Ora: The Royal CouncilMature

Much later, Ora sat in her rooms, alone.

The Royal Council will be waiting for you, Mardell had implored. Then they will continue to wait, Ora had responded.

Her father was gone - some part of her was glad, he had suffered for many years and in the final glance she had taken before leaving he looked peaceful. Content.

Other parts of her were angry, she would have to sit on the throne and take the crown. She would have to rule a city that was tearing itself apart at the seams.

Suddenly, rage coursed through her and for a moment she thought she might explode. She grasped a nearby letter opening blade by the sharp edge and flung it at a nearby wall. It struck it dead centre and buried itself deep in the panelling.

The walls of the palace seemed to close in on her. She had to get out.

She called a servant to her room and sent for Danyel, her father's protector, now hers, and whilst she waited she went to her dresser and changed into simple clothes.

She tied her hair back into a ponytail, simple and plain, then wrapped a headdress around it that partially obscured her face. By the time she returned to the main room, Danyel was waiting, stood with a spine like steel.

"You called, my lady?" He asked, his arms crossed behind his back.

"I did," Ora said. "I would like you to accompany me to the bazaar."

Danyel's face was a mixture of concern and shock.

"My lady, your father prefers you not to-"

"My father is dead, Danyel," Ora replied with an empty tone.

The words seemed to pierce Danyel like a dagger. The man had cared deeply for her father and suddenly she regretted her bluntness.

"I'm sorry, Danyel," she said, placing a hand on his armoured shoulder. "Would you please escort me to the bazaar?"

The guard frowned.

"The bells will be ringing out for your father soon, are you sure this is the most appropriate time?" He asked.

"I am sure," Ora said, and Danyel relented. "Nobody will recognise me dressed like this, I will be perfectly safe."

Danyel exhaled and nodded.

"You will have to change, though," Ora said.

The guard narrowed his eyes.

"You are wearing aeonsteel armour with the emblem of my family embossed on the chestplate in gold," she said, brushing his armour with her hand. "You will stand out."

The guard recognised the truth to her words and agreed to change. Ora told him to meet her near the bridge once he had changed, and he left.

When the door closed, Ora glanced at the knife buried in the wall, then followed after him.

Outside, the storm to the east had left the city humid and overcast.

The guards standing to attention by Tordaen's Crossing were sweating in their heavy armour, leaning on their broadswords. Ora wondered if she revealed herself and told them to stand down and take a break whether they would. They were her men now.

The golden bridge stretched out across the abyss between the Royal Plateau and the city proper, wide enough to take two coaches side by side, the solid interlinking pieces flexing gently in the wind.

Around five or so minutes later, Danyel arrived, wearing dull grey but sturdy travelling armour. At his waist was a plain but functional shortsword in place of Kingsoath, his family blade. The Freegardes had served the Streylens as loyal vassals for hundreds of years, and the family had reaped the rewards.

"Much better," Ora said as he approached. "I really do not think you will need the sword, though."

Danyel placed his hand over the hilt.

"A guard with no blade is no guard at all," he said with a sad smile. His eyes were red - had he been crying? "Allow me to go ahead, my lady."

"Nonsense, you will walk alongside me," Ora said. Danyel appeared to consider arguing, but did not. He took his place alongside her.

They passed the bridge guards with no trouble and continued to the other side, finding themselves in the upper bazaar.

Ora breathed in the smells and odours with a smile. Around her, the market stalls were flooded with life, bartering and sales pitches filling the air.

Before they went further, a sound rang out across the city, from the spire at the palace. A hollow, loud clanging of bells. It would ring sixty three times for each year of her father's life.

Ora swallowed and glanced at Danyel.

Around them the world stopped as people glanced up at the palace. They had been expecting this for a while. Then, life went on.

The upper markets served the nobles of the palace and the Kingswalk, with high quality silk garments and salted meat. Kitchen staff wearing the tabards of the other houses flocked between them, collecting meat for meals to be cooked later.

She saw one wearing the tabard of the Dernans buying a long silk gown in a large size. That would be for the family's patriarch, Adryan, always fond of the finer things.

Ora felt Danyel tense as they stepped into the busy afternoon crowds, willing him to relax.

She was anonymous here, and the markets were hardly dangerous.

Still, he kept his hand close to the sword at his waist.

"Pretty lady," a merchant cried, stepping out in front of them. "Pretty jewels for a pretty lady."

Ora smiled but Danyel stood in front of her and the man, who stepped back hurriedly.

"Danyel," Ora hissed, apologising to the man and stepping forward to his stall.

The man sold jewellery, laid out in lines. Much of it was white as bone.

"From the lands below, true wastewalker bone inlaid with diamonds from the very ground itself," the stallholder said, producing one and putting it to her wrist. "Beautiful skin," he said.

Ora realised she had no money and apologised profusely. The stallholder lost interest and moved to another 'pretty lady' nearby, causing Ora to smile - at least down here people were honest about their intentions.

They went further into the markets, passing stalls that sizzled with cooking meats. The bells stopped dead at the sixty-third chime and the palace fell silent again.

"My lady, we should think about returning," Danyel said. "The council will want..."

"The council will want a lot of things from me, but they will wait," Ora said. For the moment, she did not want to return to the palace.

Danyel did not argue.

"You knew my father better than anyone else in the palace, correct?" Ora asked, running her hand through a rack of linen shirts.

"I have been - was - his protector for seven years, my lady," Danyel replied. "Why do you ask?"

"You knew who he trusted?" Ora said. "Who on the council he was close to?"

Danyel raised his eyebrow.

"The council exists to serve the crown, my lady," Danyel said, almost half heartedly.

"My father was no fool, he knew there were some on the council who moved against him," she said. "If I am going to take his place, I must know who he had concerns about. Who I can trust."

Danyel stopped, looked into her eyes, and nodded.

"Your father had his concerns, but did not know who conspired against him," Danyel said.

"Talon Grey kept tabs on every member for him."

The spymaster. Ora would have to make a point to speak to her soon.

"That is good to know, Danyel. Thank you."

Danyel bowed gently. It was not easy for him to speak against his superiors.

They turned a corner into a quieter part of the market, around them, the wind had cooled and calmed, becoming cold on their skin.

This part of the market was where one came to find reagents for alchemy, poultices and potions. Most of it was mundane, nothing as adventurous as the things one could find at the stores on the Whispering Walk.

It was also where the upper bazaar connected with the lower bazaar, which served the rest of the city. Ora had been down there before, but only ever on a coach going to the cathedral on public holidays. She did not attempt to lure Danyel that way.

"My queen," a voice came. Ora started and tracked it to its source, a man in a grey cloak, a patch over his left eye, stood over a stall of ingredients and jewellery.

She felt Danyel reach for his sword and turned to him.

"Leave it where it is or I will have it from you," she said, quietly. He seemed frustrated for a moment before relaxing.

"I'm afraid you have me mistaken," Ora said with a smile.

The man shook his head.

"The blood," he said. "The blood sings. You are of the royal blood."

Ora frowned.

"Well, if my blood is singing I can't very well lie, now can I?"

The man smiled, a row of gold teeth appearing.
"Your father's death casts a shadow over the city," the man continued, opening out his hands.

"It has set events into motion which will change this world. You must be prepared."

"Come away, my lady, he speaks lies to sell his wares," Danyel implored, but Ora stepped forward.

"What events?" She asked.

"I see only blurry figures in the darkness," the man said, almost sadly. "You must protect yourself."

The man, suddenly jumpy, returned to his stall and removed an ornate black box, opening it. Inside, there was a chain with a pendant of a deep red, wrapped in white bone.

"He wants only to sell you this tat," Danyel said, scoffing.

"No, no," the hawker said. "Free, no charge."

Ora reached out and took the pendant.

"It's beautiful," she said.

"It was made for a queen," the man said. "The chain is infused with wyvern bone. It will never break. The centre is the same, set with wyvern blood."

"Wyverns have power," Danyel said, even he seemed convinced now. "There is no way you could have something like this."

"A man in the Deadlands, it came from him to me," the stallholder said. "It seeks out the queen's blood. Around her neck it must sit, to protect her from what is to come."

Ora leaned forward and held it round her neck. Danyel took the clasp and hooked it together.

"You must want something for it," Ora said. "My favour? A stall in the palace grounds?"

The man shook his head defiantly, almost disgusted at the idea.

"Nothing," he said. "Only to deliver something of more power than I can comprehend to its rightful owner."

Ora placed her hand over the pendant, it seemed to hum against her fingers.

"My task is complete," the man said, exhaling quietly.

It was then the sound of armoured boots tramped down the market towards them. Danyel went for his sword before recognising the plate armour and relaxing. Ora narrowed her eyes as the Sentinels approached.

"My lady," a soldier in a silver faceplate said. "The Royal Council requests your attendance. Will you allow us to escort you?"

Ora looked at Danyel accusingly. He met her gaze and shook his head. If not him, then who?

"Of course," she smiled. The posse of guards took up their positions around her and Danyel and began to lead them away. When Ora glanced back to find the man that had given her the pendant that was now draped around her neck, she found no sign of him.

The council had gathered in one of the annexes of the throne room. A long, dark oak table with eight chairs gathered around it sat in the centre. Six of the chairs were filled, bar the largest chair at the end. Her chair.

At the two chairs next to the head were Mardell and the commander of the Sentinels, the city guard, Lord Sentinel Beren, a heavy set man with a wild red beard.

Alongside them were the treasurer, Bogdan Kervic, thin and spindly like straw, and the castellan of Heavensreach, Darrogan Meek.

Sat apart from the others was a slender hooded figure sharpening a bone dagger with a whetstone, white hair spilling out from the hood. Talon Grey, the spymaster.

Finally, there was Lord Commander Elden Garrok, head of the Aegis, the city's army. He stood up as she entered the room with Danyel, his nostrils flaring above his thick grey moustache.

"What in the wastes were you thinking?" The man demanded. Ora realised he was talking to Danyel, who stood up straight.

"Danyel simply did as he was asked," Ora said. "By me."

"My lady, to have you freely wandering the city at such a dangerous time..."

"Garrok, calm yourself," Alvan Mardell said, standing from his seat. "Need I remind you that the princess is no child, and will in fact be your queen quite soon."

Garrok exhaled and stepped back.

"I will not be talked about as though I am not present," Ora said. She thought she sensed Talon Grey smiling beneath her hood.

"You will only be our queen if you live long enough to take the throne," Garrok said. "The city is no place for you to be wandering alone."

"I was not alone," she said. "Danyel is more than adequately trained to protect me. The people of this city, our city, are not rabid animals, lord commander."

Garrok nodded and bowed.

"Of course, my lady," he said. "I want only to see you safe."

Ora smiled.

"Thank you, lord commander," she said, gesturing for them all to take a seat. Danyel stayed back, taking a place at the door. He was obviously uncomfortable in the flimsy travelling armour.

They all sat and Ora took her place at the head of the table, touching her pendant gently as she did so. She saw Talon Grey's silver eyes watching her and remembered Danyel's words. Did my father really trust her? She thought.

"You requested my attendance?" Ora asked.

"Yes," Mardell said. "The council wished to pass on its condolences and assure you that matters relating to your father's funeral will be handled with the utmost care."

Ora smiled gently.

"Thank you, it is very much appreciated," she said.

"The funeral will be a joyous occasion, open to the whole city in the Cathedral Square two weeks from today," Castellan Meek said. "The palace staff have already begun preparations."

"There is also the matter of your coronation," Mardell said. "Until then the council will choose a lord regent to handle the daily matters-"

"No," Ora said, sharply. "I am quite capable of handling any duties that will be required of me, crown or no crown."

She saw another smile on Talon Grey's lips.

"Very well," Mardell said.

"Are there any matters that require my immediate attention?"

"Yes, your grace," Lord Sentinel Beren said, leaning forward heavily. "With two events of such importance coming up the Sentinels will require more supplies and, if possible, more men."

"You expect trouble, lord Sentinel?" Ora asked.

"There is always the possibility, your grace," Beron replied.

Ora knew what he meant, even if it was unspoken. The Skyward Rebellion, who had been so vocal against her father's rule, would not hesitate to use either event to their advantage, whatever it took.

"Lord commander," Ora said, looking at Garrok. "The Aegis will lend three thousand blades and crossbowmen to the Sentinels until the coronation and funeral have taken place, fully armed and armoured. The best men you have."

Garrok bowed. His men were trained for war, not standing around with their swords at their sides, but he did not argue.

"Of course, my lady," he said.

"There is another matter that requires your attention," Mardell said. "I had not thought to worry you with it, but if you are insistent on having no regent..."

"I am," Ora said with certainty.

Mardell looked over at Talon Grey, who leaned forward, placing her dagger on the table.
"Word will soon reach Ironhaven of your father's death," she said. Her voice was smooth, like honey, laced with poison. "There are iron ears throughout the city."

"Why should that be a concern to us?" Ora asked. "They are not our enemies."

Grey nodded and smiled.

"Of course, your grace, but as it stands they may hear of your father's death from lips that are not ours," Grey said. "If I might, I believe it would serve us well to send word to the Septarchs, informing them of your impending coronation."

"We must show them we are still united, your grace," Mardell said. "Whether we are at war with them or not."

"Of course," Ora replied.

"Also," Grey continued. "I believe it would serve us well to extend an invitation to your father's funeral and your coronation."

Garrok scoffed. If he had been drinking from the water pitchers in front of them, it would have sprayed across the table. Ora wondered how the calm, collected Grey would have handled that.

"Ridiculous," Garrok said, spitting. "War or no, the Septarchs cannot be allowed to set foot inside our city."

Talon Grey leaned back.

"The Septarchs never would," she said. "My agents in the other city claim the Septarchs have not been seen out of their chamber for more than a year, even by the Inner Sanctum. It is feasible they would send an ambassador in their place."

"We cannot allow even an iron ambassador to wander our streets freely," Garrok said.

"The agent would be observed from the moment of arrival to the moment of departure, lord commander," Grey said. "I believe it is the simplest way to show Skyhaven remains united in the wake of its king's death."

Ora watched the deadlock intently. How often was anything ever resolved here? How often would her father step in?

"I agree with Lady Grey," Ora said. "Such an invitation would send a powerful message."

"It will be done, your grace," Talon Grey replied, settling back into her chair.

"If that is all, I would like to speak to Lady Grey alone," Ora said.

The other men rose from their chairs and bowed, leaving the room in silence.

"Lady Grey-" Ora began, before Grey put her finger to her red lips and waited for the heavy door to close. She glanced at Danyel but said nothing, placing a small stone onto the table. She waited for a few seconds and then gestured for Ora to continue.

"My apologies, your grace," Grey said. "One can never be too careful, even here in the palace."

"Was it you who told the Sentinels where I was earlier today?" Ora asked the spymaster.

"Yes, your grace," she replied, bluntly.

Ora frowned.

"You had agents follow me?"

Grey did not deny it.

"Before I explain, your grace, allow me to first tell you that whilst observing you, my agents dispatched three rebels who had been observing you since you exited the palace," Grey said. "I placed them there when I heard of your father's death to ensure your safety."

"I had Danyel," Ora said. The guard stiffened.

"I do not doubt your guard could have easily defeated them in combat," Grey said. "But these rebels do not abide by any laws of honour. They may have killed him before you were even aware of their presence.

"Open combat in the streets of the bazaar may also have done untold damage to your reign before you have even taken your crown. Either way, my agents were able to neutralise them before either outcome became an issue."

Ora nodded. Danyel seemed taken aback that he had not been aware of the threat.

"My father placed great trust in you, Lady Grey," Ora said. "I would like to think I will be able to do the same."

Grey nodded.

"That is my hope also, your grace," Grey said.

Ora dismissed her and the spymaster left the room, closing the door behind her.

Before her father's death, the people that sat around this table were merely people she knew by name and reputation, now, Ora would have to decipher their intentions and decide which ones were friends and which ones were foes - and soon.

The End

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