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Less Youth, More Treachery

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“I’m too old for this,” Raoul groaned, twisting his upper body to try and make his rib pop. “Next time Jon asks for me, tell him I broke my leg.”

Kel smiled up at him from where she was squatting, building up their fire.

“You say that now, but once we get there, you’ll forget all about your sore bits. Think of the baths,” she suggested, standing up and stifling a wince as her right knee twinged.

In Kel’s opinion, the worst thing about aging was the accumulation of injuries and wear-and-tear from daily training. Luckily, the baths in Persopolis were fuelled by the hot springs that surrounded the city, which made the water hot enough to uncramp even the most kinked muscles.

The baths were so luxurious that the members of the Own regularly squabbled over who would go (and often made illicit deals that, as Own Commander, Kel officially didn’t know about.)

Though Kel’s relationship with the monarchs had improved over the years, especially as Thayet continued to push for reforms that made the stodgy old nobles apoplectic, she had still debated whether to accept this mission. Only once Shinko had come to her, admitting over tea that Roald was nervous about the transition period, about whether the Bazhir would accept a King who was not their Voice of the Tribes, had she accepted the mission.

Jonathan of Conté might have struggled to gain Kel’s trust, but she pledged her fealty to Roald without hesitation.

Kel was to be the emissary of the younger generation; she stood in for the monarchs-to-be. Raoul was here, pulled out of retirement and grumbling all the way, to represent Jon.

They settled down to their dinner, packed with care by the Palace cooks, eating in companionate silence. Kel appreciated Raoul’s ability to keep company without chattering; something she sorely missed in the crowded Own mess. She tried to divide her time evenly amongst the tables, favoring no one Ownsperson above another, but she faced vociferous challenge any time she tried to take supper in her quarters. The quiet of the dark wood, with only the rustle of their clothing and the gentle hiss of the fire to disturb it, was welcome.

“Do you think His Majesty is ready to let Roald rule?” she asked, once their bowls were empty, remnants soaked up with crusts of bread.

Raoul chuckled. “A little birdie told me that if he tries to interfere after the official succession date, he’ll suddenly have urgent business to the East that requires immediate attention.”

He yawned, then continued, “Honestly, I think he’s ready for a rest. Gods know I was, when you took over the Own. Though if Mithros is just, perhaps he’ll be forcibly hauled back into it, as revenge for all the times he’s dragged me out of my retirement.”

He broke into an enormous yawn, jaw creaking.

“Enough about them; I’m asleep on my feet.”

As they settled into their bedrolls, Raoul muttered sleepily, “If Roald tries this, I’ll tell the Princess about the time he soiled my rug while playing toy soldiers. If that won’t stop him…”

Kel smiled against her pillow. She had her own helping of stories to hold over their incumbent monarchs, if need be.