Chapter 2: Becoming Queen
Sabine watched carefully as the ceasefire took effect, waiting for someone to take advantage of the other nations’ dropped guard to attack. She was furious at Treza for isolating her planets; furious at him for other reasons, too. He was the reason for the ceasefire, even if Adrian hadn’t mentioned him specifically. But there was no other reason Adrian would want a galaxy-wide ceasefire when he was profiting so much from the conflict. And he was the reason she had been willing to start the treaty process, him and that damn file he had sent her containing information about his claim to the throne.
She looked around at her captains. It appeared that there would be no fighting for now, at least, and the nations would honor the ceasefire. They were fully capable of running Wendigo’s army and bolstering her defenses while she focused on strengthening her political hold over the nation. It was difficult being both queen and commander and she had let some of her queenly duties slip because she preferred fighting to politics, but now was the time to change that.
“Helios, Vale, my troops are yours for the next month,” she said. “Contact me immediately if anything changes.”
“Of course, lady,” they both said, bowing to her.
She returned to the palace and transformed back into her Lithilien body, wincing at the stays that dug into her flesh. She wished there was some way she didn’t have to wear such constricting gowns as queen, but appearance was extremely important and she needed to look the part of a queen if she wanted the people to accept her as one. She was too young to be in a court, too young to hold a title, and many people were skeptical of her. She needed to appear older than she was and she needed to look the part no matter how annoying it was. She would have preferred the more casual clothes she had worn growing up, or even the suits some of the woman wore in court, but dresses would make her look older, at least according to her advisors, so dresses it would be.
Her mind returned to Treza and she shook her head. If he showed up, even without the strong claim he had, they would flock to him simply because he was older and they preferred an experienced king. Already she had been forced to deal with several competitors to the throne, and luckily all with very slim claims, mostly distant relatives of hers who saw a chance to take the throne. But her claim was so strong that they didn’t have a chance, even though many of the people would have preferred someone older. After all, King Avar had personally given her his signet ring and his dying wish had been that she become queen of Wendigo. It was hard to argue with that. Unless you were Treza, and had the kind of prior claim he had.
Adrian was a fool if he thought Treza would benefit from this ceasefire, though. Perhaps he would get a break from fighting, but there was no way he would be able to restore his troops after his losses. After the ceasefire ended, he would be in a far worse position because she and Mat would have both been able to enlarge and better equip their armies. He would be the only leader emerging from the ceasefire without a stronger army and he would be crushed. Surely Adrian knew that, yet he had insisted on the ceasefire.
She was also curious about an incident that had happened near Vega just before the ceasefire went into effect. A fleet of Lohen ships had approached and a large number of men had gotten off – she watched Vega very closely these days – and then the fleet had returned to Lohen without waiting for the men to return. She didn’t know what Treza was up to, but she had heard rumors that Eve had taken a large number of Lohen troops prisoner near Vega and she hadn’t.
The only thing she could think of was that the troops were on a secret mission and Treza was using her tendency to capture his troops as a cover for their absence, but who did he think he was fooling? Not her, certainly, because she hadn’t taken any new prisoners. Maybe the other nations, or maybe, she thought suddenly, maybe his own king. After all, King Alexander and Treza were at odds. That much had been clear from her negotiations with the king.
She puzzled again over the odd incident, especially since it meant that Adrian now had nearly a fleet’s worth of Treza’s men stationed there, but it was a military concern and she had to focus on political concerns. She sighed and called in her maid to help her with the finishing touches on her outfit. As her maid helped her brush her hair back and adjust the headpiece she had to wear to hide her short hair, Sabine began planning her day.
She would meet with her advisors first, of course, to see if anything new had happened since the ceasefire had begun. Then she had to hold court over the concerns of the local royalty, an important part of her day since they were some of her most loyal supporters and doling out justice was one of her main tasks. Then she had to prepare for her tour of the nation, for which she would leave tomorrow and which would take at least a week as she traveled from system to system in Wendigo, meeting the local royals and commoners, helping them see her as a real person and not just a figurehead. She needed their support and meeting her in person was one of the best ways to win that support, so she would have to brace herself for an entire week of nonstop handshaking and introductions.
She would rather be fighting, but it had to be done. She needed her people on her side in case Treza ever decided to leave Lohen, or in case someone in Wendigo ever discovered his claim and decided to use him without his permission to call for her ouster. The information he had shown her wasn’t secret, after all, though it was well-hidden. But anyone who had known King Avar might have overheard him talking about Kalis’s eldest child and if anyone found out that Treza was that child, then they could use his claim to destabilize Wendigo and turn the nation against her even if he didn’t participate.
She was still angry about his potential interference with her crown when she listened to the complaints of the local royalty, and perhaps that was why one frequent complaint stood out more than usual. The locals were complaining about the traffic near Vega, which was supposed to be a dead planet. No one was supposed to know that it was actually the center of the black market, and Adrian did a very good job keeping his location secret. But the traffic had always bothered her people, mainly because it meant that the jump gate nearby was almost always in use and the locals couldn’t use it as freely as they wanted. They had been complaining about it for years, for far longer than she had known about the black market, and looking back, she probably should have investigated why the jump gate got such heavy use. It was in a prime location between six systems, though, and she had just assumed that people were jumping there out of convenience.
This time, however, she promised her people that she would look into it and as soon as she was alone, she pulled up a console of the area. The gate was less than an hour from Vega and was Adrian’s main source for supplies. And Adrian must have been the one to give Treza the information about his claim to the throne. Who else would have that kind of information but the black market dealer? Well, she wasn’t about to stand for his interference. She would hit him hard, and where it hurt the most: in the wallet.
She considered her options for taxing the gate, and finally decided on a steep tax on foreign vessels that would ensure that traffic to the gate would drop considerably while not punishing her own people trying to use the gate. She sent word to her army that the changes would go into effect immediately and to stop all vessels using the gate and inform them of the changes until the gate itself could be fixed to automatically collect the toll. Her troops sounded puzzled, since they probably didn’t understand why she would tax the black market, but they obeyed. Now Adrian would have to find another way to get his illegal goods in and out of Vega, and he would see what it felt like to get forced into action the way he had forced her hand with the ceasefire.
She tried to open a line to talk to him and tell him in person what she had done, but the line went blank as if it were being transferred somewhere and she shut it off. He wasn’t on Vega. That was surprising, or perhaps not. She had heard that Treza was headed to Kreutzer to negotiate a deal, so Adrian must have gone as well to meet up with him. Well, he would find out about the tax on his own, without her telling him personally, and he could deal with it on his own. She scanned the area for the other nearest gate and found one in Lohen’s territory near Sola. Let Treza worry about the stream of ships coming through his territory. It was his fault, after all.
Pleased by her decision and knowing that she had made many of her royals happy, she began packing for her trip with her maid’s help. She would need an enormous number of large gowns that would take up an entire room on the ship she would be traveling on, and not a small room at that. The queen’s royal ship was quite spacious and she was eager to have a ship under her feet again, even if it wasn’t for fighting. It felt like familiar ground.
As she packed, she thought of Mat, as she frequently did, and wondered what he was doing. Perhaps after this ceasefire, her grip on the throne would be strong enough to introduce him to her court without having them immediately turn to him instead, but she doubted it. No, she needed to prove herself as queen first, but she didn’t know how to do it. And she really didn’t know what to do with her army. There was no way the commander of Wendigo could marry the commander of Kreutzer. One of them would have to give up their title, and it wouldn’t be her. But she couldn’t ask Mat to make that sacrifice, since for him, like for her, fighting was his life.
Somehow, though, they would end up together. It had to happen. She felt a flash of guilt over the letter she had sent breaking up with him that she now regretted. It had been too harsh, too cruel, and she hoped he had been able to look past the words of the letter to see that she still loved him, but just couldn’t be with him yet. She was so afraid of needing him when it was clear that he didn’t need her, and she still wasn’t sure if he loved her the way she loved him. It frightened her sometimes, how much she needed him. Thoughts of him and Nami together flashed through her mind even though she tried to push them away. According to rumor, he had taken Nami to his rooms on Vega and been alone with her. There was no reason that would happen unless they were sleeping together. She had known what type of man he was when she met him, when she accepted his ring. Still, for him to sleep with someone else was shocking and it was one of the reasons her letter had been so angry.
She sighed. So much was up in the air, but for right now, she just needed to focus on becoming queen in the eyes of her people. That was all that mattered. Then she could worry about Mat.