Face to Face Meetings Reveal Things that Letters Often Don’t
“So I just take this off when I’m ready to come back?” Franz asked, touching the necklace Ronaldo had given him.
“That’s correct, my prince,” said Ronaldo. “I confess the spellwork is somewhat beyond my ken. As you know, wizards are incapable of teleportation magic. But it has been crafted and vetted by mages I trust, and I have tested it myself. When you put it on, you shall be transported to the room where you shall meet with Lord Geoffrey, and when you take it off, you shall be returned here instantaneously.”
‘Here’ was a room at the mages’ academy, because it had been deemed too much a security risk to teleport directly into or out of the castle, which seemed reasonable to Franz. “Okay. How much time do we have?”
“We should go now,” Boey told him. “It’s only a few minutes before the time we worked out with Geoffrey.”
“One more note, my prince,” Ronaldo said, holding up a hand. “The four necklaces are linked together, to avoid any shenanigans. If you, Boey, Lord Geoffrey or Javier should take your necklace off, all four of you will be returned home simultaneously, and the spell will be exhausted.”
Franz sighed. This really was way more effort than had been necessary. They should have just talked over a stone like he’d done with Ignatius that one time. Ronaldo said he knew Dahlia’s new court wizard Gaston Soularcher and that he was a trusthworthy sort. Sort of what, Franz didn’t know, but sort of something. “Okay,” he repeated. “Thank you. And thank you for agreeing not to come.”
“I still believe…”
“That it would be prudent to arm me with the greatest weapon of them all, being caution,” Franz said, repeating Ronaldo from two hours ago. “I know. But we agreed, just him, me and our companions. I know you don’t agree, so thank you for agreeing anyway.”
Ronaldo appeared disconcerted, but he nodded. “Of course, my prince. I trust you know best.”
Franz did not, but Geoffrey was supposed to be an ally. His brother was married to Franz’s sister. The whole reason for marriage alliances like that was so people didn’t stab each other at meetings. “Let’s go,” he said. He put the necklace on, watching Boey do the same.
The most profound dizziness Franz had ever felt swept over him. He felt like he was spinning in one direction and the world in another, turning everything in every direction at once. And then it passed, and he fell on his ass onto a nice carpet in a well-appointed room done up in red and blue, with soft furniture made from reddish wood, against stone walls that had been painted brown. They were in Yoel Fortress, over a week from Three Hills or Hawk’s Roost.
Boey got up and helped Franz stand. “Next time we’ll teleport standing up,” he suggested.
“Or make the mages target their spells to the room’s furniture,” Franz muttered, rubbing his now-sore ass.
“At least they’re not here yet.”
Franz sighed, looked around the room. “Hopefully they’ll be here soon. I’d rather we could all avoid the annoying game of making each other wait for hours.”
As he said that, there was a quiet pop and two more people appeared in the room with them. Geoffrey DiSheere was hard-jawed young man with curly hair and dark eyes, wearing tight-fitting pants and a loose shirt both in a red so dark it looked black, with a bright red broacaded through his shirt along with yellow and white, threading into a sleeping snake around his collar, obscured by a golden necklace identical to Franz’s. His companion Javier was darker in complexion, his Fury Plateau heritage most obvious in his cheekbones and eyebrows, wearing simpler, lighter clothes with the same colours in panels on the sides of his pants. He was wearing a necklace too, and the same snake on a pin over his breast.
Franz had always thought House DiSheere’s viper sigil was a bit tacky, but nobody in Kyaine cared about sigils for anything other than sealing letters anyway. It was much more a Dolovin thing. Franz often had to think about it to remember which kind of hawk was on House DiGorre’s sigil.
“My prince,” said Geoffrey, giving a bow.
“Lord Geoffrey,” said Franz.
“Just Geoffrey is fine.”
“Then so is just Franz,” said Franz, indicating Boey. “You remember my companion Boey?”
“I do. And this is Javier, if you haven’t met.”
They had, but Franz nodded, taking a seat. “Congratulations,” he said. “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. “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 while Geoffrey and Javier sat on the sofa opposite them. “What’s stopping you?”
“The king-regent is a little concerned that you’re going to arrest him,” Geoffrey said. He seemed uncomfortable. Did he think Franz was up to something?
“I can’ t imagine why he’d think that after he tried to stage a coup,” Franz muttered. Working with the Sorcerer King and refusing to relinquish power were pretty good reasons to arrest someone. “I’m not going to arrest my own uncle at my own wedding,” he said. “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. “I can do that. I know that they all want to come. The queen and king, too.”
Franz nodded, watching Geoffrey’s face. “Not to throw sand in your family’s eyes, but your brother isn’t the king, my nephew is.”
Javier looked worried, but Geoffrey nodded. “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.” God, had it only been four months? It felt like so much longer. “I’m sorry about your father,” he said. “He shouldn’t have been caught up in all the mess.”
Geoffrey looked down. Javier took his hand. “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.”
“So I’ve heard.” Conveniently, both of those people were dead and couldn’t defend themselves. “It doesn’t matter. It’s over now.”
“Yeah.” Geoffrey sighed, looked around the room. “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…” he hesitated. “And I know Dahlia has no intention of trying to usurp her nephew’s claim to the throne.”
Dahlia didn’t, Franz thought. That was a hell of a slip of the tongue. Geoffrey still wasn’t looking at him. Boey touched Franz’s leg.
Unless it hadn’t been a slip of the tongue. “You look tired,” Franz said. “How have you been doing since the coronation? I heard it wasn’t easy for you.”
Javier tensed. Geoffrey shrugged in a way that didn’t look nearly as natural as he clearly wanted it to. “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.” Geoffrey wasn’t acting like someone who’d only pretended to get hit. Helena said there’d been a riot in Hawk’s Roost after his punishment and that he’d barely gotten home alive.
“Can’t be helped,” Geoffrey said. “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 snapped, going tense. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, and…” Javier put his arm around Geoffrey.
Franz didn’t say anything, and the door opened. A servant with pale splotches on his face came in with a tray of coffee. He smiled, seeing Franz looking at him. “I’m sorry to interrupt. We have some coffee for you, my prince.”
“Sure,” said Franz, waving him in. The distraction had cut the tension.
Geoffrey shook his head. “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.”
Franz sighed, watching the servant pour the coffee. Suddenly he had a song stuck in his head. “Nobody is going to be in danger at my wedding,” he finally said. “Trust me when I say that anyone who puts anyone in danger is going to regret it.”
Geoffrey watched him for a minute, then looked at the coffee. “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 leaned back. “You come too. You and Janus.”
“Oh, no, I…”
“You are invited to the future queen of Dolovai’s wedding,” Franz told him. “You’ll come.” And maybe he’d talk a little more frankly while he was there. With someone if not Franz.
Franz had been worried that his family was in danger from House DiSheere. Geoffrey had convinced him that they weren’t, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t still danger. But it was clear that whatever danger Giacomo DiSheere was planning, his brother didn’t know about it.
And that might well mean that Geoffrey was in danger, too.
Geoffrey sighed. “Fine. I will convey your wishes to the queen and king.”
“Good.” Franz smiled, leaning forward again. “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.”
It was a tactic, hopefully one that would calm Geoffrey down. Franz wasn’t totally sure it worked, but he was smiling by the end of the conversation, at least.
Making Geoffrey feel safe wasn’t Franz’s goal here. But it didn’t hurt.