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My dearest Amelia,

There is much excitement here at court. Only a matter of days ago the new royina and her consort celebrated their coronation. And today we had the royse’s investiture as the holy general of the Order of the Son. Most here of any rank have spent the whole of their clothing budgets for the year in the last few weeks. On both days, Royina Iselle was absolutely resplendent in blue and white. The pearls in her hair shone and the only time she did not smile was when she was making her solemn oaths to protect Chalion and to rule with firmness and compassion, and when she was administering her husband’s new oaths. The roya, that is Royse Bergon, does seem very young. One does wonder—discreetly, of course—if they entirely know what they are doing.

But, let us not dwell on doubt!

I have not seen such courtly displays in years. If you ask me, the commoners were allowed to come a little too close to the nobility, but everyone was well-behaved. It was quite odd that the royse, the royina, and her chief lady-in-waiting rushed off as soon as the ceremony was complete. I do wonder where they were going in such a hurry.

There is to be a grand feast tonight. People are being urged to maintain a certain level of dignity and sobriety in respect for the recently departed and much missed Roya Orico, but I predict that many will forget themselves. There has been so little to celebrate these past months. First, the death of Dondo dy Jironal and his brother’s wrath, then the poor roya’s illness. The Zangre has been so tense; I’m glad I sent you away to be married.

I’m sending this off with an afternoon courier, and I will be sure to send you an account of the feast in the next few days. Give my regards to your husband. I hope to hear confirmation that you are well soon.

Your affectionate mother,
Sera Anela dy Mileto

***

Dear heart,

How is the country air treating you? I know you mentioned in your last letter that you were still getting used to the constant stink of the animals. I hope the rusticity agrees better with you now.

But I’m sure you’re still hungry for news from court! Last night was the feast I mentioned in my previous letter. Royina Iselle plainly wanted to hold her first banquet in style. The silverware was gleaming, the servants were immaculately liveried, and the tables were laden with enough food to feed all the royacy’s soldiers for a week.

There was a high table that was raised just enough to give the royina and royse a commanding position. The others ranged on either side of the rulers were the royina’s uncle dy Baocia, her lady grandmother the Provincara dy Baocia, two of the companions from the royse’s journey to Chalion (you remember the letter I sent telling that story, I trust; very exciting, heroic, and romantic of our new royse), the royina’s favorite lady, and her tutor the Castillar dy Cazaril, who was grinning rather strangely. (I did hear a report that he had taken to strong drink around the time of the younger dy Jironal’s death.)

There were some murmurs at the lower tables about the last. People were wondering why a mere tutor, and a member of one of the lower ranks of the nobility at that, was sitting up there. People whispered about the odd rumors that were circulating about him. And he’s looked so deathly ill for the past months (although he did look vastly better last night). Even after, especially after, the announcement was made, which I will tell you about shortly, some expressed the fear that he has too much influence over the young royina. The royse seems to be under his spell too. I myself don’t know what to think. The only remarkable thing about him seems to be his height (and by rumor the scars on his back); otherwise, he appears to be a man approaching middle age who does not smile or speak over much, but has something valuable to say when he does. I do hope that the more unsavory tales about him prove to be nothing more than court pettiness.

In any case, I don’t think his influence will wane in the near future. Once the main courses were cleared and before the desserts and the next round of wine were brought out, the royse and royina rose to speak.

“It is our great honor to announce that we have chosen our new chancellor,” Royse Bergon began.

“We have decided to appoint one of my most loyal servants and one who is favored among the Gods,” declared Royina Iselle. “It is the Castillar dy Cazaril, who has proven his clear head and steadfast heart many times over. I have no doubt that he will serve the post faithfully and well.” She bade him to stand and bow his head to receive the chains of the office.

This announcement was perforce met with applause from throughout the hall. However, one would note that it was not nearly as loud and sustained as one would expect for such an appointment.

But the royina was not finished. She also gestured for her handmaiden to rise. “I would also like to express my joy that the chancellor and my dearest companion, Lady Betriz dy Ferrej, are betrothed to be married.” This announcement was met with even less enthusiastic applause, but the high table did not appear to notice. The royse and royina were beaming at their friends and the newly betrothed had eyes only for each other.

The dancing began shortly thereafter. As I predicted, many fine lords and ladies did forget themselves, but their foolishness was harmless enough.

Until the next news to report,
Your mother

***

Amelia,

Excuse my script; I want to record this scene as soon as possible to make certain that I am recalling all the details faithfully.

I have never seen the royina so angry. It’s only been a few weeks since her coronation, but she has already made her presence strongly felt here. And, of course, stories from her time in Valenda are still trickling into the court. One story that comes to mind just now is from last year’s Daughter’s Day ceremony, during which she used her role as the Daughter’s avatar to humiliate a local magistrate for taking bribes. However, the anger I just saw was wholly different from that righteous indignation.

The conversation between her and a young courtier unfolded thusly:

The courtier was talking with some of his fellows about the chancellor in a voice louder than that merited by their proximity. When his friends fell silent abruptly, he turned to see Royina Iselle, along with several of her ladies in waiting, staring at him.

She spoke in a very calm fashion. “Ser dy Roman, do you think me incapable of ruling Chalion effectively?”

“No, No.” He bowed his head frantically. I do not believe that I have ever seen someone look so panicked. “Of course not, Royina.” He bowed again for good measure.

“Yet you claim that I am being obviously manipulated by one of my closest advisors, that I am too foolish and ensorcelled to notice.”

“E-Everyone is saying it, your majesty.” He could not look at her when he spoke, but he carried on, “Not that you’re foolish. Lord dy Cazaril’s demon is simply too powerful for most to resist him.”

“Well, this is troubling news. Tell me, what proof convinced you of my chancellor’s possession. I must hear it immediately so that I may know if Chalion is in danger from his diabolical plots.” I was amazed at her continued coolness. For being so young, the royina has developed a remarkable authority of tone and expression.

Poor dy Roman was completely taken aback. His friends were slowly backing away from him, leaving him alone to answer for the gossiping that pervaded much of the court. But he made a valiant effort to save himself. “With all due respect, which is a very great amount, your majesty, the evidence is plain. Lord dy Cazaril returned to Valenda as a deserter—or worse—but was welcomed gladly by the Provincara, who is a pillar of moral rectitude. Then, he was always present when anything went wrong. Of course, the rumors of his crimes while he was in Ibra--”

“Of which he was cleared by the Gods themselves, as you well know.” Her tone took on a distinct iciness.

“…spread,” he finished lamely. Blessed with more young resilience than wisdom, he continued, “And now he is in a position of great power, poised to control two great kingdoms. You’ve even given Lady Betriz, your closest friend, into his hands.” The young man had gone sickly pale by then, perhaps finally realizing that he had gone too far.

“As to your last point, the life of Lady Betriz is not within my gift. Nor would I ever force her to marry someone she did not love, especially because all our theology declares that a forced marriage can never be valid.” She looked out into the middle distance for the briefest moment, and a haunted look passed over her as quickly as to be almost imperceptible. “Also, I did not ask you to repeat court gossip; I asked you for proof of your specific claim that Chancellor dy Cazaril carries a powerful demon.”

“I have none, Royina.”

“Then you would do best to think of all the lives that you could hurt through this idle talk before you malign me, my husband, and my closest advisors in a public corridor.”

“Yes, Royina.” He bowed very deeply once more before walking away with his head held as high as it could be. To his credit, he waited until he had turned the corner to start running. Royina Iselle simply nodded to the on-lookers that had accumulated during the confrontation and turned back the way she had come, acting as if nothing unusual had happened.

I’m sure that no one who witnessed this will wish to question the royina’s authority or her trust in the chancellor for some time. At least a few weeks. Even I felt guilty and uneasy in the face of her words, even though I never even spread any of the rumors that were mentioned.

I do wish Dowager Royina Sara had chosen to stay at court, though. Royina Iselle is too young to have any use for old women like me. She has not even reached the prime of her life, and I can already imagine how Chalion’s prosperity will grow along with her. I do hope that I’m not getting carried away.

Your loving mother,
Sera dy Mileto

***

My dear Amelia,

You have no idea how happy your news makes me. Thank you for the invitation to stay with you until your safe delivery. (I will pray to the Mother daily to help ensure that it is a safe delivery.) I accept gladly. I’ve already set some of the castle servants to packing my trunks.

I have just one more scene to report before I go. A few nights ago there was a feast that several provincars and other high nobles attended. Everyone present was glittering in full finery because the royina and royse declared an end to official court morning for the late Roya Orico. The period was quite short, but the royina did say that she still prayed for her brother regularly and that he would want them to look forward to the future. No one sought to argue with her. There has been precious little to celebrate these past few years, after all.

But that evening her handmaiden outshone her. It’s bad policy, surely, to let one’s servant upstage you when you are the highest ruler in the land! But it was difficult to begrudge her friend’s loveliness. She was glowing. There were crystals embedded in her elaborately braided coif.

Plenty of young men’s eyes were on her. They were no doubt still disappointed in her choice of husband, and some clearly believed that her mind might be changed. She danced only with enough of them to be polite. She then returned to the high table where the new chancellor still sat. They spoke briefly, and the younger woman pulled him to his feet.

They joined the other dancers on the floor. I could not see their faces clearly, but they participated in the figures as enthusiastically as any other pair.

The night wore on, and I left the festivities to the younger set. As I walked down the corridor away from the ball, I heard low voices in a dark hallway off the main corridor.

“Aren’t you glad I convinced you to dance, Caz?”

“How do you know that I’m not the one who convinced you?”

“I believe it was I who walked up to you and asked you to leave your seat at the table before you got stuck there.”

“All part of my plan.” I could not see the pair, but I could imagine her mock glare at him. “I knew if I stayed put you would eventually come looking for me.”

I knew that I should have moved on rather than eavesdropping, but I was fascinated by this new side of two of the highest courtiers in the land.

“You don’t have to scheme to get me to dance with you.”

“I know, but if I wait to dance with you, you’re satisfied after only a few dances. Then, you’re more easily persuaded to leave the party.”

They fell silent for a few moments. When Lady Betriz spoke again, she was slightly breathless. “You don’t have to work to convince me of that either.” Another silence, longer this time. “We should go back, though.”

He chuckled. “You’re sending me very mixed messages, Betriz.”

“People will start leaving soon. I don’t want to get caught out here, alone and unchaperoned.”

He gave an exaggerated sigh. “As you wish.” A rustle of cloth started moving closer to the corridor, so I quickly walked away so that they would not catch me listening in.

Feeling very silly for a woman of my age and rank, I ducked into a more deeply shadowed alcove just as they were walking back to the festivities. I peeked around the corner to see them strolling with their fingers intertwined. He smiled down at her and she returned it. I pray that your husband has as much adoration for you as I saw shining out of their eyes in that moment.

They walked away, and I returned to my chambers.

With that I bid you good night. Don’t trouble yourself with a reply; I will see you within the week.

May you be well until then,
Your loving mother