After the fourth revision, I was feeling like my current chapter 8 wasn’t a strong chapter or that it moved the central story forward effectively. It’s often hard to cut big chunks, but this one was a pleasure. I had been worrying with this draft that the book was getting too long, and once I decided to cut this part, it felt so right. I mourned briefly for all the wasted writing days it represented, but then reminded myself that no writing is wasted. Even if I cut something, clearly I had to write it in the first place to learn what I did not need. Some pieces of this chapter I repurposed elsewhere, but most joined my 25,000 word document of the larger chunks of writing that I cut from Razo’s book over the process of editing.
Swords at the Assembly Door
The next morning, palace servants who brought the Bayern their breakfast were swift in drop off and escape, as though the Bayern had a seeping sore disease that they could catch. The soldiers ate sullenly, anger stamped down by mild fear. Razo, on the other hand, whistled a dance tune. Then stopped after a few glares warned him that he was either too jovial to fit the mood or just plain out of tune.
They were confined to their barracks until Talone could assess their safety. Razo scraped the paint off the windowsill, anxious to follow Dasha, talk to the kitchen folk, do the work Talone had given him. Unexpected orders came just when he was prepping his stomach for lunch.
“Lady Megina has declared that she will address the assembly,” said Talone.
Brynn, Talone’s first man, frowned at the window. “Captain, I know the ambassador has long been anxious to address the assembly, but Lord Belvan maintains that he thinks it’s too soon. After yesterday, wouldn’t this be the worst timing?”
Talone nodded agreeably, then said, “And would you like to talk her out of it?”
“It’s the ambassador’s decision,” said Talone. “It’s up to us to keep her safe. The assembly poses an interesting dilemma as no weapons are allowed under the roof. I want a strong force standing guard outside—I don’t trust the Tiran guard to stop any angry citizens looking to come in after us.”
Talone assigned Brynn to lead the outdoor swords and javelins. The group to accompany the ambassador inside would be weaponless, so the captain selected the Own’s three best grapplers along with Enna, Finn, and Razo. When his own name was spoken, Razo thought he saw a ripple of surprise among the other soldiers.
They rode in closed carriages. Of all Ingridan streets, only six sported bridges to span the city’s rivers, and midday traffic on those avenues was casual and slow. Razo drummed his javelin against the curtained window until Enna told him to stop or she would make it stop. The curtains were bothering him. To hear the city noises, wheels squeaking, horse hooves on stone, hawkers and merchants, merriment and arguing—to hear and not to see, never sure when an enemy might open that door, was enough to set his heel to tapping.
He felt a sting on the side of his neck and slapped it, thinking it was a bugbite. Until he smelled burning hair. He looked at his palm. She had singed a single hair from his neck.
“Ah, now, Enna, that’s a rotten—”
“I told you, enough with the tapping.”
She was staring at the curtains, gnawing on a fingernail. Finn was fingering a scratch on the pommel of his sword. Talone was pressing his lips together. And Megina. Megina was leaning back, her hands relaxed in her lap. That made Razo want to start tapping again.
The carriage stopped, Talone called, “Positions, Own” Razo left his weapons in the carriage and tumbled out into the noise and light. He, Enna, and Finn joined the three grapplers and made a circle around Megina. Talone led the way past the remaining Bayern’s Own who stood with swords and javelins at the assembly entrance.
Sixty assemblymen and women in white robes and scarlet sashes were seated on rows of steps that wrapped around the chamber. The door minister announced Megina in a voice that echoed on curved walls. The current debate paused, the faces turned to see the Bayern, and outcries arose like birds startled from a wheat field.
Any one of these people could be the burner, Razo thought.
Megina descended the wide, shallow steps to the circle at the center of the chamber, her guard surrounding her. She waited for a break in the chatter and quarrel, but there was none. Razo stared at the assemblymen and women, honking and hollering like an army of geese set to run him down.
Megina raised both her hands up in front of her. The clamor slackened reluctantly.
“Honorable members of Tira’s great assembly,” she began in a strong voice that hit the walls and bounced back. Razo was impressed.
“I implore your pardon for coming here uninvited,” and there the barest emphasis on the last word, a gentle condemnation. “The captain of my guard felt that, given the current mood in the city, it was essential for our safety to accost you thusly, without warning.”
Razo tried not to roll his eyes. He supposed she used big words and flowery talk as a sort of compliment to their intelligence. At least everyone was listening now.
“I’d rather not play cat and mouse with the current crisis. As you have surely all heard, yesterday a burned body was found at Thousand Years. Naturally, it would seem a Bayern is responsible. I understand the reasons behind such a conclusion, and I would believe the same myself in your positions. This is why I felt it so urgent to address you today.
“No one in my party is responsible for this horrific murder. I can without hesitation assure you of that. Like your Lord Kincad, my mission is to help establish peace between our two realms. We can be frank and admit that there are people on both sides who would rather not have peace. I am not one of them, and each member of my party was hand-selected as men and women who yearn for the end of war. None of us are burning in Tira.”
She was a good talker, that Megina. Razo wondered if she could even be one of those gifted with people-speaking. When they spoke, their listeners could not help but believe them and like them and want to help them. He had been around people-speakers before, and they planted an uncomfortable sensation in Razo’s mind, made him itch where he could not reach. Megina was good with words, but Razo did not feel unduly affected by what she was saying. That was good, because both people-speakers he had known had been conniving, murderous, cankered souls. And for the first time, he was growing slightly fond of the round-ankled Megina.
But each face of the assembly was frosty with hostility. Or maybe it was just the Tiran way to glare and whisper and flick fingernails while listening to a person they particularly liked.
There was a shout, the click of metal meeting metal, and Razo’s heart jumped. Megina faltered. All eyes were on the door at the top of the room. Talone shouted an order, and the group tightened their circle around the ambassador. Enna’s fingers twitched as if ready for action. Razo thought again that he would kill to save her from having to burn.
“What is it?” Razo whispered, knowing the wind could carry her images of things beyond her sight.
“Fighting,” she whispered. “A crowd, and talking and shouting. I think it’s over…”
The din hushed, and Brynn jogged through the entrance. “Captain.”
“Report,” said Talone, indicating with a wave of his hand to include all present.
“A mob of Tiran citizens came at us, trying to push their way into the assembly. Some shouted, ‘Death to Bayern.’ We were outnumbered but better armed, and most of them ran off when we wouldn’t give way. Three Tiran injuries, one Bayern, no casualties.”
“What of the assembly door guard?” asked an assemblyman. “Were they among the injured?”
Brynn’s eyes flicked to Talone, as if inquiring if he should tell all. Talone nodded.
“They didn’t fight,” said Brynn.
A rumble among the assembly members.
“Did not fight?”
Brynn hesitated. “They sheathed their weapons and backed away, leaving the mob to us.”
Three or four assembly members sent their aides to investigate and they returned, nodding, chagrined.
One rainy day in the Forest, all of Razo’s brothers and their families had tried to sup in the same room, but that racket paled next to the explosion of outrage in the assembly.
“This is unacceptable.” An assemblyman entered the center circle, forcing Megina to step back. “We voted as a body to accept the Bayern ambassador and her escort in our city. That our guard is not willing to protect her inside our assembly, our most sacred site, is insulting. We do and should allow a variance of opinion regarding the Bayern presence, but this display is mortifying.”
A woman with orange gold hair stood with a flourish of her scarf-draped arm. “Clearly our guards thought the Bayern were not worth protecting. This action appalls. Any person we allow to stand in our sacred circle is protected by the assembly, and any threat to that person insults us all. We do and should allow a variance of opinion regarding the Bayern presence, but this display was mortifying. I support you, Lord Rogis.”
A man with smooth, white hair arose. “I support you, Lord Rogis.”
“Is it not enough that our military leaders and soldiers are disgraced?”
“Yes, must we now tolerate cowardice masked as idle vengeance?”
The arguing among assembly members staggered on for another hour, and Razo tried not to pay attention, it was so mind-numbing dull, but he could not help hearing. The assembly was outraged that Tiran citizens would presume Bayern guilt, not because the Bayern might not have burned that body, but because it was the duty of the assembly to assign blame and punishment, and the duty of Tiran citizens to accept their word. The chief assemblyman made a speech declaring as much in the open square outside the assembly building, and Razo watched people running off in all directions, carrying news to other parts of Ingridan like rodents spreading disease. If what Victar had told him of Ingridan gossip was true, then by nightfall, every bathhouse, every pub, rich man’s courtyard and poor grandmother’s third story lodging would have heard the news and debated until the topic was bruised purple.
Megina declared she would walk back to Thousand Years, leaving the closed carriages to follow behind like bad children. She marched at the head of her guard, nodding and waving to flower merchants, barefoot children, house mistresses shopping for dinner. It was a decent political move, Razo supposed, a declaration that she was comfortable in Ingridan and determined to stay, though he did not approve of showy decisions that might get your throat cut. Still, no one attacked them. Razo took it as a sign of how much the Tiran respected the word of their assembly.
It seemed a rickety prospect to depend on that fierce assembly to promote good opinion of Bayern. There had to be something Razo could do. What’ll happen when the assembly decides we’re dangerous rogues? The thought was enough to make him forget he was hungry. For a few minutes, anyway.
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