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The Morning After

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Morning arrives, and brings with it a pounding headache for Jon - King Jonathan. He lies there a moment, savouring the feeling, and gradually becomes aware of a rumbling sound in his chambers. Further investigation proves it to be his cousin (the good one), slumped over the desk.

Jon sets his jaw, and pulls himself up in bed. The power expended yesterday has taken a great deal out of him, and his muscles are screaming even at that small effort. He ignores them, however, and grabs one of his pillows, hurling towards the acting Prime Minister.

Gary jerks awake, and when he turns to face Jon, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, the new king repents. The heaviness in Gary's face tells of his restless night, one probably spent watchful in case any remaining rebels decided to take one last risk.

"Morning, Majesty," Gary mumbles, picking up the pillow, and Jon is acutely aware of how things have changed when the pillow is placed back on the bed and doesn't come flying back in his direction. "Allow me to fetch your clothes for you, and may I say I think you look most fetching in blue?"

Jon frowns at him. "Isn't that what we have-?" The words die on his tongue. Servants for. Clearly, everybody is still a suspect.

"Not today," Gary says tightly, and tosses clothes upon clothes onto Jon's bed.

"Gary, these are formal wear - no, Gary, I don't usually need two sets of breeches - Gary, step away from my clothes!"

Forgetting for a moment his bone-deep tiredness, Jon leaps to his feet, and fumbles for the bedpost just in time to keep himself from falling. Gary is there instantly, and he provides a better support than fashion adviser. Nothing is said as Jon uses his cousin's strength to help himself across the room; Jonathan understands Gary would rather he stayed in bed, just as Gary understands Jonathan would consider that a personal failure on his first morning as king of Tortall.

"Here we go," Jonathan says triumphantly, pulling out a white shirt and breeches. "It's not that hard." He hesitates, and Gary anticipates his needs once more, fastening buttons with such efficiency that Jon has no time to dwell on his own trembling fingers. "Did you want to borrow something?"

Gary smooths down his rumpled and torn Coronation outfit, and shakes his head. "No, thank you - Your Majesty. I don't need to worry about my royal breeches splitting every time I sit down."

Jon finds himself smiling, but the expression is short-lived as Gary suggests a walking stick. "No walking stick. No weakness. If we don't get a move on, I'm leaving you behind."

It is an empty threat as he needs to lean on Gary to make his way to the door, but he doesn't withdraw it, gritting his teeth and hoping that they come upon a healer soon.

Raoul is waiting outside the door, and shows signs of not having slept either, but he makes no complaints and simply falls into step behind the cousins.

"You look better with a cane," Jon comments over his shoulder, though it pains him to think of Raoul injured on his behalf. They have been together since they were children, and this is the loyalty he has won from them and how they suffer for it in return. "More distinguished."

"Thanks," Raoul answers, amusement in his voice. "I think I'm going to find this thing very useful indeed."

Seconds later, Gary trips and curses, and since Raoul is there to prevent Jon falling also, it is not difficult to deduce the uses Raoul has found for it already.

There is considerable comfort in having a giant at your back, even if you are having to shuffle down the corridor and said giant requires a walking stick (and isn't too stubborn to use one), and Jon is warmed by the actions of the people closest to him. Alanna is absent, but Jon would have ordered her straight back to bed if she had shown her face anyway, though he guesses that may not have been effective.

During their slow progression through the palace, Jon notices signs of activity; he had supposed people would be still in bed. He doesn't get a real idea of what is going on, however, until they reach the Entrance Hall.

People are everywhere, and there are piles of ruined furniture from the Coronation attack building up in the corner. What strikes him most, though, is that everybody is busy - in this time of turmoil and all the fear of the previous day, his people have found roles for themselves whilst their king slumbered. Pride threatens to burst through him, and he clutches at Gary, accidentally grabbing at his cousin's bandaged arm. "Take me to the Hall of Crowns."

Gary's eyebrows lift, but he acquiesces, and the procession starts towards the Hall of Crowns, pausing every few minutes to have his hand shaken or to enquire after somebody's health.

"People are remarkably well organised," Gary comments, and Jonathan suspects that he is regretting not being able to be in two places at once. "I wonder..."

He is not allowed to wonder for long, as more courtiers approach and demand the new king's attention. And then, finally, they reach the hub of activity, and none of them need wonder any longer.

It is the ladies, the ones who put more than he could have expected or asked for into the battle the previous day. They have commandeered the Great Hall, and now he understands a little more about why things are functioning so smoothly.

"You should be in bed," Lady Roanna, first to spot their entrance, says sternly. "All of you - Sir Raoul, if Duke Baird knew you were walking around on that leg...!"

Raoul mumbles his apologies, and Jonathan tries to hide his grin at the mountain being cowed, but he is unfortunately unsuccessful.

"I was reliably informed that you would sleep for a week, Jonathan, otherwise I would have sent Timon up to ensure you stayed in your room."

He smiles at her and releases his grip on her son to take one of her hands in both of his. "Aunt. How is my uncle doing?"

Her sharp eyes soften, and she cups her free hand to his cheek. "Well enough. I will send someone to the kitchens for food. Gareth, do go and change. You look ridiculous."

Gary ignores his mother, his eyes fixing on the emerging figure of Cythera of Elden. Roanna tactfully detaches herself as Cythera coaxes the walking wounded into seats. Jon captures her hand as she lets it linger on the chair arm he shares with Gary.

"Lady Cythera," he says in a low tone, hoping it invites her to speak equally softly. "I have the misfortune to have surrounded myself with ignorant men-" Raoul's cane accidentally slams down on his foot here "-and would appreciate it if you could update me on current palace events."

His gaze had been so intent on Cythera's that he hasn't noticed another joining their party. "Well, we have a new king," Thayet drawls.

Cythera pulls back, smiling, to reveal the Saren princess holding a tray of food.

Jon snaps his fingers. "I knew there was something I'd missed out on." There is a small thrill in her use of the word 'we', as though she truly counts herself as part of Tortall now.

Fortunately, Cythera takes pity on him, and he is not forced to repeat the question. "We are rebuilding, Your Majesty," she informs Jon, though her eyes are focused on Gary. "People wanted things to do, and we provided roles for them. Most of the knights have been clearing out the debris, determining what can be salvaged. Identifications have been taking place of the-" She pales, and Thayet works a hand free to give her companion's arm a comforting squeeze. "-bodies. Lord Wyldon and Mister Skylaw have taken out the pages and most of the squires."

"We feared Lord Wyldon would insist on training in a corner in the Great Hall, so he could keep an eye on his wife," Thayet adds with a conspiratorial smile. "We understand she is expecting - but she impressed on him that she would be much better left to her own devices, and is teaching Rispah how to embroider."

"The ladies are repairing the tapestries," Cythera explains. "As far as we are able."

"Apparently, traitors have a flagrant disregard for five hundred-year-old tapestries," Thayet says dryly. "You are distracting me from my purpose, however, which is to supply you with food. Or, those of you who are not still in yesterday's clothes."

It is enough to make both Raoul and Gary get to their feet, grumbling. Jon watches their exit from the room with a grin, which slowly disappears as Cythera melts into the background and Thayet takes Gary's place beside him.

"People will go to great lengths for kings they love," Thayet says, her eyes serious. "This is a good sign for you."

A bitter half-laugh escapes him before he can prevent it. "A better sign than yesterday."

"Yesterday was about Roger," Thayet reminds him, balancing the tray across her lap. Not 'the Duke', not 'your cousin', nothing to tie him to Conté, though Jon feels the connection more keenly than ever. "Now, I have rolls, and cheese, and fruit, and the opportunity to try everything first as your taster."

That surprises a real laugh from him, and he feels himself relax. Thayet has brought a peek at normal life to his day, and he feels fortified with the knowledge that he can do this. He will. "You mean to torment me whilst I watch you eat."

She tears off a strip of bread in answer, and chews it, her eyes glimmering with mirth. "This is delicious. Of course, in ten minutes, you will know that for yourself."

Jonathan pulls a face at her, trying his best to prevent his stomach from protesting how hungry it is as she samples the cheese. "I'm not sure having a princess for a taster is the best idea."

Thayet shrugs at him, her eyes guarded. "Are you worried about retribution from Sarain? I wouldn't if I were you. You know I wish to be a teacher, and not a princess."

She reminds him of it daily, but still, he can't help but hope he might persuade her otherwise. "I think we could all learn a lot from you," he says, but it is the wrong thing, and he can see her withdrawing into herself.

"I think you have learnt a great deal without me."

She bites her lip, and they fall into silence, until Jonathan bursts out with, "I wish I could be of use."

"And how are your embroidery skills?" she asks, with a gentle smile, as if reminding him that he is not fit for the carrying the men are doing.

He glances around the room, noticing how intent everybody is on their own task. "I can stitch up a wound," he offers.

"The wounds suffered here are far more complex than your measly skin-stitches," Thayet teases, getting to her feet and tucking the tray of food under one arm. She holds her other out for him. "Come, lean on me, and I will show you why you must not so much as touch a needle."

He tries to walk on his own, but swiftly admits defeat and reflects that Raoul has the right idea after all. However, walking around with Thayet proves no punishment, as she recites the history of each piece of cloth, adding anecdotes learned from the ladies around her, a large part of which is unknown to him.

"So, you see," Thayet finishes, once they have completed a tour of the room, "Each piece of material has its own personal history aside from the story it tells, and you do not want the next chapter of that personal history to be 'and then the idle King Jonathan, on the first morning of his reign butchered this piece of cloth through his own ineptitude'."

Jonathan holds his hands up in surrender. "My apologies, fair princess. I bow to your superior knowledge on this subject."

Thayet nods in satisfaction. "I, however, am able to be useful," she says, steering him back towards his seat, and placing the tray in his lap. "And I intend on making myself so, whilst you sit here and look pretty. It's excellent for the ladies' morale, you know."

She curtsies, her eyes twinkling wickedly, and returns to Cythera's side.