Chapter 26:


The Governor's Queen

Rosamund's plans from last evening were completely ruined by the very simple fact he overslept. He slept well into the mid-morning, reaching the point where the poor, concerned servants and one frightened doctor skipped every possible middleman and went straight to his brother for help.
Lilac mercilessly kicked him out of bed. His incessant and unstoppable bullying succeeded in one thing, Rosamund joined the group for lunch looking presentable. Lilac and doctor Soxhlet also took care of his injuries again, and he was feeling mostly back to his old self... if a bit tired. The wounds still weren't healed, of course, but the pain was mostly bearable.

Thanks to Nivelir and Teodolit's efforts, the pirates landed safely this morning, and settled into the building Nivelir secured for them. Unfortunately, he had to go do an inspection with him and Adanita, to make sure everything really was in order, as well as spend several hours deciding on professors and curriculum with the three of them. He barely managed to leave a short report to Queen Sarmia before he left, and to his utter shock, she had replied by the time he returned from the town.

She requested and demanded a meeting with him, with the time set to early evening. Looking at the clock in his office, he let out an exhausted sigh.

Fine. He dusted his clothes, not that he looked anything less than impeccable, and waited for the appointed time. Dinner will have to wait, much like Khamil and his ilk. Today, Nivelir received a single letter from him. More would have come, probably, had the news of Rosamund's arrival not finally reached his ears. Rosamund read it in Nivelir's place; it was perfectly offensive. More than enough to demand a duel, more than enough to not show it to the man. As much as he didn't doubt Nivelir's skill, it was better not to taunt the devil before his nonsense is dealt with.

The orb on his table shined, and he activated it.

Queen Sarmia, currently slightly translucent, was sitting across him. He straightened his back automatically. He was facing someone worthy of fear and undivided attention. She was in her work clothes, an expensive dress and vest, and finely embroidered high-neck shirt. Her clothes were intricate and beautiful, as expected, although they were far from glamorous ball gowns. Both of them shared the same vanity streak, after all.

"I greet Her Highness, my Queen," he said.

The Queen was a woman now comfortably in her forties. Considering the age they lived in, it was no surprise her soft platinum hair was already full of duller grays. It was styled simply and efficiently, with several colorful ribbons that matched her outfit, giving her an aura of high nobility... which she was. She was royalty, even. Her sharp, deep eyes scanned him, stopping briefly on his face and his wounds. He could notice some small wrinkles on her thin, pale face. And despite her best attempt, the shadows under her eyes managed to break through the soft makeup.

"Lord Governor. It will be my pleasure to inform your poor parents that you have returned to us... mostly undamaged," she finally said.
What? "I was not aware that the news of my temporary departure from duty has already reached the homeland," he carefully said. Were his parents attempting to contact her directly? Considering everything - maybe. "Or, well, that it has reached the ears of my parents. Before everything, I deeply apologize for the trouble I have caused you." He needed to send them a letter. His good wishes couldn't come from the Queen, it would be too much.
She waved off his words. It was just a formality, anyway. "I care not for your apologies. We want an explanation, Lord Governor."

Very well. It's now or never.

"The young Vice Admiral Zvizdan Khamil offered to have us sail around the archipelago as a form of his welcome to the new administrator of the land," he said. Truth. "I thought that could prove most informative on the current state of affairs in this faraway colony, so I accepted." Truth. "During the second day of our excursion, we spotted a few pirate ships on the horizon, sailing towards Hannau Cove. I left the command in what I presumed were Khamil's competent hands, until the pirate ships turned and sailed straight into a storm. Unfortunately, Vice Admiral saw fit to continue into the hurricane, and I felt it would be... inappropriate... if the newcome Governor gave orders that would clash with their Vice Admiral's. Especially considering the situation. I came to deeply regret my decision later." Truth. He picked his words carefully, explaining his reasoning, but not giving excuses. The Queen raised her thin eyebrows at his lack of action, but didn't comment on it. Perhaps he should have taken over, gods damn him. But, no. He was no soldier, nor a military leader. And Sarmia expected neither of that from him when she sent him here.
"During the battle, the winds suddenly shifted. Pirates managed to get away, but our ships were hit by a gargantuan wave. My rope snapped, and I fell overboard. The pirates noticed it, and their leader, Captain Adanita Vervain, rescued me." Half-truth. Truth... by omission. "I was taken to Hannau Cove, where I was allowed some time to recover."
"Recover, Lord Governor? Have you been successful?" she asked. One corner of her lips raised in quiet mockery.
Rosamund refused to allow her to get under his skin. "Very. This is an unfortunate result of a proper, legally executed duel. I believe you will be glad to learn it was my victory."
"I see. Continue."
"During my stay in Hannau Cove, I was given enough freedom to have a proper look at the place that is currently, at least de iure, under my jurisdiction. I must admit that I was impressed. I have some ideas on what could be done about it, and about the current pirate situation that plagues these seas." He raised his hand before the Queen could ask a question. "Before I tell you those ideas, you must know I am currently up to my neck in negotiations with Captain Vervain, who was kind enough to return me home. When I have a properly developed plan of action, you will be the first I will inform. Currently, she is staying in this manor, while her men have obtained temporary accommodation in the city." Lies. He was lying to the Queen. This woman will have his head if she asks for it. Lies, lies, chaining him up, tying him down. If they surface - it was over. Once the Queen asks for his death, there was no return.
"You are trying to keep things you negotiate in my name from me," she pointed out. She was clearly displeased, but was she angry yet? No, it didn't seem that way. Not yet. He had enough leeway to wiggle out of this. It was essential for everyone not to know how quickly Rosamund and Adanita really reached a deal and an understanding. Without a few months of tugging over it, it wouldn't look convincing. People would begin to ask questions. Rumors, worse than what Nivelir bothered to exemplify, would spread like a wildfire, and that would be the moment it all goes to hell for the second time.
"Your Highness, I believed I have enough of your trust in my diplomatic skills to allow myself this unorthodox move." You made me your Governor, Sarmia. "Currently, the situation is so unclear I don't even dare to tell you their demands, nor what I plan to ask in return. In fact - no. You would enjoy this - one of Captain Vervain's demands is a school for some pirates she had selected. I am currently trying to think of a way to educate pirates."
The Queen threw her head back and put a hand in front of her mouth, as her laughter rang through the two rooms.

Rosamund's relief didn't show in the slightest. She was buying it, but he had to keep it up.

"But that is absurd," she said.
"Quite so, but I will make it happen, as that is reasonable by comparison. I must find my way through the nonsense and decide on what is acceptable. Lord Nivelir is by my side, helping me every step of the way, of course."
"Of course, of course." A playful smile slowly faded away. She stared him down. "She must be quite an unbearable woman, for my best diplomat to speak of her in such a way. I recall you having patience for worst of the worst."

He oversold it. "It isn't quite... an accurate assessment. I am afraid I am somewhat frustrated, as I cannot tell the point behind her requests. They are strange enough for me to not yet be sure what her end goal is." He hesitated for a few moments. "I don't think she is an idiot, or intentionally difficult. She strikes me as both a clever and competent woman." Underlined. Twice. He had to act out annoyance, not ruin her reputation before she even walks in the first event of their social season. The Queen certainly took note of it. "I believe she has a plan, but not knowing it is difficult for my side of negotiations."
"Is a Royal Pardon on the table?"
He let out a sigh and looked away. "It was certainly the first thing I offered in your name, Your Highness. It seemed rather rude to ask for their arrest, as they've rescued me. Currently the pirates that are in Hipparcos fly a white flag above their colors. Should there be an incident with them, you can be sure I will deal with it immediately."
"And she didn't accept the offer?" she asked, raising her eyebrows.
"It is... being discussed. As I said, I apologize. I will need more time to understand what her plans are before I have anything to report to you."
"Hmmm... You may proceed, Lord Governor."

Sold. Just enough. He made it through. Despite his fear and relief, he kept his face perfectly calm. This woman was not an ally by any definition of the word. He couldn't let her see anything.

"And what about your... other issue?" she asked.
"Ah, yes." He leaned back, relaxed. "I have heard some words Vice Admiral has selected for me. I'd charge him with slander, if it didn't seem as if he was attempting to cover up his own incompetence... which is a far more serious situation. I believe it will require further investigation."
"The Admiralty has several questions about it," she warned him. "Second and Third Sea Lords demand I remove you from your position, even. And I don't care to get involved in your little argument, no matter how much they pester me for an audience." Third Sea Lord managed the materials and construction. He could see why they would be angry with the unnecessarily damaged ships. Second Sea Lord, however - that would be Admiral Lord Khamil, the mother of his idiot, which the Queen was certainly aware of.
So the little brat really did have a way to communicate with his family. Good to know. "If you plan to start anything, you better bring enough ammunition, Lord Governor. Considering your position... I will send an envoy when your brother finishes that teleportation circle."
"An honest third party judge is all I ask for," he said.
"Watch your mouth, Lord Governor," she warned.
He lowered his head, somewhat bowing in his seat.

The anger in her eyes slowly waned. "In any case, I have a bit more trust in your intellect than that little brat's word. I will leave the investigation in your hands. Rest assured that Our Envoy will thoroughly look through whatever evidence both of you have collected before passing any judgments. Regarding the demands of the Admiralty and considering your current diplomatic successes with these pirates - you will continue serving in your position. Should a scandal of an appropriate size occur, rest assured, you will be removed. Keep in mind why you're here, Lord Governor."
"I am here to serve," he said.
"Precisely." She leaned back in her seat, tapping the back of her hand with a finger. "Have a good evening, Lord Governor. I expect a report soon."

She disappeared, and he covered the orb with its cloth before pushing it out of the way.

He lied to the Queen.

Well, it was something he knew he had to do, if he planned to get through this. Dorotea was her most trusted advisor, getting to her was impossible with some maneuvers, manipulation, and just open deception. Nonetheless, cold shivers ran down his spine. His hands were shaking. He lied to the Queen. With premeditation, even.

Not his Queen, really. Not his country. No, that was unfair, he lived here for thirty-six years. He served, in one way or another, his new parents and the kingdom for years. Once, he was a lawyer, now, he was a diplomat and a polymath. Neither were exactly careers he had chosen, but they were certainly something he was good at. In both lives, he had dedicated himself to what he saw as some... greater thing. He hardly thought that a monarchy worked better than a democracy, but both were just another regime to get used to in his mind. Just another society, just another set of rules to follow.

And then - Sarmia sent him out here to be her executioner.

No, he decided. That was also unfair. Those people broke the laws, and it was his job to manage the situation. She didn't send him as an executioner because both of them knew he wasn't one. She sent him because she was, frankly, bored. Or curious to see what he will do about them. And had he not met Adanita first, he would have followed the rules of this society, too. But now he was acting out of pure self-interest, for the first time in his lives. He needed to keep Lilac safe. Needed. Who else would?

Feeling small, he placed his head on the table and wrapped his arms around himself the best he could. He was tired and in pain, and cold. What in the world was he doing? Was this really the best course of action? It was far too late to second-guess now. But he was allying himself with criminals. He didn't want to be a corrupt politician. Was this an evil or immoral act? It was certainly illegal, that much he knew. He was never much of a philosopher, so he had no idea on other things. But if the laws are made by society as rules to be followed, then they must be reflecting the ideals of the society.

Not his society. Not his world.

Not his brother, even.

Not his body...

He could feel as if his mind was peeling off, the threads of his sanity were snapping as if it was all a poorly made patchwork. He was slowly losing his grip on reality. What if some laws actively harm society? Or - what if society is built on the in-group profiting from everyone else that they subjugate? This was feudalism after all, and he wasn't about to pretend that the Earth was any better at handling things even in his modern times. Then... the society should change, right. Of course.

He was never one to lead a revolution. In both his lives, he was chained to, or by, the rules. Laws he swore to upheld. An oath of service he gave to the Queen. He gave them all he could, always uncertain. Was this one of his subconscious reasons why he refused to get involved in the new Free Pirate Republic's laws?

And what if something even worse comes of it? Will it be his fault?

A strange blunt pain was making its way through his entire body. The feeling was distant and faded.

He came to a quiet, maddening realization. He didn't want to be a lawyer, once upon a time. And he didn't want to be a Governor. Or a diplomat. Things he was good at, achievements he was proud of, careers he had built - he did it all because it was something that he could do. Which then became something he felt as if he should do. This entire situation was also something he felt was his only way out of the corner other people pushed him into. As they always do.

How weak can he be? The room was strangely distorted, the objects slightly bent out of shape. His head and his teeth hurt, as if rejecting his conversation.

Sarmia - she was not an ally. He had to be wary of her. Otherwise, they will all die before Dorja even gets their hands on-

A knock on the door broke off his train of thought. He heard his distant voice call out, although it wasn't quite him who was speaking. "Come in."

A young servant entered carrying a tea platter. His hair was tied back with a bandana, all neatly tucked away. He had bright, cyan eyes and fair skin, although lightly speckled with teenage pimples. The way he walked as he came to set down the tea and pour it for him... Aha.

"Is that you, Ekliptik?" he asked.
They winced, clearly not expecting to be caught. "Aye."
"A fine costume. Who gave you the livery?"
"Mm... got it from the wardrobe."
"I see. May I ask what you are up to?"
"Sneaking," they said with a shrug.
Well, he did say they could. He could hardly think of an appropriate argument, especially now when he was desperately trying to push himself back to sanity.
"Are you... alright?" they asked.
"Not really. I just learned some new things," he said. "I will be speaking to the Captains tomorrow. Would you like to join? In this outfit, of course. If you're quiet and bring me tea, I will let you listen to us." He promised, after all.
They nodded.

He really didn't think he would be adopting a child at the ripe old age of eighty-six.

He didn't expect a brother at fifty-eight, either, to be fair. He took a sip of the bitter tea, nearly, barely back.

"The dinner is done," they told him.
"Very good. I don't feel well. Could you please call someone, or help me up?"

Food, food will solve this. And another good night of rest. He felt as if he was walking on balloons, his steps were uncertain and he was dizzy.

And he still had work to do.