The Eighth Book of the Corean Chronicles
By L. E. Modesitt Jr.
Tom Doherty Associates Copyright © 2011 L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
All rights reserved.
... and that I will employ all Talent and skills necessary to do so, at all times, and in all places, so that peace and prosperity may govern this land and her people.
As the words of the ancient oath she had taken as Lady-Protector died away — making her the first Lady-Protector since Mykel the Great had created the office of "Protector of Lanachrona" hundreds of years earlier — Mykella stood for a moment looking out across the courtyard of the palace in Tempre. She had almost forgotten the remainder of the investiture ceremony. Almost. With only a slight hesitation, she walked down the steps past the bodies of her immediately deceased Uncle Joramyl and cousin Berenyt, their figures sprawled across the stone. Undercommander Areyst followed Mykella closely.
On the left side, at the bottom of the five low and wide stone steps leading up to the main entry of the palace entry, lay the body of Arms-Commander Nephryt who, less than a fraction of a glass before, had tried to cut her down with his saber. One of the Southern Guards had straightened his form and laid him out on his back, facing the palace. Beyond the body, a Southern Guard stood, holding the reins of the gray stallion that had been Joramyl's.
Before she mounted the stallion, Mykella turned to Areyst. "Have the bodies prepared for a quiet family memorial. There will be no procession and no honors for any of them." She almost added, Traitors do not deserve honors of any sort. She did not. That would have made her look weak before the still-assembled Southern Guards. "Have someone guide my sisters to the ... Lady-Protector's study and provide a guard. I will see you there."
Areyst nodded. "Yes, Lady-Protector."
She could sense a certain amusement behind his words but also approval. She couldn't help but wonder what she had forgotten. With her Talent shields still tight about her, she swept the black cloak back over her shoulders, revealing the brilliant blue vest of the heir and the black nightsilk shirt and trousers she almost always wore. Then she mounted, wishing that she were taller and that she didn't have to jump to place her black boot in the stirrup. She wasn't about to ask for a leg up. She never had before, and now that she was the ruler of Lanachrona, she wasn't about to begin.
As she turned the stallion toward the east, before riding to the end of the palace, then north and out of sight to the rear courtyard, she used her Talent to extend her hearing, trying to pick up any words that might bode ill. Over the sound of hooves on the stone pavement that showed no sign of wear, even after thousands of years, she began to hear murmurs.
"... rides like a guard ..."
"... never thought the daughter ..."
"... the one Seltyr looked to fill his britches ..."
Had that been Malaryk, the envoy from Southgate, or one of the local Seltyrs from Tempre? Either way, that suggested problems, not that there wouldn't be scores of them in the days ahead.
Her eyes flicked to the massive oblong structure that was the palace. Not for the first time, she wondered what function it had served in the days of the vanished Alectors who had built it, because the interior was anything but designed for a ruler, even with all the additions, such as the kitchens, made over the years.
After she reached the rear courtyard, she turned the stallion toward the middle rear door to the palace. Two Southern Guards looked blankly from the stallion to her, clearly not expecting the daughter of the former Lord-Protector.
"A few things have changed," she said as she reined up. "Lord Joramyl was executed for poisoning my father and plotting the death of my brother. So was his son. That left me as Lady-Protector, and the Seltyrs and the Southern Guards have affirmed my succession."
The younger guard swallowed hard. The older and graying guard nodded slowly. "We have always served your family, Lady. We will continue to do so."
Mykella could sense the honesty behind the words. "Thank you." She dismounted gracefully, handed him the reins, stepped back, then turned toward the door.
"... she do that?" she heard the younger guard say as she opened the door.
"She was named after Mykel the Great ... for good reason, it appears ..."
As she closed the palace door behind her, she certainly hoped so, but put that thought aside as she hurried along the wide interior corridor, following it west, then south, and finally east to reach the central stone staircase — wide as it was, the only staircase — to the upper level of the palace. At the base of the steps were two Southern Guards, both older rankers, rather than the interior palace guards she had known. That Areyst had made that change did not surprise her, but the speed with which he had acted did. It also pleased her.
The one on the left inclined his head. "Lady-Protector."
Mykella returned the nod and hurried up the stairs. Neither guard spoke again even after she passed them. Another pair of Southern Guards were stationed at the top. She nodded to both and turned to her left. In moments, she had reached her destination. For just a moment, she hesitated. Was it still Sexdi? Her father's memorial ceremony, just yesterday, seemed far longer than a day ago. She straightened and opened the door.
Chalmyr rose from behind the table-desk in the outer anteroom that guarded the entry to the study that had been her father's. "Lady-Protector."
Mykella almost smiled. "Who told you?"
"Undercommander Areyst sent a Southern Guard to inform me. He has also placed trusted guards in places in the palace."
"I know." She didn't mention how she'd discovered that. "The commander is quite able and very loyal." She paused and looked at Chalmyr. "How did you feel about my father's death and Joramyl's efforts to become Lord-Protector?"
"I was distressed, Lady. I cautioned your father about Lord Joramyl once. The second time I brought up the matter, he told me never to mention the subject again if I wanted to remain as his private scrivener." The gray-haired functionary smiled sadly.
Mykella could sense the truth of the older man's feelings. "Then you will serve me as loyally as you did him?" "If you will have me, Lady-Protector."
"I will ... but only if you remain honest and tell me of your misgivings about any action I may take or contemplate."
Chalmyr bowed deeply. "That I will, Lady." He straightened. "Your sister Salyna is already awaiting you in the study."
"Do you know where Rachylana is?"
"She is in her chamber. A pair of Southern Guards are posted there to keep others from intruding. The undercommander said that she was not to leave the palace without your permission."
"That is correct. Matters need to settle for a time."
When Mykella stepped through the inner door, Salyna was standing to one side of the desk in the study that had always been that of the Lord-Protector of Lanachrona, a study that had become Mykella's as the first Lady-Protector of the land.
Behind the outward poise of her tall, blond, and beautiful youngest sister, Mykella could sense confusion, apprehension ... and even some fear. Given Salyna's expertise and training with weapons, that fear surprised Mykella.
"There's no reason for you to worry now," Mykella said.
"You can sense that, too, can't you?"
"When people are close."
"With what you did ... why couldn't you save Father?" Salyna's voice was not quite accusatory.
"I couldn't learn what I learned fast enough." Mykella shook her head. "The ... things ... I did ... today ... some of them ... today was the first time I did them." At least in public. But some of them she'd only tried once before, and all of them — except seeing the soarer, using the Table in the depths of the palace's lower levels, and beginning to sense what people felt — she had been forced to learn in order to survive after her father's poisoning by Joramyl. "Until I did them today ..." She shrugged, a gesture between resignation and helplessness. "You know I tried to caution Father ... and warn him."
"Did you have to kill Berenyt?"
"Yes. He was weak, and Cheleyza would have manipulated him. She might even have married him. She's that calculating."
Before Mykella could say more, there was a rap on the study door. "Lady-Protector, Undercommander Areyst."
"Have him come in."
The broad-shouldered and blond Areyst stepped into the study and immediately bowed. "Lady-Protector." As he straightened, his pale green eyes met those of Mykella. She could sense a firm resolve, as well as concern for her. That boded well, since she'd named him as both Arms-Commander of Lanachrona and her designated heir. She could also sense the thin strand of green amid the golden brown of his unseen life-thread, a thread that seemed more vital than that of Salyna's and far more than that of Chalmyr, whose thread was almost yellowish brown, stretching invisibly out to the east.
Areyst extended his hand, palm up. In it was a ring, golden with a large square-cut emerald set in the middle of the seal of Lanachrona. "This was your father's. The usurper wore it. It is yours now."
Both seeing her father's seal ring and hearing Areyst calling her uncle a usurper jolted Mykella, but she nodded as she took the ring. "Thank you." Because it was far too large to fit any of her fingers, she slipped it into her belt pouch.
"It is yours by right," Areyst said quietly.
"It is the Lady-Protector's by right," Mykella said gently, "not mine."
Mykella sensed his approval of her words even as she thought for a moment. Although she had planned carefully the steps by which she had removed her uncle Joramyl and his son Berenyt after their all-too-successful efforts to kill her father and her brother Jeraxylt, she really hadn't planned beyond stopping her uncle from taking control of Lanachrona.
"Commander Areyst," she began, looking into his pale green eyes, "what sort of document or proclamation do we need to confirm you as Arms-Commander of Lanachrona?"
"A simple statement with the Lord-Protector's ... the Lady-Protector's signature and seal, Lady Mykella."
"I'll also need your recommendations for the officers to take your place and that of Commander Nephryt in the Southern Guards."
"I would recommend Majer Choalt as Commander, but he will have to be recalled from Soupat." Areyst paused. "We should discuss the position of undercommander, now that Commander Demyl has ... departed."
"For the moment, I assume you and ... other officers you trust can handle the combined duties. Will that be a problem?"
"No, Lady." A faint smile crossed Areyst's lightly tanned face. "I will dispatch a courier to recall the majer immediately."
"I also need to deal with Cheleyza ..."
"Confine her," suggested Salyna.
Mykella looked to the Arms-Commander. "Would you have a squad escort her here to see me? Can you also spare a squad to keep anyone from removing anything from the villa? It's not personal property but belongs to the Lord- or LadyProtector."
"Those matters I can and will attend to. Pardoning my forwardness, Lady, both would be good ideas. If you would excuse me?"
Mykella nodded. "If you would keep me informed as to your whereabouts after dealing with Lady Cheleyza."
"I will do so." Areyst paused. "I'll also have Captain Maeltor report here in case anything else comes up where you may need the Southern Guards."
"That would be good." Mykella smiled ruefully. She should have thought of that. At least, she'd been intelligent enough to involve Areyst. "You may go."
With a nod, the commander departed.
His brevity and haste told Mykella she should have thought of putting Cheleyza under guard even sooner, but it was less than half a glass after she'd become Lady-Protector, and dealing with her late uncle's wife hadn't been her highest priority. She almost shook her head. Now ... now ... there could be no excuses. Only mistakes when you fail to act as necessary.
Once Areyst had left the study, Mykella turned back to Salyna. "I still need to talk to Rachylana."
"She won't want to talk to you," predicted Salyna. "She's convinced that she was in love with Berenyt and that he loved her. You've ruined everything for her. She thinks you did it out of spite and greed. She said that you've always wanted to rule after Father."
"I kept her alive. Cheleyza would have poisoned her again before long — or done something else equally fatal in order to keep Berenyt from marrying her."
"She won't believe that, Mykella. She never will."
"You do, don't you?"
Salyna offered a sad smile. "I wasn't sure for a long time. I thought you were right, but that was more because I trusted you. Now ... people can't lie to you, can they?"
"They can lie all they want, and some still do."
"That's not what I meant. You've changed. Did you know that I danced with that Deforyan majer?"
"No. You didn't mention it."
"He asked a lot of questions about you."
From her one dance with Majer Smoltak, Mykella had no difficulty believing that. "And?"
"He said that no one could deceive you. He also said that such a trait was admirable and useful in a ruler, but for anyone else it led to great pain and chaos. It already has, hasn't it?" Salyna's voice was gentle.
"What else would you have had me do?"
"Knowing you, there weren't any other choices." A hint of bitterness lay behind the words, softly as they had been spoken.
Mykella walked toward the wide window that looked out on the front courtyard, still filled with the weak sunlight of a late afternoon in the middle tendays of spring, scarcely any warmer than winter. Was Salyna right? Had all the deaths that she had already created, both directly and indirectly, been unavoidable, just because of who she was? How many others would there be?
"You can't stop now," Salyna said. "Then all of it will have been for nothing."
Her sister's words brought her up short, with the suggestion that there was still more to do. Of course there was, but ... What have you forgotten? Who else was part of Joramyl's plots? Abruptly, she stiffened. How could she have forgotten the lizardly Maxymt, who had replaced poor Kiedryn as the head Finance clerk? That reminded her that she needed to have someone track down Kiedryn's family and allow them to return to Tempre. She also needed to make sure they received the stipend Kiedryn would have received if Joramyl had not forced the poor clerk to suicide. As soon as practicable, she needed to talk to Lord Gharyk and all the other ministers who had served her father. And what about Treghyt, the healer? How much had he known, or suspected, about the poisonings?
She turned back to Salyna. "Have you seen Treghyt recently?"
"No." Salyna frowned. "Why?"
"I need to talk to him."
"Do you think ...?"
"I don't know. I need to find out." She turned as there was another knock on the study door. She sensed Chalmyr outside, along with another man. "Yes?"
The private scrivener eased the door open slightly. "Captain Maeltor is standing by, Lady-Protector. Do you have any orders for him?"
"I do. If you would have him come in." Mykella walked from the window back to a position before the carved desk that held so many memories, all centered on her father.
Chalmyr opened the door wider and gestured to the officer.
Maeltor was a captain Mykella did not recognize, barely half a head taller than she was, and that meant he was indeed short for an officer, but with broad shoulders and a muscular build. He carried his cap under his arm, and his face was olive-tanned under black hair. He inclined his head respectfully, then straightened, his black eyes alert. "LadyProtector."
"Captain ... I don't recall seeing you here before."
"No, Lady. I've just been promoted from undercaptain, and I was passing through before taking up a new post with Fifth Company in Dekhron."
Mykella nodded, then spoke. "There are a few other tasks that need to be taken care of. I'd like you to have some men take Maxymt into custody. He is the head clerk of the Finance Ministry, and that study is at the far end of the north corridor on this level of the palace. It should be open, but Chalmyr will have a key. I'd also like you to see if someone can locate the healer Treghyt so that I might talk to him."
"Yes, Lady-Protector. Is there anything else?"
"Not for the moment, Captain." I'm afraid there will be, though.
Maeltor nodded, then turned and departed, closing the study door behind him. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Lady-Protector by L. E. Modesitt Jr.. Copyright © 2011 L. E. Modesitt, Jr.. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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