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She'd learn. That was her punishment.
Inside her room, she pushed the door closed, locking the bolt. Then she walked over to pull the drapes closed.
A figure stood on her balcony, resting easily against the railing. He wore several days' worth of stubble on his face and his dark clothing was worn, almost tattered. He carried a deep black sword.
Vivenna jumped, eyes wide.
"You," he said in an angry voice, "are causing a lot of trouble."
She opened her mouth to scream, but the drapes snapped forward, muffling her neck and mouth. They squeezed tightly, choking her. They wrapped around her entire body, pinning her arms to her sides.
No! she thought. I survive the attack and the Lifeless, and then fall in my own room?
She struggled, hoping someone would hear her thrashing and come for her. But nobody did. At least, not before she fell unconscious.
Lightsong watched the young queen dart away from his pavilion and felt an odd sense of guilt. How very uncharacteristic of me, he thought, taking a sip of wine. After the grapes, it tasted a little sour.
Maybe the sourness was from something else. He'd spoken to Siri about the God King's death in his usual flippant way. In his opinion, it was usually best for people to hear the truth bluntly-and, if possible, amusingly.
He hadn't expected such a reaction from the queen. What was the God King to her? She'd been sent to be his bride, probably against her will. Yet she seemed to take the prospect of his death with grief. He eyed her appraisingly as she fled.
Such a small, young thing she was, all dressed up in gold and blue. Young? he thought. Yet she's been alive longer than I have.
He retained some things from his former life-such as his perception of his own age. He didn't feel like he was five. He felt far older. That age should have taught him to hold his tongue when speaking of making widows out of young women. Could the girl actually have feelings for the God King?
She'd been in the city for only a couple of months, and he knew-through rumors-what her life must be like. Forced to perform her duty as a wife for a man to whom she could not speak and whom she could not know. A man who represented all the things that her culture taught were profane. The only thing Lightsong could suppose, then, was that she was worried about what might happen to her if her husband killed himself. A legitimate worry. The queen would lose most of her stature if she lost her husband.
Lightsong nodded to himself, turning to look down at the arguing priests. They were done with sewage and guard patrols and had moved on to other topics. "We must prepare ourselves for war," one of them was saying. "Recent events make it clear that we cannot coexist with the Idrians with any assurance of peace or security. This conflict will come, whether we wish it or not."
Lightsong sat listening, tapping one finger against the arm rest of his chair.
For five years, I've been irrelevant, he thought. I didn't have a vote on any of the important court councils, I simply held the codes to a division of the Lifeless. I've crafted a divine reputation of being useless.
The tone below was even more hostile than it had been during previous meetings. That wasn't what worried him. The problem was the priest spear-heading the movement for war. Nanrovah, high priest of Stillmark the Noble. Normally, Lightsong wouldn't have bothered paying attention. Yet Nanrovah had always been the most outspoken against war.
What had made him change his mind?
It wasn't long before Blushweaver made her way to his box. By the time she arrived, Lightsong's taste for the wine had returned, and he was sipping thoughtfully. The voices against war from below were soft and infrequent.
Blushweaver sat beside him, a rustle of cloth and a waft of perfume. Lightsong didn't look toward her.
"How did you get to Nanrovah?" he finally asked.
"I didn't," Blushweaver said. "I don't know why he changed his mind. I wish he hadn't done it so quickly-it seems suspicious and makes people think I manipulated him. Either way, I'll take the support."
"You wish for war so much?"
"I wish for our people to be aware of the threat," Blushweaver said. "You think I want this to happen? You think I want to send our people to die and to kill?"
Lightsong looked at her, judging her sincerity. She had such beautiful eyes. One rarely noticed that, considering how she proffered the rest of her assets so blatantly. "No," he said. "I don't think you want a war."
She nodded sharply. Her dress was sleek and trim this day, as always, but it was particularly revealing up top, where her breasts were pressed up and forward, demanding attention. Lightsong looked away.
"You're boring today," Blushweaver said.
"We should be happy," Blushweaver said. "The priests have almost all come around. Soon there will be a call for attack made to the main assembly of gods."
Lightsong nodded. The main assembly of gods was called to deliberate only in the most important of situations. In that case, they all had a vote. If the vote was for war, the gods with Lifeless Commands-gods like Lightsong-would be called upon to administrate and lead the battle.
"You've changed the Commands on Hopefinder's ten thousand?" Lightsong asked.
She nodded. "They're mine now, as are Mercystar's."
Colors, he thought. Between the two of us, we now control three-quarters of the kingdom's armies.
What in the name of the Iridescent Tones am I getting myself into?
Blushweaver settled back in her chair, eyeing the smaller one that Siri had vacated. "I am annoyed, however, at Allmother."
"Because she's prettier than you, or because she's smarter?"
Blushweaver didn't dignify that with a verbal response; she just shot him a look of annoyance.
"Just trying to act less boring, my dear," he said.
"Allmother controls the last group of Lifeless," Blushweaver said.
"An odd choice, don't you think?" Lightsong said. "I mean, I am a logical choice-assuming you don't know me, of course-since I'm supposedly bold. Hopefinder represents justice, a nice mix with soldiers. Even Mercystar, who represents benevolence, makes a kind of sense for one who controls soldiers. But Allmother? Goddess of matrons and families? Giving her ten thousand Lifeless is enough to make even me consider my drunk-monkey theory."
"The one who chooses names and titles of the Returned?"
"Exactly," Lightsong said. "I've actually considered expanding the theory. I am now proposing to believe that God-or the universe, or time, or whatever you think controls all of this-is all really just a drunk monkey."
She leaned over, squeezing her arms together, seriously threatening to pop her bosom out the front of her dress. "And, you think my title was chosen by happenstance? Goddess of honesty and interpersonal relations. Seems to fit, wouldn't you say?"
He hesitated. Then he smiled. "My dear, did you just try to prove the existence of God with your cleavage?"
She smiled. "You'd be surprised what a good wriggle of the chest can accomplish."
"Hum. I'd never considered the theological power of your breasts, my dear. If there were a Church devoted to them, perhaps you'd make a theist out of me after all. Regardless, are you going to tell me what specifically Allmother did to annoy you?"
"She won't give me her Lifeless Commands."
"Not surprising," Lightsong said. "I hardly trust you, and I'm your friend."
"We need those security phrases, Lightsong."
"Why?" he asked. "We've got three of the four-we dominate the armies already."
"We can't afford infighting or divisiveness," Blushweaver said. "If her ten were to turn against our thirty, we'd win, but we'd be left badly weakened."
He frowned. "Surely she wouldn't do that."
"Surely we'd rather be certain."
Lightsong sighed. "Very well, then. I'll talk to her."
"That might not be a good idea."
He raised an eyebrow.
"She doesn't like you very much."
"Yes, I know," he said. "She has remarkably good taste. Unlike some other people I know."
She glared at him. "Do I need to wriggle my breasts at you again?"
"No, please. I don't know if I'd be able to stand the theological debate that would follow."
"All right, then," she said, sitting back, looking down at the priests who were still arguing.
They sure are taking a long time on this one, he thought. He glanced toward the other side, where Siri had paused to look out over the arena, her arms resting on the stonework; it was too high for her to do so comfortably.
Perhaps it wasn't thinking of her husband's death that bothered her, he thought. Maybe it was because the discussion turned to war.
A war her people couldn't win. That was another good reason why the conflict was becoming inevitable. As Hoid had implied, when one side had an unbeatable advantage, war was the result. Hallandren had been building its Lifeless armies for centuries, and the size was becoming daunting. Hallandren had less and less to lose from an attack. He should have realized that earlier, rather than assuming this would all blow over once the new queen arrived.
Blushweaver huffed beside him, and he noticed that she had noticed his study of Siri. She was watching the queen with obvious dislike.
Lightsong immediately changed the topic. "Do you know anything about a tunnel complex beneath the Court of Gods?"
Blushweaver turned back toward him, shrugging. "Sure. Some of the palaces have tunnels beneath them, places for storage and the like."
"Have you ever been down in any of them?"
"Please. Why would I go crawling about in storage tunnels? I only know about them because of my high priestess. When she joined my service, she asked me if I wanted mine connected to the main complex of tunnels. I said I didn't."
"Because you didn't want others to have access to your palace?"
"No," she said, turning back to watching the priests below. "Because I didn't want to put up with the racket of all that digging. Can I have some more wine, please?"
* * *
SIRI WATCHED THE PROCEEDINGS for quite a long time. She felt a little like Lightsong said he did. Because she didn't have a say about what the court did, it was frustrating to pay attention. Yet she wanted to know. The arguments of the priests were, in a way, her only connection to the outside world.
She was not encouraged by what she heard. As the time passed, the sun falling close to the horizon and servants lighting massive torches along the walkway, Siri found herself feeling more and more daunted. Her husband was probably either going to be killed or persuaded to kill himself in the upcoming year. Her homeland, in turn, was about to be invaded by the very kingdom her husband ruled-yet he could do nothing to stop it because he had no way to communicate.
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