overview "Come on, sweet lady," the roc rider crooned, body pressed flush against the giant fowl's warm back feathers so as not to create resistance against the wind. "I know we're almost there, but if you're holding back, now is not the time..." By the subtle dip of the sun on the western horizon, however, Vega knew speed was a moot point: twelve, noon, had since come and gone, and she was already too late. Yet another broken promise for which her brother would be loathe to forgive her. Eyraille's citadel was just overhead, the broad expanse of its green court yard looking about a size that would accommodate the doll houses with which she used to play as a little girl. Digging her fingers into the roc's feathers, she braced herself as the beast bellowed her piercing warning in preparation for a quick landing. Hasty as it was, with the ground coming under the bird's feet so quickly that, if not for her vice grip, the rider would have been jarred off the roc’s back, the way the knights were when their horses became irritable. There was no sense in reprimanding the feathered beast, as she knew without looking into her tired eyes that this was simply her means of informing her rider that she did not take kindly to being rushed through the air for hours, with no amount of speed seeming to suffice. The trip had long since pulled Vega's rust-coloured locks from its bun at the back of her head, leaving her looking as though she'd been caught in a wind storm. Not the best way to present herself, but presence alone trumped mere appearance, at this point. The high and mighty members of the council would simply have to suck in their guts and bear the eyesore that was her windswept look. "I know, I get it. This is my fault." The rider murmured to the bird as she dismounted and dropped the lance she'd been clutching, stretching circulation back into her thighs and calves, cramped with knots from hours of clinging for dear life upon her soaring roc. "You're a good sport, Aeriel. Rest, now; you know I'll make it up to you." Loosening the vast fowl's harness, but without a spare moment to fully remove it, Vega sped through the courtyard's flower beds and benches, all the way to the citadel's back entrance, so fast that the young sentry standing guard was hardly awarded a chance to recognize her. "Sir Vega...?" He queried, lowering the spear he'd nearly raised to block her path. "What--" "Can you please see to it that Aeriel is fed and provided with water?" Was the only response he received from the retreating young woman. "Oh, and that she's groomed--but mind her wings, she will snap if they're tugged too hard. Thank you!" Vega hadn't been the one flapping her wings for countless hours, and yet she felt exhausted before she'd even begun to run, hard-pressed to find her voice and respond to the various other queries that she barely heard as she tore down the corridors, glad for the traction on the soles of her thick leather boots as they scuffed the floors, the stair cases, as well as the carpets which were not supposed to be tread by outdoor footwear. By the time she reached the council hall, she'd made a mental note to later apologize to anyone with whom she'd nearly collided, as well as the cleaning staff for her footprints on the carpets. Though the faces she encountered through the gilded doors were written with far more scorn than those of the serving staff would be. "I'm sorry," she apologized immediately, hair falling around her face as she offered a shallow bow to her brother and his council. "I misjudged the time it would take to return from reconnaissance... Might I ask what transpired in my absence?" There was a pause, as there always was when Vega inquired after information concerning dilemmas of the court. If her brother hadn't made her privy to such information, she was certain the rest of the council would be quick to close the very doors of the citadel in her face, never to allow her to re-enter. "We are about to finalize the details on preparations for war, my Lady," the scribe at the other end of the long table explained, his quill presumably scribbling the minutes of the meeting that she had missed. "You may read the minutes yourself as soon as I--" "Whoa--whoa, hold up. War?" Vega's pale eyes sought those of her brother's, Caris, with shock and confusion. "Forty-eight hours... Not even quite forty-eight hours, I'm gone, and suddenly Eyraille is preparing for war? What, exactly, has transpired?" "It is not what has transpired, Sir Vega, but rather, what could." The head of the royal guard asserted, eyeing Vega's windswept appearance (and, likely, the fact that she hadn't taken a moment to remove her leather armor) with disdain. "We can no longer go about ignoring the fact that neighbouring empires continue to exhibit hostility towards us, and those that do not have gone eerily quiet. We cannot just sit and wait for disaster to occur. Preparations need to be made, and we must begin by closing the gates to travelers." Yet what else is new? Vega wanted to demand, but decided to veer towards diplomacy instead. Not that any amount of calm rationale would reach the ears of the most unreasonable people in Eyraille, who currently sat around the table. "Right. So I assume that these preparations for war will require funding from the kingdom itself. A raise in taxes are in order, I assume. To pay for equipment and reinforcements." "Naturally," the man replied. "Though I am positive Eyraille will be more than happy to provide, knowing the effort its very monarch is putting forth to protect it." At that, he cast his eyes on Caris, who looked a mix of angry and uncomfortable under such scrutiny. That was where Vega drew the line. It was one thing to spew ludicrous, unfounded ideas and pass them around the table like fact. It was another to try and feed those ideas to her younger brother who, although at the end of the day had the last say, was inexorably pressured by the domineering presence of everyone at that table. And she would not have him manipulated. Caris might have been king of Eyraille; but she was still his big sister. She'd been his protector since the first time she held him as an infant, and that wouldn't change, for as long as they were both alive. "With all due respect, good sirs, Eyraille continues to squirm under the new rule, as it has not functioned under a permanent authority for almost two decades. It is difficult enough to argue the taxes we already have in place," Vega struggled to keep her voice steady, firm. "And with almost two decades since my father's death, and no war has yet befallen this kingdom--not even between the time of the old king and Caris, when Eyraille did not have a ruler--this does not strike me as being particularly a prominent issue. Not at this point in time." "Well. That is not up to you." Another council member argued. Vega only recognized him by his lined face, but couldn't for the life of her remember his name. Though neither to her was that important. Nonetheless, he had a point. "You are correct. That decision falls on my brother..." Turning to face Caris, she added, "...whom I beseech to suspend this issue for the time being. At least until a greater threat provokes it." Gasps and angry utterances consumed silence in the wake of Vega's perceived audacity, until Caris' voice surpassed it all. "My sister has a point. I wish to further meditate on the issue before I come to a decision." "But my liege, we discussed—" "I said, I would like time to consider this." Young though he was, Caris' face always aged by decades when he had to assert his authority. And it broke Vega's heart such that she would never tell him. "Therefore, I conclude this meeting. And I would like to speak with my sister in private." Not another word was uttered, the sound of chairs scraping against the stone floor serving as silence's only companion, until the last council member left, and the door shut heavily behind him. With only the two of them left in the vast expanse of the council hall, Vega took a seat next to her brother. "I am so sorry I wasn't here from the beginning," she sighed, shoulders sagging under the weight of her guilt. "I'm a great judge of distance, but a poor judge of time, it seems..." "You said you'd help me. You said you wouldn't leave it to me alone, that you wanted to be part of this." It was as if Caris hadn't heard her apology. Small red splotches bloomed along his neck, almost like a rash, the way his body had always responded to a spike in anger and adrenaline. "Then, for the love of Heaven, Hell and all creation, Vega—be here! Be part of it, and help me, or don't help me at all and then away with you, in that case!" "Caris, listen--" "No, you listen. How often do you forget that I have to have the final say, because you preferred to have an indirect voice? You think I don't know you take to the skies with your damned roc so often because you want to escape? You think I don't know that, if you had even the slightest reassurance that our own council wouldn't take advantage of my power, you'd take to the air and never return?" The roc rider had enough poise not to flinch as if she'd been struck, but she wanted to. Caris only ever opened this wound, the everlasting elephant in the room, when he truly felt hurt, and wanted her to know she'd hurt him. It wasn't Vega's fault that their father had been a borderline tyrant, and his father, and his father before him. It wasn't her fault that nary a race that was not human had survived being conquered or driven out of Eyraille all together, in the past century, thereby alienating any and all relations with neighbouring kingdoms not governed by humankind. It was not her fault that his tyranny had earned him an early death when she was only ten, and Caris, three, or that it was never discovered just who had poisoned his wine on that fateful night. It was not her fault that Eyraille had been governed under martial law until she had come of age to take the throne. It had been her fault, however, to return it to martial law, the day before the crowning ceremony when she had decided to abdicate, reserving the throne for her little brother until the day he was old enough to assume his position as Eyraille's new ruler. A destiny never meant for him, and a fate he’d likely desired even less than her. That said, it wasn't as though Vega Sorde had remained idle in all that time. There was so much damage done onto Eyraille by her father’s and forefathers’ injustices and greed that she and her brother struggled to prioritize issues to tackle and problems to solve as the kingdom carried on as it always had, still lacking a ruler. And by the time Caris had ascended the throne—despite all of the preparation he had had that she had not, leading up to the day—neither of them could have realistically prepared for the hostility that endured towards their bloodline, likewise from the humans of Eyraille to the races of neighbouring kingdoms that had been driven out a century before. It wasn't her fault that the Sorde bloodline was one of the most hated on the entire continent. Her culpability lay in the fact that it was a burden that had never been meant for her little brother’s shoulders. A fact that he would never let her forget. Wordlessly, the would-be queen of Eyraille covered her younger brother's white knuckles with a warm hand, rough though it was from her leather, fingerless gloves. "It's true. If I saw an out, I'd try to find a way to escape," she admitted. "But not without you." The sincerity of her words disarmed the overwhelmed young man, and the red gradually drained from his face, only to be replaced by a worried pallor. "So... what do we do? Commander Ulrick was talking about subtle aggressions from Ilandria that have been escalating... What if they are planning to lay siege against us? They know I'm overwhelmed--everyone kingdom on the continent knows how weak Eyraille's ruler is. I’ve made it more vulnerable, now, than it ever was under martial law." "No. You are not weak, and neither is Eyraille; don’t swallow that sort of poppycock from those buffoon,” Vega cautioned, her tone careful to veer away from accusation. No one was more critical of the king than the king himself. “It has been almost two decades since father died, Caris... yet in all that time, no one touched Eyraille--even at the most opportune of moments, when it had no real ruler." The elder sibling tried to reassure him, but knew it was futile. The pressure was too much, at the best of times, only to be exacerbated by warmongers like Ulrick, who saw violence in everything. “Just because it hasn’t happened as of yet doesn’t mean it won’t, though,” he argued. “What if we do need to prepare? And the Eyraille finds itself conquered before I can lift a finger? I’ll have a worse fate than father’s poisoned wine.” Vega shook her head. "Like I would ever let that happen to you. I am sorry I wasn't here to mediate what transpired, Caris, but war is not something think we need to worry about, as things stand. After two days’ reconnaissance throughout the continent, I can tell you with confidence that the worst we seem to be facing is nationwide apathy. Let's progress as we have been, building a rapport with Eyraille, and extending branches to the races that our father drove away." "Are you sure? This is what we should be focusing on, when in two years we've hardly budged in terms of our standpoint?" "I wouldn't say so if there was any shadow of a doubt." Caris was still hard-pressed to be placated, however, in the aftermath of a council meeting that had sought to manipulate his intentions. "It still bothers me that in so long, no one has laid siege to Eyraille, for everything it’s done to its own people, and then some... I need some time to think about this. Alone, please." Vega rose from her seat, but not without squeezing the young king's shoulder. "You know I am here for you, right?" "Then actually be here for me, next time. That would be a start." Feeling she well deserved that blow, Vega left without another word, allowing the door to shut silently behind her. Loathe though she was to admit it, the seed of doubt had officially been planted and had begun to bloom in her mind, as well: what if another empire was planning to attack Eyraille, in the early years of its transition to new leadership, and with all of the changes it sought to make, in the wake of their late father's mess of errors? Caris would never trust her again, and their kingdom would fall into a whole other despair, well beyond the injustice of driving out the other races and outlawing magic. To prepare for war would not endear Eyraille and the races of bordering kingdoms to the house of Sorde; failing to do so would, on the other hand, would leave them as vulnerable as they currently stood. All they could do was hope for the seventeen years of cold silence between Eyraille and the other kingdoms, in lieu of hot warfare, for which they were wholly unprepared. Over an hour later, Caris still sat in the council hall, when he was approached a man of the guard. “Your Majesty,” the sentry bowed, lance firmly in hand. “Our men at the gates need to know if they are to remain open for people to freely come and go. Commander Ulrick informed us that there was a possibility that they would be sealed, for security reasons.” That bastard, Caris thought so bitterly he could taste his thoughts on his tongue. When he had asked to suspend the issue until he further contemplated it, he’d assumed the head of the guard didn’t have the patience of a squirrel. “The gates are to remain open for travel and exodus, for the time being,” he informed the armoured man. “And you can let Commander Ulrick know that when I suspend an issue, that is not a metaphor for requesting a bloody hour extra of contemplation. You are dismissed.” Heaven and Hell, Vega, the young king thought, casting tired blue eyes to the liquid gold of the setting sun through the windows. I’ll the you if you aren’t right.