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Calculations (2/?)

Title: Calculations
Words: 4418
Challenge: The revisionist challenge!
Notes: And it keeps on growing. Most of the original cast have decided to come and play. More ex-Mary Sues to come in part three...

Part One

Angeline knew Lord Charles of Lambert by sight, but had never spoken to him before. The Prime Minister was known to be a cautious and well-informed man, but he did not play court games. The gossips claimed that he was still mourning his wife, eighteen years dead. Sitting under his sharp regard, Angeline suspected that his reclusiveness might be based as much on a dislike of gossip. He had been polite to her when Robert ushered her in, but had shaken his head at her attempts at small talk.

Now he perused the document she, Robert and Zaniel had prepared yesterday, his face intent and unemotional. Angeline watched him, trying not to clench her fists in her skirts. He didn't look much like his son – his fair hair was beginning to turn grey and he was slighter than Robert.

In his youth, he had been the second swiftest sword at court, only defeated by one champion.

He finished the last page and straightened the papers before putting them down.

“Well, sir?” Robert said from where he leant on the chair behind her.

“Patience,” Lord Charles murmured and turned towards her. “A few questions about your figures, Lady Angeline?”

The story claimed that he had proposed to that champion the moment after he had yielded their first duel.

“Of course,” Angeline said, and he cleared his throat and began to question her. He was precise and thorough, his tone mildly sceptical.

She had refused him sixteen times, each in the aftermath of another duel.

When at last he had finished with his questions, Angeline sat back in relief. She was confident of her calculations, but he had presented every possible alternative interpretation.

The seventeenth time he had proposed without a sword to his throat.

“Thank you,” he said. “You have been very thorough.”

Was that a dismissal? She felt herself tense, and Robert's hand dropped onto her shoulder. She twisted to look up at him, and he murmured, “Wait,” and then, “Are you sufficiently convinced, sir?”

“More than,” Lord Charles said, and she turned back to him in time to catch a glimpse of a smile that was very like his son's. “And you have presented me with enough arguments to convince the council, as well.”

Within two years his wife had been dead, killed as she held one of the narrowest passes above Lambert against a bandit force no one doubted had been sponsored by Chamne's northern neighbour, Panakn. Lord Charles had left his infant twins in the protection of his sisters, safe within the great stronghold of Castle Lambert, and returned to court, where he had served his king ever since, flawless in his duty.

“Tell me,” he said now, “why Prince Zaniel is not presenting these findings himself?”

“Politics,” Robert replied as Angeline said, “It's too important to be political.”

Lord Charles sat back, waiting with a quizzical expression.

“The issue,” Angeline said precisely, “needs to be what these figures show, not who gathered them.”

“Of course,” Lord Charles replied, sounding weary. “I wish your prince had not started this game.”

“It's not a game,” Robert said quietly, his fingers tightening on her shoulder.

Without even thinking about it, she covered his hand with her own. “I almost wish it was, my Lord, but it matters. Look at what we have just given you. It should have come before the council months ago. We have a duty to this nation.”

“He knows,” Robert said softly.

Lord Charles smiled wryly. “At least tell me your sister isn't as entangled in all this as you are?”

Robert laughed. “Sorry.”

“Damn,” Lord Charles muttered.


“-around the Blue Mountain,” Robert was saying as they walked back through the palace. “My mother grew up there. Lovet's meant to look like her come again, so she's been able to win a lot of local goodwill.”

“That's good,” Angeline said. “It's a peculiar region. I can't say I envy her.”

“She likes it,” Robert said. “We're mountain bred.”

“Yet you've chosen the court.”

“I'm my father's son.”

Angeline looked up at him thoughtfully. He might not look like his father, but she could see the same mannerisms in them now – the same watchful intelligence and quiet humour. “The shield of the North,” she murmured, not meaning him to hear.

He grimaced. “You wouldn't believe the delight my classmates took in that.”

“Oh, I would,” she assured him swiftly. “I grew up with Zaniel.”

His laugh belled out, and, looking up, she thought suddenly, I like you. She wasn't about to satisfy Zaniel's schemes, but she couldn't keep her smile back. It was good to have friends as well as colleagues.


As they danced that night, she leant in close to ask, “Where are you getting the gentians from?”

Their cheeks brushed as he spoke against her ear. “My father has them sent down from Lambert. The preservation spells cost him a fortune, but he always has some in his rooms. They were my mother's wedding flower.”

He was warm from the dance and she could feel the firm damp press of his hand on her hip through her thin dress. She could feel the heat in her own cheeks as she moved with the loose grace of too much wine. Suddenly she had a flash of how they must look from the side of the floor, entwined and intimate.

It made her start.

“Is something wrong?” Robert murmured.

She shook her head, suddenly very conscious of every place where their bodies brushed as they moved with the music. The soft flutter of his breath against her cheek made her want to flinch away before the vague impulse dancing through her made her do something foolish.


“I'm fine,” she murmured, looking up at him. She had already heard rumours linking their names. No one had sounded surprised. He was a good man, and his family were well-regarded, despite their occasional eccentricity. Studying his face now, she admitted that he was also rather handsome. He didn't have Zaniel's dazzling good looks, but there was more kindness in his face.

When Zaniel was king, she thought dreamily, Robert would be more than his shield. He would be the rock at the heart of the court, supporting and anchoring them all.

He was smiling slightly as he met her gaze.

As the music changed, he leant in again to ask, “Fresh air?”

She nodded and let him lead her across the crowded ballroom and out onto the wide terrace. The night air was a cool relief and she shivered gratefully, lifting her head.

“Cold?” Robert asked, his warm hand cupping her bare shoulder.

“I like it.” The sky was clear, with a bright moon coasting between the stars. The gardens glowed silver under its light. Robert led her along the terrace, and she tucked her arm through his and went, though she knew she was on the edge of the unknown, beyond her cautious plans.

He drew her around the corner of the terrace, turning her towards him. As they moved, Angeline caught sight of a figure silhouetted behind them, gazing across the gardens with fierce intensity. She tipped her head that way, feeling her mouth twist up wryly.

Robert glanced that way and sighed. Then he leant in to mutter, “There's trouble.”

Angeline shook off her dream to nod. Then she stepped around him to say, “My prince?”

Zaniel turned towards them. “They're still in council.”

“Still?” Angeline said.

“The South needs help,” he said, swinging round to glare at the gardens again. “They should not argue it.”

Robert left her side to drop a hand onto Zaniel's shoulder. “Perhaps they're working on a solution. Military deployments take time.”

Zaniel shrugged him off. “What if they're dismissing everything we've found? Maybe we should have waited for the complete report.”

“Maybes solve nothing,” Angeline said tartly. “If they ignore us, Zan, we'll just find a way to work discreetly with the local commanders.”

“Melior is well-respected in the south,” Robert added, as she paused. “He could easily become a focus point for a spontaneous reaction.”

“There is never a single path to follow,” Angeline said. “We can always find another solution.”

Zaniel gave a quick, amused snort. “Did you two rehearse that?”

“We didn't need to,” Angeline said lightly. “It should be as clear as sunlight.”

“Be patient,” Robert said gently. “We'll know soon.”

“I am sick of waiting!” Zaniel said savagely.

Angeline slipped her arm through his. “We understand, but, Zaniel – never say it where anyone else can hear.”

He swung on her. “I know.

“We'll wait with you,” Robert said quietly, “but come inside. You'll get cold out here.”


Just after dawn a maid shook her awake. Bemused, Angeline took the note. It took her a moment to understand it, but then she threw on her simplest dress and went dashing through the palace before she could think twice.

She could hear the dull clang of armour and the whuff of horses long before she reached the courtyard of the King's Knights. She hesitated under the colonnade, suddenly aware that her hair was loose around her shoulders and that she was barely respectable.

The court was bright with banners and the surcoats of the gathered knights, and the morning sun sparked off the polished armour of the gathered knights. Even their horses were armoured, broad, solid chargers.

Angeline caught a glimpse of Lambert blue through the crowd and slipped towards it, breathing shallowly against the stench of horse and steel. Around her low voices rumbled.

Robert was standing by his horse, helmet under his arm, talking to Zaniel. He looked immovable and serious in his armour. Beside him Zaniel, still in his dancing clothes, looked whippet fierce.

A breeze danced across the courtyard, sending the banners booming out. Robert's cloak caught, swelling out behind him in a blaze of blue. Angeline slipped to his side before it settled again, nervous of the press of iron on all sides.

“You got my note,” Zaniel said. “Good.”

“What's happening?” she asked, not quite daring to meet Robert's gaze. Where was he going?

“They've taken note of your calculations,” Robert said. “We're riding out towards Inode. If we meet with the degree of resistance you predicted, the king's going to authorise a full regarrisoning of the South.”

She took a breath and looked up at him. There was no fear in his face, but she was sure they schooled them in stoicism at the academies. Somehow, when she had been playing with the numbers, she had never imagined anyone she knew riding out to fight.

“Angeline,” Zaniel said softly. “Find me later. We need to plan.”

She nodded, not looking at him, and he touched her shoulder and strode away, calling out to one of the mounted knights.

“How long will you be gone?” she asked.

“A few weeks,” he said and then flashed her a quick smile. “Try not to marry Rendine while I'm gone.”

“I'll do my best to avoid it,” she said drily. “Robert-”

He took her hand. His gauntlet was cold and stiff, but he lifted her hand gently, pressing a kiss to her knuckles.

Her breath caught in her throat, and she, who prided herself on her eloquence, couldn't think of what to say.

There was a shout from the front of the courtyard and Robert looked up, quickly. “Time to go.”

“Come back,” she said.

He grinned at her, quick and fierce. “I will.”

She backed away to let him mount up, and found that everyone was moving. She scurried back to the colonnade, where she found Zaniel. He put an arm around her shoulders, with a quick sympathetic glance, and she felt unbalanced enough to accept it without scolding him for making assumptions.

There was the clang of helmets being fastened and shields being settled. One of the horses made a grumpy, breathy sound.

A horn rang out, and the standard bearers lifted their banners straight with a snap. The gates swung open, and the company rode out, to the sounds of bugles and harness creaking and chiming, hooves against the cobbles and the whip of banners against the bright sky. Angeline shaded her eyes, trying to find Robert in the file, but mounted knights all looked alike, encased in steel. She knew him at last by his colours, and by the sunburst and mountain emblem of Lambert on his shield. She kept her eyes on him until the company swung out of sight, riding down into the city and beyond in their bright array.

“He was at my back during the war,” Zaniel said softly. “Saved my life more than once. Don't worry.”

“Worry,” Angeline said, shaking her hair back. “All I'm worried about is how long it will take them to verify my predictions.”

Zaniel squeezed her shoulder and offered his arm. “A little early for breakfast, perhaps, but if you're awake we may as well use the time. I'd like to set up maps of the south...”


Zaniel's interest in maps swiftly developed into an obsession. Angeline found herself spending most of her days framing and mounting maps in an abandoned basement, and then working discreet and careful spells to conceal them. The hard work kept her distracted during the days, but she slept poorly, dreaming of empty swathes of desert until she woke feverish and unrefreshed.

She blamed the heat of the summer, because she didn't want to think about other reasons.

Rendine of Nanyarm kept sending her flowers, which she thanked him for politely when they met.

Once the maps were mounted, she began to insert careful pins, each with a number scratched in. Every number matched a file in her collection, which she kept concealed elsewhere, despite Zaniel's grumbling about inefficiency.

“I'm beginning to see why Robert thinks you're reckless,” she told him, crossing her arms.

He grinned at her from beneath a fringe of cobwebs. “Daring, my sweet. The word is daring.”

She sniffed. “I know what you did in the war, my boy.”

“We won, didn't we?”

“You were lucky,” she told him, and went back to mapping Jennet's travels out with purple-headed pins. Her cousin had been busy in the north-west.

“She was in Fugeln last I heard,” Zaniel said helpfully, picking up a pin and sticking it over the fenland village in question.

Angeline removed it. “There's a sequence.”

“Someone's in a fine temper.”

“If you don't like the company, leave me to work in peace.”

“Angeline,” he said, and there was a gentle note in his voice which made her want to stick the pins in him. “Let it go for a day. It's summer. Ride out with me tomorrow. We'll take a couple of birds out and enjoy the sun.”

She turned to face him, arching her eyebrows. “You want to go hawking?”

“I'm very good at hawking.”

“Zaniel, you're good at anything you set your mind to. You just don't tend to choose the frivolous option.”

“Everyone needs to be frivolous sometimes,” he said, smiling blithely.

“Zaniel, what-”

“Upon which note, I think we're overdue some lunch.”


She watched him stride off, torn between indignation and laughter. What was he plotting now?


When the morning came, however, he decided against hawking, and they set out along the Siesal road. It wouldn't have been Angeline's first choice for a rural ride, as the road south led them right across the capital at the delivery hour, but Zaniel was whistling by the time they got out of the gates of Behset.

The road was busy, and Angeline was forced to concentrate on her riding. Her palfrey did not appreciate the constant stream of wagons and pedestrians trailing towards them along the wide stretch of cobbles.

“Market day in Behset, one presumes,” Zaniel called back to her. “Keep up.”

Angeline shot a glare at his back. She'd like to see him tackle this crowd riding sidesaddle.

Once past the first village, though, the road cleared, and they settled into a comfortable pace. Angeline still wasn't sure why he had chosen to come this way, rather than following the chases through the royal forest, but she wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of asking.

Surely Robert couldn't be due back so soon?

She fought back the sudden thrill of hope by calculating the days. No, not possible. His company would barely have reached Inode.

So who was Zaniel expecting to come riding up from the south?

“Oh, look,” he said cheerfully. “There appear to be some knights on the road.”

Angeline squinted past him. In the distance, she could see two riders. The flash of chainmail and the laden packhorse suggested knights errant, but their shields were hidden from here.

“You could at least feign surprise,” she said.

He grinned at her. “I am surprised, Lina. I wasn't expecting to meet them until noon.”

He rushed away before she could answer that, so she locked her legs around the low pommel and went after him, riding the jounce and slip of the saddle as she would negotiate a dance. It was damned uncomfortable, but she wasn't going to be left behind again.

And if she did come off, he was chivalric enough to pick her up, even if he would spend the rest of their lives laughing about it.

She didn't have time to look forward at the knights ahead, though she managed to swear at Zaniel when he glanced over from his secure seat atop his courser and called, “Race?”

As they plunged over the next curve of the road, a male voice called, “Well met, my prince! Is there trouble or are you just over-eager.”

Zaniel slowed his horse, reaching out to grasp the man's arms. “In search of more exciting company. Court is dull of late.”

“I'm flattered,” Angeline said, and looked at the two knights properly. The man she did not know, though he was an obvious southerner, dusky-skinned, dark-haired and fierce.

The woman, however, was an welcome friend.


“Angeline,” the lady knight said, gripping her hands firmly. “Good to see you. How fares the court?”

“As it always does,” Angeline said, examining her friend's face carefully. She looked tired. “Shallow, complicated and over-influential.”

Last time she had seen Thosa it had been after her knighting. She had been in full armour then, like something that had walked alive from a legend. Now she was in dull mail, with a loose surcoat of desert beige like the ones worn by the borderguard. Her crow-black hair hung in multiple glossy braids, but her face was thinner, with the bones starker and shadows under her green eyes.

“Are you well?” Angeline asked.

Thosa's eyes went distant for a moment, but then she nodded. “As can be. I miss my sisters, of course.”

Angeline shrugged, uncomfortable. Jennet's relationship with her sword-sisters was one of those strange, legendary things she didn't care to enquire about. She was happy with small magics, but the Thraci were too devastatingly powerful for her.

Thosa shook her head and smiled. “Have you ever met my Melior?”

Angeline turned to look at the man. “Melior of Abholn? No, but I've been impressed with your reports.”

He turned away from Zaniel to bow his head to her. “My lady?”

“That's as good a compliment as you'll ever get,” Zaniel said cheerfully. “My cousin, Angeline Favelsdaughter.”

Now she got a grave smile. “I'm delighted to finally meet you in person, lady. I've heard a great deal about you.”

Angeline laughed and threw an accusing gaze at Thosa.

The lady knight held up her hands. “Oh, no. I'm as discreet as the grave.”

Melior flashed a quick grin at her, and then turned back to Angeline. “We met Robert and his company in Foxholt.”

Angeline felt her cheeks heat as Zaniel laughed, but then Thosa cut over them saying, “We were already on our way north when he passed your message on. Zan, we need a decent communications network. There's little use in me being able to talk to Jennet and Lovet if we're scattered across the country.”

“What about the message birds?” Angeline asked. “Can you not commandeer them?”

“In an emergency I would,” Thosa said, a grim note in her voice.

“And we have,” Melior added bleakly.

“But they're only good for simple messages. And discreet ones. Zaniel, we have worse problems in the south than I could put into a messenger's hand.”

She saw Zaniel come alert, his back straightening. “Tell me.”

“There's at least ten border lords talking about seceding.”

Zaniel didn't say anything, but his horse shifted, lifting its head in response to some invisible tension. The wind rattled through the summer woodland, and Angeline realised she had caught her breath.

“It's not just a few raids anymore,” Thosa said quietly, and Angeline thought that she would not have had the courage to speak herself. “The Borderguard were stretched thin before the war, and now all they can do is react to reports. There's not enough of them to keep the borders closed. The slavers just walk in the villages.”

“They're using magic too,” Melior added. “Before they arrive some sort of mood-altering spell comes in. Leaves the villagers too sapped to resist. Even the Guard are vulnerable.”

“We've had brushes with it ourselves,” Thosa added, “but it's not proof against the sword.”

“We've been training people to notice the first signs of the spell and get messages off to the guard. The desert tribes have been helping.”

“The tribes?” Angeline echoed. “They're not even Chamnean!” She didn't know much about the nomadic tribes of the Southern Desert, but everything she had heard suggested they despised strangers.

“They've been driven back into Chamne,” Thosa said. “There's three tribes camped around Abholn at the moment.”

“And the secession?” Zaniel cut in, voice cold and precise.

“The south feels abandoned,” Melior snapped. “They sent their strength north in the last war and now their need is being ignored.”

Thosa cleared her throat. “Robert's group will help, but the feeling down there seems to be that they'd be better off allying with the tribes and forming their own militia. It wouldn't be hard. Most of the military infrastructure is local.”

“We were approached to join them,” Melior said. “Turned them down gently.”

“On our advice,” Thosa said, “they've sent another plea to the council. This will be the last.”

“Do you have the message?” Zaniel asked.

She nodded, and he swung his horse round. “Back to the palace. This needs to go to council.”


Thosa appeared in the doorway late in the afternoon. She was still in her travelling clothes, and Angeline noticed that she was resting her fingertips lightly on the pommel of her sword, as if drawing strength from it.

“Council's over,” she said wearily.

“Come in,” Angeline said, jumping up. “There's water for bathing and a change of clothes through that door.”

Thosa blinked at her. “Oh. Thank you.” She stumbled across the room. “We impose on you too often.”

“Where's Melior?” Angeline asked, steering her towards the bathing chamber.

“Gladus marched him off to talk about something.”

Angeline exchanged an amused glance with Sian, who hid her grin. Great minds did indeed think alike.

In the washing room, Thosa stared at the tub in vague amazement. “So much water.

“Use it,” Angeline said tartly. “You've earnt some luxury. And to be frank, you stink.”

Thosa grinned quickly. “Mail does that. Sorry.”

She reappeared half an hour later, looking livelier. She would have looked natural in the green dress Angeline had left out, were it not for the sword slung across her back.

“Do you wear that thing everywhere?” Sian asked.

Thosa grinned at her. “Pretty much. It hurts to be away from it. Contrary to camp rumours, though, I do not share my pillow with it. Is that food?”

“I thought you'd probably not had the chance to eat,” Angeline said.

Thosa was already attacking the meal. “I haven't and we've been putting in long days getting north. Thank you. You two do this too often.”

“Someone needs to,” Sian said.

Angeline nodded in agreement. “Do you have somewhere to stay in the palace?”

Thosa nodded. “Servants are opening up my father's suite. We'll crash there until Zaniel's done with us.”

Angeline fought to kept her eyebrow from arching up. She hadn't heard any formal announcement from either Abholn or Foxholt. Trying to be tactful, she asked, “Is that enough space for you both?”

“Better than sharing a tent, at least,” Thosa said, “and that was only on a good day.” Then she caught Angeline's expression and laughed. “The sword is scandalous enough. Nothing I do will make me more respectable. Might as well get some advantage out of that.”

“Thosa!” Sian protested, laughing. “You're more unromantic than Angeline here.”

Thosa grinned at her. “Unromantic, is it? That's not what I've been hearing.”

“How is this now about me?” Angeline grumbled as they both laughed. “Thosa, really, you're at court. Manners matter.”

Thosa pushed her empty plate away and turned to face her, eyes serious. “We'll formalise things one day, but we've been flirting with death all along the border. There are more important things than ceremonies.”

Angeline met her gaze, weighing the conversation in her mind. Then she shrugged. “How Zaniel expects me to keep the court sweet with you lot around I shall never know. Try to be moderately discreet, my dear. Now, the council?”

“Are still considering the proposal,” Thosa said wearily. “They seem to have finally grasped that the border lords are serious, but they're still squabbling over precisely what forces to commit down there. A lot is going to depend on what comes out of Inode.”

“On my figures,” Angeline said flatly. “If my predictions are right, we go to war against the slavers.”

“Lina-” Sian started.

“And if I'm wrong, the border lords secede and we go to war against one another.”

Thosa sat back, looking at her gravely. “That's one side of it, yes, but it's not all on your shoulders. You're one link in a chain, Angeline.”

The honesty was comforting, but Angeline found herself looking out at the elegant gardens and thinking of Robert, out there at the striking point of a war.



( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 27th, 2007 08:59 am (UTC)
I'm really enjoying this one. It's nice to have a longer tale from you again - and you do court politics so well.

Fair hair tends to just go white, as opposed to grey. It just gets paler and paler.

The story claimed that he had proposed to that champion the moment after he had yielded their first duel. -- That's ridiculously cute, by the way ^__^

The seventeenth time he had proposed without a sword to his throat. - I love it XD Especially how you space it out between the current paragraphs.

I really liked that interchange, it was nicely handled. And I like the slow build up between Lina and Robert, but then I'm a romantic, so of course I do ^_^

Zaniel's interest in maps swiftly developed into an obsession. -- I knew there was a reason why I loved this boy.

Contrary to camp rumours, though, I do not share my pillow with it. -- Of course not, that would be impractical for drawing. She'd sleep with it at hand, most likely as out of sight as logistically possible ;)

This is great. A proper old style fantasy romp, with hints of magic, knights and war. Glorious! Just what I need to be reading throughout a typical British summer.
Jun. 28th, 2007 12:03 pm (UTC)
I'm having fun writing something longer. It's such a romp, and I'd forgotten how much I liked the trappings of chivalry.

Ah, thanks *notes for future reference*

I was amused to realise how fond I still was of some of the minor characters from this disaster. I didn't pay so much attention to them, so they somehow turned into real people off-stage. The whole backstory about the twins' mother was another angst-source originally, but I always liked the relationship between her and Charles.

*grins* I'm glad there's a few other hopeless romantics around. You, Shanra and I can just hold the fort in this corner ~_^

Zaniel's obsession won't last. None of them do, the fickle boy (at least until he meets his wife, but that's a whole 'nother story).

^_^ You're quite right. Damn, I'm rusty on this type of fantasy.

*mutters about the non-summer* Thanks. It's just what I need to have been writing ^_^ Glad it's entertaining you :) Thanks for reading.

(Deleted comment)
Jul. 31st, 2007 02:35 pm (UTC)
Thanks. It was rather satisfying to finish a long piece for the first time in yonks.

Thanks for the picks :)

There are times when I'm tempted to ditch it all and just write romantic fantasy. Then I remember I'd get bored and go back to the moody stuff.

Thanks for commenting, m'dear :)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )