A week after the party returned to Uzec, Emmeline encountered Rivanon working at a desk, going through papers, messages, and more. As usual, Rivanon noticed Emmeline’s approach. “I’m sorry my friend. I’ve been very busy with tasks my father has asked me to attend to. Perhaps a break would be nice. Please sit if you have time.” She gestured to the chair on the other side of the desk.
Emmeline found a seat and smiled. “My lady, I should apologize because after these days I have to come to you on business. The Baron has asked me to attend some things, and at the top of my list is coordinating with you,” Emmeline said. “Perhaps after I explain a little, we could break for lunch?”
“Please. So first, what is it my father wishes of you?” she asked pen still in-hand.
“He asked what I thought should be done for villagers that fled the north valley. I told him, and so he’s asked me to see that it is done.” Emmeline smiled. “I walked right into that didn’t I?”
Rivanon smiled and nodded.
“Of course, I do like having a chance to try to improve things for people. So I’m seeing the minstrel Raphael about having entertainers go about. No big celebrations, just a distraction for people who have little to do but worry. There is nothing like a good story and a happy song to keep people’s minds off their troubles at night. During the day I proposed organizing parties to venture into the valley to those abandoned villages and survey what’s left. If we include the villagers from those places in this task, with the restriction that these parties visit only those villages that have been cleared as safe by the army, they will have the opportunity to salvage and perhaps even recover needed food stores since they can’t return to their homes until the goblin threat is completely passed. This should give them something to do and help them feel more empowered and in control of their destinies. I’ll be speaking with Sir Guillaume and Constable Bencolin about organizing this for us, but I needed to run this by you first.”
“The people need to know they can go home. With the storms, this won’t be likely until spring, perhaps in a couple weeks. Go head and organize.” she said while taking out a bag of coins. “This isn’t a lot, but 500 gold should be enough to pay the entertainers and get food, supplies and rent draft animals to begin one-by-one bringing the villagers home. Let Sir Guillaume know if you need more and I’ll approve it. I’ve tasked two of the knights to build a pair of fortified outposts on either side of the river, half-way toward the Icemere lake on the far end of the valley. In theory, that should give you the cover you need. The Constable should be in the loop on who is coming and going from the city walls.”
“Thank you, Lady Rivanon. I’ll make sure Constable Bencolin is aware of the entertainers. With a little luck, a pleasant distraction for people will make his job easier, too. If you think it is safe enough to begin sending a few people home, that will help give people some relief, too. Now,” Em’s lips curled into a smile, “business aside, how are you doing, my lady?”
“Well Lady Em, it has been busy. While father recuperates, I have been attending to all the affairs of the barony, from strategy sessions with the baronial council, to sitting in judgement on legal disputes, and more. I just now completed a letter for my great-uncle on the security situation and the goblin threat. All with father’s advice of course – though he seems to want to spend most his time with you.” she said with a knowing eye. “You make him very happy, Em.”
Emmeline blushed at that. “He makes me happy, too. I’m very glad he wants me to stay here with him. Although I know I have obligations to Cerisey, the Vale and a lot of other things that will compete for my attention, it’s very important to me to feel like I’m building a life if not directly with him, then near to him.”
“That is good.” Rivanon replied. Ana came in then with a light lunch and a pair of letters. “These came via Bluecap,” she said. After thanking Ana and taking a few bites from her plate, Rivanon pulled out her silver dagger which glittered quite beautifully as she opened the first letter. Placing the blade down, she looked at the letter. She smiled a bit and said, “it is an official letter from the Republic, specifically the Mayor’s office. It seems the Duke nominated me to the position of Councilor for Uzec and the Northmarch.”
“That’s interesting,” Emmeline said, “but what does that mean for you and for your father?”
“Me. He knows father is not interesting in such things. Mayor Delacroix is beginning to do what she promised, extending the city’s republic into the provinces. It is an honor to be sure, and a good excuse to go to the Isle this summer. It also means I must speak to father about it and then speak to the Duke. I think I am needed here more than anything.” She placed the letter down, picked up the dagger again, which glistened with reflected sliver light, and opened the second letter dated one-day later.
Her expression was of surprise with a touch of astonishment. She said nothing, reading the letter further.
Emmeline waited patiently, despite the curiosity that was pushing her to ask what was going on.
“An army of orcs and humans has stormed Estrasia. Another has Storuvan under siege. Adera is overwhelmed with refugees and is under threat. Father has been called by the Thalassan Army to raise a legion of troops from the Northmarch from Derrien to Uzek and surrounding villages, with himself named captain-general and Captain du Triel named his second and cavalry commander. They are to ready to march by high-summer at the latest,” she said, reading the letter aloud. “A core of cavalry and officers detached from the First Legion are on their way and will be here as soon as winter passes; possibly as early as April 1st. Similar actions are being taken throughout the Periphery and the Brentine Shore.”
Emmeline was immensely unhappy at the news. She said simply, “I’ll be going with him, then.”
Rivanon sat up and walked over to her friend, comforting her. After a moment she said, “Father once served in the Legion. It makes sense that he and others are being called up. You saw what was happening in the East. It is his duty, and it may not be his decision whether you go or not.”
“I will be going,” she said with determination. “He is my liege and I am his mistress, both. I owe him service and he said we would have this year together. I’m not letting him out of that, no matter who is ordering him about. Besides, he will need a mage he can trust. And it may happen I know many things of importance — refugees, priestesses, and a Storuvite general that owes me his life. Leaving me behind would be like going to war without his best mount!”
Emmeline paused. “I didn’t mean that they way it sounded.” She thought a bit. “Or maybe I did. Anyway, I’m going.”
“We do not even know emif/em he will leave. They are asking to prepare and mobilize. This takes months and hasn’t happened since the days of Haalkhan. And he is not the only one, I’m sure there are others. Who gets sent where, if at all, is unknown to us. Please do not leap to conclusions yet. The timing makes sense though, given what is happening out Eas…”
Rivanon’s words were lost for a time, as Emmeline felt Mara’s connection with her return “…are you okay?” the young woman asked. “You looked out of it for a moment there.”
Emmeline blinked and smiled. “Yes… yes I am. But you said the Baron has been called for this. How could he not go if Thalassa has sent a summons?”
“It is possible for him to refuse. That would put him, the Duke, and Thalassa in a difficult position. The youth of the nobility has for years been invited to be part of the Legion to give them experience in leading large forces and integrating them and the feudal auxiliaries with the Republican Legion. However, once a Legionnaire, always a Legionnaire. The only way he could refuse is to step down as Baron and the March Lord. To do otherwise would cause a constitutional crisis in the agreements that hold the League together.” she said. “He would in effect be withdrawing from the League unilaterally upon refusal.” Rivanon looked pensive.
“He will go,” Emmeline said. “I’m sure of it. You know how much I despised those places, but I can emhelp/em him. And strangely enough… I feel like I abandoned Storuvan. It’s illogical, but it still feels that way. But most of all, after so long, I don’t want to be apart from him already. Especially not if his life will be at risk. I can’t stand that.”
“He was speaking to Elemix earlier today and has taken lunch with a few of the knights. After that is complete I’ll tell him of the letters and leave him to think it over. But I have to ask you something Em. Do you love my father?” she asked.
“Yes, my lady,” Emmeline said without hesitation. She was curious, however, because she thought Rivanon already knew that.
She smiled a bit, “I know that look. I ask because father wishes to know you and get to know you better as I have. His best friend is dead. He is very alone. I’m his daughter and I hardly know him having been gone the better part of a decade. He is hurting and you are what can help him. More than myself I suppose. He needs a person to love yes, to bear another child yes, but mostly a person to listen to him and be there for him. Right now you have that opportunity, and unlike Lady Millicent you care about him, not his wealth or power.”
Emmeline smiled and nodded. “So you know I won’t give up being with him, my lord Baron, wherever he has to be.” She felt as strongly about it as she did being a witch — Mara’s witch.
“Come with me,” Rivanon said. “I have something to show you. She picked up and sheathed the shimmering silver knife, grabbed the letters and locked them in the desk. Leaving the room, she locked it behind her. Looking at the guard she said, “no one is to enter this office under any circumstances save for Ana, and then only to remove the food.” He nodded.
They moved down to the armory where she said, “I have a gift for you. Since you have been spending every moment with my father, I took the liberty to have some changes make to your armor. Take a look.” She gestured at a set of studded leather armor, bleached white with subtle new brass trim. “I have ordered a matching cloak as well.”
Emmeline gasped in astonishment, then moved forward to touch it. “This is incredible! It’s perfect, my lady!” She looked serious and turned to her friend. “But why? I mean… I haven’t gotten you anything and this is so thoughtful and I don’t even know when your birthday is. Is it your birthday? But then you should receive gifts, not me…” She was so surprised she was practically sputtering.
“In the short time we have known each other, you are the closest thing to a little sister I have ever had. But one who is wise and kind beyond their years. It is a small thing, but I thought you’d like it. Do not think I have not noticed all the little things you have done for me.” she added.
“Well,” Emmeline said with a big smile, “you’ve had a rather brutally alluring black armor turned into something beautiful that I’d be very proud to wear.” She squinted at it and felt the leather. “I can’t even tell it was holed by arrows and knives.” She turned to Rivanon and performed a half-curtsy, half-bow that was all respect. “Thank you, my lady. I will try to be worthy of your gift.”
“You are welcome. It was done by Uzec’s best leatherworkers, Andre Cobb and his daughter Kylie. They do fine work.” she replied. “The rest of the ensemble should be ready within the week. Now, please my friend so not worry yourself on the letter. Father should be back by now and I must attend him on other business as well. But, when I am done he likely will wish to talk to you.”
“All right, my lady.” Emmeline looked around to see if they were alone. “May I give you a hug?”
Rivanon laughed, “of course you may.” The ladies hugged and then began walking back. On the walk she asked, “how are your two ladies working out, Mirel and Amelie?”
“Very well, I think! I’ve been preoccupied, but after I spoke of the sorry state of my wardrobe, Amelie has swung into action,” Emmeline said. “I had that bolt of extraordinary cloth and she is seeing to it something wonderful will be made of it. And she’s arranged for the same tailor to produce a variety of things to wear. I told her I won’t wear anything boring, so I’m interested to see what she comes up with. I think Amelie is a very good catch for any young nobleman, so my only worry is that I’ll have her only a short time.
“Speaking of, I’m considering seeing if she might be a good fit for Sir Etienne of Calder. He has struck me as a young man in need of a good wife.
“My cousin Mirel has been helping. She has some skills with sewing and so she will embroider some things for me, and perhaps work on lace. I’ve begun teaching her to sing — gentlemen like a pleasant singing voice in a bride you know. ”
“Perhaps. I remember him when I was a girl. He was a few years older than I. My father and his father served together in the Legion. You may not know this but Sir Axiney came here because of my father. The younger Axiney, Sir Etienne, is a handsome and brave man and would be a good match. Amelie is perhaps a year older than me. I used to play with her as a little girl. We were almost twins back then and would play tricks on father and mother. When her family took residence in Gamaché when we were back in Derrien we lost touch. I doubt she even remembers me.”
Emmeline smiled. “I would be very surprised if she didn’t remember you, my lady.
She nodded, “You may be right. On Sir Etienne, I am considering giving him his father’s post in Calder Keep. He was raised there, has the trust of the locals, and is a hero to many as he fought valiantly during the siege. For now; however, I have other things to do than play matchmaker, as do you. But you should feel free to attend to your courtly duties in that capacity if you wish. You should probably talk to him first before speaking to Amelie. Given her past, it would be wise not to get her hopes up.”
“Hm. Yes, of course I should talk to him about it first. Maybe I will wait a little,” she said, thinking of the way he looked at her. It might not be a great idea to speak with him alone for a while. “I have a duty to see my ladies marry well, but perhaps I needn’t rush anything.”
“I suppose. You know how I feel about that. I know it is tradition and my father believes in it, but if he had his way based purely on tradition, I would have been married off to Sir Kentigern, Baron Reno, or some other ‘catch’. Instead I am,” she made a pinch gesture with her hand, “this close to being Baroness regnant. Have you asked your girls what they want? Give them time to explore and learn from you, as I have. As an aside, have you considered your ‘third’?”
“I don’t know about traditions out here. This is new to me. I promised to get my ladies opportunities and I mean to do so.” Emmeline said. “What they do with those opportunities is up to them. But just between you and I, the sooner Sir Etienne is thinking about women other than me, the better.”
“I don’t understand,” said Rivanon with a rare open curiosity as if she had no idea what Emmeline was speaking of. “He is thinking of you?”
“I’m pretty sure,” Emmeline’s look hinted at what she meant. “He hasn’t done anything unworthy, but it would be much better for him to have someone on his mind other than the Baron’s mistress.”
“Ah. You have that way with people. I partially avoid it due to a certain reputation, but you are the Queen of Love & Beauty, genuinely kind, and frankly fairly innocent looking. You and I know the truth, but few others do. Also, in the case of Sir Etienne, he just lost his father, as you lost your lover albeit temporarily. Maybe he was trying to make a connection? That being said I’ll destroy him if he touches you.” she said. Emmeline knew for certain Rivanon’s ruthless edge. “So, perhaps a short time apart would be good. Lady Amelie did also lose her fiancée in the first goblin attack. I doubt she is over that completely.”
“Yes I think you are probably right, my lady,” Emmeline said. “Maybe he’ll forget about me if I’m not walking right in front of him for a while.”
“He won’t forget about you. Few will. I’m sure you have many broken hearts already pining for you. It is my happiness that the heart you chose is dear to me. Ah. Here we are. My friend, I must attend to father. Once I have given him the news and we and the Council have discussed, he will likely wish to see you. We can talk later.” She gave a kiss on each of Emmeline’s cheeks in the Thalassan style and went back into her study.