Prologue

A man with dark features placed the tips of his fingers on his desk, then looked up at his subordinate across from him.

"What do you mean she can't?" It was more of a demand than a question.

"Just that, my lord. She can't," Neil repeated.

"A misunderstanding happens when one person cannot express themselves clearly or the other is too idiotic to understand. I'm not an idiot, so let me be more specific in what I'm asking you to do. Say, 'She can't, becauseā€¦'"

Neil simply complied. "I apologize, my lord. She can't because she lacks the proper mindset for the position you are proposing we give her."

"And what mindset do you believe she must acquire to successfully fulfill the position of commander?"

Malgrim sat down. So did Neil, in a seat identical to his master's. Malgrim had considered replacing it with something plainer and smaller, but eventually decided using that advantage to make his visitors feel intimidated was below him.

The rest of the office was plain as well. Malgrim liked to think of himself as a practical man with a lot of ambition, so his office was filled with practical things, but quality practical things. There were large bookshelves lining the walls, filled with books about things like leadership and war and politics. There was a chandelier on the ceiling and two candles on his desk, a large bed for him and his wife, Catherine, a few chairs, and cabinets of scrolls. The one touch of personality other than it's lack of it was a painting of a raven, which was only there because it was easier to just put it there than to argue with Catherine about its uselessness.

Neil answered Malgrim's question."She's too impulsive. There's risk- and then there's complete madness."

"Madness." Malgrim tsked. "If one possesses intelligence, one knows power when one sees it, but only those with madness ever obtain it."

Neil was getting tired of Malgrim's contradictions, but refused to let it show on his face. He just sat up even straighter, blinked, and continued his report. After all, advising him was what he was put in this position to do, wasn't it?

"I say madness, my lord, in the most extreme way possible. Some of her actions seem almost inexplicable, while admittedly in the long run they often turn out to her advantage. So either your daughter has far more intelligence than I do-"

"-it's that option. There's no if in that, Neil-"

"-Or it's simply coincidental."

"You know she's got the charisma, and the brains, and the combat skills. It's going to take more than that to get her off the top spot on my list. Now give me an example." Malgrim leaned forward expectantly.

Neil remained deadpan. He could tell his master was getting tired of him, and Neil knew Malgrim knew he knew he was getting tired of him, and that scared Neil. He just hoped Malgrim didn't know that.

"You recall when she was almost late to the opening event of the combat on dragonback competition?"

"Of course I recall. I found it very unusual, it's her second best craft. She should've been first in line."

"Well, I asked a few of the watchman if they had any idea what had happened. One of them said said in fact he had, that she had been helping a servant. The clumsy thing had dropped your goblet off the platter at the stairs leading to the courtyard. It had gotten slightly dented, and Arena was helping her bend it back."

"Must not have done the job completely, I wondered what had happened to it."

That wasn't even a real response. Neil pursed his lips and tried to keep any inflection out of his voice. "And this does not concern you?"

"Winning respect from even the lowest of places will almost never hurt you. We're talking about her mindset, half of which is instinct, a subject which you seem to be neglecting." Malgrim wanted to pulverize Neil, but recognized that he didn't know everything, although he thought he came as close as one could get. He needed Neil.

"I can't tell you that, only what I have noticed from her actions."

"So who do you propose we groom for the position? Nadine?" He asked scornfully.

"I only advise you be cautious, and test her instincts. As you say, it is the unknown factor that will cast a whole new light on our observations."