(chapter continued from previous post)
“If you have proof of that,” Narcissa said coolly, “then your duty, and your own self-interest as heir to one of those countries, would dictate that you take steps to eradicate them.”
He shook his head. “You don’t understand. No one can. They’re immortal. They live forever, never growing old and weak and ill.”
“Beings that are not human have infiltrated several governments and are directing affairs to their own ends with no one the wiser? That sounds mad, Brykhon.”
“It does, I know, but it’s the truth.” He leaned closer. “They’ve chosen me. Dromas is to lead the way into a new era of peace and stability. They promised me a hundred years on the throne, as king of Dromas at a point in history that will be remembered forever.”
Narcissa recoiled, her hand leaving Tyrel long enough to draw her mantle more closely around her in what he thought was a defensive reflex. “No one human rules for a hundred years. And how can one be a good ruler without the humanity to sympathize with one’s people?”
“The gods rule us but aren’t human,” he pointed out. “They see things from a different and often clearer perspective, because they aren’t weighed down with all the cares of mortal flesh.”
“And while I honour them, there are also countless stories of how that perspective has meant terrible things for humans who cross their paths too directly. Unless this cabal also has powers of knowledge far beyond human or divine to go with their immortality, I would expect only tragedy for humans who encounter them.”
I just hope to hell you encountering us doesn’t turn out to be a tragedy.
“Age does confer experience and knowledge, especially when five minds with many centuries of both are at the heart of the cabal and make the decisions. They watch us all. They know more about us than we know ourselves, even if they stand in unlikely positions for the most powerful figures in this part of the world. That my mother’s chief handmaid would be one such? Who could imagine?”
“A handmaid who rules the world?” Narcissa said scornfully. “I suppose my brother’s master of hounds or my father’s head cook does as well?”
“It’s possible. I don’t know. Only they know who all five are. But there are others. I saw them, last time I was in Orthia to visit. They get in close, in subservient positions where we look right over them. One is among your brother’s bodyguard, and who looks at a housemaid as she cleans or tracks where a palace page goes?”
Now there’s an educational, if rather short and vague, list.
“This is either insanity or positively horrifying,” Narcissa said flatly. “And I fail to see why you are telling me this.”
“Narcissa, can’t you see? If I’m to rule for a hundred years, I need a very special queen. That can only be you. Marry me, and you’ll be safe. No one will try to kill you any more, you’ll be protected by the cabal and you’ll be immortal.”
“Tell me this. This cabal, have they been supporting the efforts of my family at alleviating poverty and improving the lot of all citizens, or working against them?”
Brykhon faltered. “I… I don’t know, entirely. I do think they would rather changes happen more slowly.”
Narcissa stood up, so abruptly Brykhon rocked back. She took two steps away, far enough to be out of reach, not so far she had to raise her voice. “Then if this cabal exists,” she said, so coldly Tyrel could almost feel the ice, “they may well have had a hand in the attempt on my life. I doubt that as your wife I would be permitted to continue the work that matters to me more than my own safety. I imagine Agathon would conveniently have an accident similar to those of your brothers, giving you a claim on the throne of Enodia as my husband. If you believe that I would stand at your side for even ten years, let alone a hundred, while you use me as a lever to drag Enodia as well into this new golden age of yours, one that does not include concern for the wellbeing of the poorest and most vulnerable citizens, then you do not know me at all. I would rather die fighting for what I believe in. Did you ask them to manufacture an attack on me, in hopes of frightening me into giving you an answer in haste and fear that runs counter to what I have said to you repeatedly all our lives?”
“I would never do that! I…”
“I want you out of my house. And I want this understood. I will not, ever, marry anyone, and I will certainly not marry anyone who would bargain away the trust of and responsibility for our people for the sake of his own life and fame. Do not ever ask me again. Do not ever even speak to me again. You have forfeited all respect I ever had for you.”
“Out!” That was a decidedly unladylike shout. “Hermia! His Royal Highness is leaving now!” Without looking back, she strode away in the same direction Evander had gone.
Hermia appeared promptly, perfectly cool and respectful as she escorted Brykhon back to the door. During that brief moment of vulnerability while it was open, Tyrel gathered himself to at least create confusion and trip people, but Brykhon appeared too stunned to order any retaliation.
Tyrel hesitated only until the bolts slid home, then ran for the back door. He pawed at it, yipping shrilly and wishing for hands.
Clytie came out of the kitchen to investigate the noise, but Mirren got there at a dead run only heartbeats later. She pulled the collar off over his head for him, then jerked the bolts back and opened the heavy door far enough for him to slip through.
He was worried about Narcissa—that hadn’t all been an act, he was sure—but she had others there with her, Evander especially. Right now, he needed to see what Brykhon did.
The sky was showing the first trace of grey against the black, towards the east, when Tyrel thumped on the front door with his fist, in the rhythm that would tell his family it was him. He laid his forearm against the wall beside it and rested his head against it. Even with Talir half full, keeping him from getting physically tired, enough concentrated effort could still take its toll.
Staying unseen in daylight was one challenge, especially on Phleion’s clean white-walled streets. Staying unseen by moonlight from potentially hostile moonblood eyes, that was at least as difficult. It had taken every trick he knew.
But it was worth it.
Kaveri opened the door, cautiously, then all the way to draw him inside.
“We were getting worried. Even Lirit’s down.”
“Changed to human just before Talir set,” he said wearily. “Is Narcissa all right?”
“Yes. She was quite upset, but not as much as she was acting. She wants to warn her brother and parents, understandably, but we persuaded her to wait until you got back. I talked her into at least lying down up on the roof, and Evander’s with her. They were both asleep, the last time I looked. So are Madoc and Mirren. The prince and heir of Dromas is part of the cult?”
“Yes, but not very high in it, I would say,” Tyrel said, falling into stride with her up towards their room. “He got chewed out for being here without their approval and approaching Narcissa. Some great king he’ll be. It sounds like they consider Narcissa a serious threat, so whoever’s in charge isn’t stupid. Best of all, though, I recognize the one who dropped by to see him. He’s in and out of Evander’s office twenty times a day. He’s a couple of steps down from the head administrators of the hospital, but he has a hand, or at least a finger, in most of it.”
“Oh, now that’s useful!”
“Very. I’m running out of nights for sneaking around, but you still have a few days, and Mirren will be back to changing before I’m done, so between us, we should be able to gather some very interesting information by tracking what he does at night. He’s Meyar’s. Brykhon’s Sahen’s—she was dark not long ago, that must’ve slowed him a day or two.”
Kaveri heaved a sigh. “If the moons are unhappy with the way the others are acting, I wish they’d just do something. Stop feeding them, like a mother animal who knows her litter is misformed, or something. At least stop accepting new ones.”
“I’ve been thinking about that. It would be a pretty major step, though. It’s one thing to refuse to actively support your children who are doing things you dislike. It’s another thing entirely to outright kill them, and personally, I’m not sure I’d want to live with that kind of threat hanging over us. Right now they’re happy with us, but what if we ever do something counter to what they want?” He let her help him strip; she was only in her tunic, with nothing under it, and that was easily shed. Together, they nestled into bed.
“That makes a lot of sense,” Kaveri conceded. “If they could do something like just rejecting us and making us human again, that might be different, but I’m not sure they could. But accepting more?”
“I do wish they’d stop that,” Tyrel admitted. The comfortable security of the bed felt wonderful, after the evening and night he’d just had. Kaveri’s hand, stroking hair and shoulder and side and back lightly, felt much the same. “It complicates things for us, when we want to protect humans from what they do. But I can think of another reason to want it to stop. I bet most of the people in that cult had no idea what they were getting into. From what little we know, many of them were approached at times when they were vulnerable to manipulation. They’re probably not particularly bad people, just ordinary ones who got caught in a net, like Kieran says Neoma was. So stop allowing them to drag more innocents into the trap.”
“Hm. Maybe they can’t. Well, get some rest. You must be worn out. You can give us the details over breakfast.”