Noble, 5

The Best Threats Are the Ones You Don’t Even Have to Utter

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“You’re a difficult person to get an audience with, my regent,” Geoffrey said, bowing before Hans DiFueure. He sat regally on the throne, where, apparently, he nearly always took in people who wanted to see him. Francesca and Geoffrey’s father had often met in a sitting room. Geoffrey had used to meet Stephan in hallways, or in his bedroom.

Of course, Francesca and Gerhard had been friends, and Stephan and Geoffrey had been fucking. Still, Geoffrey couldn’t help but note the difference in tone.

“My apologies, Geoffrey,” Hans said, inclining his head to show Geoffrey how deep and sincere his apologies were. “I’ve been very busy, as I’m sure you can understand.”

“Of course. I know how time-consuming running the kingdom can be. I only require a few minutes of your time today.”

“Your family’s loyalty buys you far more than a few minutes, Geoffrey.”

Geoffrey wanted so badly to remind Hans that he had a title too. But that would come later. “I was wondering if we might speak in private for a few minutes, my regent?” There weren’t a lot of people in the throne room, mostly just servants and guards. And Jorge and some central noble whose name Geoffrey had to take a minute to remember. Delia DiGaan, that was her name. Hans’s dead wife’s cousin. Her grandmother had also been married to Francisca DiGorre’s aunt, Geoffrey thought. And here he’d been at his dinner party thinking the eastern nobility was incestuous.

Hans shook his head sadly, waving away Jorge before he could whisper something in his ear. He’d not come forward with anything like an apology for Giacomo, Geoffrey thought. He hoped Jorge knew that Hans wasn’t going to be able to protect him if he didn’t produce one in the next few days. “I’m afraid my schedule doesn’t permit that, Geoffrey. I try not to take any secret meetings if I can avoid it, to avoid people getting the wrong idea about me, you see.”

Geoffrey nodded. “Of course. In that case, the throne room suits me fine, my regent.”

“I appreciate your understanding. What can I do for you?”

“I have a message for you,” Geoffrey said. “From my cousin Henry.”

Hans was sitting straight-backed on the throne, but that seemed to make him sit up. Both Jorge and Lady Delia noticed, which was good. Geoffrey tried not to smile. “Henry Arkhewer?” asked Lady Delia, looking from Geoffrey to Hans.

Geoffrey nodded, answering before Hans could. “The very same. He and his husband are eager to hear from you.” The fact that Henry was apparently married to the Sorcerer King now was useful for Geoffrey. “They regret that your first message to them must have been lost, for they never received it. They ask that you relay messages to them through me in the future, as we have more secure channels for getting messages out east, and want me to let you know that they plan to do the same.”

Hans’s face grew more and more drawn as Geoffrey spoke. “Is that so?” he asked, after a second.

“It is,” Geoffrey told him. “I’ve been thinking it might be nice to invite them to the capital sometime, since they’re the only nobility not here. It would be a powerful gesture to the people of Ech’kent to show that we’re taking seriously their inclusion in greater Kyainese politics again.”

Delia DiGaan snorted. “The people of Ech’kent don’t want to be included in greater Kyainese politics.”

That was true. Geoffrey smiled at her. “I’m sorry, Lady Delia. What part of Ech’kent do your lands border again? Mine are on the southern end, containing the only road leading into the plateau. Not to say that makes me more knowledgeable about the territory, of course. I just didn’t realize we were neighbours.”

Lady Delia’s lands covered a swath from the southern end of the Shrike’s Lake to the River Nyl, nearing two thousand kilometers from the plateau, and she didn’t answer.

“Enough,” said Hans, waving a hand. “Thank you, Geoffrey. If you’d tell Lord Henry that I will write him soon.”

“I will, my regent. I’m sure he’ll appreciate knowing you remember him. He might be the first Arkhewer in decades to be truly interested in good faith communication with us.” Geoffrey smiled. He didn’t have to do this, but it was fun. “Or at least that’s the impression I get judging by how heavily he and his husband backed you in your quest to dethrone the usurper.”

“Their backing was nothing more than wanting to see a DiGorre monarch on the throne again,” Hans said gruffly, shifting now. “They provided me no more aid than anyone else.”

“Of course,” Geoffrey said, bowing. It didn’t matter what he said. Geoffrey had no doubt that rumours would spread from this. Delia wouldn’t keep quiet. “In any case, I’ll tell them to expect your letter soon. Thank you for your time, my regent.” He turned and headed to leave.

“Lord Geoffrey,” Hans’s voice rang out, when he was about halfway to the doors. Geoffrey smiled, and turned around. “As you’re here, I’d been meaning to address a problem.”

“A problem, my regent?” Geoffrey asked innocently. Whenever he lamented Giacomo’s everything, he had to remember that his brother had learned most of it from him in the first place.

“A representation problem, on the council,” Hans said. Beside him, Jorge looked alarmed. “It occurs to me that in my appointments I neglected to populate the council with someone from the east.”

“Had you?” Geoffrey asked, blinking. “Now that you say that, I suppose you’re right. If you’re looking for a candidate to fill the spot, I’d suggest my aunt Tanya, or Danai DiRocce. They’re both very qualified.”

“I want you to do it, Geoffrey,” Hans said.

Geoffrey shook his head, working his best not to smile. “Given my history with the usurper, I’m not sure how public perception will…”

“I will worry about public perception,” Hans said.

“My regent, I must advise against…”

“Be quiet, Jorge.” Hans stood up. “Lord Geoffrey, your kingdom needs your service. Will you help me?”

Putting on a solemn expression, Geoffrey bowed again. “If you insist, my regent.”

“Good. I will see you tomorrow afternoon, then. You’re dismissed.” Hans sat back down.

“Thank you, my regent,” Geoffrey said, and he left the throne room. No doubt Hans was in there right now telling Delia and Jorge that putting Geoffrey on the council had been his way of controlling Geoffrey so he didn’t go around spreading unpleasant rumours.

Let him do that. Geoffrey headed home to write a letter to Henry while he waited for Giacomo to get back from wherever he was with Darius DiFueure. It was too late to do damage control.

Because House DiSheere was not going to be controlled.

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