2.39 ~ Loyalties

~ Qvattorday, 13th of Maius, 11831 ~

“We must do something,” Charlot said as the glasses were passed out. The remaining human advisors were gathered together in the early night without their Grace. Without knowing exactly where Renaud had disappeared yesterday, only a note sent this afternoon in the young advisor’s hand assuring that he was alive and at his childhood home. None of them believed that Pierre had sent him home due to grief, though the excuse seemed to have been taken by most of the staff. They did not dissuade this.

Today too there had been meetings with Pierre—the head doctor Adam Roland joined him for lunch and later the socialite Valentin and his lover. The advisors were not allowed to attend and were firmly, but politely, shut out.

It seemed for every step forward they made together something set them back twice as far. And so Charlot, having brought in Valentin and Nina, and been told to his face that he was not welcome, had roused the others to make their own plans and fix the situation.

“His Grace is the rightful ruler and we cannot just allow this to happen,” the steward agreed. He poured the brandy that was customary for the advisor’s discussions, even though they were now down to three. If he poured everyone more than usual it was not commented on.

They settled in their seats around the duc’s desk, using it as a table, their chairs pulled over. The room felt too empty to be seated so far apart in their usual places. There was a chill in the air as well, ever since yesterday, coming from the forest.

“We should have seen the iron,” Vivien continued. “Spoken to the quartermaster about the servants, made certain the staff knew who, and what, they are dealing with. What do they believe shall happen— that they run off His Grace and someone else becomes Duc? That I take over all duties again?”

“Perhaps,” Charlot replied. “Some of them are old enough to remember when the duchy was without a duc by blood at all, and may have preferred you running things. His Grace Félicien had a fairly short and quick rule, only a few years from his majority to his disappearance. You heard the head chef when the prince questioned us all. Or perhaps they think with enough iron and ill will that His Grace will return to being entirely human?”

“Uncle Dorian was the duc’s grandfather. He was not unkind to fée given Cousin Ophélie’s marriage to His Grace Félicien. If they remember his stewardship they should honor it.”

“People want to remember what fits their needs and forget all else.”

“He is the duc. He is our duc. We became the prince’s men to help him and this duchy, now we are the duc’s men.”

“What does that mean?” Tibault asked, interrupting for the first time. He sipped his drink, looking between the heir to Carreux and the steward of Piques. They were both older and wiser than he, and knew this land better than he.

“What does what mean, Brother?” Vivien asked.

“Do we…” he faltered and took another sip, a bit too much, and coughed before apologizing into his napkin.

“Do not apologize,” Charlot added. “But tell us, honorable Tibault, what you mean?”

“Well, Your Grace,” the youngest of the men tried again. “Do we agree with His Grace’s actions? With helping the fée as they are here. With the problems at the hospital. And if so, why are we not helping? If we disagree we should advise him otherwise, but so far I see nothing that I do not stand with. It seems that His Highness is also standing by his brother. And what of what happened with Síofra! You and I both know that Renaud was not asked to go home, she was in her room all day yesterday, and His Grace and His Highness were furious!”

Silence as all three turned over the questions in their mind.

“Is Elwin here?” Charlot finally asked. “Can he come now if he is not? I think it is time all the advisors talk.”

“Yes. We should have spoken together a long time ago,” Vivien agreed. He stood with a sigh. “He is, in fact, here. He is speaking with His Grace at the moment, and was with Síofra before. I am sure he will come if we ask.” Not that they had ever truly involved him before. Were they not just as guilty then as the other staff? Vivien had a distrust of Elwin because of the necrocræft, not because he was fée, but he too had never bothered to chide the others for making him sit far away, or beginning meetings on days where the margrave was not here.

“Bring him here,” Charlot said. He took another glass and poured for a forth member. “And after we speak with Lord Spadé we will bring in Our Grace.”

Vivien went to the desk and wrote out a missive, sending it with a servant before returning to his seat. He topped off his own drink.

“I do not mind if someone is fée,” Tibault said suddenly. “I think the magic we have in this land is wonderful, in fact. Blancræft and even noircræft. The fée were here first, were they not? They know about the land best, we are the intruders…” he realized he was veering off of topic and took another drink before coughing. Charlot and Vivien glanced at one another and the older man reached over to take Tibault’s drink. Tibault clutched it closer to his chest.

“Sorry. I mean just… we should not impose so much. This is our land now, but we need to work together.”

“We do,” Vivien agreed. “That is why we have a roi, and a duc, and comtes. Because the people who united this land wanted to unite the people… And perhaps that adds to the dangerousness. Though it has been millennia we are still invaders, and have pushed them out, and not merged together. I am sure with how time works in Faery it may not even be that long for some. They are protecting themselves against us, who took away their home. Can we not all understand that?”

The door opened and Elwin entered, nodding to all of the men. He looked at the arrangement and pulled a chair over from the side next to the last drink.

“My dear fellow advisors,” he said, lifting it.

“Lord Spadé,” Vivien said. “Is Magec not with you?”

“He is guarding Síofra’s door,” Elwin said. “I take it you do not know why she is unwell either?”

“No. We were not told—”

“I agree with His Grace!” Tibault said loudly, looking to Elwin as if only now noticing the man had come in. He lifted his drink to knock it with the margrave’s and his hand was not steady. Elwin’s lip twitched, but he did not laugh.

“As do I,” he replied seriously, moving his own glass and making sure they would clink together.

“And I,” Vivien said. Charlot nodded and lifted his as well.

“Good, now that that is settled, what do we agree on exactly?”

“Anything His Grace says,” Tibault said. “He is our duc. I have not been an advisor here long, but we have treated his duchy terribly while he was away. We should be kinder to the fée.”

“It is not just a matter of being kind,” Elwin said. “If I may explain, as the only one here who has lived in Faery? The doctor that allowed the girl to suffer and intended for her to die received a just punishment, oui? But among the fée he would not have been the only one. Everyone at that hospital that was compliant or even knew what was happening and did nothing to stop it would have died. It would have been a slaughter, and in Faery it would be righteous. That is something you all must understand.”

He reached up the scar on his face. “I received this from my wife. It was my first night after meeting her. I had gone to Faery to try and find His Grace Félicien, as there was a great reward by the Lady Duchesse to return her lost son. I did find him, and the fée woman he called Maman. I accompanied them to their home for dinner at their request, promising not to take him. And yet for a brief moment that night I thought about stealing him away. I knew it would not be easy, he was a nimble and smart boy, but I thought about it. I said nothing, I am not a fool, but something must have alerted her. She pulled a knife and without warning, without a threat, cut into me.

‘I do not know what you are thinking, but if you break our deal I will take your life,’ she swore. It was only in that moment that I understood. She was a wolf, a lion, and a mother that would do anything and everything for the son she had taken in. Her loyalties and her law was her own. And in that land it was true.”

“How is that fair or right?” Vivien asked. “Protecting your child, yes. I would do terrible things if it meant my children were safe, that much I understand. But your earlier example about killing everyone at the hospital—that feels wrong.”

“Amôru allows it,” Charlot said. It was not a question but a statement. “I have studied some theology. The comparison to an animal is not a bad one, but that demeans the fée. Though it is often the best we can do in this realm as we have not many other bestia to use for comparison.”

He thought a moment. “Perhaps see if this way. Why would you say it would be allowable to do those terrible thing for your children?”

“Because I love them.”

“Emotion, then,” Charlot pointed out. “If it were not your child you would feel terrible, but not with the same level of anger and hatred. Animals bite often for the same reason—fear, pain. Now imagine your emotions are that high all of the time. Everyone you even remotely care for has your heart as if they were your own children. And your children you adore even more.”

Elwin raised his glass with a nod. “There. That is the difference, that is why it is not fair. It is not supposed to be fair. Because the fée’s humors are not balanced like that of humans. And being in Faery takes them out of balance, makes you more like them. Hence ‘fay,’ those descended of fée and those who are taken into Faery. They are more sanguine and more volatile. They feel more for those close to them. Their laws are less strict on murder and revenge because it feels, as a whole, more justified. Everyone in Faery knows this and so they react accordingly. It is why, I am certain, my daughter refuses to tell me what happened. I might be able to keep my wits, though I am not sure, but if Rhianu even suspects that harm came to her from another, his life would be forfeit.” And he was certain that was the case. Síofra had swore to her mother that she had taken care of it, and it was done, and that alone was the only thing keeping his wife from going hunting.

“Does that make us the unfeeling animals, then?” Tibault asked. “Though I would like to help the Lady Margravine,” he added, somewhat to himself.

“Perhaps,” Elwin said. His jade eyes flicked to the young man’s white hair. Such a color only became common in people after the fée began to return in small numbers and intermarry. “Though I do not think their way is right for all. Every bestia is bound by its own rules. That is why the world is such a grand place. Amôru made us all and chose to make us different. That said, the fée and fay who live in Clandestina must obey our laws. Which is why His Grace’s reaction to the hospital was tempered, but just, and those of Faery accepted it.”

“‘And in the beginning, Everything was Good,’” Charlot quoted. It was one of the first things every child learned about the world. “Everything Good is all that existed, but when sin entered the world did Everything died. Amôru, the personification of Everything Good, disappeared, and our world was broken into realms and planes. Sebelas, his son, Good, does exist, but until the sin has been purged Amôru cannot return.

“So time goes on. We die, some may reincarnate, planes merge, laws change, rules change. We are closer to Faery than ever before, and eventually this plane will be part of that, and all the fée and fay will live amongst us. Perhaps their humors will settle then. Or perhaps we will find ourselves understanding what it means to love and need more fiercely.”

They were silent for a time, drinking. Tibault reached to top off his now empty glass and Vivien glared at him so the younger boy took his hand back with a sheepish grin. “Your sister will kill me if you are drunk.”

“Perhaps that would be justified,” the boy quipped. Charlot laughed into his hand.

“So we work with His Grace,” Vivien said. “I agree with what he is trying to do. Bring together the land and its people. He is not perfect, true, but he is trying. And are we not here to advise him?”

“To His Grace,” Elwin said, raising his almost empty glass again. The rest did the same.

***

They did not invite Pierre to come drink with them after that. Finishing up they all decided to go to him instead.

He was, as usually in the evening, in his office. Elwin knocked and entered first after being granted permission.

“Ah, Grandpère—”

The rest of the advisor’s followed and Pierre watched as they filed before his desk. He put aside his pen, eyes going to his steward.

But it was Tibault who spoke, “We wish to help!” His voice was a bit too loud and he grinned at his tone. “Sorry. Or, my apologies, Your Graceful Highness. Not for wanting to help, I am not sorry for that, but for being so… loud. And abrupt.”

Vivien closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and opened them again. Pierre looked both amused and unsure of what was going on.

“We were drinking before,” Vivien said. “And I do believe Tibault is not used to holding his liquor in such quantities.”

“Ah. Well then, please, if someone could continue who can hold it?”

“Your Grace we are your advisors,” Charlot began. He stepped forward. “I know I came mostly to help Prince Aimé and Sister, as family, but I stayed to learn how to become a duc myself, and how to help its people. I stay to advise you—”

“—and to court Perdita,” Tibault said in a whisper that was too loud to be a true whisper.

Charlot blushed but otherwise ignored the youngest advisor and continued on, “and we have not been doing our jobs. We were not good caretakers or advisors while you were away, and we are not good advisors now. So we apologize. And we wish to help.”

Vivien looked at the others and then walked over behind the desk to Pierre. He took his hand and knelt, kissing his finger where a signet ring would be placed upon officially taking up the duties of duc.

“You are my duc,” he swore. “I vow to protect you, your land, and your people. I will do as you wish. I swear in my own name, as Vivien Lancelot.”

He stayed kneeling until Pierre gently took back his hand and touched his shoulder, asking him to stand. When Vivien did, and stepped back, Elwin was standing ready to do the same.

“Non,” Pierre said, holding up a hand to stop him. “Not yet. Vivien, I thank you, truly, and I take your vow to heart. I understand you all are willing to do this. But please not yet. And Charlot, you should not at all.”

“I would have modified it,” the other duc-to-be said. “Something akin to ‘as long as I am your advisor.’”

“Even so… sit, all of you. Let us plan. We had not had a meeting in far too long.” 

“Is it the best of plans to make more of them while most of those here are inebriated?” Elwin asked.

“It will provide a new outlook. We can make adjustments when we are sober.”

Elwin leaned up against the wall and Charlot sat on one of the two chairs in the room. Vivien forced his brother-in-law to sit in the other chair.

“The last several weeks have been difficult, with the last few days extremely so,” Pierre said. “I have found my position being still questioned. Whether it be due to my heritage or merely the fact that I am not Aimé or you, Vivien, I am not always certain. Likely a combination of both. And yesterday I decided this must change.”

“We will help!”

“Oui, thank you, Tibault, that is why I will explain to you what will happen.

“Today I spoke with Adam, the head doctor of our hospital. With many of the staff being fired or quitting there are too many patients to care for and not enough staff. As this will lead into very much a terrible scenario that I wish to avoid we have come up with an idea. I will be opening several rooms in the château as a clinic for the time being. It will be free of cost, available for any, commoner or noble, who wish my aid. Lady Elizabeth and Wolfram will assist me, and Vivien your blancræft would be appreciated as well.”

“Of course, Your Grace.”

“This will allow more of the ill to be taken care of, and for myself to get to know the people. I have been in town some, but I am not well known, and I believe that may be causing some of our recent issues.”

“And your meeting with Valentin and Nina?” Charlot asked.

“A similar goal. They will be my eyes and ears amid the healthy, spreading some kind words on my behalf, suggesting my clinic, and holding their own party that I will attend with Lady Elizabeth in several weeks.”

“I like it,” Vivien said. The other advisors added their praise of the plan. “Valentin is well liked and well known, his word will carry far. Nina is a gossip and her thoughts will be all over the city in hours. A health clinic is splendid— it will show you a great doctor and carer to all.”

“I am glad we are agreed. Now, how shall we turn our home into a clinic?”

“There is a wing at the back the estate is not as often used, we can bring in cots and bedding, and section off areas for exams.”

“Some of the heavy winter blankets can be taken from storage and used as cots if we run low.”

“Will it be open at all hours?”

They spoke deep into the night, trading ideas, planning, and working together towards the good of the duchy and the duc.

~ Previous Chapter ~ Next Chapter ~

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