Ruler’s Lot

By Kier Salmon

©2010, Kier Salmon

This is a work of Fiction. It is based in part on the Alternate History World known as “Dies the Fire,” written and copyrighted by S.M. Stirling in 2004. The author agrees to abide by the Stirling Fan Fiction site disclaimer. This work is copyrighted by Kier Salmon in 2010, except for those parts derived from “Dies the Fire,” and its sequels, which are copyrighted by S. M. Stirling and used here by permission. All characters in this fiction are, in fact, fictional, and any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.

October 1 CY21/2019 AD

County Tillamook, Portland Protective Association, Coastal Oregon.

For Mary Ann.

Anne ran down the broad, tapestried hallway, hearing her sister’s feet drum behind her. She took a sharp left into the servant’s access corridor where her heels thudded on the bare floor and flaring gas lights cast wavering shadows on cold concrete walls. Dad called them ‘cow fart lights,’ thought Anne, a pang for her dead father stabbing at her.

A quick sweeping grab back and forward looped the three foot long formal train over her left arm. She fairly flew down the spiral stairs, hanging on to the central metal post with her right hand, pinned braids under her maiden’s wimple threatening to come loose. Above she heard Susan hesitate as she gathered up her much shorter train. Lucy’s snapping steps on the first metal wedges smacked as she leapt down the last five steps, crimson skirts held above her knees.

Right, left, and out into the main hall of Tillamook Castle she ran as the bell tolled for chapel, the brocaded red train belling behind. Gong! Gong! Gong! Anne tried to curse under her breath. Dawn glowed in the high windows. Being a Lady, a Countess, and a minor, the best she could do was, “By the Seven Wounds of Our Lord, if Father Daniels scolds me today, I will…” She didn’t know what she would do, but the empty water clock ate at her.

Hélène filled it every night and she herself always topped it off before sleeping. But this morning — this very important morning — after Father Daniels’ scold last night over tardiness, and slovenliness, the clock had been empty and the alarm had not rung and woken them. Anne crossed the main hall, slowing her headlong flight. She pulled the heavy household chapel door open and held it for Susan and Lucy rushing past in a froth of emerald green and coral pink. Her panting breath settled as she walked up the chilly aisle behind them, kneeling and genuflecting on the hard tiles. She rose, looked to her right and froze. Her fighting menie — her entire fighting menie… stood there, in mufti!

Gesturing for her sisters to slide into the first pew next to their mother she shot a quick look at Sir Brandric Standish, her captain. The grizzled old man came to stand on her right, in the place of honor. A quirked eyebrow, tilted head and frown asked her question clearly enough. Sir Brandric shrugged, one shoulder bending slightly towards the altar and Anne set her jaw. She gave a quick shake of her head and made a swirling gesture with her hand, ending with a definite jerk of her thumb. Daniels may demand of us formal court garb for a weekday morning mass, but he mayn’t disarm my men!

Sir Brandric hesitated and she snapped her fingers silently. He nodded, knelt, genuflected and signaled the menie out of the cold, white chapel. It being Father Daniels who had ordered them disarmed, she watched his reaction to this display of her authority. His pale eyes met hers over the five yards that separated them. The dark moved deep in them.

Nine years ago, thought Anne, I was seven and he was a fat jolly priest with twinkling blue eyes who picked me up and kissed me on the lips. She wanted to wipe her mouth again at the memory. And then he looked into my eyes and that slug inside him leered at me! I understand leer now. Then I was just a baby and screamed for hours.

Anne clenched her jaw and stared back into the eyes of the slug at the altar. I never screamed again. He’s tried and tried to make me. Nobody sees the slug but me! Am I possessed by a demon or is he possessed? And I graced by God? Finishing the opening prayer, he looked away. She suddenly understood. No! He chooses who sees the slug… and he only shows it to me! But, why?

Even as Father Daniels called for the first lector the klaxon howled. Anne shot to her feet in horror. “Three! Three raids since my father died!” She pushed Susan and Lucy past her, “Go, go, go! Get the ambulance carts ready!” Today of all days! When the men are un-armed and un-armored!

Father Daniels said loudly, “Sit! Sit! It’s just a drill. We will keep the Lord’s mass as is proper!”

“Move! Move! Move!” yelled Anne in counter-point, her voice bouncing off the bare plastered walls, turning and waving her hands. “The Sutterdown wagon train was coming down the coast this morning! They must be the target!”

Anne scowled up at Father Daniels. I’m not giving him a chance to mess this up even further! I will rule! “Stay and finish the mass,” she ordered, sure of her ground. “Your role in this is to petition Le Bon Dieu, being a Prince of Peace.” She made her words bite. His sneer at Baron de Netarts a few days before had not been lost on her.

“Drinian, Corin, stay with the good father. See him safely through mass and then take him to his room. I will send for him when it is safe. Until then he is not to leave his room or stray from your sight.”

The two men bent knee with puzzled frowns. She caught their gaze. “I command this in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. And for the love of Mary, Mother of God, do not fail in your charge. The father is very vulnerable, being a Prince of Peace.” Anne watched him smooth out a scowl. Then she turned, made a grab for those much-too-ample fine red skirts, and ran out of the chapel to the main hall where maids, men servants, grooms and sutlers jostled in a yelling panicked mass.

Out of the chaos she snatched her maid, Hélène. “Upstairs and get our roughest clothes! My sisters and I will harness the mules. Hurry!”

Hélène sped off, pulling Dowager Countess Ermengarde’s maid with her. Anne nodded. Good, Mama’s maid will bring her clothes. She worked her way through the crowd and found the chief cook, Mistress Featherhorn and ordered her to keep the breakfast they had expected to feed to the wagon train hot, since if they weren’t come, the injured would benefit by it and the menie, and to prepare porridge to feed everybody in the town and village if needed. The advantage of porridge was that it could be fed to the horses, mules and even the cattle if not eaten by people.

Finally she spotted Sister Bertha, her tutor, coming out the tower door and waved her over. “We’ll go harness the mules, Sister Bertha. I need you and your sisters in God to load the ambulance supplies. Where have you been and where is Mistress Godford and Master Culther?”

“Father Daniels set me a penance. I suspect my punishment for interrupting the 400 consecutive Hail Marys will be severe.”

Anne shook her head sharply. “We are under attack. It is perfectly allowed to save the body before the soul. Not to fight is the sin of self-destruction.”

“Well, daughter, you are not our preceptor in God, are you?”

Anne bit her lip and shook her head. “I’m your Countess, in charge of your physical well-being. And he is Mama’s chaplain, not your preceptor.

“Have you seen Culther?”

“Here, my lady…”

Anne nodded to Sister Bertha and took Culther by the arm, issuing him orders as fast as she could talk and walk. She left him looking for Mistress Godford to pass on her orders and dived into the chaos of the courtyard. Men were still pulling on their mail shirts and vambraces, strapping on jerkins, slinging their swords or crossbows over their backs. But belts were tearing, quiver strings and crossbow strings snapping and only three horses were saddled.

Anger swirled around the fighting tail as much as chaos swirled through the hall. Men yelled at each other rather than helping and several fought. For a moment Anne wanted to stand in the center of the courtyard and have a screaming fit. How can I keep control of all these people? I’m only sixteen; they don’t respect me… I’m just a silly little chit of a girl! She took a deep breath. She knew it wasn’t true. It was one of the ideas Father Daniels was at such pains to install in her mind and the minds of everybody around me! Mother is the easiest; I’m her little girl!

By the stable she saw her sisters holding on to Ale and Tea, already in their rough clothes. Her fine sunset colored linen undercotte and brocaded woolen cottehardie skirts were getting trampled. She reached behind and swept up the train and yanked it over her left arm. “My lady Countess…”

“Sir Brandric , what is the matter here?”

“Did I not know better, I’d say the wee folk were at work.”

Anne met his eye and asked, “The wee folk? Not sabotage?”

Sir Brandric bit his lip. “Lady, if it is sabotage, then the entire county is rotten. Seven of my horses were to be re-shod this morning… without my knowledge or permission. And then the farrier found out that he had no more blanks and must go to Tillamook to forge more. Meanwhile the seven horses stand with one hoof unshod each!”

“And you brought the entire menie to mass; unarmed, leaving the castle un-garrisoned and unprepared.” Anne frowned as a startled look passed over Sir Brandric ’s face. He never even noticed that part! Bad!

“Pull the rest of the shoes off the horses and ride them shoeless. It’s not good for them, but a Haida sword will be much the worse.” He nodded and turned. Anne moved quickly over to the mules; Hélène reached for the bunched train and helped pull the gown and under gown over her head and coax the tight sleeves down. Her shift was not made for modesty, but the chaos of the courtyard was bad enough that she simply turned her backside towards the stable as she bent over to allow Hélène more traction. Susan and Lucy worked on her left sleeves. The double ten yards of cloth came loose, pulling off her wimple. Her pale blond braids flopped down her back. She slipped the rough brown linsey-woolsey longer and shorter t-tunics over her head and belted them firmly in place.

Her household boots she replaced with ones she used for ‘shrooming and quickly laced them. She patted the mules. “Why aren’t the carts out?” she asked, tying on a plain white headscarf.

“Edgar says that he sent the harness to be repaired this morning.”

Anne looked blankly at the dark stable for a long minute, her mind churning. Then she jumped for the ladder and found the old and patched harnesses in the loft where she’d put them when they’d gotten the new ones last year. Sister Bertha and her mother bustled up just as Baron de Netarts arrived with a bellow, scattering mud from the hoofs of his destrier. He sorted the menie into order and took them out. She sent her mother, Sister Bertha and two mule carts north to Bay City and Garibaldi. She and her sisters took Milk and Coffee with the other two ambulance carts north and west to the slip dock at Idaville where her ship was a-building. De Netarts’ Lady, Baroness Eustacia Strangeways and her chaplain, Father Dominique, joined them on the road.

Shortly she was holding back tears. From the smoke she knew that her ship was no longer a-building but a-burning. Susan held her arm and Lucy hugged her from behind. The two Sisters of Mercy in the other cart preserved a shocked silence. They rattled onto the field of battle ten minutes later, in time to watch de Netarts and a tall red-headed warrior who must be the Mackenzie tanist pull a man from the water and finish off the last of the Haida.

Anne focused on setting up the tents and cots; helping triage the wounded and dressing minor wounds. She was quite close enough to hear the Mackenzie’s warning about the Haida’s knowledge. This morning’s chaos of things gone pear shaped at the Castle made her nod quietly in agreement; somebody did know too much. The lone woman warrior spoke then, and showed herself a Witch-Woman, pronouncing the doom of the surviving raiders. She gave de Netarts the small assenting nod he needed and turned back to her labors. She could speak to the Mackenzie and Juhel later… she needed to speak to them, and in greater privacy.

❀ ❁ ❀

That opportunity did not come for several days. The Mackenzies were hosted and entertained as was proper and the damage was assessed, compiled, and accounted for. Anne ordered a banquet for her guests on the eve of their departure, a welcome change from the usual plain and scanty diet ordered by Daniels. Afterwards they adjourned to her mother’s solar.

“My Lady Anne,” said Juhel, taking the small glass of apple brandy from her, “something is on your mind.”

“Yes, and it’s not good, my guardian. I truly need your support.” Anne turned to offer Rudi a glass of apple jack.

“Shall I leave?”

“No!” said Anne. “I want all of you to listen.” Her mother and sisters settled, Gaston sat at his mother’s feet and Rudi, Edain and Eithne leaned against the wall next to Sir Brandric . Before she could begin the door opened and Father Daniels walked in.

Anne opened her mouth to shoo him out but her mother spoke first. “Ah, Father Daniels. So nice to see you. I’m glad you were so well protected during the raid, even if Anne forgot to send the order to release you, later.”

Anne breathed softly through her parted lips. Explanations would be harder. There is a reason why an accuser has to accuse in an open court to the accused’s face. But I don’t have to like it.

“My Lord Guardian, do you remember the chaos of the raid? Specifically, the chaos of my menie?”

“I do. I was going to have a serious talk with Sir Brandric tomorrow on that very subject.” Out of the corner of her eye, Anne saw Sir Brandric wince.

“No,” said Anne. “Or, yes, but! It was not Sir Brandric ’s entire fault.” She took up a sheet of paper from the credenza by the door. “I’ve spent the past few days tracking down each instance of trouble. Ten men and three women were involved in forty five separate acts of sabotage. Each was doing what he or she did either as a ‘joke’ or as a petty revenge against somebody else.

“Our new mule harnesses had been sent to the leather worker for mending that they didn’t need, for instance. Ernest Smith gave the order to Marcus Donkeyman who sent the harnesses away the night before. Ernest wanted Jeanne Ford, but she preferred Marcus. He felt shamed.” Anne rattled the paper and handed it to de Netarts and met his eyes in a long hard look.

“It’s treason; each and every act would have left us a little less prepared to meet a threat we have faced too often in the past five years to doubt that it could come upon us again. All forty five together nearly left us on our knees under a Haida sword. We have our Witch friends to thank that we have not been brought down, so far.”

Silence greeted her words. She did not look at Father Daniels. “All together, we nearly couldn’t fight off the raid and we lost the ship. I’ll go to Winter Court and petition the Lady Regent as Rudi Mackenzie has suggested. But we can’t have this happen again. So many petty revenges executed on the worst day of all.” She looked into Juhel’s eyes again and saw a hard edge. Yes, he understands.

“What would you have done?”

“We need to stop this careless cruel perpetration of petty revenges for now. I doubt we can change human nature enough to make it stick for too long, but it must stop for the winter, at least. We are too vulnerable. I…” her voice broke suddenly. She swallowed and turned. “You lost a man, Mackenzie, and we have not offered you wergeld. And we lost ten women, five children, and six men. An example must be made.”

She shook her head and blotted her eyes quickly. “These men and women who caused our unreadiness are not, for the most part, prosperous. I want to bind them into peonage as an extraordinary punishment for a limited time. On the other side of the paper is the cost of each life and the distribution I think correct. I want to hold open court tomorrow, that I may pay the wergeld to the Mackenzies out of my private purse and condemn these thirteen to labor for the stipulated times; their wages going to pay the wergelds.”

She looked around Juhel towards her mother who was frowning. “And you are co-regent, mother. I need your approval, as well.”

“Really, darling, I think you are going too far. This is a matter for Juhel to deal with, not you!”

“No.” Juhel’s flat negative startled Anne. She turned sharply and stepped on her skirt and tottered. As Rudi caught and steadied her, Juhel turned to her mother and continued, “Anne is correct. She is the Countess, even if she is a minor. She will not be prepared to take on the powers and dignities she must in five years if she does not begin now. If Count Scout were still alive, he’d have had her working the heir’s lot right now and making these decisions. You can’t keep her in lambs-wool, Ermengarde, she needs to rule.

“Moreover, she has managed to explain what happened in clear, concise and beautiful accounting. It saves Sir Brandric an unwarranted scolding and puts us on our guard.”

Anne nodded and pinched Rudi’s hand and winked at her guardian. “The second issue that caused our problems was Father Daniels. My Lord de Netarts — for the past several years Father Daniels has been…” she hesitated over the word she needed, “…demanding of the household a discipline more suited to a protected monastery in the central lands than a vulnerable working lay coastal outpost of civilization.

“He is not the Father Abbott of the monastery of Castle Tillamook, in charge of everything from the hangings in the chapel to the meals placed on the table, the funds coming in and the punishments meted out.

“He is the Dowager Countess of Tillamook’s private castle chaplain. Yet these are decisions he imposes. I am going to order the arras that came down for my father’s funeral re-hung in the chapel.” Anne stared fiercely into the pale eyes of Father Daniels. “and you are to stay out of the chancery, out of the the punishment detail and out of the kitchens! Ordering food is my mother’s prerogative and you will not over-ride her any more! Or me! I will rule!

“The men of the menie were specifically prohibited from entering the chapel armed and armored, and received a message, purporting to be from Father Daniels that the entire menie must attend dawn mass. Sir Brandric accepted those orders without consulting either with myself, my mother, or with yourself over the appropriateness of said orders; that’s the ‘Yes, but.’ Either my mother and I govern this castle with your support or the church does. But it can’t be both.”

She looked straight into Father Daniels eyes and swallowed bile. The slug was leering at her. And Rudi surreptitiously pinched her back. Juhel moved towards Father Daniels, “Is this true? You gave orders to the fighting men?”

The rotund little priest drew himself up to his full five foot three and snapped, “In the absence of his Lordship, the Count, and of any clear male direction, I must do the godly…”

“Nonsense!” said Juhel. “I am the Lord while the Lady Anne is a minor and I provide quite sufficient male warrior direction as you so aptly observed not ten days ago. You will be quiet and obey the Lady Anne, or I will fling you out of Tillamook to be a mendicant monk. Lady Anne does not accuse you of giving that asinine order, Prince of Peace, but I notice you don’t deny it…”

Anne backed slowly towards the balcony, Rudi moving with her. She could not say who began the retreat; their bodies moved in complete unison. As they achieved sufficient distance from the acrimonious discussion centered around Juhel, Brandric and Daniels Rudi spoke softly, “I have seen that look in a man’s eyes before.”

Anne gasped, looking up in to his face. “You can see the slug?” she asked.

“Oh, yes, and it is no friend to humankind.” Rudi’s blue green eyes were as hard edged as an obsidian knife. “And this one, in particular, has you in it’s sights.”

“I know! It’s been trying to intimidate me for the longest time. Rudi, I could not tell Juhel in the face of Father Daniels. I don’t know if I can ever tell him. If he did not believe me… the danger is too great. And I am not being hysterical.”

Rudi shook his head and cupped her face. “As far as the evil father can see, I am flirting with a good Catholic girl, working my evil pagan wiles on her. Let us not let him suspect I am giving you advice and can see what he hides so well.

“But you are not hysterical; rather you show an exact understanding of your danger. And until you can get rid of Daniels it is a great danger. Trying to remove him and failing will probably be your death sentence.”

Anne swallowed. “How comforting,” she said, trying for a light ironic tone and only achieving a gulp. “But talking to the regent or the princess without proof might end with me in an insane asylum.”

Rudi nodded. “No, you can’t tell them. Sandra is a complete rationalist, and Mattie a good daughter of the church. You don’t need to explain why, just what. Let them draw their own conclusions from the data.

“I will be at Winter Court, just as I have been for years. I’ll introduce you to Mathilda, as a friend. You met her three years ago, but you’re a lot younger than she is and don’t visit court very often.”


“We’ll take you to the Regent and Lady d’Ath. Our stories will be consistent and neither will mention that evil thing we see. It isn’t politic to tell Lady Sandra of something she cannot see or feel.

“However Winter Court is not for another two months. You must survive…”

“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live!” Father Daniels’ angry blast forced their attention back into the room. “And you have not only allowed these witches to live! You have taken their advice in a pagan rite of revenge. I will excommunicate you if you do not submit with proper humility.”

“I think not,” said Anne, moving away from Rudi, but keeping the illusion of a sentimental tryst, by letting her hand linger in his. “I authorized that execution and I stand by my words. Father Dominique was present and did not see fit to call it a pagan rite. I saw it as a way of honoring our dead, creating a monument so that we should not forget just how vulnerable we are and disposing of a round dozen evil men who slaughtered women and children and raped and pillaged and burned their way across our lands.

“They could have raided for slaves, snuck in in the pre-dawn dark and out before the sun was fully risen, leaving no trail but missing folk. They chose to visit wasteful destruction on us. For that they died. And hanging is less fatiguing for my men than beheading or shooting at the stake. No. I call that a very proper rite of justice, Father Daniels. Once again, you seek to twist the church’s teachings so that you may take temporal power, and I resent this. It is my power you seek to abrogate.”

“Well said, Lady Anne.” Juhel nodded at Father Daniels. “I think enough has been said on that subject.

“Anne, we will hold open court tomorrow at noon if our friends can delay their leave taking to give people time to come attend and I will ask that you preside so that your people can see your strength and decision.”

Anne nodded shortly, ignoring Father Daniels trying to catch her eye… or whatever it was that lived in Father Daniels. Rudi placed a hand on her shoulder, the familiarity of the gesture clearly aimed at Father Daniels. “My Lady Countess. I wanted to say that you have no need to give us wergeld for the death of our man Raen. Merchants know their business is a chancy one and take those chances.”

Anne hesitated. She knew she must pay that wergeld for her own sake and be seen to do so or the punishment of peonage for the thirteen would not be seen as fair. But how to make the proud Mackenzies grant her entirely selfish desire? She turned to Eithne, still leaning against the wall near the door. “Witch-woman,” she addressed her, “or Priestess, as your folk call you. You ensured that Gertrudis and her babe were avenged. So I appeal to your justice. Tell me, should I not pay as is considered just by my people? I am told Raen leaves behind a wife and two children, bereft of him forevermore. Our customs are different and I will abide by your judgement.”

She met Eithne’s eyes and started. In their hazel depths something moved, something old and dark and strong, not warm, but not inimical to her; clean and wholesome as baking bread. “Rudi, accept the wergeld in the name of Saba Brannigan Mackenzie and Ioruath and the babe unborn. And in return, swear the friendship of the clan with the County of Tillamook.”

Rudi’s joyous laugh broke some of the tensions in the room as he offered her his right hand. She took it and her laugh climbed to join his. “Friends, Tanist of the Mackenzies?” she asked.

“Friends, Lady Countess of Tillamook. May your God Jesu and his Mother Mary witness for you, and the Horned Lord and Bridget herself for me.”

“And all of us, for the more mundane parts of our lands,” said Juhel moving forward to clasp their two hands. In an undervoice he said, “And tomorrow we will walk the battlements, my ward, and you tell me what you have not said here.”

Anne nodded, grateful that her guardian was as alert and intelligent as a fighting man could be. She gestured to her sisters and the three of them made their curtseys to Lady Eustacia and their mother and left.

❀ ❁ ❀

The tilting field next to the spreading oak with it’s dreadful (and stinking) fruit was crowded and the hastily erected dance floor creaked under her boots. Anne turned to Rudi with a sigh, once again in her crimson best; skirts swirling. “I’m sorry it will take so much longer for you to get on your way. But I am grateful you’ll stay. If it is not seen that their Countess suffers in equal measure, my people will get angrier than they are.”

“Not providing enough protection is a good way to get a Lord pelted with rotten fruits,” observed Rudi, dryly. “You have a good grasp of the essentials. Will you be going on to the College at Forest Grove?”

“Yes. Mama was against it, but thanks to the Regent’s education act, I have to go and so do my sisters. I was at court four years ago and saw and heard Baron Chehelas, Stavarov, on the subject of higher education for females, It’s funny, Lady Eustacia, de Netart’s wife is the loveliest, smartest, sweetest woman in the world. Old de Netarts called her ‘the one fair rose off the blasted Stavarov branch.’ And her family is just awful!”

Rudi turned away from the gathering crowd, and Anne turned with him. Quietly he said, “Yeah, well, my mother calls him ‘an unmitigated, disgusting asshole!’ Dad says it, but in British dialect.”

Taken by surprise Anne let out a crack of laughter, which she quickly muffled. Father Daniels was already standing on the elevated dance floor, but a waggle of Rudi’s sheathed sword kept him at a distance. “I like how you call your step-father ‘Dad.’ My father didn’t let us call him ‘Papa’ like all the other noble kids. He liked ‘Dad.’”

“From what I’ve heard, Count Scout was a real misfit here in the PPA. Did he approve of higher education for girls?”

“Oh, yes. I was already being taught the heir’s lot when he died. Sister Bertha was an accountancy teacher pre-change. She’s a very good teacher. But strict. Mama lost her last two babes and both were boys. She felt it, but Dad didn’t. Told her he couldn’t expect to hit the jackpot twice with brains, so he was pleased enough that his brainiest kid was the first born.”

“I wish I’d known the man. He sounds like he’d have been fun to be around.”

“Some, but also a bit scary. Dad got into very violent tempers. And whoever was stupid enough to try one on him generally ended up dead or wishing he were. I hope school helps me control my temper. I get it from both sides of the family. Mama just shows hers differently. Did you go?”

“Only to visit. Baron Odard Liu is one of Princess Mathilda’s closest friends and we would go west to spend time there. He sneered at me once for my rustic education and implied that the princess couldn’t hold her own in a classroom with peers since she’d been tutored all her life.”

Anne snorted quietly. “Why do I think the Baron is going to come out the worse in this?”

“Oh, he did. Mattie and I went to all his classes for one week and did all the work. Mattie wore a wig and used an accent and we did better than anybody else in the classes. One of the professors told me last year that Odard suddenly was much more interested in learning than one-up-manning his classmates.”

“So girls and boys take the same classes?”

“Not all of them. There is the core of estate classes; accountancy, logistics, agronomy, strategy, law, that everybody has to take and pass. Dance, Court Manners, precedence… those are mixed, too. But things like food preservation, fiber arts, painting, music… those are girl’s classes. Men who want to be bards travel south to my mother’s croft to learn. Sports, hunting, battles… those are men’s classes. Women can take them, just not many do.

“It’s funny. Do you know? The Heir’s Education Act was my mother’s idea.”

“It was?” Anne was amazed. “I didn’t know your mother had so much pull with the Lady Regent. I thought they hated each other.”

“Not hate!” objected Rudi. “Just, a bit antagonistic, like. They’re very different people. But they talk sometimes when Mathilda and I go back and forth and some few years ago Sandra was grousing about how poorly prepared some of the noble sons were for their charge… and the mothers of minor sons to hold the regency, and my mother just stared at Sandra and said,” Rudi’s voice altered and suddenly Anne could see his mother, impatient, crackling with energy and annoyed… “‘For heavens sake, Sandra! Do remember your origins. You might have started this Norman nightmare, but you are a pre-change liberated woman! It took legislation to get women education, legislation and need. You’ve got the need, enact the legislation!’” His voice went back to normal. “And she did.”

Anne laughed quietly. It was such a different vision of the Lady Regent. Trumpets sounded and she turned and walked to the front of the dancing floor, checking to make sure all the principals were in place. She caught de Netarts’ eye and gestured. Two men at arms escorted Father Daniels off the floor.

She looked down at the sea of faces from many of her holdings. The colors of the minor holdings were less, but each one had sent a few representatives. Anne nodded at the men holding the megaphones, two on the platform with her, and four around the edges of the crowd. Her speech was written out and she’d have to follow it exactly so that everybody heard the same thing.

She accepted the scroll from de Netarts and named the dead. As she named each one, the family representative came forward, bent a knee and stood to the side. A diagonal strip of paint helped keep them in a neat line.

So much of this is showmanship, thought Anne as she called out Raen’s name and Eithne stepped forward and took her place at the head of the line. She read out the wergelds for each of the dead, in rose nobles. With each one she saw the people crowded down below nod their heads. So far, so good. They agree with the amounts. She named Raen’s wergeld and saw the people wince. But nobody looked like they thought it was too much.

Out of the corner of her eye she caught sight of one of the guards clapping a hand over Father Daniels’ mouth. Good. I need to get this done!

The hard part was to call forward the thirteen men and women who’d let their judgement be overset. They came, reluctantly and in light chains, to toe another diagonal line, on her left. A moan swept the crowd as Anne read out each set of charges and demanded of each prisoner an acceptance of their deed or a denial. None denied what they had done. All stood shamed, and several cried as they said their “Aye, my Lady.”

“We cannot continue this. Life is not cheap! Each of us holds our life dear. None of these men and women realized just how serious their little mean tricks would be. Added together we could have lost many more people to slavery in the dark north.

“Our lives are hard, and you know that the Counts and Barons of Tillamook do not live in comfort while you starve and shiver. I had to think long and hard. I want us to know that each and every one of us is a brother, a sister, a father, a mother to all of us. We must pull together and not tear ourselves apart. We can’t be as vulnerable again.

“Punishment is not the point. Understanding that what we do costs other people is the point. Our wergelds come to fifty two rose nobles for the nineteen we lost this raid and fifty rose nobles for the merchant prince who died fighting off the raiders.”

That got a reaction. She left them to think on it for a minute and then pointed to the tree. “There hang the murderers. It’s a grim satisfaction to their families to see that they will kill no more, but it doesn’t bring back the laughing babe, the mother making stew and spinning wool, the hoeing father who labors all day to feed them.

“I’ll not have more deaths on top of the ones we have seen. Each of these people are fined four rose nobles and indentured to work until they have paid it off. That will be about two years of work as a bond servant. The merchant prince was a foreigner who died defending my demesne and thus I will pay his wergeld.”

That also got a reaction. The crowd seethed, but she could see that approval was the dominant emotion. Master Culther bustled up with his books and purse and Sir Brandric led up the prisoners, now bond servants for a limited time.

Master Culther wrote down names in his books and disbursed rose nobles, took them back and wrote in other books. The Counts of Tillamook understood the dangers of having large sums of money in peasant households and banked the money for their people.

Then he came over to Eithne and Anne moved over to stand at her side. She pulled her purse off her belt and poured the stream of rose nobles onto the book Master Culther held. She counted out fifty of the small gold coins. The pile left was much smaller. Countess Ermengarde bustled over. “Anne, you mustn’t, there is barely enough left to pay for food and wages! That’s too much money! There’s nothing left!”

“I must!” said Anne, her voice much louder than her mother’s querulous hiss. “I could take it out of the peasants, make the bond servants do twice the time… but I allowed people to be petty and cruel. My father didn’t let that happen. And I’m going back to my father’s ways. Dad always said that we had to pay the piper when the time comes. And I’m going to pay this piper, Mama!”

“But you won’t have enough money to get new court garb!”

“Life is tough, Mama. So I won’t. I’m going to petition for tax remission. I’d look fairly foolish petitioning to pay less money wearing a new dress that cost as much as the tithes of a manor, now wouldn’t I?”

“That’s not the point! You have to look good at the court or people will say Tillamook is a backwater.”

“We are a frontier, and we have been raided and we are working to get back on our feet. I’m not sitting around wearing silk and satin while my people shiver under a threadbare blanket!”

The argument continued… for several days… but in the end, Anne won it. Eithne and the Mackenzies left with a draft on a Corvallis bank for Saba Brannigan.

Having waved goodbye to the wagon train, Anne went looking for her guardian. She was still undecided as to what she would tell him about Father Daniels.

❀ ❁ ❀

It was several weeks, however, before Juhel found the time to speak to her. Anne wrote down the reason for each delay in a small book she kept always with her. The treason court had sobered her people and their Countess paying out wergeld for the Mackenzie man out of her privy purse, to the sotto voce scolding of her mother had impressed them. Small acts of meanness and cruelty had stopped for the moment and the lines of authority had been redrawn and re-affirmed, leading to many questions of orders and accepted practices. Anne did not grudge the time it took to re-write the County’s shattered customs, but it did take time.

While she waited, Anne dedicated herself to tracking down rumors of odd doings. She had one particular track that was difficult to follow. The spoor often led away from the castle. Hélène and her two brothers, one at Bay City and one at Barview helped, but she did not want any attention to be called to her tracking activities and if any of the three were missed, she didn’t want them claiming to be on errands for the Countess as an excuse.

Finally she received a message from Juhel conveyed by Sir Brandric in early November. “Mistress Anne, Lord de Netarts asks that you invite him and his family to winter at your court.”

She nodded, her mind racing and said. “I’ll send a formal invitation… How are the horses coming; the ones we stripped of their shoes the day of the attack?” she asked as Father Daniels bustled out into the courtyard and came up to them.

Brandric quirked a lip and took up the change of subject easily. “Well, no permanent harm done, but three of them are still lamed, and one developed shin splints. We’re working on them, taking good care of them, Lady. Yes, Father?” he asked as the priest thrust himself closer to them. “You had a question for me?”

“No. I came for the Lady Anne. She needs to practice her catechism.”

“Later, Father, much later.” said Anne, wishing she were a dragon and could incinerate host and parasite at one puff. She pulled her book from the pocket in her sideless surcoat and flipped it open. A precious pencil was dug out and she noted the time and style of the interference. “In fact, earlier Father, much earlier. I was confirmed three months before my father’s death. I doubt you need to catechize me again.”

She watched the slug look at the book she held and lick his lips. “What do you write?” he asked, an assumption of carelessness in his voice.

“Presumption!” spluttered Sir Brandric . “You go much too far, priest; and have been told so, again and again.”

“Well, it doesn’t really matter,” said Anne, shutting the notebook and pushing it back into her pocket. “Since I do not mean to tell him, nor show him.”

Father Daniels turned full face towards her and the slug scowled. The dark, molten hatred staggered her and she grabbed Sir Brandric ’s arm for balance as she fought the dark despair that threatened her like a huge wave. The slug eased his expression as Brandric steadied her. “My Lady? My Lady? What is the matter?”

She gripped his arm, urgently, and whispered, “Send Daniels away, now, now!” Instead, Brandric swung her up in his arms and strode up the courtyard to the main hall where he set up a bellow for Hélène. Anne sighed, going red from the undignified position. Set on her feet she was still not very steady and graciously accepted Hélène’s arm and help up to the solar.

That night at dinner Anne saw the mark of the slug on her mother’s face. Like all the signs, she wrote this one down, also. It pained her. Whoever Daniels spoke to, with the intent to control, he left a smear of the dark slime upon them. It showed in an expression, half loose-lipped foolish, half lascivious that dwelt on their faces. Over the past three weeks she had found several ways to combat it. Calling on the Virgin and Jesu helped if they responded to her words, but tricking them into an act of simple humanity worked even better.

So, she started the conversation by speaking of Gertrudis’ husband and daughter. Rafaelo wished to put to sea with Captain Theo Ridder, but he had no close kin with whom to leave his orphaned Judita. Her mother and sisters exclaimed sadly for the child and were easily led into offering her a home at court to be trained for some office for which she might show a talent. She watched with pleasure as her mother’s face cleared of the taint and suggested that they invite the de Netarts family and the Nehalems and the Fairviews to make a substantial visit over the winter months.

Her mother’s love of matchmaking was triggered; Fairview being young, with three sisters and Nehalem being old with four sons and two daughters. de Netarts had two younger brothers and two unmarried sisters, as well. Father Daniels tried to intervene, but Anne had chosen her time well and called for her scribe and dictated the invitations immediately they had retired to the solar and sent them out fore-with.

“I am so glad, my mother. It is well that the Lady Ermengarde, dowager, is not left alone and sorrowing when I go to court on the 19th of December. I was thinking of bringing one of my sisters with me. What do you think of that idea, my lady mother?”

Daniels was checkmated again. The evening’s talk swirled pleasantly around which younger sister had the better claim to accompany Anne to Todenangst and what clothing they would need and whether new court gowns could be contrived for them before she left in “Less than four weeks time! How are we to contrive?”

Anne did not encourage the extravagances of her mother. “It’s better if we don’t look prosperous when we ask for tax remittance, Mama. Besides which, I spent all my allowance for the next six months on the Mackenzie wergeld… and money well spent!”

But Dowager Ermengarde was not stopped by reasonable and logical premises. She knew Lady Sandra and assured her daughter that if she had to make over her own satins and silks and fine dress wool, she would do it to make sure she made a credible appearance.

Anne did not let down her guard during the weeks de Netarts was absent. Everywhere she went either Lucy, Susan, Hélène or stout Nurse Rachel went with her. Twice she woke to the sound of somebody trying to open the door to the dormer she shared with her sisters, and once, in a hurry, she raced out of the kitchen up the stairs and was grabbed and thrown down them. She was caught by Nurse Rachel and the under-cook before she brained herself, but the perpetrator escaped, nor was she believed when she said she had been tripped and thrown.

When de Netarts and his family rode in three days later, November 10th, she breathed a great sigh of relief. The Fairviews and the Nehalems were not expected for another week, and as she greeted her guardian and his large entourage on the steps of the Castle she caught his wink.

It was explained the next day. After a leisurely breakfast, Juhel invited Anne up to the battlements, ostensibly to show her the weak points of their defense.

While she waited for him to join her, she looked west, at the bare and charred ribs of the ship she had wanted to name “Countess Ermengarde,” for her mother and Juhel had wished to name “Scout” for her father. The wind whipped Anne’s headdress about her face and she tied it down with a long scarf, shivering a little, even under her sheepskin coat over heavy wool cotte hardie and thick linen sideless surcoat. The day was grey and threatened to start raining again, soon.

She tucked her hands into the opposite tight sleeves and considered. Last night I was sure I could tell him everything. This morning, I’m sure I can’t tell him anything. She chewed her lip. Rudi believed me, but he’s seen it before, and even among the witches it must not be well known or I’d have heard about it in one or another of their songs. So, half truths and partial proofs.

“It’s amazing,” said Juhel, having paced around the fighting platform. “Every time I came I was sure I’d cleared all the decks and we could talk about your first open court and the young Mackenzie, and there were always so many crisis. I hope living here for a few weeks will help us find enough time to talk.”

Anne cast an unforgiving glance down at the courtyard. “And that Father Daniels does not come bustling up to interrupt us, again.”

“Well, you could always faint again!”

“I didn’t faint! But that’s part of the larger story and I need to lead up to it.”

“You didn’t faint in Sir Brandric ’s arms? Just as a ploy?”

“No. Juhel, my Lord Guardian, listen, please! It’s very important.”

“Well, certainly, I’m always ready to listen to a lovely young lady… be she never so young.”

Anne looked up and into his eyes. The trace of slime, the sneering leer was so faint she hadn’t caught it. So, the slug can do partials… by degrees… She put her hand out, as though she would thank him and stumbled, too close to the battlements for comfort.

She was caught up in strong arms and whirled away from the edge. “I’d say,” and his voice had lost the faint hint of condescension, “that we should go down to the courtyard. But I haven’t been unaware of how fortuitous many of the interruptions have been, or how assiduously Father Daniels works at making sure we cannot talk unless he is there to o’erhear.

“I brought Father Dominique and Bishop Wrexhan with me, as well as Mother Lucy Peter, Mother Superior of the Sisters of Mercy for a very special reason. I remembered your comment of their drastic discipline and had Brandric gather together a list of the penances set. The Sisters, especially, have suffered for the last year. Father Daniels is answering questions from his peers and superiors.”

Anne heaved a sigh of relief. “I shouldn’t doubt your hard headed sense. In fact, that may make it more difficult for you to understand what I have to tell you and if you believe it.”

“I understand you claim to have been pushed down the kitchen stairs… According to Nurse Rachel, you nearly killed yourself, but for the quick action of the under-cook. But everybody wonders why you believe you were pushed. Everybody but your maid Hélène, I should say.”

“It was not an accident,” said Anne, shivering a little at the tactile memory of the unknown hands grabbing her arms from behind and the sudden heave, spinning in space, helpless to advert the fall and the final blow between her shoulders; a blow that had left a bruise the size of a man’s armored fist. And then she had tumbled, slamming against the walls and treads. She pulled her hands free of the cuffs she’d tucked them into and lifted them to her guardian; skinned, scabbed and bruised.

“Whoever it was hit me with a heavy fist. Right between the shoulder blades.”

Juhel studied the hands intently. She slipped the sheepskin coat down, shivering in the cutting wind. He felt gently down her spine. “Just as Hélène reported to Sir Brandric .” The bruise was still quite tender and swollen and she winced from his fingers, pulling the coat back up.

“Do you remember the first time I met Father Daniels? You were there, I remember.”

“I was. I had the privilege of trying to remove you from that room, but Daniels kept taking you away from me and you’d scream harder. He kept saying something about breaking your stubborn spirit. Count Scout wasn’t very happy.”

Haltingly Anne said, “I think, I think he can convince people to do things. It’s called ‘hypnotism.’ I’ve been looking it up in Papa’s library. It doesn’t make people do things they wouldn’t. But if somebody is sort of ambivalent it can help tip the balance. Apparently a good one can make their victim forget…”

She stopped as Juhel swore, violently. “Was I different this morning?” he demanded of her.

“Yes, oh, yes!”

Juhel swore again, crudely. “I came here, thinking how wonderful your father was to bring you up intelligent, learned, and independent, so like my own Eustacia, and I walked up those stairs thinking that you were going to have hysterics over a stupid fall, just like a girl!” Juhel looked like he wanted to pull his sword and slash. “He diddled me! Five minutes of private prayer and he diddled me!”

Anne jerked back from the furious man and he suddenly met her eyes, fury banking down. “So, what did he do to make you scream?”

“I think…” Anne crossed her fingers. “I think that he was trying to see how much effort it would take him to make me do his bidding. Rudi told me that there are people with a natural resistance to the Svengalis of the world and maybe I am one. He also said that people could be trained to recognize and resist it. He told me to try to make the person I thought had been affected do something that they always do, something nice.

“It works, too. I tripped, you caught me and saved me and it broke the feeling that I was a fool.”

“You know that you can’t dream of the Mackenzie…” Juhel’s voice slowed and his eyes went blank for a minute. “Son of a diseased bitch! That’s not my thought at all! It’s that…” Juhel pulled up suddenly and looked hard at Anne.

“Are you interested in the Mackenzie tanist?”

“No! And I want to talk about…”

“Easy, my Countess, easy.” And to Anne’s surprise and embarrassment, Juhel went down on one knee and kissed her hand. “I serve you and protect you… and you are like a daughter or niece to me, so I worry. If you want the Mackenzie, I will try to get him for you, but I sigh in relief that you do not ask that of me. Let’s get the dynasty things out of the way, first and then go back to our… what did you call him?”

Anne tugged him up off his knees and quoted from her studies, “The word Svengali entered the language describing a fictional character who could make people do things against their very nature and desire.” Anne thought about what she had read and continued, “It was a guy called Mesmer who first described hypnotism, but he wasn’t evil like the fictional character.”

Juhel nodded. “Svengali,” he said, committing it to memory. “Now, to get the dynasty out of the way. You’re sure that you don’t want the Mackenzie?”

“Do I want to be impaled by Princess Mathilda?”

“Umm, there is that.”

“But, no. I want to marry someday and have children. I must look for a very competent younger son who will be willing to renounce his rights of succession to turn to Tillamook alone, and I will rely on your advice as to the man I might choose. I’m thinking of Odell’s youngest, though he is three years younger than I. For now, I have two sisters, both in the line as my heirs, both receiving the same competent education I am receiving. There is no need for me to marry before I am of age and legally Countess.”

“You are legally the Countess, now. You are simply a minor and hold no power of execution without the say-so of your regents for the next five years. It’s a point that has escaped your chaplain rather consistently.”

“He’s not my chaplain! He’s my mother’s. And Dad always disliked him. I need my own personal chaplain and a castle Priest for the people and maybe a fighting priest for the menie. Right now he does all that and it gives him ideas of grandiosity.”

Anne sighed and looked to where her boat lay, burned ribs canting like a whale’s skeleton. “When we rebuild her we are going to call her ‘Tillamooker.’ And on the prow she will bear the names of each and every one of my people who died in the raid!”

“That is a good thought. So,” he swung the subject back again, “We have a Svengali, as you call him, in our midst and he has diddled with my mind and yours.”

Anne pulled aside the thick fleecy sheepskin of her coat and dug into the pocket of her sideless surcoat. Now that Juhel had accepted hypnotism she could present what evidence she had, and it would do for that as well as the slug nobody knew about. Nobody but Rudi. All she needed now was a motive other than sheer evil.

“This has all my notes. The thirteen who were punished all instigated their tricks; but they were all encouraged by Father Daniels. I’ve been eavesdropping on confession and hearing him tell people to do things. We nearly lost the grain in the silo last week.”

“That poor madman? You sent him away!”

“No, I sent him to Bay City to the care of Father Ashforth. And the reason he was caught before he opened the loading doors was because I sent Rachel’s husband and sons after him, and told them what he would do. I was up in the choir balcony listening to the confession. Daniels is not subtle when he thinks he’s alone.”

Juhel shook his head and took the book from her. Turning north he held the book out so the sun would give him the best light. Page after page he turned, finally nodding and looking at her. “A good record and I think it might stand up in a court.” He returned it to her. “Keep it safe.”

“Yes, but can we afford to try a priest? And,” in a sudden flash of intuition Anne turned her weakest argument into a strength. “Why? This I still don’t understand. I’m trying to, but I can’t make sense of what he is doing. Without a motive, it will be harder to convince an ecclesiastical court.

“There is more, more that isn’t in that book. I daren’t put it in. Daniels knows I am writing things down and he keeps trying to steal it. Hélène and her brothers and I have been following him. He fishes, did you know that? Deep sea fishing once or twice a month. He’ll leave on a Tuesday and return on Wednesday or Thursday. He has a little sailboat and is a very good sailor. He generally doesn’t take anybody with him. We eat the catch on Friday. Once again, why?”

Juhel reached for the book and then drew back his hand and walked to the edge of the castle battlement. “They call this ‘Priest’s Corner,’ did you know?”

“No. Why?”

“Because the priest is well known to come up here for hours at a time and watch the ocean… always on a Monday. He tells the guards that the beginning of the week makes him restless.”

Anne went to stand by him. “With a good glass, how far could he see?”

“Very far, very. I need to do a little research, now. I pray that Daniels hasn’t covered his tracks and I can put him in jail…”

“He’s a priest!” Anne caught at Juhel’s surcoat. “Can you be sure the Bishop will authorize it? If he knows we have unmasked him, but he doesn’t stay in prison… Remember, he walked in on us at the Mackenzie’s banquet, freed on my mother’s orders, in despite of my own. It’s too dangerous. Either we stop it with one sure blow or we don’t show our knowledge until we can.

“Or I do as Rudi told me. He told me to speak with the Princess and her mother and Lady d’Ath.”

“Your arguments against confronting the not-so-good father are just, quite just, especially with that bruise on your back and the two assassins' blades I collected this month.”

“What!” cried Anne.

Juhel nodded. “I thought it was just the general unrest. We stopped the Haida, but the cost was high and the peasants only kept in line from a jaquerie by you emptying your purse to pay the Mackenzie wergeld. Now… I think I have an inkling of what Daniels is about.”

Anne waited anxiously for Juhel’s guess.

“He was proposed to be part of the regency council. My father and your’s both refused him. They could not see the value of a man of God on the Regency council. I know that the Count was thinking of changing the composition of the council when he died so unexpectedly. But I don’t know if he planned on putting Daniels on it, or to expel him from your lands. We need to consider that, now.”

Anne shook her head. “No, not that.”

“Not expulsion?”

“Hasn’t he committed treason? Three times treason, in fact. Treason against his overlord, by weakening his fighting train with rumors and tricks. Treason against his church by seeking temporal power, and treason against humanity by exposing the people under his care to the evils of enslavement by the Haida.”

“So, in revenge for not having the powers of the regency he tried to seize that power, and to weaken us enough to get it. Therefore he tries to have me assassinated, you killed or under his influence… He could, possibly argue to be added to the council if I were out of the way. Has he diddled your mother’s mind?”

“I am afraid, yes, many times. She will often back him up in his less sane notions. Now I know what is happening, I have ordered Lucy and Susan to stay with my mother as much as they can. And I have the key to breaking his notions when he imposes them on her.”

Juhel nodded, a blacker look than ever on his face. “He must be quite unbalanced. I fear that those fishing trips are to give information to the Haida.”

“WHAT! But, but, why? What does he gain?”

“That we don’t know, though the most likely thing would be power here and money, from their raids, from them.”

Anne shivered again, in real earnest.

“My ward, my daughter, what would you do with him?”

Anne looked out to sea through a blur of tears. “There is only one answer, isn’t there? Leaving him alive or putting him on trial lets him work his poison or escape his desserts. Expelling him means we simply lose track of him and he could come back. Or, go elsewhere and hurt others. If there is a wasp in the room, I want to know where it is. And we have a responsibility to solve this problem, not make it somebody else’s problem.”

“For that, you need the Lady Regent’s help and a lettre de cachet from her. You have the power of high justice, but it is high justice… in a court. You don’t have the power of arbitrarily executing somebody without oversight.”

“Oh!” said Anne, suddenly understanding. “Rudi told me to have the Princess Mathilda take me to her mother and the Lady d’Ath! Lady Death! That was why.”

Juhel nodded, his eyes hooded as he looked out to sea. “I will make some changes around here and see to it that our little Svengali has less chances to work his mischief.” He shook his head. “The lengths a man will run to get power… it’s just incredible!”

But less incredible than that he is an agent of evil, determined to leave a weeping sore in the Association’s flank! Who does he answer to?

❀ ❁ ❀

By December 19th her Winter Court had assembled, her mother was plying her trades of hostess and matchmaker quite happily and Anne left Judita in Susan’s hands. “Why can’t I go?” asked Susan, more plaintively than sulkily.

Anne shook her head at her sister. “You are just on the edge of sulks, sister. Listen, I need to talk to you away from everybody, so we’ll go to Mama’s solar and out onto the balcony, all right?”

Susan nodded, but when she turned to send the six year old back to Hélène, Anne stopped her. “Bring Judita,” she said.

The ladies of the party were gathered close to the fire as Susan and Anne came into the solar, but on their way downstairs with heavy wreaths of ribbon and fruit to deck the main hall. The girls laughed with them and sent them on their way. Anne nodded to the maids to leave and pulled Susan and Judita to the fire and added another two sea logs. They hissed and sputtered and burned fierce colors.

“Susan, you stay because you are my heir. Before I leave it is time to warn you and put you on your guard. If I take you with me and Lucy stays and something happens that leaves me dead, Lucy and you become pawn markers in the game of thrones, and whoever is in Castle Tillamook holds the high ground… therefore, you must be that one or bloody war might result.”

Anne watched the anger and sullen looks fade from her sister’s eyes. “Now listen, and listen well.” For the next twenty minutes she told her sister of all that she and Juhel had figured out about Father Daniels.

“Judita is your armor, sister. All acts of charity and goodness stop the evil impulses. You love this peasant child and your heart overflows every time you hug her. I’ve seen it and it is a good thing. You must watch and make sure you know when people are acting just a little bit off. Make sure they do something nice for somebody, then.

“Judita,” Anne looked at the child snuggled into her sister’s ample skirts. “When I return I must find you and my sister happy. Sometimes people will make you sad and you will cry. But I want you to remember two things, kisses make people feel better, kisses on the cheek! And the second one is very important! Never, ever, ever let Father Daniels talk with you alone. If you need a preceptor in God, go to Sister Bertha or Sisters Hilda, Gertrudis, or Jane Anne, or even down to Tillamook and Father Beuamaris. I am leaving you two together, and each one of you will protect the other, all right?”

The child nodded solemnly, but Susan reached for her in a fierce hug. “Don’t you dare get killed and leave me with this mess! You come back, because I want to marry a Baron and be a Baron’s lady, not the Countess!”

From her mother’s solar she left the Castle and walked over to the Guardhouse. The men were all gathered in the common room and cheered her when she walked in. “My Lady,” Sir Brandric saluted her, “Have you decided on our route?”

Anne nodded and held out a sealed envelope. “We will stop in Forest Grove tomorrow. We could make the trip in one day, but the Seneschal asked we arrive on the 21st, and so we shall. Also, this allows for the usual problems with downed trees, wagons losing their wheels and horses spooking. If you will send somebody to the Grand Lodge in Forest Grove to bespeak our arrival for the night of the 20th, with Baron Forest Grove, we should be good.”

Sir Brandric lowered one eyelid very subtly. “Rince!” he ordered and Anne sighed as the young man took the envelope and saluted her cheerfully. “Off you go to Baron Forest Grove’s seat and wait for us there.”

She strolled out of the common room and waved goodbye to Rince. Sir Brandric, beside her, sighed. “Do you think he is corrupted or mesmerized?”

Anne shook her head. “I think he is one of Daniels’ actual servants. Well, well. Once you see me off to Willamina tomorrow, send a tail of twenty fighters up Highway 6 to smoke out the bandits that are sure to be there.”

Sir Bendaric nodded. “They will probably set up the ambush right near Round Top. Well, another bandit band wiped out and another traitor unmasked. I look forward to having the castle security well tightened.”

Anne sighed. Rudi will be waiting at the Wildwood hotel in Willamina when I get there. I’m glad the southern route has been opened up since the War. It’s much less dangerous than the Northern one we used to use. And then, to Court. She fought a slight wobble in her stomach at the thought of actually talking, and talking about such a subject to the Lady Regent and the Princess herself… Not to mention talking to Lady Death! I hope Juhel can keep things together while I am gone. He’s gotten a lot better at detecting the signs of tampering.

❀ ❁ ❀

The Princess’ Christmas Eve Ball was in full swing. Three minstrel groups played in sequence. Gaily clad nobles and scions tread minutes and pavanes, or skipped through reels and quadrilles or moved in unison to the snapping tapping staccato sounds of rap. Away from her court, Anne found herself high in consequence and courted.

Thank heavens Rudi is watching! she thought as a Stavarov swung her around and against his body. Before she could do more than get her one free hand between their bodies, Rudi and Mathilda were swinging into them and Rudi had snatched her free, while Mathilda guided the young Stavarov off the dance floor, quickly and discretely.

Rudi surrendered her to Odell’s youngest boy, Ogier, who was serious, solemn, and very precise in his steps. Like his father and mother, he looked like he’d be shorter than average, and chunky to boot.

Anne took the opportunity to sit out the next two dances with the boy and coax him to show his true colors. Like his father, they were solid, steady and informed with a great deal of intelligence. Anne silently approved him and agreed to another set of dances. Young Lord Ogier Renfrew bore some thought. She had just met Count Odell and Countess Valentinne's eyes and was moving towards them in response to the Lady’s unmistakable wave when Lady d’Ath walked up to her. “Later,” she said baldly, making a quick signal in her turn to the Count and Countess. “I need you now. Lady Sandra has decided to give you an audience.”

Anne gulped as her stomach protested the wine and anxiety mixing. But she followed Lady d’Ath, moving gracefully, with her head high. Outside of the room she fell into a procession. Rudi, the Princess, Lady d’Ath and Conrad Renfrew and his Lady all formed part of the party.

The elevator up the silver tower was a revelation to Anne, but the blasé looks of the others kept her from exclaiming. And the Lady Regent’s richly decorated sitting room was a greater revelation. “Different from what you are used to?” asked the Lady Regent, amusement coloring her voice.

Anne studied the woman known as ‘the silver spider’ and nodded. “Tillamook is quite a bit more austere, my Lady,” she said, curtsying. “Hangings on all the walls and thick rugs on the floors; but we hook the rugs and hangings ourselves. And spin and dye the yarns. The furniture is also homemade. And so on.”

“Yes. Your father was caught with us and my husband and I tried to help his lady wife, but she died very shortly after the change. It was tragic and unbalanced good old Scout very much. When he woke up to my husband’s many imperfections, he was too deeply embedded into our society to be gotten rid of, so he was exiled instead, to Tillamook. He did a very good job there, and I have missed his wise administration since he died.”

Anne nodded. “You knew Mary Anne?” she asked.

“I did, but only briefly. And she was dying and knew it. Only the machines of the pre-change world allowed her to live almost ten years past her body’s ability to sustain life.”

Anne sighed and sat with the rest at the lady’s gesture. Mathilda spoke. “Now, Lady Anne. In your own words, tell us of this threat in your county.”

Anne thought for a few minutes, trying to figure out where in the tangle to start. In the end, her narrative, if not as concise as she would have liked it was fairly complete.

“Hmm, so this creature only pretends to be a priest?”

“He seemed well taught and convinced, madam,” said Rudi cooly. “I think maybe he is a priest, but has turned traitor.”

“Well, Tiphanie? Can you kill him so none know?”

“I will have to think, madam, but I believe so.”

“Can the Lady Delia spare you long enough?”

Tiphanie, Lady d’Ath shrugged. “Delia has spared me whenever the needs call. She knows that what keeps us safe from detection is our usefulness to the Lady Sandra.”

Anne sat in shock, holding her head rigid for fear she would whip it around to stare at Lady Tiphanie… Girlfriend??? she wondered behind a masklike face.

She met Lady Sandra’s eyes and the Spider looked almost sympathetic. “Lady Anne, you are part of the councils of the high. Had Tillamook been less of a trouble spot it would have been some years before you were invited to join us for policy discussions. As it is, you are in the secret councils and will stay in them unless you are so unlucky or unwary as to be murdered. What you hear here will not always match what is said there…” Sandra pointed downwards. “But it is information you must keep to yourself and use; use wisely.”

Anne gulped and shut her mouth with a snap, her thoughts in a turmoil.

Lady Valentinne, Countess Odell, leaned forward and patted her hand. “We have heard you, my dear, and we believe the danger you are in. In the end, that is all you can ask for. But what we need now is to know what you need here and now.”

Anne took in a deep breath and sighed. “I need to kill him. It must be done, and done cleanly. Ten women, five children and six men died in the last Haida raid. My fighting tail lost two men with three more badly injured on solstice day fighting out of an ambush designed to kill me, near Forest Grove. The count of the missing for in the past six years is two hundred sixty five. These are numbers we can’t afford to lose, and most were skilled workers, not field hands or day laborers.

“He must answer to a higher authority than I for his mis-deeds, but to my authority, he must answer as well. But to try him… He is a priest, and he’d have to be tried before an ecclesiastical court. He was sent to me by the court, can I trust them to listen to the evidence, thin as it is? And if he goes free… Who suffers next?

“No, I need permission to kill him and a method that will not look like murder, but an ordinary death.”

“All well and good,” said Tiphanie, uncrossing her legs and sitting up. “But can you kill?”

“I kill every time I counter sign a death-sentence. I kill every time I wring a chicken’s neck for the kitchen. But I haven’t placed a knife between a man’s ribs, or looped a noose over his neck or poured poison in his drink. I think that there is a great difference. Maybe if I had been born a boy I would have been trained to know how to do this and have the experience to do it with.”

Rudi and Mathilda shook their heads as one. A gesture echoed by the others in the room.

Lady Valentinne spoke, “No, you know you have killed whether by fiat or self, but by fiat you are spared the nightmares of feeling the flesh turn flaccid and dead. There is a difference. And you are only sixteen. Unless there is a war, no lad of sixteen gets a chance to kill. They are too young for it.”

“On the other hand,” said Tiphanie, “you are right. They are being trained to understand the physical aspects of several forms of killing. My Lady?” she asked, turning to Sandra.

“Yes, I suppose so,” sighed the Lady Regent of the Association. She picked up a stiff piece of parchment and handed it to Anne.

Anne read the formal phrases of a Lettre de cachet, bemused. “That is for the Lady Tiphanie. She will visit Tillamook soon, in disguise, to carry out the sentence you have pronounced.”

Anne compressed her lips and looked at Tiphanie. “I feel I should do it…”

To her surprise the Lady only looked sardonic. “I was two years younger than you are now when the change hit. I killed my first man two days later. If you have to kill, you will. But you don’t have to, and we’d like to keep this a close secret. Leave it to the professionals. Your hands are dirty enough by asking for it.”

Anne nodded reluctantly, seeing Rudi and Mathilda agree with the older woman. “I do have another favor to ask,” she said.

The Lady Regent lifted her eyebrow in query.

“Could I have my personal Chaplain be a brother from Mt. Angel? And I need at least three more good Priests in the castle. One should be able to take over as my mother’s personal chaplain when Daniels dies.”

Lady Sandra looked impressed. “Divide and rule? I will talk with Cardinal Arch-Bishop Maxwell about a dispensation for you to have a Benedictine Monk as your Chaplain. And sending three more priests to Tillamook will sweeten the pot for him.

“We will talk about tax remission and boat building at open Court tomorrow.”

Anne stood and curtsied. Rudi and Lady Valentinne escorted her out and down the elevator. “That was too easy!” she exclaimed.

Rudi laughed as he took her to a small sitting room. “Really?” he teased.

“Well, it was not easy, but a lot easier than I thought it would be!”

“Do you think that this will stop the problems in County Tillamook?”

“No! But it will make me less vulnerable in the short term. I wish we knew what the slug is after.”

Rudi sighed. “Maybe Captain Ridder will find answers to your questions when he goes north this spring. In the meanwhile, I am going to make sure that Odard has been watching over your sister Lucy properly. Lady Valentinne seems to want to say something to you.”

Anne started, only then seeing the Countess standing guard by the curtains.

“My dear,” said the petit Countess cosily, leading Anne to a loveseat near the wall, “You danced with my Ogier, how did you like him?”

Anne bit her lip in consternation as Conrad Renfrew walked in. She slumped back and said, “I suppose I should go all plotty and convoluted, but the truth is, I need a younger son for a husband, and yours topped my list of suitable candidates before I arrived.”

Conrad looked proud and Valentinne patted her hand. “Now he has a plus mark as well?” she half-queried.

Anne nodded. Conrad smiled. “I’m pleased to hear that. One does what one can to bring them up well, but each child is his own self. Ogier is going to be a good man in the better sense of the word when he is grown. He is only twelve. Will be thirteen in March. Now is the time when I must make some decisions about how to guide his education, from the general he has received to a more specific curriculum.”

Anne nodded. This is just one more negotiation, she thought. “I will need a consort. Your son is a bit younger than I, but I can afford to wait until he is ready. I have two sisters who are my heirs after me. What I would need in a husband…”

❀ ❁ ❀

“January is such a cold month, Anne, dear, why do you want to go up to the battlements?”

“Ah, Mama, I like to look at the sea’s power and know that the land’s power stays steady beneath the pounding we will receive.”

The Dowager Countess shook her head and smiled as little Judita put another log on the fire. “Well, hurry back, I want to hear more about young Ogier and who flirted with Lucy.”

“Yes, Mama.” Anne closed the door to the solar quietly and walked down the stairs. The de Netarts family had finally returned home just after the New Year had been celebrated. Juhel had found the records he had been looking for and had sent them to her in Castle Todenangst and she had passed them on to Tiphanie d’Ath. A red sail going south and a black sail going north were the signals that sent Daniels to sea. A green sail meant that a raid would happen in the next few days.

Lady Tiphanie had found a way to have a boat make the proper signals on Monday. Yesterday Father Daniels had set out to sea. She climbed to the battlements bundled in her tight sheepskin coat and heavy wool cloak.

The wind tossed waves looked frighteningly rough, even from her distance. One of the guard, Rince’s brother, Rhoop, handed her a pair of binoculars and she stared and stared north and west, but the small ship’s sail was nowhere to be seen.

“Anything the matter, my Lady?”

“Where is Father Daniel’s boat?”

“Father Daniels is out in this weather?”

“Yes, he left yesterday.”

The binoculars were snatched out of her hands as the guard tried to see out over the grey sea. He shook his head. “Better send to Garibaldi, my Lady. He’ll need the Coast Guard to pull him in out of this! Never would have believed it. Man knows how to sail! Why would he take such a chance?”

“He said he was stifling on land,” offered Anne. The guardsman shook his head, scanning the sea.

“Go down and send somebody up to finish your watch. You can go yourself to Garibaldi. Make you feel like you are doing something.”

Rhoop bowed to her. “Thank you, my Lady. I’ll just do that.”

Anne waited for his replacement, her back firmly to the stairwell tower. Young Mark who came up, saluted and continued the watch and Anne sighed with relief. Smoking out all those who were actually of ill will was going to be a long process. Anne slipped into the stairwell quietly and watched carefully all the way down.

Far out to sea, she knew, the drag of the waves had swiftly loosened the ten holes that Tiphanie had drilled into the boat’s bottom, in such a way that when the wax was pulled out of them a running sea would rip the entire plank behind the hole out. In a week I will send Cardinal Arch-Bishop Maxwell a petition for a new Chaplain… oh, so sorry, my Lord Cardinal, I seem to have lost the one you gave me! Maybe I could have a different flavor this time? Benedictine would be nice.

Her mordant humor didn’t amuse her very much and she had no one to share the burden with. In her mind she heard Lady Sandra’s parting words to her. “Remember, you have chosen the Ruler’s Lot rather early. It’s a heavy burden to carry and you cannot set it down until you die.” She squared her shoulders and went to prepare the Dowager for the rotten news that would come within a day or two.

❀ ❁ ❀ finis ❀ ❁ ❀