Coffee Break Read – The Ultimatum

From Times of Change the second part of Transgressor Trilogy, a Fortune’s Fools book by E.M. Swift-Hook. You can listen to this on YouTube.

The expression of compassion on her companion’s face made her realise that she was not dissembling with her usual skill and that her thoughts must be plain on her face. Fortunately, he was her friend as well as the most senior member of her council. Her hand was still clenched tightly on the letter he had given her, its heavy seals broken, neatly splitting the arrogant emblem of Qabal Vyazin – a fist in a plate-metal gauntlet, holding aloft a sword on which had been speared a crown. Harkera’s crown, she had thought, when reading the domineering demands within.
“I am sorry, Morvyn,” she said sincerely. “There has been so much happening over these last few days and now this.”
The man nodded with understanding.
“It has been a testing time for us all and so much more for you as Regent,” he agreed. “In eight generations nothing like this has been received by any Harkeran ruler. And yet now it is you, a widow, someone who has no blood-claim to the crown in your own right, who is being called upon to deal with a declaration of war.”
She knew he said it to show he felt it was unfair, not to suggest he had no faith in her ability and looked away from him, her eyes dropping demurely as if in agreement. He could not know that she had been trained from birth to deal with this day. She unfolded the vellum in her hands and read the text again.
His most excellent and puissant Highness, the Most Honoured Qabal Vyazin, Overlord of the Western Continent and protector of all the Free Cities of Temsevar, demanded the submission of his loyal vassal, the Lady Karlynne Roussal, Princess of the Realm of Harkera and all her family, together with all the Castellans and Vavasors of Harkera. She was required to present herself within one moon at the Overlord’s loyal city of Tabruth, together with all the nobles of Harkera, to make due submission to the Overlord and to affirm their loyalty and vassalage to him by blood-oath. In addition, she was required to bring with her in chains, the rebellious traitor Jariq Zarengor, who was known to be sheltering in Harkera under false pretences. She was also required to bring an appropriate bridal train and the Harkeran regalia of office and prepare herself for the honour of marriage with the Most Honoured Nariz Vyazin, Castellan of Telpus, the only son and sole heir of the Most Honoured Overlord…
“How old is Nariz?” she asked quietly.
“Four or five summers I believe – and is reportedly a sickly child. For all his potency as a warrior, Qabal has not proved so capable of fathering offspring – there are even rumours that the child is not his but was sired by one of his commanders.” Morvyn tactfully refrained from mentioning which one, but Jaelya had heard the same stories.
“A child of five and Karlynne more than twice his age.” With an angry gesture, she flung the vile letter down. In a matter of days her whole world had changed. Lynaz was taken and Tabruth, for all the Castellan had spoken fine words of resistance and alliance, had surrendered without a fight as soon as Vyazin’s army appeared on the horizon, whilst Kharzabad had accommodated before it was even threatened. Their reward was being allowed to keep power with client status to Qabal. The cities of the Tanist alliance were fighting amongst themselves and now Harkera stood alone.
For a moment Jaelya felt the weight of the burden upon her shoulders as something physical. What hope was there for Harkera against such power? But the image in her mind was of Karlynne, gently reared into the free-thinking, liberal Harkeran high-culture, alone and at the mercy of the harsh, barbaric court of Qabal Vyazin.
Morvyn might have read her thoughts.
“The wedding won’t happen. The Dewan will support you in refusing to allow it. I promise you that.” His voice dropped a little. “It will mean war of course, but we have expected that all along.”

E.M. Swift-Hook

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