"When the universe was born, Auden, god of dawn, beginnings, time, the arts, saw the struggle his children bore against the darkness. He cast upon chosen ones a gift. He laid before them the whole of time and space, like a book, and bade them to read it. He named them his Oracles. And they are blessed with the Sight."
Oracles of Auden, the book of the gods
Elvira was seconds late to the council meeting. Her presence alone was ill received, but her lateness earned her a few dirty looks from the older members. She sat in the empty space next to Eros as quickly as possible. Lord Sathsen shot her a particularly nasty look as she sat down. The snake was probably hoping for the seat himself. It occurred to her that they all were, and they all wanted it for one reason. To manipulate her brother. She glanced at him sidelong.
He was cleaned up from earlier, in different clothes, but simple ones. The crown still sat heavily on his brow. Each diamond glittered in the light of the lamps and candles, casting an array of sparkles skittering across the walls of the room. The gold seemed almost burnished in this light. No matter how often she were to see it, the crown would always look strange on her brother's head.
She glanced around the rest of the room. It was a small room, tiny really. Just big enough to hold the long rectangular table and chairs enough for all of them. The walls were hung with tapestries that depicted the War and the founding of Westfall. One even showed the alliance of humans and fae, as they fought together in the final years of the War. The council members each seemed to be seated under a different tapestry. Whether that was coincidence or intentional, she couldn't decide. She did think it was fitting, however, that Lord Sathsen was seated beneath a particularly gory depiction of a Necromancer astride a Shadowbeast.
"Shall we proceed then?" her brother said, pulling her out of her thoughts.
There was a rumble of assent from the council members. There were twelve of them, each Lord of one of the twelve counties that formed Westfall. Elvira leaned back in her seat and settled in for what was sure to be a good three or four hours. None of them could ever agree on anything.
"We must have the coronation ceremony as soon as possible," Lord Craven, a portly older man said. He was the one, of all the Lords, Elvira trusted the most. When she was young, on multiple accounts, she'd heard him disagree and argue with her father. Though only if he truly believed it was best for Westfall and the Vaelfyres.
"A week to mourn my father's passing, allow the kingdom to recover a bit," Eros stated firmly, "We'll have the burning and incensing of my father's body tonight. I also need to visit the Oracles."
Elvira looked sharply at her brother. She hadn't been expecting that. She had assumed he would bypass the visit to Oracles of Auden. Eros avoided them like the plague. He claimed their eyes could see straight to the soul, and it unnerved him.
"So you intend to follow the Olde Rite," Lord Craven stated, leaning forward in his seat. There was no judgement in his voice, only curiosity. It reminded Elvira that while her brother had been trained from birth to be king, he was still young and untried. People did not trust him, they did not know him, and above all, they could not predict him.
Eros nodded, "It would best soothe the kingdom, I think. And settle any who dispute my claim to the throne."
No one would dare contradict the Oracles. If the Oracles themselves decreed Eros to be the gods-blessed rightful ruler of Westfall, then that was it. The law was laid, Eros was king. Not a soul in Westfall, anywhere, would argue the will of the gods. Even countries whose gods were not the same paid heed to the Oracles of Auden. Eros it seemed, was already on his way to becoming both a diplomatic and strong ruler. Taking the pacifistic way of weeding out his opposition.
"Good move, boy," Craven said, nodding approvingly, "I'll send a servant to announce the burning of the body and your visit to the Oracles."
Eros seemed to relax at Craven's approval. His shoulders loosened and his face seemed less pinched. A servant Elvira hadn't noticed standing in the shadowed corner of the room brought a piece of paper and a pen. Eros quickly wrote his decree. She didn't try and read over his shoulder. Her presence here was barely tolerated, she didn't need to stir the pot by sticking her nose where it didn't belong. It would have been impossible anyways. Her brother had chicken scratch for penmanship.
"That doesn't solve the issue of who murdered your father," Lord Sathsen said. His voice prickled across Elvira's skin, high, nasal, sharp.
"You're right, Sathsen," Eros replied, the only tell of his annoyance was the slight tick along his cheekbone, "Let's have that discussion. This won't go unpunished. I'll see his killer in a grave, but I won't start chopping heads at random."
"It's likely that the Udabi are behind this," he said matter-of-factly, "Using their dancers to infiltrate the palace, then when the moment was ripe, they slipped a little poison into his wine goblet."
It took everything in Elvira not to roll her eyes. For as long as she could remember, Sathsen was trying to start a war with Udab. The nation was small, far to their south, and would be crushed ruthlessly if Westfall so chose to go head to head with them. It would be a fruitless waste of life. Sathsen likely wanted unfettered access to the Udabi gem trade. That's what they really mastered. If she wasn't mistaken, an Udabi workman had fashioned the crown of Westfall.
"I was but inches from my father's body," Eros said, his voice cutting across the room like a knife, "It wasn't poison that killed him. And it certainly wasn't the Udabi. They would gain nothing and lose everything from slaughtering the monarch of a kingdom they're allied to. They would lose our protection and trade."
Elvira couldn't have put it better herself and she wished she had been the one to say it. Just for the look on Sathsen's face. Foiled, yet again. She schooled her features into neutrality to keep the smirk off her lips.
"Something darker is at work here," Lord Craven said thoughtfully. He ran his fingertips through his thick gray beard. He was the only one at the table who wore a beard. He never cared about things like the current fashion. To her surprise, he turned to Elvira. "My lady, you sat vigil with your father's body for hours. What are your thoughts?"
She took her time answering, "I don't know what killed my father. What I saw though, wasn't natural … or even naturally unnatural. His throat was slit with no blade and no assassin. He died choking on his own blood. I think whatever killed my father will be … difficult … to pin down."
"Aye," Lord Craven murmured, his eyes distant in thought.
"What of you, Lord Craven?" Elvira said, breaking one of the unspoken rules forced on her. Don't speak unless spoken to.
Lord Craven didn't mind though, it seemed, "My ideas are half-baked at best, my lady. And I don't share them until they're fully-cooked, lest I appear the fool."
There was a round of chuckles, albeit weary ones, from the table.
"Should we send scouts down into the city for an interrogation?" Lord Marx, one of the younger Lords spoke up. He was handsome in a boyish way, wide grey eyes, sharp straight nose, rolling waves of blond hair. Elvira also knew that he was especially fond of her.
"That's a good idea Marx," Eros tipped his head in the Lord's direction, "Tonight, we'll send out a force of guards to question the citizens of anything suspicious, especially someone leaving the city in a hurry."
Marx inclined his head in Eros's direction and sat a bit straighter. Since most of the council was older than him by a large margin, many of them looked down on him. Elvira could tell he was proud to have contributed. Probably hopeful too that Eros would choose him to be the king's Chosen One.
It wasn't an impossible notion. It was possible that Eros would prefer someone his own age to an ancient crow with outdated notions. Then again, Lord Craven had been their father's Chosen One. He was trusted and well-respected. If Eros was wise, he'd choose Craven as not only a show of solidarity, but to give people a sense of familiarity.
"I think we've about covered what we can for today," Eros said, "Lord Craven, if you would make preparations for my father's burial rite, I would appreciate it. Lord Sathsen, I want you to send word to the Oracles of Auden of my coming. I will see them tomorrow morning, a few hours after dawn. Lord Marx, if you would organize the guard force."
"Of course, my King," Lord Sathsen bowed his head so low his forehead nearly touched the table. Elvira resisted the urge to roll her eyes and mutter, suck up.
"Then I say we call an end to this council," Eros said, leaning back in his seat.
"Long live the King," all the councilmembers said in unison. Then they began to disperse.
Eros turned to her, "Let me walk you back to your room."
Elvira nodded and stood. Eros followed her closely as she left the council room. Once they were in the spacious hall though, he walked beside her. The two were nearly the same height, Eros just an inch or two taller, and kept pace easily.
"What do you think?" Eros asked, once they were some distance from the council room and well out of ear shot.
"It's hard to say," she replied thoughtfully, "I doubt anyone will challenge your claim to the throne, but going to the Oracles is a good choice."
Eros raked his fingers though his hair, mussing it, "I meant of the Lords. I have to appoint my Chosen One." Their footsteps echoed in the stone hallways as Elvira thought of her answer.
"Craven is the obvious choice," she replied.
"I know," Eros said. He was silent for a long while, but he had a certain tension in his shoulders and face that told her he still wanted to say something. Despite the fact that they hadn't been close since childhood, they could still read each other incredibly well.
"What is it?" Elvira asked.
"I'm afraid," Eros stated simply, with a shrug of his shoulders. She knew he was trying to play it off, because he had to, because he was a man, because he was a king, because he was King of Westfall, the greatest nation ever founded.
"Of?" she pushed.
She knew he needed someone to lean on and she was more than happy to fill the position. Nobody should have to suffer through what he was alone. On top of that, he hadn't spent so much time with her in ages and if she were being honest, she'd missed her brother's company. No matter how much it surprised her that he seemed to crave her opinion, she was happy to be important for once.
"Being King, making decisions," he admitted, as they rounded a corner, "I have this stupid fear that every decision I make is going to be wrong." The pinch between his eyebrows deepened even further.
"Is that why you decided to go to the Oracles?" she asked.
He nodded, "I hate them …but they're never wrong. And it'll cut out all people who question my rule."
They reached the stairs going into her tower. Both of them stopped. Eros steeped towards the window at the base of the tower and gazed out, probably surveying the city far beneath. His eyes were distant and clouded.
"Get some sleep, Elvira," he said, "I want you to be the one to drop the torch on Father's pyre."
That surprised her. Normally that honor was reserved for the eldest son or the Chosen One. For Eros to give it to her, well, it was unusual.
"Why me?" she asked.
He looked at her again, his eyes soft, his mouth curved into a sad smile, "Because you sat vigil with him like he deserved when nobody else did, not even me."
He walked away before she could respond. It was clear he felt guilt over not sitting vigil with their father, more than he was willing to let on. Elvira let out a heavy sigh as she began trudging up the stairs once more. This time, she was blind to the scenery out the window and climbed the long flight mindlessly, nearly tripping in a few places.
Her thoughts were consumed by her father's murder. It was strange, beyond strange. Maybe Eros's visit to the Oracles would shed some light on it. She only hoped. Nothing about it made sense. She knew that part of it had to due with grief and shock, but that definitely wasn't all of it.
When she reached the door of her tower, she pushed it open. A fire was burning in the large open fireplace opposite her bed and a plate of fruits, nuts, cheese,. and bread was sitting on her bedside table. Lita and Nevida were sitting at the tea table in front of the fire chatting quietly. As soon as they saw her, they fell silent and stood.
"Please, stop," Elvira raised her hand, "I need a break from all the formalities."
"Are you doing alright?" Lita asked quietly. She was the shyer of the two, with long honey blond locks and bright blue eyes. Everything about the girl was dainty.
"About as to be expected," Elvira sighed, collapsing onto her bed. She took a handful of grapes from the plate. They were firm and perfectly ripe, and they were succulently juicy as she popped them in her mouth.
"That was stupid of me," Lita said, blushing, "I'm so sorry. Of course, you're not alright."
Elvira ripped a hunk of still-warm bread and bit into it eagerly. It was good bread, dense and nutty. She grabbed some slices of the cheese and some peeled apple and rested it atop the bread before shoving it whole in her mouth. The cheese was tangy and salty, meshing well with nuttiness of the bread and sweetness of the apple.
"It's fine, Lita," she said, "As soon as I'm finished eating, I'm sleeping. Wake me a few hours before sundown. And … have more food." She made sure to look especially serious about the food.
Lita and Nevida exchanged looks before turning back to Elvira. The two serving girls burst into a fit of giggles, and despite herself she laughed along. Better to laugh than keep crying, find solace in the little things. Otherwise she would be weeping for weeks.
Elvira scarfed down the last of the food before cocooning herself in blankets. Either Lita or Nevida drew the drapes over the windows, cloaking the room in darkness save for the orange glow of the fire. Sleep found her before thoughts of her father could catch up with her once again.