If I am alive when Maven dies, will I be permitted to burn his corpse?
We push, lowering the board with our hands and our ability. Using our own muscles and the weight of our current to sink the body. Even in the shallows, the water distorts his face. Dawn breaks to my left, the sun rising over the low hills. It flashes on the surface, blinding me for a moment.
I shut my eyes and remember Father as he was.
He returns to the water’s embrace.
Detraon is a city of canals, nymph-cut into the bedrock on the western edge of Clear Bay. The ancient city that used to sit here is no more, washed away by floods more than a thousand years ago. There are still massive fields of debris downriver, choked with the rotted ruins of another time. Rust-eaten iron dust turns the earth red to this day, and magnetrons harvest those stretches like farmers do wheat. When the waters receded, the land here was still the perfect spot for our capital, sitting well beside Lake Eris, with easy access to Lake Neron through a short strait, and the rest of the lakes beyond. From Detraon, over both natural and nymph-made waterways, we can quickly reach almost every corner of our kingdom. All the way from the Hud in the north to the disputed borders along the Great River in the west and the Ohius in the south. No nymph lord could resist, and so here we stay, drawing our strength and safety from the waters.
The canals make for easy division, cutting the city into quarter sectors surrounding our central temples. Most Reds live in the southeast, farthest from the blissful waterfront, while the palace quarter and noble quarter sit on the bay itself, overlooking the waters we love so well. The Whirlpool Quarter, as it’s commonly known, occupies the northeast, where both wealthier Reds and less important Silvers live in close proximity. It’s merchants, mostly, businessmen, lower officers and soldiers, poor students from the university in the noble quarter. As well as Reds of quality and necessity. Skilled workers—independent, usually. Servants wealthy or important enough to live in Silver households, not their own. City governance is not my strong suit, and better left to Tiora, but I do what I can to acquaint myself with such things. Even if they bore me, I must know, at the very least. Ignorance is a burden I do not intend to carry.
We don’t use the canals today, as the palace is close enough to the bayfront. Good, I think, enjoying the familiar walk. Arches span the turquoise-and-gold walls of the noble sector, so fluid and smooth they can only be the work of Silvers. Family homes I know by heart peek up over the walls, their windows thrown open to the morning, dynastic colors streaming proudly in the breeze. The bloodred flag of the Renarde Line, jade green for the peerless, ancient storm line of Sielle—I name each in my head. Their sons and daughters fought for the new alliance. How many died alongside Father? How many that I knew?
It looks to be a beautiful day, with the sun rising through a sky of sparse clouds. The wind off Eris continues, pawing through my hair with light fingers. I expect the smell of decay, destruction, defeat to come out of the east. But all I smell are the lake waters, wet and green with summer. No sign of the army limping toward us, its blood spent on the walls of Corvium.
Our escort fans out, flint-eyed soldiers of the Lakelands paired with Maven’s own contingent. Most of his nobles are still with the army, moving as fast as the rest will allow. But he still has his Sentinel guards. They hang close, as do two of his high-ranking generals, each with aides and guards of their own. The lord general from House Greco is gray-haired, deceptively lean for a strongarm, but there’s no mistaking the garish yellow-and-blue emblem on her shoulder. Tiora made sure I memorized the great lines of Norta, their houses, until I knew them as well as our own. The other, Lord General Macanthos—blue and gray—is young, with sandy hair and nervous eyes. Too young for his position. I suspect his rank is new, and he replaced a relative who died recently.
Maven is smart enough to give my mother deference in her own country, and he walks a few steps behind her. I do as is expected, keeping pace at his side. We don’t touch. Not even the harmless link of arms or hands. It is his rule, not mine. He won’t touch me, not since the day he lost his grip on Mare Barrow. The last we felt of each other was a cold kiss beneath a gathering storm.