“Surprised” would have been the wrong choice of words for Ghia’s reaction to Yarrow’s behavior at the charnel house. Caught off guard worked better. But Ghia had not been found on the streets of the city yesterday. She figured out rather quickly what in Tyvian to do. She wrapped her arm around the bellica’s waist and leaned into Yarrow’s embrace with a great display of affection. It felt awkward but the bellica gave no indication that she was fecking up and no one looked at them sidelong as the Domina led them to a room, Yarrow’s usual, it seemed.
A perfect plan, really. No one would be surprised (and indeed, no one was) to see Yarrow take another conquest to The Queen and the Rogue. Such tales were long since old news in Athering, and no one would care enough to ‘accidentally’ eavesdrop on whatever the bellica spent her time doing at the charnel house. It was the most private place for them to talk, and the safest.
But such a plan might have unintended consequences that Yarrow has maybe not considered, Ghia realised. When the door to the room shut behind them she asked Yarrow as much.
The bellica, already moving around the room to check every nook and cranny, shook her head briskly. “Caelum’s smarter than he seems. He’ll figure it out. If he doesn’t, it’s still my choice to do as I please. We’re not committed.”
“I was referring more to what might happen when all the dust settles — might be a scandal in Queen Yarrow having been seen with her cousin at The Queen and the Rogue.”
Yarrow was still moving throughout the room, her eyes sweeping over every surface. Ghia stayed by the door, her arms crossed over her chest.
“Burn that bridge when we come to it, Princess,” Yarrow said, directing a saucy wink towards the healer before going back to securing the room. “You’re suddenly very keen on the whole ‘being my cousin’ and ‘ruling Atton’ thing.”
Ghia rolled a shoulder in a shrug, though Yarrow missed the gesture, back turned to the healer as it was. “Not much of a choice, from where I’m standing. May as well make the best of it.”
Yarrow nodded briefly, and Ghia felt the bellica understood far more of that sentiment than she let on. She said nothing, however, and when the silence stretched on Ghia changed the subject. “I’m a bit surprised that you and Caelum aren’t committed. You’re undoubtedly together.”
Yarrow sighed and moved to the bed, the securing of the room apparently done. “Nothing official, Healer. Been too caught up in the glow of it all to really discuss anything — which, frankly, I’m fine with. Doing enough talking these days.” She looked at Ghia pointedly, but the healer didn’t waver. With a sigh Yarrow fell onto the bed and, for all anyone could see, relaxed, though Ghia knew the bellica was tense as a cat. “We’re not here to talk about my love life, Ghia,” the bellica said. “I shouldn’t have to tell you that.”
Ghia shrugged and took a seat at the lavish table — lavish like everything else in the room. It was a thin veneer to hide the poverty beneath. “Curiosity.”
“Killed the gato. Francesca knows that well and is discreet. We’ll not be spied upon.”
“Well that’s a blessing.” Ghia tucked her legs up underneath her and made herself comfortable. “What did you want to discuss?”
Yarrow smiled sardonically at her. “What do you think?”
“Oh, well, I was really looking forward to an earnest discussion of our love-lives, complete with obligatory munchies, giggling, and maybe a pillow-fight.” She smiled brightly at her cousin, and ducked as the pillow Yarrow lobbed at her came sailing towards her face. “Missed me.”
“Never was any good at long-range weaponry,” Yarrow responded as she got settled back against her remaining pillows. “Alright, fine — tell me about your love life, cuz.” Yarrow smiled at her, challengingly, and Ghia felt her face heat.
“Haven’t got one, so terribly sorry to disappoint. You’ll just have to spill the beans about yours.”
“You’re a terrible liar, Ghia Lihin.”
Ghia raised her left hand in the air. “Healer’s Honour.”
“Doesn’t apply here. You mean to tell me you and Jules have absolutely nothing between you?”
Ghia looked away, unwilling to talk about the fresh hurt where Jules was concerned. “We’re friends.” she said quietly, and there was an awkward silence.
Yarrow cleared her throat suddenly. It was an embarrassed sound. “Let’s put our love lives — or lack thereof — aside, alright cuz?” she said, her voice uncharacteristically gentle.
Ghia nodded and looked at her cousin again. “So let’s get on with this cousin bonding session, or whatever it is.”
Yarrow let out a bark of laughter. “We can call it that. Specifically, though, I want to talk to you about your role on the third.”
“What’s special about the third?” Ghia asked, wrinkling her nose. “I thought the second was your…”
“My birthday, yes,” Yarrow said, finishing Ghia’s sentence. “We have to wait until Zardria is fully in power to stage a coup or the legality of my new sovereignty may be called into question by her supporters. There’d be no end of trouble.”
“There wasn’t for Zanny,” Ghia pointed out.
“That was different. It was perfectly legal for Zanny to rule as regent, which she has done, technically. Zardria is the next in line to the throne and I’m not an heir at all; so I must call challenge on my sister once she’s sworn in and not before.”
“But if she were dead, then you would be the next in line…” Ghia said, trailing off as she saw the look on Yarrow’s face.
“Your point?” Yarrow asked, too quietly.
Ghia sighed and quirked her mouth. “You know what I’m suggesting, Yarrow, and you know I’m not the only one who will, or has.”
Yarrow got up off the bed and started pacing the room. “Zardria will stand trial for her crimes against her citizens, Ghia, make no mistake of that. I can and will make sure that justice is served. But not by my own hand, without benefit of a trial.”
Yarrow fell silent, and Ghia watched her pace for a moment before commenting on the obvious. “There hasn’t been a professional lawyer in Athering for over a hundred years, Yarrow. You going to be the first?”
“No, but I am going to follow the spirit of the law here, and that means calling challenge to my sister the day after the Ceremony, when she’s officially en-Sceptred,” the bellica said sternly. Clearly that was the end of the matter. “It’s just more of Athering’s complicated inheritance law, Ghia. Don’t worry about the details and just trust me when I say the third is the key. I’ll call challenge, and if I win the fight –” here Ghia snorted, because the thought of the trained bellica losing to her court-soft sister was laughable — “Zardria will not hold to the conventions, and will try to usurp me. That’s when we need to strike.”
Ghia suppressed a groan and tried to will away her headache. This was all far too involved. “Why not just take it tomorrow and say bugger the law?”
Yarrow stopped her pacing and sat down across from Ghia at the table. She sighed, a tired sound. “There may be few things on this earth that I care about, Ghia, but the law is one of them. I’ll not take this country wrongly.” Ghia nodded, feeling silly for not having known as much. But then, Yarrow was a private person, and someone Ghia had stopped reading for a while. This fact was not one that was well-known at any rate. Caelum knew it; maybe no one else.
She had nothing to contribute to the fresh silence; so gestured for Yarrow to go on. The bellica shook her head as if trying to pick up where she’d been a moment ago. “So. Anala and I have discussed our Regiments’ roles — should be fairly easy to disarm the other Regiments — just going to give their watch a sleeping draught and lock ’em in the barracks.” Yarrow smiled, obviously pleased with the simplicity of her plan. “We’ve got most of the castle covered except the most important part — that’s where you come in.” Ghia raised her eyebrows in surprise. “The hospitalis. We need you to secure it.”
“Why is the hospitalis so important? It’s no danger to anyone,” Ghia said, but she felt the nagging sensation there was a key fact she’d missed.
“Have you never noticed, Healer, that in the top floor of the hospitalis there is a strange looking square in the middle of the ceiling?”
Ghia frowned, trying to remember anything like the bellica described, but her memory could not piece together a picture. She shrugged helplessly.
“Your mother hasn’t prepared you fully for your post, then. The hospitalis sits right underneath the spire, Ghia. That square leads to the Elevator, which leads directly to the Queen’s quarters. If you hold the hospitalis, you hold the castle.”
Ghia sat absolutely still, in total shock, as the significance of her post hit her. How had she never noticed such a key part of her domain before? How had it never occurred to her? And why hasn’t my mother fecking told me?
“Sweet Althea,” she breathed, hardly able to believe it. Hardly able to believe she could hold the most important area of the castle. “I’m not a soldier, Yarrow,” she said, in a mild protest she knew wouldn’t work.
“No, but you have the will and leadership qualities of a good bellica. You’ll have a large amount of the Second Regiment under your command — including your paxwoman, Aro, and Anala’s paxwoman and Honour Guard. They’ve already sworn to protect your life with theirs, and you can be damned sure if they fail in that I’ll bring them back from the Forgotten Realm myself so I can kill them again.” Yarrow grinned, and Ghia let out a nervous laugh. “I’m counting on you, cuz,” Yarrow continued, more serious. “Can you do it?”
Ghia sighed, a long breath let out shakily. “Of course I can,” she said with a game smile. “I’d be a pretty lousy Magi if I couldn’t.”
Yarrow grabbed Ghia’s hand and squeezed it gratefully. “I knew you were related to me,” she said with a wink. “Good. Let’s hammer the details out, then, shall we?”
Ghia nodded and the two women bent their heads over the task in front of them eagerly.