Tales from the Land of Ever After

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Winds of Change, Part 12

Valeureux hadn’t been expecting any traders…but there was a wagon coming up the road.

King Adam of Valeureux was just heading back from visiting one of the properties near the edge of his kingdom when he saw a well-loaded wagon coming up the road, accompanied by two men on horseback. Traders? They hadn’t been expecting anyone…but still, trade was trade, so he raised his hand in greeting. The gesture was immediately returned by one of the riding men, which had the result of throwing back his dark cloak to reveal the clothing underneath, and Adam’s eyes widened. Were those Arendelle’s colors? He hadn’t received any word from John…frowning now, he checked his sword and nudged Dard into a faster trot, and in response the rider who had waved also sped up to meet him. Yes, those were Arendelle’s colors, and her seal, and the man on the horse… “Captain Dezhnev?! What…has something happened?”

The older man reined in his mount and essayed a small bow from his seat. “King Adam, it is good to see you again – although it is Sir Gregor now, as your brother-in-law has made me his Minister of Trade. And the news I bring is both good and not so good. All in Arendelle is as right as it could be when I left, but a month of days ago she was almost overtaken by treachery.”

Adam felt a stirring of fear. “Is everyone all right? Is John all right?”

“As much as a man can be who has had to flush multiple traitors from his service and cannot know if there may yet be more,” Gregor told him. He took a letter from inside his coat and handed it over. “From his hand to yours. He had a quicker way he might have delivered it…but he instead chose to use that boon to see my wife and children safely restored to me, and so I told him I would bring his news to you myself. We need to re-negotiate our trade agreement with you anyway, as Rasseeyah has broken off relations with Arendelle.”

Adam made a face. Even in Arendelle rumors had been heard about the tzar’s sudden descent into madness, and the instability Rasseeyah was experiencing as a result. “They’re not at war, are they?”

Gregor snorted, nudging his horse into step with Adam’s and waving to the wagon’s driver and the guard to follow them; both were former members of his crew who had chosen not to return to Rasseeyah, and one more such had remained in Arendelle as a welcome addition to the depleted ranks of the Royal Guards. “My cousin may be mad, but he is not so far gone he has forgotten that the young queen who so greatly enjoyed his company can also freeze his ships in the harbor if he displeases her. So no, Ivan will keep his soldiers at home with his ships, as he no doubt wishes not to lose either. And his reticence, not to mention the stories which are now being told about the ruthlessness of Arendelle’s king, has made the King of the Danes doubly wary. King John says he is expecting no problems from that quarter for at least a little while.”

“But he is still expecting problems, of course.” And no doubt planning for them already, because planning ahead was what John did best. “So the King of Arendelle is rumored to be ruthless now?”

A shrug. “He executed a traitor in front of one of the loud fools who daily demand his audience; the guards tell me the populace is unsure what to make of him now, and also now wary of displeasing him too much. If nothing else, they will remember that those who threaten his children will be given no quarter, and shown no mercy.” And then he chuckled. “Although the king’s need to keep his children where his eye could see them in the wake of the attempted coup has produced an interesting effect in that quarter as well. The Crown Prince has taken quite a liking to being present when his father puts these excuses for men in their place, and His Majesty jokes that the people of Arendelle should learn to step more carefully, as the boy will doubtless continue to take amusement from such confrontations once he has grown.”

That made Adam smile, but it didn’t last. “He had to keep the children with him? What happened to their nurse? She wasn’t…”

Gregor held up a hand. “That is not a subject we may safely discuss in the open air, Your Majesty. The webs of treachery in Arendelle were woven both wide and strong, and even still we do not know the full extent to which they may have reached. Behind the protecting stones of your castle, then and only then may we speak freely of what has happened…and of what may be yet to come.”

Protecting stones…a fairy must have been involved, then. And possibly in the attempted coup as well? A chill ran down Adam’s spine at the implications of that, but all he said was, “Very well, we will take our discussion where curious ears will not overhear it. And it will be my pleasure to show you the hospitality of Valeureux, Sir Gregor.”

The older man nodded; the warning had been received. “I will accept that offer with pleasure, King Adam. I have heard much of your beautiful kingdom, whose only imperfection is that she is not near the sea.”

That made Adam laugh out loud, and they continued on up the road to the village making lighter discussion regarding trade and gossip. They were unaware that black-button eyes were watching them from the concealment of a tree’s green leaves, the nearest of which were withering somewhat around the edges. The small bird with the blue breast cheeped to itself unhappily. Her Ladyship was not going to be pleased by this new development…

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