Chloe woke up to the feeling of a hand running through her hair. Blinking her eyes open, she saw Eloise standing above her, and as the room came into focus, she saw breakfast dishes sitting on the table. After simply enjoying the caresses for a few moments, she smiled up at Eloise and deliberately patted her own head.
“So tell me, did something hit my head while I slept, or was it a curse?”
Eloise gave her a confused look. “What?”
“For you to be up before me, clearly something knocked me out for a while. I’m just wondering whether it was something magical or nat”
Her words were cut off as one of the pillows slammed into her face. When she pulled it off her face, she saw Eloise giving her an amused glare.
“It is possible for me to get up early.” Eloise paused for a moment, then continued in a slightly guilty voice. “Well ok, I admit I had to ask Sheila to make sure I actually woke up, luckily she’s better with mornings than I am. You do this for me almost every morning, I felt it was my turn.”
Chloe smiled up at her then stood up and wrapped her in a hug. As she held Eloise, she lowered her head and whispered, “thank you.” Into her ear.
Releasing Eloise, Chloe pulled her undergarments and a robe on, then went and sat down at the table. Eloise sat down beside her, and they started on their breakfast.
“So, what are we up to today?” Eloise asked cheerfully.
“Since we finished Ildev’s class so quickly, and that other one we want doesn’t start for a few more days, we should be free this evening. How does a couple of hours in the workshop, followed by a walk in the woods sound?”
Eloise smiled, “It sounds wonderful.”
A grin played across Chloe’s face, in the month since she had met with the chancellor, they had repeatedly found their workshop had been mysteriously stocked with useful raw materials or new tools. She briefly wondered what they might discover in it today. And after that, she had a walk to look forward to. They often walked through the woods in the evening and chatted, like they had the night before. They had been fairly deep in the forest when Eloise had sat down against a tree and gestured invitingly beside her.
“I saw that Ash got back today.”
Since Eloise had moved in with Chloe, Ash had taken to spending the nights in the forest.
“It’s missing a certain something,” She had said. “But at least it’s a forest, and it’s certainly better than sharing a room with the two of you.”
Ash would sometimes show up for classes, other times she would spend the day in the forest, or leave on one of her regular trips. While Chloe talked to her through their link regularly, Eloise had not actually seen much during the past month.
“Yes, she got back from Cinaia this afternoon.”
Eloise winced “That what I wanted to talk to you about. Why are you letting her do that? At this point, a war seems inevitable. Surely even if she did need something destructive to do, you could have convinced her to be more subtle, or at least to do something that wouldn’t have resulted in a war.”
A sad look crossed Chloe’s face, and she sighed. “Yes, I could have. However, I’m in favor of the war.”
Eloise blinked in surprise. “What, why?”
“When the war starts, prince Aldrick will call on the other three members of the Octilis Defense League to join him. Together, the four realms that make up the League are just about a match for Cinaia. Do you know much about Cinaia?”
Eloise shook her head.
“Ok, the Republic of Cinaia is a magocracy. Any mage in Cinaia is entitled to cast a vote in any governmental decision. The problem is, with the freedom given to the mages, any but the strongest are likely to be either killed, devoured or enslaved. To avoid that fate, just about every mage in Cinaia is pledged to one of the great mage clans, receiving their protection. In return for that protection, the mage has to grant his vote to the head of the clan and do a lot of magical work for the clan. For this reason, they have one of the largest and most powerful arsenals of magic weapons on the continent.”
“Both Cinaia and the League fear Telkirin and its expansionist tendencies. Depending how long this war goes on, the armies of both will either be fighting each other, or be too badly depleted, to take advantage when the succession crisis begins. The only other nearby power that is strong enough to do more than unify a piece of the country against a foreign invader is the Guild League Cities, and those merchants are too disorganized to carry out an effective military campaign outside of their borders.”
“I won’t deny that the coming war will be ugly, but as a great noble of Telkirin, it’s my duty to protect the people of Telkirin and make sure that the atrocities of war are happening to someone else, rather than them. Then there’s the fact that I would be willing to bet Telkirin’s next war of conquest will happen almost as soon as someone takes the crown. Unifying the country against an external enemy would be useful, as would making sure some inconvenient nobles die gloriously in battle. With the League’s armies bled white and the Cinain arsenal significantly reduced, the number of Telkirin citizens who make it back from the war alive will be increased. As a Telkirin great noble, it’s my duty to preserve the lives of as many Telkirin citizens as possible, even if it means doing unpleasant things.”
As Chloe finished talking, she looked down, not wanting to see the look that could be on Eloise’s face. Eloise had pressed in against her and just hugged her until it had been time for them to return to their room.
“Is something wrong?”
Chloe blinked, she had been lost in thought, and her breakfast was getting cold.
“Just thinking how much I love you.” Chloe said, remembering the warm hug.
Eloise blushed, and the two of them got back to eating. With breakfast out of the way, the two of them prepared for the day. Chloe had stopped using her air spell on her hair after Eloise had offered to start brushing it for her. She had then made the same offer to Eloise.
Chloe smiled as she stared at the bucket of sea water that the instructor had set in front of her.
“Eloise, I think I’ve got it.”
There were two variations of the separation spell they were learning. One variety simply separated the salt from the water, leaving the salt as ordinary salt. The other variety, the one Chloe though she had just mastered, left the link between the salt and water intact. At that point if the salt could be used as an ingredient in a water spell, as it would enhance the power and precision of the spell. Not that using it to separate salt from seawater was what Chloe had planned for the spell. She smiled as a small pile of saltbegan to build up in her hand, she could still feel the salts affinity for water. Just as she was holding the pile of salt out to Eloise, an instructor walked over.
“Miss Yinara, the chancellor would like to speak with you.” The instructor paused and looked at Eloise, who was sitting pressed up against Chloe, then continued. “Miss Eloise, I think it might be best if you went as well.”
Both women nodded, then stood up and walked to the door.
“Miss Eloise?” Chloe asked
“My family will undoubtedly have struck my name from the family rolls, some I’m Eloise. Just Eloise.”
Chloe smiled gently “For now.” Then after a few moments of silence, she continued. “This is irritating, I had hoped the chancellor was honest.”
Eloise snorted. “Honest? I thought you had outright bribed him.”
Before Chloe could answer, they turned into the hallway that held the door to the chancellor’s office, and the sight of the two men standing in front of the door nocked the reply clear out of her head. Eloise noticed Chloe’s surprise and tensed, the birds sitting on her shoulders spreading their skeletal wings.
“Do you know those men?” Eloise asked quietly
“Not personally, but that black and silver uniform, that’s the uniform of a Twin River’s officer. And you see those badges they're both wearing, the crossed boarding axe and hook knife, that means they are arcane knight marines. The only question is, why are they here?”
As they neared the door, the two men slammed their right fists to their hearts in salute. Then one opened the door without even knocking.
“Well, he’s not making any friends.” The thought ran through Chloe’s head as she saw the irritated look on the chancellor's face as his door opened without his permission. Then Chloe noticed the approving grin on Eloise’s face “Or at least not with the chancellor.” She corrected herself
As the two of them walked in, she saw the man seated across from the chancellor. She smiled as she recognized the first lieutenant of the Seahawk.
"Well, if they are just sending the second in command in, it can’t be that bad." The thought ran through her head and she relaxed slightly.
“It’s nice to see you again James.” Chloe said brightly “I trust Captain Oravic is doing well?”
The Lieutenant stood and bowed deeply. “I believe so, though Oravic was promoted to Commodore after he returned from delivering you here. He now flies his flag from Twilight’s Blessing, and I captain the Seahawk, my most honorable lord.”