Ygritte made her way to the Palace. Before she did anything else, she needed to fix Thumin. He had been turned to stone helping her. She had to set it right.
So she sought out Robin Goodfellow.
It was as easy to slip into the palace as it had been to leave it. No one noticed her. She thought about mentioning it to the guards, pointing out their weak spots. But then that would limit her own means of moving about freely. She felt like she would need it in the coming days.
A commotion down the hall drew her attention, the sound of laughter and cheering. And then, above it all, the unmistakable laugh of Robin Goodfellow. Ygritte sighed, but headed in that direction.
A few of the off duty guards had cleared a space in their lounge. In the center of it, Robin was wrestling a large red ape. At least he was losing.
Across the hall, on the other side of the gathered crowd, Natasha and Baldir entered. She met Natasha’s eyes and nodded.
The ape suddenly turned into a fish, smacking Robin across the face, before turning into a very pissed off guard.
Ygritte cleared her throat.
The guards turned, still laughing and exchanging money. And then they realized who stood behind them. Almost as one, they kneeled.
Ygritte was sure she’d never get used to that.
Robin looked around, saw Ygritte standing to one side, and Natasha and Baldir to the other. Natasha pointed to her skin, which was still a shade of lavender that almost matched the purple accents on her armor. “Fix this.”
Ygritte shooed the guards away, then pulled the stone raven from her bag of holding. “And this.”
Robin looked between them, giggled a bit. “How did this happen?”
“Spell wilds, magic gone awry.”
“I don’t like being purple,” Natasha said.
Robin laughed again. “But it’s such a good color on you! Look, you almost match.”
Natasha glared. Robin laughed more. “How about stripes?” he asked.
Baldir stepped forward. He didn’t touch a weapon, but he didn’t need to. “Robin.”
The trickster sobered. “Alright, Alright.” He booped Natasha on the nose and the purple color faded from her face. “That’s one problem down.” He turned back to Ygritte.
She lifted Thumin’s stone body again. “Can you fix him?”
Robin hummed and turned his head this way and that. He licked his finger, and swiped it down the stone raven’s head, starting between the eyes and ending down the beak. Where he touched, feathers began to emerge. The raven shook off the stone and hopped from Ygritte’s arms, before landing on the floor and changing back to his Aetherial shape.
Thumin shook again. “That was…unpleasant.”
Ygritte nodded. “Are you ok? I’m so sorry.”
He shrugged. “I seem to be alright.”
Robin chuckled again. “Well, as your new king I expect you to get back to work.”
They all froze—Natasha, Baldir, Ygritte, Thumin—as if they had been struck.
“What?” Natasha asked.
“Oh,” Robin said. He twisted his hands, looked down at the floor. “Well, being as I’m the oldest, I believe it falls to me.”
“Why would anything be falling to you?” Natasha pressed.
“What have you heard since you’ve been back?”
Robin nodded, tapped his chin. “Well, the battle happened.”
Natasha and Ygritte exchanged glances. “And?” Natasha asked.
“Well, Oberon is missing. The battle happened, chaos, fire, the usual sort of battle things associated with battle. But, hm. Things got…weird? I’m not sure how to describe it.”
Ygritte sighed. She had wanted a full battle report when she had returned, and Robin’s ramblings were useless. “I’m going to find Wrath.”
One of the soldiers who had discreetly placed himself at the and of the hall stepped forward. “He’s in the war room. We’ll escort you.”
Ygritte bit back another sigh. She wondered how much trouble the guards had gotten in when she had slipped out the window. “Thank you.”
The guards led the group of them through the palace to the war room. More guards flanked the doors, and they hastily pulled them open and bowed their heads to Ygritte as she passed.
Wrath was in the center of the room, looking at a map and various reports from the field. Black Watch agents bustled around him, moving quickly from station to station.
Wrath turned his eye to them as they approached, nodded, and went back to his reports. “Do you want the full report or the highlights of what happened while you were off galavanting, your highness?”
Ygritte kept the smile on her face. “The highlights. We can do a full debrief in the morning while we also go over the mission that we accomplished.”
“That you weren’t supposed to be on.”
“What did we lose?”
Wrath sighed a rubbed his face. “A lot.”
“What happened to Oberon?” Natasha asked.
“Missing, presumed dead. The Aetherials took the hardest hit. Thunor, Sien, Vhindler, all gone. Magnus is missing.” He turned to Ygritte. “We found someone you wanted to see.”
Ygritte blinked. “What?”
“Daiseren. She’s in the dungeons. But she brought you something I think you’ll like. It’s in the throne room. Daiseren wanted to talk to you, and only you.”
Ygritte nodded and turned towards the door. “I want a full report in the morning.”
Wrath frown and snorted a little. “I’ll be there with bells on.”
They left the war room, and guards led them back to the throne room. Galon and Quarion caught up to them there. Quarion was no longer turning into a tree, and Galon’s head had returned to its normal size. She wondered if anyone had yet told him that she had died.
The guards shifted uncomfortably around the wizard. But they pulled open the doors and the group stepped inside. The smell of rotted meat greeted them.
In the the center of the room was a large cart, a bloodied tarp covering the contents inside. Galon pulled it away to reveal the head of a gold dragon that looked just like Kraseryth. But they had just seen him back at the mansion.
Baldir stepped forward and tapped the dragon with the butt of his axe. “That’s a dead dragon.”
Galon moved forward and began searching the head. First, he pulled away a stone, and Ygritte realized it was the communication stone that had belonged to Asa. And then Galon grabbed onto something that none them could see.
“Q,” he said. “Before I pull this thing out, what is it?”
Quarion stepped forward, waved his hands. And then recoiled, turning away. He knocked over a vase that had been against the wall, then straightened and leaned on it for support. “Don’t know.” He blinked his eyes rapidly.
Galon shrugged and pulled the thing away. The head instantly changed, the color fading from gold to red. And in Galon’s hand he now held the missing gem.
His eyes glazed over. Ygritte’s hand tightened on her weapons.
But then Galon blinked and looked down at the stone.
“Are you you?” Ygritte asked.
He nodded. “Think so.”
Ygritte looked at the head. Daiseren had sought out the beast that had killed Isobelle. And killed it.
Ygritte would talk to her in the morning.
She turned to her friends. “I don’t know about you guys. But it’s been a long day. I need to sleep”
She left them all still standing in the throne room, staring at the dragon head.
Guards were waiting for her outside the doors. They escorted her back to her rooms. Ygritte shut the doors behind her, grateful to finally be alone. The attention and scrutiny was getting to her, and she’d only been back in the palace for a few hours. What would her life become now?
She peeled off her armor, washed off the blood stains, and crawled in to bed. She tried not to think about what she had seen, what had happened to her. She thought again of what she had seen through the spyglass, of standing in front of Thanatotic in a field of bones. And then of what had happened in the white stone castle. Her memories were all jumbled up.
Forcing everything from her mind, Ygritte drifted to sleep.
She dreamed of cold laughter, swirling faces. An echoing voice calling her name. Two women all in black, so similar they were nearly identical. Except for their weapons. One held a pair of swords. The other had her own chained kama, like the one Ygritte had carried before she had taken the chain from the demon hound. Their faces were covered in identical white masks, lips painted in red the color of blood, the holes for the eyes ringed in black. She could see anything behind the eye holes. They felt familiar. Like a thought she knew she had but couldn’t quite bring to the surface. But they called out to her. And she thought she heard, very faintly, the sound of crying. But then she was bathed in a pool of blood, the women fading away in a cloud of black smoke.
And suddenly, she was sitting at a long wooden table, blood free and dressed in her armor. Most of her friends were gathered there. Galon, Vondarra, Quarion, Natasha, Baldir, Caroline. Even young Petrus was there. Sand was scattered around the room, but it was otherwise perfect.
At the head of the table sat a thin man dress all in black. His clothes wore finely tailored, his demeanor perfect and polished. Aside from his hair. A shock of black hair stuck out in every direction. It somehow humanized his otherworldly countenance. He sipped from a teacup, then placed it gently on the table. “Hello,” he said.
They all looked at each other. Finally, Pretrus cleared his throat. “Hi.”
“Would tea make you all feel more comfortable?”
Tea appeared on the table before them.
“Who are you?” Quarion asked.
The man smiled. “I believe you met my older brother, Death. I came shortly after him. You’re in my realm at the moment. Welcome to dream.”
They again exchanged looks. “I mean no disrespect,” Vondarra said. “But why are we here?”
The man took another sip of his tea. “Because I have a vested interest in what happens to the universe. Like my brother, I wish to offer aid and incentive where I can. My powers are…unique.”
Quarion made a noise. “It’s just magic.”
“And where do you think that magic comes from?”
Quarion beamed. “I draw it from the universe itself.”
The man nodded. “Yes, you do. Very good. And if the universe no longer exists?”
“No more magic?” Quarion frowned.
The man smiled, and a plate of cookies appeared in front of Quarion. “Similarly, I need the universe and it’s people to….keep being.” He placed his cup back on the table. “I cannot offer you anything as grand as my brother has. But I can offer you this: I can make it harder for things to enter your minds. A modicum of protection.”
“What about those we want in willingly?” Galon asked.
The man frowned. “Yes, I suppose, but why would you want to do that?”
“I lost my memories,” Galon said. He turned to Vondarra. “We’ve been working to get them back one piece at a time.”
“Would you like them all back now?”
“Very well,” and the man in black waved his hand. Immediately, Galon started to cry. Vondarra patted him on the shoulder and looked to the rest of them for help. They had never seen Galon or any of his other lives like this before.
The man in black steepled his fingers. “So, what will your answers be?”
One by one they went around the table, giving their answers. Ygritte thought about what it would mean. She had had her own head messed with, more times than she was probably fully aware of. Any amount of protection from that was something to be held on to tightly.
But she knew someone who that would mean even more to.
“May I accept for someone else?” she asked.
The man in black blinked. “I suppose, but who?”
The man in black frowned. “He does have troubled, turbulent dreams. And it would evict the people already in his mind. I’m not sure what that would do.”
Ygritte’s eyes widened. “What? Who’s in there?”
“Oh, hundreds of people.” The man in black waved her off. “I supposed I could visit him at another time. What about the answer for yourself?”
“Very well, then we’re settled. It won’t be impossible, but you will all be much harder to influence mentally.” He stood and waved his hands. “Now off with you.”
Ygritte awoke in her bed. For a moment the room felt like it was spinning. She sat up and grabbed the kama next to her bed. The weapon helped her feel less exposed.
Had that really happened? What had she agreed to on Buccarin’s behalf?
And then there was her dream. The two women had felt so familiar, but she didn’t remember them.
Ygritte pulled the Seer’s spyglass from her bag. Held it in her hands. The last time she had looked through the glass, she had seen the future. Or a possible future. She didn’t know.
This time she thought of the past. Of when Rose became Ygritte.
She saw herself in a dirty, burnt out room, snow drifting in the broken windows. A fire burned a small little tin. It did nothing against the cold. Her face was barely visible under the shadows of her large dark cloak. Her skin was pale and drawn.
She held her hands to the flames and tears dripped down her face, cutting clean tracks through the dirt and the grime. It was the last time she remembered crying because of anything other than pain. She’d lost so much.
She’d spent days looking, weeks. And nothing. If she kept looking, she could never go back. Then she would be hunted, too. She was out of money, out of food, out of options.
Being hunted would be the end of it. She would have no resources, nothing to draw on. She wouldn’t be able to do anymore good.
But she didn’t know if she could survive going back. Rose wouldn’t survive.
So she decided she would be someone else. Prove to the guild that she was someone else. Rose would be dead and buried, along with everything that had happened. She had been weak, and lost everything.
She wouldn’t be that person anymore.
Ygritte pulled the spyglass away from her eye. Took a deep breath. Slid the glass back into her bag.
But she didn’t have time to dwell. She could hear a cane tapping on the stone outside of her room. And then she remembered what today was. Her coronation.
There was so much to do.
But first, she had promised to see Daiseren.
She dressed quickly, pulling her armor over fresh clothes. Then strapped on her weapons.
Mikhil was waiting for her outside her door, along with two guards. She knew they were there for her safety. But she couldn’t help but think of them more like jailers. Or meatshields.
Before Mikhil could speak, she raised her hand. “I know. Empressy things. But first I need to go to the dungeons and see the prisoner waiting for me, and then I want a full, better report from Wrath.”
He quirked an eyebrow. “Very well, your highness.” He looked her up and down. “Is that what you’re wearing?”
She sighed. “Yes.”
“You have no taste. I’ll have the garments laid out for this evening. You will wear what I provide.”
Ygritte spent the walk down to the dungeons picking at her cloths, trying to smooth out the wrinkles, rub a little shine into the metal bits.
Inside of being brought in to the dungeons proper, Ygritte was lead to a chamber outside. The room was sparse, but clean and bright. The guards assured her that Daiseren would be brought in right away. They were sparing Ygritte the filth of the dungeons. She almost laughed. If they only knew what she had done and what she had been through.
True to their words, Ygritte was only waiting for a moment before Daiseren was brought in. The guards moved to the door, readying for action but trying to remain distant.
Daiseren dropped to her knees. “Your highness.”
Daiseren took the seat across from Ygritte. She looked worn, dirty, but unharmed. “Thank you, your highness.”
“You wanted to speak with me?”
“Yes. Did you see what I brought you?”
“Yes. Did you kill the dragon yourself?”
She shook her head. “I had help.”
“They asked to remain anonymous.”
Ygritte frowned, but nodded. She understood the need for anonymity, especially when it involved the secrets of others. But she didn’t have to like it. “Where did you find it?”
“Have you heard of a place called Knowhere?”
Ygritte nodded, remembering the guardians who had helped kill Garinch, and warned she, Asa, and Quarion from heading to Thannatotek’s fortress. She had a pretty good idea of who could have helped Daiseren kill the dragon.
Daiseren leaned back in the chair. “I fulfilled my duty as best I could. So I ask you. Empress. What will you do with me? You’re the only one who can pardon me.”
Ygritte regarded her, keeping her face neutral. Daiseren had failed in her duty. But Ygritte didn’t know what the girl could have done differently aside from die as well. “I will not reinstate you to the palace guard. The position has been filled. But I will pardon you of your crimes. I believe you had done everything within your power. You could not have known that a dragon was masquerading as Asa, a trusted figure. It was undetectable by magic. No one knew. I release you to Wrath’s services.”
Daiseren nodded. “Thank you, your highness.”
Ygritte looked to the guard. “Make sure she’s taken care of.”
The guard nodded. “Wrath is waiting for you. We can take you to him.”
Ygritte was once again lead through the palace by guard. This was already grating on her every nerve. Wrath was waiting for her in a side room. Breakfast was already spread out before them.
Ygritte sat in the chair across from him. “You don’t have to call me that.”
“Actually. I do.”
He shook his head. Muttered something about being too old for this. “So,” he said. “Should I give the full report, or do you want your….friends? Companions?”
“Friends is probably the right term.”
“Do you want them here for this?”
Ygritte nodded. “They should be at the mansion. I can ask for them—”
“You can summon them. You have people to do that.”
“Oh. Right. Then yes, if we could send someone to summon them.”
Wrath nodded to a guard at the door, and the woman quickly left the room. Then he pulled over a tray of food. “Might as well enjoy breakfast while you can.”
Ygritte nodded and took her own plate.
Soon they were joined by the others from the mansion. Quarion immediately helped himself to bacon.
Wrath looked around at all of them. “A lot has happened since you left,” he said. “Reports are still coming in, but best as we can figure out, this is what happened. Rossinar and Oberon attempted to parlay with the enemy forces. Onai met them. Oberon demanded to parlay with Thannatotek himself. And the bastard actually showed. We’re not sure what exactly was said, but the negotiations fell apart. The battle began shortly after Rossinar and Oberon returned to the wall.
“Reports are hazy about what happened next. Vhindler fell first. Then lady Sien and her wolf. Oberon was locked in battle with Onai. Thunor joined them, but was over run with dragons from behind. Oberon grabbed the hammer as Thunor fell, and threw it. We haven’t been able to recover it from the field. Oberon was able to slay dragonlord Onai.
“We were actually winning the day, though at heavy losses, when the titan took the field. The dead, ours and theirs, rose. They joined his side. Oberon faced him, but there was an explosion and a flash of blinding light. Oberon hasn’t been seen since.
“That’s when Magnus took the field. The fighting moved closer to the wall. In what we believe was a last ditch effort, Ashteron Magus fell from the sky. We believe it was aimed at the base of the wall. And the wall fell.”
Wrath turned to Vondarra. “I’m sorry for your loss,” he said. “But long live the Queen.”
Vondarra paled. “Have you recovered his body?”
“We have not.” He looked around at all of them. “Thanatotic was knocked from the sky. And when that happened, the infighting happened. The metallic dragons turned on the chromatic. It allowed us time to pull back from the field.”
“We had friends on the field,” Caroline asked. “Do you know if Rhodes and Gafferson survived?”
“They were both here in the city, during the battle. I heard both were displeased by that. We believe Ashteron Magus suffered losses at 60%. Talabod’s forces Losses of 50%. Rossinar was badly injured. So. Tell me. Was the distraction worth it?”
Asa nodded. “We recovered some of the orbs of dragonkind. The gold has been destroyed. We were unable to recover the red, green, black, and silver orbs.”
“Well, that’s something at least. Have you used them? What do they do?”
Ygritte felt the black orb in her bag like a weight.
Quarion cleared his throat. “We haven’t used them yet. But I can tell you everything about them. The orbs can be used to control their corresponding colored dragons. Each also has a special ability. They can make the bearer tougher, harder to hit, and fortify their mind some. But anyone who uses one becomes the enemy of dragonkind forever.”
“And they can only be destroyed by a dragon of that color,” Robin said.
He was suddenly sitting at the end of the table, as if he had been there for a long time. He began helping himself to some food.
“So what do we do now?” Galon asked
“Well, seeing as the lot of you seem to have the rest of the stones, I think Thanatotic will come here to get them.”
Ygritte shook her head. “We can’t let him near the city. There are too many civilians.”
Wrath nodded. “But his forces have the advantage in the open field.”
“So what do you propose?”
“We lure him to Winterbridge. The city is only partially rebuilt, and we can take to the surrounding mountains. It will be difficult for them to use flying to their advantage there.”
“You’ll need bait.”
“I thought we would make it seem like you were heading there.”
Ygritte nodded. “Seems like a good plan.”
Galon nodded. “I’ve got that covered.” He reached into his bag, pulled something out, and fiddled with a few things. Soon enough, he had a replica of Ygritte standing next to him at the table, a lifeless expression on her face.
The real Ygritte recoiled. “That thing is deeply unsettling.”
“But we can use it to seem like you.”
She nodded, and turned her head away, trying not to look at it.
Wrath turned to look at her. “There’s no way I can convince you to not be part of this fight, is there?”
Ygritte shook her head. “No.”
“Ygritte,” Asa said. “Could we talk?”
She nodded and looked back to Wrath.
Wrath frowned. “I guess I’m dismissed. Get ready for your coronation.”
Wrath left the room. Ygritte and Asa stood and moved to an Antechamber. Caroline followed behind them.
Ygritte had a brief flash of worry. She hadn’t been able to talk to Caroline since they had returned. Caroline hadn’t handle her near death experience well. She wondered how the other woman was doing now.
But they had so much to go over, so much to do. It would have to wait.
Asa shut the door behind them. “The orbs,” he said. “I wanted to talk to you before we did anything with the rest of them.”
Ygritte raised an eyebrow. “The rest of them?”
He nodded. “The gold has already been destroyed.”
She sighed and rubbed her temples. “Ok.”
“You heard what Quarion said. That anyone who uses them becomes the enemy of dragonkind forever. I don’t know if we should use them. And I think we should allow the metallic ones to be destroyed.”
Ygritte sighed, reached into her bag of holding, and pulled out the black orb. “I’m already using one.”
Asa took a step back. “The acid?”
“Since right before Isobelle died. It’s how I knew where the other orbs were. I can see through them with this, and communicate to whoever has the other orbs.”
“Well, maybe if you don’t try to control one, the other dragons will forgive you.”
“I don’t think it works that way.”
He nodded. “What do you want to do?”
Ygritte tapped her fingers along the orb’s surface. It was cold to the touch. “I’m ok with destroying the metallic orbs. There’s evidence that they turned on Thanatotic once free of his control. But we can’t say the same of the chromatic dragons.”
“Ok.” He turned to Caroline. “Which ones do you have?”
Caroline reached into her own bag and pulled out the brass and the blue orbs. “And Petrus has the bronze.”
“So we’re missing silver, red, and green.”
“I know where the silver and red are,” Ygritte said. “The silver one was under water, at the bottom of what looked like an ocean. The red is in Onai’s vaults. We didn’t search them when we rescued you.”
“You were too busy getting me out of there.”
“Hey,” Ygritte said, her voice sharp. “That is not your fault. And don’t you dare act like it. We made the choice.”
“But I screwed things up again. Just like I got you and Caroline killed.”
“Whatever, I’m fine now. And if that was anyone’s fault, it’s mine. I told you to touch the scales. You were listening to me. So drop it.”
Reluctantly, Asa nodded. “We’ll need to go back to to the vaults.”
“There’s something else,” Ygritte said. “The Silent King is a dragon. That’s who Kraseryth told us about when we rescued him. I think the real King is being held there.”
And then the horns sounded, marking the arrival of an official procession.
“Shit,” Ygritte said.
They made their way to the throne room. The cart with the dragon head had been removed. Ygritte took her place on the throne. Galon stood at his place to her right. She looked at the empty spot to her left and shook her head.
The doors opened, and the procession from Attilan entered. Immediately Ygritte could sense the presence of a black dragon, old and powerful. She looked over the procession. The silent king showed no outward sign of knowing she had the orb.
Pierro pulled Vondarra to the side, and the two conversed briefly in the corner.
Mikhil caught her eye from the back of the room and nodded. Ygritte took a deep breath and began the royal greeting, reciting the script as best she could. Inwardly she flinched whenever she stumbled. But Mikhil continued to smile and nod from the back of the room. Considering she had learned this three days ago, and had spent one of those days in the spell wilds, this wasn’t bad.
When she finished, Medusalith stepped forward. “Thank you for your hospitality. I am sorry at the unfortunate circumstances that lead here, but we all do what we must.”
Ygritte nodded. “And thank you for coming. Is there anything you need before the ceremony tonight?”
“Pierro was telling us how lovely the Palace and the gardens are. Perhaps a guide to show us around?”
Ygritte nodded. “I have just the person. Tyfaerd?”
The Keeper of arms stepped forward. “Yes, your highness?”
“Would you be so kind to show our guests around the palace and the surrounding grounds? Maybe give them some of the history?”
He practically glowed. “Why, I love giving history lessons.” And he turned back to Medusalith. “If you will follow me?” And he lead the procession from the room. They could hear his nasally voice carrying through the passages as he described the frescos in the entranceway.
Ygritte sighed in relief and sagged a little on the throne. The rest of court trickled out. Mikhil swung by the throne to offer praise and corrections. “You’ll do even better the next time. I’m a miracle worker.” He looked her over. “You should put on something nicer for the next one.” And he left the room.
Her friends joined her around the throne, as well as Pierro.
“We’re going to look for dad,” he said. “Who’s coming with me?”
“Wait,” Vondarra said. “We can’t go right now. There are things we need to do. But we will go,” she assured.
“We also need to go back to Onai’s vaults. The red orb is there, as well as a valuable prisoner.” And she told them all what she knew about Blackaggar.
Pierro looked back the way the Attilan’s had left. “My Fiance is with them.”
“One of the many reasons that problem should be at the top of our list.” She looked around at them. “I think we should leave immediately. We need to be back before the coronation.”
Galon made the simulacron appear again. “Worse comes to worse, this can stand in for you.”
“I hate that thing.”
“Wait,” Asa said. “You don’t need to go. We don’t need to go. We can ask our dragon friends at the mansion. I believe they will do it if we give them the other metallic orbs.”
Ygritte nodded. “Will you go talk to them?”
“Yes. And I think Vondarra could help.”
The two of them left, Caroline and Petrus following, bringing their own orbs with them.
No sooner than they had gone, the horns sounded again.
Ygritte sighed. “Today is going to suck.”
Galon ducked outside. “Looks like the giants,” he said, when he returned.
Ygritte brightened. “At least I like them.”
Her friends returned just as the giants were arriving. “They’re on their way,” Vondarra said.
Ygritte nodded. It was the best she could ask for.
She repeated the pomp and circumstance of the royal reception, thought the giants made it a much less formal affair. Mikhil continued to pat himself on the back.
They ended the reception with lunch, the Attilans returning from their tour of the gardens, Tyfeard still droning on about the history of the palace and the the pedigree of the gardeners. Galon stayed to her right side, constantly scanning for threats. Which meant Ygritte was supposed to concentrate on the people in front of her.
Caroline plopped into the chair next to Ygritte’s. “What should I wear tonight?”
Ygritte startled. “What?”
“What should I wear to your coronation? Atwood criticized my clothes. And the Mikhil guy who has been bossing you around. And even Asa. Do I wear a uniform or a dress?”
“I don’t care. Wear what you’re most comfortable in.”
“Pants, got it.”
The horns sounded again. Ygritte braced for impact.
A few moments later, a new entourage entered the dining room. Ygritte recognized Romarrus, and Sulerin on his arm. They approached her end of the table. Caroline stood from her seat.
Ygritte inclined her head to Romarrus. “Your highness.”
He nodded in turn. Smirked a little. “Your highness.”
“Thank you for coming.”
He turned to Sulerin. “Your emissary was quite convincing. I see you have let the enemy through the walls.”
“We did not do so willingly. And It was at great cost.”
“Sulerin says you seek aid.”
“I believe we are all in danger from the titan. It would be wise to pool our resources and fight together.”
“What do you ask of me?”
“Anything you are willing to give us.”
He thought for a moment. Tapped his chin. “Troops? Mages?”
“Our mage forces were hit the hardest. If you could send mages, it would be greatly appreciated.”
He nodded. “I would not see them used as cannon fodder.”
“Of course. I do not wish to send anyone to needless deaths.”
“I would lead them.”
“As is only fair.”
He nodded again. “Then we are in agreement.” He grabbed a goblet from the table and held it out until one of the servants poured wine in it. “We drink.”
Ygritte raised her own glass and clinked it against his. “To alliances.”
They drank. And Romarrus made his way down the table, talking to the other dignitaries.
But then Mikhal crossed the room and pulled Ygritte’s glass from her hand. “You should start getting ready now.” He placed her goblet back on the table.
“One more thing to do first.”
She followed Galon, Natasha, Robin, and Baldir down to the dungeons. Lohir was being kept in a private cell. Aside from the fact that he couldn’t leave, it looked like a rather nice room.
Lohir looked up at their arrival. “To what do I owe the honor?”
Galon stepped forward when none of the others seemed inclined to talk. He told him how Oberon fell. Thunor, Syen, Vhindler. All gone.
Lohir just laughed. “They’re gods, you idiots. They’re not gone.”
Ygritte sighed. They would be getting nothing useful out of Lohir.
Mikhil was waiting for them outside of the dungeons. He grabbed Ygritte’s arm and rushed her back to her rooms.
The next hour was miserable. She was bathed, poked, prodded. Her hair was teased. She regretted picking women like Elsabeth Broadoak and Felixa Hardi as her ladies in waiting. Pulling from the guild recruits meant they weren’t as afraid of Ygritte as they would have otherwise been. And they were more scared of Pippa Potter, the lady of the chamber. Elsabeth Betty Von Himmel stood towards the back. Handing others things when they demanded. At least she was still scared of Ygritte.
A knock came from the door. Ygritte grasped at it as means for, if not escape, distraction.
“Betty,” Ygritte said. “Go get that.” Nenyana pulled a chunk of Ygritte’s hair painfully back. Ygritte swore.
Caroline walked in, passing Galon stationed on the outside of the door, and seemed surprised to see the ladies in waiting and Pippa directing all of them.
“Uh…” Caroline said. “Could we talk?”
Ygritte nodded, and winced as Nenyana pulled her hair again. “Sure.”
Caroline looked over at Betty. “Are you sure?”
Ygritte understood. “Betty,” she called. “Could you please take the jewels to Mikhil to get polished. He’ll be disappointed if they don’t shine.”
Betty nodded and left the room. Ygritte trusted the rest of the woman there. At least as much as she could.
Caroline watched the door shut. “Are you sure you’re ok with me wearing my uniform?”
“Yeah, of course. Wear what you would like.”
Caroline nodded. “Ok.” She looked again at the other women in the room. “So, is Buccarin coming?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you think he will?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why wouldn’t he?”
“I don’t like to ask him to do things. It feels too much like a command and he’s had enough of that for a lifetime. I won’t do that to him.”
Caroline nodded. “Ok. So. I know this is a tricky topic. But I know you’re getting pressured to marry. So. I make the offer to marry you. I can be your beard. I have a title. It’s perfect.”
Ygritte smiled in spite of herself. “Thank you, Caroline. But I don’t think it’s just the marriage part people are complaining about.”
“Offer stands. I will be your beard. I won’t mind if you cheat on me.”
“You’re a good friend.”
Mikhil burst back in the room with the crown. “Remember, when this goes on your head, you are the crown. Be the crown.” He looked at Caroline. “Is that what you’re wearing?”
Caroline took that moment to escape as quickly as possible.
Ygritte was shoved into a blue dress that took 3 people to button and lace. The trim was silver, in spider web pattern. And the buttons were gold and shaped like roses. A blue velvet cape line with silver fur was draped over her shoulders. Her hair was brushed until it shown.
Mikhil took a step back and nodded in approval. “Damn, I’m good.”
“I’ll take it that I’m not a shit show.”
“Until you open your mouth.”
Ygritte shook her head, and began hiding her weapons where ever she could fit them.
Mikhil cleared his throat. “You don’t need those. You are surrounded by weapons.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder towards the door. “I believe the wolf is armed to the teeth.”
“And what good will that do me if we’re separated.”
He shook his head and muttered something about overkill, but left the room. Ygritte bundled up her armor and handed it the Elsabeth. “Could you please place these behind the throne, discreetly?”
Elsabeth nodded. “You got it.”
Ygritte took a deep breath, though it was hard to do in the dress, and looked at herself in the mirror. She didn’t even look like herself. But maybe she looked a little bit like Rose.
They walked out into the hallway and Galon straightened a little. “You look nice,” he said.
Ygritte smiled a little, self conscience. Thousands of people would be seeing her real face. The thought made her skin crawl. “Thank you. I have a very important job for you.”
She pulled a small silver flask from the dress and took a swig. Then handed it to Galon. “Keep this thing handy.”
He laughed. “As ordered.”
And then Mikhil whisked them down the hallway and to the throne room. Mikhil turned to her just before the doors opened. “Remember to smile. Smilers wear the crown.”
Ygritte plastered a smile across her face and stepped through the doors. She sought out the friendly faces of her companions as she walked the long expanse up to the throne.
Natasha was sitting with Baldir, Robin and Thumin, towards the middle of the room. Asa, Quarion, Irec, Visionaire and Petrus sat together near the front and to the left. Galon stayed to Ygritte’s right and Caroline took her place amongst the military. Vondarra looked momentarily torn on where to sit, but took her place with the other members of the royal court.
The ceremony began. Ygritte recited the rites as she had been taught. Reading the lineages and the titles. She knelt when she was supposed. Did the motions as need. All the while scanning the crowd. She knew Galon was doing the same, and she spotted Rucewyn towards the back of the room, also looking out for danger.
She finished the final recitation, and the crown was placed atop her head. She could see Mikhil in the back of the room, mouth words. Though he was too far away, she was sure they were ‘wear the crown, be the crown.’
Ygritte stood, and became empress of Himmelveil.
The procession lead out of the throne room and through the palace. Galon handed her the flask and she took another surreptitious sip.
“You did good, kid,” he said.
She nodded, and continued to smile and wave as they left the courtyard of the palace and entered the city.
She could see Galon tense as they walked out into the open. Ygritte scanned the rooftops, too, though she wasn’t looking for danger.
Eventually, the procession returned to the palace, and the party began. Galon handed the flask over for another quick shot.
“Thanks,” she said.
Music began to play. People began to dance. People walked up to Ygritte to congratulate her. It all became a blur. Eventually she found herself free of people, and she took a moment to breath. Galon had drifted away from her, but she could still see him through the crowd.
She spotted Petrus on the other side of the room, looking alone and out of place. Ygritte made her way to him.
“Hey,” she said.
He startled when he realized who was talking to him. “Um, hi.”
“Do you want to dance?”
He looked passed her to where Galon was standing in the crowd. “I think he’ll kill me.”
“I’m the empress, this is an order, shut up and dance with with me.”
He smiled a bit. “Thank you.”
Ygritte frowned. “Is that smoke coming out of your ears?”
He tapped at the sides of his head. “Oh, yeah, I guess it is.” But then he shrugged.
Petrus wasn’t a bad dancer. Ygritte actually had fun. But then she saw Kortara approaching Asa, and was suddenly hit with the fact that the last time they had dance, Asa had not been Asa. And Kortara didn’t know.
“Sorry, Petrus, got to go!” She rushed across the room. Distantly she saw Vondarra and Caroline also on the move, the three of them all attempting to avert disaster.
She was just in time to hear Asa go “I’m sorry, who are you?” and see the hope fall from Kortara’s face. Caroline and Vondarra whisked Kortara away, and Ygritte cornered Asa.
“Did I do something wrong?” He asked.
“Not intentionally,” she said. “We tried to set you up with her when you weren’t you.”
“Not your fault,” she said quickly. “But I think you should meet her officially. Because we do still think the two of you would hit it off.”
Asa rubbed the back of his head. “I don’t know…”
“Just give it a shot.”
Asa swallowed and turned towards where Caroline and Vondarra were talking to Kortara, and marched off like he was facing a battle. Ygritte sighed. At least he was dancing.
Across the hall, Ygritte saw Irec dancing with Betty. That might be a problem she’d have to deal with later. Quarion was regaling a crowd with tales of his heroics. She could see the cloud of glitter dust from here, and made a mental note to avoid that section of the room.
And then she felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned and almost did a double take.
Buccarin stood in front her. His hair was washed and combed back from his face. He’d shaved. He was wearing clothes that actually fit him. They were finely tailored and looked like something to fit in in one of the noble districts. And he was no longer glowing orange.
He almost looked like he used to, before the incident.
“Wow,” he said. “Blue looks good on you.”
Ygritte smiled. Possibly her first real one all day. “Where did you get a suit last minute?”
He shrugged, pulled at the hem a little bit. “Just something I had, lying around.”
Which was a lie, but she’d let it slide. “Thank you for coming.”
He held out his hand to her, and Ygritte took it. This was the first time they danced together in over six years.
The music switched to something slow, and Ygritte stopped thinking for a little bit. She had other people to watch her back right now. She would enjoy the moment for a change.
The song ended, but they kept dancing. Until she saw Vondarra and Asa standing together on the other side of the room, gesturing towards her. Ygritte led Buccaring over to them.
“Our friends our back,” Asa said.
Ygritte nodded. “If they have the captive with them, bring him back. Let me know you’re on your way back. We’ll try to do this away from civilians.”
Asa and Vondarra took off towards the mansion.
“Trouble?” Buccarin asked.
Ygritte nodded. “Isn’t there always?” She tugged his hand back towards the dance floor. “Let’s at least enjoy this before all hell breaks loose.”
They danced through a few more songs before Visionaire approached them.
“Excuse me your highness. Have you seen where the lady Vondarra went?”
“She went back to the mansion with Asa.”
“Not like that! I sent them on an errand.”
He cheered a little. “Then I shall meet them there.” He floated from the room and off towards the mansion.
“Since when did I become in charge of other people’s love lives?” she asked.
Buccarin shrugged. “Aren’t you incharge of everything now.”
Asa’s voice crackled through the stone. “Ygritte, we’re on the way back to the palace with our missing friend.”
“When you get here, send him to the throne room. Then we need to wrangle the fake in, preferably alone.”
“I’m on it,” Vondarra said.
She turned to Buccarin. “Can you help me gather the others. We’re luring a dragon to the throne room”
He laughed. “Never a dull moment.” He squeezed her hand as they parted.
Ygritte caught Galon’s eye and he followed her out while Buccarin rounded up the team.
The throne room was thankfully empty when they arrived. Ygritte’s armor was stashed behind the throne just as she had asked of Elsabeth.
“Galon, I will never say these words to you again, but I need you to cut me out of this dress.”
She kicked her armor. “Need out of this. Need to get into that.”
He motioned over his shoulder. “I can go get your boy back.”
She clapped her hands in front of him. “Focus. Luring dragon here. Need armor. No time for anything else. Dragon imminent.”
Galon sobered and nodded. He cut through the laces on the back of the dress. It was much easier to get out of when she didn’t care about ruining it. Ygritte was just strapping on the last of her weapons when the others started trickingling in. Asa arrived with the real Blackaggar. He looked worn, tired, starved. And pissed off.
And then Vondarra, Pierro, and Krystal entered with the imposter. The black dragon.
The dragon wearing Blackager’s face smiled. “If this is how you want to play it, little girl, so be it.”