The Grand Cathedral of the Eternal Light was the crowning glory of the Pale City. Vaulted ceilings, white marble inlaid with gold, and beautifully sculpted statues imparted a breathless beauty, a place of hope and light. But even the brightest places cast dark shadows, and it was there that the Master Thieves had congregated in order to witness the Selection’s culmination.
Sira leaned against a column and gazed upon the proceedings below. Casually, she shifted her right leg and felt a slight twinge. She’d been correct in assuming that her broken bone hadn’t set properly. The sorceress that Sira had gone to for healing had been forced to re-break the leg before she could use magic to accelerate the recovery. She’d heal in time. The rest of her life, however, wouldn’t be so easy to repair.
Sira watched as her father stood proudly beside the priest. The latter gave a flowering speech, praising the rule of the late king and speaking of the Pale Kingdom’s history. King Hentai Bertinor was now part of that grand tapestry and it was time for a new leader to add to that design.
Sira hardly listened. When she’d been well enough to leave, Sira had gone to one of her hideouts to recuperate. She used the opportunity to check in on her contacts, only to find that they’d been destroyed.
Her father had been busy while she’d been incarcerated. He’d torn the city apart, destroying every contact–noble or underworld–that Sira possessed. Those who’d once answered to her amongst the nobles had either fled, or refused to speak to her. Most of her underworld contacts had turned up dead. The jeweler’s wife who’d lent Sira a horse and guarded her possessions? Her throat had been slit and her husband’s shop set on fire.
Why he’d done it all, Sira didn’t know. Perhaps he’d anticipated her possible escape and wanted to destroy any foundation she had to drive her from the city. If so, he’d failed. Sira might’ve been forced out of the family, but she still had their stubbornness and pride. She wasn’t going anywhere.
There were other people who owed her answers. Altan Xaft was still Guard Captain of Fallow Reach, despite the backfiring of his plot and his family’s sudden misfortunes. How long that would remain, Sira didn’t know, but she doubted that she’d need to deal with him. Gwevor was also out of her reach for the moment. Without the protection of the Xaft family, he’d fled east to the Emerald Isles. Sira wasn’t sure if she wanted to track him down. In truth, it probably wouldn’t benefit her now.
The priest bowed and stepped back, allowing her father to speak. As the head of the house it was his right to announce which member of the family would assume the throne. Would he select himself, or one of Sira’s siblings who were younger and could potentially hold the throne for longer? Perhaps he’d choose Feran, who’d apparently carried out their father’s orders to have Sira tortured and executed. Or maybe he’d give it to Lilla. Not only would her upcoming marriage strengthen the family if she took the throne, but Lilla had also obeyed their father’s orders. She sent Lucco to Sira so that her guard would be lowered when she walked into her father’s trap.
Sira tightened her grip on the railing and watched.
“Lords and ladies of our most noble houses,” he said. “A Selection was made and you chose the Ta’hareens. We, your most humble associates, are humbled further by your faith in us despite the recent difficulties that troubled our house.”
The various families applauded Lord Luceer who nodded to them, the very picture of decorum. Sira gritted her teeth, lest she unleash a curse that would be heard by those below. When the applause died her father spoke again.
“This chaos was brought to us by the death of our late and beloved king,” he explained. “But let us not forget the sixty years of peace he brought us, a peace that could only be granted because he assumed the throne at the tender age of sixteen.”
Sira narrowed her eyes, a whisper of suspicion tickling in her ears. Where was he going with this?
“It’s for this reason that I forgo the throne myself and select one from my household who can grant us a long and stable rule.” Her father paused and surveyed the crowed. “May I present to the seven noble families your new ruler, King Lucco Ta’hareen.”
Sira froze, shock rooting her to the floor. Her brother emerged from a doorway which led to the Hall of Kings. Even from here Sira could see the solemn expression on his young face which was highlighted by his rich red and black robes. Lucco walked to the priest and knelt, bowing his head.
An assistant came forward, holding a satin pillow. A crown sat upon it, a band of silver studded with rubies and opals. The priest picked it up and turned to Lucco.
“May the Eternal Light guide you on the paths of wisdom and steer you from the Void. May you have courage and strength as you lead our great nation against the heathens who press against our doorstep. May you live long and rule well, King Lucco Ta’hareen.”
The priest placed the crown upon Lucco’s head and gestured for him to rise. Lucco stood and turned to the assembled nobles. As one, they bowed.
“All hail the King,” they shouted. “All hail the King!”
Sira remained riveted on the scene below. Truthfully, she shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, Tira Gilinas had been selected as queen within hours of her birth. Putting a young ruler on the throne and installing a regent was not unheard of. It was normal.
And yet Sira’s stomach churned with fear. She took one look at the crowd’s false cheers for their child king, to Lucco’s innocent young face, and to the self satisfied smirk of Lord Luceer. He worried Sira the most. After all, if he was willing to sacrifice a daughter to claim the throne, what would he do with the son he placed on it?
Around her, the Master Thieves began to leave, drifting apart one by one. Sira turned to go when she saw a familiar face.
He sat in the shadow of one of the grand bells, his hood pooled down around his neck. Apparently, he’d escaped the Isle and returned to his trade. Sira stared back at him, unflinching in the face of his anger. She owed no one, not even him.
A loud shout broke the spell and Sira stirred. Without a second glance she turned and walked away. At that moment Lucco was her greatest concern. He had no knowledge of what he was being thrust into and there were those who’d harm him, even with Lord Luceer standing over him. Sira didn’t have many contacts left, but she did have some.
It was time to put them to use.