“A sinking ship knows no captain.”
– Ashuran saying
I wondered if Hasenbach was getting as tired of this as I was.
Probably not. Ruling in Procer involved a lot more wrangling than it did in Callow, or at least the Callow I’d risen to rule – one where most great nobles had been stripped of their lands, and the armies of all but the crown had been severely curtailed. Outside her own Rhenia, the First Prince of Procer’s authority had rarely ran further than what she could sway others to grant her. Which must have made it all the more galling that, after years of staying one step ahead of her opponents at home and abroad, she was now getting cornered again and again by a bunch of yokels with swords. I supposed if I’d been fuller of myself than I was I might have started to believe that Hasenbach was losing her touch, or that I was a fine schemer indeed.
I was not so deluded, thank the Gods. The First Prince was being forced to give ground again and again because the Principate was collapsing under her, not because she’d proved to be blind or a fool. The crushing pressures within her realm where simultaneously forcing her to take unwise stands – like trying to claim the Red Axe – while robbing her of the clout that a First Prince with Procer firmly behind her would be able to wield. It was a deathly downwards spiral I’d begun to glimpse, one where to keep her head above the water she had to risk ever taller waves and even one grave misstep might be enough to see her drown. Still, she was not the only one who had demands made of her. There were matters I could not compromise over.
Trying to keep to that while preventing Procer from bursting open like an overripe fruit was why I’d sought Cordelia Hasenbach out for a private audience and insisted that the White Knight come along. Hanno’s dedication to trials under the Terms being treated as genuine exercises of justice was laudable, if occasionally inconvenient, but even he knew that worrying too much about appearances when the hour of need was upon us could only be a recipe for disaster. And so the White Knight had agreed to discuss the upcoming trial of the Red Axe, if not her sentencing, and to try to find a compromise with the First Prince. He was a reasonable man; it’d not been hard to exact that promise from him.
But I also knew that, like all Named, Hanno of Arwad would have lines that his very nature would not let him cross. Hasenbach and I, ultimately, were practical creatures. Our lines were born of practical concerns, either the feasibility of the Liesse Accords or the salvation of the Principate. The White Knight, on the other hand, was a principled man. The lines he would refuse to cross were moral ones, and while I could not find it in me to look down on that neither would I pretend that it did not make him unpredictable to deal with.
“This is nostalgic,” Hanno smilingly said, setting down his cup of tea. “I’ve not had this brew since I was a boy.”
Oh, good. Then if I got lucky I might never again have to force a smile after having a sip of this stuff. Even the Firstborn made better tea, and their version of it involved no leaves as well as more fluorescent snails than anyone should be comfortable with.
“I have an appreciation for Ashuran leaves,” the First Prince smiled back. “Though I will confess this particular sort was tricky to obtain.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Hanno snorted. “Few Ashuran merchants would willingly sell copper tea. It’s not a true leaf, you see. They make from the leftovers and low-quality batches of harvests that can be sold abroad.”
“Even your copper tea would sell for more than its weight in gold, back home,” I shrugged. “Luxury is in the eye of the beholder.”
While by the look on his face I suspected that Hanno would have genuinely enjoyed a conversation about this, it wasn’t what we’d come for and so after a few more courtesies the cups went down – mine only lightly touching my lips once more out of politeness, though I did not actually drink – and we got to business.
“Neither of us is blind to the damage the Red Axe’s trial could wreak on the Principate,” I calmly said. “And no one wants the situation to get out of hand. We’re looking into way to mitigate the issue.”
I wouldn’t back giving the heroine to the Highest Assembly to try, even the series of recent diplomatic reverses Procer had suffered weren’t enough to get me to consider such a thing, but I’d meant it when I’d told Hanno that Hasenbach needed to be given something. The question now was what she could safely be given, and while I had my own notion of what that compromise might look like it would be… contentious. I wasn’t sure either Procer or the heroes would go for it. Better to let Hasenbach out one of the contingency plans I did not doubt she had up her sleeve. The First Prince’s glance at the White Knight was measuring, in the heartbeat of silence that followed.
“The Terms cannot be twisted or turned aside,” the dark-skinned knight said. “That would be a severe breach of faith. Yet, as the Black Queen has said, I am aware of the difficulties this trial poses to Procer. I would not cause undue harm if there is a way to avoid it.”
There, what she’d wanted: confirmation that this wasn’t just me dragging Hanno in by the ear so that he might go through the motions of making nice with her. Not that she’d been inclined to think poorly of him, I believed. I’d never deeply discussed either of them with the other, but to my understanding there’d always been a degree of mutual respect there. Not closeness, though. The White Knight encouraged heroes working with the authorities, but never to the extent of becoming part of them. Even the little I knew about the Thalassocracy told me where he might have gained a taste for that distinction. As for Hasenbach, she was understandably wary of the armed Heavens-blessed demigods traipsing around her realm that considered themselves only loosely bound to its laws – and so she must be wary of their leader as well, regardless of his general amiability.
“The trouble in in the primacy of the Terms over our laws,” Cordelia said, “even when applying to individuals of Procer who committed crimes against other Procerans.”
The Red Axe was from the southern outskirts of the Principate, it was true. The Wicked Enchanted had been Proceran as well, and Frederic still was. All three were also Named, though, which complicated things a great deal.
“The matter of the attempted regicide, in particular, will be a contentious matter,” Cordelia continued. “If even rulers anointed by the House of Light can suffer assassination attempts without Procer being able to give answer, there are some who might argue that we have all been made subservient to the Chosen.”
“The Highest Assembly approved of the treaties establishing this,” the White Knight reminded her.
“Those treaties were approved when it was believed that the Chosen would not resort to attempting the murder of princes,” the First Prince flatly said. “We have been… disappointed, in this regard.”
Harsh but fair, I thought.
“Middle ground can be found, I expect,” I intervened. “The Terms were not made to last, and we did not expect they would stumble into such challenges. It’ll require everyone to bend a little more than they’d like, but that’s the nature of compromise. I’m sure you have suggestions, Your Highness, as to what my ally the fears of the Highest Assembly. I’d be interested to hear them.”
I found her hard to read, in the moments that followed, as she studied us both. Hesitating, or gauging how far she’d be able to push this?
“As the concerns come from the forced impotence of Proceran law, I would suggest that the Red Axe be made to stand trial before the Highest Assembly,” she said.
My brow rose. She wasn’t a fool, so that couldn’t be all of it.
“The sentence passed would, undoubtedly, be death,” Cordelia said. “Its application could be suspended, however, until she has also stood trial under the Terms.”
Ah, there it was. If both Procer and the White Knight condemned the Red Axe to death, who was to say what sentence was being carried out when the blade was swung? If Hanno did the deed, or a Proceran executioner, then the balance would be made to swing either way. But there was a candidate to keep the weights even, as it were.
“You’d make Prince Frederic do it,” I quietly said. “Since he straddles both worlds. That way everyone can go home with a win to tell their people about.”
It’d eat up the man inside, though, I thought. He’d wanted to avoid taking her life. But while I liked Frederic Goethal, his peace of mind was not worth what it would cost.
“A compromise I could live with,” I said.
Some of the more paranoid among my charges would smell a rat, but with the Red Axe dead at the hand of the same hero she’d tried to kill I shouldn’t get too much pushback. There would be some who’d have wanted me to bleed the heroes dry over this, but they’d be few and not popular among our kind – the likes of the Headhunter and the Red Knight were powerful, but usually without many allies.
“What is being suggested,” the White Knight coldly said, “is not just.”
My fingers clenched under the table. Hanno’s face had gone hard as stone.
“I will not promise a sentence or an executioner before a trial has been held,” the White Knight said. “This is not a compromise, it is a perversion of the oaths we all swore. It does not matter what the Red Axe has done: she has rights under the Terms, and among these is a fair trial.”
A steady look was fixed onto the both of us.
“What you are speaking of,” he slowly said, “is not a fair trial.”
And that was that, wasn’t it? As far as he was concerned that settled the matter. And for all that Hanno had gone cold, I thought, the look on Cordelia’s face was no warmer.
“Compromise requires both sides to give, Lord White,” the First Prince of Procer said, frigidly polite.
“There is no justice to be found in denying the rights of one to safeguard those of another,” the Sword of Judgement evenly replied. “All that is accomplished is the shifting around of injustice.”
“If a right is abused, then the abuser is no longer deserving of it,” the First Prince said. “Else it becomes a tool of oppression.”
A little rich coming from a princess of Procer, that, but most of the time I still liked that lot better than Above’s so I’d let it slide. At nineteen the scene unfolding before me would have me giddy: the Principate and heroes, both bitter enemies of mine, were at each other’s throat. But years had passed, and these days I had too much use for both to be glad of this.
“A mechanism has been established to deal with such abuses,” the White Knight bluntly said. “It has yet to fail, in my eyes, and so your treatment of it strikes me as unwarranted.”
He wasn’t going to give an inch on this, I sensed. It just wasn’t in his nature to give that inch over something like this, when he knew himself in the right and all those involved had taken the oaths with open eyes. And Gods, part of me agreed with him. The fucking Principate was quick to cry foul about the rights of its peoples being ‘trampled’ these days, but that conscience had been nowhere in sight when it’d been Callowan freedoms on the line. And even now that half the continent had gathered to keep it from burning still it insisted on throwing tantrums over gift horses, never mind looking them in the mouth. Hanno was looking after his own, people whose calling and service he respected and honoured, and aside from all the greater considerations he simply wasn’t going to dent his principles over something like princes being uneasy.
The White Knight did not believe it his charge to soothe princes, and so he’d not sacrifice things that he did consider his charge in order to do so. It was a fair way of looking at it, if you were a hero.
I wasn’t, though. I’d been one of Below’s since age sixteen and more importantly these days I was a queen. So while the White Knight wasn’t wrong, I did not believe that the First Prince was either. She wasn’t throwing a fit over this for pleasure, or even for principle – if Hasenbach’s objections to this were personal in nature, she would have stowed them away by now. This wasn’t a winning fight for her, and the fact that she was still picking it anyway meant that she was afraid of what would ensue if she didn’t. More afraid than of the consequences of the mess before my eyes, too, which was more than a little worrying. If the First Prince was coming out swinging this hard, then at a guess I’d say word about Frederic being bled had already leaked to the Assembly. There’d be pressure at her back to do something about this, and while I doubted that unseating her was in the cards there were other ways this could all go to the Hells.
If southern principalities started ignoring her orders because they no longer believed her to be a worthy leader for Procer, the Grand Alliance was in trouble. Weakened as it was, the Principate was still the main source of coin and goods for the war effort and those sure as fuck weren’t coming from the war-ravaged north. And while it might have been years since Black torched the heartlands, those lands had never truly been allowed to recover: continued conscription, high taxes and rationing meant some of the richest lands in Procer had never actually gotten back to their old prosperity. No, Hasenbach wasn’t worrying about things like authority and legitimacy because she was some over-proud highborn twit. She was worried about those things because if she lost them then Procer might start coming apart at the seams.
If she didn’t come through for her princes, if she damaged their privileges and all the while made heavy demands of them, then why should they keep listening to her? Especially if she lacked the means to force them to.
Sentimentality had me on Hanno’s side, but sentiment had to be left a door in matters like these. The needs of the queen took the victory once more, as Akua might have said. And if these two weren’t going to reach a compromise by themselves, if there was no pretty stainless solution to be had, then all that was left was the cheap tricks that’d been my trade since long before I put on a crown.
“Procer could be allowed to dispose of the body as it wishes, at least,” I said, and sighed when Hanno began to respond, “In the eventuality that there is a body, yes, not to make assurances either way. But if there is a corpse, White Knight, can it not at least be ceded to the Highest Assembly?”
“It would be a petty thing for a heroine’s corpse to be parade like a trophy,” the dark-skinned knight said, tight-lipped.
“Petty’s not unlawful,” I said. “So unless your feelings have become rules…”
His lips thinned even further. It’d been a hit below the belt, but then if the Gods Above had wanted me to fight clean they should have shelled out for another five inches at least.
“In principle, I would have no objection,” Hanno eventually replied.
It would have been undiplomatic of Hasenbach to point out that this was such a paltry concession as to almost not be one at all, especially given that I’d secured it on her behalf, but from the cool serenity of her face I got the message anyway. She wasn’t going to be appeased with a few metaphorical coppers flipped her way. If she didn’t get meat to throw her princes, it would be on her they turned their fangs. I angled my face so that Hanno wouldn’t see and cocked a brow at her.
“It appears we have reached the end of what can be settled today,” the First Prince calmly said. “I thank you both for calling on me, but I believe there is nothing left to say on this matter.”
“That seems to be correct,” the White Knight said, tone regretful.
Not enough to bend his neck, though, so what did regret matter?
“While I have your ear, Your Highness, I had a few questions about the issues Mercantis,” I idly said. “If you’re willing, it shouldn’t take too long.”
Hasenbach considered it for a moment.
“I had anticipated a longer conversation,” she said. “I have the time to spare if you do.”
Hanno cast me a searching look and I shrugged. He and I had already talked about Mercantis some, and he’d made a suggestion I was warming to – sending the Painted Knife’s band there to keep the merchants honest – but Named arm-twisting was only a small part of the matter and he had little to do with the rest. It wasn’t his wheelhouse, and if it grew to concern him I’d make it known.
Not that I actually intended to talk about Mercantis.
I gave him nothing to work with, so the White Knight made his courtesies and left. In the silence that followed his departure I glance at the cup of tea I’d barely sipped at, choosing my words as the First Prince’s expectant gaze found me.
“There’s a way for you to get what you want,” I said. “Though I expect you won’t like it.”
Blue eyes found mine, unblinking.
“Yet here I am,” the First Prince of Procer calmly said, “listening.”
Murder of an ally. Attempted murder of an ally. Aid to an enemy of the Grand Alliance.
The Red Axe would stand trial accused of those three breaches of the Terms, and that the equivalent of a treason charge was the least of the three meant the affair begged for a blood end. The Wicked Enchanter had been an unrepentant monster, but until he stepped out of line again he’d been under protection: his killing must be punished, and as the representative for the villains under the Terms there was only one punishment I was willing to accept. I still had the smoldering remnants of sympathy for the heroine on trial, but she’d known how this would end before she took her first step down this road.
The Red Axe herself seemed utterly unworried when she was brought in. Unlike the Mirror Knight when he’d stood in the same place her hands were bound by shackles and she was chained to a steel ring set in the ground. Masego and Roland had personally traced the wards that would keep her out of the back half of the room should she get free, though it was a lot more likely that the crossbowmen and armed guards surrounding her would get to it first. It would have been counterproductive to gag her, I knew, but as I looked at her calmly expectant expression I found I itched to have it done anyway. There were few things more dangerous in life than someone with nothing left to lose.
I’d expected some ceremony out of Hanno, given his years as the champion of the Choir of Judgement, but instead he was brisk and business-like.
“The charges against the Red Axe have been made known to you,” the White Knight said. “Do any of you intend to lay further ones, or contest those I will pursue?”
Denials all around. Mine was barely more than a mutter, my eyes remaining on the heroine.
“Then I will proceed,” Hanno calmly said.
The Red Axe laughed.
“Gods, but what a pretentious waste of time,” she said, her Chantant lightly accented.
The White Knight looked unmoved.
“Do you understand the charges laid against you under the Terms?” he asked.
“To the Hells with your Terms,” the Red Axe said. “They’re expedience made law and just as ugly as that sounds. I renounce them, and for you fine people who think you have rights over me, I add this-”
She spat on the stone, offering up a hard smile.
“Are you requesting that the protections of the Terms be withdrawn from you?” the First Prince calmly asked.
Not surprising. Hasenbach would definitely try to get her hands on the heroine outright, if she could at this late hour, regardless of any deal she and I had made. What I’d offered was barely palatable, while this would smack to her of a clean win. Wouldn’t work, of course. I wasn’t a fucking idiot, so I’d told Hanno of my conversation with the Red Axe and made sure he spoke with her as well.
“Whether she desires this now or not is irrelevant,” the White Knight said. “She agreed to the Terms as made understood to her by the Archer and had not renounced them when she committed the breaches for which she is now being charged.”
“Your rules never meant a thing to me, Sword of – sword of what, these days, I ask?” the Red Axe said. “Not Judgement, and nothing I see in this room makes for a good replacement.”
“That your word means little does not mean you are exempt from holding it,” Hanno replied without batting an eye.
Cordelia glanced at me, but there wasn’t a lot of hope on her face and I didn’t add any with my own bland expression. Procer would get no help from me if she made a play for snatching now, and Lord Yannu did not speak a word to deny the White Knight’s claim. Hasenbach let it go, and we moved on. The first hurdle had been passed.
“Given the number of eyewitnesses to the killing of the Wicked Enchanter, I saw no need for spoken testimony,” Hanno continued. “I’ve selected and now provide thirty different written accounts, which should prove sufficient. If there are any doubts among the tribunal, there are more that can be sent for.”
I’d already read some of those parchments and the facts were not in doubt, so I offered the writing only a few looks before setting it aside.
“I confess,” the Red Axe said.
A moment of silence. Eyes went to the heroine, which only seemed to encourage her.
“I confess I put down a monster,” she said. “ That I killed a rapist, a murder and something worse. I confess I would have made it slower if I could, that-”
“Guards, please silence the accused until she is called on to speak again,” Hanno said.
Spells wouldn’t work on her, so it was a gag they had to use. She fought them, and the sight sickened my stomach – all those men in armour around a girl, alone and unarmed and tied up. Named, I reminded myself. One who’d done things that might yet kill thousands, in full knowledge of the risks. The White Knight continued to make his case, as if never interrupted. The Kingfisher Prince’s personal testimony was a written one, as he’d decline to stand before the tribunal, but witnesses among my soldiers and the Levantines gave damning account of the attack on the Prince of Brus. The Sinister Physician came in to speak as to how dangerous the wound had been and was followed up by two priests who’d handled the later parts of Frederic’s recovery.
With attempted murder of an ally solidly grounded in proof, it was ‘aid to an enemy’ that was approached. Proof was difficult to establish, when it came to the Bard, and while I recounted my conversation with the Red Axe it wouldn’t be enough to damn her. Fortunately for Hanno, once relieved of her gag she was eager enough to handle that herself.
“You want to accuse me of working with the Wandering Bard,” she said, amused. “It’s a crime now, is it? I didn’t. She worked with me.”
The Red Axe shrugged.
“I wasn’t tricked, if that’s the story you want to spin,” she said. “I knew what I wanted, and she wanted me to get it too. None of what she told me was even a secret. It was just names and places, that’s all.”
“To be clear, you admit to collaboration with the Wandering Bard?” Hanno asked.
“She talked and I listened,” she said. “Sometimes I talked too. Call that whatever you will. Not like it’ll make a difference in your little puppet show, is it? You’ve already got what you need for blood.”
Lord Yannu let out a harsh bark of laughter. Well, she wasn’t wrong. In principle even just killing the Wicked Enchanter would be enough to get her executed, much less the rest. With yet another confession on the record, the trial was effectively at an end. Hanno asked us if we wanted to deliberate, but there were no takers. Recommendations followed.
“Death,” the Lord of Alava said.
“Death,” the First Prince of Procer said.
“Death,” I echoed.
The Red Axe mockingly laughed. She’d not been gagged, I supposed because of discomfort at the idea of ordering this woman’s death without letting her speak in answer to it.
“Half the world clamoured for her death,” she said. “What an eulogy that will make.”
She wanted, I felt, someone to answer her. To engage. This was the culmination of her story, wasn’t it? The moment where she was sent to her death because of her principles, where defiant and dry-eyed she cursed the wicked kings doing her wrong. But no one answered. Because to the rest of us the Red Axe wasn’t a righteous heroine about to shame us for our misdeeds, she was the woman who’d endangered one of the treaties keeping the Dead King from winning this war and sweeping over Calernia in a tide of death. No one here was enjoying this, I thought, but ashamed? No. We were a long way from that. So instead of a cruel jest or a justification, as she would have gotten in a story, the Red Axe got silence and then Hanno passing her sentence.
“Death,” the White Knight echoed. “By beheading, to be carried out by my own hand tomorrow at Morning Bell. The accused will be granted a night to make her peace with the Gods Above, but kept detained until then.”
“Pathetic,” the Red Axe said. “You’re all-”
Hanno called for her to be gagged again, and as soon as it was done asked for the comments from the tribunal. Lord Yannu agreed, sounding largely indifferent, but when it was my turn to speak I had more to say.
“I am satisfied with death,” I said, “but today’s proceedings should be put under seal instead of made known.”
“On what grounds?” Hanno frowned.
“On the grounds that the details of this will make it known to every Named that has issued with the Terms that they’ve got an ally they can plot with,” I said.
“The Wandering Bard is to be declared an enemy of the Grand Alliance regardless,” the White Knight said. “What is there to hide?”
“That the Bard is after the Terms themselves, instead of the ringleader of a plot against the Arsenal,” I said. “If she just helped thrash the Arsenal, no one will see her as an ally. If this was all a plot against the Terms, though? That’s a banner, and those always gather people.”
The White Knight cast a look at the other two members of the tribunal, who did not seem to object. I could see him weigh the costs of refusal here and then decided it wasn’t worth it.
“Agreed,” the White Knight said.
“I am satisfied,” the First Prince calmly said.
The Red Axe, even gagged, was laughing convulsively. People did get more perceptive, when standing in the shadow of their gallows. Had she figured it all out, or just that Cordelia and I were acting in concert? Didn’t matter, I thought.
It was already too late.
I’d not slept well, even with Indrani sharing my bed, and rose early.
I left Archer to sleep and slipped on my clothes, learning when I limped to an early breakfast that it was just shortly past Early Bell – there were still about three hours left before the execution happened. I asked for porridge, the bland but filling kind that remained a Legion staple to this day, and silently sipped at an herbal infusion that’d soothe my leg. It was an odd mood that’d taken hold of me, but I did not fight it. It’d pass soon enough, I knew, and I owed it to the woman I was about to see killed to at least look what I was doing in the eye. I ended up wandering away afterwards, eventually coming up where the killing was to be done. These were not, I thought, awe-inspiring grounds. More abattoir than gallows: a stretch of naked stone, an executioner’s block and a few seats on raised platforms.
Yet for all the bare bone nature of the place I found it carried a sort of cold, impersonal dread to it. Not unlike the Terms themselves, if one chose to look at it that way. The Mantle of Woe pulled tight against me, hood up, I tucked myself away in a shadowed nook and lit a pipe. A stream of wakeleaf gently rose, and I allowed my thoughts to drift. I wasn’t sure how long I stayed like that, absorbed in my silence, but when the sound of steel and leather boots came reached my ear I did not need to guess who it was that’d come. There were too many guards for it to be anyone but Cordelia Hasenbach. She approached me without escort and I flicked her a look from beneath the hood.
She’d dressed in dark colours today, if not outright black. They did not suit her well, but cosmetics and jewelry hid the fact decently enough. She came to stand by my side, reflecting my silence with her own. I’d worn no crown, and she only a simple circlet of white gold. My eyes were on the block, and without turning I somehow knew so were hers.
“She is right about one thing, at least,” Hasenbach murmured. “It has been an ugly affair.”
I breathed out smoke, letting it rise in curls. It was a calming sight, familiar.
“I’ve made a lot of ugly choices, over the years,” I said. “I believed them necessary, when I made them. More often than not they truly were.”
“It is the exceptions that stay with you,” the First Prince said. “A hundred victories will fade, but that sole stinging defeat will sink its hooks.”
I smiled bitterly.
“Can’t save everyone,” I said. “And if you try to, usually you don’t even get to save most.”
Nauk. Ratface. Farrier. Anne Kendall. There was always a price to trying to make a change. And keeping it standing, when it got done? Oh, that was even costlier.
“Duty is a bed of thorns,” Cordelia quietly said, “but someone must lie in it.”
“Oh, there’s not enough kindness left in me to flinch at this I don’t think,” I mused. “I was just wondering at how things change, over the years.”
“The first two lives I ever took were those of a rapist,” I said, “and his accomplice.”
She said nothing.
“I wonder if I’m still the one holding the knife,” I murmured, “or if another role does not suit me better, these days.”
There was a word, for those who protected the likes of the first man I’d ever killed. Accomplice.
The silence held until the room began to fill with the few dignitaries who needed to be there. The Red Axe was brought in after the White Knight had already stepped up to the block, a longsword at his hip. She wore only a brown shift, walking barefoot, and though escorted to the fore she went freely. Unafraid. The White Knight gestured for her to kneel, but she refused.
“On my feet,” the Red Axe said. “To the end, on my feet.”
The White Knight slowly nodded. The heroine turned towards us, gaze lingering on my hooded and smoking figure besides the First Prince’s dark-clad paleness.
“I go with all my accounts settled,” the Red Axe said. “And no regrets.”
She did not close her eye, even when the blade went through her neck with a flash of light. A clean cut, made that way by the searing Light on the edge of the blade. She wouldn’t have felt a thing. The head fell, neck burnt on both ends, and the body toppled. Hanno caught her and laid her down, unclasping his cloak and laying it over the corpse. His expression was tight as he rose to his feet, eyes searching for Hasenbach and finding her. His stride was quick.
“The corpse is now passed into the custody of the Principate, as was asked,” he stiffly said.
“We thank you for the courtesy,” the First Prince replied.
“What will you do with it?” he asked.
“That is no longer your concern.”
Hasenbach’s tone was not harsh, but neither was it one that would suffer further questioning. The White Knight’s eyes went to me, but I did not meet them. I breathed in the smoke, spewed it out, and waited until he’d left. The room slowly emptied, in the end leaving only the First Prince and her guards along with me. Leaning on my staff I limped up to the body veiled by the White Knight’s cloak, Hasenbach keeping pace with me. I laid down a hand on it and hummed. Yes, it could be done.
“Step back, if you don’t want to leave the room,” I said. “It won’t be easy work raising her coherent enough to stand trial before the Highest Assembly.”