A Rock And A Hard Place Chapter 8
When I woke on day number four, I woke with a resolve. I was done sitting around waiting for the Duke to show up. I was done sitting around period. I sat up and got out of bed, heading for the shower.
Today I was going to see the King. I was tired of being in the dark about everything. I was going to demand some answers and, by gum, I was going to get them.
I let the hot water loosen my tense muscles as I debated my best course of action. If I stormed in and demanded answers like I wanted to, I seriously doubted things would go well. King Malyon hated a lack of etiquette, which is what he would consider an interruption like that to be. That would make him an enemy right off the bat, which would delay things and make it a lot harder to get anything done.
On the other hand, I could always go in calmly and ask my questions. That would fit in with the King’s sense of etiquette, but it was just as likely that nothing would get done because, not being an elf, the King didn’t even consider me on the same level as the lowest of his people. So, no matter how nice I was, it wasn’t likely to get me anywhere any quicker.
With a sigh, I turned off the water and grabbed a towel. Drying myself off quickly and putting on my blue formal robes with silver birds and leaves, I went back into the bedroom to find the matching slippers.
“Lolani, will you do something about my hair? I’m going to see the King today.”
“Of course, Mistress,” she replied promptly as I sat down so she could begin.
In short order she had my hair done up in a complicated weave of braids and curls on my head.
“Thank you,” I said, giving her a quick hug.
I swept into the parlor to see Aaron sitting there reading, already dressed for the day. He took one look at me and stood up.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
I held my head up, looking him challengingly in the eye.
“I’m going to see the King. I’m sick of waiting to be summoned and I’m sick of waiting for the Duke to show up. This is getting us nowhere and I’m tired of it.”
“And what exactly are you going to do?”
“I’m going to find out if there’s been any word from the Duke and if not, we’ll be leaving today to fetch him ourselves.”
I swept past him and headed for the door.
“Wait, what? Etti, hang on!”
I paused at the door and looked back over my shoulder, my haughty face in place.
“I’m Liaison Korina, and don’t you forget it.”
“Just go with it. Her mind’s made up,” I heard Lolani say and then Aaron sighed.
He caught up with me quickly in the hall. My limp was almost gone now and I walked confidently, leading the way. After a minute or so, the MAGI looked over at me.
“You realized this way isn’t going to take us to the King, right?”
“Oh I know.”
“Then where are we going?”
“To get breakfast. I need my coffee if I’m going to be civil about this and keep up the liaison act.”
“Oh. Should have known that one.”
“Yep. You should have.”
Then we were at the entrance to the banquet hall. It was as grand as the rest of the palace with a long table down the middle with chairs on all sides for the guests to sit wherever they chose. Servants came around with food once the guest was seated, so I simply chose an empty seat that didn’t have many other people nearby and sat. Aaron sat to my left and I noticed that people were starring and whispering. I shot the MAGI a look and he shrugged.
“It’s the first time they’ve seen you. Of course they know who you are because Lolani and I have been coming down for food this whole time and I’m sure she’s told you some of the rumors that have been circulating.”
I chuckled at that.
“Yes. She certainly did. But that makes sense. Every court, even a court away from their home courts, are bound to revolve the same way; rumor mills to the end.”
“Ah! The beautiful angel fish finally graces us with her presence in the hall!” said a voice to the right.
My face fell. I recognized that voice. Dang. I’d forgotten about him. I looked over to see Sanjar, in a yellow tunic today, making his way toward me. I could feel Aaron’s hostile look from behind me, but the merman clearly felt that the hulking MAGI posed no real threat in public because he pulled up a chair on the other side of the table and sat across from me.
“Good morning, my lovely.”
“I’m not yours,” I growled.
He grinned charmingly.
I felt Aaron’s look darken further and rolled my eyes.
A servant appeared then with food and, luckily for Sanjar, coffee. Ignoring Sanjar and the food for the moment, I picked up the steaming mug, already with creamer added, and inhaled. Savoring the smell, I took a sip and sat back in my chair.
Aaron was still glaring at the merman and I waved a hand at the MAGI.
“Eat already. We don’t have all day to deal with this idiot. I have things to get done, remember?”
He looked at me for a moment, the glare dropping, and sighed.
The MAGI began eating grudgingly, but didn’t take his eyes off the merman, who was enjoying his own breakfast, which was of very different food than ours. After a few more sips, I ate quickly and then finished off the mug, signaling for another.
“So, you have big plans today?” said Sanjar, too brightly.
“If I did, they wouldn’t concern you.”
“Harsh, little flower. Harsh.”
I pushed my chair back and stood.
Aaron nodded and followed me as I led the way out of the banquet hall and toward the audience chamber. The official who was in charge of the line waiting to see the King looked up at me in surprise.
“I want to see the King.”
“Alright. I’ll put you on the list.”
He began writing me down, but I slammed a hand down on the book, making him jump back in surprise. I leaned down and got right up in his face.
“No. Don’t put me on the list. You go in there right now and tell him that I am demanding to see him right now. I’ve wasted enough enough of my time sitting around waiting. I want answers.”
I gave the startled official a sweet but deadly smile.
“I promise I won’t take up too much of his time, but I need to see him. Now.”
I felt Aaron looming behind me and the official sank down in his chair.
“B-But it isn’t p-proper! I c-can’t possibly b-barge in there a-and tell him that!”
“I’m sorry. Do I look like I care about proper?”
Aaron started to come around the desk to bodily move the official, but the little man jumped up and almost ran to the side door and disappeared. I smiled at Aaron who gave me a look like he thought this was a bad idea but wasn’t actually going to say anything. I rolled my eyes and waited. After about a minute, I began tapping my foot and crossed my arms impatiently.
Looking over at the MAGI, I saw him raise an eyebrow at me, asking if I wanted to go on in. I nodded and he moved ahead of me, clearing the way. No one protested too loudly when they saw who was coming through. I walked behind him, trailing haughtily in his wake.
The MAGI burst through the doors, startling everyone in the room and bringing the King to his feet in a rage as the official scurried away from the dais, as though afraid of getting between the two of us. Really, that was only smart of him. I wouldn’t have gotten in Aaron’s way at that moment either.
“What do you think you’re doing?!” the King demanded as we advanced on him.
Aaron stopped at the foot of the dais, moving a bit to the side for me and I stopped right in front of the King, looking up at him, hands on my hips.
“Where is the Duke?” I asked calmly.
“The Duke? The Duke?! The gods know where that good-for-nothing murderer is! I’ve heard nothing of him and if he shows his sorry face here I’ll have him executed on the spot!”
That, I was not expecting.
“What are you talking about? You two are supposed to be meeting here to come to an agreement. To come to terms with each other and begin a peace between your peoples!”
“That was two days ago! Before I received a report of the Duke’s people attacking my men, unprovoked, on the border!” shouted the King.
I shook my head, confused.
“That can’t be right. You and the Duke are the ones who agreed that a liaison should come and help along the peace talks, aren’t you?”
“Clearly the Duke has other ideas in his head now!”
That was enough of that. We wouldn’t get anywhere if all he was going to do was rage at me. I stomped up the dais, grabbed the King by the front of his robes, and dragged his face down to my level, a dangerous scowl on my face.
“Let go of me this instant you filth!”
I gave him a shake and made him look at me again.
“Stop. Shouting. At me,” I said in a low, calm voice.
“Korina...” I heard Aaron say.
It was then that I realized the King’s guard had spears pointed at me and I was surrounded, but I ignored them. Keeping my attention focused on the King, I met his enraged look with with my own calm and collected one, waiting for him to get his head back on straight. This was something I never would have dared to do as myself, and especially not when I had lived here. But I wanted this mission over and if I had to knock the King’s head against the Duke’s in order to get this over with faster, I was going to do it and no one was going to stop me.
“Are you listening to me now?” I asked, keeping the King’s gaze.
“Let go of me!”
“Not until you calm down and get your head back together. I didn’t come all this way to sort out a war and I refuse to have any more of my time wasted by your nonsense or the Duke’s.”
“Let him go,” said one of the soldiers to my left.
My calm look turned to a dark threat as I looked over at the elf who had spoken. He was probably the one in charge. Slowly, I stretched out my left hand and reached for my magic.
“Seal,” I said quietly as I pointed at his mouth.
The elf’s eyes widened and he dropped his spear in a panic as he clawed at his mouth, which now refused to open. I looked back at the King, who’s eyes had widened a bit.
“Apparently, there’s a misunderstanding here that needs to be cleared up. You are not the one in charge, nor are you the most powerful being in this room. I am. And I am sick of being here and quite fed up with your nonsense. Now, you are going to order your guards to stop trying to threaten me. You are then going to order a squad to get ready on the double. We are leaving for the border in one hour and if you and your squad aren’t ready by then, I will be forcibly taking you to meet the Duke. Understood?”
The King, jaw tight and eyes clearly telling me all the things he wanted to do to me murder-wise at that moment, just starred back at me, refusing to say anything. I growled low in my throat and tightened my grip on his robe, beginning to put pressure on his throat. It wasn’t enough to hurt him, but it was another reminder of who was in charge at the moment. He inhaled sharply and scowled.
“Understood?” I repeated softly.
“Yes,” he muttered between clenched teeth.
“...Yes, I understand.” He paused and then glanced at his guard. “Stand down.”
Hesitantly, the guards backed off and I released my grip on his robes. The King straightened quickly, brushing himself off and giving me an ugly, hateful look. I smiled sweetly back at him.
“I’m so glad we have that misunderstanding cleared up now. I’ll see you in an hour.”
I swept down the dais and toward the double doors. With a snap of my fingers, the guard who’s mouth I had sealed was released, and then we were out the double doors and heading back to our rooms. We walked in silence and it wasn’t until we were almost back to our rooms that Aaron said anything.
“Are you sure that was the wisest course?”
I stopped outside the doors to the parlor and looked up at him, thoughtfully.
“I’m not letting this mission drag on any longer than it already has, Aaron. I hate being here and I refuse to play their games. I will not be here for months on end with nothing to do but wait on their convenience to see me or talk to each other. They’re nothing more than children with power playing petty games with the people around them. It’s one of the many reasons I hate courts in any society. They’re all the same and I have no time to waste and no patience to spare for my wasted time.”
I turned to go into the room, but the MAGI caught my hand on the doorknob, making me pause once more. Looking up, I saw worry in his cautious expression.
“What is it?”
“How do you plan on explaining that little show of magic you pulled?”
“Any Wise Wolf can perform such a simple sealing, and if I’m working for NORTH, there’s no reason I might not be.”
“That’s pretty thin.”
“It’s what I got. They’ll take it or they won’t. Either way it’s not my problem.”
“Actually it kind of is.”
“Fine. Then either way, I don’t care.”