Alas, alas! While Mideer was busy arranging a better deal with the Glyntlanders her mother has died, her father been killed, and an imposter put upon Mideer’s own throne. Moreover, her uncle has been sent to Glyntland to ensure she never returns. What will she do? . . . Read on
So now, my priests, you know how I knew to come armed on my return to Madjaria. But though things were happening fast, with the eight day journey back I had time and enough to absorb the facts. Time, too, to mourn my mother, my father, and those about to die. For whatever the casualties so far in my uncles’ battles they’d be nothing compared to those inflicted by my Glyntlander Guard.
Did you, too, think that Z’lon would kill me—that Hean would allow it—that I was otherwise undefended in a strange land? Did you spill blood to your gods: to Ma-Land and to Taz-La? Yet see how my ten-man corps remained unaffected by the happenings in Madjaria, and loyal to me. Maybe Z’lon did intend to kill me. At first. Perhaps it was the sight of my loyal corps, and of Hean standing firm beside me, that decided him otherwise.
That very same night I took Z’lon to meet with First Minister Yournin. I had Z’lon relate the full story that he might hear it and understand it.
“But you must return to Madjaria,” he said—as if I needed the telling. “Our trade agreements are with you. Mideer. Queen. At least for the first five years; thereafter, as agreed, we review and renew. As discussed, we hope by then your landed lords will be eager to take up the offer.”
“Huh, if there are Landed left,” Z’lon groaned, even while looking at me for explanation of these trade agreements. I started to explain but he waved it aside. “You think I can return to there now? I now am a traitor: I didn’t kill you. You know what will happen to me? I was hoping to remain here with you, in Glyntland.”
“Your presence is welcome,” Minister Yournin said. “But it will be without Queen Mideer. She’s to return to her land, to claim her throne. I shall personally ensure it.”
“You intend to accompany us?” Hean asked him, no hint in his voice that he much doubted it.
“An ambassador, I shall appoint an ambassador. I also shall send a detachment. Two thousand troops. Your one hundred fifty landed lords—”
“I don’t want them killed,” I snapped. I could too easily imagine it. One of the sights they’d arranged for me while in Glyntland was a review of their troops and an inspection of their latest weapons. I had taken it as a none-too-thickly veiled threat. If Madjaria reneges on the terms . . .
Minister Yournin waved down my sudden panic. “No such intent, Queen Mideer. Pop off a few rounds, your sword-waving warriors soon will lay down. The threat of strength, Queen Mideer—you must learn this—is often greater than the actuality.”
Hean beside me nodded agreement: it was so.
“There is just one thing I need clarification upon before I set it in motion. Your father is dead. The king. His throne now is vacant—and clearly you have uncles eager to act as Regent. But in the interests of our trade agreement we would prefer there were no such beasts between us. You do understand our position, and what I am saying? I am asking who will be your king.”
I laughed. How often we do that when we’re anxious, embarrassed or nervous. For how could I answer him that? I said, “I can assure you I shall not be honouring the contract to wed my cousin Jon—Gregon’s son. And I doubt any will question that now. But as to who? That is not for me to say. Besides, first I must know my choices.”
“You will allow us to guide you?” he asked. “Your husband, this king, will, after all, be party to our trade agreement.”
“I am always open to guidance,” I said. I wanted to add, but Hean warned me not, that I’d not be dictated to.
You, my priests, know what happened upon my return. And were you surprised? Did you expect me dead? No mind. In the aftermath I ask only for peace. Peace too for whoever alerted Gregon. As you know, he had a small squad of his men to greet me at the quayside, ready to slay me as I stepped ashore.
It was not an incident I want repeated. The sight was . . . chilling. And though others might say that Ma-Land feasted that day, I believe rather that she retched and vomited upon all that blood. Lo! Even my own corps, men trained to fight, watched in awe. Gawped as the Glynts raked our Madja with their iron bullets. What cold, detached slaughter! A sword can slice, an axe can chop. But bullets shred. And they wanted me to wear red for the . . . No! I think never in my life shall I see red without again seeing that splatter of shredded flesh. And that one man at the back, weapons thrown down, hands held up, calling for cease.
It was Hean who stopped the killing. “No. Let him live. He offers no threat, and we need information.”
I don’t know who the man; I’d never seen him before. One of Lantri’s men (my Uncle Lantri now had joined forces with Gregon despite Z’lon had said he’d been against him). Hean—I had to avert my eyes—waded through the debris of flesh to the weaponless man at the back of the gore-and-blood spread, hunched now against a warehouse wall. What was said I do not know other than what he shouted back to me. My would-be palace was currently held by Asperin who intended the Queen’s Throne for his young daughter Maygan. Meanwhile Gregon and Lantri had laid siege to it.
So now where could we go that was safe? For yes, I know that the Glyntland detachment would protect me, but at the cost of every one of our Landed? No. I had already said this to First Minister Yournin: kill the Landed and there will be no one left to farm the lands and provide the fruit for their trade. I wanted minimum violence, and it was in the interests of Glyntland to ensure it.
“Loyse,” I said. “My lady-in-waiting.” Her family had always been loyal. Her father, Landed Lyndon, had an estate to the west of the port. It was less than a day’s ride.
Ride? But I wasn’t thinking. We had no horses. It was Lantri’s man suggested we took those now milling and riderless at the back of the warehouse. But there were not enough for all my men, not with the Glynts as well.
“Queen Mideer, you must take one,” Hean said looking at the horses. “And Ambassador Brassen.”
“And yourself,” the ambassador said.
“We’ll divide the rest of the horses between your men and ours,” Hean said. “Those without mounts might stay here? Undercover. To hold the port—in case . . .”
Of the remaining 1900 I had no real knowledge. They didn’t travel with us but had their own troop ships. Minister Yournin had liaised with Hean regarding them. Ambassador Brassen had been informed of the plans. “They’ll be on hand should they be needed,” was all I was told. In fact, as I’m sure you are now aware, they remained with their ships, anchored offshore in a state of readiness.
Lady Loyse brimmed with relief when she saw me. “My Lady, My Lady, you live, you’re alive!” And then she caught herself, swept a deep courtesy and addressed me formally as ‘My Queen Mideer.’
“I’m not your queen,” I said. “Or at least, not yet.”
Her father, Landed Lyndon was equally pleased to see me; less so at seeing my entourage. “Glynts? You bring Glynts here? I suppose that’s Master Hean’s doing.”
“No,” I said, “it is mine. And were it not for these Glyntlanders I now would be dead, my uncles intent on removing me.”
“Ah, yes,” he said and coloured with guilt.
“Not you, too? Then perhaps I ought leave before your sword cleaves me?” Though if he’d made that move he’d have soon been dead, his wide hall packed with armed men. It struck me as an incongruous sight yet, having been so long with the Glyntlanders, it was Landed Lyndon and the Madja who now looked out of place: like costumed men in a religious pageant. I looked at the Glyntlander guns, I looked at the Madjarian swords and axes. I did not want to see a repeat of the quayside slaughter. “No, I’ll go. Keep the peace.”
He, of course, wouldn’t have it. “I’ll have chambers readied for your and your party. But the corps, Madja and Glynt, must be accommodated elsewhere. The stables. My barns. Just not in my hall with my men.”
I understood his concern, and at least his refusal to open his hall to my guard applied alike to Madja and Glynts. But when Hean translated this to Ambassador Brassen he wasn’t so happy with the arrangement. He wanted a ‘detachment of the detachment’ to remain by his side. “They will share my chamber. They will be as invisible.”
Landed Lyndon allowed him five men. Hean haggled to be allowed double this number for me, comprising five Madja, five Glynts.
I cast a seething glare at him. “They can’t remain in the chamber with me.”
“Oh, but Mideer, they can. They can serve as your chaperone, for I shall be there with you too.”
“No!” Landed Lyndon supported me. “That’s most unseemly. Our would-be queen, to share a chamber with . . . with eleven men?” He threw up his hands, his face again red. “No. No, they may use the chambers to either side of Lady Mideer’s. Yes, that is the answer. In fact . . .” he paused while he considered a further thought. “Yes, it’s better you don’t reside here. There is the lodge. Often I use it for honoured guests. I’ll allocate my own best cook, my own best staff to serve you there. There you may occupy all the chambers. And though I’m reluctant to have her out of my sight, my daughter Loyse shall resume her duties with Lady Mideer—if that suits, my lady.”
It suited well, though I’d no chance to say it.
“And which Pretender is yours?” Hean asked him. “You so hurriedly sweep us out of the way, will you then send men to intrude in the dead of night and . . .?” He motioned throat-cutting. I hadn’t thought of that possibility. And why should I with so many armed men around me.
Landed Lyndon flustered. Did that mean Hean had hit on a truth? I thought not, not with the way Landed Lyndon had arrived at his offer. Yet it drove it in deeper that he hadn’t held out in support of me.
“But I thought Lady Mideer dead,” he said. “I was told . . . I mourned, I swear it. And though it was Landed Gregon who told me, I would not support him and his daughter. What! If he’d left well alone his own son would have been the next king. Why! Why change what has always been? A queen from the Kings House? It goes against the Madja soul.”
“So you support my cousin Maygan?”
“My tongue supports her,” he said. “It is with my tongue only. Were it more I would be there with Asperin now, spilling blood to Ma-Land, holding the palace against Gregon and his men. You do know your uncle Lantri supports Gregon?—hoping your cousin Antroni will be chosen to wed Gregon’s Jaegar. It disgusts me. I’m not alone in this. He blackens the name of Black Taz-La! And so rich his sacrifices that win it or lose it there’ll be no beasts left on his land when all is resolved. But, my Lady Mideer, give me time to digest this change and to think hard upon it. We will yet have you set on that throne.”
Landed Lyndon might be convinced that Mideer will yet sit on that throne but the prospects don’t look so good—not if she insists on a bloodless recovery. Considering the trigger-happy Glynts could so easily attain her throne, how long will they hold true to her desires? Next episode, Stolen