75. Ill Fate
Every evening, Kate was found in the library tower. In Egil’s absence, she had taken over many of his duties. She was not Quill’s apprentice in name, nor did he teach her everything a future King’s Quill needed to know; he paid her as an apprentice, though, making Kate rich among the kitchen girls. It also kept her busy from morning until bedtime and sometimes beyond.
“Are you done sweeping?” Quill asked.
“Yes, Master Quill.” Kate put the broom back into a cupboard.
He gave a glance at the water clock in the library hall. “Still early. You have time to practise your letters.” When she remained standing with an apprehensive look on her face, he frowned. “Something the matter?”
“My writing is so ugly,” she complained. “I couldn’t possibly write as elegant as you. I feel like I am wasting parchment.”
Quill gave a wry smile. “That is why I make you wash the writing away, so you can use the parchment again.”
“It’s still a waste of ink,” she spoke with gloom.
“Kate,” Quill spoke with a stern voice. “Do you think these hands were born with the skill to write?” He gestured with the aforementioned extremities. “I was apprenticed at a younger age than you and spent the better part of a decade before my master let me near any books with a feather pen.”
“Yes, Master Quill,” Kate said in surrender, going to the scriptorium.
Not long after, there was a soft knock on the door to the library. “Do you want me to open, Master Quill?” Kate called out.
“Keep that quill writing rather than look for excuses,” her master admonished her, answering the door himself. Outside stood a young nobleman in blue and brown colours; behind him stood a silent kingthane. “Prince Inghard,” Quill greeted him.
“Master Quill,” came the reply along with a courteous bow. “I concluded my reading and should like to procure another book.”
“Already? It is fortunate this library has so many volumes, considering the pace with which you devour them.”
“The best part of my brother’s new title is the access to the royal library,” Inghard jested with a gentle smile, stepping inside. His protector remained outside, gazing down the hallway.
Quill accepted the book from Inghard. “And what did our prince think of
Historie of the Thusund Eylands?”
Walking down the shelves, he returned the tome to its resting place.
“It was fascinating, from the saga of Eirik Wyrmbane and after,” Inghard replied. “The insight into Thusund and the importance of its fleet, from raiding to trading and so forth.”
“It was written by an islander, so take his word with a grain of salt,” Quill cautioned, smiling. “Still, I agree with your assessment.”
“Do you have another like it?”
Quill gave another smile. “I have many like it, but have our prince considered reading other material? I could suggest several books intended for the edification of young princes and future rulers.”
“That sounds too much like what my tutors want me to read,” Inghard revealed with a wry expression. “I want something with stories in it.”
Quill searched for a brief while. “How about the account of Sir Etienne and the fall of Tricaster,” the scribe suggested, handing it to Inghard.
The prince accepted the book and carefully opened to the first page. His face lit up into a smile. “This looks excellent! Thank you, Master Quill.”
“Enjoy,” the library keeper replied, watching Inghard leave; the prince was already reading as he walked, nearly stumbling into the kingthane waiting outside.
Some days after Konstans’ conversation with Theobald, the proposed changes had taken effect. This meant that when Valerie descended to the dungeons, she found two Red Hawks guarding the prisoners instead of Order soldiers.
“You can’t be down here, milady,” one of them began to speak.
“I am the daughter of Jarl Vale,” she cut him off. “I am here to speak to one of the prisoners.”
The Hawks exchanged glances. “Her father pays the silver,” one of them remarked with a shrug. The other got up and took the keys that were hanging on a nail on the wall.
“Not much lord left in him,” snickered the guard sitting down.
The other Hawk unlocked the doors into Isenwald’s cell. “Leave us,” Valerie commanded. Once alone in the hallway, she hastened inside the cell. Isenwald rose clumsily, being hindered by his chains. As she raised her hand holding a candle, the flickering light fell upon his face, which looked feverish in its paleness. Valerie recoiled at the sight.
“You should not come here,” he admonished her. Nothing but hopelessness marked his expression.
“On the contrary, I should have come long ago. I wanted to give my father time to forget his anger towards us, but that was a mistake,” Valerie admitted ruefully.
“You should not be here,” he merely reiterated, sitting down and looking away.
She found a seat on the squalid bed next to him; he shook his head, refusing to look at her. “I have not given up pleading for leniency in your case.”
“Valerie,” he muttered while staring at the stonewall. “What good will come from – instilling false hope? The penalty for treason is – death, nothing else.”
“Isenwald, you warned me and my family. If not for you, I would be where you now sit.”
“Knowing that, I can accept my fate.”
“My father will see that you deserve mercy,” Valerie argued forcefully.
He finally turned to look at her. “My father always tried to teach me how to rule. I never learned much, but this – I know. If your enemy – is at your mercy, you – do not show any mercy. You finish – it.”
“My father is different from yours,” Valerie pointed out. “Not to cast aspersions on your father,” she added.
“No need,” Isenwald smiled without mirth. “He has – done that to himself better than any – one else could.”
“There is another way,” she spoke hesitantly. “I am to wed Prince Hardmar.” Isenwald stared at her speechless. “In this new position, I am confident I can secure a pardon for you.”
“Congratulations,” he spoke at length.
“Do not be angered,” Valerie implored him. “It may save your life.”
“I am not. As queen, you will be safe. I am happy to hear this.”
“You do not have to pretend with me.”
“Please,” Isenwald pleaded. “Knowing – I sit here and not you – is all the solace – I have. My brother and my uncle, the people – dearest to me besides you, are fated to – die. I will never see my mother’s face again. My – only defence is to avoid thinking, to have the – days pass swiftly and hope this ends soon. Do not make me hope, do not make me think.” He took a deep breath, staring at Valerie with his large eyes, having possibly spoken more words in succession than ever before in his life.
Valerie, on the other hand, sat in silence for a long time. “As you wish,” she finally remarked. “Given what I owe you, I can only respect your wishes. Is there nothing I can do for you, then?”
“Write a letter to my mother,” Isenwald instructed her. “Tell her – I met my fate with – honour, as a son – of – Isarn. Tell her she can be proud – of me and not to weep for me, for – I regret nothing.”
“I will,” Valerie promised. She placed her hand on his cold, damp cheek, making him lean into her touch. “I am also proud of you, Isenwald of Isarn,” she told him, leaning forward to kiss his lips. Before he could react, she got up and left the cell.
Theodwyn was holding court as usual in her parlour, surrounded by handmaidens and noblewomen, when her brother strode through the room; he went straight from the corridor to his chamber. All the women except Theodwyn hurried to stand, many of them bowing as well with various degrees of servility, whereas the jarl barely afforded them a glance. Once he had passed, the women sat down and resumed conversation, except for Holwyn, who left to follow her master to his room.
“How did it go?” she asked, closing the door behind her.
“Marcaster’s disdain for northerners has only grown more pronounced ever since he was Athelstan’s captive,” Theodoric remarked while removing his outer clothing, making himself more comfortable. “He could scarcely contain it in my presence.”
“Did his disdain close his ears or tongue?”
“Possibly.” The jarl gave a shrug. “He was hard to read, but I think he is considering currying favour with our new prince. I did not press the subject. If he is on that path already, I might send him off course by prodding him.”
“That is one gap in Vale’s southern alliance,” Holwyn commented.
“Not enough if he can rely on Ingmond.” Theodoric rubbed the bridge of his nose. “We need to make enemies of Vale and Ingmond.”
“I have my sources within Ingmond’s household, but they reveal little,” Holwyn informed him. “The jarl refuses to see anyone. He seems utterly indifferent to everything. His chamberlain and his steward make all decisions in his stead.”
“His grief consumes him,” Theodoric considered. “Perhaps we should remind Ingmond that Vale was warned about Isarn’s plot and fled Middanhal beforehand, yet left Ingmond and his family behind. In some ways, Vale could be considered responsible for the death of Ingmond’s family.”
“That would have to be suggested very delicately,” Holwyn cautioned.
“Of course,” Theodoric replied brusquely. Outside the room, they could hear Theodwyn explain in detail her examination by the court physician, his concern for her deteriorating health in these stressful conditions, and how she had been mandated to take a walk each evening in the fresh air to stimulate her heart. “Gods, if only my sister would spend all waking hours elsewhere,” he muttered. “Something else,” he added abruptly.
“I met Valerian’s daughter at Marcaster’s home. She is friends with his daughter, I think.”
“Lady Valerie? What of her?”
“She approached me in the corridor when we were alone. She asked my opinion on the Isarn prisoners.”
Holwyn frowned as well. “It was Lord Isenwald who warned her of his father’s plot. Presumably there is affection between them.”
“Ill-fated affection,” the jarl added with a touch of scorn. “I got the impression she wanted to know if I might oppose their execution once the Adalthing convenes.”
“The girl is a dreamer,” Holwyn remarked with a sardonic smile.
“She is, but her father is lord protector, she will wed our crown prince, and that gives her influence. Keep watch of her.”
“I imagine one of her servants will not mind earning some extra silver,” Holwyn speculated.
“Not too much. Paying all these spies is ruining me,” the jarl complained.
“You can’t put a price on knowledge,” his servant smiled.
“You can,” Theodoric replied dryly. “In this case, the price is ten silver a month at most.”
“You old miser,” Holwyn grinned.
“The emissary of Duke Belvoir asked me to relay that he needs to be seen by you soon, preferably today,” Eolf informed his master.
Konstans looked up from his desk with a tired expression. It was long past sunset on this particular day, and the dragonlord had barely left his study since morning. “Tell him I will see him now. But give me a few moments first,” he instructed the servant. Eolf nodded and left. Once alone, Konstans poured himself a healthy amount of wine into his cup and emptied it immediately.
The envoy entered soon after, wearing his customary broad smile. “My lord Konstans,” he spoke in greeting, followed by an elaborate bow.
“Master Guilbert,” Konstans replied, gesturing to a seat. “I thought you intended to stay in Middanhal until past the Raven Days, yet now you require an audience with all haste?”
“Forgive me if misplaced words have caused any offence.” Guilbert was swift to adopt an apologetic expression. “I meant no lack of respect by assuming my news would be of urgent interest to your lordship.”
“What news?” Konstans frowned, and his hand moved towards the wine jar before he stopped himself.
“A letter from my master. The duke has been told by King Rainier to bring his army to Fontaine once the Raven Days are over. The king no longer merely wants my master to prepare arms and soldiers. He has commanded the duke to march out.”
Konstans’ brow was knitted in thought. “To Fontaine, you say.”
Guilbert nodded. “Which also means that King Rainier does not target Tricaster.”
“Because Fontaine is the opposite direction of Tricaster, so if your duke is to march away from his home, it must be to target Herbergja,” Konstans concluded.
“That is also the result of my master’s considerations,” Guilbert explained with a worried look. “There is still time for you to decide whether you would support my master in his endeavours to safeguard the Realms,” the envoy continued without elaborating what those endeavours might be. “If not, Duke Gaspard will be forced to follow the commands of his liege. There is still time,” he reiterated, “but not much.”
“I understand,” Konstans replied. “Thank you for informing me.”
“Merely my duty.” Guilbert’s smile returned as he stood up and bowed before the dragonlord, taking his leave. Konstans remained sitting in his chair, twirling an hourglass between his fingers while staring out the window upon a dark, cloudy night.