"Kiri, what do you have for me?" Kiri didn't usually bring Cliopher work after hours, in fact often admonished him for working late. But there was no teasing today, even though he was still at his desk after his secretaries had been dismissed for the day.
Kiri looked unusually nervous for a meeting with him. Even when she had bad news, she was always composed and direct.
"Oh, well, it's actually good news. Probably. Maybe. Is this imperial seal genuine?" Kiri held out three letters with the Emperor's seal on them. Cliopher could see the top one was addressed to him.
Cliopher eagerly stood, grabbing them and bringing them to Rhodin, who was one of his guards at the moment. Rhodin touched the seal briefly before declaring, "That is his Radiancy's magic."
Cliopher smiled and opened it immediately, sitting back at his desk. His current work could wait a bit longer. He spared a glance at the other letters and saw both were for Conju, which was a bit strange. Why would his Radiancy write two letters to the same person?
He had read the first paragraph before he realized Kiri was still standing there, probably waiting to be dismissed.
"Thank you so much for bringing..." Cliopher's voice trailed off as he looked up and saw Kiri staring blankly at nothing, her face shocked.
"She was telling the truth," Kiri whispered.
"She? Kiri? ...Where did you get these letters, that you thought they might not be genuine?"
Kiri's attention snapped back to him. She straightened and composed herself.
"I have been corresponding for a while now from someone claiming to be Sardeet Avramapul. I didn't take her claim very seriously, you know how many letters we get from people saying they saw the Red Company, or such like that. But that first letter... she was so funny, and I was in a much more junior role at the time, and... Well, I wrote her back. And she responded.
"Several years ago she found a way to open a small portal between worlds and pass our letters that way. I was astounded the first time I saw it and started to wonder, then, if she was telling the truth. But some of the other things she claimed were just ridiculous, I couldn't believe it." Kiri laughed once, then her eyes settled on the letter in Cliopher's hand. "But if she really does know the Emperor..."
Cliopher smiled, delighted. Tor had found Sardeet Avramapul! Who was apparently penpals with Kiri. Maybe when Tor came back, Sardeet would come with him and they could both meet her.
"These letters came through a magic portal?" He asked, gesturing to the three marked with the imperial seal.
Kiri nodded. "Yes, with one from Sardeet."
"Well I can assure you, this letter is definitely from his Radiancy." Cliopher was confident both in the seal and in the handwriting on the letter.
Kiri looked speculatively at Cliopher, who was very interested in her letters from Sardeet Avrampul, but also desperate to read the letter from Tor. Cliopher missed him terribly, and constantly thought to ask his opinion on this policy or that decision, before remembering he wasn't there. Being in the Palace without him was strange, like when he had first arrived in Astandalas and all the city lights had blotted out the stars. Something that had seemed ever-present, a fact of life, was gone, and he had to learn how to navigate without them.
Finally Kiri spoke again. "Are you surprised? That his Radiancy would know Sardeet Avramapul, that they would be on friendly terms?"
Ah, now Cliopher understood why Kiri had been so shocked. Not just the idea that she had actually been corresponding with one of the Red Company, but that his Radiancy was friends with them as well.
Cliopher wasn't sure how much he should say on that topic. He did not actually have proof that Domina Black had been Pali Avramapul, and even if she was pardoned now, she had not been at the time. He spoke carefully, "I am not surprised. There were certain things that led me to believe his Radiancy had met, and befriended, the Red Company before he had become Emperor."
Kiri let out a relieved breath. "Oh, it's so good to hear you say that. I thought it was too outrageous to be believed, when Sardeet claimed that the Emperor was actually Fitzroy Angursell. But if you think so too–" She stopped suddenly, at the sight of his face. "Oh."
Cliopher's head felt empty, but too full at the same time. Every thought was stopped before it could get anywhere, drowned out by the sound of rushing waves.
...Fitzroy Angursell? The Emperor? Tor had told him he had been exiled to a tower, where he had stayed until he was made Emperor.
He had said that, hadn't he? Maybe not in those words, but it was certainly implied that he hadn't left.
His Radiancy implied many things that weren't true, if it was diplomatic to do so. He wouldn't lie outright, but he would say all sorts of technically true things that implied he was pleased to be doing whatever it was and not at all bored or tired or annoyed, even though Cliopher could tell.
Oh. Oh .
Of course Tor was Fitzroy Angursell. He played the harp magnificently after almost a thousand years without practice. He was a powerful wild mage of fire and air, who made astounding illusions and a Bag of Unusual Capacity. He was in love with Pali Avramapul, and she with him. He had kissed the Moon .
Cliopher felt some tears well up at this new understanding of his lord, and at the knowledge of what he had lost while trapped in the Palace.
Cliopher blinked back his tears and composed his face. He could think more on that later, when he was alone (or more alone, with just his ever present guards). He addressed Kiri, still standing uncertainly in front of him.
"No, you're right. I do think so too." It came out quieter than he'd meant.
She took a quick breath, then nodded. "I should leave you to your letters. Let me know if you want to talk about this more. Maybe with some drinks." She gave him a cautious smile.
He returned it. "I will."
After she left, Cliopher tried to turn back to the letter, hoping it would give his current thoughts some clarity, but Rhodin spoke, "Just because these letters are from his Radiancy, does not necessarily mean the other letters are from Sardeet Avramapul, or that she was honest about his Radiancy's identity. I think you accepted her word too quickly."
Cliopher thought through the evidence he had. It seemed so certain, so clear to him now that he was amazed he had not realized it before. When the Moon had come down and named Tor best-beloved, after he had played the harp, and told them he was a wild mage with a secret name and he wished to retire and stop being dull, Cliopher should have realized then.
But no, that was not being fair to himself. Tor had hidden himself so well, those centuries they had worked together. And Fitzroy Angursell was not the only person the Moon had ever shown interest in. It was possible that the Moon just had a preference for magical musicians.
What could he say to Rhodin? Tor had never said directly that he knew any of the Red Company, and his suspicions of Domina Black were just that. Should he even try to convince Rhodin, when Tor had not told them his name himself?
Rhodin spoke again before Cliopher had a proper response. "If that letter in his own hand says that he is Fitzroy, then I will believe it. If it says he is traveling now with the Red Company, I will consider it. Otherwise, I would caution against guessing at his Radiancy's past without his input."
Cliopher agreed he should read the letter before discussing the topic more, mostly because he really wanted to read it as soon as possible. It did not, in fact, contain Tor's secret name, or any mention of the Red Company. Tor said he was traveling with some other people, but did not name them. He had traveled from Zunidh to Alinor to Voonra. And on the way, he had found...
"His Radiancy found Terec and Conju's sister while traveling the Borderlands. These two letters are from them."
"I'll get Conju." Rhodin strode from the room, but turned before closing the door. "Do not leave this room with only one guard."
Cliopher sighed, "Yes, I know. I'll be here when you get back."
It did not take long for Rhodin to fetch Conju. While he was gone, Cliopher finished reading the letter. He was staring at the final line, "Your servant, in a manner of speaking," wondering what exactly Tor had meant by it, when Conju arrived.
Rhodin and Ludvic followed behind him. Rhodin spoke to the other guard, Elish, dismissing him early, apparently deciding it would be better if Ludvic was here while Conju heard the news.
"What news from his Radiancy? Is he doing all right? Did he run out of anything, or need something we didn't pack? Is he enjoying himself?" Conju wrung his hands as he asked, and left no time for answers between his questions.
"He's doing well, and enjoying himself greatly. He thanks you for the enormous amount of cushions you packed, which are getting much use. But more importantly, while traveling through the Borderlands, he met two people who know you."
Conju stilled, looking stunned. "Who know me ? I hardly know anyone outside the palace."
"They knew you from before the Fall.”
“Oh?” Conju’s face was full of hope, and Cliopher smiled to see it.
“One was your sister, Neri, and the other was Terec."
Conju sucked in a gasp at the first name, and tears filled his eyes at the second, as he smiled wider than Cliopher had ever seen.
“They’re alive!” He grabbed Rhodin’s hand to steady himself and squeezed hard. “They’re alive. After all this time...” Conju’s voice started to wobble. Rhodin stepped closer and pulled him into a hug as Conju let out heaving breaths. Cliopher grabbed one of Conju's hands and squeezed gently. Ludvic, after getting over his own shock, laid a hand on Conju's back. Conju laughed a bit in wonderment before pulling back.
“Thank you, my friends.” He pulled out a handkerchief to wipe his eyes, happiness shining from him like a sunrise. “Neri and Terec both. How did they find each other? Where are they? Are they well?”
"They both wrote letters for you that might answer your questions. I have them right here."
Conju took the letters eagerly and sat on the middle of the couch, Rhodin on one side and Ludvic on the other. Conju opened one letter with a shaking hand. He started to read, and tears filled his eyes once again. Conju wiped his eyes and took two deep breaths before continuing. He read through the first page, and the second, smiling brilliantly. The two men at his sides a steady presence, careful not to read over his shoulder. Cliopher sat across from them filled with happiness for his friend, as his mind wandered back to the night's earlier revelations.
Of course Fitzroy Angursell could wander through worlds and accidently find a long-lost friend of a friend. The Red Company had found hidden people and objects many times according to the songs, and only sometimes on purpose. He had apparently found Sardeet again, and Cliopher assumed he had reconnected with Pali in Alinor.
Cliopher had a brief pang of jealousy for Conju, that Fitzroy had found his lost family, but had not found Basil while in Alinor. But he knew that wasn't fair, and besides, Conju had lost his entire family in the Fall. He was glad, so glad, that part of that family was returned to him.
Cliopher imagined Fitzroy traveling to all the nine worlds, reuniting with each of the Red Company, and returning triumphant with an heir for Zunidh. Oh, how Cliopher longed to see him again, see him happy and full. To get to know him as the inner man, as Fitzroy Angursell .
And then... then what? Would Fitzroy Angursell really want to live in the Vangavaye-ve? Leave again all the friends he's dearly missed, who surely have built their own lives, their own homes, in far flung places? Surely he would want to travel again, after being stuck in one place for so long. A single year's journey would not be enough for Fitzroy Angursell.
He would at least visit, Cliopher consoled himself. And... Cliopher could go visit him, wherever he was. If Cliopher was welcome, that is, among the Red Company. He felt both nervous and excited at the thought. How many times, in his youth, had he imagined traveling with the Red Company? (Not just in his youth, he had to admit.) How would he measure up, compared to such legendary friends? He hoped they would approve of the changes to the government he had done, his work to remove everything they had fought against in the old Empire, and replace it with something better. He thought they would. Fitzroy had approved of it, after all.
He was overwhelmed, again, at the thought that Fitzroy Angursell was the Emperor. Why had he not pardoned the Red Company sooner? Too telling, perhaps? Cliopher remembered, after the Viceroy ceremony in the Vangavaye-ve, both of them playing a few notes of Aurora before stopping. His hesitation, before declaring the music allowed for one night. ( Cliopher had played Aurora with Fitzroy Angursell! ) Cliopher himself had never brought up the idea of pardoning the Red Company, despite making his support of them clear with his humming.
The only time they had discussed the Red Company was when his Radiancy... when Fitzroy... when Tor had said that Fitzroy Angursell was trapped in an oubliette in the Palace. That hurt his heart to think of now, that Tor had thought of the Palace that way, though Cliopher had already known he felt trapped. Or no... Tor thought of the Emperor that way. The position, the traditions, the taboos, the expectation that he act a certain way and always appear serene. He had buried Fitzroy Angursell so deep within himself, so everyone might forget he was there.
Cliopher was pulled from his thoughts as Conju spoke up, "These letters... they were verified? As from his Radiancy?" He had finished the first letter and was staring hesitantly at the end of the second.
Rhodin raised his eyebrows and flicked a surprised glance at Cliopher. "Yes, I verified them myself. Why do you ask?"
"Well, Terec–" Conju's voice cracked on his name. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Terec says... oh, I can't say it. You read it." He passed the page to Rhodin, then rubbed at his face.
Rhodin read the page, his face kept blank. Then he sighed and said, "Cliopher, I owe you an apology."
Cliopher smiled widely, guessing the page's contents. "May I?" He asked, gesturing to the letter, wanting to read the confirmation for himself.
Rhodin passed it over as Ludvic said, "Is anyone going to tell me what's going on? There's clearly something I'm missing."
Cliopher scanned the page and quickly found the relevant line. "The man Terec met claimed to be both Emperor Artorin, and Fitzroy Angursell."
"Oh." Ludvic paused for a moment, then smiled. "I'm glad he's decided to tell people."
"What!" Conju exclaimed, at the same time Cliopher said, "You knew?"
Conju huffed, "Did everyone know but me!?"
"I didn't know!" Rhodin protested, "Kiri told Cliopher and I just a half hour ago, and I didn't believe her."
"How did Kiri know?" asked Conju, exasperated.
Cliopher answered, "She's penpals with Sardeet Avramapul. Ludvic, how did you know?"
Ludvic rubbed at the gold marking his hand. "After his Radiancy's heart attack, he held on to me for the whole night. He... spoke in his sleep a few times, very quietly. I was listening intently, in case he needed something. He spoke several names of the Red Company, calling out to them for help."
There was a brief silence while Cliopher waited for more. "And... that was it? He knows the Red Company, therefore he is Fitzroy Angursell?"
Ludvic blinked. "Well there's also the harp, and the Moon, and Pali Avramapul... you did know that Domina Black was Pali, right?"
"Yes, yes, I figured that out." Cliopher scowled. Should it have been that obvious to him?
Rhodin threw up his hands. "Pali Avramapul visited his Radiancy, and neither of you mentioned it to me? I was the lone head of security at the time, with Ludvic out!"
Ludvic shook his head. "His Radiancy obviously knew who she was and didn't want her bothered."
Cliopher nodded. "If we didn't say anything, then it wasn't treason that we didn't try to arrest her."
Rhodin narrowed his eyes at Cliopher. "You are the world's expert on our laws, but I somehow don't trust your definition on what is and isn't treason."
Ludvic burst out laughing, and Cliopher demanded, "What is that supposed to mean?"
Ludvic smiled. "Do you know how many times you would say something outright treasonous to his Radiancy, about nobility being inherently tyrannical or something like that? And his Radiancy would look at me with a smile in his eyes before turning back and carefully listening to you rant."
Cliopher flushed. "Well... if his Radiancy didn't mind it... and it is true, anyway."
Rhodin shook his head at Cliopher, but he was smiling. "It's almost midnight. And we've had a big shock... well, most of us have," he shot a mock glare at Ludvic, "especially you, Conju. Are you doing alright?"
Conju opened his mouth, closed it, then asked calmly, "Will you hand me that pillow?"
Rhodin handed it over. Conju pressed his face into it and let out a muffled scream. Ludvic patted his back a few times sympathetically. Conju let the pillow fall and breathed deeply before saying, "You know what? I've decided I will think about his Radiancy... later. Right now, Terec and Neri are alive, and they're coming to see me." Conju smiled widely.
"That's wonderful! I look forward to meeting them. If they need any help with travel..." Cliopher offered.
"They're not sure where they'll end up after traveling through the Borderlands, but they promised to send me more letters when they get the chance. Oh, how I wish I could reply, if only I knew where to send them!"
Cliopher nodded sympathetically. He knew that feeling well. "We should celebrate tomorrow. Let me look at my schedule..."
The bells rang out that it was midnight, and there was a knock at the door for the changing of the guards. Rhodin stood and shook his head. "You can check your schedule tomorrow. Go to bed."
Cliopher sighed. He doubted he would get much sleep tonight, but he should still try. He looked forward to drinking with Kiri and talking about their mutual revelations that they were friends with a member of the Red Company.
Cliopher lay down to sleep, and for the first time in a long while, imagined himself adventuring with the Red Company. This time, he did not imagine it as a chance meeting where they needed something he could provide. Instead, he was invited by name by his best-beloved friend, who wanted him there not for his skills or his power, but for the simple pleasure of his company.