The Audaxi Chronicles: Chapter 8
Okay, so, quick few notes about this chapter. I know forever ago when the last chapter was released I said I was going to change to Prince Nolyn’s point of view, but that just kind of wasn’t working for me. It works better with the overall context of the story if, at least for right now, we only use Raff and Althea’s point of views. ANYWAY, this is an important chapter! We’re getting somewhere! If you like it, leave a like or a comment or a share it with your friends!
His spine aching, Raffym shifts from one foot to the other, subtly, trying to find a comfortable position. Sleeping in a chair, even one in the prince’s chamber, had apparently been a mistake, as his bones ache and his muscles whine and almost every move he makes. And standing still here for twenty minutes sure hasn’t helped.
“Finally.” Brennan Trask, standing in his designated position next to him, back straight as a board, whispers under his breath as the Enchantress saunters into the room.
That’s what she does, saunters. Even in front of the entire Highland court, she walks with ease through the giant stone doors of the throne room. Perfect brown ringlet curls bouncing around her face, she wears a light grey dress that falls to her knees, a large belt at her waist. Tight black stockings peek out between her dress and her high black boots, and a perfect black cloak lies on her shoulders. Raff realizes, as he watches the court mumble among itself, that she probably decided to dress the part. She probably knew they were going to think her a witch.
Glancing around the giant, grey, stone hall, he can see the nobles leaning into each other to whisper, bright blue and red satin and silk darting this way and that like waves of a brightly colored sea. The Chieftains, the seventeen that remain, sit evenly placed around the horseshoe-shaped table. Around each one sits their families or their escorts, and in some cases both. However, even from his viewpoint on the back wall, toward the left and behind the prince, he can see the tears in their dresses and tunics, stitched up as best as the court tailor could. Only on the faces of those of a select few families do the bright puffs of makeup lie.
But all morning, smiles and laughs and giggles and flirts have flitted between them. They act, just as the rest of the Lands, like nothing is wrong.
“Althea of the Vaga, otherwise known as the Enchantress, the Witch, the Eastern Storm, and the Sorceress.” Little Genji, the Court Heralder, squeaks from his spot near the door. Althea’s eyes squint, a little grimace, as she makes her way to the center of the tiled floor.
Vukan, at his right, leans in slightly. “You know, it’s almost a shame. If you look past the Vaga, she’s not bad to look at.”
Raff doesn’t respond. He doesn’t really know how. Vukan gives a soft chuckle, raising an eyebrow, and then he adjusts back to position. No doubt Vukan will tell the others, and they’ll have a good laugh at Raff later.
He can feel his ears growing slightly pink. The other Audaxi are his brothers, but they also are of the male gender and Jerah, the second youngest, is two years older than Raff. And inevitably, that means that most of the time he becomes the butt of the joke.
But he doesn’t really mind. He imagines this what having siblings is like. Six, older, male siblings. And it sometimes makes him grateful he’s an orphan.
“Enchantress.” The king’s deep voice echoing about the chamber halts any and all conversation in the room. “You have done your kingdom a great service.”
Trask, to Raff’s left, inhales sharply through his teeth. Even the nobles exchange uncertain glances. Althea, to her credit, doesn’t react at all at those words. Raff can’t help but wonder how she feels to hear the king who has led a rage against her people firmly tie her kind to the people they hate. Looking closer, though, he notices that, just slightly, her posture has changed. She stands a little more upright than before, eyes glancing around a little more carefully.
Her eyes catch Raff’s while scanning the room. Slowly, she raises her eyebrows, and the smallest smile shines through on her face. Raff blinks, unsure what that expression means, but as he does, the moment disappears, and she’s staring back at the king.
“Well, I do my best.”
The words are dry, thrown out into the airy chamber with more ease and light than anyone has in a long time.
The court, almost as a unit, seems to straighten its back and clench its teeth, suddenly stony. Trask lets out the faintest snort, and Raff can see Vukan’s shoulders shaking with light laughter out of the corner of his eye. In front of him, he can only see the back of the prince’s head, but his hand at his side, peeking through the chair’s arm, clenches around his sword handle, so tight his knuckles are visibly white.
But he also sees the left side of the king’s face, with his dappled skin and heavy gold crown, and a smirk bursts through the king’s lips.
“A reward, of course, has been discussed between us and with the Chieftain council, and I have reached a decision.” Just like that, the smirk is gone, replaced with King Ri’s stony stare.
Althea rocks a little on her heels, hands wringing in front of her. At first, Raff thinks she must be nervous, but as his eyes narrow, studying her, he sees that her hands aren’t just clenched. They’re rubbing against each other, methodically, and he realizes that she’s warming them up in case she needs to cast magic in a hurry. She’s a cat, swaggering in with her tail slashing back and forth, full of easy air and confidence, but under her fur she’s on her toes, ready to claw or run or land on her feet if she needs to.
“With my greatest thanks,” the king says, “I hope you will accept the position as Court Physician and Healer, effective immediately.”
The room goes as silent as a funeral.
Althea, the center of attention, stammers. “Uh, what?”
Almost simultaneously, the prince turns to his father at his right, mouth open and outraged, and he says, “What?”
And the court erupts, with mumbles and stammers and cries. Trask, strangely, begins to laugh, short, separated chuckles. Down the line, his brothers have various faces of confusion and suspicion written over their faces.
Trying to watch everything at once, Raff sees Prince Nolyn talking–no, almost yelling–at his father, his silver circlet askew and handsome features distorted with rage. He looks, in that moment, like a raven to Raff, feathers ruffled up in anger and protection from the cat dabbing a paw into its nest. Althea, still standing in the middle of the floor, seems to be staring intently at the wall, brow furrowed and face still in confusion, head cocked slightly to the right.
The only person in the room, beyond the king and the Audaxi who are supposed to be at attention, who shows no surprise is Galen, the current physician. In fact, he almost looks amused.
Before the rabble can escalate, the king casually holds up one hand. Slowly, the room seems to come to a halt, like a horse that had bucked and was now being reeled back in.
Once everyone, even the prince, is silent, King Ri says, “My dear friend and adviser Galen has been asking for quite some time to withdraw due to age. Unfortunately for him, he is never allowed to leave my side as an adviser.”
The two older men share a kind smile, and Galen nods his head respectfully.
The king continues, “However, there has never been a replacement for his physician role. That is, until now.”
From his position behind the throne, Raff sees the king nod in Althea’s direction. The initial surprise has floated off her face, replaced now with slight puzzlement and possibly…amusement?
“I implore that you take this position.” The king smiles. “However, it is your decision. If you choose to move on, or back to your people, please accept my secondary offer of one of the Highland Jewels, as a symbol of my eternal gratitude toward you and your people.”
Prince Nolyn’s face shifts in anger and outrage, looking over at his father like he’s never seen him before, like he somehow called a shadow to fall across his features. Raff shifts uncomfortably on his feet, this time not from the pain.
Althea tugs on one of her curls, pulling it down and letting it bounce back up as she seems to look at them all at once. Each one of them, each member of the court, blue eyes seemingly picking out each person individually, identifying them all, judging them all. The air around them buzzes in anticipation, as if the very elements realize that this moment could change the history of the Lands.
Her eyes, after an eternity, rest on the prince. His face of pure rage seems to fade, into one of contempt: his jaw clenched, his back straight, his eyes stony. Somehow, standing directly behind him, Raff is there too, in this moment, in between breaths. The Enchantress and the Prince of the Highlands glare at each other, icy, blue eyes hitting deep, fiery green, as Raffym watches, and deep in his gut he knows that for some reason, this is a moment. An important one, but he’s not quite sure why yet.
“Okay.” This time her voice floats, a cloud puffing through the room, breaking apart that moment. “I’ll be your physician.”
Yay! Anyway, I’m really excited about this series, and if you are too, let me know! And tell your friends! And check back Thursday for some more fun blog-ness!