2.1 – Parvulus I
“Tell me something, Goldtongue.”
“Of course, Your Majesty. Would you like me to tell you something in particular, or do you simply miss the sound of my voice? I’m quite capable of babbling on without cease, but I was under the impression that particular skill annoyed you.”
In spite of himself, King Thesslenareo smiled. “No one can be quite so glib as a Rhetor,” he said wryly. “I would like you to tell me, specifically, how many years you’ve been in my service.”
“I have served Italoza since the day I was born, Majesty; so one might say that I have been in your service for my entire life.” The King gave him a look, and Goldtongue raised his hands in mock surrender, “I’m sorry for being glib when you’re trying to craft a narrative. I’ve served you for twenty-six years.”
“And how many times have you gone above and beyond your duties? How many favors have you won from your king?”
“There are some who would say that counting favors owed to you by a king is a dangerous business, majesty.”
“Honestly, Tongue, I’m trying to make a point here, must you be so pedantic?”
“More favors than I can count, Majesty,” Goldtongue sighed.
“Yes, well, I think the entire countless pile of them is squared, as of this morning. That I’m even considering this meeting makes me question my sanity.”
“I’m happy to consider them repaid, majesty. Setting up this meeting will make for an admirable first favor to start a new countless pile.”
“What happened to not being glib?”
“I’m a Rhetor, Majesty, I don’t think I’m capable of not being glib.”
“At least you’re honest.”
The two men chuckled, the easy good humor of two who had worked side by side over decades, as King Thesslenareo glanced out at the city that spread out beneath them. A light rain was falling, but the balcony was protected by an overhang, leaving him with only the beautiful sight and the vague scent of rain on stone.
The responsibilities of the crown didn’t make Florezia any less beautiful, but the beauty of the city was often a good reminder of what exactly that crown meant. He didn’t understand how anyone could look down on that breathtaking city through the rain and believe that they were somehow above it all, and he found several of his ancestors difficult to related to because of it. What good was power if the people of Italoza had to pay for his use of it?
“Majesty?” one of his attendants broke through the King’s reverie, “you said to inform you when the stonemason arrived. He is here with his family, Sire.”
“Send them all in, and the translator as well.” King Thesslenareo gave Goldtongue a dark look as the attendant scurried away. “A countless pile of favors, Tongue. I hope it’s worth it.” His advisor clasped his hands behind his back and turned back to the view, not responding. “A silent Rhetor, I’ve seen it all.”
“Your Majesty, may I present Diego Nelleda, stonecrafter, his wife Isabel, and their daughter Mia.”
King Thesslenareo turned to appraise the family. Diego was tall and handsome, his wife thin, their daughter a little wisp of a thing, but they shared their raven hair, dark-tanned skin, and bright eyes. Diego clutched his hat and shifted his weight from one foot to another, his wife stood still and stiff as a statue, and his daughter hid behind the woman’s skirts; it was clear they were all terrified.
“Hello Master Nelleda. I’m glad that you were able to make your way to my court.” King Thesslenareo said. He waited patiently as the translator conveyed his welcome to the family, and Diego replied in Espanan, haltingly and with a stammer.
“Diego thanks you for your welcome, but he says he does not know why he is here. He says he is sure you have stonecrafters more skilled than he,” the translator said quietly.
“We have wonderful stonecrafters here in Italoza, it is true, but I assure you, Master Nelleda that none of them can provide exactly what you can,” the King smiled, “your experience in the Espanan methods of stonework, your grand reputation…suffice it to say, I’m quite glad you agreed to relocate your family to work with us.”
He approached to shake Diego’s hand, smiling genially and reading the man carefully. Nelleda looked confused but hesitantly pleased as the translator conveyed the words, his wife even more mollified. Thesslenareo paused, trying to think of a way to put the man even more at ease. “Hello there little Miss Nellada,” he said, crouching down to be at eye level with the child. To his side his attendant stiffened at the sight of the King getting down on one knee, but Thesslenareo brushed the thought aside; this was more important. “Do you know who I am, child?”
When the translator passed on his question, the girl looked up at her mother, as if too frightened to speak without permission.
“Contestarle, pequeña,” Isabel gave her daughter a little push to move her out from behind her skirt.
“Usted…usted…” the little girl stammered, her green eyes wide as saucers, “usted es el rey de Italoza?”
“She says you are the king of-” the translator began.
“Yes, I understood, thank you,” King Thesslenareo rose and turned back to the railing. “Well, Master Nelleda, I’m sure you’re eager to move your family into your new home, I won’t keep you here any longer. Before you depart…we happen to be quite close to the new wing of the palace. Perhaps you and your family would like to take a look at it, to see where you will be working for the next few years? My advisor could show you around.”
“He says he would love to see it, but doesn’t know if a half-finished wing is safe for his child to walk around in,” the translator said after a small exchange.
“You may leave the girl here with me on the balcony,” King Thesslenareo said, “she can look out at the city, and when you’re done you can pick her up.”
Goldtongue ushered Diego and Isabel out the way they came, tailed by the translator and jabbering the entire way. After her parents left, the little girl was so silent that it seemed as if she was holding her breath, which suited Thesslenareo for the moment. He turned back to the view of the city he had been enjoying before the interruption, watching the tiny trail of people the size of pinpricks wend their way through the streets.
After a few moments the King glanced to his side to see the girl creeping up to the railings herself, her tiny fingers gripping the edge as she looked down at the city below. The King of Italoza and the Espanan stonecutter’s daughter stood side by side, taking in the sight in silence for long minutes.
“Do you know who I am, child?” King Thesslenareo asked again without looking at the girl.
“I think I have an idea, your majesty, although I don’t know if I should say it aloud,” the child answered, without a trace of accent.
“A little girl could get in trouble, keeping secrets from her new king.”
“A little girl could get in trouble by offending her new king just as easily.”
“Let us pretend for a moment that I am not so easily offended.”
“Then I would answer that you’re a bit of an enigma, your majesty. You’re known as a good man, but I don’t think that’s true. I think you’re a very frightened man.”
“Do I strike you as being frightened right now?” The situation was too ludicrous to be offensive, having this conversation with a child of six years, but something about her grave little frown and furrowed brow kept King Thesslenareo from finding it funny.
“A frightened man couldn’t stay King for long if he wasn’t also an excellent actor. I would be foolish if I expected you to seem frightened.”
“Then what exactly makes you believe I am a frightened man, rather than a good man?”
“A good man doesn’t worry so much about his reputation as a good man. But I know that you’re clever, Majesty, and a clever man would be frightened in your position. Through no fault of your own you happened to be King in a time of turmoil like the world has never seen. No matter your other legacies, in the histories you’ll be known as the first King in a new preternatural world. The first King over a Stormtouched Italoza, and the first mortalis King at that.”
King Thesslenareo let the child speak, looking down at the city below.
“Peasants have become warriors that surpass your highest trained generals. Political enemies have cropped up overnight, enemies whose words are able to sway the people like never before. The artisans in your court, most of them, are only the highest of nobility because they are in your court; their art is no longer the best in Italoza like it used to be.”
“What a rosy and merry child you are,” King Thesslenareo sighed.
“I find very little to be gained by pretending reality is what it isn’t, Majesty.”
“I can’t that anything you’ve said is untrue, although perhaps I might’ve put a more positive spin on some things.”
“That is a part of your role, as King of Italoza.”
“Tell me, if you were in this role, how exactly would you combat this dilemma?”
“Luckily for me, I am not King. I’m just the little girl of a foreign nobody.”
“Indulge me. As a mental exercise.”
The child’s eyes were so naturally wide, it made her seem younger than she actually was when she turned to him.
“I said you were a clever man, majesty; you’ve already done what I would do. You’re a mortalis, so you’ve started gathering the most powerful Stormtouched around you. You know the power of intelligence, so you gather the most clever.”
“How do you know I’ve been gathering Stormtouched?”
“Your bodyguard didn’t bother checking my family for weapons; too overconfident for a mortalis bodyguard. Your translator doesn’t speak Espanan very well; too under-competent to be in your court if that was all he could do. Tour advisor is called Goldtongue, even a normal six-year-old could pick up on that hint. Besides, I hardly think it was coincidence that brought me here, having this discussion with you, any more than I think an Italozan King happened to hear about a stoneworker foreman’s reputation from two countries away.”
King Thesslenareo smirked. Despite his reservations, he was growing to like the little girl.
“You said I was a frightened man. Why would a frightened Mortalis surround himself with people of such power? Wouldn’t I be worried about the loyalty of all of these powerful Stormtouched around me?”
“Majesty, there are a million ways to gain someone’s loyalty, and with no disrespect, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn you had used all of them. Blackmail, bribery, the army, the church…Capitalizing on someone’s patriotism, or giving them honors and station that they are unused to. Perhaps importing someone away from their home to a place where she knows no one, employing her father far beyond his abilities. Making the court all she knows, the vague unspoken threat of harm to her and her family hanging over her head.”
“I’m going to have to swallow my pride and commend Goldtongue,” Thesslenareo said, “he didn’t exaggerate about you. I would prefer, of course, to have a more friendly relationship with you than one of threats, unspoken or not.”
“So I am to be a part of your court then? Perhaps a secret for some years, until I’m old enough to be at your side in my own right?”
“That was the general idea, yes. The story will be that I take a paternal interest in you and take you under my wing, and we’ll find some way to involve you in Council meetings and the like without your parents finding out…and without broadcasting to the world that the King takes advice from a child.”
“Besides, you don’t want it known what a resource this child is.”
King Thesslenareo hid another smile behind his hand. However else her mind might’ve developed, she certainly still had a child’s frankness. He would be worried about her ability to survive in the court’s dangerous atmosphere of intrigue, but he got the feeling that she would catch on quickly enough.
“What type of Storm is it, exactly, that makes you this way?” he asked, “Rhetor, Calaetor, Faber, Artifex, Lanisti…you don’t seem to fall in any of the categories we know. Do I have to worry about Stormtouched masterminds now as well?”
“That’s a question I’ve asked myself for some time now, Majesty. I don’t think there are any others like me.”
“You sound unsure.”
“I am unsure of a lot of things about the Storm. I think we-” the child stopped talking suddenly, staring out at the city in silence. After a few moments the door behind them creaked as the attendant entered.
“Your majesty, the Nelladas have concluded their tour and are ready to depart,” the attendant said quietly.
“I’ll send their daughter out to them in a moment,” the King said, and the attendant respectfully retreated. “It was a pleasure to meet you Mia.”
“My parents will probably wonder, if you call me by my given name. It’s not very appropriate, given our relative positions.”
“I see. Yes, a King speaking to a child like an equal will probably raise eyebrows. What should I call you, then?”
“Something offhandedly affectionate, vaguely condescending. ‘Pequeña’, perhaps? My uncle sometimes calls me that.”
“Is that Espanan? It wouldn’t make sense for me to give you an Espanan name.”
“Use the Italozan translation then. You can call me ‘Little One’.”
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