Luc Demith, High Priest of Ocirico, leisurely ambled about Queen Amenthiel’s chamber. Her Highness sat at the desk in the room with her head buried in her hands.
“I knew this was a bad idea,” she exclaimed through her fingers. “You swore there was nothing of interest going on down there. You swore!”
“My Queen, you mustn’t make too much of this situation. Your uncle’s continuation of the program was after a noble goal, a goal that must be obtained before the men, women, and children of Thronefast can know peace. We have that chance in your lifetime. It is worth the risk.”
Amenthiel’s head shot up in shock. She twisted around, launching from her chair.
“Peace?,” Amenthiel yelled at the handsome middle-aged man. He was a good 10 years older than her modest 35, but she had no reservations rebuking him. “You talk to me about peace with what is going on down there? You have upset the status quo in ways we can not measure!”
“My Queen, your uncle thought it best for the…”
Amenthiel cut him off, “Do not DARE… speak to me about my uncle. I am not my uncle. I do not have his ambitions or his stupidity!”
A knock came to the chamber’s door, interrupting the rant. Luc beckoned them to come in, knowing it had to be a field report.
“My Queen. Justice Demith. Scouts from all eight parties have checked in. There is no sign of him yet. They have covered from the city walls to the outskirts of the local groves and halfway to the Pass. Should the continue the search? I have the scouts standing by for orders.”
Amenthiel found her seat again and placed her head back in her hands. There was a long pause then a muffled voice through fingers again.
“Double the search. Double it. And have the King’s Guard send out everyone in plain clothes and stationed in every dark corner to catch a glimpse in case he double-backed into the city. He doesn’t want to be found and he knows how not to be.”
The guard looked over at Luc. Luc nodded without speaking and waved the guard away affirmatively, and the guard ran out the door speaking orders to his subordinates waiting outside as it was closed behind him.
“What a mess you have left me, Luc,” Amenthiel said. “I had one simple question and you lied to my face.”
“Look, I have only looked out for your best interest,” Luc replied. “There are sometimes unscrupulous actions that must be taken to meet the enemy where they are. Things are grayer than they seem sitting in the Forum, meeting out justice to lawbreakers. But that is why we need you, someone who can stand beyond the gray area, a beacon of light for the citizens, untainted. And I tried to protect you from these stains on our hands. But the work must continue, you know it must. We still do not have what we are looking for.”
“I thought, four months ago when I lost my uncle and my husband in one day, that it may be the worst day my life will ever see.” She stood again and walked to within inches of the priest, staring into his eyes. “You are giving me a reason to doubt myself.” Even in Luc’s stone-faced determination, he was charming, and it gave her pause for a moment, standing this close to him, before she caught herself.
“To lead these people to a more proseperous and safer future, I have to build a relationship with them; trust needs to be established and I have to show an unwavering commitment to them at all times. Now, I have to condemn a hero of the people, squelch potential rumors of misdeeds by the Throne, and stop any mention of this from returning to our allies or enemies. In your great wisdom, Justice Demith, how do you suppose I do all that?”
“My Queen,” Luc said as pleasantly as he could, “we only need to find him, and just in case, make ever so slight contingency plans so we can prove any rumors false. I head the Forum of Ocirico. I am the law. We have everything in place to keep the necessary work of the military secret from the public at large. And, after all, he’s just one man.”
Amenthiel brought her hand up in an instant, slapping Luc across is left cheek before he could react. It staggered him, and for a moment, wiped the smug look off his face. Amenthiel wanted to smile at that victory, but refrained.
“One man can topple an empire, you fool. And one woman can raise it up. All of you aristocrats have become lazy and spoiled in your fine linens and your meetings and your money off the people’s backs. This is going to change under my leadership. The ruling class will get back to what our society was when Avendyr was king, with the rulers serving duty and sacrifice for the good of the people, not the other way around. That is the only way to realize the goal of my grandfather, to grow our influence and prosperity to the farthest reaches of Terminus. For the good of our people. In the meantime, find… E’mani. And erase any evidence in that dungeon you’ve been working in.” Amenthiel turned and walked toward the door. “You can use the cellars in the Silent Sanctum if you need to continue your operation, but if anyone else finds out, you will be held accountable in the most public way I can imagine.”
“You are truly inspirational, My Queen,” Luc said as she passed through the door. Passing her on the way out, a priest of Ocirico named Falto headed in to speak with Luc.
“Your Justice,” Falto said, looking over his shoulder as the door shut, “what is the news? What are your orders?”
“My dead Falto, I believe we have just been given permission to extend our operation. Bring everything to the Sanctum, and everyone.”
Luc smiled and rubbed his face, thinking of all the possibilities with his new single queen on the throne. This opportunity could not go to waste.