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Chapter 5

As Meriall disappeared up the stairs, Saenni followed Armant back to the table he had been occupying. Without asking, the staff brought another plate of food for her.


'Where is Linette?'


'She is upstairs, resting. The political talks took a lot out of her.'


'But not you?'


'I am not the one who does the talking,' he said easily.


'What do you do for her?'


'I protect her. But I can't help with the political aspect, sadly.'


Saenni nodded. 'How did you come to be her guard?'


'It was in the early days of her travels. I come from a prestigious military family, and while I was stationed with a noble family in Merent, in north-eastern Trouver, I met Linette when she came to visit them. The Merent family was one of her first supporters, as under the table as their support was at the time. She was attacked during her visit and I happened to be the guard on duty at the time. To protect their investment, as they called it, they assigned me to follow her on her travels.'


'So you aren't following her by your own choice?'


'I am,' he said with a nod. 'It began as another assignment, that is true, but the more I travelled with her and learned about the prophecy, the more convinced I became that this was where I was supposed to be.'


'And Meriall?'


He gave her a long look, weighing his answer. 'I met her in Deazacliff. She found herself in a tight spot and I stepped in.'


'She's been following you since?'


'Yes.'


'How long ago was that?'


'I met Linette some six years ago, and Meriall joined us about two years ago. It's been quite the journey since then,' he said absently. 'Finding a way to summon you is the first step on the last leg of it all.'


'Do you agree with Linette's view on not killing the magi?'


He looked torn. 'I think Linette is doing what she thinks is right. My task is to support her in that mission, not to question it.'


Saenni nodded slowly, keeping her eyes trailed on him. 'That is not an answer.'


'No, it is not. I support Linette's right to try it her way. I will be here when things need a different approach, much like Meriall is,' he said without looking at her. He stared into his cup as he swirled the contents around. 'Do you disagree with it?'


'I don't disagree with supporting each other. What I find troubling is her hypocrisy. I suppose we will see how it develops.'


'Hypocrisy?'


She met his eyes evenly. 'She is okay with you, or Meriall, killing people, but she's adamant that she needs to find a different way for the magi. I have seen her use magic to protect herself, and she asks Meriall to visit that politician tonight as well. Just because she doesn't bloody her own hands, doesn't mean she's clean of it.'


'I see,' he said simply. He looked down into his cup again but didn't speak.


Saenni studied him for another moment but didn't press further. His shoulders were tense but his gaze far off. Instead, she turned her attention to the garden in the back, where one of the staff was cleaning the small fire pit. The stone making out the edge of the circle had containment magic placed on them, gleaming ever so slightly to her eyes, and the wood the woman placed inside of it was not of regular origin.


After finishing her meal, Saenni stepped out into the garden, pushing the soft curtains out of the way as she did. The large tree at the far side of the garden reached above the surrounding stone wall and towered over a large portion of the garden. The woman placing logs in the pit glanced at her as she walked by. Stepping up to the tree, Saenni put a hand to its trunk.


'It's a tree from Ardling,' the woman said, her voice soft. 'From the Blue Forest.'


'Blue Forest?' Saenni echoed as she turned to look at the woman.


She tucked a few dark strands behind her pointed ear as she nodded. 'It's the largest forest in Ardling. The leaves reflect the moonlight so it appears blue during the nights. It's due to their magical properties.'


'I see. It's beautiful.' She turned to face the woman properly. 'You are an elf?' she asked more out of politeness than anything.


'Yes. I own this inn together with my husband.'


'Is the dark-haired boy your son?'


'He is,' she said with a small smile. 'Has your stay been to your liking?'


'We arrived this morning, but so far it has,' Saenni said with a nod. 'How does it retain its magic?'


'We regularly supply it with our energy. It's not as good as the natural energy in the soil of Ardling, but it's a piece of home. Your companion seems to require your attention,' she said and motioned towards the building.


Armant gave a polite nod but did not approach them. The woman turned back to the pit as Saenni excused herself, stepping around her to get to the entrance.


'Please excuse me for interrupting. Linette has woken up and would like to speak with you.'


'About?'


'I am not sure,' he said and stepped back into the building. Armant led the way up the stairs without a word and held the door open for her. He stepped in after her and locked the door behind them. 'I've brought her.'


'Thank you, Armant,' Linette said and stepped out from the bathroom. She motioned for Saenni to take a seat by the small table at the foot of one of the beds. 'I hope Meriall made sure you had a good introduction to the city?'


'I have had a good day.'


'I am glad to hear. I wanted to take the opportunity to talk, now that Meriall is busy,' she said and sat down opposite her.


'About what?'


'As you know, I spoke with the leading family in the city earlier today. I believe Armant told you it didn't go as we had hoped it would. They are reluctant to believe our claim to the prophecy because we lack proof.'


'Proof such as what?'


Linette and Armant shared a look. 'You,' she said and folded her hands on the table delicately. 'No matter how much I tried to convince them, they refused to believe if they couldn't see it for themselves. While I would prefer to keep your presence hidden for as long as possible, to keep the magi from finding out about you, moving forward it seems like we will require you to attend these meetings with me. Otherwise, we might struggle with building the support we need.'


'Give me a good reason.'


'What?'


'Give me a good reason as to why I should. You want to use me to make sure you gain support–you'll have to give me a good reason as to why I should let you.'


'Because we need their support.'


'No, you need their support,' Saenni said and leaned her chin in the palm of her hand. 'You want to use me as an easy way out. You want to unify this land, you have to make sure you earn it. So tell me, why should I reveal who I am for your sake?'


'This is–'


'Make sure,' Saenni interrupted. 'Make sure you think about it properly before you give me an answer. Meriall is doing your dirty work right now, so I assume it'll be a while until your next meeting. Let's say you have until then.'


'Do you have something against my cause, Lady Saenni?' Linette asked after a moment, her lips pressed together tightly.


'No. Nothing against it at all.'


'You seem unwilling to work with me on all fronts. You are almost like the leaders of the cities themselves.'


'That's not going to score you any points with me, Linette,' Saenni said, not unkindly. 'Give me an answer before the next time, and we'll see how it goes.'


'Do you not want the lands to be unified as well? I recall you mentioning that it was your goal.'


'It is. My requirement still stands, however. You have to earn the right to my help. So far, you haven't.'


'I am the one from the prophecy, destined to unite the lands.'


'That only tells me you have the potential, but by no means does that equate you being worthy of it.' She leaned back in her seat. 'You wanted a test. Here it is.'


'And if my answer is not satisfactory? What happens then?'


'I suppose we will see.' Saenni turned to Armant. 'When will Meriall return?'


'Within a few hours. She will report back how it went, and tomorrow we will visit the nobles again to get their final decision.'


'Is that wise? I assume what Meriall is doing isn't going to be pleasant.'


'She is only persuading them in a different manner,' Linette said. 'They will relent tomorrow.'


'And then what?'


'We will make our way to Naservo as we planned. From there, we'll head for Normery without stopping.'


'What about the nobles?' Saenni specified.


'What about them?'


'You think they will be loyal to you in this manner?'


'Loyal enough.'


Saenni stood with a sigh. 'We'll see.'


***


Meriall returned late in the night, slipping through the window without a sound. She clicked the window shut as carefully as she could before soundlessly making her way to the small bathroom. She gave Saenni a polite nod as their eyes met.


'Welcome back,' Saenni said as she sat up.


'I thought you'd be sleeping by now. Or did I wake you?'


'No. I have rested enough during the day. Did your work go well?'


'As well as any other time,' she said with a shrug and wiped down her daggers. She glanced at Saenni. 'I stopped by and spoke with Armant before I came back, he told me you had a chat with Linette earlier. He mentioned you voiced some issues regarding me visiting the nobles tonight?'


'My issue is with how stable this course of action is. Harm doesn't encourage loyalty.'


Meriall nodded. 'That's true. I think what I do makes them think twice, and then Linette puts pressure on them. With the current amount of support, that pressure is substantial and these nobles think about money and power first. Losing one of their members, or one of them getting hurt, doesn't matter to them as long as they gain something in the end.'


'Do you think they will come to her aid when she needs it?'


Meriall returned her weapons to their rightful places and changed her clothes before she responded. 'I think that it won't matter, as long as we get the king and queen of Trouver to support her. If they order it, the rest will follow even if they hate her. They have enough power to make the rest follow their command without question.' She paused as she sat down on the bed. 'Not out loud anyway.'


'And how are you going to do that? I doubt they would be persuaded by this course of action.'


'Regarding that, I'm with you. It's a bit of a spinning wheel situation: if we have enough nobles supporting her, the king and queen will be pressured into joining her, but the nobles will only truly join if the king and queen support her.'


'So they're relying on the nobles not lying?' Saenni asked with raised brows. 'I was under impression that they were known for their less than honourable behaviour.'


'Oh, they are,' Meriall chuckled. 'I don't know. Linette seems confident enough that it will work out, but we'll see, I suppose.'


'She seems confident about a lot of things.'


Meriall snorted. 'Starting to notice it for real now? It's annoying, isn't it? Armant said you refused to help out?'


'I didn't. I refused to let Linette use my existence as an easy way to gain their loyalty, without providing me with a good reason as to why. If she can, I don't have any qualms with attending these meetings.'


'I suppose Linette didn't take that very well?'


Saenni only smiled in return. 'Will you join them tomorrow?'


'No. I don't attend the meetings. Linette and Armant are both of noble families, so they can get access without much issue. People like me,' she smiled ruefully. 'We aren't exactly welcome.'


'Will this be the world order after this business is done, you think?'


'I hope not,' she said lowly. Then she squared her shoulders and met Saenni's eye, determination in the depths of her eyes. 'No. I'll make sure it isn't.'

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