Believing Mideer to be safely ensconced in the land of her ancestors her uncles—maternal and paternal—continue to slug it out to promote their various daughters to the throne. Meanwhile, after witnessing the Glyntlanders’ bloody deletion of Madja troops, Mideer has sought temporary refuge with her lady-in-waiting. But can the family be trusted? And is the accommodation secure? . . . Read on
I set up my court in Landed Lyndon’s hunting lodge. It was humble compared with his hall, and compared with the palace awaiting my presence. Yet it was no mean place. A wide hall for receiving and feasting and sleeping the men; four additional chambers, one time separate but long-since joined by covered ways; the whole, old, constructed of wood upon hard stone foundations. Colourful weavings, some pictorial, hung upon walls (even in the unoccupied walkways). But it was a dark place, the only light that which streamed through the doors when opened, and the faint seepage between wall and eaves.
The lodge was set deep in Lyndon’s hunting range. It was unlikely we’d be seen. Even so, a combined Madja and Glyntland force protected the perimeter. They were discreet. To advertise their presence, though it would act as deterrent, would also bring retribution upon our host. And our host, Landed Lyndon, proved as good as his word.
Ambassador Brassen at first had doubted him. “Removing us from his doorstep, a discrete package for his cohorts to surround and destroy.”
“With his own daughter amongst us?” I said. “And his best servants? I think Landed Lyndon would not sacrifice them, not to Ma-Land, nor to any other. No, I’ve always found him a good man. He was forced into action, and now he looks for a way to be out of it. No, he’ll deliver.”
And deliver he did. Over the next few days other landed-lords began to arrive, each accompanied by their personal entourage, each swearing to me their support and the arms of their men, some of them (to my amazement) numbering into several hundreds (I’d no idea they numbered so many). He delivered too a selection of gowns and cloaks, shifts and jewels, that belonged to his daughter and wife because, as he said, a queen should always look the part.
I can laugh of it now, how my uncles, paternal and maternal, effected at least one part of my proposed programme. By throwing my Madja supporters together with the Glyntlanders brought with me, the reserve between them soon broke down. Warriors all—though the Glynts called themselves soldiers—they soon became brothers-in-arms. I wondered how well they would like the Macaran.
But I jump ahead. First I had to gain my throne.
I might have been queen yet the campaign strategy was taken from me. I’m sure Ambassador Brassen would happily have kept me entirely uninformed. Hean, however, knew me better. He insisted I sat in on their meetings. But I was expected not to contribute.
Despite we had sufficient numbers it was agreed by all that to storm the besieged palace was not a solution. No matter what you priests might have wanted, in need of blood to feed your gods, neither the Glynts nor my loyal Madja wanted such a high death-count. We wanted to keep the casualties low. After all, what queen would I be with no landed-lords and precious few subjects? Ambassador Brassen, here to protect the Glyntland trade, agreed on this too. Though I had reason to believe he had a less obvious interest as well.
It wasn’t me who first thought it, it was Lady Loyse. “You watch him, my Lady, I tell you it’s so. He’s hoping to wed you.”
I laughed. “No, you’re imagining.” Besides, he stood no chance. He was . . . shall I say not the youngest of men, though he wasn’t old. And, though I suppose I could have tolerated his baldness and hair-sprouting ears, that overfed bolster around his middle was a definite no. The thought of that rolling upon me gave me the shudders. Yet I did watch him, and I could see what had led Loyse to say it. I said to Loyse, “Don’t ever leave me alone in his company.” For I don’t believe he could have been trusted not to leap upon me. But there again I’m spinning off at a Glyntish tangent.
There was to be no storming of the palace, no killing at all if it could be avoided. Our campaign was an application of patience. Eventually–or so we figured—either Gregon’s men would wrest the palace from Asperin’s forces else he would tire of the game and fade away. We had but to wait for that resolution. Then we could move in and remove whichever of my uncles now held my home.
It all seemed so simple—as long as our presence remained unknown. And that, of course, didn’t happen.
It was Landed Lyndon brought us the news.
“Questions are asked amongst Gregon’s men: What’s become of the ones sent to kill you?”
It wasn’t that we hadn’t thought of that. That kind of carnage cannot be ignored. The quayside slaughter would be reported. But where was the ship that brought us? Where was I, where my supporters? We had vanished. Gregon had insufficient men to launch an island-wide search. I have no doubt his men snouted around. But with our ship gone what would they find.
But then word came to him of losing support—of course, because many of his supporters now were sworn to us. That’s really when the trouble began. Landed Lyndon reported a visit received from two of Gregon’s henchmen. Yet Lyndon had already stated his intention that, though he supported Ma-Land and Landed Asperin, he would not get involved in this siege, neither for nor against it.
“They’ve visiting all the Landed.” He looked around my hall, at the number of Landed there. “These men need to return home. Their empty halls will alert Gregon further.”
I’d no argument there. I sealed my lips on my only comment, that their return home would also remove the drain on our resources. Though most had thought to bring supplies with them it had not been enough. It’s amazing how much food and wine such men can consume when every day ends with a feast.
It was agreed they’d return to their halls and word sent to them as soon as needed. Obviously that meant those with halls nearest would be first into the fray. Yet those further away would be needed to shore up our rebellion until all was complete. I was happy to leave such details to Ambassador Brassen and to Hean.
After that my court fell to silent, or so it seemed. And though we still had the perimeter guards I confess I did not feel so safe. I confided in Hean.
“I shall sleep with you,” he said.
“You will not! Besides,” I said, my equilibrium rapidly returned, “Lady Loyse shares my bed.”
“I did not mean to sleep in the same bed, though . . .” Our eyes locked and . . . and my thoughts went instead to Hensable. I bit my lip, which Hean likely misinterpreted. “And have you thought more of who you will marry?”
Why was everyone asking me that? Yes, I knew why, it was obvious: because whoever I wed would become the king—if ever I gained my throne.
I shook my head. “But I am building a list of those I shan’t wed.”
It was agreed to set a guard at my door. One had previously been set, when we first took over the lodge, but then with the number of supporters increasing and filling the hall and chambers, it had been deemed unneeded. But even with this replaced guard I felt no safer. As it turned out, I had good reason.
They struck in the night. I woke to find rough hands bundling me into a blanket, and something over my head all-but suffocating me. I could feel, around and beneath me, a seep of something warm and sticky. Disorientated, not knowing what was happening, I was slow to scream. Then, as I opened my mouth so that fabric around my head was stuffed deep into it making me choke. Thereafter, a crack on my head and . . . nothing.
So Mideer’s fears for her safety had some foundation. But which side has taken her? And taken her to where? Assumingly they intend her death, for while she lives no uncle’s daughter can legally sit on that throne. Don’t miss next episode, Light In A Lightless Place