Kingsblood, a new fantasy series from Ankaret Wells and Irene Headley.
“You’re sure you don’t mind not coming to Bergomance?” Thomas checked, and lifted his arm. His man Gui bustled around him, twitching the line of his collar of the Order of the Serpent as if he thought Thomas had a crooked shoulder just to make his life harder, then apparently judged him ready, and disappeared off to search out the rest of Thomas’s blacks.
Elinor considered it, and then shook her head. “Josiane won’t want to be crowded around by strangers. I remember, when we heard that Father was dead, the Earl of Ravenspurn had a third of his army quartered on us, and Prince Edgar as well. And of course they kept watching us, to see how we would react, and if Mother would weep, and looking at Athilda and I like we were chunks of pork on a butcher’s stall.”
“You’re not a stranger, you’re her sister-in-law,” Thomas said, sitting down on the bed to watch her carefully applying eye black. God, but black suited Elinor. She positively glowed in it, with her pale skin, and her spun-copper hair.
“That’s even worse, sometimes. Really, Tom. Besides, if I stay behind, Matilda and I can take that chance to really get our noses into the Exchequer. They’ll think that Roald’s distracted–”
“This is his eighth child, and Alaqui’s ninth.”
“I meant by the Mortish Ambassador’s daughter.” She turned to face him. “So. You do wonders in Bergomance, and I’ll do them here, and we’ll see if we can keep the ships of state sailing together, hmm?”
Thomas got up, and came across the room to kiss her. She returned it, briefly, and then stepped away.
“Formal dinner, remember? And everyone and their dog will want to talk about what Gaston’s death means.”
“Disaster,” Thomas said, having had time to think about it. “With Ambrosia unmarried, the army in disarray–”
“Josiane in need of support?”
“At least we won’t want Bergomance in return,” Thomas said. “Not like Diutisca, or Lotaire, or anyone else with a spare younger son.” He shook his head. “God only knows what Gaston was thinking.”
“He probably wasn’t,” Elinor said, squinting thoughtfully into the middle distance. “You knew the man, of course, but his plans never struck me as, hmm, lengthy ones. More the next three obstacles, and go again from there. Marrying Ambrosia would have closed off his options, but you can’t keep all of your paths open forever.”
Thomas sighed, leaning his head against her shoulder. “Don’t you wish Matilda and Aubert had useful visions?”
“No. I remember my Flavian, even if you don’t.”
“I don’t think I ever read my Flavian,” Thomas said thoughtfully.
“No wonder you don’t remember it. Father would have been horrified.” She stroked his hair. Thomas breathed in, and out, thinking of Elinor’s father, the old Earl of Mycroft. What would he have thought– of Bergomance, of Josiane’s state, of taking the child Vasey into a hornet’s nest stuck to the edge of a table?
Inspiration didn’t come. Elinor continued to stroke his hair, in a soothing fashion, until Thomas stepped back, taking both her hands in his.
“I wish you could come,” he said. “I want you by my side. Someone I can trust.”
“You’ll have Ralf.”
“That’s not the same. Ralf thinks like a soldier. I think like a soldier, more often than not.”
“Josiane probably needs that.”
“Look where thinking like a soldier landed Gaston.”
“If you decide that now, between Advent and Epiphany, is the time to declare war on a country composed entirely of mountains and snow, we’ll be well rid of you.”
Thomas huffed out a laugh, and leaned in to kiss her again. There was a desultory knock at the door, and then Ansgard– on door duty– said, “The Duchess of Joux, your Graces.”
“Matilda!” Thomas said, starting towards the door, and it opened. Matilda stepped in, and Thomas leaned in to kiss her cheek, avoiding the starched extremities of her white cornette.
“Gisela does well?” he checked.
“She’s heavy and tired,” Matilda said, “At least it isn’t summer. She thinks she might be able to make it down to the Memorial Mass for the Duke.” She shrugged. “And you two?”
“Well enough,” Elinor said, looking between them. “But I can tell you want to speak with Thomas alone.”
“Yes, actually,” Matilda said, speaking over Thomas, and they mimed kisses in each other’s direction as Elinor passed. Ansgard and a waiting woman came up behind her as she went down the corridor, and another knight appeared to shut the door. Lynette was already lurking there.
“Are you having one of your feelings?” Thomas checked, “Is it about my taking Vasey? Or– I know that you and Josiane have your closeness–”
“Tom, I keep telling you, if the closeness worked like the stories did, I would have run mad by now. Imagine having Aubert’s voice in your head!”
“Josiane isn’t Aubert.”
“No, she’s worse,” Matilda said, and then raised her hand against Thomas’s protest. “And it isn’t about Vasey either. Or rather, it is, but not the way you’re thinking.”
Thomas’s stomach felt like a stone.
“You have to go,” Matilda said, “I had a very strong feeling, a certainty, and then, while I was changing to dine, I had a vision.”
“What was it about?”
Matilda lifted her shoulders. “I can’t remember. But I remember how it felt.” She took his hands in hers, long and strong, the heavy ring with her own coat of arms on, and the signet she’d taken from her husband’s dead hand both pressing against Thomas’s fingers until they felt as though they struck the bone. “You have to go. All of you. A great deal depends on it. More than you might think.”
Thomas breathed in, and out, for a moment, thinking about Matilda’s feelings, about everything he’d heard from the siblings and cousins who had such mana.
“That may actually be worse than some of Aubert’s,” he said after a moment, and Matilda made a face at him. “Not his worst, but–”
“The question is, do you believe me?”
“Of course I do.”
“Then that’s all that needs to be said.” She let go of his hands, and folded her own across the high, wide belt of her kirtle. For a brief moment, she reminded him of a sibyl from a Book of Hours, all knowing and silent.
“Do you ever ask Aubert about his feelings?” he asked, the thought suddenly occurring.
“No,” Matilda said. “If I don’t ask, then he can’t tell me, and I will never have to explain to Roald why I didn’t stop him from going to Viborg to disrupt some trial for heresy and leaving the entire country thinking we’re all Trinitarians.”
“He only did that once.”
“It was, nonetheless, more than sufficient.” She shrugged again. “You know it takes us both– differently, and Aubert’s are so unclear, and mine are so specific–”
“Do you ever wonder why?”
She shrugged. “It is the Gift of God. Who are we to question it?”