Season 3, Episode 11
Written by Tof Eklund
Read by Tawn Krakowski
“I bear a message from his royal highness, the rightful King of all Thrycae, Nestor of House Lycius!” shouted the lone horseman, his flag of parley whipping in the wind.
It was a cool morning, and the air was musky with the scent of Northern Maidenhair blossoms. The pungent scent of that tree’s small flowers signaled summer’s end and the arrival of the fall. I had been hearing the grievance of Lord Nuccio which had something to do with a property dispute with Lord Orvakelies when I heard that a rider was approaching the palace walls. We’d been waiting three days for this.
The messenger’s behavior was odd: he’d stayed too far out to be heard for some time, walking and ambling his horse back and forth as if uncertain how to proceed. Gathering his nerve to face the witch, I thought. Am I really that terrifying?
Kaye, Lily, Theobel, Eolus, and I assembled in a tower overlooking the main gate, the better to see and hear this emissary. We listened in silence until the horseman bellowed out Nestor’s name. At that point Theobel gasped, Lily tsked, and Kaye sighed out slowly. Eolus just frowned and glared at me.
“The Lords of Thrycae,” continued the messenger, “know that you are not disloyal, but rather compelled to rebellion against lawful order and just rule.”
I found myself wondering exactly what act of rebellion Lord Nuccio might ever have committed. Fishing in Lord Orvakelies’ river? Speaking back to his father?
“Therefore,” the horseman coughed, then raised his voice to continue, “all your Highness asks of you is that you find your courage, kill the witch, and throw her body over the castle wall.”
This time it was Lily who gasped and Kaye who glared, though not at me. His gaze was directed down at the messenger. I was shocked, but neither Theobel nor Eolus seemed surprised.
“Do this,” the horseman turned his horse and shouted over his shoulder, “and all is forgiven!” He then spurred his mount into a full gallop and took off, riding as if chased by demons.
“Well,” I said, “that was interesting.”
We made our way down the tower.
“Regent,” Theobel spoke, “will you walk with me?”
“Very well,” I replied, “I’m heading to check in on Geoff before Lord Nuccio catches up with me again. We can talk on our way there.”
Soon after our group split up, I heard a rapid patter of slipper-clad feet in the hallway, and Lady Dycius rounded the corner, coming toward me at a dead run. I braced myself for an attack, wondering whether she was going to pull a knife or just go for my eyes with her silk-covered fingers.
“I received the message!” she exclaimed, jubilant.
“We all did,” I replied, keeping my eyes on Dycius’ hands.
“What?” She paused. “Did you think I came here to throw you from a parapet?” She laughed shrilly.
“Then what message are you talking about?” I asked.
“The secret message, the one from my husband.” Her voice dropped to a stage whisper. “They want to know how strong the guard is, and inquire after your health.”
“How very considerate of them,” Theobel spoke up. “Have you gone mad, Lady Dycius?”
“No, wait,” I said, this strange encounter suddenly making sense. “The messenger walked his horse back and forth for some time before approaching the palace. Was that some kind of code?”
Dycius made a small nod in my direction and pouted at Theobel before replying. “Yes! A simple code, based on movement: long and short, slow and fast. You can reproduce it at any scale, it’s all proportional.”
“Fine,” replied Theobel, “but what is the message?”
“I apologize,” Dycius began sweetly, then her tone turned mocking, “but this is an important matter that I must speak to my Lady Regent about. Who are you? You’re not Queen anymore, you’re just an interfering old—”
“Hold your tongue!” Theobel cut her off, her voice at once soft and sharp like a silk purse stuffed with iron nails. “You will speak to me in a civil manner, Lady Dycius.”
Dycius’ brash disrespect faded into sullen silence. I found myself wondering if she’d always been this brittle. Taking a deep breath, I prepared to do what I could to salvage the situation.
“Lady Dycius,” I spoke gently, “you received a coded message. When are our enemies expecting a reply?”
She looked up at me, and her spine straightened. “I already sent the reply.”
“What?” Theobel snapped. “What did you tell them?”
Dycius set her mouth in a line, like a petulant child.
“My Lady Theobel Lycius,” I said, “perhaps you should continue on to Geoff’s sickbed. I will join you shortly.”
Theobel made the slightest of sniffing sounds as she walked off.
“Tell me,” I said, turning back to Dycius, “how did you send your message back without attracting attention?”
“With a hand mirror,” she replied, smiling crookedly. “I told you it could be adapted to anything.”
“How many people know this code?”
“Only myself, my little brother, my filthy pig of a husband, and whomever among his allies he has shared it with.” She paused. “I created it myself, as a girl, and shared it with that bastard when he was courting me. He said I was very clever, and promised me tutors in math and engineering. All lies.”
“You knew that the messenger would try to contact you?”
“No, but it seemed likely enough, and the code has,” she moved a hand back and forth, “a certain rhythm to it. It is easy to spot, if you know.”
“How hard is it to learn?”
“Not hard, or that horse’s ass never would have grasped it. Why? Do you want me to teach you?” Dycius had been growing more animated as we spoke. Suddenly, she closed up again. “You want to learn so you can do it yourself, so you can get rid of me.”
“No,” I placated, “you don’t have to teach me. Besides, there is no way I could pass for you.”
“That is true. You are too fat and dark. Do your hands still itch?”
“Yes,” I said, doing my best to shrug off the barb, “as do my feet, and my back is sore. Just tell me one more thing, Lady Dycius. What reply did you send earlier?”
Dycius smiled a big, fake smile. “Do not worry, Regent,” she said. “They know nothing of your belly. I simply told them that every able-bodied man has been conscripted to fight for you, and that you keep many hostages to guarantee their loyalty. Every day a hostage is flogged to remind us of how much more they will suffer if we disobey, and you laugh and gloat as their tears and blood flow.”
“You continue to be a talented storyteller,” I muttered. “In the future, you could try simply saying that a frontal assault on the palace would fail.”
“Pardon, Regent, but they would not trust my judgment,” she said with a leer. “They want to believe you a monster; do not deprive me of my sharpest knife.”
“Just try not to overdo it,” I said, and then I made my way to Geoff’s room.
“Do you trust her?” Theobel asked, after I’d related the rest of my conversation with Dycius to her.
“Not a whit,” I replied.
“Then stop her!”
“No. We can feed them misinformation through her. Knowledge wins battles.”
“I still think it is all a fabrication. She is making up stories.”
“If she is, where’s the harm?”
“The harm?” Theobel’s voice rang with passion “The harm is that you have no plan! What is your strategy, Regent?”
“What is your strategy?” I retorted. “You brought us here. There is no way to crown Kaye, and no army marching to our relief. We are besieged by an army led by your own son, so you tell me how we get out of this one.”
“Winter,” a faint voice rasped from the bed. Geoff.
“Winter?” I asked.
“Winter will break the siege. Too cold.”
“It’s barely autumn,” I said. “I don’t think we can hold out that long.”
“Hope for an early frost,” he rasped, then closed his eyes.
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