Chancellor dy Cazaril was sitting at his desk, staring at the piles of forms, letters, requests, plans, maps and lists. Even in the middle of a campaign the paperwork didn’t stop. Somehow it just doubled in volume, and working in a tent didn’t make it any better. He sighed and told himself they’d be in Visping in a few days. For sure.
Excited voices outside the tent didn’t disturb him, he was surrounded by excited men. For some reason, when men put on their chain mail and buckle on their swords, everything becomes more exciting. And loud.
And Chancellors, as he had been told a number of times at increasing volume, by the few people in the land who actually outranked him, didn’t ride into battle any more.
Well, not often. A man needed SOME respite from the constant paperwork.
The voices came closer, and then suddenly the tent was full of noise. Happy noise, Caz noted, not signs of a sudden counter-attack, although the noise was coming from soldiers.
“Palli – how goes it today?” Cazaril stretched back in his chair and relaxed at the sight of a smiling, all-in-one-piece Marshall, flanked by two grinning dy Gura brothers.
The Marshall dy Palliar grinned, “Today went very well indeed. By tomorrow we’ll be rolling towards Visping. We took their final outpost today, and we’ve mopped up the last of their forces this side of the city itself.”
Caz nodded, “Good. Any serious problems?”
Palli kept grinning, “None that we didn’t expect. In the end the Captain surrendered the fortress and marched out his men to surrender nicely. It reminded me of Gotorget, only from the other side.”
Caz noted that he didn’t wince any more when that siege was mentioned. Re-taking Gotorget had been one of the first successful moves of the new Chalionese-Ibran forces. And a very satisfying moment that had been, too. Most of his bad memories were now soothed away. He nodded, “Well done, Marshall. Anything special to report?”
“Lord dy Arbanos is still questioning the officers, collecting as much information as we can, but they seem to know less than we do.”
Caz waited. He’d known Palli for a very long time, and he could tell when the man was about to explode. With excitement this time, it seemed.
“And nothing more?”
There was a short pause. Caz waited, wondering just what was coming.
Palli broke, of course, “Well… there was one small thing. It turns out that the Captain was an old….friend. Well, acquaintance. So to speak.”
“Yes…. from Gotorget.”
Caz sat up straight, feeling suddenly far more alert, “He’s not…”
“Yes. The Captain we surrendered to at Gotorget. Today he surrendered his fortress to me. We’ve come full circle, it seems.”
Cazaril’s grin matched the others, now. “Ohhh that’s satisfying. I hope you mentioned it to him.”
“It did come up in conversation. And there’s one more thing.” He motioned to Ferda dy Gura, who stepped forward and placed a long, thin bundle on the table.
Caz glanced at the smiling faces, then reached out to unwrap the folds of rather grubby linen. He stared, stunned. “This is…”
“Yes. I recognised it. He was carrying it. Handed it over as part of the surrender.”
“This… he got this after Gotorget. During the surrender.”
Cazaril stared at his father’s sword.
“Bergon, it’s lovely! Thank you!”
The royce-consort bathed in the glow of his wife’s smile, “I knew you’d be pleased.”
“It’s exactly what I wanted!” Royina Iselle gazed at at the Chalionese leopards frolicking on the flags waving happily over the battlements of the Royal Palace at Visping. “I’ve always wanted a coastal city with an excellent harbour."
Royce-consort Bergon of Chalion-Ibra glanced around the table.
This was just a quiet, family dinner. Iselle was celebrating her mother’s arrival in Visping. Tomorrow there’d be the glittering official court reception. But tonight was just for family.
Bergon liked his mother-in-law. She was smart, witty, brave and understanding. But she was also a saint of the Bastard, a sorceress and a demon-eater.
He sighed silently.
How many men had a mother-in-law who could turn them to dust with one word?
Chancellor dy Cazaril closed his eyes and let the sunshine warm him. This courtyard was his favourite in the Royal Palace at Visping. It was sunny, it had a chattering fountain and glowing flowers cascading from hanging pots. Intricate carvings turned the warm stone into a fantasy of beasts and blooms. And, best of all, you couldn’t see or hear the ocean at all. Caz revelled in the rare, peaceful moment.
Gradually a small, nagging feeling grew until he opened his eyes to realise that he wasn’t alone. He quickly sat up straight, “My lady. How may I serve you?”
Dowager Royina Ista settled into a comfortable chair and sighed in relaxation, “How goes it with you, my Lord Chancellor?”
“It goes very well. I didn’t think we’d take Visping so quickly. Now we have to hold all we’ve taken, and plan our next move. And you, Lady?”
“My task goes well. I hadn’t thought to be a saint again, but it seems to be working out this time.”
“Indeed. Your new God suits you better?”
“Very much so. He says we share the same sense of humour. And I… I don’t have to mind my speech, or my thoughts, with him.” She surveyed the man in front of her for a moment, “Do you miss it? Being a saint?”
“Not for a second. And… every moment. But I know I’ll see that glory again, in time. She’ll wait until it’s my time to join her again.” A shadow of yearning crossed his face for a moment, then he smiled, “And until then I have such glorious gifts in this world, I’m very fortunate.”
“As am I. The life I have now is something I never imagined.”
They sat for a while, sometimes speaking, sometimes silent. Sharing thoughts about sainthood and their dealings with the gods. It was perhaps fortunate that dy Cabon, the dowager Royina’s faithful divine, wasn’t nearby to add to his copious collection of saint-inspired notes. One day he would publish his life’s work, a treatise on sainthood. But the musings of the saints themselves could be a little misleading, and even too shocking, for the general public. Dy Cabon had realised, sadly, that saints themselves weren’t at all what he’d imagined.
Learned dy Cabon, divine of the Bastard, took a deep breath. He’d officiated at daily devotions in tiny shrines in the middle of nowhere, in venerable old temples in towns and villages, and even in a few cities along their way. He’d preached to royalty, to the highest in the land, and to men battle-weary and bloodied.
Despite all of that, this was the most nerve-wracking. He cleared his throat and looked at the faces around him – expectant, hopeful, carefully blank, disgusted, afraid, joyous.
And then he stepped forward and, for the first time in more than a century, a divine of the Bastard conducted the morning prayers in the temple in Visping, former heart of Quadrene Roknari territory.
“That’s the problem with eating demons,” said Ista, “Half an hour later you’re hungry again.”
“It’s from the Prince of Vardo,” said Bergon as he squinted at the flowing Roknari script, “He wants to know what our intentions are towards him and his country.”
Iselle smiled like a happy tiger, “Tell him we’ll let him know next year. In person. In his capital city.”
Foix smiled at Liss, “You said you’d give me an answer in Visping. We’re here. Well?”
Liss gave a very un-ladylike grin, “I was expecting something a bit more romantic.”
Foix pretended to frown, “I’ve brought you flowers, sweets, poetry…”
“But Foix… I was hoping for something a little more… ardent.”
“You’re a lady-in-waiting to the Dowager Royina. I have to follow the rules of etiquette.”
“Ah. Let me explain the OTHER rules to you….”
“Well, that’s something I didn’t expect.”
“Are you unhappy about it?”
“Not at all. I just… I’m about to become a grandmother again. Now I have to tell Iselle she’s going to have a little brother or sister the same age as her own child.”
“The Bastard is generous.”
“That’s one word for it.”
Cazaril watched his wife and son playing in the sunlight, laughing with Iselle and Bergon and little Isara. Once again he sent a prayer of thanks to his Lady. There were times when this path had seemed nothing but pain and ashes. Now he had more honours, more joy and more love than he’d known was possible. The Lady was indeed generous.
Maybe he should write another poem. Beatriz’s ear glowed in the sunlight.
Caz reached for a quill and some paper.