The Seer – Snippet 47
Restarn had to name her, formalize the transition. Soon. How to get him there?
Innel could not, he now realized too clearly, let Cern name him lord commander. When the king was healthy and active it would have been clear that Cern had made the appointment with Restarn’s tacit consent, but if she did so now, everyone would think she was trying to grab the throne out from under him while he lay ill, which would open the door to challenges they could not yet face.
She might be the heir-apparent, but he was still the mutt.
He must get Cern to the throne.
At Innel’s direction, the doctor began to intercept the king’s advisers, explaining to them that he needed rest with no disturbances and hinting that there was a chance the disease was contagious. The king’s visitors quickly dwindled down to none.
No advisers, no servants.
No beautiful blond slaves.
Only the doctor, who Innel continued to watch for signs of disloyal behavior. He made sure she knew how well cared-for was her grandson in House Eschelatine, and that there was a position for her with the new monarch, but only if the old one did not die unexpectedly.
Innel now stood outside the king’s door, having decided it was time to see him. The doctor ran a hand through her hair, cut traditionally short, pink scalp showing through dark strands to demonstrate how healthy she was. For the sake of the listening guards, she explained to Innel that the disease might be contagious.
“My devotion to His Majesty will protect me,” Innel answered, loud enough to be heard. Then more softly: “You have all the herbs you need, yes?”
Inside, the room stank of illness.
“I’m sorry, ser,” the doctor said at his expression. “Perhaps we should open some windows.”
The windows were shut, heavy drapes across them, keeping it warm against the winter. But now it was spring.
“The princess would not want to further risk his health with the cold air.”
Cern, he suspected, would be happier yet if her father were bricked up in deep dungeon cell to rot. But they needed him alive, at least for now.
The shape under the covers stirred, eyes coming half open in a wrinkled face. He stared intently at Innel.
“You may go,” Innel told the doctor. The doctor bowed to the king and left, closing the door behind her.
Restarn esse Arunkel. The man who across fifty-six years of rule had extended the empire from the Dalgo Rift to the ocean, united the warring provinces, and held the seas from Perripur to Chaemendi. Was it really possible he was now so frail?
Innel bowed. “Your Majesty.”
The eyes blinked, seemed to struggled to focus, found him. Innel felt himself tense.
“How do you feel, Sire?”
“You fool. How do you think I feel? Where’s Cern? She doesn’t visit. No one visits. This your doing, Innel?”
“She is busy, Sire. Taking on the essential work of governing the empire while you recover. It is a trying time for us all.”
“Yes, I’m sure it is,” Restarn said sourly.
“I’m certain she will have more time after the coronation.”
“Coronation?” Restarn frowned.
Anxiety sparked in Innel. Had the illness taken the king’s memory? Had he changed his mind?
“You directed the council to begin the process of crowning her, Sire –”
“I know that,” he snapped. “I’m sick, not stupid.” A coughing fit took him. When he was done his head fell back on the pillow, breathing hard from the exertion. He turned his head sideways to look at Innel.
“So you buried your brother and married my daughter.” He chuckled, then wheezed. “Not bad for the son of a down-city mapmaker and his wet-nurse wife. Aren’t you fortunate that I took your family in, all those years ago.”
Dragged them from their home, their family business given away.
“A mapmaker whom you made a general, sire,” Innel said quietly. “A hero, you told me.”
“But not so good for your brother, eh?” Restarn said, ignoring Innel’s words. “I was betting on Pohut, you know. Not you.”
Innel struggled to keep calm, forcing a smile to his face. “And yet, here I stand, Sire. Perhaps we could discuss some of your unwritten agreements with the Houses, so we could –”
“I can just see it,” Restarn continued, starting to look pleased, “you and Pohut galloping across the empire to ask a snot-nosed commoner brat to tell your fortune. Did you ask her for the blessings of the wind and the mercy of sea as well, while you had the chance?”
With effort, Innel kept his breathing steady, letting only a shadow of confusion show on his face.
“Yes,” Restarn said slowly, watching Innel closely and ignoring — or perhaps seeing through — his show of bemusement. “I know where you went. I knew the first time you fucked my daughter. I know every boy and girl she takes to her bed. What she likes, what she hates. You thought you could keep something from me?” He laughed, then coughed again, curled in on himself while his body was wracked with another fit. Then he wiped spittle from his lips, looked at Innel. “I know everything that happens in my palace.”
“Knew,” Innel said softly.
Restarn’s smile faded.
“I have taxed you enough, Your Majesty. I will leave you to rest.” He turned.
“Innel, no. Stay. What’s happening on the borders? Tell me.” Wheezing, the king struggled to sit up. “The Gotar rebellion. Sinetel. The Houses. This foul illness has kept me flat. No one tells me anything. I don’t even have my slaves. Stay and talk to me.”
Innel turned back. “There’s a rumor, majesty. About your mages.”
“I never had mages.”
“Rumor says otherwise.”
“My enemies seek to dirty my good name.”
“Then,” Innel said, backing a step to the door, then another, giving a small bow, “you’ll be pleased to know that there’s nothing happening in Sinetel and the Houses are still standing. Rest easy, Sire.”
The king’s eyes narrowed as he inhaled sharply, no doubt to say something, but instead he started coughing again. The pain showed on his face. He turned a furious glare on Innel. “I will not have it said of me that I used mages.”
“I have no desire to give voice to such filthy lies, Your Majesty.”
“Horseshit,” Restarn said. “Give me your oath, Innel. Not that it’s much, coming from a man who would kill his own brother, but I’ll take it anyway.”
At this Innel’s anger welled up hot from deep inside. He wrestled with it for a moment. Truly, the king deserved his admiration; even sick as he was, the man still knew the exact words that would infuriate Innel. “You have my oath,” Innel said evenly.
“They are rebelling in Gotar.”
Restarn hissed. “I know that.”
“The mages. Names. Details. Sire.”
Innel wanted to be sure that any mage he hired had not previously worked for Restarn.
The king glared at him a long moment. For decades this particular royal expression had often preceded extended executions. To see it thus was extraordinary. Like a rare view from a high, thin cliff ledge, sharp rocks and ocean churning below. Innel felt something like vertigo.
Then go in with all you have.
“Forgive my intrusion,” he said with a bow, backing to the door where he turned on his heel, took the handle, and pressed it until, in the silence of the room, there was an audible click.
“Yes, yes, all right. I’ll tell you what you want to know. You may want paper. I doubt your memory is as good as mine, even now.”
Innel turned back, his own anger transformed into hard resolve. “Test me.”
At this Restarn smiled wide. While his sunken eyes and pallid skin would not have looked out of place in any down-city street beggar, no beggar’s eyes could hold such arrogance. “Sit down, Innel. I miss our talks. Tell me what’s happening in my kingdom.”
Innel felt a cold trickle of uncertainty. Restarn was not yet out of the picture. He could still shake their plans if he had a mind to. “I had understood it was to be Cern’s kingdom, and soon, your majesty.”