PART SIX: RITES OF SUCCESSION
With the burning of Sor's body three weeks' past, nothing had yet been determined about the next ruler of Vorti. Numerous families, many believed eliminated during the former king's purge of the nobility, surfaced to make claims, however spurious, to the throne. There were also common citizens, visiting dignitaries, and various other men and women asserting their right to rule. Few of these, or any other pretenders, were given credence by those involved in the "transition government," since it was naturally assumed that little Lea would be the next ruler of Vorti. The real question was who her regent would be for the next fifteen years.
A self-appointed council, made up mostly of the late king's "closest" advisors, had decided to resolve the thorny issue of Lea's guardian. It was a six-member panel which included the four most influential guildmasters, Chancellor Jav, and Commander Orf. Each believed himself to be the most qualified to guide the steps of the young queen. With none willing to bend and vote for someone else, there was a six-way stalemate.
Meanwhile, the city continued running itself, albeit not well. Criminals and the few prisoners of war that had been taken rotted in dungeons with no one willing or able to order a trial. In the wake of the invasion, looting, murder, and theft were rampant. Since there were fewer guards to enforce the law, and no ruler to punish wrongdoers, Vorti was becoming a city where only the armed were safe. Social collapse, while not yet complete, seemed unavoidable.
Two of the principles in the salvation of Vorti - Eya and Wil - had been unceremoniously turned out of the palace. Along with Reg and Bre, they had been forced to take a room in a low-class inn where they could afford the rates. Eya had been insulted at not receiving a position on the council, especially considering the importance of her role in the city's salvation.
"Don't upset yourself over it," said Wil as the four of them sat together at a table in the noisy common room of the Drunken Doxy. "If they had appointed you to the council, anything sensible you had to say would have been ignored. Those six are there for one reason: to promote their own self interests."
"I thought Jav was different," said Eya.
Wil shrugged. "Maybe when Sor was alive, but now that he's dead, it's every man for himself. It's a good thing Sor had separate provisions in his will for guarding his heir, or there would have been an assassination attempt by now. If Lea dies, there will be civil war."
"This whole thing seems so wrong," said Eya. "Vorti should be concentrating on rebuilding, not worrying who the regent is. If Sor hadn't died, this city would be well on its way to recovery. As things stand now, a quarter of the population will be without shelter when we get the first snow."
"Rites of succession in Vorti are never easy. I remember the last one. If Sor hadn't been an Apath, his coronation would have been a bloody affair."
"Maybe what we need now is another Apath to take control," said Bre. The comment was innocently intended, but she received three sharp looks the moment she said it.
"Apaths don't grow on trees," said Wil carefully.
"But wouldn't that solve the problem? No one would challenge an Apath," said Bre.
"Where are you going to find one willing to take the regency?" asked Reg. "Certainly not at this table."
"The issue isn't just one of wanting to take control," said Wil. "The population of Vorti has to support you, since this so-called council won't. Any Apath who tries to take the regency will need to engineer a coup. Bringing down an established government, even one in flux, is not easy. Sor is the only cog missing from this machine. Everything else is still in place."
"You wanted to be king once," said Bre. "What about now?"
"Thirty-five years ago I would have jumped at the opportunity, but it isn't an accident that I've let at least two chances pass me by. I have no desire to rule this city. At this point, I'm not sure I could do a better job than Sor did. Once, I was certain I could, but I got a taste of the difficulties in Falnora and recognize that my condemnation of the king may have been unfair. All rulers have their flaws, but I think he tried to do what was best for the city."
"Strange to hear you eulogizing him," said Reg.
Wil shrugged. "It does no one good to speak ill of the dead. Don't expect me to praise Kan, though."
"The nobility will come back," predicted Bre. "It was only the force of Sor's personality that kept them away. With him dead, they'll be flocking back to the city, demanding land and rights. The legal ban on titles will be repealed within a year."
"Unless someone who feels as Sor did becomes regent," said Eya.
"The members of the council are already entertaining bribes from men eager for land and titles. There's no one with power who agrees with Sor's controversial positions."
"I do," said Eya quietly.
"But you're not in contention for the regency," said Reg.
"Perhaps I should be."
There was a long moment of silence following that statement. Finally, Reg exclaimed, "What??"
"There's something we haven't considered through all of this. You and I are Lea's only living relatives. She is the daughter of our half-sister. Don't we owe her something?"
"No. Her mother may have been our sister, but we never knew her."
"Then don't we owe Lora something?"
"Eya, I don't think you realize the ramifications of what you're suggesting," interjected Wil. "This isn't a decision to be made lightly. Think of the turmoil that will occur if you announce that you intend to take the regency by force. You may believe that kinship gives you a legitimate claim - and perhaps it does - but there are many in Vorti who will not share that view."
"If they don't listen to me because Lea is the daughter of my sister, they'll listen because I'm an Apath. They will no more oppose me than they did Sor. Not even the council members are that stupid."
"With power involved, you would be surprised how stupid people can be," said Wil.
"If I declare for the regency," began Eya, "Will you support me?"
"Of course. Not that my support would mean much."
"You're an Apath."
"There is that, of course," agreed Wil. "But my name is besmirched in Vorti. I was one of the leaders of the losing side in a rebellion that took place decades ago. My involvement in that ugliness made me one of the least popular people in the city."
"You can't be serious about this, Eya!" exclaimed Reg. "This is madness."
"Why is it madness? Don't you think I can do a good job? Don't you believe that the child should be guided by someone willing to put forward the precepts her father sanctioned? Whoever becomes regent will not only rule this city for the next fifteen years, but will mold the education of the next lawful ruler. Lea has a right to be taught as Sor would want her to be."
"For what it's worth," said Bre, "I think you would make an excellent regent."
"And I think that we should all sleep on this before any commitments are made. I've made enough rash decisions in my life to know when it's better to wait and consider before acting," said Wil. "No regent will be chosen before tomorrow. Let's talk more in the morning."
From the set of Eya's jaw, however, Wil feared that the decision had already been made.
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