As one eventful day wound down in the Grand Navigator Islands, another was beginning in Sesus, capital of Raurugia and the Realm of Lyrion.
After the escape of the intruder, the Embassy of the Grand Navigators remained on alert the rest of the night, and in the morning, non-resident staffers coming in to work were shocked to hear that an attempt had been made on their Prince. The news quickly passed to the streets via tradesmen and couriers, who carried gossip as well as goods and documents, and so it spread through the city — to the newspapers, of course, and to the highest offices in the land, and even to the low dives of the gang-ridden alleys, where a certain Mr. Ashcat might be surprised to learn he had somehow made as illustrious an enemy as the notorious Starhand.
At this moment, though, that enemy had other things on his mind.
The Sovereign Prince of the Grand Navigators had never liked state occasions, and state breakfasts were a particular annoyance. Peino liked his mornings to start early, simply and quietly, not clogged with official pageantry, restrained by layers of silks and the jewels and arms of his office, and overloaded with exotic foods in the madly ornate Great Hall of the Floating Throne.
Fortunately, the presentation of the diplomatic chest from the Glimmering Throne of Aria had gone well, and Iviar Sharklance of the House of Jesen, High King of Lyrion, was pleased with the treaty, gifts, and above all, marriage contract he had found inside it.
“Makes up for the filthy weather, doesn’t it, Prince Starhand?” the King said, as he, his son the Crown Prince Iomeo, Peino, Lord Ambassador Ceula, and about a hundred officials and courtiers sat down at the gorgeously dressed long tables. A constant train of servants kept their plates filled with delicacies, and Peino had to lean close to the King, the Prince, the ambassadors, and nobles around him to hear the conversation over the echoing noise of the Great Hall. All the while, the galleries above were filled with lesser courtiers, court watchers, journalists, and the public, watching this state meal as if it were a sporting match or theater show.
“Your Majesty’s wind singers have done an excellent job of taming it,” said Peino, bowing his head.
“Ha,” the King snorted, “to the selkie standard, perhaps.”
Not for the first time, Peino thought it might be a shame that he had been born first of the three Ereonis brothers. Both Jeneyeru and Ruili were far more even-tempered than he, especially when confronted by the provoking wit of the merrow King Iviar, who forever seemed to want to start a fight.
Ignoring Ceula’s warning glances, Peino smiled at the King. “Not enough wind to suit a selkie, Majesty.”
Crown Prince Iomeo knew this game well and jumped in with a distraction.
“Do you not agree, Serene Highness, that Princess Nithani is a delightful lady?”
“I agree completely, August Highness,” said Peino, even though he didn’t go for those weedy types himself. “She speaks of you with equal affection.”
The young merrow, with the classic black hair and pale complexion of his tribe, grinned. “Whoever would have expected a chance meeting at some boring old temple festival to lead to a connection that will benefit two entire realms? D’you know,” he looked about the immediate company to bring in the other lords and ladies, “I have read that the Cimoscan rulers of ancient times traded their children like promissory notes in marriages of political arrangement without the least regard to compatibility or affection. Can you imagine?”
“Barbaric,” said Peino, winking at a giggling countess seated beside him, “why, surely, that would take all the fun out of politics.”
“Why does the Lord Magus not join us this morning?” the King interrupted, causing a momentary pause.
Peino cleared his throat and sipped some coffee. “Lord Nightwise does not wish to impose on your Majesty. He is traveling only on a private matter of Guild business, and as he was not expected…”
“Anything to do with that ruckus at your embassy last night?”
The news had flown high and fast, indeed.
“I hope not, August Majesty. I’m sure that was simply a matter of a thief following the Feast from city to city and not realizing what building he had invaded.” Peino pretended not to notice Iviar’s disbelieving sneer. “In any event, my brother and I intend to visit Mt. Isolla to complete his business, when Your Majesty’s pleasure is fulfilled.”
“Isolla, eh? Domestic affairs are not my business, but I hear they’re having trouble with bandits up that way.” The High King seemed to weigh all his options as well as his opinions and moods. Finally, he said, “I’ll send word to the Royal Garrison of the North, put them at your disposal in case of need.”
“Thank you, August Majesty. You are most generous.” Peino was grateful at least that, this time, Iviar’s mood had broken in his favor, though he was unsure how useful the help would be, should it be needed at all.
— — —
Meanwhile, the rest of the occupants of the embassy apartment were enjoying a more relaxed breakfast. As promised, Aeto Arrowwise arrived early with news from the Prosecutor of Sesus.
“Rejoice, Mistress O’Tulvar,” the attorney exclaimed as she swept into the salon in her blue robes with a celebratory bow. She was followed by a dour-looking guardian. “Arrowwise has slipped another client off the hook.”
Sitting down to the applause of Jeneyeru, still in his green dressing gown, Aeto helped herself to a crumpet with honey.
“On the basis of Lord Nightwise’s statement, as well as the letter of His Highness the Prince, the Prosecutor has been persuaded to drop all charges against Lotye O’Tulvar of Farind — er, except for the forfeiture of your belongings to compensate for damages to the square arising from the accidental summoning. I’m sorry, Lotye, I could not budge him off that. I think he got complaints. But aside from that, you are a free woman as of this moment. See, I’ve even brought a guardian to free you of that bracelet.”
Aeto waved at the guardian in the green and gold to hurry up and do just that, while she produced from her satchel a large sheet of parchment covered in enchanted script, with seals and sigils.
“I just need you to sign this Statement in Evidence, which will be used in further investigation of the trade in the cards. Essentially, it is an amalgamation of your and Lord Nightwise’s statements, and you need to sign it in attestation that it is a true and accurate account of events. You may add comments of your own as well — but don’t. Just sign it. Remember the teachings of Pwyll — least said, soonest mended.”
“Well, this all worked out very nicely, didn’t it?” said Jeneyeru. “Congratulations, milady Lotye. What will you do now?”
He sipped his tea, regarding her with that curious look again, such as when they’d first met in the guardian keep.
“Oh, that reminds me,” said Aeto. “When I went to the keep to collect this fellow to carry out the Order of Release, the jailer told me that your friend had come by, asking after you. But then I remembered that you have never visited Sesus before. Is that right? Did you tell me that? If so, whatever you do next, you might consider doing it away from Sesus.”
“Oh, my,” said Jeneyeru, looking Lotye over even more intently.