Mistrust of Insecurities
15th March 2009
Series: Always Yours
Summary: The King and his closest feel the pressure, investigations begin to frustrate, the King's character is painted a little more clearly and Jaret realises something he probably should have known all along.
Warnings: No editing or fact-checking. Beware plot holes so you can yell at the author.
"I take it you received my report," Elias said, sighing with relief as he sat down, curling his fingers into the padded upholstery of the arm rests. "Ahh, the comforts of the palace, I do believe I have been spoiled." He chuckled, "I don't think I will willingly ever sleep in traveller's inns ever again."
"I welcome you back, Elias," Jaret said warmly, smiling as he clasped the General's arm in his own. "It has been too many weeks without you."
"That it has, your Majesty." Elias winked and Jaret made a face at the address. "I am glad to see you alive and well –and just in time for your coronation. You seem burdened, however."
"I have a kingdom in my hands now," Jaret glibly replied, affecting a stately posture, "I am allowed to feel weighted by the responsibility." Elias politely inclined his head, clearly indicating he accepted Jaret's parry in the conversation; that sort of talk could come later. "Please, General, I do not mean to rush you but I had hoped to hear more from you on what you found. Your report was quite abbreviated."
"That it was," Elias admitted, smiling in thanks when a page brought him a large cup of warm tea. "There are no creatures where the Lotharians have made their little trading pass. The filth of their crude magic offends the Deities but they are far enough down the mountain that the Sprites don't seem to care." He sighed, "I could not send a sparrow flying out of there without it looking strange. I had to wait for nightfall and even then I am sure the sentries noted its presence; it did glow a little too brightly."
"That bad, hm?" Jaret murmured thoughtfully. "Then they have posted men along their route?"
"They have," the General confirmed. "Rough men, mercenaries and low soldiers, all unmarked. But they wear too many charms and wards to truly pass for bandits. It wasn't too difficult for me to get past them but then I am a Master. Should a Spell-Caster have attempted it, he would have had to do it alone and at full power to be certain to get past. More than one might have made too much noise or…" He trailed off then shrugged, "They are not that good but they are armed enough."
Jaret frowned. "But if the reek is as bad as you say…"
"Bad enough." Elias took a deep drought of the hot tea and explained, "They have scattered black stones along the path."
Jaret's expression turned grim. Black stones in Learned magic referred to a claiming, the placing of a collective of magic into stones to infuse their will –a kind of possession. It shaded out the land upon which it had been scattered and influenced it to make it, to a certain degree, their own. So far Black Shading a portion of land meant only one thing: as though back-dropped in darkness, it lit up the magical signature of any one else not of the same mind –an alarm should the land be trespassed upon.
"They don't care how they use the magic they do have, they just don't want us interfering with them for as long as they can keep their operation going," Elias continued, "The effects aren't pretty. Most of the grass has died under the ice. Portions where the stones have been thrown close to each other have melted the ice a bit, and the surrounding area of ice is no longer so clear."
"The Glass Mountains are part of Monaghan and they dare this?" Jaret hissed.
"It's not been so bad before," Elias admitted. "My scouts told me, back before the attack on your father, they could still approach the pass and watch the caravans pass. The way things are now, it seems this is their forceful manoeuvre if a rather disposable kind." He gestured, "Even if we did descend on them, the men are all unmarked, as I said. There's nothing on the surface that can be traced back to Lotharia. I'd wager the paperwork for all the goods are transported separately through safer routes and reconnect with the cargo at their destinations." Shrugging, "I think they are only trying to hold on to the pass for as long as possible but also expect that we will drive them from there soon."
Jaret slapped a hand down on the table, glowering, "That emissary Enron mentioned a bandit problem in that area of the borders. He claimed that we have a mutual interest in seeing it free. If I recall correctly, he offered to clear the pass of the bandits. I imagine he expects that with an authorised presence on Monaghan lands, they can continue to use the pass as their trading route."
"Sensible enough of a plan," Elias agreed. "But too simple."
"Easy, of course," Jaret nodded, "Because with a Lotharian presence there, why not the lands at the foot of the mountains? Why not outright Abiron, Telcester and Barthen? All the counties that border the Glass Mountains? It even makes better sense to come down from the mountain on this side to get their supplies. Bring them right into our country deep enough to get a small foothold."
"Foot in the door," muttered the General, nodding agreement.
"Bastards." Jaret glowered. Presently, Elias finished his tea and the young King finally asked the dreaded question, "What did the Sprites say?"
Elias mournfully shook his head, "I'm sorry, Jaret. We're on our own."
"Damn," Gallant breathed. He slashed his sword downward but Jaret blocked it lightly, just enough to redirect the strike, stepping out of the way. Around them, several units of soldiers were also engaged in mock battles. Dawn had crested the horizon only a half hour ago and the chilly morning air made one's breath fog. "I hadn't expected that. The Sprites are usually very concerned about the survival of magic and its natural sources in Monaghan."
"I sort of did," Jaret admitted, swinging upward as he stepped forward. "Magic isn't really at threat here and none of them came to the coronation. I think they need to see I am worthy before they make any show of support." He gave a small, wry smile as they crossed blows again, "Father was just lucky my mother fancied him, I suppose." He thrust quickly, pulling back and stabbing again when Gallant turned it. "Lucky git."
Gallant rolled his eyes even as he dipped low, sword swinging upward to Jaret's unprotected side, "I take you've heard from Timarin?"
"Ahh yes," Jaret growled as he blocked it. "My mother's dear Attendant turned spy. Huh. He sent in his report through Elias, he remains there still. He tells of rumours at the palace that Lotharia wishes to solidify a trading contract with Chiera and part of it is a very quiet little request for Chiera to support them in their bid to ask for permission to create a trading route through our lands, the better to bring their goods across."
"Idiots," Gallant said, cheerfully striking hard close to Jaret's sword guard, "They could have asked us themselves."
"Hm," Jaret grunted as they crossed swords, already shifting his weight to neutralise the pause and get to one side enough to strike. "Makes one wonder why they didn't."
Gallant moved to match, staying up close and personal, not letting the King get a step anywhere safe enough to pull back or strike.
"Well, we know trade is not their only agenda," Jaret muttered, parrying a quick jab. "They want something from us. They want our land and our power, and our natural resources. That Enron wasn't as subtle as he thought he was when he inquired into the level of natural riches we enjoy."
"Looking not just for a piece of the pie but the whole of it?" Gallant chortled, shifting one foot forward enough to get a good angle and slash harshly downward. "Where are they going to get their army?"
"We might need to expand our intelligence," Jaret twisted out of the way, swinging his hips to one side to avoid the blade but not shift his feet enough to lose position. He turned, angled a low cut downward enough to get Gallant to shit his weight then swung higher toward Gallant's midsection which the Lt Captain only barely blocked. "Or concentrate on what possible ins they have here in our very palace. They are moving too boldly for my peace of mind."
"Big fish and little fish," Gallant said with disgust, stepping back and simultaneously lashing out in a brief thrust. "Idiots."
"They forget," the King said, deflecting the strike and stepping out of the way. "That we may be little but are far from helpless." He saluted, ending the session, and grimly stated, "I think it's time we remind them."
"Mage Generals Duncan and Warren aren't taking their investigation very well," Gallant commented as he walked by his King's side toward the Mage Towers, the same guards he had as prince still serving him now he'd been crowned; they smiled faintly when Gallant said, "Way to go for your first edict as a ruler."
"I needed the throne to issue the orders and I'm sure they know that," the prince admitted. "They must feel a great lack of trust from me. So I wouldn't be pleased either, were I in their shoes." He sighed and said, "I heard something similar from Varsen earlier today when he returned from a search of Duncan's city home." He exchanged pleased looks with the Lt Captain; Varsen had been growing in his sharpness and attention to detail at a rapid pace. "I handwrote them both a letter and apologised for this inconvenience. They each replied in gracious tones they understood and served me." Rolling his eyes, he admitted, "This whole Your Majesty business is quite superfluous, is it not?"
"Indeed," Gallant grinned. He asked, "How do you feel about the Black Band?"
"I adore their loyalty," Jaret smiled at his guards. "I heard in the beginning from Abel that he can sense how devoted they are to me and he was quite impressed."
"Well, we know if they pass Abel's standards, they must be quite loyal indeed." Gallant paused then asked, "How are you and Abel?"
The King gazed distantly across the path they tread before softly replying, "He and I have not spoken on any matter but security and investigations since the day of my coronation."
"It's been a few days," the Lt Captain admitted. "I will speak with him."
"No," Jaret said firmly. "Whatever it is that he needs from me, whatever it is that is holding him back, he needs to find it on his own. He must have the resolve in himself or whatever personal matter to happen between us would never work anyway."
Gallant stared. "Wise words, Majesty."
"Do not call me that."
"Pardon me," he amended, "Jaret."
"Thank you." Jaret trotted up the steps of the tower, silent guards in tow, the spell-casters staring oddly at his attire and his lack of decorations or pomp. He dressed as he always did, similar to the men who guarded him, in thick silk overlaid by chainmail and hard leather armour, feet shod in no-nonsense battle-ready boots. He paused on one of the steps to turn back to the Lt Captain, "Please always speak to me how you have. Sometimes I think you are one of my only friends here."
Gallant smiled kindly at his King's departing back and gently murmured, "That will change, Jaret."
"With the final investigations completed," Junior Braze murmured, "The last of our excesses have been identified. Every courtier and noble we can't trust, we've listed. What do you intend to do with them?"
"Exile them," Junior Gerrich muttered under his breath in half-jest, drumming his fingertips on the table. Beside him, Junior Dagenham snickered, gathering his papers and heading out of the room to leave this meeting to the two Juniors.
"I'm considering that," Jaret admitted when the door closed behind the departing Juniors. Gerrich and Braze turned surprised looks on him. "It's treason, plain of fact. Exile would be the kinder judgement. Their families not involved in the deception can try to convince them to repent, and if that doesn't work then they can travel out to wherever the traitors have relocated to." He smiled humourlessly, "And they'll have to suffer their family's repeated and incessant nagging and berating for ever committing treason in the first place. Idiots."
"Kind judgement considering the magnitude of the treason," Braze accepted, "But devilish in the personal ramifications." He angled a small smile at his King, "Clever."
"The Generals?" Gerrich asked.
"Only Duncan and Warren still remain under official suspicion," Jaret sighed. "The others cleared as we knew they would. All their movements are still being monitored, however. If anything happens, if anyone makes any kind of move or instigates anything, we should know." With a notation on the ledger before him, he added, "It's their men the soldiers I still worry about. Gallant is handling the matter of investigating them at ground level but things are far from over. Too many foot soldiers and little people scattered about positions ranging from kitchen to armoury staff, not just the army soldiers themselves."
"Have you considered the possibility these people don't all realise who they're feeding information to?" Gerrich asked slowly. "Some of these men follow their Generals without knowing who their Generals are loyal to, expecting that all they work for is for the good of the crown and…" He trailed off when Jaret shook his head.
"Some knew, others didn't," the young King admitted. "It's the ones who did know I worry over. A lot of them were good men."
"Their reasons of betrayal?" Gerrich asked.
Jaret gave the flat reply, "Greed."
"That's such a shame," Braze murmured. "If they were good men. Do we know how they were swayed, at least?"
"Some were blackmailed," Jaret admitted, "But only a very rare few. Most were threatened then so rewarded they chose to look at the money than the moral ramifications. Others by circumstance, victim of petty countryside power-trips and lack of available Crown medics, into seeking help from people who would ask them to repay with loyalty." He frowned thoughtfully at his ledgers and notes, "More and more I see a need for military control. For the organisation that we operate in militia to extend to governing. But the possibilities of empowered people abusing this authority is too great. There must be a balance with the public --the people need a voice."
When silence descended on the table, Jaret looked up and into two sets of hard-staring eyes.
"What did I say?" he bemusedly asked.
"We can look into coordinating such for you, if it pleases, Your Majesty," Gerrich said, voice oddly rough, turning down to his notebook and hand poised to write.
"Yes, please do." Jaret turned to Braze who still stared oddly at him, "Something the matter?"
"Of course not," came the instant reply. "I'm simply thinking on how we can implement such an arrangement. We'll bring it up with the Senior Council of course and try to have some preliminary plans in order for the next Session."
"Thank you," Jaret murmured, already sifting through his paperwork for the next order of business… and thus missing the small impressed and respectful smiles the two Junior Councillors threw his way.
"I would prefer not to step in blindly," Jaret suggested deferentially. "That kind of information would do us a world of good rather than slink about once we are there."
Yes, I agree with you completely, Abel replied. I will carry along with an emissary. Someone we can send ahead of our party looking like he's going to prepare things for your arrival. This will guarantee my safe extension of territory beyond the Kingdom borders.
"That's a sensible cover," Jaret agreed. "Do you know who you want to send?"
At the moment, I would say Varsen,came the swift reply, speaking volumes of Abel's trust in the young Black Band soldier. He is young and innocent looking enough to pass for a lower-rank but his eyes are too sharp. He's not experienced enough to appear he notices nothing.
"Then it is someone with experience we must send," agreed Jaret, "Or someone with even less and therefore more open to instruction or just as innocent as he appears. Do you have a preference?"
Varsen has a good friend amidst the first of the Black Band, Abel commented, Perhaps she would make a good choice.
Jaret stilled, "She?"
Did you think, Abel said with amusement, little cat tail swishing, That our armies comprised entirely of men?
"Sort of," the King muttered guiltily then spoke up, "She must be skilled to attract your interest."
Indeed. Abel paused then said, She's an orphan, very strong of will and possessed of valuable loyalty.
Catching on, Jaret asked, "Who is she loyal to?"
You, Abel snorted with amusement and the king gaped. I bet you thought I was going to name Varsen.
"I really did," Jaret admitted and then laughed. "I had no idea we even had a woman in the ranks."
Women, came the correction.
"Dear Gods," the King laughed, "She's going to be upset with me if she ever finds out I had no idea."
I think she might forgive you, Abel muttered, once you mention we're rather busy with out-smarting Lotharia.
"And finalising the presentation to Chiera," Jaret sighed, sobering. He inclined his head at the cat, "I will take you up on your offer of translocation to the capital. If anything, it's dreadful to travel by carriage and I would prefer being there only when necessary." He tapped his chin thoughtfully, "Is it difficult to translocate a person?"
Not really, the Attendant replied honestly. It requires effort, of course, but otherwise is fairly straightforward and not too taxing. He swished his tail, Are you of the mind to keep me at hand to bring you home should you be needed here? You can use the power yourself—
"I don't want to take away from your magic like that," Jaret quickly interjected. "I… you are right in that I would appreciate being at hand should anything require my attention. I am concerned about maintaining communication with the palace. I cannot bring Gallant with me, he is the person I will be leaving in charge in my absence but I will need to keep constant communication with him as I though I were still here. There is much still happening here and a visit to Chiera will not put anything on hold."
Of course. I understand. I will see that these concerns are addressed.
"Thank you, Abel," Jaret said quietly. "I do not know what I would do without you."
There was an awkward pause before Abel spoke up again, May I ask what the presentation to Chiera will consist of, your Majes—Jaret?
Taking his victories where he could, the King outlined his plans. As much as his relationship with Abel mattered to him, as much as it ached to have such distance between himself and his childhood friend, there were more important matters at hand.
He couldn't be just a man; perhaps he never could. Not with vows spoke and a crown to his name.
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