Worth the Candle, Ch 178: The White Room

The White Room was one of the special rooms of the Erstwhile Manor, one which Amaryllis was well-acquainted with. It had no windows, instead being lit by several complicated and expensive methods that spread gentle white light through the entirety of the space. The walls were white with cream-colored accents, and the few pieces of furniture were likewise variations on white, with dark brown woadwood supports that had been artfully carved and given claws of polished necrium. The environment just barely managed to avoid sterility with a few small plants at strategic locations.

The room was extensively warded, and beyond that, surrounded by a shell of materials that would block outside interference, inference, or surveillance. The White Room was, so far as it could be made so, a dead spot in the world, where any conversation would be as private as a conversation between people could be.

Rosemallow sat in a padded chair with her hands folded in her lap. She was wearing one of her usual dresses, an entad that happened to look spectacular on her, along with a choker that matched it. Rosemallow had her fair share of entads, and Amaryllis didn’t know all of their functions. That was something that you kept quiet, if you could, though registration with the Entad Authority was mandatory, even if you were a member of the Court, and the Entad Authority was hardly a watertight organization.

Rosemallow herself looked the same as ever, as though she hadn’t aged a day, though for her it had only been a handful of months. For Amaryllis, it had been a few intense years. Rosemallow was rail thin, with curly hair that was much more grey than brown, though at her age it was likely that it was dyed. She had a mild look, which was typical for her, even when she was delivering devastating news or speaking in a cold fury. Rosemallow could order the execution of a man with no more emotion than some people used to order lunch, and strangely, she never used her control of her emotions in the other way, never put warmth or affection in her voice when that would have been endearing.

“You’ve had a long trip, I take it,” said Rosemallow as Amaryllis came into the room. She gestured at a tiered tray of various foods that sat on a low table between the chairs. “Have something to eat.” Beside the tray of food there was a pot of coffee and two cups.

Amaryllis sat down and took a small finger sandwich from the tray, eating it with more decorum and restraint than she usually showed around food these days. She’d deliberately broken herself of the habit of eating daintily, ignoring the table manners she’d had drilled into her. Falling back into the old habits came very naturally.

“I asked Rodrick to make all your favorites,” said Rosemallow as she watched Amaryllis eat.

“I noticed,” said Amaryllis. She ate the watercress sandwich delicately, without hurry, waiting for Rosemallow to ask the first question, which of course didn’t happen. When she was finished with the sandwich, she went for the coffee and poured herself a steaming cup, which she sniffed, savoring the flavor, before taking her first sip.

“I’m sure you have questions,” said Rosemallow.

“I do,” replied Amaryllis. She sat back, holding the porcelain cup in both hands, feeling its warmth. “I’m not in any particular rush to get the answers. I suppose we can start with a simple question, which is whether or not you know why I’m here.”

“You’ve come because Hyacinth has put pressure on your fledgling nation,” said Rosemallow. “You violated the Draconic Confederacy’s rules in your attempt to contain the exclusion at Li’o, perhaps because you thought it was an acceptable trade-off, perhaps because of circumstances beyond your control, or perhaps because you simply made a mistake. Hyacinth pulled strings and called in favors, giving up political capital in order to ensure that you would be under pressure. She wants your lands, your entads, and a guarantee that her children will have the birthright that should, by the laws of our kingdom and of nature, belong to your next of kin. Do I have that right?”

“More or less,” replied Amaryllis. “No one has ever accused you of having a poor intelligence network.” She said it as though with resignation, but it was also a way of goading Rosemallow, either into asking the questions she wanted to ask, or revealing things she had planned to hold back. Amaryllis didn’t believe that Rosemallow knew everything, and there had to be some elements of what had happened in the past half a year that were utterly baffling. At most, Rosemallow had a mole within Uniquities that had given her everything Uniquities knew, but Uniquities didn’t have the full picture, not by a wide margin.

“There are some things that my intelligence network can’t answer,” said Rosemallow. She leaned forward and poured her own cup of coffee, taking her time, allowing the words to marinate in the silence. “What kept me up at night was a simple question.” Her eyes were a pale blue and utterly piercing, though she was only bowing her head slightly to blow on her coffee. “Why didn’t you write?”

The question didn’t quite blindside Amaryllis, but it was a near thing. Of course Rosemallow would pretend that they still held a close relationship, and ask not after matters of practicality, filling in the gaps in her knowledge, but rather, ask a personal question, one that would accomplish her thus far unstated goals.

“As you probably know, I was attacked during the trial by adversity,” said Amaryllis. “It was either the Fuchsia Coterie, or some group pretending to be them, likely put on the plane because someone somewhere in the process accepted a bribe, insurance in case I made it through the trial unscathed. I elected not to join the Host because I was worried that there would be another assassination attempt if I did. When I went to my ancestral property of Weik Handum, I was attacked with not even a bare attempt at diplomacy or discussion, barely escaping with my life. Only recently have I been in a position to send you a letter without fear that it would be intercepted.”

“And yet even then, you did not,” replied Rosemallow. She took a sip of her coffee.

Amaryllis was trying to think about what Rosemallow wanted, how she was maneuvering the conversation, and where that conversation was going. Rosemallow was attempting to provoke a discussion of what had happened in court and everything leading up to it. That, in turn, might lead to an apology, a diffusion of tension, both sensible goals and another plank of Rosemallow’s strategy to reform an alliance, now that Amaryllis was, once again, useful.

“I don’t actually know why you didn’t help me,” said Amaryllis.

“Hrm,” said Rosemallow. She sipped her coffee then placed it on the table. “Are you familiar with the game tug-of-war?”

“No,” replied Amaryllis, which wasn’t strictly true, but plausible enough, and would allow Rosemallow to give the metaphor her framing.

“In the Icher Peninsula, they created a replacement for war, where two teams of five men would pull on a rope, trying to get it over to their side,” said Rosemallow. “Both teams would pull on the rope as hard as they could. Now, in some circumstances, and some formulations of the game, one team would simply release their rope. I suppose you can imagine the result: the opposing team would be pulling a rope that no longer had any tension, and they would go reeling backward, falling down, sometimes getting injured in the process.”

“You’re saying that the opposition, Larkspur, Hyacinth, Phlox, Onion, whoever was directing it from the top, they were putting effort into attempting to murder me, and by putting no effort whatsoever of your own in, you were able to get one over on them?” asked Amaryllis.

“‘Get one over on them’?” asked Rosemallow. “Who have you been spending time with, that you would speak that way?”

“Powerful people,” replied Amaryllis. “Powerful people who are less concerned with decorum than you are. Loyal people.”

“Well, in their parlance, then yes, the intent was to ‘get one over’, which was exactly what I did. They spent an enormous amount of political capital, they called in favors, they did everything they could in order to make sure that their scheme would work — and I offered no resistance. They put in a high bid, my young blossom, and they greatly overpaid.” Rosemallow gave one of her thin smiles, barely turning up the corners of her lips. “They hardly expected to win, and when they did, it caught them off-guard. Half of the time you were gone was spent with me pressing my advantage against them, taking concessions where I was able, enacting legislation that they were too weak to stop. Because they’d set precedent for actions against malfeasance, they put themselves in a vulnerable position, as there are few within the Empire who aren’t guilty of illegally reassigning funds at their whim, with some less cautious than others. I was two steps ahead of them.”

“They overestimated how much you would do to save me,” said Amaryllis. “They overestimated my importance to you.”

“Importance is relative,” replied Rosemallow. “You understand that the trial by adversity wasn’t a death sentence, don’t you? I was well aware of your skills. You had some skill in blood magic, enough to give you an advantage in melee, you were competent with simple electromotor systems, you were athletic and keen-minded. Most of those dropped into the Risen Lands are clueless about how to survive. If you had come back as I expected you to, you would have joined with the Host, served two years there, and been enormously strengthened by it, with more managerial experience for when you transitioned back into civilian life.”

“You didn’t know about the Fuchsia Coterie?” asked Amaryllis.

“Not until a week later,” said Rosemallow. “It was another example of our opponents overplaying their hand in an attempt to see their plan to completion. I hadn’t thought they would be so desperate. Those responsible at the ground level, at least those I could identify, have been dealt with accordingly.”

“Anyone important?” asked Amaryllis.

“A judge, a bailiff, and a shire-reeve,” replied Rosemallow. This was another way of saying, ‘no’. “It was kept quiet, for the most part, in exchange for certain concessions from my counterparts. The whole thing looked to explode into a scandal, but was better used as a vise grip than a grenade.”

It was tempting to descend into sarcasm, with something like ‘I’m glad me almost getting killed worked out for you’, but Amaryllis hadn’t undertaken this meeting to be petty, nor even for revenge, so she simply filed it all away for later, when she would vent to Juniper and attempt to keep herself capable of weathering the storm of useless emotions like betrayal.

“You’d planned to welcome me back, once I was in the Host, and tell me that it was a lesson that I should take to heart,” said Amaryllis. “Unfortunately for you, it didn’t work out that way.”

“I’m not sure that I would call it unfortunate,” replied Rosemallow. “Speaking strictly from my own perspective, there are a number of events that I believe followed from your decision to go elsewhere, including the death of Larkspur Prentiss.”

“Are you going to ask me if I killed him?” asked Amaryllis.

“No,” replied Rosemallow. “I would rather not know, so that if I’m asked, I don’t have to lie about what you said. I assume that his erratic behavior following your escape from the Risen Lands wasn’t mere coincidence, but perhaps you killed him in self defense, half a world away, or perhaps in his haste, paranoia, or incompetence, he really did bring a dragon down on himself.”

“I would have been content not to come back to Anglecynn,” Amaryllis lied. “I was perfectly happy being away from the Court, able to build up my own part of the world, disconnected from the rest of you.” The truth was more complicated, of course, but the truth didn’t have as much leverage.

“You have cousins who are afforded that luxury, but you are not,” replied Rosemallow. “‘Heavy is the head that wears the crown’. Shirking your burden was never an option for you, not just because of your privileged position of being the most direct descendant of our common ancestor, but because you never had the temperament necessary to sit by while there was work to be done or people in need. In some senses, that was your greatest weakness, and given what’s come of your defense of Li’o, there’s evidence that’s still true. It was always the case that you would return to Anglecynn, to once again be embroiled in our conflicts.” She let out a sigh. “I’ve attempted to make your return as easy as I could.”

“I didn’t mean this to be a return,” replied Amaryllis. “I was coming to Anglecynn to wash my hands of the family.” This wasn’t quite a lie.

“You think I’m a monster for letting you be dropped into the land of the dead,” said Rosemallow. Somehow she made that sound ridiculous, as though it was not only naive, but petty to be offended.

“I’ve never thought you were a monster,” said Amaryllis. “I always had trouble understanding what it was you actually cared about though. If you had the power to reshape Anglecynn exactly as you pleased, I don’t know what you would decide on. So much of your time and efforts are spent on the family, so little on legislative policy, and when you speak of laws, it’s always in the context of the major players in the kingdom, what they’ll think, how they’ll be forced to react, never in terms of how much good you might be able to do. But no, not a monster.”

“You’ve grown,” replied Rosemallow with a nod. “I must say, I approve. I do worry that your naivete has deepened and hardened, crystallized, rather than being sanded away. I plan to work with you though, to help you understand the errors of your ways, where appropriate.”

“I don’t want to work with you,” said Amaryllis. “I don’t want to be your niece.” It felt good to say that, but the good feeling was undercut by the knowledge that this was just part of the conversation, an invitation for Rosemallow to riposte with an offer of aid or support. The eventual compromise they would reach was already leaving a bitter taste in Amaryllis’ mouth.

“Let us imagine that I agreed,” said Rosemallow. “Imagine that you go visit with Hyacinth later today, invest the many entads she’s collected in the people she’s chosen, sign over the rights to various properties, and then become sterilized with an agreement that you won’t ever have natural born children of your own. In exchange, the ongoing difficulties you’re having with the Draconic Confederacy are minimized, if not wiped away completely, and you become a citizen in good standing with the kingdom once more. Ignore for a moment that this is a horrible deal for you. Do you imagine that you would be free of Hyacinth? Free of the rest of the family?”

“If I could buy myself a year or two, I would be able to accrue enough power to fend off anyone who tried to bring me back in,” said Amaryllis.

“There is no amount of power that will insulate you from the people you care about,” said Rosemallow. “There is an amount of power you might achieve to prevent your perceived enemies from destroying that which you love, so long as you don’t love too much. I’m skeptical of any plan that would launch you toward becoming one of the most powerful creatures on Aerb in so little time, as highly as I think of you.”

“Make your offer then,” said Amaryllis.

Rosemallow sat back and crossed her legs. “I want you to return to your rightful place as a princess of Anglecynn,” replied Rosemallow. “You would of course keep your seat as advisor to the Republic of Miunun, along with whatever projects you have there, splitting your time between locations. We would need to do something about the cost and travel time, but that’s hardly insurmountable given the potential resources at your disposal. Your proposed concessions to Hyacinth would be scuttled, though perhaps with some minor concession to her, not an admission of wrongdoing on your part or rightness on hers, but a gift to a grieving widow. In exchange for all that, you would become one of the public faces of the Lost King’s Court.”

“It’s what you always wanted me to be,” said Amaryllis. It seemed like a lifetime ago that she’d posed for the Future Leaders of Anglecynn posters. There had been radio interviews, a few letters to the editor, and appearances on a few variety shows.

“Toiling away in a back office doesn’t play to your strengths,” replied Rosemallow. “The Court has image problems, ones which are getting worse as time goes on, both within our kingdom and outside of it, for different reasons. That image needs to be rehabilitated, and you are the best one to do it, so long as you can keep your focus.”

“My focus was never the issue,” said Amaryllis. “The issue was that I had different priorities from the rest of you. I was only concerned with power as a means to an end, a way to help people less fortunate than I was.” It was the kind of thing only a raging narcissist wouldn’t question about themselves, but Amaryllis delivered the line with conviction.

“I’m gifting you power,” said Rosemallow. “Power with strings, certainly, but you would have plenty of leeway to pursue your agendas, to speak truth to power, or whatever else you’d like to do, so long as it’s in the best interests of Anglecynn. Surely you have to realize that I’ve handed you quite a bit of power simply by making your diaries the most talked about book in the kingdom?”

“It’s conditional power,” replied Amaryllis. “The book gives a context to everything I do in public. You made an image for me, one which I’m now beholden to.”

“They’re your words,” said Rosemallow.

“Edited,” replied Amaryllis. “With some choice cuts, I would assume.”

“You haven’t read it?” asked Rosemallow, raising an eyebrow. “You should. People will want to talk about it, and you’ll need to familiarize yourself with what’s in there. I made fewer cuts than you might expect, and added almost nothing. You had a gift for essays even from a young age, and there are a number of concepts that I believe it would be very beneficial for the citizens of Anglecynn to hear explained by a particularly bright twelve-year-old. There are sophomoric ruminations on the burdens of power and the complexity of change that might help pave the way for deeper understanding among the public simply because they’re accessible, written without the depth of knowledge a proper philosopher might possess.”

“And when did you embark on that particular project?” asked Amaryllis. “When you thought I was dead? Or after you discovered that I was still alive?”

“The diaries were meant for consumption,” said Rosemallow. She took her cup of coffee and drank down the rest of it with perfect form, never tipping her head back too far or opening her mouth too wide. When you were a noble, this was all expected of you, that you do everything just so, with decorum and grace. It wasn’t a view that the entirety of the court shared, especially in the younger generations, but it was how Amaryllis had been trained, even before her mother died.

“There are things I left out,” said Amaryllis. “I thought that someday I might want to show it to someone, and I wanted it to reflect the sort of person that I wanted to be, rather than the person that I was. It was mine to do with as I pleased, not yours.”

“I did, in fact, think it likely that you’d died,” said Rosemallow. “The diaries were found in the course of liquidating your staff, mentioned by a housekeeper.”

“Which one?” asked Amaryllis.

“Elanor,” replied Rosemallow. “I don’t believe it was a lack of discretion on her part, but rather a desire that some measure of you would be preserved. I’ve kept tabs on your staff, should there be any of them you want back. In my opinion, it would be best to make offers to only those of particular competence or loyalty. This has been an enormous disruption in their lives.”

“You’re framing it as though I’m coming back,” said Amaryllis. “That’s not decided. I’ve made a life for myself, away from this kingdom. A good one.”

“Is it true that two dragons touched down on the Isle of Poran?” asked Rosemallow.

“You know they did,” said Amaryllis. “I know you have spies there.”

“One or two,” replied Rosemallow, smiling slightly, in the way she did when she wanted to make a joke rather than answering a question or admitting to something.

Amaryllis was tempted to say out loud that there was only one, and to give his name to Rosemallow, as a demonstration of just how good her intelligence services on Poran were, or had been, when Valencia had been available to go down into the village. That would be foolish though, and if they’d somehow missed one, a display of weakness.

“Then yes, there were dragons,” said Amaryllis. “As you well know. Not, so far as I understand it, because of Hyacinth, and only tangentially related to the alleged violation of airspace that occurred in Li’o. It’s not something that I need help with.”

“These are two of the most dangerous creatures in creation,” said Rosemallow. “What life do you lead now that you would deny freely offered help?”

“It’s not freely offered,” replied Amaryllis.

Rosemallow sighed. “Again we circle back to your ideas of me, and of the Court, and what your role within it has to be. It’s tiring, I must say. I used to have more patience for these conversations. Think what you will of me, but I’m perfectly capable of offering aid to those in need. Even if I hope or expect that the aid will be reciprocal, or at least appreciated, it’s still offered without preconditions.”

“I won’t reject you outright, not the offer to help with the dragons, and not the bigger offer of a managed return to Anglecynn,” said Amaryllis. She focused on her tone, firm but gentle, without the shading of anger she felt. If she were letting her emotions control her, she’d be speaking with gritted teeth. “I need to speak to my people before I make any decisions, and I need a better understanding of what’s going on in the kingdom.”

“You have precious little time,” replied Rosemallow. “You’re a wanted criminal for violating the terms of the trial by adversity, and there are limits to what I can do to protect you, especially once Hyacinth and Phlox start their counterplay. My ability to insulate you increases by an order of magnitude if I can be sure that you’re willing to have a future in this kingdom.”

“You’re willing to spend more if you think that you’ll have me for good,” said Amaryllis.

“I am,” replied Rosemallow. “That should come as no surprise to you. But if you agree to be a part of this kingdom, to be allied with me once more, I can start on the negotiations at once, and the sooner the better. There are also a number of benefits to a quick decision, such as capitalizing on the positive reception of your diaries and breathing new life into the discussion of them.”

“I still need to talk to my people,” said Amaryllis. It was easy to get swept up in plans. Amaryllis could see all the things that would need to be done if she were to follow down the path Rosemallow had set up for her, and she was thinking of new items to add to her to-do list. But it was clear that everything Rosemallow wanted and expected would be fundamentally incompatible with what life with the Council of Arches had been like thus far.

“Is that really Raven Masters with you?” asked Rosemallow. She seemed genuinely curious, but Amaryllis had little doubt that Rosemallow could fake genuine curiosity. It was also a diversion from the previous topic of conversation, which was surely not because Rosemallow was expressing idle wonder. If someone dug in their heels when you were trying to sell them something, it was a common tactic to beat a conversational retreat and try again later.

“What do your spies, seers, and auguries say?” asked Amaryllis. This was only a little bit of an exaggeration. Rosemallow was sometimes known to have information she shouldn’t have, enough so that it was rumored she was in possession of a powerful entad, a highly synergistic entad set, or possibly a hidden magic. Magic that allowed for any form of future sight, prognostication, or clairvoyance was incredibly rare, but ‘incredibly rare’ didn’t mean non-existent.

“There are questions, certainly,” replied Rosemallow. “I don’t expect you to divulge everything, not when we’re working toward a reconciliation. However, if there’s anything that I should be prepared for, anything that would cost you little to reveal, I would appreciate foreknowledge so that I can launch a better defense or attack, as circumstances warrant.”

Amaryllis nodded. It would mean ceding authority to Rosemallow, and there was an implication that Amaryllis would help later, but it was a sensible offer even if Amaryllis chose to leave Anglecynn behind. Rosemallow was also right that it was better now than later. If the battle was being waged through private conversations, as these battles often were, it was better that Rosemallow’s people be able to answer the insidious gossip with a united front, especially in those places where the gossip had a grain of truth.

“I can tell you what Hyacinth knows or suspects,” said Amaryllis. Better Rosemallow had that information than not, most likely. “To start with … I suppose by this point you must be aware that we’d established a research base in Silmar City, and that in the weeks prior to my trial, that research site went silent, concurrent with a time when they’d been sent one of the kingdom’s teleportation keys?”

Rosemallow narrowed her eyes. “I am very aware, and was aware even before your trial,” she replied. “There was a lengthy closed-door inquiry into how that happened. The research project was exposed to the wider Court, but its nature and the details of its creation have been kept internal for now. Project Aubergine Stake has, I doubt you’ll be surprised, died in its crib, as has the entirety of Project Garden Stake. The teleportation key has remained unclaimed, despite two missions there, one of which was successful in reaching the research base.”

“Larkspur sent a fireteam to retrieve it,” said Amaryllis. “He did this without the knowledge of anyone else, at least so far as I can gather. Their mission was to retrieve the teleportation key, but when the Fuchsia Coterie reported back that they had failed to eliminate me, the fireteam was tasked with killing me if they found me. It’s not clear to me how Larkspur knew that I was going to Silmar City for the key, or if he was just hedging, but those were their orders.”

“And how do you know this?” asked Rosemallow.

“My companion, Juniper, killed two of them. Another woman, a half-elf and former prisoner of Anglecynn, was a part of the fireteam and local guide, coerced into joining and fitted with a Fool’s Choker. She killed the other two members.” Amaryllis kept her voice even. “I don’t know how much of that Larkspur or Hyacinth ever knew, or how much was discoverable after the fact, but those are the events as they happened. We left a fair bit of evidence behind, as we had no choice in the matter, but I doubt much of it would be recoverable, and it would be largely circumstantial.”

“Where is the teleportation key now?” asked Rosemallow.

Amaryllis had known that the question was coming. If Rosemallow had the diaries, then she almost certainly had the logs, passed down since long ago, which listed all the caches bound to Amaryllis’ bloodline, squirrelled away for future use or left abandoned because of exclusions. Notably absent from those logs would have been a transportation entad in Silmar City, or indeed, a cache anywhere in the Risen Lands. The current party line was that they had never used a teleportation key at all, just a different powerful travel entad left by Uther, but if you were Rosemallow, and had access to the logs of the location and nature of those entads, the lie would raise some questions.

“If I knew where it was, I would have put it somewhere safe,” said Amaryllis. “Entad storage, for example, keyed to me and me alone.”

“We need it back,” said Rosemallow. “Its utility in the hands of a single person is limited, and the political ramifications of the missing key have been severe. If it could be recovered —”

“Larkspur and Hyacinth believed we had it,” said Amaryllis. “They made some sort of agreement with Doris Finch in order to track us, using an unknown, possibly entadic magic in her possession. My team killed Larkspur and his soldiers just outside of Boastre Vino, with no surviving witnesses.”

Rosemallow paused for a moment, saying nothing, merely having a mild look as she tried to process that. Long ago, when Amaryllis was still a girl, Rosemallow had said that if you needed time to think, you should take it, as silence was often preferable to saying the first thing that came to mind, especially in those cases where meaningless conversational noise might not be warranted. In the entire time they’d known each other, this had been the only time that Amaryllis had seen Rosemallow follow her own advice.

“I see,” she finally said. “I may be obligated to repeat that, or take action on it.”

“I was warned,” said Amaryllis with a nod. “If you’re wondering why Hyacinth would keep it quiet, it’s because it’s currently to her benefit.”

“Do you have proof that he worked with Doris?” asked Rosemallow.

“No,” replied Amaryllis. “No concrete proof, only eyewitness accounts.”

“Well,” said Rosemallow. “You’ve given me quite a bit to think about. I had suspected that you might be responsible for Larkspur, but I couldn’t fathom the mechanism, or what you might have leveraged to make it happen. I’ll get into consultation with my public relations office. Thank you for your candor.” She paused. “I’m curious about what happened in Li’o, if you would be willing to share. You spoke with Hyacinth there.”

Amaryllis gave the highlights from there, filling in some gaps in what Rosemallow’s intelligence network might know. Some of the questions Rosemallow posed were surely to conceal how much she actually knew, which is what Amaryllis would have done, but it was mostly forthright, an exchange of information that was unlikely to hurt Amaryllis. Rosemallow wasn’t an ally, nothing like it just yet, but there were still bound to be fair exchanges to be had, ones which didn’t require them to trust each other. The teleportation key was the biggest liability that had been revealed, and it had already been revealed to Hyacinth, who was sure to use it against them if she could, especially because Larkspur was dead, and thus a useful scapegoat.

Bethel was mentioned, only briefly, as a powerful meta-entad, though her sentience (and cruelty) was left out. Valencia wasn’t mentioned at all, and neither was Solace, nor the locus. Juniper was given only brief focus, and Amaryllis stonewalled any questions about Raven, whose presence had no adequate explanation.

Rosemallow took it all in stride, stopping sometimes to think, but not expressing much in the way of shock or surprise. Some of it she’d already known, surely, especially because intelligence networks inevitably leaked to each other.

“Well,” said Rosemallow. “It’s a lot to think about, and you’re telling me only half of what you know. If you decide that you want to stay here, to take the mantle of princess back up, we’ll have to talk further about the things you’re keeping hidden.” She folded her hands in her lap. “One day, no more, to make your decision, and even then, I can’t guarantee that I can or will protect you if you should put yourself in a position to be arrested. It would be better for you to stay here for the duration.”

“I’ll speak with my people,” replied Amaryllis. “We have more than a dozen at the Hotel Delzora.”

“That still leaves the risk of you getting arrested,” said Rosemallow. “I don’t know how Hyacinth is planning to pardon you or waive the conditions of the trial by adversity, if she is at all, but until that’s resolved, there’s very little protecting you. I arranged for your safe landing at the station and your escort here, but you would complicate things enormously if you were taken in. There are limits to how much procedure can be bent.”

“Understood,” replied Amaryllis. “We’ll do our best to be discreet.”

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Worth the Candle, Ch 178: The White Room

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