Zeal trailed her fingers through the garden pool and a trail of tiny sparkles followed them through the water. Comet though it was fascinating and beautiful.
"So you can detect dormant magic, right? Have you yet?" Comet asked.
"No. It's strange. It's like it's past dormant and onto total inertia. Were you hoping to be a potential mage, Comet?" Zeal smiled.
"Me? Gods no." Comet laughed. "Someone like Brand maybe, but not me. So if you do sense anyone, do you report it to he Queen? The Guard?"
"Neither." Zeal shrugged her shoulders. "I said I'd report anything illegal. Active magic is illegal."
"Like the stuff you're doing to the pool?" Comet laughed.
"Well the whole point of this is because the people of Entia support me. I doubt they'd be happy if I was arrested and exiled. That's why the Queen bestowed all the duties and titles. She's unsure of me, Comet. She's also unsure on a personal level. I could tell by her glances towards Lore and Clash. I originally thought it was because of her mistrust of magic. I think there's more to it now."
"It got complicated." Comet stated the obvious.
"I destroyed fifteen thousand men for Lore. Think about it." Zeal smiled.
"She won't be sure whether or not you're going to zap her and reclaim your man." Comet said.
"Something like that, yes." Zeal laughed. "I need an opportune moment to approach Lore with this. We can't live like this. Shall we go in? It's getting cold out here." They made their way to the glass doors that lead to the breakfast room.
Clash and Lore stood on either side of the unlit fire in the breakfast room.
"This is a bad idea, Clash." Lore said darkly.
"It's the only option, father. The people want mother. If the Queen doesn't give her endorsement, then she'll go out there anyway. I think the Queen may come second in a popularity contest." Clash said.
"And raising your mother to semi-deity status is going to help us, how?" Lore rubbed his hands through his hair. "We don't damn well need her here! Entia does not need a living hero."
"So you keep saying. That doesn't change the fact that she is a living hero. Look father, she's not a politician, or a Councillor, or a soldier. She's doing what she's specialised in, nothing else. Mother can't do any harm monitoring people. Good luck to her. The only thing magical about the whole thing, is the illusion the Queen has that people still secretly use it." Clash said.
"You're a selfish little shit, Clash." Lore snapped angrily.
"Huh? Well yes, I know I am. For any reason in particular just now?" Clash asked in confusion.
"It must be quite nice for you to know that both of your parents hold weight with the Queen. Me for obvious reasons, and your mother because she has the Queen unnerved. If your mother told her to hand over the crown to you, she probably would." Lore stated.
"I think that's a bit of an exaggeration, father, nor do I think mother's actions and motives to be anything at all to do with the Queen and the crown." Clash sighed wearily.
"You aren't listening. All it would take is a bit of pressure from your mother, that's all. It's taken me all your life to get you here yet she could just stroll in and override the lot. It's sickening." Lore spat.
"Father, she won't do that. She isn't trying to outdo you. What's wrong with you? You sound so paranoid." Clash said in surprise.
"You don' get to tell me how to think!" Lore snarled. "You have no idea what's happening to me. You have no idea how it feels to be simply dropped. My say in the Courts is all but none existent because your damned rotten mother has to be taken into account. The Queen is running in rings to try and appease the bitch to save unrest. Where does that leave me? Where does it leave you?" He shouted, pointing at Clash.
"Don't speak about her like that!" Clash shouted back. "That's uncalled for. Do you think your vile name-calling is going to help? I don't want to hear that."
"You don't even know her!" Lore roared. "I don't believe this! For all of your life, your mother has been that stone statue in the Square! You don't know the woman!"
"No but you do. Is she rotten? Is she a bitch? Yes she complicated your plans and spoiled your bed time with the Queen, but that's hardly her fault!" Clash shouted back. Lore struck him so hard across the face with the back of his hand that Clash stumbled into the wall. "Same old discipline methods eh father." Clash wiped the blood from his mouth. "At least one of us was spared this over the last twenty years."
Zeal fled round the side of the house in tears. Comet was shocked to his bones and very upset as he followed her. Luckily there was no one in the kitchen to see the emotional display.
"Zeal! Zeal I'm so sorry." Comet steered Zeal into a chair at the table. "We shouldn't have seen all that. I should have made you come away."
"Then we'd never have known. I'd never have known." Zeal sobbed. "He brutalised my son into obedience. He physically knocked Clash into shape to rule Entia. He purposely bedded the blasted Queen to make sure she named Clash as her heir."
"So it seems. I don't know what to say, Zeal." Comet made a pot of dandelion tea.
"He must have changed so much after I left, Comet. I didn't marry a monster. Clash tried to tell me he'd changed, he tried to warn me. I've a mind to extract every drop of moisture from his body and make him into face powder. The arsehole." Zeal wiped her eyes and drank her tea. Comet pretended to be doing something at the stove to hide his laugh at Zeal's swearing. Now wasn't the time. "So I'm being appeased and placated? I'm being kept usefully but uselessly occupied? Entia doesn't need a living hero? Well that's just tough testicles. I'm here."
"What are you planning to do?" Comet asked warily.
"Benefit Entia. Horse nuts to the Courts and the Queen, and all that shite. I'm Entian and so is everyone else. We're going to the barracks tomorrow to see the shower I'm in charge of. As far as the mystic monitoring goes, they either do it my way or they can bugger off back to playing soldiers and kicking beggars in the ribs. If they don't like it then that's tough. I'll pick my own monitors." Zeal said angrily.
"This should be good." Comet winced.
"Captain Bane said avalanche. I'm good at those on a few levels." Zeal said firmly. "Should I go and see Clash? I want to know if he's OK."
"He'll be fine, Zeal, probably a bit angry just now. Let him cool off." Comet advised. "What about Lore?"
"Arse to Lore. Any discussions I thought he deserved to have with me have gone. He's an animal. He can go sit on a Maypole."
"Will you be OK tonight?" Comet clarified.
"I think so, yes. He's too afraid of stuffing up the Queen's politics to harm me again. He'll probably stay in his study for he night. Best place for him, the oaf." Zeal stood up and put the cups in the washing bowl. "Come on Comet, let's get some rest."
"I won't argue with you there. I wouldn't dare." Comet held the door open for Zeal.
Zeal's assumption that Lore would stay in his study for the night, proved true. She dressed and went straight to the kitchen, a place Lore never went. She couldn't think of a single meeting with her husband that wouldn't end up in a confrontation. Delph wasn't in the least surprised to see the Lady of the house in the kitchens. Zeal just saw it as another part of her house and the cook had got used to seeing her there whenever she pleased. Serai's facial expression showed that she didn't approve, but she said nothing. She looked positively outraged when Zeal asked her to go and tell Comet of her whereabouts. Serai had developed quite a dislike for Comet ever since he'd spoken out against her in Zeal's rooms over the clothes incident. It wasn't until Zeal heard Lore leaving for the Palace, that she set off with Comet for the barracks.
"Zeal are you sure you won't wait and have Clash in on this? He's the official Court connection that we should have." Comet suggested.
"The official specification was to be in a structured environment with appropriate officials present. The barracks fills all those descriptions." Zeal nodded firmly. "I'm sure Captain Baron will fall over his own feet in his rush to go and tell the Queen I'm there."
Hunter Bane had to look twice when he saw Zeal and Comet walk through the gates.
"Lady Zeal!" He hurried over. "I didn't know you were coming here otherwise I would have arranged you an escort."
"No need, Captain Bane. I have Comet." Zeal said and Comet felt rather smug. "I've come to see the men involved with mystic monitoring."
"I'll have to check the registers and rotas. If I'd known you were coming I'd have prepared it all for you." Hunter apologised.
"Excuse me!" Captain Baron shouted and marched straight towards them. "I was under the impression that your duties were restricted to Scholastic lectures, Lady Zeal. We have no scholars here."
"In that case, you were under the wrong impression." Zeal said flatly. "Guardian of The Mystic, remember? I want my men assembled here within the hour." Hunter cringed but Comet smiled and shrugged his shoulders at the Captain.
"With respect, Lady Zeal, you have no men here." Captain Baron said condescendingly.
"That's General Dawnstar and unless you can carve out bodily parts that are involved in monitoring, then yes I have, Captain Baron. I'm sure if I began my duties without my staff then Queen Honor would want to know why. You are obstructing me." Zeal glared at Lance Baron.
"In that case, General Dawnstar, begin with me." He said arrogantly. I captain the patrols responsible for such monitoring. I also deal with arrests and the handling of prisoners. I'm responsible for my men."
"Good a place as any to begin. You are relieved of those aspects of your duties."
"You don't have the authority ..."
"Oh yes I do and you know it. You are no longer involved in the monitoring of the population for potential magical activity because I don't want you to be. Have it. Captain Bane? The lists and rotas?" Zeal turned to Hunter.
"Er ... I can have the men assembled in an hour." He said in shock. Lance snarled loudly and pushed by Hunter, then barged out of the gates.
"I've caused an awkward atmosphere. I apologise." Zeal said to Hunter.
"No more awkward than usual. It's just one type of duty among many. If it's one that I do without, why can't Captain Baron? I'll get to it." Hunter cast a swift, impressed smile at Comet, then headed off to his offices.
Hunter had a list of around a hundred men and he was in the process of assembling them in the yard when Clash came charging through the gates at great speed. Zeal and Comet saw him through the office window and went out to meet him.
"Could have been worse." Comet commented.
"Yes it could have been Lore." Zeal agreed. "Clash! Good day!"
"Not for Lance Baron it isn't." Clash said in exasperation.
"Oh pish, Clash." Zeal tutted. "Captain Baron has other, more important duties to attend to. He has grit in his crack because he's lost control over one, small section."
"Mother you weren't supposed to do this." Clash sighed.
"No I was supposed to be a political mascot with a fancy title who did nothing useful while everything carried on the same." Zeal said.
"The news of Captain Baron's ... displacement ... was a big surprise, mother. There's still time to reconsider this. I'm sure Comet could offer viable explanations."
"I'll ignore that blatant insult, Clash." Zeal said icily, then walked confidently over to Hunter.
"You're all aware of Lady Dawnstar's recently appointed duties." He raised his voice to address the men. "Obviously you men are affected by that. That is why Lady Dawnstar has chosen to speak to you in person." Hunter stepped back to allow Zeal to speak to the solders. Zeal glanced nervously at Comet and he nodded his encouragement.
"Captain Bane will have told you that I hold no position in the military. My position here is not that of a military official. I'm not a soldier. Guardian of The Mystic is a civilian position and mystic monitors were traditionally selected from the civilian population. I'm aware of, and I understand the necessity that lead to the monitors being absorbed into the army. Your ability and loyalty as soldiers are not my area at all and I would never presume myself to be in a position to say otherwise. Your suitability as mystical monitors is my area. I have no wish to change anything that works and therefore you are all welcome to stay exactly as you are. What you must keep in mind is that a genuinely can sense dormant magic. For every single person that attracts your attention, a viable and credible set of reasons must accompany it. In short, gentlemen, I won't take any shit. If you think you can drag in anyone and everyone that you don't like the look of, then think again. If you think you can persecute and abuse the easy targets of Entia, then think again. If you think you don't have to listen to me, then you're right. If that's your choice, then you're free to drop this aspect of your duties without any adverse reflections on your military records. Those wishing to retain this area of duty will be answerable to me as a representative of the Entian people. I want my mystical monitors to return here tomorrow at noon. That should be ample time for you to consider, and make your decisions." Zeal stepped back and ripples of surprise, apprehension and uncertainty spread through the soldiers. "Comet?"
"I have to go. Small room please."
Zeal, Comet and Clash returned home with the knowledge that the news of the morning's events would spread through Entia like wildfire.
"Predictions please?" Zeal asked, helping herself to Lore's wine cupboard. "Comet? Truthfully please."
"I think that for someone that isn't a politician, you've just pulled off a monumental, political stroke of genius." Comet was genuinely astonished at Zeal's natural grasp of Entia's situation, and her communication skills.
"Clash?" Zeal asked apprehensively.
"Well you've made a dent that can't be taken out." Clash replied.
"A disruptive dent?"
"It depends on your view. One person's disruption is another person's necessary rearrangement."
"Clash can you be a little less ambiguous please?" Zeal sighed. "You were at the Courts, we weren't."
"Zeal can I speak frankly?" Comet spoke up.
"Yes, please do."
"You're forcing sides here, Zeal and it's a bit unfair. Clash is in quite a few middles. He's a royal Councillor for one, and you've just given the Courts quite a bit to think about. No matter what Clash says, he's bound to be in conflict with someone."
"There shouldn't be sides. We're all Entian." Zeal grumbled.
"Mother no one could possibly say that it's wrong to support the people of Entia like you do." Clash said wearily. "The sad fact is, the Courts and Palace aren't part of the Entian people. They never have been. You're seeing everyone as the same, and everyone with the same priorities and values. They haven't."
"I know." Zeal said sadly. "I have to do this, Clash. I have to be active. It's beyond politics, sides and team loyalties. It's more important than that. I didn't mean to pressure you unfairly. I'm sorry. I'm so sure that this is the right way for me that I've become a bit obsessed. I also can't think of a worse thing to do than play one parent off against the other. I didn't stop to think of that. I struggle to think like a parent."
"Well I can't blame you for that." Clash smiled. "It's a good job we have Comet here to throw in a bit of sense, isn't it?" Zeal laughed and nodded.
"I don't have the family ties, that's all." Comet said modestly.
"No but you do have your own family ties. We're being extremely selfish by keeping you from them. You would tell me if there was anything I could do, wouldn't you?"
"Is anything wrong?" Clash asked.
"Comet's twin brother is very sick, Clash." Zeal told him.
"Oh? And is there anything we can do?" Clash asked.
"No." Comet felt terrible. "Brand's been sick all his life, Clash. Thanks for your concern."
"I'm sure mother has told you to take all the time off you need?" Clash asked and Zeal nodded. Comet felt like crawling into the closest hole, like the rat he was, and staying there. There was no way at all that Zeal would ever work for Shadow, yet he was still there spying on her private life. All he was doing was handing over information until Shadow had enough, or something useful, to coerce Zeal in some way. Zeal who had shown Comet and Brand more compassion that their own mother.
"Yes. She told me that a while ago. Thanks." Comet forced a smile.
"And father has other things on his mind so take mother's word as final in that." Clash frowned and looked out of the window. "He wasn't totally in favour of your new position, mother. He's even less in favour now you've thrown your Guardian weight around. Captain Baron is furious and the Queen fears you. Father's 'I told you so' attitude is being ignored because the Queen and Baron are too busy howling over your audacity. As you can imagine, father doesn't take kindly to being ignored."
"Or to being talked about in his absence." Zeal went to sit next to her son. "I know you're risking his displeasure by speaking like this."
"It's not the first time I've risked his displeasure. Don't worry about it." Clash shrugged.
"I have twenty years worth of worrying to catch up on. I wasn't there for you Clash."
"I thought we'd done all this?" Clash smiled at Zeal. "You didn't exactly run away with the Gleeman, did you?"
"I'd have taken you with me if I had. Would King of The Roads have been good enough?" Zeal asked and Clash visibly deflated.
"Is it that obvious what we were doing?" He said weakly.
"Why shouldn't it be? Neither you nor your father did anything wrong. What father wouldn't want a royal crown for his son?" Zeal said.
"Mother there's more." Clash rubbed his tired eyes. "In order to get the crown, Honor would have to appoint me as her legal heir. Father ... father ... well he ..."
"Clash, I know." Zeal held her son's hands. "I swear I don't judge him for that. How could I? Everyone else in Entia thought I was lost forever, so why shouldn't your father?
"He didn't think you that far gone to disassociate himself completely. Both him and the Queen knew it was more beneficial for him to be Zeal's husband than the Queen's consort. Is this place anything like your farm? I doubt it. We did very well out of your physical absence. Your spiritual presence was played upon by preserving your family exactly as it was twenty years ago. In that respect, we're as ageless as you are." Clash rested back in his chair and looked exhausted. "You know, King of The Roads would have done me just fine."
"Do you want to succeed Queen Honor? I mean your own ambitions, not your father's ambitions." Zeal asked.
"I thought I did. Who wouldn't?" Clash exhaled loudly. "It's all I've been brought up with. It's all I've known to aim for. You still think it's a viable option and that father's frets are misplaced." Zeal just shrugged her shoulders. "I did too. After all I have a famous mother as well as a father in favour. Can you honestly see the Queen handing over her crown to the son of a living, legendary mage? The only mage in Entia and the most powerful one in history? She's spent thirty years eradicating it."
"That's true." Zeal nodded. "You didn't answer me. Do you want to succeed the Queen?"
"No. I want a life." Clash said quietly. "I knew years ago that all the political sniping and backstabbing wasn't for me. You're right about it being father's ambition but I still played my part in it. All the grovelling and pandering to the Queen. All the shunning and isolation of anyone who disagreed. I was active in all that." He said. "I was presented to her when I was eight years old. It had been drilled into me for those years that I was a natural successor to the throne because I was Zeal Dawnstar's son. I whispered to father, very loudly as eight year olds do, that 'mummy was far prettier than the Queen.' The Queen walked out in a rage and I got locked in the cellar."
"Oh Clash." Zeal's heart was breaking. "I wish more than anything that I'd been here. Cellar eh? I'll give him cellar. How dare he!"
"Imagine the fun I'd have had watching you putting him in his place." Clash smiled.
"That place being the cellar, and there's time yet." Zeal puffed herself up and Clash laughed.
"Seriously mother, don't aggravate him. Even if he deserves it and he's blatantly out of order, don't confront him, please. Just walk away and leave him brooding."
"Advice from experience?" Zeal asked sadly.
"I'm a six feet five man. You aren't." Clash said.
"He's a six feet three one and he's coming down the path." Comet observed.
"Clash? Where do you want us all to be?"
"Let's see what he has to say first." Clash stood up as Lore entered the study.
"This is cosy." Lore said, heading for the wine cupboard.
"You wanted me to see what mother is up to, so I am. As you can see, she's fine." Clash said to his father.
"Oh yes I can see that." Lore sat down with the wine bottle. "Well, Zeal, you have the entire royal Court talking about you. Well done. The place is in bloody uproar and no one can stop shouting long enough to get a sensible point over. I tried. I tried quite hard. Captain Lance Baron noticed me, eventually. He's such a nice man, you know. He drew Honor's attention to the fact that I may be distressed over all the activity surrounding my wife. He suggested it would be a kindness to grant me time off. Thank you Zeal." He said nastily.
"They dismissed you?" Clash said in shock.
"Of course they bloody didn't!" Lore snapped. "I was deemed to be 'personally involved' and therefore unable to input constructively. Total crap!" He took a drink from his wine bottle. "Anyway how can they dismiss me? I'm married to a bloody legend!"
"Put the bottle down, father. It's clearly not the first one you've had tonight." Clash said.
"Don't you dare preach at me! Go home. Take her with you." Lore snarled. Clash looked like he was about to argue but Zeal touched his elbow and shook her head.
"Good night, father." Clash nodded for Zeal and Comet to leave too.
"His job isn't in danger is it Clash?" Zeal asked. "I know we're on different sides of the wall just now but his job and position are everything to him."
"No his job is fine. It's true, he is married to a legend but he's also an exceptional Advisor as well as the Queen's ... yes well you know about that." Clash said awkwardly. "His presence will make the rest of them feel a bit uncomfortable just now. Now then! My rooms are barely suitable for myself, let alone for my mother and her Tender. It's my guess he'll stay in there all night, but I'll sleep in the guest room anyway."
"This is shite." Zeal said wearily. "Why are we all feeling threatened in our own home? Especially Comet! He shouldn't have to put up with this bilge."
"It's fine, Zeal. My job is to see to your welfare and this is part of it." Comet tried to sound convincing. He was very relieved that Clash was staying. Comet was quite good in a fight, but he was uncertain of Lore and his temper. Apart from anything else, that would be a sure road to his dismissal and a disaster for Brand.
"I'll see you compensated for this, Comet. Good night." Clash went up the stairs.
"Yes, I will too." Zeal smiled.
"No need." Comet repeated. He was already indebted to Zeal and he knew he could never pay that off. He was slowly trading away her life to Shadow, and The Web.
"What's wrong?" Zeal noticed the look of sadness on Comet's face. "Lore's upset you. The big shit-head. I'll go and get Clash and we'll sleep on his floor."
"No! No don't do that." Comet smiled genuinely and Zeal calmed down a bit. "I was thinking about Brand, that's all. I'll go to the Infirmary tomorrow before we go to the barracks, if I may?"
"Bugger me we've just done all this!" Zeal exclaimed. "You don't need my permission, you silly man."
"The realm's full of silly men." Comet grinned.
"Tell me about it." Zeal looked ruefully at the study door, then followed Comet up the stairs.
Dawnstar Of Entia