“The Wolves of Evanheir: Pt 5—Return of the King”
Queen Asthore returned to find the palace in an uproar. Everyone from her chambermaids to her most trusted advisors seemed ready to lock her in her rooms!
“What is all the fuss, Enid?” she asked of her former nursemaid as she changed out of her hunting clothes. “It’s not like this is the first time I’ve been into the mountains by myself!”
“My lady,” exclaimed the flustered old woman, “you gave us a fright when you weren’t here this morning! It took that oaf of a stableman until well after breakfast to realize no one but he knew what had happened to you! I thought the Lord Chamberlain Gervase was going to have his head on a pike for keeping a secret that the poor man didn’t even know he knew!”
“Now that can’t be all of it,” demanded Asthore. “What has happened that they’re not telling me yet?”
“It’s not my place, Lady!” stammered the good woman. “Gervase told us to keep mum until he could see you.”
“Come now, Enid, give me the straight truth that will be tortured in politics when I hear it from him.”
In a fearful voice just above a whisper, never looking Asthore in the eyes, Enid confided in the queen she had raised as her own daughter. “Dear girl, they say the king has returned and demands his throne and his queen!”
Asthore felt her knees go weak, and for some reason the walls seemed to swirl. She heard the old woman gasp, and the next thing she knew, she was lying on the cold marble floor with her head in Enid’s lap. “The king? Anwir is here? Why? How?”
“I’m sorry, my lady. You will have to see the Lord Chamberlain. I do not know.”
“Now, up with you. We need to make a queen of you again.”
“Oh, Enid. This is not a day for such news. I need to rest, not deal with insurrection!”
“Calm yourself! You must keep your wits. You are not the same woman he left with two small children and a kingdom to govern! Remember, you are Queen Asthore and your people depend upon you!” After years of caring for her young charge and watching her grow from a strong-headed child with skinned knees to an iron-willed but soft-hearted monarch, Enid lapsed briefly into her role of governess, but caught herself with an embarrassed smile. “Forgive me. I am out of line!”
“No, thank you, my old friend. It is the best reminder. I depend on your forthrightness. All right. Please have the girls draw a bath for me and let’s find something fit for the me to wear.”
“Now that’s my queen! What do you think of the emerald velvet? It goes so well with that flaming head of hair and matches your eyes.”
“That will do, yes. And I want the wolf’s head necklace today, I think. I am going to need every talisman of strength I can find.” Asthore’s thoughts went then to Llyr and hoped her new friend was healing and safe. A smile came to her lips when she felt Aod’s wry humor and caught his response to her involuntary query.
“Miss us so soon, my queen?” came the wolf’s thoughts. “All is well here, thanks to you. Father sleeps and grows stronger by the hour. We have heard the arriving troop and felt your concern. Are you well?”
The queen glanced at Enid, giving orders to the serving girls, and turning to the window, murmured, “It may be a challenging afternoon, but I am most concerned with Llyr and the pack. I don’t know when I will be able to return to the mountain. Be safe.”
Enid interrupted the “conversation” and Asthore barely caught Aod’s farewell, “And you, my queen.”
With that the ladies prepared to meet the challenges of the day, for Anwir had come from out of the east with a large, rather menacing retinue, appearing as if by magic at the end of the valley and marching to the palace with flags flying at about the same time Asthore was drawing the arrow from Llyr’s chest. She knew visitors had arrived when she stabled Ivy, but had no idea of the importance of this sudden chaos.
She had dressed and was finishing an early afternoon meal, her first of the day, when she received word that her Lord Chamberlain was insisting on seeing her. Asthore knew the wait had been a torture for Gervase, and she felt sorry for her trusted advisor.
“Gervase, I am sorry for keeping you so long. Thank you for giving me time to gather myself and prepare for the afternoon. I have heard the news, or some of it. What else can you tell me?”
“Ah, that Enid. The woman could never keep a secret from you.”
“Now, now. It’s not as if I couldn’t tell someone important had suddenly arrived at the gates. But Anwir! Gervase, what is going on?”
“I am not sure I know it all yet, my lady, but your husband has returned, and not from the dead, it would seem. On the bald face of it, he demands his queen and his kingdom! Fortunately the Captain of the Guards was awake when the king’s retinue came cantering up the pike and was able to call the entire force of the palace guards to arms and station. Although outwardly this has been handled with diplomacy, I fear that the king would resort to force if he were not obviously outnumbered.”
“We shall see about that!” exclaimed Asthore, her color rising. She had suspected trouble, of course, the moment she knew the identity of this visiting “prince.”
“Gervase, speak with the council privately. Determine their individual opinions, although I think I know them all well enough to know they will be my friends in this, and convey to them my strong resolve to remain the ruling queen of Evanheir. Anwir gave up his throne of his own volition when he left on his fool’s errand twenty years ago. Nothing here is his except children he neglected.”
“I have already spoken with most of your counselors,” admitted the Lord Chamberlain. “They are as you say, and hoped this would be your response. I am, however, fearful that Anwir has the intention of seizing power by force if necessary. The Guard is in the palace and outnumbers the party Anwir has with him, but we have no way of knowing what other for forces might be gathering. The army is on maneuvers in the southern mountains and it will take four days, at least, to get word to the generals and get our forces back to defend the city if necessary.”
“Send word to the generals. I think I can discover if we are facing a larger foe. No, don’t ask. Now, let’s go meet this fool that has returned to plague us.”
“He is cooling his heels in the audience chambers, waiting on your pleasure, my queen,” Gervase said with a grin. “I will send word to the south and meet you there.” With that he bowed and hurried out.
Asthore frowned, her green eyes flashing with anger at this intrusion and concern for her people. Then with a look of fierce determination, she turned back to the windows, opened them to her balcony, and stepping out, whispered to the wind, “Aod, hear me! I need my pack!”
Immediately she sensed the white wolf’s presence, but her plea had been so forceful, that she felt, too, the minds of several others, including Llyr, who spoke to her.
“We are here, Asthore. There is trouble in Evanheir, we can feel it in your mind and in the air itself. How may we help you?”
“Llyr! Forgive me for disturbing your healing! I don’t know how to control this new method of speaking. How are you faring?”
“Thanks to you, I am already stronger. We tend to heal more quickly than others, but my children and friends are also keeping me from getting too active.” She knew he was chafing at the confinement, and his vigor so soon after being so grievously wounded astounded her.
“I would like to see how you are. The energy I feel already from you is astonishing, but you have to take your time. The wound was severe and too close to your brave heart, my friend!”
“I am well, Asthore. What of your situation?”
She filled him in briefly on Anwir’s return; then said, “We have no way of knowing if a greater force is gathering at the borders or even in the hidden valleys of Evanheir. Although we have had no trouble with any of the other Twelve Kingdoms, Anwir has gained a following somewhere. I need eyes, scouts to look for trouble so that I can be prepared for it.”
“I will send my pack to all the wolves of Evanheir, and we will see what we can find. We should be able to scour the kingdom before the next day breaks. Call to me if you have any other need.”
“Thank you, Llyr, King in the Mountains. I will let you know what my former husband has to say and look forward to hearing what you discover. Take care of yourself.”
“We are yours, Queen Asthore.”
With that assurance, she went to meet the man who had left her so long ago.
* * * * * *
“The Wolves of Evanheir: Pt 6—Liar King”
The throne upon which Queen Asthore sat was the only chair in the room. More significantly, perhaps, it was the only throne in the room. Drawn up in regal majesty, the crown of Evanheir sparkling in her blazing hair, the Queen coolly regarded the man she had not seen in two decades as he seemed all but to slither toward her. She could tell that he was not happy, and she could not have cared less.
Anwir had courted the young Asthore, flattering her by his interest—a king, though only twenty-four, who could not seem to spend enough time with the coltish maid almost ten years his junior. Her parents, too, were wooed, she thought now. Although they were in the royal lineage, they were far removed and had been simply part of the court, her father holding minor office, her mother once a confidante of the old queen. Anwir had become king when his parents had both perished at sea when their ship had gone down in a storm with all hands. He had become king at only ten, and had bristled under the guidance of the Council of Regents until his majority. Then he had been an indifferent if not simply bad ruler who did nothing but indulge his fancies. The one piece of advice he seemed to heed from his council was that he needed to marry. Why he chose Asthore was a question no one could answer.
Their courtship had been relatively brief, their marriage a progressive disaster. Anwir grew tired quickly of any hint of domesticity, and monogamy seemed to be beyond his abilities. Asthore tried, first for Meghan’s sake, then for her and Regan, and when her husband eventually succumbed to the witch who seduced him away from Evanheir, she dedicated herself to the people as she did to her children. Under her steady hand the kingdom had flourished. She was not about to relinquish to this stranger all that she had sacrificed so much to accomplish.
“Hello, Asthore,” Anwir greeted her without a trace of deference, but a slight sneer of condescension.
Gervase and the rest of the council members visibly blanched at the man’s lack of decorum, but they held their peace. Asthore silently regarded him, holding him in a glittering stare for so long that everyone became uncomfortable, and Anwir looked to Gervase as if wondering if the queen had heard him.
“I wasn’t sure you were still alive, Anwir,” she said when tensions were highest. “I am more surprised by that, I think, than to see you here.” Queen Asthore was ready to play the game. “The question, however, is why are you here?”
“Why? My lady, I am King of Evanheir!”
“Twice wrong, Anwir. You haven’t been king legally for more than ten years, since the council and an assemblage of Peers declared you abdicated. And we both know that I have not been your lady since shortly after our marriage. That, too, has been annulled.”
This brought a low murmur to the assembled court, but Asthore and Anwir understood it was more in agreement with her than surprise. He did not seem surprised, however, and with a disdainful grin announced, “I did not come to argue the point with you, Asthore, or anyone else. The throne is rightfully mine by birth, and I don’t need a wife.”
This caused more than a murmur, and protestations erupted from the crowd. Here and there the words “Traitor” and “Usurper” could be heard. Anwir simply smiled at them again.
“Be gone, Anwir. There is nothing for you here any more. You are granted by law safe passage to the border, but you are never to return.”
“Yes. Now is not the time. I did not expect a warm welcome. You should do well, however, to expect to see me again.” With that warning, he turned on his heel and strode toward the doorway.
Asthore had the last word: “Please, do come again, Anwir. Believe me, we will be expecting you.”
Her confident tone stopped him briefly, but he did not turn around. In the courtyard his groom gave him the reins to his horse. Anwir mounted, turned to his Captain of Guards, and commanded, “Back to the company, Captain. Take note as we pass. We will meet with my generals tonight to plan our return.” Amid the clattering of hooves as his troops wheeled to follow, Anwir did not notice the howling of the wolves.