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In Gods' Hands

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Somehow Ingrey had thought that once the trials were over and he'd tried to release his father the excitement would be over. Biast would be king, and the hallowed king would be the hallowed king, and he and Ijada could hide way for a while and think about how to settle down. He had reckoned too simply though.

He had not realised how much discussion settling down would take, with those Badgerbank cousins of Ijada's, with King Biast and every lord in between it seemed. Those were complication enough what with the discussion of where they could live. There was no manor house, no homestead even on the site of Weeping Wood. If there had been, it would have been burnt away by the fires. So they were homeless unless they battened on that Badgerbank cousin, or Hetwar, or even the new king. That last, at least would perhaps be glad to do so, the first dismayed and the second, well. Hetwar was not a man to be battened on without some further complications, oaths, or promises or debts. He kept too careful account of his own worth and others' to allow someone to use him without eventual payment of some description. None of these options seemed like a safe path.

Ingrey's star had risen quite high, it seemed, and this translated to sudden increase in friendly faces. They still feared his wolf, and he had less patience for those who pretended new appreciation for his changed status than for those who still avoided him. He found that he couldn't bear the thought of such friends and he could not define if it was himself or that wolf who perceived these new offers of allegiance and interest as bellies and necks bared by puppies at play. In the high company he and Ijada - the wolf and leopard - now had, even puppies could be a danger if they turned on you. Their teeth could be pointed, sharper for the surprise when they turned on you.

One of the options that they had taken was to stay with Hallana and Oswin. Learned Lewko had taken some time after their failed trip to Birchgrove and come with them. It was in this company that they had spent the feast of Father of Winter. Ingrey growled to himself and Ijada when he thought the divines were not listening. Even after all that had happened to them, there was something of hackles that rose when too close to Temple divines. Ijada smiled at him, her own purr softening him. She had so much faith in him; she didn't understand his residual fears after the unbinding of his wolf. Her smile and purr and the stretch of her body unwound him and made his wolf ignore any of his man's terrors.

Even he had to admit, with his new friends, divines, saints, sorcerers and royalty together his fears of further reprisals against his wolf seemed very unlikely. Winter melted into spring, and Lewko slipped away to deal with his unavoidable work, the never ending paperwork of his calling.

The preparations for the celebration of the Daughter of Spring were in full swing and Ingrey and Ijada were beginning to gain some momentum for their considerations on where and when they would move onto somewhere less inhabited by chaos when Learned Lewko returned.

Ingrey and Ijada were out riding and discussing their lack of home when they crossed paths with them. Ijada, the less wary, had laughed with pleasure at this reappearance of a friend and ridden up to him to greet him. Ingrey had taken a minute to look at the whole party. Learned Lewko was certainly not alone and his party was a motley one. The first surprise was sealmaster Hetwar and his entourage. Ingrey had not expected Hetwar to be able to remove himself from the capital so soon after the coronation of the new king, the politics of a new regime were beginning to shake themselves out with new allegiances and new enemies appearing. This minor holding was not worthy of Hetwar's consequence. He smiled his wolfish smile when he spotted a worried looking Gesca in the train, obviously unsure about his reception and not sure whether to hide from Ingrey or to go boldly and greet him. His amusement was cut abruptly short when he focused on the figure behind Gesca. His teeth clenched in much less of a smile when he saw Cumril on a donkey, looking miserable. This, this was not expected.

Before he could react and demand and answer the inevitable chaos of a large train arriving at the end of the journey swept both Cumril and sealmaster Hetwar out of reach. Learned Lewko seemed also too cunning to be caught for interrogation and Ingrey had to be satisfied with a casual wave and a promise to catch up later.

Things seemed to move faster than he could keep up with, and after he had led his and Ijada's horses to the stable he was approached by a slightly too servile Gesca.

"Ho, Lord Ingrey. M'lord Hetwar requests your presence in the library." Gesca even bowed slightly, but that could have been to Ijada. "And yourself, m'lady."

Ijada looked more curious than concerned. "Gesca, I haven't seen you in so long! What brings you all here?" She considered the man who had been both her bodyguard and prison warder cheerfully.

Gesca shifted uncomfortably under her gaze. "I can't say, m'lady, but I'm sure they will tell you." He shuffled towards the door. He was not, it seemed, likely to give anything away and Ingrey held out his hand to his lady to walk them both to see what new enterprise his was wanted for.

As he entered the library he was not reassured. Sealmaster Hetwar was there and he looked very serious. Learned Lewko was resigned, Oswin concerned and Hallana looked cheerful. Hallana's cheerfulness was not calming for anyone who knew her well. Ijada's hand tightened on his arm, and he could feel her leopardess coiling warily beside him, he clasped her hand in return, unsure if it was for her or for himself. Ingrey looked around carefully and yes, there was Cumril seated in the dark corner, very still and very anxious.

Sealmaster Hetwar quirked his eyebrows at their cautious entry. "What, Lord Ingrey, no happy greeting?"

Ingrey loosened his hold on his wife just enough to bow. "M'Lord, pardon me I am not sure of your purpose." He could feel himself sliding straight back into the knife's edge of his conversations with the sealmaster. "You startle me with your presence. I neglect the civilities."

Hallana laughed. "You startle well, Ingrey, I couldn't tell."

"One of his many useful traits," Hetwar commented dryly. "He is ready for surprises if not for the civilities. And I fear we may be going to give him little cause for those now."

Ingrey restrained his response to that, holding himself to simply raising an eyebrow.

Oswin, being Oswin, evidently decided that this was enough playing around. "They are here to talk to you," he said. He took in the couple with his eyes. "You both."

Ingrey again chose silence as a response.

Learned Lewko was also much less likely to play games. He could be direct when he needed too. "We understand that you two are unsure of where you live now."

"Although we'd be happy for you to stay here," Hallana said. "I didn't think that you wanted to."

Ijada nodded. "We have been discussing our plans."

Ingrey was not so sure he wanted to have this discussion with these people. "We are not without possibilities," he said.

The sealmaster didn't quite smile at this. "Since you are nominally still in my service," he said, "I have a proposal."

"I thought that after our discussion with yourself and the hallowed king that had been resolved," Ingrey suggested.

"Not entirely to my satisfaction," Hetwar said. "Are you interested in hearing the proposal?"

Ijada's fingers on his sleeve reminded him that it was not only himself he had to consider before sharpening his wit on his erstwhile employer. He nodded carefully.

This time it was Lewko who spoke. "The first part is Cumril." In his corner the ex-divine shrank back. "I have heard that there may be a solution for his..." Lewko searched visibly for an appropriate word. "Peculiar concern."

"What does that have to do with us?" Ijada asked harshly. "I am not aware of any debt of care that runs that way."

"You may be the best people to assist," Lewko said. "There is a... a saint who may be able to return demons to their own realm."

Oswin nodded. "Of interest to you, perhaps is that she does this while the..." he glanced at his wife quickly, "while the sorcerer is still alive. I do not know if this has much bearing on your more personal theological concerns, but it may."

"And if it does not, I would be most interested to find out how it works," Hallana added, firmly. "For all of our personal theological concerns."

Ijada's leopardess was thoroughly awake now, and was practically pacing behind her eyes. "This seems too straightforward a request for such a delegation," she commented. "Surely a letter would have sufficed. Certainly not both you, Learned Lewko, and the sealmaster." She bent her head in his direction. Ingrey nodded as well.

This made Hetwar laugh. "Yes, but you know it is never that simple. This is not as straightforward a request as you may think."

Hallana spoke, ruining his pause for effect. "This saint is currently in Chalion on her way, we believe, to the Roknari Principalities as part of the Ibran and Chalionese armies."

There was a silence, a very long silence. Ingrey tried rolling that thought through his head. Ibra and Chalion and the Roknari Principalities. That was not nearby. Even in his years in exile, even when he had fled far from the Weald as he thought he could, he had not gone quite that far. Ijada seemed to be similarly stunned by this suggestion. This was not a small trip they were proposing, not by anyone's stretch of the imagination.

Eventually it seemed that someone would have to speak and it was Learned Oswin. "You need not travel alone, and you can travel by sea much of the way which will shorten the trip considerably. We presume, of course, that the political situation has not changed already," he added. "It seems the last few years have been unexpectedly full of turmoil there, although their alliance seems firm enough."

Ijada frowned, distracted by this discussion of politics. "I had not heard that Ibra and Chalion were allied so closely," she said.

Sealmaster Hetwar shrugged. "There was a marriage, I believe. The Fox and his son still battle, but even Darthaca have been more restrained in their involvement. Much is happening in that part of the world, which is the other part of our proposal to you both." Reached into the saddlebag he had had brought in with him. "This is a request from His Majesty Biast, to you both." He held out the papers. "You may read them, but in essence he requests that you undertake this trip and present yourself to the new Chalionese Royina."

Ingrey now openly gaped at him. "What? I am, what, an ambassador?" This seemed unlikely from any perspective, certainly.

Learned Lewko rubbed at his mouth with his fist, not very successfully hiding a smile. "Perhaps the best we could send at this time contrary to what your belief may be." He sobered. "There is some communication through the temples, sometimes particularly though the fifth, the Bastard's order. The five gods seem to be very..." he paused, very carefully choosing his words. "They are very engaged with Ibra and Chalion at present." He exchanged a glance with Hallana which seemed to say much that only they understood, "That saint we discussed, who can remove demons, is the Dowager Royina Ista."

Ingrey shook his head. "I fear I still don't understand, why would you, why would Biast want me to do this?" He was disturbed by the plaintive edge to his voice, but he didn't understand. He turned to Ijada, who was already looking at him. She didn't seem to be shocked, but the sealmaster was speaking again before he could react.

"Apparently this was partly a request from the divines, so you must ask them for their motivations." He was not smiling either. "However much I may find your directness of concern, you understand politics, and in this disturbingly theological new world, I think perhaps you are the right person."

Hallana opened her hands to him. "This does seem the right thing," she offered. "I have long felt that you have further to explore the gift of your wolf."

Ingrey huffed. Gift? Gift, she calls it now.

"We still do not have an understanding of why you were given your wolf," Learned Lewko said. "But it seems that Someone may have more for you to do."

"As an ambassador to Chalion?"

"In Chalion, and if the best way to get you there is by diplomacy, then that is how it will go." Hallana sounded very certain. "I have been having dreams for months, but they were unclear, but this suggestion feels right."

Ijada finally spoke up. "I have been having dreams also." Ingrey turned to her, confused, and she held his hands as though they were alone in the room. "This does feel right, Ingrey. This fits together with my dreams, and I think that this may bring us more answers about being a shaman than we knew to ask."

"I have been reading the books from Horseriver's library," he said. He had been, although he also knew that his desultory attempts to get an understanding of all a shaman could do had been frustrating her. Frustrating him as well, when he thought about it, but even now those that he could do terrified him. He hadn't used the weirding voice in months, and his hand had long since healed. There were other things, other powers that had been hinted at by Horseriver or by his books that deep down he simply didn't want to explore. He had been lulled into immobility here, he realised. Taking comfort and drawing the domesticity around himself like a childhood blanket. He realised, looking over Ijada's shoulder at Learned Oswin and Hallana that he had been the only one to do so.

Even Ijada, as patient has she had been with him, didn't seem to find the suggestion that the gods might still be interested in him after his night of hallowed kingship of concern. She seemed almost pleased. He suddenly realised that despite whatever his wishes, despite all of his inclinations, it was more than likely that he would be travelling all the way to Chalion with the man who had caused his worst pain to speak to a Dowager Royina and, worst of all, to speak to diplomats.

Somewhere in the distance he heard a laugh and a Voice he had heard before laugh. "You are a stubborn puppy, but there is more work to do."