“I have a proposition for the High Council. And for you, Your Highness.”
Vivia rolled her eyes. “Of course you do.”
“The Purists have offered us food and the use of their compounds. Across Nubrevna and beyond.” He motioned to a map that Vizer Eltar was so conveniently unrolling at the perfect moment. “Our people could be safe, even beyond our borders, if the need arose.”
Sotar cleared his throat, and in a sound like stone on stone, he declared, “Placing our people outside Nubrevna is called invasion, Linday.”
“Not to mention”—Vivia planted her hands on the table—“there must be some cost to this. No one—not even ‘noble’ Purists—act for free.” Even as she voiced this argument, though, Vivia found herself staring at the unfurled map.
It was a simple outline of the Witchlands, but paint had been dripped wherever enemy forces were closest to Nubrevna. Yellow for Marstok, speckling the east and south. Black for Cartorra, scattered in the west. Blue for Dalmotti, gathering in southern waters.
And finally red, thick as blood, for the Baedyed and Red Sails pirates circling Saldonica and the Raider King’s armies, still far to the north … for now. Heavy rains kept the Sirmayan Mountains water choked and uncrossable.
Come winter, that might change.
Vivia dragged her eyes from the map. From all those colors and all the senseless death that they might one day become. “What do the Purists want, Vizer Linday? What is the price for their food and their walls?”
“No.” The word boomed from Vivia’s throat. Explosive as a firepot. Yet as she straightened, sweeping her gaze across the table, there was no missing the interest that had settled over the Council. A collective relaxing of vizerial faces.
They had known what Linday planned to propose; they’d agreed to it long ago.
Serrit Linday ought to be castrated for this.
Vivia tossed a look at her only ally and found Sotar’s dark face withdrawn. Disgusted. He, at least, was as surprised as Vivia by this turn of political sidestepping.
“The Purists,” Vivia said, “will turn our people against the use of magic.” She launched right to march around the table. “They consider magic a sin, yet magic—witches!—are the one thing that have kept Nubrevna safe and independent. You, Linday, are a Plantwitch! Yet you see no problem in giving our citizens and our soldiers to the Purists?”
Linday smirked as Vivia strode past, but other than a slight tipping back of his head, he offered no response.
“What about your family’s Stonewitchery, Quihar? Or your son’s Glamourwitchery, Eltar? Or your wife’s Voicewitchery?” On and on she went, until she’d reminded every single vizer of the witches that mattered most to them.
Each imbecile Vivia passed, though, was suddenly quite interested in the state of his cuffs. Or his fingernails. Or some stain on the wall that only he could see.
Until Vivia was back at the head of the table. Then, it would seem, tiny Vizer Eltar suddenly found his testicles, for he piped up with, “At least if our people are with the Purists, it is fewer mouths to feed at the prince’s funeral.”
For a moment, those words knocked around in Vivia’s skull. Prince. Funeral. They were a meaningless descant to the beat that thumped in her ribcage.
Then the words settled like sand in a tidal pool, and Vivia gripped the nearest map. Crushed it in a white-knuckled grip. This feeling she did not have to fake, for only a week ago she’d argued against that funeral with every breath inside her. A waste of expenses, she’d shouted. A waste of precious materials, people, and time! The dam needs fixing and the people need feeding!
The Council hadn’t listened, though. Nor had her father. Of course not. Merik had been everyone’s favorite. He’d had the Nihar rage, and he’d had the good sense to be born a man. Easy, easy—that was how Merik’s life had always been. No resistance. Whatever he’d wanted, he’d gotten.
Even his death had been easy.
Before Vivia could offer more choice words on the funeral, Linday chimed in, “You make an excellent point, Eltar. We must properly honor the dead, and we cannot do so with this many people in the city.”
Hagfishes claim him. Now that Vivia considered it—really considered it—castration was much too good for Linday. He deserved to be drawn, quartered, eviscerated, and then burned until none of his rotten core remained.
“Besides,” he went on, more animated now that he held the room’s attention, “all of our families will soon arrive for the funeral. We should not have to skim our own portions to feed a city overrun—”
Water erupted from the pitcher at the center of the table. Thirteen perfect coils of it, one for each vizer—even Vizer Sotar.
“Enough.” Vivia’s voice was low, and the water locked in place mere inches from each man’s throat. Half had their eyes squeezed shut, and the other half were twisting away. “No Purists. Ever. Food is on the way, and we will continue to allow Nubrevnans into the city.
“And,” she added, sliding her water whip a smidgen closer to the vizers, “you all could stand to lose a bit of fat from your bellies, so as of tomorrow, your rations will be reduced by another quarter. If your families are hungry, then tell them to stay home.” She stepped away from the table, pivoting as if she were about to leave …
But she hesitated. What was it her father always did so well? Ah, yes. The terrifying Nihar smile. She mimicked it now, looking back at the table. At the fools who inhabited it. Then she let the water flow, with perfect control, back into the pitcher.
It was a reminder that she was not merely a princess, nor merely a ship’s captain. Nor merely the rightful queen of Nubrevna—if the Council would just agree to hand over the crown.
Vivia Nihar was a Tidewitch, and a blighted powerful one at that. She could drown them all with a thought, so let Serrit Linday and the rest of the High Council try to cross her again.
No more stalemates because they thought her unqualified and unhinged.
No more tiptoeing around a room because women oughtn’t to run. To shout. To rule.
And above all: no more blighted regrets.
The Bloodwitch named Aeduan hated Purists.
Not as much as he hated the Marstoks, nor as much as he hated the Cartorrans, but almost as much.