Offenure Castle, Lenyol
‘Régan!’ Custodin Màtac opened his arms to the closing doors and smiled. ‘I am pleased you could join us.’
The Princess stood stiffly by the entry to the Dining Hall. She pushed her lips into a smile and walked slowly to the dining table, mahogany gown draping behind. ‘Thank you for sending mother; I must be reminded to eat at times.’
Bridget ducked her head, receiving her daughter’s gratitude with as much sincerity as was given, and took her seat. The Custodin and Princess did the same, and pleasantries were exchanged.
‘We have received good news from the Duke and Duchess of Polare,’ Màtac commented as their meal was served. ‘They are expecting their third child.’
‘How wonderful.’ Régan lifted her fork, gold-plated with the Alia engraved along its handle. ‘Please offer them my congratulations.’ She paused, and the air thickened. Polare was the southernmost city, less than a day’s ride from the Iulithan border. Her mother shot her a glance, fearing what was to come, but Régan could not restrain herself: ‘Do they send any word on Iulitha? On Custodin Algus?’
The Custodin inhaled angrily. ‘Régan.’
‘Reports come that he is killing his own people.’
‘I cannot imagine that would be so,’ he said civilly, trembling with restrained ire. ‘If it were, it would certainly be a matter for the Iulithan Beran to address.’
Régan raised an eyebrow. ‘I suppose it is possible that a Custodin could comprise his Beran of flatterers and bootlickers.’
Màtac’ jaw locked at the implication. ‘The border between Lenyol and Iulitha is firmly closed, and so it will remain.’ His finite tone closed the conversation for the duration of their first course.
An awkward five minutes passed.
As the second course was served, Régan attempted to break the silence by speaking to her mother. ‘Duchess Bevan sends her regards.’ The Duke and Duchess of Alendae, in the north, had hosted Régan over the spring.
The Consort smiled genuinely. ‘I received her note from you, thank you. How is my sister?’
‘She is well. Quite well, as always.’ Régan turned to Màtac: ‘She will be visiting after Midsummer, father.’
‘Yes, your mother has told me. The Duke and Duchess are always welcome to escape the northern heat.’
The Duke and Duchess of Alendae made their annual visit in the first weeks of the new year. The timing was deliberate, for it was only in summer that the Princess called the old castle home—from her birthday on the first of December until Lughnasadh at the beginning of February—and by January tensions would be high in the royal household. Beyond occasionally passing through, Régan spent the remainder of the year at various palaces around the region, particularly Alendae in the north and Lirna in the east.
‘It has been unusually warm this year. The spring rains were quite light.’
‘Yes,’ Màtac agreed. ‘So I have been told. They are expecting a smaller harvest there this autumn.’ What a relief to speak only of the weather!
‘Why, Polare had enough rain to fear flooding this winter.’ Bridget straightened with an idea. ‘Their fortune may be a grace for the north; we could arrange a market in Bunteale after the harvest.’ The village of Bunteale lay between the two cities.
Régan felt a rare wave of warmth toward the Consort. ‘That is an excellent idea. I am sure father intended the same.’
‘Quite,’ said Marcas, touching his wife’s hand and nodding. She beamed.
‘The weather-readers in Alendae say the rains may elude the north for some time to come, as they have in Miggest. Let us hope the south continues to flourish.’
‘Well, may the weather-readers’ prophecies prove false. We do not want our own stores compromised, do we, my love?’
The Custodin’s expression caused Bridget to shrink into her chair, pale in self-reproach.
Régan cast eyes of steel to Màtac. ‘What are the stores for, father?’ Yet she knew the answer, and rose from her seat, fingertips extended on the surface of the table.
He said nothing, fork quaking in his first. Bridget covered her face with her hands.
‘Tell me the rumours of you planning secret trade with Miggest are a lie.’
Màtac eyed with daughter dangerously. ‘The business of politics is none of your concern.’
‘Father. We have just celebrated my twenty-sixth birthday; one day I will bear the same responsibilities as you. If you wish me to rule well, I should now be under your tutelage—yet you exclude me from the Beran conclaves.’
Her words did not reach him.
‘Right.’ She scowled. ‘How do you expect the people will react when they learn their food is being sent to aid so hated a region?’
Màtac crashed his fist against the table, catching the edge of his plate so it flicked and shattered on the floor. ‘I do note take advice on policy from you!’
‘They will not quietly comply. Are you so entirely out of touch with the world beyond these crumbling walls?’
‘What of your own conduct?’ Bridget broke in. ‘Hiring a Miggestian as your assistant?’
Régan sighed, irritated. ‘Hiring one skilled foreigner is hardly comparable to opening the borders of a closed region. The former shows benevolence; the latter subservience, or at best idiotic gullibility.’
Màtac again thumped his first against the wood. ‘Enough!’
‘Crashing and banging will not scare me into silence.’ Her fingers were as claws on the wood. ‘You are a fool if you believe the people will allow trade to be established with Miggest, and you are a fool if you think Custodia Galluel can be trusted. Did you know she was expanding her army? No. You did not, for your knowledge of the world comes only from those grovelling lap-dogs you call your Beran. Alsandul is the only one with sense, yet you do not welcome his advice. You are an arrogant, ignorant fool.’
She left Màtac to tear strips from her mother, exiting through a servant door. She found Brennan taking his meal with the other servants in the kitchen. ‘Pack my chests. Everything. And send word to the stables. We will depart for Lirna by sunset.’