I’m so excited for the upcoming release of The Bloodforged that I can hardly stand it. So starting today, I’ll be posting brief excerpts every Tuesday. Enjoy!
WARNING: Contains spoilers for Book 1, The Bloodbound.
“Excuse me, Your Majesty,” said a smooth voice. Sirin Grey hadn’t spoken until now; Alix had almost forgotten she was there. Erik’s former intended sat perfectly poised, pale face composed, keen eyes unreadable. “Since we have decided that both you and His Highness will go abroad, might I enquire who will govern the kingdom in your absence?”
A question so fundamental that Alix couldn’t believe it hadn’t occurred to the rest of them until now.
“His Majesty intends to appoint me chancellor,” Highmount said, “to rule in his absence.”
Rig burst out laughing, bleak and humourless, fingers pinching the bridge of his nose as though to ward off a terrible headache. The other lords and ladies exchanged glances.
“That is not quite how I put it,” Erik said with a wry look at his first counsel. “I ask that this council serve as advisors to Chancellor Highmount throughout my absence. Decisions of importance will be taken by two thirds majority, not by fiat. The chancellor will not be ruling so much as presiding, much in the way First Speaker Kar presides over the Onnani Republicana.”
“Democracy?” said Lord Gold, looking very much like a man who has just discovered a rat in his soup.
Erik smiled faintly. “I wouldn’t go that far. I have always relied on the wisdom of this council. Chancellor Highmount will do the same.”
Alix pursed her lips to forestall an outburst she would regret. It was so very like Erik to portray all this as a minor affair, a trivial, cosmetic thing. Oh, I’m just abdicating for a while. Don’t fuss about it.
“I will have the details drawn up,” Erik continued, “and delivered to your chambers. Take the evening to read them, carefully. We will reconvene tomorrow, at which point you may address any questions or concerns to Highmount and myself. And now, my lords, all that remains is for me to thank you for your voices in this matter. I trust we are all comfortable with the decisions we have reached here today.”
Comfortable was surely a stretch; the council members looked more dazed than anything, as if they couldn’t quite believe what they’d just agreed to.
Erik rose, indicating the session was over. Chairs scraped across a taut silence. The council members bowed and took their leave. All except Rig and Liam, both of whom hovered over their seats, glaring at their king.
“Godwin,” Alix called, “please seal the doors.”
The four of them stood staring at each other as the guards shuffled out, the rustle of armour echoing off the walls. They waited until the doors sounded with a muted boom. Then they all started talking at once.
“Erik, you can’t—”
“It would have been nice if you’d—”
“Have you lost your—”
“Stop.” Erik raised his hands. When he was certain he commanded silence, he said, “I know you’re angry, but you all know me too well to imagine that I tabled this lightly.”
“You should have warned us,” Rig said. “The Broken Mountains, Erik? You can call it a diplomatic mission all you like, but you’re not fooling anyone. This is nothing less than a stealth incursion into hostile territory.”
“Yes,” Erik said, “it is.”
“Oh good, well I’m glad we cleared that up.” Rig took two ringing strides toward the door before whirling back around. “What are you going to do when you run into some glory-hungry tribesmen looking for easy prey? Not to mention the half a hundred other dangers of a mountain pass in springtime?”
Erik scowled. “Is this Riggard Black lecturing someone on taking calculated risks? You of all people?”
Rig blew out an oath, ran a hand roughly over his beard. “No. The fact is, I don’t see any way around it, either. I just wish it didn’t have to be you. Or my sister.”
“But it does, and we both know it.”
Alix steadied herself against the heavy oak table and drew a deep, calming breath. Erik and her brother were right; there was no alternative, at least none any of them could see. Still . . . “It could hardly be a worse time for you to leave the capital,” she pointed out. “The White Ravens might be broken, but that doesn’t mean we’re out of danger. The nobility is divided.” That was putting it politely. The families that had thrown their lot in with Tom and Roswald Grey had been punished, some of them harshly. Scions in prison, lands confiscated, fines levied . . . Some of them, surely, would be only too happy for a chance at revenge. “What if your enemies use the opportunity of your absence to try to wrest control?”
“Why do you think I’ve delegated so much power to the council? Now each of those lords and ladies has a personal stake in maintaining the current order. If one begins to gain supremacy, he does so at the expense of the rest. They will keep each other in check.”
Or they will ally against you. Alix didn’t bother to say it aloud. Erik knew the risks better than anyone. But here again, he had no choice.
“Let me come with you,” Liam said. “The Pack can protect you.”
Erik shook his head. “We’ve discussed this. I need you in Onnan. That fleet is everything. You must find out what the delay is.”
“How am I supposed to do that? ‘Hey, look, chaps—I see your problem.’” Liam pointed at an imaginary spot in the air. “‘The thing hanging from the other thing is loose, see? There you go—problem solved.’”
“I haven’t told you everything,” Erik said. “There are certain details I did not wish to make public before the council.” He threw a look at Alix.
“Ambassador Corse wasn’t telling us the truth,” she said, keeping her voice low. They were alone, supposedly, but one could never be too careful. The ears at court were notoriously keen. “Not all of it, anyway. His whole manner was off. Whatever’s holding up the fleet, it’s not a technical problem. I’d bet my eyeteeth on it.”
“It’s almost certainly a political issue of some kind,” Erik said.
Liam scowled. “Well, that’s a relief. Here I thought I was being sent to fumble my way through something I know nothing about.”
“You are a prince, Liam. Politics is in your blood. You’ll have to get used to it.”
The anger drained from Liam’s eyes, replaced by a resigned look. “I know. I just wish it didn’t have to be today.”
Erik flashed an anaemic smile. “We all wish a lot of things, brother. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a letter to write to His High Lordship King Omaïd.” Alix started to follow, but Erik waved her off. “You can join me in my study later. The two of you should take some time together.”
There will be little enough to come. The words hung, unspoken, in the air.
Rig swore quietly. “That’s it, then. My king off to try to sneak through enemy territory, my prince exiled to a political viper’s nest, and Albern sodding Highmount left in charge. Did I miss anything?”
“Just those thirty thousand enemy soldiers at our doorstep,” Liam said.
“Blessed Farika.” Rig headed for the door, shaking his head. “We’ll be lucky to last a month.”