Another week, another snippet! I really need to get this book out to beta readers, but this has been the week of school adjustments, so I am behind. As always, this is a raw, rough draft! Feel free to point out errors in the comments, but do keep in mind it has a couple layers of editing to go through, still.
Dressed simply, but formally, she waited for her escort. Going to court under guard, especially knowing what her fate would be if she disobeyed the King’s orders, was not helping her keep her calm. But for him, she must be compliant to her new role. At least she had been granted a reprieve while Lom was on the borders of death.
She didn’t know either of the men who came for her, fairies in the familiar green and gold dress uniform of the court. They did not speak, and neither did she, simply stepping into the bubble and whisking off to the Kings antechamber.
Bella felt very alone. She was used to being alone, out in the wilderness, no people for miles. That felt safe, comfortable – that was home. Here, she was on edge, unsure of what was wanted from her, and with people who relied on her to get it right. Joe’s wink, almost imperceptible, helped enormously as the double doors swung open, and she marched through with her head held high and an exterior calm.
The men and women of the council were seated around the vast rectangle of tables, the center of it left open for the speaker of the moment to pace and be able to be heard easily. The king slouched in his big chair on the dias, Bella didn’t think the leather cushions and simple wood frame qualified it as a throne, but it suited him. She liked King Trytion despite herself. He was an even-handed ruler, from what she had seen. There was an empty chair, and she went to it without pausing to ask directions. They had all been there a while, she could tell, from the cups and small plates in varying disarray on the table, and papers simply everywhere.
She nodded to the King before sitting, and he nodded back. The rest of the Council had fallen silent, and Bella could feel her palms start to sweat. She folded her hands in front of her.
“M’Lady Bella, Consort-elect, how is Duke Mulvaney?” The King spoke to her without much preamble, as she was learning was his way. This was not a flowery man, but very formal.
“My King, I believe he has finally begun to recover.”
He smiled slightly, almost hidden beneath his beard and mustache. “This assures us that our decision to call you was correct.”
Bella took a deep breath. She still didn’t know enough protocol to know what she was about to mess up. “And, my lord, what did you call on me about?”
He sat up straighter and leaned forward. Across the table from her someone coughed, a man from the deep sound, but she refused to look away from the King, who was also ignoring the person trying to get his attention.
“A situation has arisen, one that we are accustomed to calling on Duke Mulvaney’s services for. Unfortunately, as he is indisposed, we were hoping that you would be able to step into his role.”
Bella tried not to let her jaw drop open. “You want… me? To go after a monster?”
“It was made clear to us that he considers you a partner. As such, and without other alternatives…” So that was what they had all been discussing so fervently before her arrival. Looking for someone, something else, to rid them of this problem. She lifted her chin a little.
“I am willing.” Her voice rang out, far clearer and firmer than she thought possible. “What is it, that makes you willing to risk losing me?”
He nodded slightly. “That is a grave risk. Yet this is also a grave danger to Our Kingdom, and you would be a rare Queen-consort with your power. We cannot wrap you up in wool and keep you hidden in Court. Nor would we send you out on a suicide mission, nor alone.”
His eyes softened a little. She knew he would like to say more, but not in a room full of hostile ears. “There is a briefing packet for you, but in short, the nest of ogres you encountered once before has, due to the irritation of that fight, perhaps, become a visible nuisance.”
“Ah.” Bella leaned back in her chair and remembered that particular fight. Lom seemed to think the only one of them killed was the one she had blown apart with an incendiary rocket blast to the chest. Messy, scary, and they had been working as a team. Lom had gone bowling for ogres with a logging truck , for goodness sakes, and now she was supposed to take on a whole nest by herself?
“And I may put together a team?” She asked quietly, still not looking at anyone but him. This time, the man across the table did speak up. She could see on the faces of those surrounding him that they were in agreement, but he was their appointed spokesman.
Bella interrupted him, knowing she was being terribly rude, “and you are?”
He ignored her and went on, “one of the great benefits of Lom was that he always worked alone. So there was less… disturbance, above.”
Bella filled in mentally, ‘and so if he died, there would be fewer witnesses.’
He rumbled on, lacing his hands together in front of him on the table and looking down his nose at her. “He fit in above, at least somewhat, which few of our people have the training to do. You, for obvious reasons, will do so as well. We are unwilling to risk further exposure in this matter, bad enough already as it is.”
She blinked at him. So, not a suicide mission, eh? Something came to her mind, and she looked back at the king, who had gone all stone-faced again. “My cousin, Mark, who remained Underhill, could assist me.”
The king shook his head, “Alger and Mark were dispatched to an incident Underhill about six hours ago. Discretion is of the highest importance,and they cannot be recalled.”
Bella took a deep breath. “Then, by your leave, I would take the packet and go to gather tools for my assignment.” She swiveled her head back and glared at the old fairy who had been her opposition. “I do not know your name, sir, but I trust that I am able to arm myself?”
He smiled, showing teeth, and it was not a nice look. “I have no further objections, Consort-elect. And my name is Buckingham.”
Bella stood, nodding her head at the king far too quickly to be proper, she was sure, and retreated. If she had stayed in the room any longer she would have lost her temper, and that would not have been a good thing at all.
She didn’t even stop to talk to Joe, just popped a bubble around her and went home. By the time she got there she had an idea of what she was going to do. The king had said not alone. Buckingham had said no team. Lucia, Margot, Devon… they were all useless in this situation. The Library was full of lore on Ogres, and she was reviewing it when her bubble popped in the entryway of the house.
Lucia took one look at the thick leather folder Bella had almost forgotten she was holding and paled, proving that some of her color was her own. Bella noted that the rouge looked ghastly when the rest of the face was drained of color. “You know what this is, then?”
“You are being asked to do Lom’s job?”
“Yes. I don’t think there was much asking to it, either. I need Ellie, is she in the kitchen?”
Bella swept past the stunned Lucia, noting absently that the rustling material of her dress made excellent punctuation to her mood. She needed to get out of it and into jeans as soon as possible. And going above meant she could buy more jeans. Her mind was still going a mile a minute when she realized Ellie would be upstairs if they were down to her and Lucia in the house to watch Lom. And why had Mark left without a goodbye?
Bella was not going to have this conversation in Lom’s room. She paused at the foot of the stairs, looking up. Lucia caught up to her.
“Bella…” She laid her hand on the younger woman’s had where she was clutching the finial. “I’ll send her down and sit with him. And I will send for Margot and Devon to help care for him.”
This was a relief. Bella let Lucia go past her up the stairs, and turned back to the kitchen door, looking at the armory. Not yet, talk to Ellie first. And before that… Lom kept a desk in the kitchen. When Ellie came down the stairs Bella was sitting at the kitchen table writing. One letter, all ready, sat at her elbow, while the other was just begun. Bella looked up.
“How is he?”
“He has awakened and is asking for you.” Ellie looked concerned, unusual on her craggy face. “I told him you were delayed…”
Bella rubbed her face. “I can’t tell him what’s happening, but I don’t know how to avoid it, either. And he will know as soon as he looks at me.”
“What has happened?” Ellie asked, starting to reach out, and then stopping.
Bella realized the other had been about to touch her, thought it improper, and stopped herself. She reached out both her arms, and hugged the little elf, realizing that she had never done this before. Ellie patted her back. Bella felt a prickle of tears but would not allow them to fall.
“I am sent out to hunt Ogres in Lom’s place.”
Ellie sat down abruptly, her mouth open. “You can’t tell Lom.”
“I can’t lie to him.” Bella insisted. “And Ellie, I’m going to need help, and I don’t know how to get it.”
“You aren’t taking a team?”
Bella shook her head. “Someone named Buckingham – I really must start learning who everyone on the Council is, I saw no friendly faces today, and I didn’t know they were my enemies…” she trailed off and took a deep breath. “He stated that I would not be allowed to put together a team, as that would be disruptive above.”
“So you will call on your family?”
Bella nodded. “I can’t think how else to deal with it. Right now I’m trying to figure out how much magic I can use up there… I don’t even have a car!”
Ellie nodded. “You needed training, and he’s in no condition. But you must tell him. Bella…” she stumbled over the name, not used to speaking so familiarly. “He’s dying.”
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