Sometimes You Have To Be More Careful About What You Don’t Say Than About What You Do
“They’re perfectly safe as far as my master can tell,” said Cliff, looking at the necklaces Franz had mailed them.
“As far as he can tell?” Javier prompted, as Geoffrey took his. They were in a small room in an inn—not the Spongecake—that Giacomo and Dahlia had wanted them to teleport from to avoid a security risk to the castle.
“Well, it seems like Ronaldo didn’t make them on his own. They have magecraft in them. It’s a bit hard to find a mage to verify on short notice, but Master Gaston says we can trust Ronaldo.” Cliff shrugged. “Wizards can’t do teleportation magic, so he would have needed someone’s help.”
“I don’t like that we don’t know for sure,” Javier said, arm around Geoffrey. He didn’t like a lot of things about this, including that it was happening.
“It’s okay,” said Geoffrey. “I just put it on?”
“And take it off when you want to come back, yes,” said Cliff. “There are supposed to be only four, so if Prince Franz is there with anyone other than his companion, he lied to you.”
“Got it,” Geoffrey said. He sighed. “I don’t think he lied.” It was a tacky necklace on a gold chain that didn’t match the fancy outfit Giacomo had had made for Geoffrey to wear, but that was fine. He put it on. Nothing happened.
Javier was still holding his, looking nervous. “If Franz is there with anyone but Boey, we’re coming back right away.”
Geoffrey nodded. “Okay,” he promised. “We will. Cliff, we might be gone for a while. There are considerable platitudes and niceties involved in this kind of conversation. Don’t freak out if it’s a few hours.”
“Got it,” said Cliff. “I’ll try not to get too bored.”
“It’ll be really boring,” Geoffrey promised. “You’re lucky you’re not coming.”
Cliff blinked. “Did the king not tell you?”
“What?” Of course the king hadn’t told Geoffrey anything. But they couldn’t bring another person, Franz would leave.
“Your shirt. I wove a listening spell into it. So that I can report to him what you talk about.”
Geoffrey felt himself go cold. “Oh. He didn’t tell me because he didn’t want me to know, Cliff.”
“Oh.” Cliff didn’t look upset. “Oops. Anyway, I’ll be bored right there with you.”
“Right. We should go, Javier.” Shit. Not that Geoffrey had been planning anything, but now he felt like he couldn’t breathe. Giacomo really did come with him wherever he went.
“Okay.” Javier still looked nervous, but he put his necklace on. Instantly they weren’t in the inn anymore. There was a sensation against Geoffrey’s skull like he’d gotten through to the third hour of being drunk without actually drinking anything, but it passed much more readily than alcohol, leaving him standing in a stone-walled room done up in a hideous mish-mash of Dolovin and Kyainese styles in what was hopefully Yoel Fortress, the traditional meeting point whenever Kyaine and Dolovai were doing diplomacy that they weren’t sure wouldn’t end in bloodshed.
Franz DiGorre and his companion were already there. Franz was a short young man who managed to look tall, with tired eyes and slim cheeks, wearing green velvet with gold trim and a purple undershirt just showing through at his neckline. His buttons had trees emblazoned on them. Boey was taller than Franz, standing behind him a little, his hand on Franz’s arm. He was dressed in green and gold as well, though he was wearing a black and white cravat. They both had on necklaces matching Geoffrey’s.
Franz’s hand had been on his hip, but he straightened and turned to face Geoffrey. Geoffrey bowed.
“My prince,” said Geoffrey, giving a bow.
“Lord Geoffrey,” said Franz.
Geoffrey wasn’t a lord of anything, really. “Just Geoffrey is fine.”
“Then so is just Franz,” said Franz, as Geoffrey stood straight. “You remember my companion Boey?”
“I do. And this is Javier, if you haven’t met.” They had.
Franz nodded and sat down. There were three couches in the room, two facing each other. “Congratulations. I recall you were married to Janus DiCrawe a few months ago. I’m sorry I couldn’t attend.”
“It was a fairly rushed affair,” Geoffrey said. Franz’s platitude made it easier for him to slip into being what he was supposed to be. He hadn’t forgotten how to do it. “My brother couldn’t even make it. I hope we’ll all be able to make it to yours, though.”
“So do I,” said Franz. He waited until Geoffrey and Javier had sat themselves. Were they too close? Did Geoffrey look clingy? “What’s stopping you?”
Oh. That was it for platitudes already. Geoffrey could have used a few more. He took a breath. “The king-regent is a little concerned that you’re going to arrest him,” Geoffrey said. Cliff wouldn’t likely repeat every word he said to Giacomo, but he would notice if Geoffrey fucked around instead of saying the things on his script.
“I can’ t imagine why he’d think that after he tried to stage a coup,” Franz muttered, expression darkening. “I’m not going to arrest my own uncle at my own wedding. If that’s the concern, please carry back my sincerest desires not to continue escalating something that shouldn’t have been a conflict in the first place.”
“Okay,” Geoffrey said. He hadn’t thought to ask how powerful Cliff’s listening spell was. Could he hear Franz, too? “I can do that. I know that they all want to come. The queen and king, too.”
Franz was watching Geoffrey intently. He’d been raised from birth to look for weakness in people. No doubt he was seeing a lot in Geoffrey. “Not to throw sand in your family’s eyes, but your brother isn’t the king, my nephew is.”
Geoffrey nodded, while Javier shifted beside him. “Right. I know that. He knows that too. But your nephew is four months old and someone needs to rule for him until he can do it himself. Your sister is good at it.”
“I’m not surprised.” Franz looked even more tired suddenly. “I’m sorry about your father,” he said. “He shouldn’t have been caught up in all the mess.”
He should have died before the mess had started. . “Me too. But none of our parents should have been caught up in Stephan’s plans. They weren’t even his plans, you know. He was being manipulated by Ulrich Elderbyne and Margery DiCosst.” He shouldn’t have said that.
“So I’ve heard. It doesn’t matter. It’s over now.” Franz’s voice was icy.
It wasn’t over, and it was never going to be over as long as any of them were still alive. Geoffrey’s entire generation had plotted itself into a series of blood feuds before any of them were even married. That had to be a record or something. “Yeah. All we can do is try to be as good as they were at ruling the kingdom. Dahlia knows what she’s doing, Franz. She and Giacomo have effectively neutralized Hans since they got married. In a month or so they’re going to have the council overturn his regency entirely. They’re good monarchs and…and I know Dahlia has no intention of trying to usurp her nephew’s claim to the throne.” There, that was what he’d been supposed to say.
Franz was quiet, and Geoffrey couldn’t quite look at him, settling for an ugly vase on the table against the wall.
“You look tired,” Franz said. “How have you been doing since the coronation? I heard it wasn’t easy for you.”
Shit. Javier tensed. Geoffrey just shrugged. “It wasn’t, but politics is just theatre, you know that.”
“I also know that sometimes it gets more real than we’d like it to.” Franz’s voice was so quiet.
Geoffrey really didn’t want to talk about this and not just because it would get back to Giacomo that they had. “Can’t be helped. It’s our jobs.”
“It’s also our lives, and the people we work with are our families. When they hurt us…”
“Shut up,” Geoffrey said. Franz was going to fuck this up by being so fucking nice. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, and…” he trailed off when Javier’s arm slid around his middle. Right. He couldn’t fuck it up either. He had to be normal.
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” said a young man’s voice from behind Geoffrey. Blood was pounding in Geoffrey’s ears. “We have some coffee for you, my prince.”
Taking that second to compose himself, Geoffrey shook his head. He needed a way to get out of this. “Listen, this is silly. You’re acting like you can’t decide whether to invite them to the wedding. There’s about to be a DiGorre monarch in both Kyaine and Dolovai for the first time; if you don’t invite Dahlia to your wedding it’s going to be a line in every history book written from tomorrow until the world ends. The question isn’t whether you’re going to invite them, it’s whether they’re going to come. And they will, as long as they don’t have a reason to think they’re going to be in danger.”
A servant came around the table to pour coffee. He was maybe western Kyainese, it was a bit hard to tell, and had vitiligo on his face. Geoffrey watched him so he didn’t have to look at Franz. He was cute.
“Nobody is going to be in danger at my wedding,” Franz said, once the coffee was poured. “Trust me when I say that anyone who puts anyone in danger is going to regret it.”
Did he mean something by that? If he did, Geoffrey couldn’t parse it. Which hopefully meant Cliff couldn’t either. He hadn’t been raised by nobles, which had to mean he wasn’t as good at hearing conversations that were happening only in what wasn’t said. He had to be. “Okay. I’ll tell them that. They’ll come. They want to. Dahlia wants to.”
“I’d hope so, her whole family is here.” Franz sat back. “You come too. You and Janus.”
“Oh, no, I…”
“You are invited to the future queen of Dolovai’s wedding,” Franz said with a smile that looked easy. “You’ll come.”
Geoffrey sighed. Fuck. “Fine. I will convey your wishes to the queen and king.” Giacomo wouldn’t want him to come, he thought, if only because that wasn’t how he’d planned it.
Franz was smiling. “Good. Now. Let’s talk about something less serious. How is Hawk’s Roost? I never hear anything that isn’t espionage anymore. Tell me about Janus, I barely know him.”
Okay. Okay, that was fine. Franz was up to something, but Geoffrey could talk about Janus without giving away anything important. “I’ve never been to the south,” he said, clasping his hands. “Janus I think sometimes makes stuff up about what they do down there because he knows I won’t disagree with him. He keeps trying to convince me that they have this sport called cliff-fucking…”
Geoffrey stayed for another hour, trying to be as boring as possible.