Iridia was frankly astonished she had been invited in to sit at the governor’s table. Her usual procedure was to sneak in. The man himself sat at the far end, eating roast turkey with no regard for the infuriating sound of his open-mouth chewing. Iridia resisted the urge to clench her jaw. She had to keep up appearances.
According to the papers she had presented, she was Daih Byern, a representative of the queen. Byern was a charity case, having been adopted from an orphanage on the front lines by a high-ranking duke, who had gotten her the job as ambassador for Queen Voss. Like all cover stories, it was a lie. This time though, there was at least some truth to it. She had lived in an orphanage for many years, though no duke had ever saved her. Her job had done that, transforming her from a parentless child into a deadly chameleon.
She let her gaze wander around the room. The ceiling was a mighty three stories high. Tapestries covering one wall depicting what the governor liked to call war, glory and lights coming from the sky to illuminate him, and glass windows on the other. She grimaced.
“How are you enjoying the food, dear?” the governor asked through a mouthful.
“It’s lovely, thank you,” Iridia said, gritting her teeth at the affectionate ‘dear’ but keeping a smile. She couldn’t stop herself and asked, “Quite extravagant. And…” Iridia looked around at the plates and plates of tarts, fruits, meat, and more.
“Please, this?” He waved a hand. “This is nothing. You should see my table when I have more than one guest.”
“Indeed.” She leaned forward, reaching for her glass and taking a long, slow sip of wine. “How goes the war, governor?”
“Oh no, you brought it up. That’s all anyone wants to talk about these days.” He waved a hand holding a chicken thigh. “Not that the matter affects us here. Life goes on as usual.”
Iridia drew some of her many dark braids forward, fiddling them with a hand. “How do your subjects fare?”
“Subjects?” he laughed. “More like ants. They live in these tiny little hovels. Have you seen them? They don’t even have the decency for proper tableware. Now this manor, on the other hand,” he said, holding up his wine, “has the most excellent, well…everything. Take the wine for example.” He sniffed the glass, swirling the crimson liquid. “Beautiful. From my finest vineyard only a few miles north of here. Aged ten years.”
“Indeed,” she said. “You mentioned your subjects…how poor are they, exactly?”
“Dreadfully poor, I’m afraid.” He shook his head with a shameless chuckle. “But pay them no mind, my dear. Soon as the war’s over, all will be back to normal. Not that it will, any time soon. See…” The man winked. “There’s a trick to these things, dear. Give those bastards over the border something to complain about, this war will go on for a century yet.”
Iridia froze. “What do you mean?”
“Well you know, all those bodies dumped over the border. That’s why they attacked in the first place. Said we were killing any of theirs who traveled here to spite them. Such a…tragedy.” He drew out the word enough for her to catch his meaning. He took another bite.
Her body burned with an inner fire and she resisted the urge to march over and strangle him herself. These were his people he was leaving to suffer. To cry over dead parents’ bodies. To watch cottages burn and families burn with them. To listen to their screams and still hear them in your nightmares, though you were only a girl when it happened. And the governor was helping the war on.
She raised her glass and asked, “How about a toast?”
He smiled and reached for his own cup. “I do love a toast. What shall we drink to, darling?”
She swirled her wine for a moment. It was so red. “How about… to your people?” She smiled, pretty as a she-devil. The man shrugged and leaned forward. Iridia’s blood pumped in her veins, louder than a drum as he drank. She looked away.
The sound of glass shattering filled the hall, echoing in Iridia’s ears. This was soon followed by the thud of a body. Iridia watched the spilled wine stain the floor red with a contented sigh.
Her smile became genuine. “To your people indeed, governor. I do love justice, don’t