Vankara book 1, p.22

Vankara (Book 1), page 22

 

Vankara (Book 1)
 


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  Not to be outdone by his counterpart, Samuel Able, leader of the white party, asked. “What sort of incentives?”

  “We haven’t completely worked out all the details but basically we intend to offer every factory owner who replaces an automaton with a living worker a tax incentive.”

  “But won’t that just deplete the money we gain from taxes?” Constance asked.

  “If our numbers are correct, we should come out even. The factory owner will pay less in taxes but the worker he hires will start paying taxes. In the end, things should work out evenly and we can begin integrating life back into our factories.”

  People beside one another began to quietly discuss what I had just said and I saw many of them nod as though they liked what they heard. I decided to take advantage of the positive momentum.

  “All that I ask of you today is to overturn your passing of the population reconstruction bill. I promise you we will have the details worked out on my bill by the time parliament meets again in the spring. Please, consider what is best for Vankara and follow your conscience and good common sense.”

  When I turned my back to the delegates to retake my seat, I saw Gabriel’s eyes smile at me. He couldn’t outwardly show his pride, but I saw the sentiment.

  As I sat back down on the throne, I looked across the chamber and saw a different set of eyes staring at me.

  Jeffery Irondale was furious.

  I knew in that moment I had made an enemy of Inara’s father and was helpless in knowing how to heal his wounded pride. He was not a man I wished to offend or make an enemy of but to allow his bill to go through uncontested would have produced a travesty in Vankaran society. Jeffery looked away from me in disgust but quickly squelched his personal feelings behind an iron will before drawing attention to himself once again by the hammering of his gavel.

  “Thank you, your majesty,” he was able to say without a hint of his true feelings. “I believe we should have a recasting of the votes now and adjourn until this afternoon for the results.”

  I let out a sigh of relief, one only Gabriel could have heard. Gabriel walked from the side of the throne to stand in front of me, offering his arm for me to take.

  “Now that you’ve defused this problem, let’s go take care of the second matter of the day, the Royal Sage.”

  The Royal College of Magical Sciences was on the other side Iron City near the outskirts of town. The location had been chosen to prevent any unintended ‘magical accidents’ from bothering the good people who lived in the capital. Gabriel and I took a coach to the college without sending word ahead of us to expect our arrival. Neither of us wanted to give the Royal Sage warning of our visit. But, apparently someone had warned her.

  When we arrived, the Royal Sage herself was standing outside the large iron gates which were the only entrance and exit outside the great brick wall surrounding the grounds of the college. Not only had the founders of Vankara not wanted the college to affect the lives of regular vankarans but they also didn’t want those from the city to affect the pupils perfecting their magical abilities.

  After our carriage came to a stop, Gabriel opened the door for Isabelle. Without needing any more of an invitation, the Royal Sage stepped into the carriage and sat across from us.

  “How did you know we were coming?” I asked, feeling uneasy she had surprised us with her presence when we had hoped to have the upper hand.

  “One of my pupils has the power of foresight,” Isabelle explained. “He told me when you would be coming.”

  “Did he tell you why we are here?”

  Isabelle shifted in her seat uneasily, pretending to be adjusting her robe.

  “No,” she admitted with a small lift of her eyebrows. “His powers aren’t strong enough to see more than a few seconds of the future at a time.”

  Her gaze shifted from Gabriel to me before asking, “Why are you here, your majesty? I can’t imagine why you would visit without sending word first.”

  From the fox fur muff sitting on my lap, I pulled out the vial of melted snow Queen Nuala had given me and stretched out my arm to give it to Isabelle.

  “Would you mind examining this vial for me? I was told it holds the key to something rather important.”

  Isabelle took the vial causing the water within to burst into the phosphorescent yellow I had seen while visiting the fae.

  Isabelle immediately dropped the vial on the floor of the carriage. The glass was thick enough that it didn’t shatter but the Royal Sages façade did. Her controlled expression quickly changed to one of surprise and fear. She looked up at me like a deer just shot by a hunters bow.

  “I guess I don’t have to tell you what is in the vial?” I asked.

  Isabelle shook her head, trying desperately to quell her trembling. “No, I know what it is.”

  “I won’t bore you with the details of how I came to be in possession of the vial and I won’t try to pretend I don’t see the fear in your eyes right now. I would be thankful if you would extend me the same courtesy and tell me the truth to one question, and keep in mind if I find out your answer is a lie, I will have no problems stripping you of your title and station.”

  Isabelle adjusted her robes in an effort to control her nerves. She cleared her throat and asked, “What do you want to know?”

  “How long have you known the plagues were magical in nature?”

  “We’ve known since the first plague.”

  “Why didn’t you say anything?” The question came out more as an accusation.

  “Because we knew the other nations would assume we were the culprits.”

  “And your telling us you aren’t?” Gabriel asked.

  “That’s exactly what I’m telling you,” Isabelle said, leaning forward slightly to emphasize her words. “We are not responsible.”

  “Then who is?” I asked. “Could the fae be responsible?”

  Isabelle shook her head. “I don’t believe so. They have very few mages among their people.”

  “How do you know that for sure?” Gabriel asked. “Maybe they’re keeping their power hidden.”

  Isabelle gave a sad smile. “I wish I could tell you that were so. But we have ways of sensing magic and they only have a handful of mages over there, at best. There’s no way they could conjure enough power to cause this spell.”

  “Then if the college isn’t responsible,” I said. “Who else has enough magic at their disposal to cause the plagues?”

  “Dracen.” Isabelle said the sorcerer’s name in a reverent whisper.

  “That’s impossible,” Gabriel was quick to say. “He wouldn’t do such a thing.”

  “I would hope not and have never thought to accuse him,” Isabelle said, wanting to believe the words. “But he is the only one powerful enough to cast the spell so many times.”

  “No,” Gabriel said with finality. “It’s not him. It can’t be.”

  I wanted to ask Gabriel why he was so adamant about Dracen not being involved but felt the need to keep such information private.

  “Are you sure no one else could be responsible?” I asked the Royal Sage. “Someone of another nation perhaps? Surely we can’t be the only country with mages. They’re born randomly all the time.”

  “No other nation has enough mages in one place to make such a spell happen. We would know.”

  I glanced in Gabriel’s direction and saw the stubborn set of his jaw. I needed to know why he felt so strongly Dracen wasn’t involved.

  “Thank you for answering our questions, Isabelle,” I said. “If we need further assistance I assume we have only to call on you?”

  Isabelle bowed her head to me. “You have my word we will help you in anyway possible, your majesty. Thank you for taking my word on the subject even though I have kept you in the dark all these years.”

  “I would appreciate it if you didn’t keep such things from me anymore. If I had known sooner…” I let the words hang in the air for Isabelle to think about.

  Isabelle l
owered her eyes to the carriage floor and nodded. She understood her inability to confide in her monarch may have caused more lives to be lost than needed to be.

  “We will leave you to your students,” I said in way of dismissal.

  Isabelle opened the carriage door and climbed out. As she turned to close the door, she said, “I am sorry, your majesty. I was only considering the welfare of my charges here at the college.”

  “I understand,” I told her. “But I can’t condone withholding such important information from me. Perhaps you can find a way to make it up to me at a later date.”

  Isabelle bowed to me and closed the door.

  Gabriel agitatedly rapped on the roof of the carriage and yelled, “Palace!”

  The driver turned the carriage around and headed back towards the palace grounds.

  We sat in silence for a few minutes with only the clip-clop of the horses hooves against the cobblestone street outside to break the silence. Finally, Gabriel spoke.

  “What she is insinuating can’t be true. Dracen would never cause harm to anyone much less a world full of people.”

  “Are you sure?” I asked, watching Gabriel’s face carefully.

  He seemed taken aback, as if he didn’t expect me to question his judgment at all.

  “Of course I’m sure. I’ve known the man long enough to know he can’t be the source. There has to be another explanation. We’re still missing an important part of the puzzle. I refuse to believe Dracen had anything to do with it!”

  I put a hand on Gabriel’s arm. “I know you believe what you say. But I believe we should go to Dracen and tell him what we have discovered. If he is the friend you remember, then perhaps he will help us solve this mystery.”

  Gabriel looked over at me and placed his hand over mine.

  “You’re right. We should go see him. He’ll help us find the truth.”

  Gabriel squeezed my hand tightly. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to reassure me or himself.

  Chapter 20

  As soon as we arrived at the palace, Gabriel sent a message via one of the numerous guards roaming the halls to Inara, asking her to ready the airship for travel to Ledmarrow Mountain. Unfortunately, Dracen’s home would take at least two days to reach by airship. I suppose I should have felt lucky. If the trip were taken by horse and carriage, the time could have been extended upwards of a month considering the hazardous terrain.

  When Gabriel and I walked into my study, we were met by Aleksander and Fallon. Fallon was casually slouched in the chair behind my desk with five cards spread out like a fan in his hands. Aleksander had pulled one of the wingback chairs up to the front of the desk at a forty-five degree angle and held a set of cards of his own. As soon as Gabriel and I entered the room, Aleksander stood folding his cards and placing them on top of my desk as he turned to face us.

  “He insisted on staying in here to wait for you,” Fallon explained as we walked further inside the room. “I wasn’t about to leave him in here alone.”

  “I was simply waiting for your return so you could give me my promised explanation of last night’s events,” Aleksander explained. “Plus, I wanted to congratulate you on winning the vote this morning. I thought it was a bit underhanded of Irondale to put his bill up for vote yesterday without you being present. I wager he’ll not mistake you for a weak opponent next time.”

  I sat my fox muff on the small table by the coat rack and began undoing the buttons down the front of my coat. The little dragon hiding within the interior of the muff poked her head out to look at her new surroundings. With a wave of my hand, I gently urged her to go back inside before the Chromis king caught sight of her.

  “I’m just relieved we were able to stop it before it was implemented,” I replied. “You wouldn’t happen to know what the margin of our win was, do you Aleksander?”

  “Eighty percent voted against Irondale’s bill,” a small ounce of pleasure laced Aleksander’s words, as though he were proud of my political accomplishment.

  I looked to Gabriel beside me and smiled. He returned it with a small nod of his head, a gesture meant to tell me he had never doubted the outcome of the second vote. I felt a warmth spread through my chest and knew Queen Emma was smiling down from the heavens, pleased with my efforts to protect Vankara from those who would rip away the values of our forefathers.

  “You seem to be awfully well informed about the political comings and goings here, Aleksander,” Gabriel said, helping me slip my coat from my shoulders and hanging it on the gold coat rack beside the door. I picked up the muff and placed my hands inside it to calm the dragon within.

  “A man in my position needs to be,” Aleksander replied, unrepentant. “It’s the cautious man who keeps a watchful eye on his neighbor’s actions.”

  When I walked over to my desk, Fallon rose from my chair but not without a slight grimace of pain. It was obvious his wounds hadn’t healed completely but chastising him about taking care of his health didn’t seem prudent, especially not in front of Aleksander. Men can be so fragile when their pride is at stake.

  Aleksander retook his seat in front of my desk just as I sat down.

  “Now, can you tell me what the hell happened yesterday and why you felt it necessary to risk your life to speak with the fae?” He asked.

  The three of us told the Chromis king what we thought he should know about the adventure Fallon and I shared on fae territory. Almost immediately, Aleksander jumped to the same conclusion the fae had about vankaran involvement in the plagues and demanded to know what we intended to do with those at the College for Magical Sciences for the atrocities they had undoubtedly committed.

  “No one else has the power to conjure magic that strong,” Aleksander said, a stubborn set to his jaw and fevered pitch to his voice.

  “We don’t believe it was the college,” I held up a hand to stifle the protest I saw about to come out of Aleksander’s mouth. “The next logical magical source is Dracen. I assume you know who he is.”

  “Of course,” Aleksander said, some of the steam dissipating from his anger. “But no one has much information about him. He’s buried himself inside that damn mountain for so long I began to think maybe he didn’t really exist at all. It wasn’t until he sent you those automatons we all knew for certain he was still alive. And since he still sends you some on occasion the assumption has to be he still lives.”

  “Inara is readying the airship as we speak,” I informed him. “I plan to go see Dracen myself and confront him with what we know. If he isn’t the source of the plagues, then perhaps he knows who might be the real culprit.”

  “I insist on coming with you,” Aleksander said.

  “I agree. I think you should come,” I replied. I saw both Gabriel and Fallon look at me with harsh disapproval.

  “I believe it might be a good idea to have an outsider there with us,” I told them. “If Aleksander was so quick to believe our college was responsible for the plagues, it stands to reason the leaders of the other nations will come to the same conclusion just as readily. We need someone unbiased to observe our efforts to find the truth. Think of him as our witness in case we need to defend ourselves to the rest of the world.”

  It took most of the day to organize supplies and to clear my schedule of my queenly duties. None of us thought it prudent to inform parliament of what we were doing. Gabriel came up with a frivolous story that I was escorting the King of Chromis on a tour of the country while he was our guest. It was a thin lie but no one questioned it. Since Aleksander had made no efforts to conceal his interest in marrying me, I hoped people would consider our trip a normal part of the courtship, a time for us to be alone and get to know one another better.

  The hardest part for me was leaving Dena for such a long period of time. We would probably be gone for at least four days, most of that spent traveling back and forth. I felt sure the time would pass quickly for me but for a child Dena’s age it would probably feel as though I had abandoned her forever, which, I h
ad to concede, could turn out to be true.

  Although Gabriel believed Dracen to be innocent of causing the plagues, I had to consider the real possibility the sorcerer was a murderer and had possibly gone insane from living alone for so long. If he was, I wasn’t sure any of us would make it out of Ledmarrow Mountain alive. Dracen was thought to be the most magically powerful person in the world. Would such a man, especially if he was a homicidal maniac, allow us to leave with the knowledge of his sins? Not likely.

  After Emily helped me pack a trunk full of clothes to be loaded onto the airship, I spent the rest of my time playing with Dena alone in her room. She had fallen absolutely in love with the dragonling and I knew the young dragon returned her affections unabashedly. I’m not sure how I knew at the time but I felt certain I was channeling my own feelings into the dragonling and vice versa. The love and protectiveness I felt towards Dena was mirrored by the young dragon. In return, I knew when she was happy and sad, playful and sleepy, or bored and excited. The direct link of emotions between us made me uneasy. If the dragon could channel such a primeval sense of my soul, what else could it do to me or with me?

  Late in the afternoon, there was a gentle knock on Dena’s door.

  “Your majesty, we’re ready,” I heard Gabriel say from the other side.

  I looked at Dena and saw her blue eyes stare at me as if she knew I were about to leave her again. I brought her into my arms just as the dragonling jumped from Dena’s lap and climbed up to its favorite spot on my shoulder. Dena’s arms went around my waist and practically squeezed the breath from my lungs.

  “Mummy, don’t go.”

  I felt the sting of guilt inside my chest as if a large stone had been slammed against my heart. I hugged Dena back reassuringly.

  “I won’t be gone for long, my love,” I promised. “Emily will take care of you while I’m away and I promise to not go anywhere else for a long, long time.”

  I felt Dena start to tremble in my arms and knew she was crying. I leaned away from her slightly and put a finger under her chin to make her look up at me. Her eyes were like an ocean, blue and filled with the salty water of tears.

 
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