Matters of trust

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As long as she could remember, people had spoken about her as being the natural successor to Fenris Silt's command of the King's Eyes. Pienya had always been the wonder-child, orphaned and taken in by no less than Queen Anja herself, receiving the best training in the land and tutored directly by Silt: ascension seemed obvious and inevitable. One day Fenris Silt would retire, having finally admitted to himself that age had caught him, and Pienya would step up to fill his role. The other King's Eyes respected her, she knew, and understood her skills, but they had never taken her in as one of their own; not fully, always seeming uneasy at her closeness to the queen. They were the king's Eyes, after all, not the queen's.

In the great hall of the palace atop the mesa, Pienya stood alone at its centre, surrounded by the gathered King's Eyes: all of them spies, agents, saboteurs, observers, soldiers, influencers. They were the king's true power outside of Treydolain, spreading his influence to the border towns and settlements and guilds scattered around the valley. His network of levers and pulleys.

What should have been a moment of celebration and homecoming, something she had been looking forward to since returning to the capital, had become soured and unpleasant. They shunned her, word having spread about her involvement in the attempted arrest of Fenris Silt in Bruckin and the ensuing attack on the shipyard. No doubt Michels spreading false information about what had happened and the reasons she'd made those decisions. Despite their difference she had hoped Roldan Stryke to be present, as he had been there and was too honourable to shirk from his share of the responsibility, but the man was nowhere to be seen, despite the royal summons. He would have to face his own consequences for that, if he did not make his presence known soon.

The King's Eyes had been arriving for the previous two days, flowing in from all directions. When they were dispersed about the entire valley it was easy to forget how many there were; gathered together in a single room, two hundred men and women was a noisy and significant cohort. Pulling them out of their assignments and locations had been massively disruptive, with some being forced to break cover for the first time in years, but these were disruptive times and the king had sent the order. She paced among them, her armour clinking as she moved, but spoke not a word. Faces turned away from her and she was shut out of conversations, leaving her to wonder what poison Fenris had spread even before his flight from Treydolain - he had probably been seeding this distrust for years, to ensure that she could never take his place and usurp his command of the Eyes.

"Excuse me, Captain Martoc," came a voice from behind. It was one of the stewards. "The queen requests your presence immediately."

"Now?" They were expecting an announcement from King Guijus himself in the next hour, complete with new orders.

"Yes, captain. She was most insistent and told me to assure you that the king was aware and does not need you to be be present in the hall."

Pienya followed the steward the length of the hall, feeling eyes pressing into her back, then followed him through the palace to the upper floors when Anja awaited, sat in a bright, airy room with a large balcony looking out over the mesa plateaus.

"Pienya," she said, "sit with me awhile."

"How can I be of service?" Pienya asked, taking the indicated seat.

The queen looked at her with that unwavering, piercing gaze. "These are confusing times," she said, "and we are all feeling the strain. It is difficult to identify allies from enemies, loyal from disloyal, correct from incorrect. Our enemies foster and encourage this confusion so as to disrupt our thinking and our actions. By occupying us with self-doubt, they are free to move and seize the advantage."

"You are referring to Bruckin? The Lief guild?"

The sun beamed down on the balcony, while their chairs were positioned just in the shade. Nodding, the queen picked up a fan and waved it gently. "Yes, those and others. Our enemies are myriad. Bruckin, though, is a visible enemy. We know they are there, we know their capabilities, and they are, as yet, powerless. We have the superior and growing forces and they daren't move against us."

"Then of whom do you speak?"

"The noble families, for one." The queen released a long sigh. "Your king has dealt with them already. Their children have been removed from them, breaking their lines of succession. The nobility's power is in inherited wealth and accumulation of influence: destroy that chain and they are nothing."

Pienya found her throat momentarily uncomfortable and coughed lightly to clear it. "Their children?"

"Yes. Old and young." The queen let the fan fall to her lap, her eyes downcast. "I do not pretend to be comfortable with the king's methods, but his logic is sound and the results speak for themselves."

"Is this what the gathering of King's Eyes is about? Refocusing our efforts to seek out other traitors?" It made little sense to Pienya: the purpose of the Eyes had always been to keep an eye on the valley and watch for insurrection and disloyalty. Pulling them back to the capital would only hinder that operation.

"Not exactly," the queen said. "I know you have had your concerns about Fenris Silt's brigade in the past, even while being one of them. Now is the right time to rebalance power back to the court, rather than in the hands of this mercenary force. We can't afford an unaccountable group with such strong ties to a proven traitor."

"Let me lead them," Pienya said. "Fenris Silt is gone. I can mould them into what we need them to be."

"There are some diseases which are beyond treatment," the queen said with a soft smile. "The most humane response is to end it."

There was a chill in the room, despite the warm sunshine, with Pienya acutely aware of every creak of floorboard or rustle of curtain on the breeze. There was always a tension when talking with Queen Anja but this felt more vivid a sensation. "I am a King's Eye, also," she said, trying not to sound like she was correcting the queen.

"You have their training and their skills," the queen said, "but you are not one of them. I have bigger plans for you. You have always served me above the King's Eyes."

"You are my first loyalty, your majesty," Pienya said, bowing her head.

"Then know this, Pienya Martoc. We have been through much, you and I. You are more like a daughter to me than a subject. My real daughter has chosen to abandon me, yet here you still are. I have raised you, provided for you, given you opportunities that would never have been open to you had your life gone another way. A time is fast approaching when I will need that debt repaid. I will need of you utmost loyalty and trust. Of all those in the court, it is you I can rely upon. Am I correct to place such faith in you?"

The words once spoken could not be taken away. Pienya had heard them and they reformed her reality. Kirya Tellador had made her allegiances clear, had made her grand mistake. It was Pienya's turn, now, to shape history and achieve her full potential. There was no longer a shadow upon her.

"I am ready to do whatever you require, my queen."

"Then we have much work ahead of us. Soon we will be in a position to strike at all our enemies and destroy them with a single blow. I cannot do this without your assistance."

"You have it, now and always."

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