Thursday, May 25, 2023

Tavros: Alliances Offered, Part One

"I still think a Kingsmoot would--"

"No," answered Tavros in a tone of absolute finality. "He would have prevented us from stopping the Tarrasque, and left the beast to continue its rampage. He is a traitor to the people he wishes to rule, unworthy of land and title, and he needs to be deposed. Now."

Vigo paused. "You plan to take care of it yourself, then, Majesty?"

"Yes," said Tavros. "We wouldn't want to risk any lèse-majesté, and if we take him out ourselves we can spare his armies. I suspect we're going to need them before this is all over."

Vigo fell silent, and Tavros could almost see the loom spinning in his head, tracing out plans, contingencies, possibilities...

"And after him, Lamont?" Vigo frowned. "That will be dangerous, Majesty; if Bouvier falls, Lamont will be warned."

"Not after," Tavros said. "At the same time. Martini will organize that expedition."

"I see," said Vigo. "And your concerns of lèse-majesté?"

Tavros was quiet for a moment. "You know Lamont's reputation. Bouvier, at least, can claim that he was trying to restore order and rebuild the kingdom. Lamont took his troops into Duendewood to try to carve out an independent kingdom for himself at the expense of the elves. Bouvier may be permitted to die with some small dignity... but for Lamont, nothing."

"We may make a proper king of you yet, Majesty." Vigo bowed and started to turn away. 

"Your Majesty!" called another voice, and Tavros suppressed a groan as Vigo stopped and turned back. 

Werendril was coming down the hallway, moving lightly with long, easy strides. He stopped and offered a bow, with just a hint of a mischievous smile to let Tavros know that he was doing this even though he knew that the half-dragon hated it. "You have a messenger, your highness."

Tavros turned his head slightly to the side. "From whom?"

"A young woman just arrived," said Werendril. "Human, neatly dressed. She claims to be the lady Tabitha Andiras, in the service of Jacqueline Bouvier."

"And where is she now?" asked Vigo, cutting in automatically. 

The true elf paladin studied Vigo the Whisperer for a long moment, then turned his attention back to Tavros. "Tarric and Anica took her down to the dining hall, Majesty. They sent me to find you."

Tavros motioned for Werendril to lead the way, and Vigo fell in beside him as he followed. "Slow down," Vigo whispered. "You must keep a dignified pace." 

"Later," said Tavros. "Tell me about Jacqueline Bouvier."

Vigo fell silent for a long moment. Then he said, "Jacqueline Bouvier is the eldest daughter of Giles Bouvier. She would be... twenty-four now, I believe. She's said to be well-educated, skilled in the courtly graces, and not unattractive -- though I have not had the privilege of meeting her myself."

"Any idea why she would send a messenger to me?" 

"Many," answered Vigo, "but none that I would care to place money on. Perhaps once we have heard the message, Majesty."

Ahead of them, Werendril reached the wide doorway of the dining hall and passed through. Tavros slowed, and Vigo slowed with him. With dignified steps, he entered the hall.

There was indeed a human woman sitting with Tarric and Anica, plates of food in front of all three of them. The woman looked up, saw him, and started to rise -- but Tavros shook his head and gestured, and she settled herself again. It would have been awkward to have her trying to bow or curtsy while trapped between the table and one of the long, wooden benches. 

The room wasn't terribly full, but it wasn't empty either. A handful of novices and acolytes were clustered at one of the round tables in the back corner, and the Abbess and Sister Tiva had managed to settle in to eat within easy earshot of the new arrival. Brother Alaric was chatting with a couple of the newer clerics over near the serving area, and one of the other paladins was having a quick meal alone; his spear leaned against the wall beside him. 

Tavros crossed directly to the bench opposite the young woman, and seated himself. 

"You-- Your Majesty," she said, catching herself neatly. 

"I'm told you carry a message for me," Tavros said, as Vigo slid onto the bench beside him. 

Lady Tabitha Andiras glanced around. "Would you have me speak of it here, Majesty?"

Tavros considered that briefly, because that had been exactly what he intended. Still... "I could arrange an audience at my mother's estate," he offered, "if you would prefer that."

The lady clicked her tongue once, then shook her head. "No, better here. I only thought..."

"These are my people," said Tavros, glancing around. "I do not care what they hear. But if the message is particularly sensitive, I will arrange for a smaller and less haphazard audience."

The young woman studied him for a long moment, then said: "I suppose it matters not. I am lady Tabitha Andiras, in the service of lady Jacqueline Bouvier. My lady sent me to bring you warning."

Vigo opened his mouth and drew breath to speak, then closed it again and exhaled when Tavros looked at him. "What sort of warning?" asked the half-dragon. 

"Lady Jacqueline warns that her father intends your death. He has sent some of his Solari to ambush you should you try to destroy the great beast in Summerwind; he has hired assassins to find you at your mother's estate; and he is considering mounting an attack to conquer Caristhium itself."

"He's going to be badly surprised," muttered Anica. Tabitha glanced at her, but she shook her head. 

"They failed in Summerwind," Tavros observed. 

"Already?" asked Tabitha. "May I ask how you managed that? The Sorceress Reina was very strong, one of lord Bouvier's best."

"Ours proved better."

"And the great beast? It is slain?"

"Turned to a statue in the town square," said Tavros. 

"A great victory for Your Majesty," said Tabitha, looking down at the table. 

"I would credit my friends," Tavros observed wryly. "Though I suppose that choosing the right allies is the mark of a good king." He had changed that much, he thought. He had begun to think that he might have the makings of a king.

Lady Tabitha looked back up, studying him while trying to look like that wasn't what she was doing. He wasn't sure what she read on his face -- being a half-dragon gave him a very different bone structure, and his expressions weren't easy for most people to read. He'd long ago learned not to show his teeth when he smiled; his fangs were sharp, and made it look like he was snarling even when he was nearly helpless with laughter. 

"As to the assassins," she continued a full breath later, "my lady says not to fear a night attack, but rather to check and re-check anyone recently taken into service."

Tavros glanced at Vigo, who nodded. "I will speak to the lady Emiliana."

"As far as my lady knows," Tabitha said, as Tavros returned his attention to her, "her father has not gathered forces for an assault. He has merely made plans, perhaps only as a contingency."

Tavros nodded slowly. 

Anica said, "Good. Any force marching on Caristhium is in for a nasty shock."

"How do you mean?" asked Tabitha. 

Anica shook her head, and Vigo said: "It is good for you know that we have forces prepared to defend this place, but not their nature, disposition, or capabilities."

Tabitha nodded. "Lady Jacqueline said you would think me a spy, and all this a trap. I do not know how to convince you otherwise, but... she would be your ally."

"Why?" asked Tavros, because it seemed that someone needed to.

"Giles Bouvier," she replied, "has lost the Mandate of Heaven; such were my lady's words. She says that her father might be forgiven for trying to murder the last remaining Fontaine heir, were you a fool or a madman; but it is obvious that you are neither. And I was there when she begged him not to kill you before you had a chance to slay the great beast, but he insisted that the best opportunity would be while you were busy fighting it. He would have left it alive to destroy what it would, just to be rid of you."

Tavros frowned thoughtfully. "Does your lady seek shelter?" he asked. "I am willing to provide it, even to the firstborn child of Giles Bouvier."

"She dares not leave the court at Wellfort," said the lady in waiting, "at least not yet. That is why she sent me."

Vigo's eyes narrowed, but he said nothing. "Very well," he said. "What of you? Would you prefer to remain here, or return to your lady?"

The young woman who had introduced herself as Tabitha Andiras swallowed, then said: "I would prefer to remain here. I am sorry; I know that makes me look even more like a spy. But it would be even more of a risk to try to return than it was to leave." She hesitated, then added: "Lady Jacqueline bade me tell you that she can still speak to me while I am here, and hear my replies. I know how that sounds, but she said that we must begin with honesty to avoid misunderstandings later."

"I see," said Tavros slowly. "She too is a sorceress?"

"A wizard," lady Tabitha replied.

"Then in honesty, your lady should know that I am going to have to execute her father."

Lady Tabitha paled. "She would hate that," she said, but then after a heartbeat she added: "But I think she would understand."

"Very well." Tavros looked at Vigo, then rose. "You may stay. We will assign someone to watch over you, to serve as guard, bodyguard, and guide."

"I'll do it myself, for tonight," said Anica, and Tavros nodded. "No doubt the Abbess can arrange things for tomorrow."

Tavros met the Abbess' eye as he stood, and she winked at him. Yes, someone will definitely be keeping an eye on lady Tabitha. He stepped out from the bench, turned, and departed again; Vigo followed slightly behind him. 

"It's her," said Vigo, when they were out in the hall and safely out of earshot. 

"What?" said Tavros. "No, that's insane. Why would Jacqueline Bouvier come here herself when she actually could send one of her ladies to spy for her?"

"I don't know," muttered Vigo darkly, as if the admission pained him. "But I'd swear to it. There was a moment there when she very nearly said 'my father', and her reaction when you told her you planned to murder Giles Bouvier--"

"Execute," corrected Tavros. 

"--execute Giles Bouvier," Vigo restated. "It was too firm, too definite. She knows that Jacqueline Bouvier would understand because she understands, and she is Jacqueline Bouvier."

Tavros took a moment to weigh that and try to find a measure for it. Finally he said, "You may be right, but it's still utterly ridiculous. And regardless, for now we treat her like the lady-in-waiting and possible spy that she appears to be." 

Vigo nodded. "I hear and obey, but also -- I concur, Your Majesty."

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