EVERY DAY, AVESTINE heard petitions. City elders and wealthy tradesmen came asking favors or bringing complaints against each other. Peasants begged for seed or bread.
The life of a ruler had never been something she enjoyed. Let someone else manage the petty bickering. She preferred the action. Nevertheless, she managed to focus on duties.
Maybe it was what Rook said or maybe it was just time, but she felt more herself since Rook had returned. She acted like the queen of a wealthy land, although she still refused the trappings of royalty, except for a simple ring of gold for her head.
“We have thirty-five prisoners at Whisper Creek,” an official was saying, “and fever’s spreading. They’re good for nothing. Can’t work. Some can’t walk.”
“Why not execute them?” wondered Avestine.
The official smiled weakly, as if he wished he could. “None of their crimes warrant that, Excellency. It might create unrest among the surrounding villages if they find members of their families—some arrested for simple theft—put to death.”
“Of course.” Avestine nodded. “Any guards dead from fever?”
The official shook his head. “Not yet, but it’s a bad sight, Excellency.”
Gerard spoke up, “We could move the prisoners to Queenscourt.”
“And spread the fever iceward?” warned Rook.
“No,” said Avestine. “Finish off those who won’t live. Burn their bodies. Rook, you know the Gray Friars at Stargone Abbey. Talk to them. If there are any Second Order Brothers, they’ll tend to the survivors, right?”
“I believe that’s the Third Order, but the abbey should have all orders in residence.”
“And when the fever passes, I’ll send food and mules for the families who lost their men.”
“There are a number of women at the prison, too,” said the official.
It wasn’t unusual to have women locked up, but their stays were short. If family didn’t bail them out, some man who could use their services as maid, cook, or whore paid their debt. The official said three women had been at the prison for over two weeks. Such a story didn’t bother Avestine much, but she thought how it would have bothered Kami immensely.
She left her seat and walked with Rook away from the rest of the men in the room. They stood near a window that held a box of red flowers. Avestine took some time to enjoy the view. A warm breeze carried the sweet scent, an enticement to two bees that were dipping into the nectar.
“I don’t like having you away,” she said.
“It should be routine.”
“Don’t forget the women.”
“The ones in prison. Bring them back to the palace.”
“Aren’t you satisfied with Amilese?”
“I don’t mean that. Give them work. The gardens, the kitchen, whatever.”
“Just do what I tell you.” She turned to walk away but stopped. “And take Amilese. Leave her in Queenscourt.”
“I was under the impression that Amilese was particularly pleasing.”
“Are you going to question every order now?”
“Of course not.”
“You’ll have the chance to speak with the officials at Whisper Creek. Some citizens, too. See if there is any talk of incursions by Koledoon or Avjakar. Bring back all the rumors you can. We’ll sort them out.”
Later, after dinner, Avestine kept Rook at her table in her quarters. “When you’re gone, more Essanti might come,” she said. “I may have to kill them.”
“Keep them locked up until I return. If that’s all?” Rook seemed in a hurry to leave.
Avestine removed her robe and dropped it on a chair. “Stay through sunfall.”
Rook looked wary, and Avestine bristled. “That’s not a request.”
“You’ll be losing Amilese tomorrow. She was quite distraught to hear it.”
Avestine turned away. “I can’t trust her.”
“Trust is irrelevant.”
“I’ll decide what’s irrelevant.”
“Maybe I should point out that you found it irrelevant before.”
“There’s something more important to them than me.” When Rook remained silent, Avestine’s eyes narrowed and through a tight voice, she asked, “Is there something more important to you than me?”
“Of course not, Your Grace.”
She nodded approvingly.
“I’ve heard about the magic of opium,” said Rook. “Like being possessed by a demon some say.”
“Yes, well the girl will have to fight that demon alone. I have too many of my own, and if the prophecy is right, more to come.”
“I’ve heard Hamran shares that demon, too.”
“Your ears have gotten big.” She looked him over. “You wonder how I got Hamran to turn traitor to Koledoon? That’s how. Only now, I can’t trust him. He’s useless to me, but he brought a good number of men with him. It’s been a chore to keep an eye on the supplies. It seems one smoke and men lose their courage for everything but getting more.” Avestine stepped close. “Don’t even wonder, Essanti. I swear I’ll cut off your head, and we’ll both wait to see if Coth goes to the trouble of reattaching it again.”
Rook nodded with a distant gaze, as if he might be curious for such a test.
Avestine wasn’t sure she believed his story of resurrection, and yet she couldn’t dismiss his account. He had told her of his experience, shown her the long scar where his throat had been cut by Darklaw soldiers. He now wore a fitted collar that appeared as part of his military uniform.
He said, “I suggest a harem.”
“I don’t have one.”
“Exactly. Instead of sending the girl to Queenscourt, you could give her a chance to redeem herself.”
She stepped closer still. “If I want advice, I’ll ask for it.”
“It’s been fifteen years since you had one.”
Beautiful girls eager to please. No hunting the taverns for drunken women. She thought about it and relented. “Tell Amilese I won’t tolerate another mistake. One more chance. Tell Gerard to find a suite of rooms, and put him in charge of finding a Master. He’ll know the right man to trust with the key. You will give final approval on each girl.”
“If you give final approval, you won’t have to wait until I return.”
“Do you expect to be gone long?”
“I thought you would not wish to wait any longer than necessary.”
“Maybe you should just stop thinking.”
“Then what would you have me do?”
She considered his interest, but couldn’t match it with her own. “Sleep.”
Published in Darklaw |
Copyright © 2017 Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved. |