over a thousand years old. Now, in her severe long coat and narrow skirt, with her nearly white hair coiled on the back of her head and spectacles perched on the tip of her nose, Prazia Bellacera descendara Galene looked like a misplaced, impoverished scholar, not the most powerful woman in Galantier. Except the ring of state on her left hand and that expression — command, power, cold calculation. I might have been an arch she was testing to ensure it would stand… and she wasn’t at all certain.
I dropped to one knee as the son of the Teregenitor who led the Loyal Opposition should. My gaze fixed on a cracked grout line in the stone floor. It would need to be relaid in the next few years. Is that a Land Ministry job? There aren’t many with sufficient security privileges. Will I get the assignment? Will I still be alive to do it? Then I remembered, and dropped the defenses around my mind. Protocol’s never been my strongest attribute. Comes of being raised in the back of beyond and being four generations from nobody.
An invisible finger traced a line down my spine as she read my mind with a subtlety her severity belied. I head a snick I couldn’t interpret until the sigh followed. Yes, Your Splendor, I’m inconvenient. I’m sorry. I couldn’t be other than exasperating and frustrating today, given tomorrow’s ceremony. Please realize I’d not be here were it not vital you hear this.
“Rise, Tiwendar.” Bellacera dat Ardenis, Prazia Royal, sounded both weary and interested. “Accompany me.”