27 Festivis, 1137
I mechanically signed and sealed the succession documents as Regent until the Coronation. He’s gone. He sent me a heliograph yesterday. How can he be dead?
At Priority One, Savrin had to be summoned. He slipped in, surrounded by Royal guards and flanked by two priests in black and purple. He’d dressed in pure mourning black save for his purple Lethian stole.
I did not want these priests of the god of winter, cold, decay and death near me. I didn’t recognize the priests, but once Savrin went to them, he’d avoided the House of Galene, the government, everything about his natal family. He’d quit — or been removed from — the Exchequer’s office, and petitioned my father to remove him from the succession. Da spent that evening alone in the Presentation Hall, sitting beside the thousand year old rose tree, where the ashes of the House of Galene are scattered, talking to Aunt Bella. Mourning the loss of his nephew.
“Ma’am, messages,” the heliograph officer said.
One, in plain text, began North of. Which meant the coded message was first.
It wasn’t short. The signal officers must have hated this, I thought wearily. I removed myself to the small study off the Privy Council room. Avah closed the door silently behind us, and when alone, she embraced me for a long moment. She couldn’t help, but I squeezed back, then let her go. She faced the door while I decrypted.
Rien, I’m sorry. Do not share this with Council. Appears an ambush. Possibly meant for you. He didn’t suffer. Will explain on arrival. Leaving half hour after sunrise. Send messages to Dastorian Ferry. Don’t let the Prava do anything stupid. If you have anything to compel Metropolita to arrest and hold parent or Optimus use it now. Be more careful and more brilliant than you’ve ever been until I arrive. The ambush happened thirty milliae
Now I went to the plain text. North of Western Garrison Two, four milliae off Western Army Highway. 67 casualties, no survivors. Identification confirmed. Expected arrival Cimenarum 22 hours from transmission. Ra Mo Ra Vi.
The last glyphs stood for Razin mortem, Razia viviat, but the Porsirian phrase wasn’t true. I wouldn’t be Monarch until the Coronation. Assuming the Prava didn’t interfere with the approved Orders of Succession, we faced a tenday regency.
We mourn with our labor, Da said when Aunt Bella died. The Monarch — or the Regent — isn’t permitted private anguish; we grieve in public. People suffer if we withdraw from the world for a broken heart.
Da, you were wrong. I won’t listen to water-rights debates. I’ll just wish I was.
I burnt the decryption and took the plain text into the Privy Council. The Lord Chancellor looked up at me, his brown eyes heavy-lidded and sad. He and Da weren’t just partners in Galantier’s future. They’d been friends and he was more my uncle than Mathes.
“Do we know what happened?” The Minister of War asked. “Was it Spagna?”
“We don’t. General Revinsel may know more when he arrives. He was pressed for time.”
“Majesty — ” the High Justiciar said.
“Not yet,” I said. “Ascendency.”
“Ascendency,” he restarted, “is there evidence of a crime?”
I wanted to tell him, wanted his advice more than anyone. He asked me — Rien, not the Ascendara — to join the High Judicatura, our highest court, after I’d spent four years as an Advocate for the Ministry of Women and Children. He’d trusted me with part of Galantier’s justice — I’m an excellent lawyer, but I became a stellar Justiciar. Now I’d have to repay his faith in me with a lie. “Again, I don’t know. What the Lord Chancellor read is what I have.”
“The other message — “
“Was private, from Ragin to Cazerien,” I said. “I’ve nothing more.” I hoped my weariness and barely contained grief let them believe me. The High Justiciar let it pass. If Ragin didn’t wanted it shared, he doubted his suspicions. If we were wrong and arrested Teregenitor Prenceps Picarem and Teregenitor Optimus Tiwendar in error, we’d look like we were attempting an overthrow. Impatient heirs are not just found in sagas. Ragin asked about evidence — hoping we could arrest them so Perceptive investigators could read their minds.
I had circumstantial evidence filling rooms at the Metropolita. The Chancery couldn’t quite connect my uncle to an unproved murder-for-hire gang in Cimenarum to an assassination on the western border without two or three tendays to sift it together and a half-dozen warrants for mental catalogues due to be issued next tenday. The accused held positions in several households who benefited from Mathes’ influence. I saw connections, but would another? Now? In a matter of hours? I can’t review the evidence now. The Regent isn’t a Justiciar and I’m an interested party. Still, speak to the High Justiciar. Alone.
“You have our support,” the Exchequer said. “We’ll ensure the bills are paid.”
“Thank you. If there are no further questions, let’s adjourn until General — excuse me, Diat Ascendar Revinsel arrives. You may remain in the Karsai, but I expect nothing further.”
“You must grieve,” Savrin said softly.
Now I looked at him. “No. The people in this world still need leaders.”
I did, though, weeping on Avah’s shoulder in the privacy of my rooms while I was supposed to be changing into mourning. In my breastband and drawers, I sobbed like a tired toddler. How can I breathe without Da? I napped in his office as an infant. He started me studying law when I was three. He’s been present for every day of my life and now he’s gone.
I threw myself at whatever came to hand. Since nobody complained afterwards, I assume competence, but I don’t recall what I did.
Several hours later, my guard knocked, then called, “Savrin sator Lethis, Tret Ascendar, seeks your attention, ma’am.”
If I send him away, he’ll just return. “Come.” I closed the files.
He was alone. Avah withdrew to my bedroom, but left the door cracked.
“What do you want, Savrin?” I asked once he occupied the chair opposite my desk. I wanted that expanse of wood and stone between us. Not true. I want him in his Chapterhouse, ignoring Galantier like yesterday.
“Rien, you need the comfort — “
I opened my mouth to rage at him, but he held up a hand, not quite meeting my eyes. “The comfort of your family. I’d like to return to the Karsai for this difficult time.”
“How many priests accompany you?” I asked, unable to be politic with him.
“None, if you prefer. I’m very sorry. I grieve, too. My Penitar has excused me from duties until… the future’s resolved.”
A cool phrasing. “Fine,” I said. “Not on this corridor. “
“I deserve that,” he said. “I’ve made my penance and I try to be a better man, but I’ve failed to make amends with you.”
“Savrin, I am the least of those you’ve wronged. You’re a Prenceps of Galantier, accountable to every citizen. Yet you discarded it like rubbish for an impetuous vow — then tried to convince Ragin and me, the only remaining Ascendars, to follow you. You weren’t charged with treason only because Da believed everyone has freedom of conscience.”
“The temporal world is dust compared to your soul, Rien. I don’t want you damned when your time ends — “
“And you are welcome to believe that, but you may not impress your belief upon anyone else. I’m not Lethian. I’m Pantheist.”
“The other gods are myths. The only unity in the universe is decay — everything falters. Not everything’s wise –“
“When the practicalities of maintaining this nation are assured, we can discuss theology. Did you just come here to tell me you’ll fulfill your duty and return to the Karsai?”
“Of course I am!” I cried. “My father’s dead. Prayer and platitudes will not resurrect him.”
“Let me help. I love you, Rien. That’s never changed.”
Somehow, I doubted that. The last several years had been one problem with Savrin after another. The vicious rumors about him and that Pronatia, then Lethism, ignoring his Exchequer work, his attempt to abdicate and his celibacy. The House of Galene has three bodies capable of passing the line to the next generation and he’s wasting himself. I’d have one child, and unless Ragin left the Army and married, then again and again, he’d have none.
The last few generations had pruned the House of Galene down to the rootstock. Once, we’d been enormously fecund, until… something happened. We’d engaged scholars and Healers and only learned something in our blood now made us… almost poisonous. A woman could bear one healthy child, but her next would be a monster or she’d flood. My mother lost five babies after me. A man could father as many as he liked, but only each woman’s first by him might live. My grandfather took three wives, the last utterly unsuitable but from an astonishingly fecund family. Salvia had born Mathes… and four yellow, bloated weaklings who died within days of their births. Only Archilia knew how many had foundered before she came to childbed.
Savrin must father a child or six — afterwards, he could wrap himself in his cult of the dead for all I cared. I’d happily raise his children… but instead, he wasted his potential. He’d taken his sixth vow already. The seventh would come next year, and required a sacrifice. Castration. “You must set aside your vow for a time, marry — “
“I can’t,” he said. “I’d do anything you ask save break my vow by bedding a woman I don’t love.”
“It’s necessary,” I said. “Galantier is more important than our personal desires. Don’t be spoiled.”
Our worst childhood insult momentarily struck him, then his priestly calm returned. “Galantier is the temporal world. It will fade into ash and nothing when the hand of Lethis descends upon us. That time approaches, cousin. Will you be swept into oblivion and darkness by denying him?”
“No theology,” I said. “I live in the temporal world. I’ll argue with Lethis when he appears.”
“How do you know he’s not here now?” He had that — vexing, smug — look of revealed confidence he’d worn since taking his vows.
“Have the Lethians declared you their prophet?” I asked, keeping my tone neutral.
“I’m no prophet,” he said, but I heard his prevarication. My ingeniae aren’t strong and I’m not the Perceptive my father was, but I’m an excellent lawyer. I know when someone lies to me. Savrin hadn’t said what he believed to be the whole truth.
Another knock. “Message, ma’am.”
“Savrin, if you’re finished?” I said. “Take the second floor east or fourth north corridor.”
“Thank you. I’m very sorry.”
That was a lie — but he was trying to be polite. “Thanks.”
It was a plain text, from Selardi. Post riding. Coming fast. Changing horses every thirty milliae, Ragin would cover the remaining two hundred in seven shifts. About twelve hours.
I wanted to ride with him, fast and hard, towards a goal, no matter how awful. It must be better than waiting, a distraction from grief at least. When I closed my eyes, I saw Da. I wanted one more conversation. There’s so much left to say, to do. His Ascendar’s sword rested on the corner of my table, symbolizing the military power now resting in my Regent’s hands. Its leather belt smelled of him, enveloping me in his sweat and soap, sandalwood and spice.
Ragin’s coded message twisted a knife in my guts. Possibly meant for you. Even lacking direct evidence, I knew. Part of Galantier didn’t want a Razia, and some didn’t want it so badly that four times in the last two years, someone had nearly achieved my death, not Da’s. The Hermachians, Teandrians and Cleatarni all opposed my Ascension, and many Reformists followed one of those faiths. Mathes, Hermachian to a fault, publicly prompted their ideal Galantieran woman — unseen, unheard, making children for our future prosperity but not participating in it. He made my mother’s self-imposed arram a virtue rather than… what it is. Sometimes I doubted he held true faith in anything save himself and cynically used belief to get his ends, but I wasn’t convinced. I doubted Savrin’s faith, and I was wrong.
The Lethians approve of nothing to my knowledge. The followers of the Four Sisters — Archilia, Cresaria, Iolantha and Fordea — all approved of women, and the Lunagans, Renarans, Corsari and Sardani were as egalitarian and pantheistic as the Four Sister faiths. An Archilian follower of the principle of wisdom who also worshipped the goddess of the forests and hunts was no heretic. They saw no conflict in a shepherd follower of Iolantha, goddess of the fields and harvests, bedding his lady-love under the full moon to honor Lunaga, or a blacksmith follower of the fire goddess praying to the god of the sun.
I told Savrin I’ve no time for theology, I told myself. However, when one’s every day is scheduled to the quarter-hour, one learns quickly that five minutes of concentration saves hours of distraction. The religious situation would distract me if I didn’t give the political implications my attention. For a nation with eleven gods and a dozen syncretic faiths, we get along amazingly well. In Cimenarum, the temples cooperate, moving children between temple schools to ensure they get the best and most appropriate education for their talents, temperaments and Ingeniae; they share the charitable work and try not to overstep each other. They even ring their bells at appointed hours. However, with eleven faiths, amazingly well isn’t perfect harmony.
Especially since some sects believe their deity superior to the others. To my knowledge, only the New Order Lethians outright deny the others exist but the Cleatarni consider acknowledging any besides their thunder-god sinful. Same with the Teandrians and their double-headed god of balance.
Which causes difficulties for the House of Galene. A millennium ago, Razin Argent, Razia Doromilla and their Prava issued the Pantheon Proclamation, making all eleven gods equally valid, and established the Pantheists. The House of Galene and many Teregenis are dedicated in childhood to all the gods, not just one or two. It calms more conflict than it causes. In one very long tenday when I was six, I’d been washed in a Corsari pool, touched a Renaran flame, planted a tree for Fordea, sowed wheat for Iolantha, poured water for the moon for Lunaga, spun wool — badly — for Cresaria, been bathed naked in the sun’s light — and been burned — for Sardan, and affirmed to Archilia.
I had not challenged the lightning for Cleatarn, had my tongue and finger nicked for Lethis nor been weighed for Teander. The ecumenical dedication offended them and the Hermachians, who were themselves a syncretic faith, evolved far beyond their origins in Archilian Sophism and Sardani sun-worship. They’d all refused me, despite blessing my father in the same rites twenty-three years previously, perhaps because of my gender, but more likely because my grandfather’s long, prosperous reign gave them leisure to contrive controversy rather than attend practical matters. Privately, I’m a rather heretical Archilian; I follow the principle of wisdom and believe that wisdom leads to reverence for the goddess rather than the reverse, but publicly, I favor no god over another.
It hadn’t mattered much when the heir to the throne was male, but it became a bone of contention when coupled with my childless, unmarried, overeducated woman’s body. It apparently offended someone badly enough to want me dead.
Except they got Da instead. Years of his overprotectiveness saved me, but destroyed him.
I tried to return to the business at hand, but that damned dream still insinuated itself through my mind. So inappropriate given circumstances, but Da’s long obsession with the probably dead Pronator Tiwendar plagued me as much as the politics of faith and gnawing grief and guilt. I can’t say I didn’t welcome the distraction from the pain eating my heart.