After they had seen to the comfort of Lord Neil and the preparation for their return to Reis-Bohnen, Riva found her uncle lost in his thoughts as he studied a large map of the world. “Uncle, I have a favor I wish to ask of you, if you do not mind.”
King Ainmire looked at her in curiosity. “What favor would that be, Niece?”
“I need information, and that means I will need to see documents that are probably in your possession, and protection. Old documents and old books. I need to see everything that can tell me about Lady Zaira, Lord Gryphon, and Lord Riordan. Most particularly, I need to know about the artifacts that Dramsol, as Lord Riordan, left behind. I need to know what he did with them, the purposes for which he crafted them, and I need to know exactly how many there are and where they might be found and…” she paused, hesitant before continuing, “I need to know how the scientist Revier and my brother might use them to cause harm to the world or the people here.”
Ainmire looked troubled. “The artifacts are said to have been used in the restoration of Lord Gryphon. Surely they cannot be…”
Riva interrupted him sorrowfully. “Uncle, anything worth accomplishing can be used for war. Any good thing can be corrupted from its intended purpose. A knife meant for nothing more than carving a roasted beast might be usurped to open a child’s throat. That does not mean that the knife is evil. It is only a tool. I need to know how great a threat these artifacts might be if they fall into my brother’s hands.”
“You are still young, Niece, and it may yet be that battles will not rage. I will not warmonger.”
Riva sighed. The man was too noble for the good of his people. “No, Sire, I assure you, should Marus seek war, then all your efforts to the otherwise will be in vain, saving only the laying down to accept his blade across your throat as he takes your life and your throne and your relic along with any power to destroy that it might carry.” She struggled against her frustration and failed, choosing to call upon words he would understand, even if he didn’t understand where the words came from. “It takes but one foe to breed a war and those who have not swords may still die upon them. I’m not simply concerned about what he might do with the relics. I wonder how we might use the one given to Castellan to bring about his defeat.”
“He is your brother, Niece. How can you speak so cavalierly of his defeat?”
She met his eyes with tears in her own. “Because I have done it before and I doubtless will be forced to do so again, to defend the Innocent and the helpless. I am drawn to those who are shadowed, those of greatness who walk a sinister line and when I am unable to redeem them, if the shadow grows too strong and corrupts them too completely, then it is my responsibility to kill my brothers to save the ones they would destroy.” Her voice broke. “I hate it. The need to redeem and the pain when I fail. I have seen brothers of such greatness that you would feel humbled to stand in their presence falter and fall into despicable cruelty for the sake of artifacts and the power they contain. I have had to kill them with my own hand, no matter that it kills part of my own soul when I do. I still pray for Marus’ redemption, but I need information in the event that it is not possible and I must destroy him so that Illian might rule in his place.”
King Ainmire lowered his eyes and looked at the map-table again. “How will you know if your brother is beyond redemption?”
She sighed. “If he kills you and Kian and Keara; if he gains the power to do irreparable damage to the world we stand on; if he seeks a war that would drown the world in blood for the power that those deaths would give him; if he seeks to make himself a god among men then I would go to Pallantia in secret and I would kill him. Even if I have to take a team of assassins with me for assistance, I would kill him to end the threat that his life contains.”
“I pray, then, Niece, that it does not come to that. I will see that the archives are opened to you.”
She bowed. “Thank you, Uncle. I appreciate your understanding.” After a moment she sighed and turned and left the room, leaving the King to his consideration of the world and the threat of war.
— — —
That night Bastion found Riva in their chambers, sitting on her cot with her feet tucked under her, staring out the window. He sat down beside her and simply waited. After a moment she sighed. “I don’t know what to do. If I declare myself then Castellan will become a target, and will be destroyed. If I remain silent then both Reis-Bohnen and Castellan will be targets and will be destroyed. If I go back to Pallantia then I will lose you, but worse, my brother will give me over to a scientist for supposed protection and I will become one more experiment like the Dryad girl I helped rescue, and she was almost dead when we got to her. And because of that same scientist Reis-Bohnen and Castellan might still be targets and would be destroyed anyway.”
Bastion never felt so helpless. “I cannot advise you.” It hurt to admit, but it was the truth. “The King will not send you back to Pallantia.”
“If I knew that it would save innocent lives I would go.” Tears began to fall down her face. “But I don’t know that it would. Gabriel would have told him where you were; Marus would have known that I would run to Castellan. He had no reason to bring Reis-Bohnen into this conflict without some other goal in mind.”
He pulled her into his arms and held her close. “Reis-Bohnen has placed itself in this conflict, and I think that they will welcome the chance to shout defiance at the Empire. However, even should my estimate be wrong, I will not allow anyone to take you away from me. I don’t care about the dreams. I don’t care about the rings, or whether I ever accept them. Even without them. I will not allow anyone to take you from me. I will protect you. And if I have to turn Pirate and steal you away then that is what I will do.”
“If I thought it would work I would ask you to do just that.” She held tightly onto him. “I don’t want to be another scientist’s experiment.”
All he could do was hold her close and kiss the tears away.
— — —
In the days following the departure of the delegation from Reis-Bohnen, there were a great many worried knights and soldiers. None who knew for certain about Riva actually wondered aloud if protecting her was worth the possible sacrifice. The faith in Castellan dreams was too deeply ingrained in their souls. A Castellan dreamer belonged to Castellan and to her dreams, and those dreams were divinely inspired. To stand in opposition to Castellan dreams was to invite the wrath of Heaven. They did not question protecting Riva, they questioned how Marus could put his people, his Empire, at risk this way. Not since his father had anyone sought war to prevent a dreamer from fulfilling her destiny.
Those who knew, and that was most of those who lived and worked in the Palace and closest to it, wondered about Marus and his father, and what it would take before Marus would be calmed and accept Heaven’s judgment through his sister’s dreams, and how many would die before that happened.