27 Festivus, 1137
When the first minister arrived — the Exchequer, who happened to live closest — I left off organizing the books. Alone with Avah, it meant nothing. Before my father’s ministers, it might look like boredom or callousness.
I kept myself calm by reviewing procedures. My mother’s safe at her Conversatory. Mathes isn’t in the line of succession and needn’t be summoned; he’s only a Prenceps by courtesy. Savrin, however, must be summoned, since he’s Tret Ascendar.
Him, I didn’t want. I don’t need his… sanctimony. Not to the cold god. After Aunt Bella sickened, the Lethians sucked him in. He’d taken Holy Orders without informing us. He shouldn’t even be in the succession anymore. If something happens to Ragin and me, the House of Galene’s finished unless he renounces his immortal soul with his vows. Holy fire, I should have married something pretty and empty-headed with ingeniae in his bloodlines, tumbled him until I kindled, given him an estate and been done.
Da, don’t do this. Don’t be. No.
Now, I had only to wait and think. A tenday and a half ago, Da came to my rooms while Avah and I were in the midst of a disaster. “We’re not taking ballgowns,” I was saying for the ninth time that day. “Avah, you can’t expect me to manage skirts — it’s rocky, cold and a war zone!” Besides, Ragin had promised no dancing on this progress. I returned elegant confections to the wardrobe and replaced them with breeches, long coats, divided skirts and boots while we bickered amiably. We’d been racing at the Judicatura to clear my bench so my fellow Justiciars wouldn’t suffer by my three tenday absence, leaving Avah and me exactly one afternoon to ready ourselves to go west. I’ve never enough time for all of the Prazia’s duties, much less wardrobe concerns, I’d thought.
“Avah, thank you,” my father had said, in that tone that everyone in the Karsai knows, the one that says obey me, now. She withdrew while my father eyed the wreckage, like a flood had washed through a dressmaker’s shop. When the doors closed, he said, “Have all this put away. You’re not going. I am.” He looked smug.
“Da, not again!” I glared at him. “Ragin will kill you.”
“No, that’s regicide and he’s a loyal Galantieran,” Da said, the Royal glamour of authority falling away. Now, instead of Monarch of Galantier and his Heir, we were father and daughter, fighting a shopworn battle. He poured fondal from my pot and settled his rangy frame into my squashy reading chair.
I folded my arms across my chest and leaned against the foot of my bed, watching him speculatively. Will I still be crowned Razia if I murder him? Probably not. “Yes,” I said, “he will. This progress has been arranged for a half-year. I cannot unpick ten thousand details in an hour so you can — once again — chase your perverse version of fun.”
“No need,” he said. “I’ll take your guards. You keep mine. Someone must run the country.”
“Yes. You! The whole point of this excursion is so I can observe the country’s defenses. I must become acquainted with the Navy and Army. Da, I am nearly twenty-five, not six. I have excellent guards. The timing is perfect. The border is quiet. I remind you, I’ll be running Galantier sooner than you think.”
“My army,” he said archly. “You can go next year.”
“So you said last year and the year before and the year before that. You don’t want me to go.”
“I want out of Cimenarum,” he grumbled, leaning his head back and closing his eyes. “The Prava will send me mad if I must listen to them dither all winter about the Sulva watershed and the roads budget and the trade tax. I want to see this new incendiary machine Ragin wrote about. It goes boom.”
“You also want me crowned co-regnant Razia in the spring.”
“Then I must go on progress,” I said patiently. “I cannot be Monarch of this country without some military knowledge.” We’d been fighting this for almost a year, since he’d decided it was time for me to be Razia in name as well as duty.
“You had history,” he said, rubbing the bridge of his nose under his spectacles. “You’re better with a sword than any woman needs to be — “
“Don’t even start that,” I warned sweetly. “I’ll prove how good I am, then Ragin can be Razin after I’m hanged for your murder.”
“Don’t threaten the Razin’s life, daughter,” he said mildly.
I crossed my little sitting space and leaned over him. I waited until he opened his eyes and glared down into his face. “You’re being overprotective. Again.”
He sighed. “I don’t want you out there, alone — “
“Oi, please — alone? With two dozen guards and Ragin’s hand-picked security detachment? Monarch or not, words cannot be redefined at your whim, Father.”
“It’s my decision, Rien. You’re not going. I am. Royal prerogative.”
“Why do you only use the Royal prerogative with me?”
“Because everyone else just obeys me.” He pointed at the chair to his left. “Must you loom?” I perched on the arm of the chair, not wanting to sit. I wanted to pace, yell and throw something, but I love my father and I know he loves me. If only he didn’t show it by keeping me wrapped in wool. “Actually,” he sighed, “I’m going because you’re the better lawyer.”
True, but… “Flattery buys you nothing.”
“My honored half-brother,” he said, through his teeth, “will introduce a proposal after Midwinter recess. I want you to review it and ensure it fails.”
“What’s Mathes doing now?” I asked, too familiar with my half-uncle’s machinations to summon any feeling but weary frustration.
“Teregenitor Prenceps Picarem and Teregenitor Optimus Tiwendar propose,” my father recited in a sarcastic sing-song, “that the Monarch’s final right of arbitration be revoked.”
“What?” I shouted.
“Exactly,” Da said. “They want to destroy a thousand year old precedent — “
“One that’s saved this country from destroying itself more than twice,” I said. “Oi, bleeding wisdom. Yes, I’ll stay. How much support do they have?”
“The Reformists, of course,” he said. “I hear some rumbles from the militant Progressives, but the Royalists should adamantly oppose it.”
I figured the numbers quickly. Da, Ragin and I share forty-eight Prava votes, so we need twenty-nine to reach majority. The Royalists bring twenty-seven of those. The Progressives — a misnomer; they wander the mushy middle between the Royalists and the Reformists — hold forty-seven votes, but are impossible to predict. “I’ll work on it. How’d you hear?”
“That clerk of Tiwendar’s I had Jahan bribe to make copies of anything they’re planning. Wish his boy had stayed in Cimenarum instead of going home to run the langreve.”
He didn’t mean his clerk Jahan, who lacked children and langreve. So Tiwendar. “Da, that was almost nine years ago,” I sighed. “Let it go.” Whenever the Optimus came up, my father mentioned my vanished liegeman. Quirin Tiwendar had unexpectedly sworn fealty to me and I hadn’t seen him since. He’d never returned to Cimenarum, never answered my invitations. Eventually, I accepted the obvious and stopped summoning him. At sixteen, sending armed guards after him felt like forcing someone to my will, like I was a suitor pursuing a reluctant virgin, like I was… in love with him and I most assuredly was not. Later, I realized no Pronator would ignore so many entreaties, but I had nothing to confirm my suspicions. Something happened to Pronator Tiwendar, and his father was keeping it quiet. Even I couldn’t launch an investigation into the Optimus without proof, and the Pronator’s silence wasn’t enough. Bad manners are not illegal.
The fealty oath was probably part of some plot that hadn’t borne fruit. I despise my uncle but I must admit he keeps thousands of pieces on Galantier’s chessboard in play. Quirin Tiwendar means nothing now. I should read what Mathes and the elder Tiwendar wrote before I comment further. I returned to the immediate issue of Da usurping of my progress. “I take no responsibility for Ragin.”
“Just don’t send him a heliograph,” my father said. “I want to surprise him.”
“There will be blood,” I warned. Then again, the last time Ragin was home, he’d added ink to my hair-washing soap. I’d had blue streaks in my hip-length hair for a tenday thanks to him. He thought it was funny. Privately, I’d enjoyed the blue hair, but it started a fashion for lurid hair colors amongst the younger Curia women, and that sent their fathers, the Prava, into apoplexy for a full three tendays. I’d had to hear it, not Ragin. Not warning him’s an appropriate revenge. I sighed and unearthed a wrapped package. “Take Ragin’s Midwinter gift. Give him my love. I won’t mention it when I write tonight, but I will, in tomorrow’s letter. He won’t get that one until you’re already there.”
“My Privy Council notes are on my desk, my clerk is copying my proxy, and come to my study later for the Prava business. I must go pack. I’ll leave your captain and take mine. You scandalize Bermer.” He stood, took the package and kissed my forehead. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” I said, not hiding my frustration. “Since I must listen to Prava blather, I want a promise.”
He pulled his palm knife, the Monarch’s last defense, from the wrist sheath on his left hand and pricked one finger. “I swear on my ancestors’ blood that you’ll go to the border next year to meet your army. As Razia of Galantier.”
“In the spring, before battle season starts, after I’m crowned Razia. I want it in writing, three copies, all signed and sealed. One for you, one for me, one for the Recordia,” I said. “When you meet our ancestors in the Afterworld, they’ll beat you bloody for the number of times you’ve sworn something to me then reneged. I don’t trust you anymore.” Though I did. I just knew him. He’s the Monarch. I serve at his pleasure and he always does what’s best for our kingdom. It always means duty first and putting the best person in the right place and time.
He had laughed. “That’s my lawyer.”
As his ministers assembled in that shadowless, airless room, I hoped Da wasn’t meeting our ancestors now. We’d frequently descended into private, black humor about assassination and murder because laughter made the reality bearable. How did we ever find the notion even darkly humorous?
When all twelve had arrived, Chancellor Werev carrying the case of succession documents, I waved them into their seats and explained what little Ragin had sent, then we waited again. They read, wrote, chatted. They weren’t callous, but we have all endured emergencies that consist mostly of waiting; they fully expected this to be a false alarm. A failure of imagination — they could not envision anything happening to my father. I paced the room, reviewing the last tenday, trying to think if anything, no matter how small, presaged this. Be a lawyer.
Da and I have a long-standing policy — when the Prava is recessed, we’re off official duty. Since the Prava sits for twenty-six tendays of the year, that gives us little enough time to either attend human necessities or catch up the work of running a small, complex kingdom. Those thirteen tendays a year are more precious than waterstones. The progress Da had usurped coincided with the Midwinter recess. The Prava had just resumed, yesterday now. With me — publicly — in the west and Da enjoying his privacy, I’d had a full tenday to amend that proposal, write judgements in cases I needn’t summon to my bench, and manage my nine langreves. I’d worked throughout the tenday, and seen nobody save Avah, Simin and the small rota of guards who fetched our meals from thirty different shops. The Karsai only had a skeleton staff of maintainers and engineers during the holiday, and I’d kept to our private quarters. Quite likely, those present hadn’t realized I was in residence, and they’re only hired if they don’t gossip. I’d had Simin tell the Karsai Steward that the public statement was Da was working, and the gossip was that he’d overindulged at Midwinter on beer, sausage rolls and tosca games with his guards to keep the Curia from invading. We’ve used that ruse before and it worked again.
I shocked the Optimus yesterday when I appeared in Prava chambers. I’d surprised the Privy Council at dawn, too. Explaining the change made Privy Council run late, which delayed Morning Audience. I’d been late crossing to Prava House, and had run through the undercellars with Avah and Simin at my heels, taking the shorter, faster, more secure route between the Karsai and Prava House with only six minutes to spare.
When my ancestors completed the Karsai more than nine hundred years ago, it had been more than sufficient for the Prava, the Ministries, the temples, a public granary, dispensary, and shelter for most of Galantier should the worst come again. Six stories tall and covering two acres, then, it could house all five thousand citizens, though quarters would be tight. We’ve grown. Four hundred years back, the Prava outgrew their wing and the round, half-timbered Prava House was built across Welces’ Square. A tunnel had been dug from the Karsai undercellars to the new building’s cellar, mostly for the convenience of the Monarch and the Teregenis. Nonetheless, Da and I usually strolled across the square — assuming weather better than wretched — and gave ourselves an hour to cross the quarter-millia to speak with our citizens. Yesterday, I’d been late. Coming up the spiral stairs I’d run headlong into someone.
“Cazerien!” the startled voice had said. Then almost horrified, Teregenitor Optimus Tiwendar repeated my given name, so shocked that, though he only called me by my honorific in my hearing, he seemed to entirely forget I had one. That’s odd, I now realized. He thinks of me as other than the Prazia.
“Apologies, Optimus,” I’d said. “Did I hurt you? No? Good. Forgive my haste.” He’s too much Mathes’ man for me to trust him, but he’d gone pale. I couldn’t hesitate long once I knew he was only startled. I’d hurried to the study Da and I share that backs onto the Prava chamber so I could enter without appearing the complete hoyden some Teregenis believed me to be.
I’d paused briefly at the mirror to ensure my hair hadn’t tumbled down, that my coat was straight and my sash of office fell without twisting from my left shoulder to my right hip. Yes. I’d finally noticed the colors Avah had chosen for us — waterstone blue skirt, blue-black coat with a little silver embroidery. I’d do. I’d straightened my diadem, checked through the peephole to ensure water and fondal were at my seat and entered the Prava chamber.
Every man in the room stood, not for Cazerien dat Vohan, but for the office of Prima Ascendara. The Vocata, an enormous, ancient mace that signifies the power of speech in the room, rested on Da’s desk. On the right. I sit at my father’s left in Prava chambers. I’d have to reach across for it.
Then again, this was first day of session. I’d have paper stacked to my chin by the end of the day. I’d need the desk room. Every Prava chair is identical — in theory, we’re all equals — so I pushed Da’s chair back and moved mine to the center so I could use both tables.
I tapped the heavy, marble mace on the sounder and the chamber, already quiet, grew silent. “The 1138th Prava of Galantier resumes in three minutes,” I said, watching the clock. “I trust your Midwinter celebrations pleased you all, gentlemen?” I noted a Royalist Teregenitor, a widower of at least eighty, wearing a fashionable tunic. “Are you courting, Dastorian?” I teased gently. “You look quite dashing.”
“My granddaughter’s Midwinter gift,” he said, smiling. “I promised I’d wear it.”
“She has excellent taste. And Kurzon has a new face. The Old Man’s finally given us up?”
Alvan Kurzon is about Ragin’s age, but his father Hilmon has held Kurzon’s seat since my grandfather’s day. I would have been notified of Hilmon’s death, so Alvan’s presence surprised me.
“Possibly not permanently,” Alvan said in his broad western accent. “Da broke his leg jumping a fence.”
“Oi, no. Will he recover?”
“If my mother doesn’t kill him, he’ll be fine,” Alvan said, bringing a collective roar of laughter from the chamber. Hilmon could be mulish; I was glad I didn’t have to suffer him laid up in splints.
“We’ll send our condolences and wish your father a quick recovery… for your mother’s sake. Did he turn over the seat to you, or deed you a proxy?” Had Hilmon proxied his seat to Alvan, Alvan would retain Hilmon’s place in the order of precedence and his father’s committee chairs, but he couldn’t speak save to vote. If Hilmon had retired, then Hilmon’s seats were up for redistribution and Alvan would assume the junior seat, but he’d have the privilege of speech and taking his own committee seats.
“Mam browbeat him into turning over the seat. The clerk of the Chamber has the document.”
“Thank you, Teregenitor. All those hours in the galleries apparently weren’t wasted.” As children, Alvan, Ragin, Savrin, and several other Pronators watched countless sessions with me. The small clock in the Chamber ticked over and the Archilian Temple bells began to peal. I tapped the sounder again. They were relaxed, comfortable, and ready to work. Maybe this won’t be so bad. “Prava session resumes. Optimus, the Vocata is yours.” I held it down to him. The Optimus’ seat was on the lowest tier of the chamber, just below the Monarch and Ascendars’ seats, facing the rest of the Prava, ranked in tiers around the circular room.
Tiwendar neither turned nor moved. I saw the right side of his ashen, damp face. Did I hurt him? He seemed fine. “Optimus?” I repeated.
“Yes, Your Ascendency.” He turned and blinked at me. His eyes, always dark, were dilated so wide I couldn’t see the iris. His hand trembled as he reached for the Vocata.
As badly as he shook, he’d drop it. If it broke… “Optimus,” I whispered. “Are you unwell? Injured?” He wasn’t young — perhaps I broke a rib?
“No — yes. We were told — ” he stammered.
I tried to smile at him. “Once again His Majesty has exercised the Royal prerogative and gone to the western border. Sorry for the surprise. You know how he is. Considering the last four years, I should think you’d be more surprised to see him after Midwinter recess.”
Tiwendar nodded. “Just took me by surprise,” he said, sounding better and distant. “Thank you.” He took the Vocata firmly.
I try to behave civilly to the man and just get rebuffed. Why try?
That moment was odd. I’d dismissed the oddity as new proposals mounted up on the clerk’s desk and Alvan’s appearance caused a cascade of discussion, but something had prompted me to glance into Prava House’s northern arc. I normally don’t; Mathes and his cronies sit there. Sometimes when his eye alights on me, I feel cold, like a bird caught in a snake’s gaze. Yesterday , I’d seen satisfaction on his face as he looked at me. Another oddity.
Why my presence would please him mystified and concerned me now. He’s no fonder of me than I am of him. In four years on the High Judicatura, I’ve ruled against a number of his associates for monopolies, unethical practices, even outright theft. He’s never been charged, though the break in his corruption network loomed. We’ve known it existed for years, but the man’s clever and subtle. We’d never caught his hand on anything — bloody knife, money he couldn’t claim, not even a pen accidentally kept. Until the last three tendays, when the key finally dropped out of thousands of pages of testimony and records. Nobody can stand so close to a spray without getting damp, and my uncle was soaked.
All these oddities should mean something — they needn’t, but they might. As I paced the Privy Council room, waiting for the next message, I tried to assemble them into evidence, or at least understanding.
Two hours passed in that quiet, stuffy room as the business of a kingdom ground to a halt. Ragin, hurry. Tell me he’s hurt, was stupid, tell me anything but tell me something.
Shortly after the fifth hour of the morning, we received another message.
Too short. Cat down. Priority One.
“The Razin is dead,” I said.