December – 1026 YD
Delus Palace contained a wing exclusively for Beran members. It was here that Vilsonius had resided for the past few weeks, sharing a corridor and Solar with the respectable High Commander Mahon. Within days of writhing under Galluel’s hungry gaze, he found himself locking his chambers at night and checking the room for secret servant entrances—of which there were thankfully none.
High Counsellor Dalan had been spooked by Clarissa’s death, and quarrelled with Custodia Galluel over the threat anti-traders posed to the Court. She dismissed his concerns as cowardice, stressing the importance of procuring goods from Lenyol in the wake of October’s fires. Still he opposed her; her patience quickly waned. When December arrived, so too did his public resignation, and on the same day Galluel offered the role of High Counsellor to Vilsonius himself.
__Naturally he accepted, and insisted at the first that Sevína be named High Priest Arnaud’s successor. Arnaud, confined to bed, had barely spoken or eaten in weeks, and all knew his end was near. Sevína, who was present, was taken back; she had given the matter unrelenting thought and yet remained undecided, far preferring the safety of her obscurity. Vilsonius was certain her irresolution would dissolve under pressure, and so it did, for she conceded; and so in a single day he had won himself both a second title in the Beran and a firm ally therein.
__Little comes without cost, however. When Sevína and Mahon left Vilsonius and Galluel alone in the Great Hall, the Custodia invited—that is, commanded—him to dinner on the palace rooftop. The afternoon passed with excess speed, and he climbed the steps with a meekness he hated in himself.
__A velvet table had been set, and he quailed at the candles and black lilies. How little her low neckline served its intent; how keenly he thought of the lock on his door.
__‘My Lord Vilsonius,’ Custodia Galluel greeted him, setting down her glass. ‘Thank you for joining me.’
__‘My Lady,’ Vilsonius returned, kissing her hand.
__‘The most intense array of purple,’ she awed at the sky, invitationally.
__‘Just beautiful,’ he enthused, beckoning a servant with his forefinger before twitching his upturned hand to ensure his glass was filled.
__‘You drew out Sevína so proficiently today, Vilsonius. I have known her to be Arnaud’s best successor for many years, but lacked the ability to convince her. How well you did to persuade her.’
__‘She is, as you say, the best successor. There is a proverb in Iulitha: “The louder the caw, the smaller the gall.” Her reluctance is meritorious.’
__Galluel smiled. ‘And as for yourself?’
__‘Eiridh tonn air uisge balbh…’ he answered without thinking.
__The Custodia rested her head on her palm.
__Vilsonius cleared his throat. ‘“A wave will rise on quiet waters.”’
__The Custodia had not heard the phrase, but concealed her nescience with a thoughtful nod. ‘I had put more stock in Dalan, to be frank. I am thankful it came ahead of the real test—cowering into submission at the mere suggestion of rebellion. Imagine him when they beat at the city gates.’
__‘I also expected firmer resolve.’
__‘Yes. Resolve. A quality I find myself needing to model for others.’
__Vilsonius shifted. ‘Lord Mahon is not lacking in that regard. He is faithful indeed, and has little shortage of praise for Your Majesty.’
__Galluel reclined in her seat. ‘He has been a true asset across the years. Come! Let us begin before darkness comes.’ She clapped to the servants, who anchored the table with nourishment.