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21 September 2018 @ 11:34 am

Chapter Seven

Meet the Royal Relatives


Rael recognized all three of the soldiers who walked in. Two from pictures, and "Prince Garit, a pleasure to meet you again."

"Princess Rael . . . or is Dancer or Warrior the correct title, now?" A faint drawl, but easy to understand.

"Oh, it all sounds so pretentious, and our princesses aren't what you call princesses. How about just Rael?" She eyed the other two. King's Own version of the uniform, both majors? "I'm afraid I don't know your names, although I recognize you both from your infiltration."

The big guy, who could not possibly be as dumb as he looked, grinned. The woman raised an eyebrow, as she looked Rael up and down.

Garit grinned, too. "Major Easterly and Major Deep Night Janic. May I introduce Rael Withione of the Presidential Directorate? Easterly is theoretically Xen's immediate superior in our Intel section."

Rael blinked. "It's hard to imagine Xen in a normal . . ."

"Chain o'command?" Easterly grinned. "I don't tink Xen can quite imagine it either. T'man's a bit independent." No drawl here, a stronger version of the accent she occasionally heard from Xen, when he wasn't worried about making an impression.

The woman snorted.

Rael eyed the Prince . . .Regular Army uniform, Colonel's insignia. "You're not in the King's Own?"

"Nope, I'm in the real army." His grin widened at the other's glowers.

Good friends, all three of them.

"However, right now, I've been pulled into diplomatic duties. King Leano and General Rufi wish to meet you. So I've brought a carriage."

Rael paused, nodded. "I wasn't expecting royal . . . umm, but I did bring one outfit that I think is roughly appropriate . . ."

Janic smiled thinly. "Don't worry, this isn't a formal anything. It's family. Rufi's great grandson's . . . favorite enemy agent." Precise and clear diction, she'd pass as a Oner with no problem.

"Oh. Xen did say something once about how he could probably get away with calling himself a prince if he was snobby . . ." Rael trailed off. I am probably not what they had in mind for even a distant prince to be keeping company with. "Umm, I'll get my stuff. Three or four day trip?"

"Two hours, maximum, so why don't you dress in this roughly appropriate dress, and we'll head out. You can finish lunch first, if you'd like." Garit was looking amused.

Rael looked down at her plate. "I think I just lost my appetite."

Janic chuckled. "C'mon, show me this dress. Maybe I can give you some pointers."

Rael swallowed and led the way upstairs.

"Deep Night . . . So, you're a witch?"

"Yes, but I wasn't raised here, or with any other witches after my mother died. Call me Deena." The woman frowned as Rael brought out her dimensional bag.

"Don't worry. I'll leave it here, or in my luggage if I'm not likely to be returning. I've been a presidential guard for much too long to be amused by people who push the limit on what can be carried into the presence of, in this case, a king." Rael pulled out the fancy bodice. Golden lace over rusty red velvet in a shade that complemented her hair. "The sleeves are detachable in two lengths, and I've got skirts in three lengths . . ."

"Old Gods, that's clever. Well, for an afternoon, non-diplomatic, meeting, the slip, but not the puffy petticoat, the long skirt, and layered over it, the medium skirt with the lace trim. Leave on the long sleeves. What shoes do you have? Yeah, those are good."

Deena cocked her head as Rael dressed. "Hold still while I dag up a couple of spots in the over skirt. That'll have you looking quite stylish, in a not-quite-businesslike manner."

The witch produced a box full of little safety pins and rucked up the midi into a couple of attractive drapes.

Real packed everything away into her saddle bags, and added her bag handles.

One last look in the mirror. "Well, the hair is definitely anachronistic."

"But practical." Deena touched her long black braid. "I volunteered to shave my head once, and get rid of this handle. My father was not amused. Nope, not allowed, for undercover work. He said—turning green."

Rael nodded. "My first assignment was undercover . . . and then I had to cut my hair so I wasn't so recognizable afterwards. This is a lot more practical, but every once in a while I miss the long hair. I could probably grow it back now that I'm an analyst . . ."

Easterly and Garit joined them inside the closed carriage, and they talked shop through two corridors and a slow trip across town. They were fascinated by the Oner's incorporated political parties, and she in turn but their constantly morphing factions.

"I guess that with the King and Spear inherited, and the Council three-quarters hereditary Dukes or appointed Governors, there's not much point in our sort of politics." Rael broke off as the carriage swung around and stopped.

"At the City level, we might be seeing something like that, but so far, all the city factions are unique to each city. We don't have a, oh, Workers Untied Party that is kingdom-wide with a chapter in every town. Thank the Old Gods!" Garit gave a mock shudder, then climbed out of the carriage and turned to extend a hand to her.

Rael giggled and batted her eyelashes. Then stuck her nose in the air and grandly allowed him to assist her.

The prince grinned in return. "No wonder Xen's so fixated on you. You go from intelligent political discussion to having fun with manners in a blink. Enjoy life, do you?"

"Yep. It's the best way to get through the long boring parts between the moments of terror."

Nods from the other two. Because the King's Own handle the Royal families’ protection. Agents, guards, and occasionally shock troops. These guys are pretty much my equivalents here on Comet Fall.

Up the broad steps of a palace easily the size of Government House in her own Paris. The massive doors—three sets of double doors—opened into a cavernous room. Benches along the side walls, a quartet of thrones on a raised dais. At the moment, empty, just a few people crossing the room, obviously bound elsewhere.

Garit steered Rael to the right. "The other side is all business, this side is all family. Very nice message they're sending, meeting you on this side."

A uniformed guard opened a door as they approached.

A richly decorated sitting room. Several groups of chairs, all angled to focus attention toward the couches and low table before the fireplace. And the men there.

The Spear and the Crown.

Rael recognized the two older men from pictures and reports. Blond hair going grey, and a strong family resemblance. And she knew the Spear, General Rufi Negue had recently celebrated his ninety-eighth birthday, for all he looked younger than his half-brother. The Crown, King Leano was eighty-four, a physically softer version of the old soldier, but his gaze as piercing and . . . behind a habitual mental shield. Showing enough glow to attract attention, and for the magical, to know there was a lot of depth behind it.

Xen's told me the royal family had power. I just never realized it was strong.

At a nudge from Garit, Rael walked across the room.

The general grinned. "So, we finally get to meet Xen's young lady."

A chuckle from the king as he stretched out his hand.

Oh One Hell. Am I supposed to kiss it?

Her own extended hand was grasped and given a firm shake.

Rufi grinned. "So formal. So tell me how my great grandson's doing?"

"Well, he's improving fast—he's using a fast bubble—so apparently he'll be raring to go in just a few days." Rael sighed. "Mind you, he'll look like a pinto horse until the new skin tans a bit. But his hair's growing back."

The King shook his head. "I keep hoping he'll realize he isn't indestructible."

Rufi nodded. "It seems like the only time he comes home anymore is to heal." A quick grin. "It's almost like he's afraid we'll pull him into a government job."

A faint snicker from Garit. "Not that he wouldn't have been a good Crown Heir . . . if you could keep him from escaping."

That got smiles all around, except from Deena Janic, who was rolling her eyes.

Crown heir . . . two steps away from the throne?

"I hadn't realized he was so . . . high on the list."

Rufi chuckled. "Xen was a deliberate red herring, to keep the matter up in the air long enough for us to see how well Prince Staven was healing. And dealing with . . . everything. Once we knew he was back on keel, or at least aiming that direction, we let Xen escape."

"That was just before you sent him," Rael glanced toward Easterly and Deena, "them, to the One World?"

"Give or take prep time. Xen and Q built the maze, with the final gate to One when they were otherwise prepared."

Rael thought that over. "So you own quite a large number of worlds. I’m a little surprised that you ceded the title to Embassy to Xen. It would have been a useful reminder of the strength of the Kingdom."

A laugh from Rufi. "No, no. Embassy is his creation, not ours. Although we certainly approve. We decided to simplify things and legally granted Xen complete and unencumbered ownership."

The king nodded. "The unemcumbered bit means it is not considered a part of the kingdom. The tangles we could get into if, for instance, every child born on the world could claim birthright citizenship in the kingdom had a lot to do with it."

Rufi nodded. “Although every child with a parent from here may also claim birthright citizenship.”

They all eyed her.

“Umm. I see.”

Are they trying to recruit me? Inviting me to stay?

“I suppose there will be children born and raised there who don’t really feel allegiance to anyplace but Embassy. But most of them will spend enough time home, or with their polity’s citizen’s to absorb their culture, and that will probably be the . . . home of their heart and hold their loyalty.”

And that’s my diplomatic answer.

“Indeed.” Rufi eyed her thoughtfully, then turned to raise an eyebrow at a diffident fellow in a civilian suit.

“Ambassador Osma is being obnoxious in the hall. He seems to be concerned about how Princess Rael is being treated.”

Rael snorted. “More likely he’s using me as an excuse to come and be obnoxious.”

Chuckles from Crown and Spear.

“Know him well?” The King asked.

“Never met him, but I see a lot of his type in Paris . . . and the flunky I met here was worse than usual.”

The man in the suit sniffed. “There is an obnoxiously smug flunky with the ambassador.”

Rael wrinkled her nose. “Ambassador Ozma has neither authority over me, nor responsibility for me as anything other than a citizen of the Empire. And since I’m here at the specific request of President Orde, he can wait and speak to me later. If I can’t avoid him.”

The king grinned, and caught the suited man’s eye. “Tell the ambassador he can see her at lunch and seat him and the flunky well down the table.

General Rufi turned back to Rael. “And your president didn’t send you to spy?”

Rael eyed the ruling brothers. “He did suggest that while I was hovering over Xen, I try to figure out the organization and, well, anything, about the Witch, Wizard, and Mage communities. As he said, they are completely opaque to us, despite our regularly running head on into individual members.”

“And have you found out much?”

“That Witches are organized into Triads and Pyramids, terrorized by their Senior Sister Answer. Wizard don’t organize, but they do train and learn to not irritate Nil. Mages seem to be absent altogether.” Rael pondered her list. “Oh, and Rip Crossing is . . . interesting.”

Snickers from half the people standing around.

Deena nodded. “Rip Crossing . . . has been the site and source of a lot of problems for us. And they’re so friendly.

“Yee . . . es? For some values of friendly? I felt like I was surrounded by happy drunks, to be frank.”

Choking sounds and snickers. From the people who’ve been there.

Rufi sighed. “The one time I was there, I was so pissed I nearly ordered the guards to kill everyone there. It would have solved so many problems.”

Rael cleared her throat. “Umm, if you could kill that many powerful magic users. I assume you had Xen with you?”

“Yes. And his father, who took one look at me, and told Xen to deal with the problem and teleported me out of there. ‘The long term consequences would be much worse’ he said. I hate it when he reads my mind.”

The king chuckled. “No, you hate realizing how close to an utter disaster you came close to creating.”