Vermillion woke slowly, but when he remembered where he was and why, he knew he wasn’t going back to sleep. Despite the circumstances, he was enjoying holding Iaondrin against him again. Unfortunately, he thought it would be best to be ready when they came. “My Lady,” he whispered.
“I know.” She opened her eyes and looked up at the mirrored ceiling, wondering what strange gatherings it might have witnessed during Tallentire’s lifetime. “I think I’m not going to wear the dress. They get the earrings, but not the dress.” She turned to look at him. “Besides, the boots don’t match.”
“Maybe we should call it off, then,” he suggested softly. “Can’t be expected to do this with boots that don’t match. What would people say?” He raised up on his elbow, moved his hand from across her to brush some hair back from her face, fingertips barely touching her skin.
“At this point, I don’t give a shit. Not even in Otori’s temple.” She started to laugh, but managed to squelch it. It wouldn’t do to start being light-hearted now. “I need to use the privy,” she said in a deliberately serious voice. “But I refuse to use the one here, for gods know whether he has something set to watch. So I hope someone comes to fetch us soon.”
He watched her for a few moments more, then sighed and sat up reluctantly. “I’d rather be up and moving when they get here.”
Iaondrin sat up, too, and moved immediately to pull her boots onto her feet and settle the blades inside. She resettled the belt around her waist, and then donned her armor. “Too much to wear the sword?”
“Dunno,” he answered as he got himself ready. “They don’t let visitors to the gallery take weapons in at all, but we aren’t visitors. I don’t think Councillors wear weapons, well, beyond daggers, but they do have guards that do.” He shrugged. “Wear it, and I’ll disembowel anyone who tries to take it away.”
“Might as well start things off with an evisceration.” She strapped the sword on, and just as she finished the knock came at the entrance, and Tallentire wavered in, leaning heavily on his cane.
“My servants will take you to the Lady. There’s a cloak in the outer room for you to use, if you would like. Folks are accustomed to seeing people slink out of my chambers with their faces hidden.” He started to laugh, and then winced as if the movement hurt him. “Watch her well, young man. There is no way to move her from here to the Council chambers without moving through some of the more public halls. At least it is a direct route. I move more slowly than you, and will follow after.”
“Thank you for your hospitality, my Lord,” Vermillion offered. “And your discretion.” True, the old lecher had hinted at stories that had made them uncomfortable, but they had been safe. That meant something to Vermillion. He moved to stand next to Iaondrin and wait.
After she had donned the cloak and raised the hood, three of Tallentire’s servants entered the outer receiving room and fell in around Vermillion and Iaondrin. The two men and one woman were garbed as nothing more than household attendants, but an experienced eye could tell that all three moved with the care and watchfulness of guards. Another three remained behind, to escort and support Tallentire himself as he followed.
The path to the Council chamber was direct, and other people with business there began to fill the halls. Tallentire’s staff would occasionally stop to allow people to pass, seemingly out of courtesy but also clearly to keep a space between themselves and anyone unknown. And then as quickly as that, they were handed off in an antechamber short of the meeting hall itself, one set aside for the use of a number of the Council members. The Lady’s Evandin was waiting; his eyes swept over them both, and he half-smiled at the trousers and boots he saw under the cloak. “Time runs short, and Lady So is already in the hall. What message do you need to relay?” he asked in a low voice.
“Antazos of Sa’iph knows me. I don’t know if he will recognize me on sight, but he definitely knows my names. And we don’t get along well. For myself, it doesn’t matter if he knows I am here, though I want to see the surprise on his face when he learns it. I thought the Lady So should be forewarned.”
He nodded. “Understood. You will not be announced yourself. Except for a few stragglers, the Council has gathered. Are you ready?” Some of the people in the antechamber around them – servants or staff members of various Council members – were shooting glances in their direction and trying to eavesdrop, but none dared step close enough to risk annoying him.
Vermillion found himself looking at Iaondrin briefly. He could feel the tension coming off her in waves. “As ready as we can be without knowing what the fuck is happening,” he turned back to the Evandin. After the Evandin turned away, he slid his hand into Iaondrin’s comfortingly and whispered, “Ya know, you did look nice in the gown. I’m just sayin’, I care for you not what you wear, but you looked nice.”
She squeezed his hand but did not answer.
“Given more time, a better plan might have been laid,” Manton answered Vermillion softly. “But that would have given others more time to plan as well, and you might never have gotten her to this door alive. Better to catch them off-guard.” He was waiting for a signal of some sort, one that only he would hear. “You have counsel inside, by the way, and I am told he thinks well on his feet.”
“One thing I learned when it comes to getting information – don’t give ‘em more than they asked for. And stay away from Morgan, they will want to use him against you, especially when they learn he is still there.” And then what the Evandin said sunk in. “What? A petty fogger? Dammit. I should have fuckin’ thought of that. I even know one who’ll stand up to the League.” He had learned a lot about scowling over the past month and he put it to use. “Dammit.”
Manton smiled. “Lady So knows one who meets that description as well.” Inside, raised voices could be heard, though the words could not be made out through the thick wood. He glanced back. “Take the cloak off, girl, and go in with your head up.” And then he pushed the doors open, stepping through into the chamber. Inside, shouted protests suddenly became audible.
“-should be brought to Halveet”
“-is unacceptable! How dare you sand-bag us”
“-Council does not kowtow to the League!”
The curved chamber rose up, the public galleries set back from the table and climbing the walls, while the C of the Council table sat on a raised area at the bottom. The Council members’ guards stood behind them, and ten feet past that were the boxes that held each members’ clerical assistants. Manton kept himself in front of Iaondrin, hands away from his blade, and as he stepped forward into the space between the two ends of the table, she became visible to both Council and the galleries. At the same moment, she and Vermillion could see the promised attorney, dressed in fine barrister’s robes, spectacles perched on his nose. As the shouting began again, a roar of noise in the chamber, Allenel Gilford simply smiled, a calm in the center in the storm.
Vermillion’s surprised “What the fuck?!” was drowned out by the renewed yelling and screaming, but he felt a little better with Gilford there on their side. He scanned those at the table, looking to see who was actually angriest, who might have been more surprised than angry, and those who were sitting back, coldly calculating. He also checked the galleries to see if he could pick out Priore, Fournier and Tavis. And lastly, he looked around for Antazos to see if the Sa’iph Lord recognized him.
The banners hung behind each chair, indicating the holder of each seat. Ellinden So sat along the curve to the left, and across from her sat Antazos with his own Evandin standing behind him. The Sajeem’s ambassador showed no surprise nor recognition; however, in the box behind his seat, past his Evandin, Damiano sat as one of the three assistants who attended him in the chamber. The debt-bonded’s dark blue eyes passed over Vermillion without stopping, and then came back to pause only momentarily. That was the only acknowledgment he gave.
Most of those who held the seats for the League cities were on their feet, shouting to be heard over one another, and over representatives from the lords and ladies of Wyndham, as well as the lords and ladies of Helve. The dwarven ambassador from Holberg sat back in his chair, near the center of the curve, with a slight smile on his face, as if the conflict between and among human and Shal amused him. A tall, willowy man dressed in green from the Quaj simply looked down at his folded hands and waited for the ruckus to quiet down. It was impossible to pick out the three contenders among those in the galleries from this angle.
As Vermillion looked about the chamber, he could see that the A’nari banner was still missing, and the chair was still pushed back against the wall with an oily black rope looping from one arm-rest to the other.
A glance passed between Ellinden So and Manton, and it was obvious that under any other circumstances, he would have moved to take his place at her back. But he stayed where he was, near them, and when one particularly red-faced and irate League representative sought to step closer, he placed one hand on the hilt of blade and backed the man down with a look.
Suddenly, a voice boomed out over all the others, amplified by magic and unable to be ignored. It came from a half-Shal woman who stepped forward into the curve of the table, and she slammed the butt of a ceremonial staff into the floor as she spoke. The thud also echoed throughout the chamber. “The Council is in session!” she said, and though her face showed she spoke quietly, her voice cut through all of them. Vermillion could remember from his past visit that she was the Council Chamberlain – not a member, but an administrator, and her scolding eventually settled brought a semblance of quiet to the room. When most had reduced themselves to grumbling and whispers, she nodded to Gilford.
“My lords and ladies,” he began, and the acoustics of the room carried his words to every seat in the gallery. “Iaondrin Shal A’nari has come before you to answer certain accusations that have been levied against her by your colleagues from the Halveetian League.” He extended one arm to indicate that she should step forward.
Iaondrin released Vermillion’s hand. She looked around, obviously measuring who stood where – whose guards were armed, how quickly someone could move towards her. With a slow release of a pent-up breath, she stepped forward to stand beside Gilford.
As Vermillion moved to step with Iaondrin, Manton and he exchanged nods, Manton moving to stand with his own Lady. While he walked, he shook his left arm slightly to loosen it as if he were getting ready for a melee to break out. He glanced around the table at Councillors and guards then shrugged unconcernedly – he wouldn’t be afraid of bullies. He whispered to her, “You are strong. Show them that.” He stopped a step before she did, here to protect her, not to speak for her.
She didn’t feel strong at that point, with all the people staring down at her, and if it hadn’t been for Vermillion at her back, she might have turned to leave. In the moments that followed, as Council members tried to speak out of turn, and the Chamberlain again thudded the floor with her staff to remind them of protocol, she couldn’t even register what was being said. Someone, a man sitting before the banner of Halveet itself, imperiously demanded that she answer some question that she had not even heard. She had the feeling he had already asked the question once before she even realized he was speaking to her.
“With all due respect, Councillor,” Gilford broke in before she could ask that the question be repeated, “the Lady appears here today with counsel, and lest she deign to respond to the inquiry, it must, by the rules of this august body and by the rules of any court within the League itself, be directed to me.”
The Chamberlain nodded to a Council member at the far left end of the curve of the table, giving him leave to speak. “We get ahead of ourselves.” The voice was old, and Iaondrin turned her head and saw that it was their host from the night before speaking. “She is not here to be questioned by League, she is here to be questioned by Council, despite the efforts of my esteemed colleague from Halveet, Master Oberuc, to ignore the distinction.”
That set off another round of noisy debate. “I don’t understand what’s happening,” Iaondrin whispered softly so that only Gilford and Vermillion could hear.
”- she aided the Clunne!”
”- violated the Council’s treaties with the League!”
“-not proven. And in any event, why are private citizens from outside the League held to League policies?”
The Chamberlain let the debate continue for a few minutes before calling everyone back to order again. Tallentire waited a moment to make sure everyone would recognize he held the floor. “As I was saying, before everyone worked themselves up into such a hubbub, we do not sit here in the Aihv’ and deliberate at the League’s whim. The Lady has come, as she has a right to do, as daughter of an ancient and proud Shal family. I for one will not tolerate that she be treated as some guttersnipe. Why, there is even an argument to be made that she need not answer the League’s complaints at all.”
When Tallentire’s last statement provoked another round of arguments, Vermillion sighed, starting to think that it was going to take a week before the first question was asked. It was also becoming obvious that Iaondrin needed a minute or two to clear her head. He reached behind him and drew the meteoric knife and set about cleaning his fingernails carefully, seemingly ignoring the Council and its arguments.
The Quaj ambassador, truly not caring about the Council’s arguments, caught the movement of this Iaondrin’s guard’s cloak and looked down to notice he had drawn a blade and seemed completely unconcerned with what the Council was doing. The blade glinted wildly as he worked on his nails. Even as the ambassador touched Councillor Ankarra’s arm to draw her attention to it, he felt the tension in the guards rise.
Celadra, behind Councillor Ankarra almost drew her rapier to skewer this young upstart, but then noticed how wildly the blade flashed across the Councillors. He is doing it on purpose, she realized. The heedlessness of his actions made her frown. He was likely to get himself killed without question if he made any sudden moves with that dagger.
A number of the guards standing around the room – those of the individual Councillors, and the general guard for the Aihv’ itself – tensed, and reached for their own weapons. The Councillor from Halveet looked over at Tallentire with a somewhat smug look on his face. “She dares to affront the Council itself,” he said.
Tallentire laughed and at back as if he had no concern that Vermillion had just violated one of the long-standing rules of the Council. “Ah, that. He’s a bit feeble-minded.” He waved one hand to dismiss the concern raised by the drawing of a weapon. Allenel Gilford however, half-turned and looked at Vermillion; his face was expressionless – and that alone told him something.
Vermillion stepped forward, since they were talking of him, and stood next to Iaondrin. “Actually, my Lord, I am a guttersnipe. And I didn’t know a man cleaning his fingernails would offend.” He still had one left to do, so he set about finishing. Behind Councillor Ankarra, one corner of Celadra’s mouth twitched at his deliberate misconstruing, and she was sure it was deliberate, of Halveet’s concern.
The Councillor from Visayain glared. He was annoyed at the dampness in the air that bothered his knees. Irritated that they had cooked his eggs incorrectly for breakfast. Bothered that they hadn’t clapped this woman in irons already. And now this. It was bad enough to have to address street trash, but this one was obviously daft. He gritted through his teeth, “Perhaps you should have done that before coming here.”
“Oh aye. Might have done, ‘cept I came here expecting to die cuttin’ the Lady’s way free,” he answered and looked to Iaondrin. He hoped that tweaked her enough to get her back up a little. “But I find the Lady worthy o’ that. When we came here to answer the High Council’s decree, we didn’t expect to have to wait to get to the important stuff. It’s been eight years, figured the details had been worked out by now.” He paused and frowned, and it was clear he was thinking that they all had hoped no A’nari would come back. “Anyway, apologize for the interruption.” He slid the knife back in his sheath and stepped back.
Celadra watched him, saw the look he gave her and the frown on her face. He’s stalling. Letting her get her feet under her. A tricky game, guarding someone you were that devoted to, she believed. Could give you strength, could make you do stupid things. She found herself hoping that for this ‘guttersnipe’, it was the former.
Councillor Ankarra of Tarrish frowned slightly, then motioned with her hand to be recognized to speak. She stood, and there were a few sighs of exasperation at her coming lecture, but she pushed them aside as she always did. “The young man, no matter his mistake in etiquette,” she glanced at him reprovingly, “has said something valid. The decree did come from the High Council, and as much as some would wish to believe otherwise,” and here she turned to talk down the wing of the table Oberuc was not sitting on, “the League is not the High Council. However, as some others would not have us believe,” at this she turned to away from the wing where Tallentire sat, “everyone with a Seat here is, by definition, a High Councillor. It seems the High Council must hear this Lady before any decision is made on whether she be given to the League. A fine distinction, perhaps, but one I feel must be made.”
Gilford looked away from Vermillion, and glanced at Iaondrin to make sure that she had gathered her thoughts and was ready to proceed. “Thank you, Councillor.” He ignored the exchange between Vermillion and the Council – after all, what was there that could be said? – and moved on. “My client requires clarification of her status before you today, Lords and Ladies -“
“Your client?” Oberuc broke in. “Did you meet the girl for the first time today?” He leaned forward in his chair to glare over at Ellinden So, whose Evandin had escorted them in. “I renew my demand for clarification – is this a game being played by Sutton? Was she held in your back pocket, only to be brought out when we were on the verge of a vote? And is this Gilford,” he sneered, and there was murmuring in the galleries, for all knew the lawyer had represented the Chatterton Six, and had been retained to represent resisters arrested in Seawell, “your puppet?”
The Chamberlain shot a look at the Lady of Sutton, indicating that she was prepared to call Halveet’s representative out of order for speaking without leave. Ellinden, however, simply asked, “May I be heard?” and the Chamberlain nodded. She stood, silver-shot black hair hanging past her hips in a curtain. “There are a number of fine distinctions that I feel must be observed,” she began, with a nod to Ankarra.
“First, I have acted only in good faith in addressing what has been a long and troubling problem for all of us. For Darilei,” she nodded to the Marche’s representative first, “to Seldez,” an acknowledgment for the soldier who held, for Vactor Adelu, the Seat won in part as a payment for her son’s release, “or for those of us who knew Euricio Shal A’nari and Lillias A’nari, and who grieved their loss.” Her voice hardened, just slightly, as she turned to look at Oberuc. “I will not countenance having that good faith questioned.” Dark blue eyes considered him, and though he did not look away – for that would be a sign of weakness he could ill afford – neither did he interrupt again.
When she was sure he would stay silent, Ellinden looked at the public galleries. “However, lest there be a concern any the minds of any, then know this. My Evandin met her outside the Council chamber for the first time mere minutes before they entered, to ensure that she was indeed who she claimed to be. Master Gilford, do you care to speak to the challenge regarding your relationship with your client?”
Gilford looked first to the Chamberlain, careful to observe the niceties of procedure. “I met her months ago, with no introduction by the Lady of Sutton, in Darilei, when she came to my offices of her own accord.”
The Chamberlain waited a moment, considering both Ellinden and Gilford. “Speak then, the name of she who stands before the High Council.”
Gilford turned back to Iaondrin, and she nodded. “I am Iaondrin, daughter of Euricio Shal A’nari and Lillias A’nari.” A low sigh ran through the public galleries. The Chamberlain looked up with a frown, concerned that the noise might build and further interrupt the proceedings, but it died down.
“Then I respectfully submit,” Ellinden continued, not yet yielding the floor, “in response to your request, Master Gilford, for a clarification of her status, that she comes to us as direct heir of the A’nari line, an ancient Shal family and one of the cornerstones of the Politi.” It was a challenge to various members’ conflicting loyalties, those who themselves came from such families, or who wore the silver loops, but who might otherwise have supported the League’s candidate. Around the table, some lords and ladies nodded. “Let not those fine distinctions be forgotten.” Ellinden sat again, smoothing her grey silk robes, and folded her hands on the table-top.
Gilford waited, to see if anyone would think to argue with the Lady of Sutton on those points, but no one seemed inclined to do so, not even Oberuc who sat back in his chair with his arms crossed over his chest, clearly displeased. Iaondrin looked around the table, trying to see if she could name any of the Shal lords or ladies. “As I understand the claims that have been raised against my client,” he began smoothly, “the Halveetian League and its august representatives here contend that Lady Iaondrin has engaged in certain activities with the Clunne, in interference with League caravans and merchants?”
“That-” Oberuc stopped and cleared his throat when the Chamberlain raised one eyebrow. He returned her look with a ‘well?’ expression on his face, and she tipped the top end of her staff in his direction. “That is a way to soft sell it, barrister. People were killed and goods stolen, prisoners were taken and ransoms demanded. Worse than the pirates of Helve,” he shot a glare at Tallentire, who simply smiled, “and all in violation of this Council’s treaties with the League not to interfere with League trading rights.” A number of people at the table were nodding to support him now, including some who had seemingly been swayed by Ellinden So, and some in the public galleries called out, or stomped their feet, to express their agreement.
Iaondrin frowned mightily, and opened her mouth to speak, but Gilford lifted one hand slightly to stop her. She glared at him, ready to snap at him instead, but he ignored her. “Then the League’s chief complaint, as I understand it – and I am sure that many here will correct me if I am wrong – is that Lady Iaondrin has broken a commitment that became her onus due to ratification by the Council?”
Son of a bitch, Vermillion thought, he’s going for a loop hole. He pushed his eyes skyward for a moment in annoyance. A loop hole didn’t help them at all – they’d still have to dodge the League, who wouldn’t care about a loop hole. Still, half of the Chatterton Six acquitted in a city full of people screaming for hanging them all said he might be on the right track. Vermillion swallowed his distaste.
“Aye, that is it exactly!” Oberuc slammed one fist on the table-top. “Lord Tallentire and his colleagues from Helve swear they have no involvement with the pirates, and the others on this Council shake their heads and murmur how terrible it is that ships are taken, but they do nothing to even question whether the Lords of Helve have broken the Council’s promises.” At the end of the table, Tallentire yawned, bored. “And now one of the western Shal does the same, for land caravans – and when called to answer for the breach of that promise, instead she and her cousin run. That speaks volumes about the truth of what she has done.”
Vermillion clenched his jaw tight to keep from screaming their ignorance at them. Did none of them think about what might be able to take out a House full of Politi and everything that goes with that? They were running before that, fuck head! He was beginning to think that no one ever asked the hows and the whys of the deaths of the A’nari, they just saw an empty Seat.
Celadra saw the sudden tension coming off the A’nari’s guard at Oberuc’s last statements, watched his hands clench and unclench several times slowly. C’mon ‘snipe, choose strength over stupid, she thought. He seemed to get himself under control, just in time for his Lady to lose it.
“I didn’t make any promises to you about anything,” Iaondrin finally snapped. It was bad enough to have to stand in front of these people, these strangers, and be ready to answer their questions. But Gilford had held her silent, and she was ready to spit. He half-turned to look at her, to try to make her stop, but she held up one hand. “Don’t. Just – don’t.” His expression said that he thought it wisest for her to let him handle the parry and thrust, but he gave a brief nod and stepped back, and she looked back at Oberuc.
Ankarra turned her head to look at Iaondrin suddenly and intensely. Her words to Oberuc had tickled her memory. She hadn’t been on the Council when it had taken place, but… She reached into her bag, pulled out a scroll of several papers rolled together. Celadra glanced over and almost smiled – trust her mistress to have her own copy of the contract between the Council and the League. She unrolled the last page and raised her eyebrows as she read it. Glancing around, she saw that either no one had noticed her movements or were studiously ignoring them, as she was known for lecturing on what she found inside this or that scroll or book. She rolled the scroll back up, deciding that if Oberuc wouldn’t listen to her discourses on contracts and upholding your end, then he deserved what was about to happen.
Vermillion turned and watch Gilford step back, met his gaze, and gave the shortest of nods. Leaning forward, he breathed in Iaondrin’s ear, “Tread lightly, my Lady. The petty fogger has a plan and that one up there’s been waiting for this for a long time.”
Iaondrin’s lips thinned, and she looked ready to spit at him instead, but instead she drew a breath in through her nose and bit off whatever she had been about to say.
Allenel Gilford clasped his hands loosely behind his back and looked down as he rocked back and forth on his heels, thinking about what Oberuc had said. He nodded slowly to himself. “The League’s outrage at the possibility that a Shal house, bound by a promise made, has broken that commitment would be understandable. And likewise, the Council’s concern to make certain it took such a House to task for breaching a promise made by the Council, and ratified by that House, would be understandable, especially if the heir to that House may lay claim to an open Seat on the Council itself. And that, my Lords and Ladies,” he said quietly as he looked up, “is the crux of my request for clarification of my client’s status before the High Council.“
The emphasis was deliberate, drawing the distinction Ankarra had noted – that the High Council had to follow its procedures, regardless of what the League might want. “Madam Chamberlain, if you would, could you please remind me – how many years ago did the Council, and its members, make this agreement with the League?”
The Chamberlain’s eyebrows drew together in confusion at the question, and then realization dawned. “Fourteen years past, this coming autumn.”
Allenel Gilford looked down again, and again nodded to himself, waiting for someone other than the Chamberlain to draw the conclusion he had directed them toward – indeed, the very point Iaondrin herself had sought to make, though she had not realized, and still did not realize, its import. It had to be said by someone other than him, other than her – someone other than Tallentire, or Ellinden So.
Davron Tallas, Councillor from Visayain, was annoyed that the lights were so bright in the Council Chamber. He had been about to ask for them to be dimmed when Oberuc started screaming out his charges at the barrister. The Councillor from Halveet was always too loud. He shivered and looked around to see if anyone was chilly, but yet again, he was the only one who seemed to see to the heart of things. “For the love of Otori,” he groaned in displeasure. This damnable meeting was going to take forever. “The A’nari were not signatories to the agreement.”
Gilford nodded, and only then looked up. Another uproar had started – this had probably been the liveliest and noisiest Council proceedings since Lord Valente of Soloff had soundly beaten Lord Sierchio, also of Soloff, when the latter had pressed a claim for tracts of farmland that had been in dispute for generations the previous spring. “This is only a first step,” he whispered to Vermillion and Iaondrin, leaning close so they could hear over the noise in the public gallery. “The next thing you have to decide – and decide fast – is whether you demand the Seat now.”
Vermillion glanced at Iaondrin, knowing she didn’t really want the Seat, but he forestalled her saying anything there by asking, “What’s the for and against? Can’t decide without knowing.”
Gilford looked down to fiddle with a button on his robes as he answered. “Certain parties who have sponsored you to this point would like you to declare for it now. It would give you even greater personal protection, and the ability to bargain to have the League, and any Shal claiming debts against you, withdraw those charges. But you can expect that the first move by certain other parties will be a demand that you affirm, on behalf of your House, the commitments by the Council to the League.”
“And what would that mean for Morgan?” Iaondrin asked, already knowing the answer. “Would I be setting myself against him?” Gilford just looked at her, confirming what she suspected. “Then no.” She frowned. “I don’t want to let them know yet that I don’t want it, though.”
Gilford’s smile was little more than a curl at the corner of his mouth. “Wise, not to give up your leverage so easily.”
Vermillion watched them, knew she wouldn’t turn on Morgan. “We have a prior problem to deal with that keeps her from taking the Seat at this time.” He reached out and took her hand briefly, squeezing it in support. It was up to her if she wanted to explain further about the Keep, but he suspected that if they knew, those on the Council more interested in their own skins would have them booted off the island by nightfall, probably with another charge of endangering the Council added to the list.
“You may lose momentum,” he cautioned, but she clenched her jaw and gave a sharp shake of her head. After a moment, as the Chamberlain pounded her staff against the floor again and the gallery quieted, Gilford nodded. “Madam Chamberlain,” he spoke, turning back to the Council, “Iaondrin, daughter of Euricio Shal A’nari and Lillias A’nari asks, again, for a statement of her status before this august body.” He could not demand a vote, but he could petition for a quick decision, to limit the time others might have to try to find a loophole to his loophole.
The Chamberlain turned to survey the Council, waiting for someone to speak. “I move for a vote,” Tallentire said, slapping the palm of his hand against the surface of the table and pushing himself to his feet. “I submit for consideration this finding: that Iaondrin Shal A’nari – and indeed, Morgan Shal A’nari – have broken no protocols or commitments of their House to this Council or to the League.”
“Seconded,” chimed in a representative from a Wyndham family, followed almost as quickly by Adelu’s man from Seldez. The Chamberlain tapped the staff and announced that per the Council’s procedures, a vote had been called. One by one they voted, either standing to agree, or retaining their seats. Iaondrin held her breath, trying to tell herself not to care.
In the end, slightly more than half stood, among them Ankarra of Tarrish, Ellinden So, and Dembrosio Shal Antazos.
Vermillion let out a slow breath. One done, what’s next? He looked to Iaondrin, wanting to go to her for a quick embrace of support, but not daring it. Instead, he leaned forward and whispered in her ear, “I believe in your strength, my Lady. I always have.”
Oberuc of Halveet placed both hands flat on the table and held himself there, as if he were about to say something in a very loud and very angry voice. But then the tension in his shoulders relaxed. “Madam Chamberlain, I move that the Council be held in recess,” he asked calmly, and before he had the words out the request had been seconded by others, and there were not enough votes to hold against him – even some who had stood for Iaondrin before wanted the break, a time to draw their breath and consider what had happened, and what might happen next.
Chairs were pushed back and people began to move. “Does this mean I can go to the privy now?” Iaondrin asked.
To be continued.