The Seer – Snippet 45
That would make for some very interesting social events the next two evenings. Innel could imagine fights breaking out among Houses at taverns and pre-wedding celebrations, reflecting quiet arrangements made in the shadows about who should infuriate whom and how much, and what they would get in return for such efforts. The Houses could be impressively cooperative when they wanted something badly enough.
Innel had been granted only two invitations, one each for his mother and sister. He would have been insulted if there had been anyone else to invite, not already on the list. There wasn’t.
His mother had been profoundly relieved when he handed her the threefold envelope, expression as near pleasure as he had seen. For a moment it almost seemed she would look at him.
Cahlen, of course, didn’t care. He must remember to have someone dress her, in case she decided at the last minute to come anyway.
“I was in the Cohort,” he said to the seneschal. “You may have heard. I spent my life studying the damned Houses.”
The seneschal handed more papers to Srel, who exuded his usual calm. Innel again made a mental note to buy something extravagant for Srel as soon as he had the means.
“Do not swear. Not about the Houses, not about anything. Not until your wedding night, and then only if it pleases Her Grace the Princess that you do so. Do you understand me?”
Innel clamped down on the many replies that leapt to mind.
Don’t push until you must.
“Now — attend to this map. It shows the locations of all the Houses in the Great Hall –”
“Because I won’t be able to tell who they are by their colors?” He could feel himself losing his patience. He looked at Srel, who was smiling faintly, as if everything were right with the world.
“Because, ser Royal Consort-to-be, I have worked very hard to achieve an equal count and arrangement among both Greater and Lesser Houses. Who stands next to whom is no accident. The ordering of the presentation of gifts was harder to arrange than the Charter Court’s opening day feast — no trivial matter that, and I have arranged three of them in my life — and you will learn the locations of the Houses so that you know what to expect and when.”
Innel clenched his teeth against what he wanted to say.
The seneschal seemed, for a moment, to be out of breath. He inhaled, then handed the last sheet to Srel with a pointed look, as if he would hold Srel personally responsible for any mistakes.
Then, to Innel: “The tailors will be in shortly to measure you.”
“Again? Do you jest?”
“Never. Innel, do attend carefully to my next words: she can divorce you far more easily than she marries you. Watch where you put your feet.”
He felt himself warm at this condescension and wondered what the man would think when Innel was made Lord Commander.
When Cern was queen there would, Innel resolved, be a new seneschal. And perhaps a new kitchen scullery boy as well.
For now, though, he would comply.
“I will step only where and when I am told to, seneschal.”
On the day of the his wedding Srel woke him at the fourth bell, in full dark, a lamp in his hand, and presented Innel with a message sealed with the king’s mark.
A shot of apprehension went through Innel. He ripped it open, his mind dancing across various possibilities, read it once, read it again, and handed it to Srel.
A strange, bitter feeling settled over him.
“Congratulations, ser Colonel.” Srel looked at him. “You are disappointed?”
The smallest possible promotion. In time to prevent his daughter marrying a captain. Barely.
Having had the lord commandership dangled in front of him made this seem a meager achievement, where it should have felt a victory. Innel wondered if that had been the king’s real intention, to keep Innel wanting more than he could have, with no plan of ever passing the throne to his daughter, or letting her make Innel lord commander.
But how long could the man keep ruling? His famous grandmother Nials esse Arunkel had stayed on the throne until she found someone she wanted to succeed her: her grandson Restarn. She had passed over her own children and their generation, dismissing them as unsuitable, then passed over Restarn’s older siblings as well. She stayed tight by her grandson’s side while he secured his throne, alive and active in palace politics until she was well over a hundred.
A long time.
And while it seemed unlikely, Restarn could still name someone other than Cern to succeed him.
Srel moved around the room with the ease of a silverfish, selecting underclothes for Innel, setting out various jewelry for the ceremony.
As he looked out the window at the late winter snow, he asked Srel: “Do you think it’s too late for him to cancel it again?”
“Entirely too late, ser.” Srel smiled, a rare expression on the small man.
It occurred to Innel only now that his steward had been waiting for this day nearly as long as he had.
In short order Innel’s room began to fill with people. Houses Sartor and Murice had both sent so many people to dress him that they could not all reach him at once. The Houses clearly wanted to make their mark on his outfit and began sniping at each other about matters of buttons and tucks.
Finally Innel growled, “I can rip it all off and let you sew it back on.”
After that they were more polite. Another hour went by with needles and other sharp objects moving around him, making Innel even more testy. All this in order to adjust an outfit that looked much the same to him as it had an hour ago.
When at last they left he was rushed to one of the Great Hall’s antechambers to wait.
Like a working animal, he thought, not liking it much. He stepped out into the hallway and found a door that opened to the Great Hall, prying open a crack to look through. For a moment all other thought fled his mind.
In the hall stood a thousand murmuring aristos, packed tight in knots of House colors, each jacket and glove, cravat and earring bright in appropriate hues, long hair swept into elaborate towers draped with chains and sparkling gemstones. In stance and expression he could read the strains and linkages between the Houses.
In the galleries above, royals sat up front, the Lesser Houses standing behind. From the banisters draped chains of the various metals from which Arunkel derived wealth, red and black flowers woven through.
It came to him then that this whole event was going to cost the king a very great deal. It was an immensely satisfying thought.
The mutt was worth something.
Then the ceremony began. First a speech by the king about the necessary patriotism of every Arunkin, then a list of the accomplishments of the Anandynar line and a summary of the history of the empire. For a time it seemed he intended to discuss every one of the nine-hundred eighty-three years.
Next, loud, brassy music from the corners of the room, followed by a long and quite tedious gift ceremony for which Innel was ready with his practiced nods.
Next, the vows, which were impressively one-sided, with Innel promising his loyalty to the king, the royal line, the empire, the Houses, and finally to Cern, while the princess offered in return the vague possibility that Innel would be allowed to come near her from time to time.
The important part, though, was when the king said the final words.
“It is done.”
And then, like that, Innel was married into the Anandynar line. Children, if Cern and he ever had any, would be legal heirs with a chance at the throne. He himself was now an almost-royal.
One more rung up the ladder.
For a moment, before he and Cern were swept out of the hall and into the now-crowded antechamber, he thought he saw his brother in the back shadows of the halls. The ache he felt within took a bite from the victory.