204. Beyond and Within
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Beyond and Within

Middanhal

The day after the Adalthing had spoken, the highfather sat in the Temple yard on a bench. Around him, priests and priestesses of all ranks hurried to and from, each busy with their own errand. Next to him was Godfrey.

“How certain were you that the boy would renounce his claim?” asked Septimus.

“Reasonably so. He has no interest in rulership, and both his older brothers were murdered for power. I would have preferred if the first counting simply went the right way, but as a contingency, it worked nicely,” Godfrey said.

“I can scarcely fathom the risk you took.” The highfather shook his head.

“I am an excellent judge of character. Vale, Hardling, I expected them to come through.”

“What if they had not?”

“Then people I care about would have died, and I would have found another way to continue my task.” Godfrey stared ahead. “You never questioned my methods before.”

“I must be getting old.”

“So am I, but you don’t hear me complaining.”

Septimus scoffed. “Godfrey,” he said after a moment, “what will happen if the outlanders reach the city? What if the Godking comes?”

“I will defend the antechamber against him for as long as I can.”

“What happens if you can’t?”

Godfrey clasped his hands together. “I am not certain, but I cannot think of any answer you would wish to hear.”

~~~~

Arndis leaned back in a sofa, surrounded by soft pillows. “This will be adequate.” She laughed, as did Eleanor, appearing from an adjacent room.

“My chamber is twice the size of the old,” the Hæthian lady reported. “Are you sure I am allowed to stay?” she asked with sudden concern. “I am not a member of the royal family.”

“As the king’s sister, it must be expected that I have handmaidens of noble birth,” Arndis considered, waving her hand in a dismissive manner. “Do not fret, Jenny,” she continued, seeing her servant with a frightened expression. “I will not be replacing you.”

“Yes, milady.”

“I am surprised at the speed with which the steward changed our quarters,” Eleanor said. “It was only yesterday the Adalthing met.”

“It is far easier for the kingthanes to protect us in the same wing,” Arndis pointed out. There was a knock on the door. “Speak of the Elf, and he shall appear,” she added. “You may enter!”

A kingthane opened the door to poke his head inside. “Pardon me, milady. The alderman requests an audience.”

“Let him pass.”

“I shall arrange my new chamber,” Eleanor declared. “Come along, Jenny.”

As they left, the alderman appeared. With a smile and an awkward bow, he greeted Arndis. “Milady, a pleasure to see you in your new surroundings.”

“A pleasure to receive you,” Arndis replied. “You act swiftly, to visit me so soon.”

“Trade never sleeps, milady,” Edwin said. “And the news of peace has profound impact.”

“The metal trade,” Arndis realised. “The route through Isarn is open once more.”

“Indeed. Our shipment of tin cannot sell at the same price, nor will bringing iron back reap the same profit. In fact, it must be expected that prices will fall considerably.”

“Of course. Such are the winds of trade.”

“I would abandon the market for metals in the near future,” the alderman suggested. “But if milady is interested, I shall bring other trade prospects to her door as I come across them.”

“Please do.”

“And perhaps if milady, in her new position, comes across anything worthwhile to share with the guilds, she will do so in turn.”

“Consider it a certainty.”

The alderman smiled broadly. “Very well. Milady.” He bowed his head and took his leave.

~~~~

Kate and Egil sat inside Quill’s chamber, looking at the scribe. He lay on his bed under the covers with feverish sweat and shine on his face. His breathing came like the bellows of a forge, at times interrupted by mumbling.

“What did the physician say?” asked Kate.

“He made that elixir.” Egil pointed at a flacon on the small table next to Quill’s bed. “Said to give him a few drops at each bell. I’ve given him twice so far.”

“Did it help?”

“At first. His breathing improved.” The young man stared with obvious concern at his master. “But it didn’t last.”

Kate leaned over to gently touch Quill’s face with cloth, removing beads of sweat. “Should we give him more? If it helps.”

“Too much may make him worse.” Egil chewed on his lip. “We’ll have to wait and see.”

“You should get something to eat. I’ll stay with him.”

The apprentice hesitated, finally getting up with an apprehensive expression. Halfway out the door, he looked back until Kate’s hand gesture shooed him away.

~~~~

Brand stood in the throne room of the Citadel. Since the death of Prince Hardmar, it had seen little use. He moved towards the end of the hall with the great seat, walking up the first few steps. The jaws of a dragon greeted him, crafted to appear above the head of the person seated.

“There you are.”

Brand turned to follow the voice, finding Jana approaching him. “Indeed. You found me.”

“Your guards did.” She nodded towards the end of the hall, where her own protectors had joined the pair that watched over Brand.

“Are your accommodations to your liking?”

“Fit for a king.”

He laughed a little. “They better be, or the royal wing does not live up to its name.”

She looked around the room, from the tall pillars to the throne. “When will you give audience?”

“In a few days. I am waiting for the last sons of Isarn to surrender.”

“Have you tried your new chair?”

“Not yet.”

“Why not now? Make yourself familiar with it.”

Brand smiled and took her suggestion, walking the final steps up to be seated. He placed his hands on the armrests, shaped like the legs of the dragon, and leaned back to sit upright.

“How does it feel?”

He exhaled slowly. “I remember when I learned of my ancestry. That my forefathers sat upon this throne. I never thought it would be mine, and yet in this moment, it feels to have been inevitable.”

“Brand,” she spoke, her voice growing serious, “are we safe now?”

He looked at her and nodded. “None can challenge me within the Seven Realms. The authority of the king cannot be wrested from me.”

“What of our enemies from beyond?”

“I shall gather the full strength of Adalmearc, and they will wither before it. You are guaranteed a place by my side, and none, whether within these lands or beyond, may threaten that.”

“Good.” She allowed herself a cautious smile. “Are you hungry? I am famished.”

He reciprocated her expression and rose from the throne, following her back to the royal wing.

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