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The 10th day of Barley Moon, 1043 K.F.
Number 6 Cheeseman Street, Summersea, Emelan

"It isn't that I don't want to celebrate," Sandry said as she took a seat at the table in the kitchen. She set her workbag down on the table and drew out a piece of embroidery she'd been working on since returning from Namorn.

"You just don't want the sort of celebration being talked about," Tris guessed, back to Sandry as she worked at the stove. "And good for you. I can't believe Duke Vedris is even thinking about some sort of ball."

"I don't think it's his idea," Sandry sighed as she got to work on the embroidery, sending tendrils of her power through the piece to strengthen the symbols she was working with. "I think it might be his seneschal, but he should know better too! I heard two of the maids talking about how exciting it would be and how they'd thought there wouldn't be a party since I was away for my birthday."

Tris brought the teapot over and poured for both herself and Sandry. A plate of cookies already sat on the table, though Sandry was obviously too busy with her work to have taken one yet.

"So, if you don't want it, cancel it," Tris suggested. "It's a waste. We saw that well enough in Dancruan."

"I don't think I get that much of a say in it," Sandry muttered.

"A say in what?" Briar asked as he strolled in and grabbed a cookie.

Already washed my hands, he assured both Tris and Sandry through their bond as he popped the cookie into his mouth. Tris and Sandry shared a look and silent mental laugh.

"My birthday," Sandry informed him.

"What about it? We stopped at that inn in Anderran and had that fantastic roast. You said at the time it was one of the best birthdays you'd ever had." Briar plunked himself down on a bench at the table and took another cookie, breaking it into pieces to eat a little at a time. "Don't tell me you wanted something else?"

"No, that's the point," Sandry told him. "I don't. It was a lovely birthday. Far better than anything I would have gotten in Namorn had we stayed the summer. But now there's a ball being planned at the citadel and the maids are talking about my birthday and I told Uncle I didn't want anything showy when I turned eighteen but it seems we're doing it anyhow."

"You need to talk to him," Tris advised. "Don't let it go. If you don't want it, tell him before it's too far along. Now, are you staying for dinner tonight?"

Sandry smiled at her. "You're right, of course," she said. "And yes, thank you."

 

The 14th day of Barley Moon, 1043 K.F.
Number 6, Cheeseman Street and the Duke's Citadel

It's not just for my birthday! Sandry announced to her foster siblings through their shared bond. She'd checked to make sure none of them were blocked off or too busy before saying something and it was a relief to know they were all open to her at the moment. There was simply no way she could wait on talking with them.

What isn't? Daja was the first to respond, but Sandry could tell the others had paused what they were doing as well.

The ball, Sandry explained. It is for my birthday, yes, but not just that. And it isn't really a ball, thank goodness. It's an… an event. Uncle is naming a new heir. Me.

About time, Briar noted. I figured he'd do it once you were eighteen. Probably scared him, you going to Namorn before he could get the paperwork taken care of.

He told me it's not finalized yet, obviously. I need to agree to it.

All three of Sandry's foster siblings waited while Sandry hesitated.

I didn't think he'd do it, she told them. I truly didn't. I'm going to go talk to Lark. May I come for dinner tonight?

Any time, Daja assured her. You know that. Our house is your house, even if you are the heir.

 

The 14th Day of Barley Moon, 1043 K.F.
Discipline Cottage, Winding Circle Temple

Sandry paused on her walk towards Discipline. Thank goodness she hadn't gotten trapped in Namorn. Who would she have gone to for advice, even if she had stayed of her own free will? She was close enough to hear the sound of Lark's big loom from her workshop, so she knocked loudly when she walked up to the door of the cottage.

She needn't have worried, as the door was opened by a young girl who grinned at her.

"Hi Sandry!" Glaki said. "Is Tris with you?"

"I'm sorry, Glaki. She's not here today. But we're all coming for supper in two days. I just came to speak with Lark." Sandry smiled down at Glaki. The girl had grown so much even in the few months they'd been away.

"I learned something new," Glaki told Sandry as Lark came out of her workshop. "I'm going to practice and show you all when you visit."

Sandry nodded. "Practice hard. All mages have to practice."

"Go on, Glaki," Lark told the girl. "I believe Rosethorn needs some help in the garden. I'll call you both in for tea later."

Glaki headed off out of the cottage and Lark turned to give Sandry an appraising look.

"Now, what's happened?" Lark asked as she led Sandry over to the table and handed her a basket of wool to card.

They both got to the soothing work and Sandry felt herself relaxing. "Uncle wants to name me his heir."

"And about time, too," Lark said, unknowingly echoing Briar. "You would be an excellent ruler for Emelan," she told Sandry.

Sandry looked down at the wool she worked with and nodded. "I think I would be," she agreed. "But Uncle has sons of his own. Even if Gospard isn't interested and Cole is disinherited already. I thought… Well. I assumed that even with his faults, Franzen would remain the heir. That Uncle would work with him. But now he tells me he spoke to him already. He won't tell me what was said, only that 'Franzen understands' now."

"And perhaps he does," Lark said. "Franzen was never a fool, only a bit easily led. Which would make him a poor choice in the long run. Really, Cole would have been a decent choice, but he's a bit too bullheaded. You, my dearest, not only know the country's ins and outs, its politics and its nobles and its trade, but you know its other people too. You know the lives of the people here at Winding Circle and in the Mire. You had a taste of the difficult decisions you'll need to make when you were in Namorn. And Duke Vedris trusts you. He doesn't trust easily, your uncle."

"No, you're right," Sandry sighed. "I know he believes I can do it."

"There is something else to consider," Lark added. "Beyond knowing that your uncle assuredly knows you'd be good at the job. I know you signed over your rights to the Landreg titles and lands in Namorn, but this would well and truly tell the Empress that you will never be returning."

Sandry turned that over in her head. On one hand, it would mean just that. The Empress couldn't try any hidden tricks with Ambrose to attempt to force Sandry to return. There would be no loophole she could use to force the ruler of another country to claim lands within her borders. It would be foolish to do so, and the Empress was no fool. On the other hand, it would make her, and, by extension, Emelan, a target. Still, the thought of thumbing her nose at Berenene did appeal to her. Childish, yes, but Sandry felt she was allowed.

"I would need to be very careful with Namorn," Sandry said. "But you are right. I'll have to warn Ambrose to be alert for any sort of reprisals. If she can't get to me, she's not above taking it out on my relatives."

"He's probably been aware of that since you signed the lands and title over to him. Sandry, you will be good for Emelan."

Sandry looked up from her wool and smiled at Lark. They'd both apparently accepted that she was going to say yes to her uncle. Of course she was. Sandry knew from the moment he'd asked that she couldn't have said no.

 

The 17th Day of Barley Moon, 1043 K.F.
Duke's Citadel, Summersea, Emelan

"I know you didn't want something this size," Duke Vedris told Sandry. "But if it is an investiture as well as a belated birthday celebration then we will need to invite the nobility, the heads of the local guilds, the city council, some of the larger merchant houses."

"And the Rokats will behave themselves if they attend," Sandry muttered under her breath, though she knew her uncle would hear. "Uncle," she said in a more conversational tone. "If we are inviting so many people, and it is to be a birthday celebration as well, I would like to also invite both Dedicate Lark and Dedicate Rosethorn. All of our teachers, really. And Dedicate Moonstream. And others. I know the Living Circle isn't the only faith represented in the country, even if it is the largest."

Duke Vedris sat back, nodding. "You are right," he agreed. "So I take it you mean to represent as much of our populace as you can at this event?"

Sandry nodded as well. "I do," she said firmly. "I want our people to know that I will hear them, no matter how soft their voices may be. And…" She looked at him. "Sixth Ship Oluk and Second Caravan Mesrun will both be nearby within the next month. I'd like to invite them, even if they decide not to attend."

"They may not," Vedris warned, but Sandry was already nodding.

"I know," she told him. "And neither of them know me or Briar, Tris and Daja personally, but the Traders do know of us, in general. At least the Caravans and Ships that come through Summersea regularly. I want them to know they are part of our community, just as the merchants are."

She'd get some people riled up over that, she was certain. Traders still faced a fair amount of prejudice, no matter where they went. But Sandry felt sure that would never change unless non-Traders made a point to welcome them.

"Draw up a list of people you wish to make certain are invited," Vedris told her, not bothering to warn her of the opposition she'd face over some of her choices. He knew she knew what she was doing, or he wouldn't be instating her as his heir. "We'll put our lists together and go from there."

"Now, Uncle, please. Will you tell me more of how Franzen reacted? I know he couldn't have simply let it go, and you can keep telling me it's not my problem but it will be. That's the whole issue at hand. It will be my problem and I need to know." Sandry had been trying to get him to tell her about his meeting with his son and former heir for the past few days and Duke Vedris had refused her details every time so far.

And he would apparently continue to refuse, as he simply shook his head now and stood.

"We will talk about it later," he assured her. "But he knows my reasons and he gave me his word he understood. The papers are all signed. You won't have to face any opposition from him."

Sandry doubted that, but while the Landreg family in Namorn had always been known for their stubborn ways, the Toren family in Emelan could give them some stiff competition in that area.

 

The 10th Day of Blood Moon, 1043 K.F.
Duke's Citadel, Summersea, Emelan

Sandry checked over her siblings' clothing while they rolled their eyes at each other. She had made every stitch they wore, after all. It wasn't like any of it could possibly be out of order. Still, she adjusted the hang of Briar's tunic with a wave of her fingers and then shifted one of Tris' sleeves the same way.

"We're fine," Daja assured her. "Are you?"

Sandry gave Daja a small smile. "I am," she told her. "Just a little nervous. You know when you get a feeling that something is going to go wrong?"

"Don't invite trouble," Briar cautioned. "Let's just get through the evening. You're going to have enough to worry about once this is all formal and it's not just you giving your uncle a hand."

As if summoned, Duke Vedris opened the door to the anteroom Sandry and her siblings were in.

"Sandry, are you ready?"

Sandry looked over at her uncle and nodded. "I am. We are." Though her siblings would be entering the hall separately, she could feel them in her mind. Perhaps that had been the deciding factor when her uncle had spoken to his son. It was difficult to argue against not just a powerful mage ruler, but a powerful mage ruler with three other mages at her side. Sandry hoped that didn't attract more trouble than it dissuaded.

As they entered the hall Sandry looked around. This particular room of the Citadel was rarely used. It was too big for most of the gatherings her uncle usually held. Too formal. But for something like this, it seemed to suit. And it was still nowhere near as opulent as even the smallest ballroom in Berenene's palace. Sandry smiled as she looked out at the assembled guests. The blue Traders she'd invited had needed to leave before the event and had sent their regrets but the white Traders had sent two of their representatives to witness the naming of Sandry as heir. All of the large and small merchant houses had sent at least one person, as had the guilds. As Sandry looked out she noted the green habits of Lark and Rosethorn as well as the red, blue and yellow habits of some of their other friends and teachers. Pasco was there with his parents and grandfather and Evvy was standing with Rosethorn and Glaki.

Legally, they had already done all the necessary paperwork, but the formal ceremony needed multiple witnesses and Sandry and Vedris had both agreed that having so many notable persons attending meant they had plenty of reputable choices.

Sandry had chosen Lark to be one witness. Duke Vedris had chosen the head of the baking guild to be another. Yazmin Hebet had volunteered as a third and Niko had volunteered as a fourth, leaving one of the city council to step forward as the last. While the witnesses assembled, Sandry realized she could no longer hear her siblings at the edge of her mind. She pushed a little and Daja let her hear some of what was going on.

It's nothing, Daja assured her. We took care of it.

Sandry tried to split her attention between what the magistrate was saying to herself, her uncle, and the witnesses, and what Daja was showing her. She'd gone over the particulars of the ceremony enough that it wasn't too difficult.

Through Daja's eyes, Sandry saw Franzen and his wife standing near her siblings, their teachers, and their students. Where Briar and Rosethorn had gotten the vines holding their feet in place, Sandry didn't want to know. If it had been the floor of the hall, she would deal with it later. Frostpine was missing, as was Tris. Sandry realized that Pasco and his family were also no longer present. Daja and Evvy stood behind the couple, likely rooted to the spot like iron and granite.

We're outside, came Tris' mental voice and Sandry caught a glimpse of some very nervous looking guards in Franzen's house colors. They had been halted by a cage of lightning and a squad of Harriers was just arriving to supplement the Citadel's own guards. It seems they brought a contingent of their own soldiers, thinking they could intimidate their way in.

But they were invited! Sandry cried to her siblings. There was no need to do this! It's tantamount to treason!

So Franzen said, Briar told her. Seems they thought if they interrupted they could plead their case.

He's had time to plead his case, Sandry pointed out. Anything she might have followed that with would have to wait, however, as the magistrate was now holding a quill out for her to sign with. She took it and signed her name to the scroll, then handed it to the first of the witnesses. Perhaps her first official job as heir would be to advise her uncle on what to do about Franzen.

 

The 12th Day of Blood Moon, 1043 K.F.
Number 6, Cheeseman Street

"He's going to do what?" Briar demanded when Sandry came to the house to tell her siblings Duke Vedris' decision about his son.

"He's bringing them to court," Sandry said. "It was my suggestion. If we send them back to their lands they'll only concoct more trouble there. They claim they weren't planning a coup, and they didn't bring nearly enough people with them for us to think they truly were. So exile is out of the question, as is stripping them of their lands and titles. Thus, a hefty fine for attempting to disrupt a formal legal proceeding without due cause, and they'll be staying in the city so we can keep an eye on them. Perhaps then they'll see just how much work is involved in ruling. It isn't merely power."

"Well, we can hope," Tris, noted. "And if not, well. We took care of them once. We can always take care of them again."