Quaeryt peered out from underneath the thick—and warm—comforter toward the nearest bedchamber window, its inner shutters fastened tightly. Even so, he could see frost on parts of the polished goldenwood. Supposedly, winter was waning, with spring some three weeks away, except that winter lasted into spring in Tilbor, even in Tilbora, the southernmost city in the province. The harbor in far-north Noira would not ice-out until the end of Maris, most likely.
A lithe figure wrapped her arms around him. “You don’t have to get up yet.”
“I do. It’s Lundi, and I am princeps, you might recall…”
“Dearest … do you have to?” The excessively pleading tone told Quaeryt that Vaelora knew he needed to rise, but that …
He turned over and embraced her wholeheartedly, finding her lips on his.
All too soon, he released her, wishing that he did not have to leave their bed. But then, it had been her desire to remind him of that.
Bhayar had been right. Quaeryt and Vaelora were enjoying being married, even if he’d never seen it coming. Vaelora had protested that she hadn’t either, that her brother had insisted she join him on his ride to Tilbora to keep her from the trouble she might have gotten into in his absence. Quaeryt had his doubts about her purported ignorance, but if that was the way she wished to portray matters, he’d certainly respect it. Then … it could have been that way. She hadn’t brought anything with her but riding clothes, and women who planned on being married usually thought about what they’d wear … unless she’d wanted to be able to insist she hadn’t known. And that was also very possible. He’d gone over all those possibilities for weeks, and probably always would … and he suspected she had planned that, as well.
“What is that smile for?” she asked, again in Bovarian, the language in which they conversed when alone—or in dealing with Bhayar.
“I was just thinking about the depths behind those seemingly guileless brown eyes.”
“I cannot believe you are interested solely in those depths.” Her slightly husky voice was both warm and slightly sardonic.
Quaeryt found himself blushing.
“Enough, lovely woman,” he declared with mock gruffness. “Your brother did say that we were to keep each other warm.”
“How, dearest, can I do that if you insist on getting out of this warm coverlet in this chilly bedchamber?”
Eventually, Quaeryt did leave the bed, as did Vaelora, and they washed and dressed quickly. Quaeryt was more than grateful for the warm water waiting in the bath chamber. Just the thought of the cold water in the officers’ quarters made him shiver.
Although Governor Straesyr, when he had been princeps, had lived with his wife and family in one of the row houses along the north wall of the Telaryn Palace, Bhayar had declared that such quarters were not suited to his sister. Quaeryt had suggested that the apartments on the upper east end of the palace proper—those that had been occupied by Tyrena, the daughter of the last Khanar of Tilbor before its conquest by Bhayar’s father—were most suitable for a princeps and that it would be most incongruous—not to mention grossly unfair—for the newly wed princeps to occupy the larger apartments of the former Khanar when his superior was the governor. That arrangement had been accepted by Bhayar and Vaelora and had certainly obviated possible tensions between Governor Straesyr and Quaeryt.
As Quaeryt began to pull on the fine browns of a scholar that Vaelora had insisted that he have tailored—because a princeps needed to look the position, as well as carry it out—he glanced at his left arm. It was still thinner than his right, while the skin was paler, not that his skin, ever so slightly darker than the pale honeyed shade of his wife’s complexion, would ever approximate the near bluish white of the Bovarian High Holders and royal family. Given the beating his body had taken in the battles against the rebel hill holders, he was glad that none of the injuries had been permanent, unlike his left leg, shorter than his right, presumably since birth, since he didn’t recall it ever being other than that.
Quaeryt waited until Vaelora was dressed—in light brown trousers, a cream blouse, and a woolen jacket that matched her trousers—before walking with her down the short corridor to the small cherry-paneled private dining room that had once been graced by Tyrena, who had been Khanara in fact, if not in name. There the ceramic stove radiated a comforting warmth.
Quaeryt seated Vaelora on one side of the table, then took his place to her left, at the end of the table, where Vaelora had insisted he belonged from the very first day of their marriage. In moments, a ranker in a winter-green uniform appeared with a teapot, a basket of warm dark bread, and a platter on which were cheese omelets and fried potatoes—exactly the same fare as in the officers’ mess, if served on porcelain, and if not quite so warm.
Quaeryt poured her tea, then his. “I do enjoy breakfast with you.”
“As opposed to dinner?” She raised her eyebrows.
“No. As well as dinner.” He grinned, enjoying the game, holding the platter so that she could serve herself.
“What will you do today?”
“What I do every day. I have a meeting at eighth glass with Cohausyt—”
“He’s the one with the sawmills who wants to pay to harvest timber on the lands Bhayar got from the rebel hill holders?”
“That’s the one. I put him off because I needed to find out what finished timber and planking goes for in Tilbora.”
Quaeryt snorted. “In a way. I ended up finding out what the carpenters and cabinetmakers pay for wood. I had to work backward from that. Later, I have to meet with Raurem—he’s a produce and grain factor—to see if he can supply grain cakes for the regiments.” After eating several mouthfuls, and taking a swallow of the tea, he asked, “How are your plans coming for the spring reception?”
“Madame Straesyr has been somewhat helpful … as has Eluisa D’Taelmyn.”
Eluisa D’Taelmyn? Then Quaeryt realized she was talking about Rescalyn’s mistress, the Bovarian High Holder’s daughter the former governor had introduced as Mistress Eluisa. “She’s still here? I thought she had never married.”
“That’s her father’s name. He’s one of the lesser Bovarian High Holders. She has nowhere else to go, and Emra begged her husband to let her stay and teach their children singing and how to play the clavecin.”
“I heard her play once.”
“You told me. So did she. You upset her, you know?”
“I had that feeling. I was trying to see if Kharst was as terrible as they say.”
“He’s worse, according to Eluisa.”
Quaeryt wasn’t about to pursue that subject. “From your tone, I take it that neither one has been that helpful.”
“They’re really only interested in the wives of High Holders, not the wives of factors.”
Quaeryt wanted to shake his head. “How are your writings coming?”
“I write some every day.” She smiled. “The palace library has so many wonderful books.”
“I know. I even read parts of some of them.”
“You did mention that.” Vaelora took a sip of tea. “I wish this were hotter.”
“They have to carry it up from the kitchen.”
“I know. What do you think she was like?”
“Who?” Quaeryt had no idea to whom his wife was referring.
“Tyrena. The Khanara who wasn’t. You told me about those few scraps of paper you found with her writing.”
“She was too strong in a situation where there were no intelligent men to marry and manipulate.”
“Are you suggesting…?”
“Me?” Quaeryt laughed. “All men react to women. All women react to men. Intelligent men and women react intelligently.” Usually, but not always, unfortunately. “From all the documents I’ve read, none of the men in power after her father fell too ill to understand were intelligent enough to listen to her. Probably the only man in Telaryn who might have been was your brother, and he’s much better off with Aelina.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because you said that, and you know them both far better than I do.” He swallowed the last of his omelet, and the remainder of his tea. “I need to go.” He stood, then moved beside her chair, bent and kissed her neck. After a long moment, he straightened.
“Remember,” she said, “make the factors explain. In detail.”
Quaeryt smiled. “Yes, dearest.”
“You’re close to disrespecting me.” Her tone was bantering.
“Close doesn’t count.” Except in bed.
“I know what you’re thinking.”
He managed not to blush. “I’ll see you later.”
After leaving the third-level apartments, he made his way down the circular staircase to the second level, and then to the princeps’s anteroom and the study beyond. After almost a month and a half as Princeps of Tilbor, he was still slightly amazed when he walked into the study, although the view to the northern walls and the hills beyond was largely blocked in winter by the mostly closed shutters and hangings.
Princeps or not, he still met with Straesyr at the seventh glass of the morning every Lundi, and once he had checked with Vhorym, the squad leader who was his assistant, he walked back across the second level to the governor’s chambers.
“He’s waiting for you, sir,” offered Undercaptain Caermyt from his table desk in the anteroom.
Quaeryt closed the study door behind himself and took one of the seats in front of Straesyr’s wide table desk. “Good morning.” He spoke in Tellan, because that was the language used normally by the military—although officers were strongly encouraged to learn Bovarian, and failure to do so was usually a bar to promotion above captain.
“I have to say that you’re much more cheerful these days,” offered the governor, squaring his broad shoulders and running a large hand through still-thick silvered blond hair, as he straightened in his chair and pushed a map to one side.
“No one’s fighting or attacking, and the winter storms haven’t been that bad.” Quaeryt laughed ironically. “That’s according to the locals. I’ve never seen so much snow and ice in my life, and they’re saying it’s not so bad as it often has been.”
“You read Lord Bhayar’s last dispatch, I take it.”
That was a rhetorical nicety. Straesyr routed all dispatches to Quaeryt. Quaeryt, in turn, made sure that the few letters and dispatches, other than those of a personal nature, that came to him also went to Straesyr. “I did.”
“Once the roads to the south are clear, he’s ordered First Regiment to depart and take the route from Bhorael to Cloisonyt and from there to Solis.”
“And from there,” said Quaeryt dryly, “Bhayar will post them either to Lucayl or Ferravyl.”
“Ferravyl’s the greater danger,” said the governor mildly.
“But, if Bhayar can determine how to conquer Antiago, that offers an opportunity to obtain greater resources and to deny them to Kharst. Not to mention the fact that Bhayar has never felt that Autarch Aliaro treated Chaerila with the respect she deserved.” Which is why you worry about his notes mentioning “respect.”
“Chaerila?” Straesyr’s silver-blond eyebrows lifted.
“His oldest sister. She died in childbirth. According to Aliaro, her daughter died also. The daughter’s death was mentioned as an afterthought.”
“Did the Autarch express profound sympathy? Do you know?”
“I gained the impression that the sympathy was slightly more than perfunctory.”
Straesyr shook his head. “Has Lord Bhayar conveyed anything … personally … to you?”
“Outside of brotherly missives to Vaelora and two rather short and polite notes reminding me to respect her at all times, I have heard nothing since the wedding.” He paused, then asked, “How do Myskyl and Skarpa feel about the progress of Second and Third Regiments?”
“They feel that Second Regiment is largely ready and that Third Regiment will be ready for whatever duties it may be assigned by the end of spring. Commander Skarpa feels that if necessary, he could accomplish the last of the training while traveling.”
Quaeryt missed eating in the mess with the officers, but as princeps, he was not in the military chain of command, except in the event that Straesyr was killed or incapacitated. Twice, he had taken the governor’s place at mess night, once when the governor had the flux and once when a snowstorm had stranded him at High Holder Thurl’s estate, even though the estate gates were less than five milles from the Telaryn Palace.
“I’ll be meeting with Cohausyt at eighth glass,” Quaeryt offered. “You saw the revisions to the calculations based on your recommendations.”
“I did. Cohausyt will still do well, but Lord Bhayar can use the golds, especially if Kharst attacks.”
Or if Bhayar attacks Antiago. “I’ll be meeting with Raurem this afternoon as well. That’s about whether he can supply those grain cakes for travel fodder for the regiments.”
“He’s a produce factor, isn’t he, not a grain factor?”
“He is both, and Major Meinyt mentioned that he includes some rougher grains in his cakes, and they travel better, and the horses seem to do better. After you pointed out that there won’t be much forage when they’re leaving, I thought I should look into it.”
Straesyr nodded. “I’m already getting to the point where I’ll miss you when you go.”
“Go? I’m not going anywhere, not that I know.”
The governor smiled, and his icy blue eyes seemed to soften for a moment. “You manage to get things done. You’re old enough to understand, mostly, and young enough to try the almost impossible. You also know the difference between impossible and not quite impossible. You’re trustworthy, and Bhayar trusts you. There will be fewer and fewer advisors and officers whom he can trust totally. Sooner or later, he’ll need you again. For your sake, I hope it’s later.”
So did Quaeryt.
“Is there anything else?”
“Good. I’ll talk to you later.”
Quaeryt rose and made his way back across the second level of the palace. Cohausyt was already in the anteroom waiting when Quaeryt returned to his chambers.
“Do come in.” Quaeryt smiled and kept walking.
The timber factor followed, and Vhorym closed the study door behind them.
Quaeryt gestured to the chairs, then settled behind his desk. “Lord Bhayar has agreed that the mature goldenwoods and oaks can be cut, but there are a number of conditions involved.”
“There are always conditions in everything,” said Cohausyt.
“There are indeed.” Quaeryt picked up the sheet of paper from the desk and handed it over. “Here are the terms.”
Quaeryt could see the tic in the factor’s left eye begin to twitch as the older man read the sheet of paper.
“I don’t know about leaving the softwoods untouched…” said the factor slowly.
“We know that the goldenwoods and oaks are heavier. There will be times when they bring down the evergreens. The terms state that you can only log those brought down incidentally … and not incidentally on purpose. Is that unreasonable?”
“Well … no, sir, but at times the best goldenwoods are surrounded by stands of pines, and there’s no way to get to them…”
Quaeryt listened until Cohausyt finished, then said, “You’d best make those points of access very narrow.”
“I suppose we can handle that … but no goldenwoods less than two-thirds of a yard across or two yards around at a yard above the ground?”
“That’s what the best foresters recommend…”
“Begging your pardon, Princeps, but foresters aren’t the ones who have to cut and mill the timber.”
“That’s true. They’re the ones who have to make sure that there are trees there for your sons to cut and mill.”
Cohausyt sighed and went back to reading, but only for a few moments. “… smoothing and tamping the logging roads?”
“Lord Bhayar doesn’t want large gullies in the middle of his woods.”
“But, sir, tamping takes men and time, and…”
Again, Quaeryt listened, before finally saying, quietly, “You are getting access to prime goldenwoods and oaks. There’s not a stand like them anywhere else in Tilbor.”
“But these terms…”
“I suppose I could post the terms and have others bid on them…” mused Quaeryt. Not that he wanted to, because Cohausyt was by far the most honest of the timber factors, and that meant that Bhayar would likely not be shorted on the golds from the sale of the timber. Quaeryt would have liked to have sold the rights for a flat fee, but there wasn’t a timber factor in Tilbor who possessed that amount of golds to pay up front.
“No … I’ll do what’s right, Princeps.” Cohausyt looked to Quaeryt. “I’ve heard you’re fair. Hard mayhap, but fair. It’ll take a bit longer, though.”
“I understand.” And Quaeryt did. Everything has to do with golds … and time. He understood that necessity, but even with the more honest factors, and Cohausyt was one of those, every term had to be spelled out in ink … and then explained.
He couldn’t say that he was looking forward to the meeting with Raurem. With all the nit-picking and endless details required in everything, it seemed, he understood more than ever why Straesyr had been more than happy to relinquish his duties as princeps to Quaeryt.
Copyright © 2012 by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.