It was the second hour of the meeting when Alistair’s presence was finally acknowledged. Yes, he was there because his father had died and he was the new Nallisian monarch, but the only official ceremony he needed was a coronation, especially during a war. They could have managed the meeting just fine without him.
“Now we can send more help to Syllan!” the Lounian ambassador shouted, louder than those around him with a thick accent. “Montfort and Loun are no longer threatened by such danger as—”
“You trust the end of that blockade?” someone else shrieked. “It was a pirate—”
Quite abruptly, one of the ambassadors—Alistair had no idea where from—stood from his seat and slammed his hands on the tabletop. The room fell quiet, and the air around him crackled with suppressed fury. Lips pressed in a thin line, he pointed an accusing finger at the row of thrones and snarled, “Let him explain the goings-on of the embargo! Should we be concerned that Nallis will secede from the Kingdoms and make a partnership with the foulest land in Cyril?”
Alistair kept from rolling his eyes at the melodrama. Other voices rose up in protest, accusing him of joining hands with a pirate and selling the soul of Nallis; the ambassador lowered his hand, smiled smugly, and returned to his seat.
Queen Ailith cleared her throat and stood. It took a moment, but the anger of the crowd went from a bubbling froth to a simmer, waiting for a chance to explode again. Once it was relatively quiet, Ailith gestured to Alistair and said, voice echoing off the hall’s stone walls, “Before we accuse anyone, we will allow them to speak. King Alistair, will you explain to us why Captain Vincent Henson is claiming you and he are allied?”
With a sigh, Alistair stood and rested his hands on the railing before the thrones. First act of public speaking as king, and it was to explain his actions like a naughty child.
“I am certain many of you were here the last time I attended a war council, when Vincent Henson sent the allied cryonics here with an offer to stand down. I said then, and will reiterate now, that I spent time in his company during my captivity in the Gabal Mountains, and I know that he has the mind of a businessman. Offer him a suitable enticement, and he would end the blockade; offer him slightly more, and he would help us. He does not run on loyalties like we do; rather, he gives his help to the one who pays him the best.
“My opinions at that war council were scoffed at,” he added, remembering the day with distaste. “And it seemed you all decided to leave Montfort and Loun’s coastline to the fate handed to it by Vincent Henson. I returned to Syllan with my father, and the war continued as it had before, with no alterations despite our attempts in this chamber.
“Over a month ago, on the Syllan front, I received news that my father had been killed in an ambush in Galenor. My brother passed away last fall, leaving me heir to Nallis, and king I became after my father’s death. My first act as king was to send a letter to Captain Henson’s blockade, requesting his presence in Syllan. He obliged and left the embargo in the care of his right hand, Saeed Hartir.
“I offered him exactly what he wanted to hear, and what we should have done, as allies,” he emphasized, glaring down at the dignitaries gazing up at him in silence, “when the idea was first brought to us. I offered him a monetary sum and the removal of his outlawry in Nallis; in return, he ended the blockade and agreed to attack the coast of the Wynd. For as long as there is money left in our agreement, Canton and Nallis are allies.
“So yes, it is true what you have heard. I have made a contract with the pirate king of Canton, and thus ended the blockade of Loun, stopped the destruction of Montfort, given Syllan an opportunity to actually win a battle against the barbarians, and found a way to distract the Wynders and help the Galish loyalists recover and turn the tide of war in their favour. I have no intention on seceding from the Southern Kingdoms, and as for Canton being the foulest land in Cyril”—He shrugged, anger reaching a peak—“I can certainly think of worse places. Have any of you ever been to the Necropolis, or the unclaimed territories?”
The silence met his ears with a painful ringing, and he backed away from the railing, satisfied that he had made his point. With a frustrated snort, he sat back in the throne and crossed his arms, feeling rather like a petulant child.
Ailith gave him a long stare, face carefully composed to hide her thoughts, then stood once more and faced the council. “King Alistair has given his reasons as to his alliance with Captain Henson. We shall not discuss it now. This meeting shall be adjourned until further notice. Thank you all for joining us today.”
Alistair stood and bowed to her before the first ambassadors began to file from the room. “I appreciate your hospitality, Your Majesty,” he said, just loud enough that the others in the room could overhear if they so desired, “but I would rather not join another war council until after my coronation. My duties lay in Syllan—for now.”
Those sparkling green eyes remained on him for a moment, unblinking and impassive. Then a smile crossed her features and she held out a hand. Alistair took it and kissed the back. “I understand, King Alistair, and I thank you for gracing us with your presence for today, at least. You will send my regards to your sister?”
“Of course, my lady. She will be delighted to hear from you.” He bowed again, murmured meaningless farewells to the other monarchs, and left the chambers through the rear entrance.
He didn’t hesitate a moment when he returned to his borrowed chambers. Changing quickly into riding gear, he packed away the few supplies he brought with him, added extra food and drink, and collected his escorts before hurrying to the stables.
Maybe Aisling was right; maybe he could ease Nallis out of Helmene’s grip, and bring in a new age of independence with his magical inheritance.
But for now, he was just going to focus on staying alive and beating the barbarians in Syllan. Royal business could wait.