Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Page 1866

And for the record, I do think it would be ideal if we could resolve this crisis without relying on the Intarians or any other foreigners,’ said Garovel. ‘Hector and I will continue to work towards that end--at least until you tell us otherwise.

She looked between the two of them and nodded. “I appreciate that. I will take your words into consideration.”

You look great in that dress, by the way,’ said Garovel.

The Queen seemed surprised by the compliment and eyed Hector, perhaps for an explanation.

He scrambled for an answer. “Ah--yeah. Uh. You do.”

“Thank you,” said Helen, though not without hesitation in her voice.

Ask her about the King,’ said Garovel privately.

It took Hector a second to realize that he was receiving instruction. He’d gotten comfortable just listening. “H-How is the King doing?”

“He is well,” said the Queen. “I am sure he would like to speak to you, himself. He has been wanting to visit Warrenhold.”

“Oh, uh. Well, uh, we’d love to have him.”

“Only him?” said the Queen with a teasing smile. “Am I not invited, as well?”

Hector felt a flash of embarrassment at having missed that, but then realized that it was probably too late backtrack with any sort of dignity, and so decided to just go with it. “...Eh, I’ll have to think about it.”

And the Queen actually laughed. Lynn cracked a smile, too.

Hector wasn’t sure he’d ever felt more pleased with himself.

What an amazing feeling it was to make someone laugh. And royalty, no less.

Strange. For the briefest moment, he felt like he was having an epiphany.

He really liked making people like. In fact, it was one of the things he liked most.

How was he just now realizing this about himself?

The party’s going to begin soon,’ said Mehlsanz.

Soon isn’t NOW, though, is it?’ said Garovel.

You have more you wish to discuss?’ she said.

Not particularly. But it’s rare that I get to enjoy such fine company. I don’t want it to end yet.’

What a charmer.

Hector noticed Garovel’s hollow gaze turn toward Lynn. ‘How is your bodyguard doing, by the way?

The Queen perked up at that question, glancing at Lynn herself before regarding Garovel again. “Good, I hope. Is there anything specific you would like to know.”

Lynn’s expression shifted somewhat as she was perhaps sensing that she was being talked about.

Her aura seems a bit stronger than before,’ said Garovel.

Oh? That certainly piqued Hector’s interest.

“Yes, I am not surprised,” said the Queen. “She has been training diligently.”

What manner of training would that be?’ said Garovel.

“Attempting to unlock the secrets of that gauntlet,” said Helen. “Mr. Norez has been kind enough to offer his assistance in that regard, as well.”

Lynn just looked around awkwardly.

Oh, yeah, Harper,’ said Garovel. ‘I’m looking forward to seeing him and Darsihm again, too. They’re here, aren’t they? It’s tough to sense them with all these people around.

They are, yes,’ said Mehlsanz.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Page 1865

Maybe,’ said Garovel. ‘The loss in Kavia shouldn’t be disregarded as a total fluke, I think. Considering the Vanguard’s current advantage in numbers, that loss probably shouldn’t have happened, so the fact that it did is a warning sign, in my opinion. And now you’re telling me about this annexation offer? I think there may be a connection. I think the Vanguard is trying to pull out every weapon in its arsenal in order to finally deliver a decisive blow to Dozer.

“That may be true,” said the Queen, “but it does not answer the question of whether or not I should accept Intar’s terms.”

Garovel laughed mildly. ‘Are you asking me to make that decision for you? Why, I’m flattered you hold my opinion in such high regard.

She gave the reaper another flat look, but the edge of her mouth turned up with the whisper of a smile. “I would appreciate your counsel, though nothing more.”

Heh. Well, regardless, I won’t pretend to know what the right decision for Atreya is, but as should be evident from the explanation of my perspective just now, I don’t think Intar is looking to abuse or exploit Atreya or its people, necessarily. I think they’re playing a complicated political and military game, and Atreya is just one small part of it.

“I do not know if that is a relief to hear or a worry,” said Helen. “Even if Intar holds no ill will towards us, I still fear that Atreya is far from their mind. What is to stop this kingdom from being trampled under the feet of these warring juggernauts?”

What’s to stop it, you ask?’ said Garovel. ‘Well, I’m pretty sure that’s our job, isn’t it?’ He motioned not just to Hector but to everyone at the table. ‘And perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t think any of our feelings on that particular subject are going to change anytime soon, even under Intarian law.

The Queen’s gaze fell to the table, and she was silent.

So was everyone else for a time.

A question occurred to Hector, and given the current opening in the conversation, he decided to take it. “...If you did decide to give up power, what would you do?”

She looked at him, considerate. “A good question. I would still be queen, but I would have no legal authority. That does not mean I would be powerless, however.”

Hector understood her meaning. Not being able to order people to do things didn’t mean she wouldn’t still have considerable influence.

But still. Queen Helen not being in charge?

He could hardly imagine it.

Well, so far, I’m not hearing a whole lot of reasons why you should turn the Intarians down,’ said Garovel.

The Queen merely frowned.

Whatever you decide, though, you should know that we’ll be with you,’ said Garovel. ‘Even, hypothetically speaking, if you were to make a horrifically unpopular decision that caused the public to turn on you, Hector and I would still be on your side.

The Queen exhaled a curt sigh. “Thank you.”

Monday, July 16, 2018

Page 1864

“What does that have to do with their desire to annex Atreya?” said the Queen.

Your debt to Korgum and Dozer,’ said Garovel. ‘Intar may be thinking a few steps ahead here. Suppose, for instance, that you went on being unable to repay your debt to Dozer, and then Dozer decided to come and collect? How would a country with such a reputation for violence do that?

“You think Dozer would attempt to conquer Atreya?”

I think Intar may think that. And they probably have a better grasp of the situation across the continent than we do, so if they think it might happen, then I’d say, yeah, it might happen.

You’re using a bit of circular logic there, aren’t you?’ said Mehlsanz.

Am I? Well, you see my point, though, right? Intar is quietly allied with Korgum and therefore at war with Dozer. So in their eyes, it would probably be best if you never repay any of your debt to Dozer.

The queen seemed to give the idea some thought. “If that is true, then that is quite the expensive strategy on their part...”

Not as expensive as Korgum losing the war,’ said Garovel. ‘Abolish already has a fairly strong presence in Azirat, Kortan, and Calthos. It may not be completely dominant there, but Korgum and Lyste are currently barring Dozer’s passage north. If Korgum were to fall, though, then I suspect that Dozer would storm into those countries and have them subjugated within a few months. Maybe less. Then Dozer would be able to knock on Intar’s southeastern door or maybe just invade Sair and try to add that to the pile.

The Vanguard would never allow Dozer to take Azirat, Kortan, and Calthos that easily,’ said Mehlsanz.

Oh, I don’t think they’d LET them do anything,’ said Garovel. ‘The Vanguard is having plenty of its own problems, right now--and worse, I think it might be blind to about half of them.

“But its recent victory in Jesbol is a good sign, no?” said the Queen.

Sure, but its even more recent loss in Kavia should raise a few eyebrows, too,’ said Garovel. ‘In fact, the line of thinking you just brought up is exactly what I’m most concerned about. It’s true that the victory in Jesbol was a major one and that Abolish is no doubt suffering hugely for military strength now that both Dunhouser and Gunther are dead at Jackson’s hands. But this is a full-blown war we’re talking about. It’s more complicated than just how strong its top guys are. The Vanguard still has to worry about managing its time and resources properly and not playing into the enemy’s hands. Overconfidence isn’t going to do them any favors. And anyway, the real top threats are Dozer and Morgunov, and they’re both still alive.

The Queen just folded her hands in front of her again.

You think the Vanguard is growing overconfident?’ said Mehlsanz.