The Advisor's Test
Chantelle fiddled with the bonds around her wrists, listening to their rusted squeaks as each individual chain link scraped against the other. The footfalls of the Eyrie guard behind her echoed through the desolate halls of the citadel’s palace. His armor clanked with every step.
“I’m going to have to ask you to stop doing that,” he said, grabbing both of Chantelle’s thin arms with one paw.
“Sorry, sir,” replied the Darigan Aisha, who had stuffed the space between her fur and the chains with a layer of cloth from her dress. “They’re just very tight.”
The Eyrie scoffed. “Obviously. But don’t worry, once you’re in Galgarroth’s office, you’ll have far more to worry about than your discomfort.”
He was right. Chantelle knew that Galgarroth was a fair and honest Grarrl, two qualities that, in the present situation, did not bode very well for her.
After what seemed like an eternity, the guard finally dropped her off in front of a nondescript red door with faint square patterns etched near the frames, just like every other door in the palace. He knocked a few times before Galgarroth answered.
“Sir,” the guard told him, “the prisoner you’ve asked me to fetch is here.”
Galgarroth’s muffled voice came from the other side: “Then leave her here and return to your duties.”
The Eyrie stared at Chantelle for a few moments, and was met only by a blank stare and a shrug. “If—if that’s what you want, Advisor Galgarroth.”
“It is,” the advisor replied with a hint of impatience in his voice.
The Eyrie quickly unlocked the door and pulled Chantelle inside, her legs fumbling in the small space the chains between them allowed. When she finally got a hold of her balance, she stood still and waited.
Galgarroth was donning his blood-red uniform, his sord just an arm’s reach away and his armor mounted on the east wall, near a large bookshelf containing many a classic about governance and war. He stuck his head up from his writing. His eyes lazily examined her.
“I’ve been wanting to see you for quite some time,” he said. Galgarroth’s voice was clear and soft, often giving the illusion of leniency and compassion. “This is, undoubtedly, a week or so late, but welcome back.”
Chantelle did not know what to say.
“To be honest, I thought you’d have escaped by now,” he continued. “You’d done it swiftly when the Meridellians discovered you, and I’ve no doubt someone with such a large knowledge of the arcane could not have slipped past our dungeons.”
“I was afraid in Meridell,” she replied.
“And you’re not afraid here?”
The Meridellians knew Chantelle as the Court Dancer, a minion of an evil ruler who ruled overhead and plotted for their destruction. In Meridell, Chantelle would have only been seen as part of a larger, amorphous evil. The Darigan Citadel was different—Darigans knew exactly what she did and who she was, and what choices she’d made, and the extra charges of treason made her fate all the worse.
She was much worse off in the citadel than in Meridell; she knew that. “I would have been very much afraid a few months ago. Justice scared me then; I see it is almost inevitable now.”
Galgarroth raised a brow. “And so you don’t plan on defending yourself at all.”
“I don’t. It’s all the same, anyway. If a legal system doesn’t get me, something else will.”
Galgarroth’s eyes widened just a smidge. He frowned. “Do you have nothing to say for yourself, then? No explanation for assisting Kass?”
“No, don’t get me wrong. I can certainly explain a lot of things I did, but explanations are not justifications, and so there’s little point in it,” said Chantelle. “For example, I can explain Kass’s very compelling reason for his legitimacy.”
“Sounds like something most people would bring up in a court of law.”
Many of Kass’s former supporters did just that, citing the fact that the citadel had little stable leadership after Darigan lost. Darigan had no heirs or named successors, and so it was hardly a crime to support then-General Kass, the man who’d had a lot of Darigan’s trust and seemed to, at first, want nothing but peace and prosperity.
Chantelle was one of the few who knew better than that. “It’s very simple, really,” she said, adopting her most chipper tone. “All dear Kassy had to do was point at how fragile the necks of myself and my loved ones tended to be, especially against the executioner’s blade. His wonderful demonstrations of the long drop between here and the ground below was likewise very, very compelling.”
A groan escaped Galgarroth. He gave Chantelle a weak smile. “That’s an . . . interesting argument.”
“Sir, I never said it was a particularly sound or valid argument, only that it was compelling. And since he’d ‘convinced’ me he was the true leader, and I fancied myself a good citizen, it was easy to rationalize everything else that came after.”
“I see it,” said Galgarroth. “Doubtless many others find intimidation compelling as well.”
“But it is cowardly, sir.”
“You’re not wrong, Chantelle, not wrong at all, but I’m absolutely baffled by you. You seem to have a good moral center.”
“Thank you, but unfortunately, I don’t think it has been proven to be all that sound. It’s considerably easier to distinguish and know what is right and wrong than it is to act upon them.”
“Mm-hm,” mumbled the advisor in agreement. “Let me ask you a question, Chantelle. You said you valued being a good citizen—if Darigan wanted you to do something, would you?”
Chantelle hesitated: “Yes, though with the caveat that if it turned out to be immoral, I would absolutely refuse, as I’ve learned.”
“Would you try to make good on at least some of the things you’ve done?”
Galgarroth nodded and wrote something down on a piece of paper. “One more thing, do you know why you’re here today?”
She shook her head. Galgarroth was a curious fellow, which was a rarity among Darigans, and his curiosity being sated was all the reason she’d cared to think about.
The Grarrl advisor took out a small sack and a folded violet robe from under his desk. He laid the robe to the side. Then, he untied the sack and folded its edges away, revealing sickly green shards, a thread, and two gray feathers.
Chantelle squinted at the sack’s contents before realizing they were the shattered pieces of the Kass Charm, though no magic radiated from it anymore. “Where did you get that?”
“Lord Darigan spent quite a lot of time finding all the remnants,” said Galgarroth. “He was adamant that all of it be collected. He was obsessed with trying to study it for a while, to figure out the exact nature of its magic.”
Chantelle knew perfectly well what magic it used to possess; it possessed the primal power of the Three, the power of the emotions each of them represented. The strength it gave to its wearer came from a desire for revenge; the ability to read minds came from Kass’s ambitions; and its tendency to suck up nearby magical power came from his greed.
And now that Kass was no more, the charm’s magic left it. “It seems very strange he’d want to do that.” Strange indeed, especially since Darigan must have known as well.
“It seems strange to me, as well. But you must remember that Lord Darigan once had Kass in high esteem, and I think it is hard for him to easily judge him since he’d had . . . experience with the same forces that drove Kass to ruin.”
“He thinks I can help him with his inner demons then.”
“I wouldn’t put it that way, but yes. You are Morguss’s daughter, and therefore a good sorceress, but not as dangerous as she was.”
Morguss was the best of the best in Darigan’s realm when it came to the arcane, and, unfortunately, she was very much in service of the Three, those demons of Greed, Ambition, and Revenge. Chantelle spent many a night listening to her mother babble on and on to a faint trio of specters, agreeing to their every command. The few moments they weren’t there, Morguss was a fair enough mother, and had even proved herself to be loving at points, but those times grew increasingly rare as time went on.
Chantelle had vowed never to serve them as Morguss did.
“He wanted me to evaluate you on your suitability and trustworthiness for such a task,” said Galgarroth. “And by my estimate, you’re passing. Barely, though.”
Chantelle blinked, just now forcing her starving mind to put two and two together. Was she being offered a job? “What does this mean?”
“It means that I can pass you along to Darigan for a de facto position as a royal sorceress. Of course, such a position would be most discreet, and it would be predicated on your agreement.”
“I don’t deserve it,” replied Chantelle. “And I doubt you’d disagree.”
“Correct, as usual.” Galgarroth smiled and clasped his hands together. “You’re not wrong about my feelings toward all this, but I trust Lord Darigan knows what he’s doing—at least, for now. But if I were you, I would take advantage of this opportunity to do the good that you can, because you’re not going to get anything similar again. Besides, you said it yourself, justice will follow you no matter where you decide to go.”
That much was true. Chantelle supposed it was better to do some good before facing her inevitable justice than fatalistically waiting for it. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt.”
“No, it wouldn’t. Lord Darigan has the last say in all of this, of course.”
“Of course,” agreed Chantelle. “I would be honored to even meet him.”
“Good. I’ll send to him your agreement. In the meantime, well, you look quite shabby.” Galgarroth gestured to the folded robes at the edge of his desk. “I’ll send you off with a good change of clothes.”
Chantelle looked down at her ripped, tattered amber dress. “Thank you, sir.”
“Don’t thank me. I’ll be watching you like a Drackonack, and trust me when I say that if you even think about betraying Darigan, I will absolutely not hesitate to let you rot in the dungeons.”
Red marks from Chantelle’s binds had formed under her fur. She pumped her hands a few times before deciding she would rather not have them there, and promptly focused her natural magic into the chains that bound her hands and feet. In the span of a few seconds, each link grew weak and broke, clanging as they hit the ground.
She smiled sweetly at Galgarroth’s shocked expression, grabbed the robes, and went over to the door in order to return to her cell. “But I don’t think you’ll have much trouble with me at all.”