CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE: ...and Schemes

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CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE: …and Schemes

Story walked toward the thrones arrayed before her. She kept her back straight and resolutely met the gaze of each of the clan leaders. As expected, eight of them regarded her with a range of negative emotions—mostly disbelief. Some of them, like Eíswin, wore openly hostile expressions. Four of them, led by the broadly grinning Eídolin, were looking at her with a mixture of curiosity and excitement.

She was grateful for their support, because she knew that without it the council of twelve could overrule the queen, and by the look on Eáchan’s face, she would do it given half the chance. Out of the corner of her eye, Story saw Adair join her father at the side of the room. Then she had to stop herself from looking at him again—he had his old smile on his face, and seemed perfectly at ease.

Okay…

Story stopped in front of the elf leaders and inclined her head respectfully to each one in turn before finally facing the queen.

“I’m sorry I’m late, your highness. I was unaware my presence was required.”

Eáchan squeezed the unforgiving armrests on her throne, and her eyes bugged out. Had she spoken, Story had no doubt she would have said something along the lines of “it is not required, pretender!” But one pointed look from the queen kept her mouth firmly shut.

“Please Ailesit, do not apologize. We were warned about how much sleep and nourishment you need.” She grinned and indicated Eilath with her head, and Story couldn’t help but chuckle, especially after seeing the shocked glances at the queen from many of her opposers.

The Queen looked to Story’s left and raised an elegant hand, sending a dozen plain silver bracelets jingling down her arm.

“Eirnin, if you would, please?”

He entered the hall pushing a large, wheeled table assisted by two other elves. Story peeked at him through her lashes, unwilling to make any sort of eye contact with him here—there was no way she’d be able to keep her bearing if she did, and she needed to focus. So instead, she stared at the table, eyeing it cautiously.

It was a rectangular box, six feet by four feet in size, and was much taller than a normal table—obviously meant for standing rather than sitting. Four-inch walls circled it and inside was a very realistic terrain representation of a portion of Ailionora. In the center were the island clusters that made up the city of Ailes, to the north and south were the Silver and Ailes seas, and to the east and west were the Forge and Piney Green mountain ranges. Blue sand represented the oceans, lakes, and rivers, and tiny trees dotted the landscape. It was a work of art, and Story wondered which clan was responsible for making it.

Queen Eánna, the three main clan leaders, and Eirnin gathered around the table, and after a moment’s hesitation Story joined them. The remaining nine clan leaders arrayed themselves loosely around the table, looking over shoulders and between bodies at the terrain diagram. Story stood on her side of the table alone facing the queen, Eirnin and Eídolin to her right, Eíswin and Eáchan to her left. The hostility emanating from that quarter was palpable, and Story had to resist the urge to stick her tongue out at them.

Probably wouldn’t help things—but I’d sure feel better.           

“Council, it has come to our attention that the Faerie Prince has made at least three attempts on the Ailesit’s life thus far.” Queen Eánna paused to allow her words to sink in, and Story could see all of the clan leaders on her left fidgeting awkwardly. Clearly they had not heard about that—even if they did not believe she was Ailesit, it was obvious Morrigann did, and that had to count for something.

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