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“A good morning to you.” Tes-amen smiled at the young Tullius woman. “Have you recovered yet from your trip across the Inland Sea? They say the first trip can be —”
“This is how I always walk, Tes-amen.” Naevia turned on the viscount’s man with fiery eyes. Was she so bowlegged from her time with Vel that everyone noticed? She unconsciously put her hand on the pocket that hid Dallia’s sealed message. “I am affronted that you would comment on the appearance of a lady, a duke’s sister no less.”
“My humble apologies.” Tes-amen bowed low. The way the little, pale thing looked at him he would not have been surprised had she removed the bow from around her shoulder and stuck him with an arrow. He looked around to avoid her eyes. “I made no allusion to your appearance, Lady Tullius.” This was true, he hadn’t any idea what she was talking about.
They stood where the hall curved out by a veranda. This stretch of corridor was open to the elements and boasted a view over most of the city. He saw his opportunity to change the subject. He pointed out over Kart Hadasht. “Ever since last night it has grown. They say it pulled into it all the fallen stones, and now it is greedily taking masonry from nearby buildings. Swallowing the blocks up and spitting them back out on top to form higher and higher levels. It is as if the warlocks of old had returned.”
Naevia looked back down at her feet and was about to push past Tes-amen, when the strangeness of his words caught her. “What are you talking about?” She looked over at him. The rising sun in the east backlit the dark-skinned man, and it was hard for her to read his expression.
“Oh, forgive me, Lady. Have you not heard?” He pointed again out over the city with renewed emphasis. “You need only look over there. One of the relic towers has suddenly awoken, and it is rebuilding itself as we speak. We are truly living through a time of miracles.”
“We are?” Naevia followed his gaze out over the city. Her heart nearly stopped when she saw the enormous column of stone climbing into the sky. She knew the old towers had been tall, but this stretched her mind’s ability to accept her eyes. “Is this some trick? Because I do not abide by foolery.” Truth was, Naevia enjoyed a bit of foolery, but she did not want this man laughing at her expense.
“It is all the palace is talking about.” Tes-amen watched as the young woman put her head back down and hurried past him. Such a strange lady. “I don’t know why I didn’t lead with it, rather than make those unfortunate comments.” He scratched his head as she vanished down the hall. “Very sorry about that.”
“Forget it happened.” She called over her shoulder. Naevia had been in quite a state on her errand to bring the sealed message to Vel. But to see what she had just seen nearly broke her brain. She was quite sure that the reanimated tower was the very same one she and her brother had spent the afternoon in the day before. It wasn’t coincidence. She had no idea what it was, but happenstance it was not.
“Could Princess Minicia not make the journey?” Cassia was not surprised the princess failed to join her regents. Few saw her at all these days. She remembered Fortinbras had said something about wanting to make her acquaintance. But Cassia didn’t know if her son had done so before he disappeared. He’d certainly not reported it to her.
“Sadly, she caught cold and couldn’t make the journey. But she hopes she may yet travel for the wedding itself. Such a glorious union.” Queen Cesphea smiled over at Bantia and Hostus, the engaged couple sitting at the center of the table in the long hall. Cesphea’s black eyes lingered on Bantia’s slender neck, and the delicate clavicle exposed by her formal stola.
“Thank you, your majesty.” Bantia blushed when she caught the queen’s eye. “I find my future husband and the Gala family to be the perfect match.” She shivered. But she was unsure whether it was the uncommon chill in that great hall, or from the appraising eyes that fell on her.
“You are certainly matched in the quality of your stock, loyalty to the crown, and tranquil temperaments.” Tiberius leaned away from his wife, Queen Valeria, and moved conspiratorially closer to Bantia. He had a devilish twinkle in his eye. “But I wonder as to your match in the service of Venus. My queen hates when I state plain fact, but, Lady, you are a good deal taller than your lord.”
All the women around the table averted their eyes and blushed at the euphemism for sex. All, that is, but the queens regent and the sorceress Brynhild. Valeria looked like she might be cross with her husband. Brynhild and Cesphea both regarded the young couple with amused expressions.
Cassia cleared her throat. Normally, she would not tolerate crass talk. But when it came from the consort regent, she was forced to stand it. “I’m sure Venus will bless them in their union and give them many children that we queenbet güvenilirmi might further our houses through the generations.” She held up her wine goblet.
“Hear, hear. Hear, hear.” Murmured people around the table.
“Very fine words, Duchess.” Veleria smiled at her hostess. “I wonder, after lunch, would you mind if my sister and I wandered the castle a bit. We haven’t been here since our uncle was king and your husband was Duke.” She said it in a friendly manner, but a solemnity settled around the table. The mention of the former king and the former duke brought to mind reigns that ended before their time. A touchy subject when celebrating a new union.
“It would be wonderful to see the places we played as girls.” Cesphea put her left hand on her sister’s right hand.
Tiberius shifted in his seat uncomfortably.
“I would be happy to give you a tour.” Cassia forced a smile onto her face.
“Thank you for the offer, but we would prefer to keep our company to queens only,” Valeria said.
“Queens regent, you mean.” Bantia did not mean to let that out of her mouth, but the royal intrusion into her celebration had pushed her mood more than she’d realized.
“Bantia!” Cassia looked with disquieted eyes between her daughter and the queens regent.
“No, it’s quite all right.” Cesphea smiled. “Titles can be so confusing sometimes. We are the queens regent, of course.”
When Naevia had first awoken Vel, his member was as hard as Uzze steel.
Vel found that his cock got harder still when his sister’s lovely face came into focus. But she had news and their games would have to wait. He softened as she showed him the message.
“I waited to open it. It’s still sealed.” Naevia held the scroll up.
“Whose pigeon did she send? Was it going to her home or ours?” Vel did not want to read the message, but knew they would have to. He admired his sister both for her aim with a bow and her bravery taking the bird right from under Dellia’s nose. He wouldn’t want to risk getting on his cousin’s bad side. He’d seen her angry before.
“I couldn’t tell. My arrow mangled the poor thing.”
“Well, let’s read it.” Vel sighed and looked at the scroll as his sister broke the seal. Spying on Dellia was not why they had braved the Inland Sea. The whole journey was turning sideways.
“Let’s see.” Naevia sat on the bed next to her brother and opened the scroll. “It’s coded.” There were a series of marks and tallies. “I know this. Don’t we know this, Vel?”
“Um …” Vel stared at the page completely befuddled.
“This is the code used for procurement in the old empire. Let me see. It’s been a while and I wasn’t really paying attention to those lessons.” Her finger scanned the lines trying to sort it out. “Can you bring me a something to write with?”
“That gets me thinking, Naevia.” Vel, still naked, threw back the sheets, stood, and walked over to his desk. He didn’t even consider how his state of undress might affect his sister. So much had changed between them in so little time. He scanned the desk. The viscount was kind enough to have supplied him with parchment, fine copper pens, and ink wells of the deepest black. He grabbed one of each and returned to bed. “What did the Vulpes do again, before they were converted by the queens regent into spies?”
“They … um …” Naevia took the writing material from Vel and began scribbling her translation of the code. Her tongue stuck out of the corner of her mouth as she worked. “They … supplied materiel for the army.”
“Yes, exactly.” Vel nodded. He sat quietly for the next half hour while Naevia worked on the code.
Eventually, she finished as best as she could. “Here, what do you make of this?”
Vel read his sister’s writing out loud, “Suspect truth. Rabbit burrows. Masked but seen. Await delivery carrots.” Vel put down the parchment and looked at his sister. “What the …?”
“I don’t know, maybe I decoded it wrong.” Naevia shrugged.
“The code has a code.” Vel looked over at his sister. “But whatever the meaning, something is wrong with our cousin. She secretly brings her husband. She follows us through the streets. She writes strange messages. We have to talk to her.”
“I am not going to confront Dellia. Leave that to Father.” Naevia’s palms went sweaty.
“Father already had his suspicions. He needs no further hints or gossip. He needs something concrete.” Vel stood, walked across the room, and picked up his tunic. He pulled it on. “We must talk to her first. Not to confront her, but to see if we might pry some information out of her. Let’s invite her to my chambers for lunch and see what she says. Maybe we will gather something stronger. Or maybe she will allay our fears.”
“I do not like it.” Naevia pulled her knees to her chest and hugged her legs.
“I do not like any of this. I wish Father would just tell us what he’s doing.”
“You don’t like any of it? Some of this voyage queenbet yeni giriş has met with your approbation I trust.” She looked up at him with mock servitude.
“I don’t like that which has to do with Dellia and Father.” Vel finished fastening his robes. “That which has to do with you, has given me more than I ever dreamed to wish for.” To counter the rise between his legs, Vel put Harpastum into his mind. The ball game countered thoughts of his sister’s supple flesh. “Let’s figure out what’s happening with Cousin Dellia, report to Father, and then sail home. I fear we are wearing out our welcome in this city.”
“Oh, gods. I forgot to tell you.” Naevia’s green eyes sparkled with excitement. “One of the towers is rebuilding itself. I saw it with my own eyes.” She stood, grabbed his hand, and pulled him to the window. She threw open the shutters and had him lean out so he could see the tower. “It reaches into the clouds.”
“Rebuilding itself?” Vel looked where she pointed. He’d never seen the like, it dwarfed even the new tower rising at the royal palace. “Naevia.” His voice was a whisper as he took in the sight. “Is that our tower? The one where we …?”
“I think so. Yes.” Naevia squeezed his hand.
“What does it mean?”
“I haven’t the faintest. But I do not love a coincidence.”
“Nor do I.” As Vel looked at the tower and thought back to the corkscrewed Blessed Tower rising at Accipiter Cubitum Palace, a thought occurred to him. Unlike that tower, this one wasn’t blurry. He could see it clearly. He scanned the city. He could see the whole city with its arching architecture quite clearly. In fact, he realized as he turned it over in his mind, his vision had been improved for some time now. Since about the time Brynhild had cursed him. What else had the sorceress done to him?
A sign hung on the door to the bath that said it was temporarily closed for cleaning. Brynhild tried the handle but it was locked. She knew very well who was cleaning in there. Merope thought herself clever, hiding behind the only door she had authority to lock. The story of the locked door was probably that they were giving the place a deep clean for royal guests, and didn’t want any of the royal party to wander in and be scandalized by the scullery servants at work.
Brynhild could find the Seneschal, Aulus, and get him to open the door. But then this would be a bigger production than she’d like. And she didn’t want to draw attention to herself with the queens wandering the castle. And also, she had to admit to herself, she didn’t want to wait. She had tried several summoning charms with her left hand since the dust had its influence on her. All had failed. But maybe the urgency of the moment would aid her magic.
Thinking back to days before sorcery began leaking from the world, she remembered how her mind would find the right pitch. Her thoughts worked up the scale and then focused on a select, clear note. The key to the lock. She could feel it in the lock just on the other side of the door. So close. She unwound that object in her mind, infusing it with her conjuring spell. Her left hand flicked and closed into a fist. She held it before her and unfurled her fingers. There was an iron key in her palm. It worked. “Well, now, pretty thing, you will not hide from me.” She whispered as she set the key in the lock and turned it. The door swung open.
There were two women working on the bath. Steam filled the air. The place looked clean enough without their work, but they must have their orders. They were so diligently scrubbing tiles that they did not see Brynhild enter. Merope was there. The other woman was a pretty thing, too. Brynhild watched her form as her butt swayed with her work. Best not to be greedy. Cassia wouldn’t notice when one servant goes missing from her work here and there. But if Brynhild took all the pretty ones into her bed, the duchess would eventually take umbrage. “Merope, I require your services.”
Both women froze at the sound of the unexpected voice.
“How did you get in, mistress?” Merope looked to the door. The key should have been on the inside of the lock, but it was on the outside. The sorceress had somehow pulled it through the door. This was a good deal more frightening than a floating ball of light. When the tall, pale woman didn’t respond, Merope looked back down at the gleaming tile below her. An average, frightened-looking woman of the Surround stared back at her in the reflection. What was so special about her that Brynhild had taken this interest? Her vagina gushed as she thought of how that interest had manifested itself over the past few days. “I … I … have to clean.” Merope stayed on her hands and knees.
“I can manage here on my own until your return, Merope.” The other servant said. She wanted the sorceress out of the bath as quickly as possible. Her presence made the woman uneasy.
“No, no, I have to clean here. The duchess said — ow, owwwww.” Merope queenbet giriş felt strong fingers twist her ear and pull her upright. The familiar warmth spread from her ear, through her head, and into her core as she stood.
“None of that, little marsh flower.” Brynhild moved her left hand under Merope’s dark hair, and gently held the bare skin on her delicate neck. “There’s a box that needs cleaning.” Brynhild turned to the other servant, who was staring at them, her mouth hanging open. “Carry on here by yourself, I’ll have her back to you in a few hours. Oh, and lock the door after we leave. We wouldn’t want one of the queens wandering in here before it was spotless.” Brynhild left the bath, shepherding Merope with one hand still on the back of her neck.
“Please. Nicias suspects something.” Merope’s mind drifted. She was on a knife’s edge between concern for her marriage and the growing hunger inside her. The heat pulsing through her was making it incredibly hard to think. “I can’t keep doing … the things we do together.” Such things that she never would have suspected existed before their affair had started.
“Shall we retire to my chamber today?” Brynhild squeezed Merope in a forceful but tender way. She could feel the small woman’s muscles relaxing. “Or, did you have a request for some other setting?”
“Please … please … I can’t wait to climb up there.” Merope gave in. “Let me taste you in the sanctum again. Let me …” Her voice trailed off as a pair of women, arm in arm, turned a corner in the hall ahead. A chill breeze blew past Merope and she trembled.
“Ah, sorceress.” Cesphea eyed the tall woman, ignoring the servant that walked before her. “Do you still care for the Tullius clan?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” Brynhild stopped and curtsied. But she did not remove her left hand from Merope. Something told her that it was safer hidden under the servant’s lovely hair.
“You have changed. Haven’t you?” Valeria let out a little laugh and it was picked up by her sister. “You are not the woman we knew as girls.”
“Time has passed.” Brynhild could feel Merope’s steady pulse under her palm. She massaged the woman’s spine as she were a favorite dog. “It’s been many years.” She eyed the queens. They were beautiful, but also somewhat wild. Their patinaed copper crowns were tucked into their black hair like treasure peeking from the bottom of the sea.
“That is just the thing,” Cesphea said. “Years were not supposed to matter to you. You have lost all tricks except for that one gift. The talent that let you fight to overthrow the old empire, and yet stand before us a young woman, decades later.”
“As you say, Your Majesty.” Brynhild hated to do it, but she curtsied again. She needed to be done with this and what might the queens say if their focus turned to the smitten servant before them?
“And yet, though you try and disguise it, it is plain that your body is not the slender thing I remember.” Cesphea looked Brynhild up and down.
“That is so.” Valeria nodded her head in agreement.
“I … um … I …” Brynhild turned her gaze away from them, her cheeks hot.
“Given the chance, we’re all bound to let ourselves grow fat.” Valeria pulled her sister past Brynhild and Merope. “Your magic has left and it seems that you’ve put yourself out to pasture, sorceress.”
“Moo,” Cesphea called over her shoulder. “We’re happy that we have provided you land to graze in your remaining years. Remember our kindness.” The queens laughed and passed out of sight.
“Thank you, Your Majesties.” Brynhild turned away from the direction they’d gone. Warmth returned to the hall. “Come, Merope. I now need your skills more than ever.”
“What were they talking about, mistress?” Merope let herself be led down the hall. She was so wet now she could feel it on her legs.
“Their kind, and mine, were at one time competitors.” No longer willing to wait, Brynhild moved them into a run. “And maybe we will be that again someday.” She knew they looked ridiculous running through the castle, but she couldn’t bring herself to care. “With those two lurking about, the temples will not work today. We must climb to my room.”
A little while later, sweaty from their run, their bodies were intertwined on Brynhild’s bed. Their hips moved rhythmically together. The young wife whimpered and moaned.
It was just as good as the sorceress hoped. She nearly forgot all about the queens and their casual affronts.
“These spices would be very good with lamb.” Dellia took the last bite of grilled crane and dropped her fork to her plate. She chewed thoughtfully as she regarded her cousins sitting on the other side of the small table in Vel’s chambers. She swallowed and cocked her head at them. “You two have barely touched your meal. Do the victuals on this side of the sea not agree with you?”
“We’re not hungry, I guess.” Naevia glanced at her brother.
“Well, that’s fine then. Maybe if you two got out more, you’d work up an appetite.” She took a swig of wine and smiled at them. “Well, to gather back around the question you left unanswered when we started this luncheon, have you heard from your father, then? We’ve traveled here, his kin, and we’re met with a ghost. Any news?”
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