Tornmile: Part 43

Part XLIII: Before the Council

Brielle sat on a wooden bench in one of the recessed alcoves that lined the corridor close to the Chamber of Governance. She tapped her left foot against the tiled floor and tried to contain the urge to get up and pace; she had done far too much of that already. By the Emperor, what is keeping Darian?! He was supposed to be speaking with the Chamber Guard to gain admittance so that they could bring their suit in front of the Regency Council. He had explained that it wasn’t usual that people came on the day with a suit, but it was not against the procedure as such. She hoped that he wasn’t being rebuffed. The suit was too important and the Lieutenant was a fool not to have agreed to it in the first place.

She felt her anger rise as she looked back to the morning’s disastrous meeting. She tapped her foot harder and faster, sending echoes down the long corridor. A servant wearing a black and silver tabard quickened his pace as he passed her, nearly bumping into Darian as he came the other way. The servant ducked into the lowest bow Brielle had ever seen, tensing for the inevitable storm of words that would engulf him, but Darian merely nodded his head in dismissal. The servant hurried away before Darian could change his mind.

“What did they say?” Brielle asked, rising from the bench as Darian approached her, “Are we allowed to bring our suit?”

“Yes, but the Council wishes to recess first to refresh themselves after the morning session. They’ve just adjourned their session. We’ll be able to go in once they return.”

“How long will that be?”

“I don’t know. It was hard enough getting the Chamber Guard to interrupt the Council to ask if our suit could be heard. I nearly had to tell him the entire suit just so he’d go and ask the lords. I don’t think he’d have gone back in to ask for a time even if I gave him all the gold I have with me.”

“More waiting,” Brielle said, slumping down onto the wooden bench and beginning to tap her foot again, “just what we need.”

Darian sat down next to her and laid a hand on her leg, but she didn’t stop tapping her foot. She did feel the anger drain away slowly though, like water from a bucket with a rust hole in the bottom. His touch was always like that; soothing, that was the word for it. There was something about being in his arms that made her think that everything would turn out for the best. It had been a long time since she’d had that feeling.

“It’s alright,” he said gently, “there are things I need to tell you first, just in case.”

“Like what?”

“The rules.”

His tone was even, but he hesitated before going on. He didn’t want to offend her with what he was about to say. She smiled to encourage him. She’d expected there to be some matters of etiquette she’d have to adhere to. She was going to be in the same room as the king after all.

“First,” he said when he saw her smile, “never turn your back on any of the Council members. The law says you can only be punished if you turn your back on the king, but the Council rule in his stead because of his illness. The king will be present, of course, and whilst the Council can’t punish you for turning your back on them, it will mean they’ll look unfavourably on your suit.”

Brielle nodded to show she understood. She had known about that rule anyway. Every girl in the realm had heard the story of Aeliana, the serving maid who fell in love with a prince. She served him faithfully and in time he came to love her too, even though he was betrothed to a princess from a land far away. The princess, knowing of Aeliana’s love, told the king and had the serving maid brought before him. Whilst the king spoke to her, chastising her for thinking to love above her station, the princess feigned the prince’s voice calling Aeliana’s name, causing her to turn her back on the king and so be sentenced to death. The prince discovered the princess’ treachery and turned his back on his father and refused to face him until the king pardoned Aeliana or killed his own son. Since he could not kill his only heir, he pardoned Aeliana. The prince married her and they lived happily ever after. It was a silly tale, but it had been a favourite of Brielle’s when she had been a child. She could remember her mother telling it to her, with different voices for each character.

“Second, don’t speak unless you are spoken to. They’ll expect me to do the majority of the talking as I’m the one who is bringing the suit, but they might ask you some questions. Be as brief as you can in answering and remember to address everyone by their proper titles.”

Brielle nodded again.

“Third, you’ll have to courtesy.”

“Well, I know that!” Brielle said, stamping her foot down and looking at him in indignation, “I may be an innkeeper’s daughter, but I’m not brainless.”

“I know, I mean you have to courtesy three times in specific order: first to the king, second to the lords on the king’s right, and then to those on the king’s left.”

“Three times: the king, lords on the right, lords on the left.”

“The king’s right and the king’s left. The form is important.”

“I understand. Anything else?”

Before Darian could continue, a guardsman rounded the corner. He was wearing the black tabard with the white winged horse and three golden stars above it, not unlike the uniform Lieutenant Royer had been wearing, although this man had no marks of rank at the cuff. He did, however, have a golden thread worked around the coat’s left arm. Brielle assumed that this marked him as a Chamber Guard rather than a Tower Guard, but she was only really familiar with the uniform that Caiden had worn. The guardsman approached Darian, who stood to meet him, and the two inclined their heads to one another, Darian a hair’s width less than the soldier.

“I’ve been ordered to make you ready for your audience,” the guardsman said, “the Lords will be returning shortly.”

Darian thanked the guardsman and turned to offer Brielle his hand. She took it and allowed him to help her rise, sliding her arm into his as they made their way back down the curving corridor, the guardsman just a few paces ahead of them. The guardsman turned down into the short corridor that lead to the massive black double doors, which still stood shut. Brielle looked up at the different symbols on the tapestries hung from the golden poles: the golden hawk of Lord Lucian Astur, Darian’s father, was the only one she recognised, but there were 11 others.

She saw a pair of crossed swords, a lion raising itself as if fighting on hind legs, a scallop shell below a wavy pattern that made her think of rays of the sun, an eagle with its wings spread, a tower, an axe with wings, three bats, a stag running, a boar on gold and black, a silver wolf raised like the lion, and horse rearing up with a straight horn emerging from the centre of its head. She vaguely wondered what her own would look like if she were allowed a sigil, and her thoughts turned to the mermaid and stars inscribed on her blade. That was Darian’s sister’s sigil, though, and she could not take it for her own. She thought of the rose that Konrad had etched into the wall of Ferrer’s bolt hole. Yes, that would do nicely.

Darian nudged her to get her attention and then nodded towards the end of the corridor. As he did so the Chamber Guards began to beat the bottom of their halberds against the tiled floor, the sound echoing around the corridor. They beat three times as men came forward in a solemn procession towards the doors. They were all finely dressed and most were in their middle years; the lords of the Regency Council. The great black doors with the winged horse swung open to admit them into the Chamber of Governance and they processed in with Darian and Brielle following behind.

The Chamber itself was huge, occupying much of the central space of the Spire, with room only for the corridors beyond its walls. Brielle had expected it to be a circular room, but the back wall was flat, making the room a wide semi-circle. In front of the flat wall chairs were arranged in a semi-circle facing the doors. These were raised from the level of the floor by two steps, except the chair in the middle, which was raised three. The king was already on this middle chair, with six chairs to either side of him. The lords processed forward, each bowing to the king in turn and then moving to take their own appointed chair, starting with those closest to the king and then working outwards. Brielle and Darian waited behind until their turn came, then they stepped forward. Brielle curtsied to the king, then to the lords on the right, then to those on the left and Darian followed the same order, though he bowed low instead. One of the lords, seated furthest left of the king, nodded at their observance of the formalities.

When Darian and Brielle had made their obeisance, the lord to the king’s immediate right rose from his chair. He was the oldest of the lords, his face lined and his hair an iron grey. He wore a black tunic with silver threads through it, the effect of which was elegant, even if it was a little sombre. He began to speak, opening the session of the Council with formal words. Brielle did not listen too hard. She had stepped back to allow Darian to be in front so that he could speak when the time came, and she found herself watching the king.

He was not what she had expected. King Yurian was seldom seen in public and most knew that he was ill and that the Regency Council ruled in his stead, but she had not expected him to look so dishevelled. His hair was wayward, coming out of his head like tendrils, and his blue eyes were watery and unfocused, as though they looked at something distant that no one else could see. He sat hunched in the seat, leaning against the side of his chair, hands clasped to his forearms. He could have been a new born child but for the Sun Crown perched precariously on his brow. Two Chamber Guards with their golden thread on the sleeve stood beside and back from the king’s chair, staring straight ahead. Brielle tried to imagine the king as a younger man, straight backed and energetic, but she could not.

The lord finished his formalities and invited Darian to step forward, breaking Brielle from her reverie about the king. Darian stepped into the centre of the floor, which was marked with Siarl’s winged horse on black tiles, surrounded by a golden border in the shape of a star. The rest of the tiles were plain white.

“Your majesty, your lordships,” Darian said, “I come before you in humbleness to seek to redress injustice. I could speak to you in fine talk and make lofty arguments in the best of ways, but my father taught me that the truth spoken plainly is better than gilded lies.”

Brielle saw the lords glance towards the second chair from the king on the right hand side. Lord Lucian, Darian’s father, sat in it dressed in a military style – a blue coat with blue trousers and a white shirt. The coat bore the golden hawk that was his own sigil. His hair was streaked with silver and his face was angular and slightly lined with his age, but other than that he looked exactly like his son. He did not acknowledge his son’s mention of him, but Brielle understood that Darian had made it more to remind the lords of who he was than to flatter his father.

“The truth is simple. There is a rot in this city that grows daily, infecting the city with its filth. That rot is known as Dunstan Ferrer. He sits in the Tanneries and laughs at the law, spreading his influence day by day, week by week, and month by month. He extorts money from the citizens under guise of protecting them, despite the City Guard’s vigilance. When people refuse him, they are driven out, their homes and businesses burned, livelihoods taken, and some barely escape with their lives. I know this because it happened to my lady here.”

He gestured to Brielle, who was briefly the focus of all the lords. She tried not to look them in the eyes, which would have been an affront to deference, but she could not turn away. She settled for keeping her eyes fixed on the winged horse below Darian’s feet. She could feel her cheeks burning and hoped that they were not as red as she felt they were. Darian started to speak again, drawing the lords’ attention, and she breathed a silent sigh of relief.

“But these are a taster of the crimes of this rotten man and but one of his many victims in recent months. If something is not done, I fear that Dunstan Ferrer will become a bindweed that will strangle the roses of our city.”

If Brielle was not blushing before, she certainly was now. The lords did not understand the reference, at least she hoped that they did not, but it was as clear as day to her. He had told her before to her face that she was beautiful and though it made her feel like she was able to fly it did not make her blush. It was different when it was in front of other people, the more especially as they governed the realm. Fortunately, the lords’ attention was on Darian and she was able to hide her face by examining her feet.

“The only thing to do with a rot,” Darian continued, “is to cut it out. I have spoken with Lieutenant Royer of the City Guard, who acted in place of Captain Severin, and he refuses to deal with this menace. I come before you today to humbly ask for your permission to bring a small retinue into the city to cut this rot out so that it may never defile us again.”

There was a brief silence after Darian finished speaking, during which he bowed formally three times once more to indicate that he had submitted his suit. The lords watched him, but none showed any signs of favour towards him, not even his own father, though Brielle was forced to admit that none of them showed signs of open hostility. Finally, one of them spoke. He sat next to the king on the left hand side and wore robes of blue and gold. His face was aquiline and his eyes were grey like mountain stone.

“I wonder, Sir Darian,” he said, “why you think you know what is better for our city than its appointed defenders?”

Brielle frowned at that. It was not just the challenge implicit in his words, but also the use of Darian’s title. She knew that he was a high lord’s son, of course, and that he would succeed his father one day, but he hardly used his title and rarely acted as if he were entitled to one.

“I do not presume to think anything of the sort, Lord Allerion,” Darian replied, “but I think Lieutenant Royer is being short-sighted in this matter. The City Guard look to punish individual crimes, the lords must look further to prevent crime and threats to stability.”

“And you look as far as Dunstan Ferrer, master of cutpurses and thugs?”

It was one of the younger lords who spoke now, still middle aged, but his face was not lined as much as some. He had brown hair that curled against his head and a beard kept well-trimmed. He wore a simple leather jerkin, with the silver wolf sigil worked on the breast. He could have been a soldier at camp rather than a lord.

“All threats are worth watching, Lord Marroc,” Darian began, but he cut off at a croaking noise issuing from the king’s mouth.

An attendant came forward with water, pouring it into the king’s mouth. Some dribbled from the side and the attendant wiped it away with a cloth. The lords turned back to Darian, expecting him to continue, but the king raised his head slightly and looked at Brielle. She bowed her head so that she would not be looking him in the eye.

“What is your name, lady?” he asked.

“My name is Brielle, daughter of Aubin, your majesty,” she replied, having trouble finding her voice.

The king nodded to himself slowly, his brows drawn in a thoughtful frown. For a moment there seemed to be life behind those blue eyes and they lost some of their wateriness. Brielle saw it there and was able to imagine the king her father had known – young and able, commanding armies and winning victories. Then it was gone, the waters returning to imprison that life beneath their waves. Brielle bowed her head.

“All threats are worth watching,” Darian continued when it was clear that the king would not speak again, “especially those we have previously overlooked.”

“A retinue loyal only to one man within our city walls more than a common thief, perhaps?” Lord Marroc answered.

There was considerable muttering of agreement from the others, except for Darian’s father, who sat with his face set as if he would betray his position to speak. The other who did not speak was the young lord at the king’s far left. He was frowning at his fellow lords’ agreement.

“I agree with Lord Marroc,” Lord Allerion said, “the City Guard will do their job and it will not be helped if we allow every man who can afford some sell-swords to raise their own personal armies. Dunstan Ferrer will be dealt with in time, I am sure, but we will not countenance swapping Ferrer for the anarchy of retinues.”

Murmurs of agreements came from all sides once more and many of the lords nodded their heads. Darian stepped back, looking at the floor. He knew as well as Brielle did that they would not get the answer they wanted.

“Very well, my lords, your majesty,” Darian said, trying his best to keep the annoyance from his voice, “you have made it clear what your answer will be. I will not take up more of your time in pointless debate.”

Darian started to withdraw, walking backwards so that he would not turn his back on the king. Brielle followed suit, dropping into a half-hearted courtesy, knowing she could get away with it. They did not expect her to know the forms. She did walk backwards, however, through the large double doors and out into the corridor beyond. The doors began to close on the Chamber of Governance and it was then that she saw him: Lieutenant Royer stood behind Lord Allerion’s chair, whispering into his ear.

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