Pressing Family Matters, from Zbinka's Musings

While hunting with my dear friend Lord Halvren on the southwestern slopes of Mount Vondra about a days ride further north from the Eltesnian town of Ca'non' we received word that my cousin King Dalma and Princess Adelaide were among the first to fall victim to a dreadful illness that closed the entire court of Cznorh to all outsiders. Words can not express my reaction to the great tragedy nor my resolve to avail myself to Roarke in the arduous task of instilling a calm yet forceful continuity to the throne. King Dalma and I had some difference of opinion as to the level of involvement of the House in all manners of state, and this also was the source of great contention among members of his council.

Lord Halvren was kind enough to pack up his entire entourage and we rode back to Cznorh where we met up with Rad'en' who was raving about those "damn Houseborne" surrendering at Gelassi and ending the holy war. The push from King Roarke was to quickly fill in the void with the secular army and strike at Kanabulan at its four major cities along the River Ibere and pound them into dust. While it didn't sound like a decision King Dalma would have made or much like the Roarke I remembered, ours was not to question, at least not yet. Rad'en' received his orders via messenger and met up with his troops long before I was granted access to the court. I was told that the court was locked down for our own protection and that there was no progress being made inside with the doctors and healers. The death toll was nearing 100 and the pungent smell of burning bodies could not be contained within the city walls. I wrote letter after letter disavowing any thought of my own life and pleading to be allowed entrance to the court. I felt guilty from the ease and comfort of my own home when so much turmoil and despair ripped through the heart of my country. I sought to find word of my husband, but there was none. Misha was still at Gelassi negotiating terms with Kanabulan. Rad'en' had orders to bring in any Houseborne dead or alive. I prayed for their safety.

In the second month of waiting I decided to host a gala event at my country estate to eat and drink to the long life of the new king and to the further prosperity of Eltesnia. While I was well aware that there would be no none in attendance from the court, I hoped that both wine and news would flow freely in a gathering in excess of four hundred merchants, bankers, wealthy landowners and of course members of the House which was even then being disbanded at the end of the holy war. It gave me some relief to be surrounded by such good friends and allies as we all shared in the same distress. Lord Halvren, as always, was exceptionally strong and supportive. The only real news garnered from the evening was not good at all. The three thousand Houseborne that Misha now led had agreed to take up arms with Kanabulan once reports of the eradication of the deserters had begun. Though he didn't tell me where he was headed, I knew that Rad'en' and his troops would surely be sent to attack Gelassi. Although I didn't learn nearly as much as I had anticipated, it seems I made the court nervous by my activities and the following day I was invited for a brief audience with the king, at my own risk and under peril of death.

Once inside I was deeply moved by the melancholy of the court still in mourning. I was escorted not to the throne room but to the council's chambers where I was met by Paynor, who had been Chief Councilman ever since I could remember. "Lady T'Nahl," he kissed my hand. "How do you do?"

"Councilman Paynor," I nodded politely. "I was under the impression that I had been granted audience with the our cousin the king."

"King Roarke is well aware of your presence at court and as you can imagine is otherwise occupied in pressing matters of state and has asked me to convey to his dear cousin his heartfelt gratitude for your concern, but beseeches you to return to your home until the deadly plague is no more."

"And I shall thank his royal highness for his concern for my concern when I have my audience with him."

"I'm afraid that this is not possible at this time," Paynor apologized.

"Then I will see the young prince."

"The Prince is ill," Paynor stated uncomfortably.

"Has he the plague?!"

"I do not believe that is the case."

"I must be taken to him at once." I demanded.

Prince Yasper was quite feverish and wailing uncontrollably. I took him from his nurse and walked with him in my arms. I recognized the rash on his skin. It was the red fever. Rad'en' had it when he was a young boy and recovered. Many more, like young Yasper, were not so fortunate. Later that same night the screaming stopped. I continued to walk with the still and silent infant in my arms until morning.

I tried to rest, but could not. I had a servant girl bring me some fresh clothes and I washed and dressed. She brought me food, but I hadn't the appetite to eat. A short while later Paynor led me to see the king in his chamber. Roarke's eyes were distant and vacant as he sat on his sofa. I bowed my head and stood before him. There was no response so I lifted my gaze. He was staring at me as though he saw a ghost. The fool servant had brought me one of Adelaide's dresses. Of course she was only following Paynor's orders as I would find out much later. Another of his cruel reminders of who it was in charge.

I knelt before the king and spoke to him. Gradually I could feel him there with me and he began to address me. He told me that he was sorry that I did not heed the warnings to stay away from court. He insisted that Yasper perished from the same plague that took his wife and father and so many others though I swore otherwise because the red fever only attacks the very young. There was no consoling him. I braced myself and asked him if my husband had been to see him since the end of the holy war. He said he had not, yet I sensed that Nalev was not only near but that we were all in great danger.

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