Athal writes to Raisse from Solay

He misses her so much, but he’s needed where he is. As Beguyan says, “there are lots of people who can fight, but only one who can do the king stuff”.

Alysei Athal astin Velain, in Aumen Síth, to Ravei Raisse astin Brun, queen of Valdyas, in Valdis.

Darling Raisse,

You will have seen all the dispatches, but I do want to write to you personally. You might think that I’m so busy that I’ve forgotten you! But I think of you every day, and of our daughter-to-be –or even, by the time this reaches you, our daughter already born. (And of the boys, of course. I’m certain that Vurian would have a grand time running around with the little children in the ruins, and get himself gloriously dirty.)

If you see Talvi before Ferin’s letter reaches her, you can reassure her that he’s battered but mending. I intend to take him home when I can leave here, probably not before Midsummer because I’m waiting for Raith to arrive and we’ll have a lot of work to do together before she can take over completely. Beguyan is much taken with Ferin and wishes he was an Iss-Peranian so he could install him as military governor, but even if Ferin didn’t have a wife at home to get back to, Beguyan can’t very well appoint a Valdyan over his part of the city. There aren’t many people of Ferin’s stature left among the Iss-Peranians, though, except possibly Beguyan himself. He lost three officers who would perhaps have been suitable even before he reached Solay, and four more in taking the city.

There’s still a lot of fighting, breaking out in seemingly random places. There’s not even always Khas involved– Síthi against Síthi, civilians against soldiers because they think any soldiers are out to get them, townspeople against the Temple of Micalacuk –that’s Mizran– because they used to side with the enemy. I’m not sure about the Temple of Micalacuk even now; perhaps sorting that out is the next thing I have to do. And speaking of Mizran, there’s the small matter of a locked and sealed door in the citadel that leads to a vault with enough gold to buy the whole kingdom of Valdyas four times over. Neither Beguyan nor I trust the local temple with that.

Also, the not so small matter of hunger. At least people have started planting again. Beguyan’s troops are steadily pushing west to where the river leaves the mountains to secure enough arable land to feed the city. Much of my work now is to go to every place where someone is starting something, look it over, and make encouraging noises. Part of being a king, I know, but it used not to be a major part. I’ve been mending the anea of the land, too, almost surreptitiously, only showing it to the people who could see what I was doing anyway. When we were in Kushesh Attima’s bodyguard, cook, fifteenth wife, whatever she may be, showed me the state of the land there, and that’s so much worse that I may have to spend days or weeks there on the way home to give it the merest nudge towards mending itself. I wish I could have Rikhi here to work with– would he be willing to make the voyage? I’ll write to him, too, and explain as well as words can convey it.

I’ve also sent a message to Essle to make sure that the White Whale returns full of grain and other necessities. Uznur will take care of it– now there’s someone I wouldn’t mind governing the other half of Solay, but who would be our chancellor in Essle then? Quite apart from the fact that we can’t do that to Moyri.

Beguyan doesn’t allow me to fight any more, “that would be a waste”, he says. I’m still in all the staff meetings, and he does listen to me– he hasn’t written me off in that regard, but he says –and I have to agree– that there are lots of people who can fight, but only one who can do the king stuff. (And if Beguyan wants any more forts to sink into the swamp, he knows who to ask– I don’t think there are other people around who can do that, either!)

You are probably right that I’m a better king away from home, but that doesn’t keep me from wanting to be with you, in Valdis, and staying put for a while once I succeed in getting there. What this city needs now is probably indeed Raith. And Ayneth– if there’s anyone who can build up something from nothing, it’s my little sister.

My love, my queen– I’m spending more time and sweat over these few lines than the whole rest of the letter, because what I want to say to you doesn’t go into writing. Hug the boys for me, and tell them their father wants to come home as soon as he can.