Hannes looked up at the sound of footsteps, a small grin lingering on his face. His expression deepened when he saw Annat step into his study, an answering smile on her face.
“Perchance you have had the same good news as I?” she asked.
“Perhaps, but I doubt it,” Hannes replied, motioning to one of the couches. “You always know more than the rest of us combined. But I do like what Barna sent to me.”
Annat settled herself on the couch. “Why don’t you share your news first, and then I’ll share mine?”
“You just want to play the mysterious one a little longer,” Hannes teased. Annat merely bowed her head a fraction. “Alright. Barna made a lot of progress with the information that Esthis sent him, and he’s already got specs written up for several new defensive measures and two offensive programs. He still needs a lot of testing on them, and unless the Riven oblige us with another attack, we won’t know how they work unless we can get Miss Liming to have a look. But Esthis wore her out with all the questions, so that won’t happen soon. The healers are threatening to bar us from the ward if we don’t let her get some rest.”
Annat nodded. “I did hear that, and we should all be pleased with our progress. Hyksas has always been a nation devoted to improvement, but seldom have we seen so much in so short a time. While it worries some of our neighbors, it comforts others.”
Now Hannes frowned. He picked up another sheaf of papers and paced behind the table hidden under mounds of reports. “Well, if any of those nervous ones decide to be preemptive, we may or may not be able to deal with them. These reports from the borders indicate that our forces there are in good order, but we don’t have a lot of men on border patrol. We haven’t needed many in the past, until this last year, and then we couldn’t spare them from the interior. I hate that we have to use soldiers on our own people, but with the riots and panic …”
Annat stood, crossing to lay a hand on her brother’s shoulder as she spoke. “You have always acted for the good of Hyksas, my king. Never doubt that. Fear is a great weapon in any man’s hands, and Luvaris has not hesitated to use it against us. By showing yourself strong and unbowed by fear, you give the people hope that this attack will not triumph. And, with your permission, I will let loose certain details of our progress to further brighten their hearts. The people trust you, Hannes, and they wish to continue doing so. I can’t see that you have done anything to betray that trust.”
Hannes laid his hand over hers. “Thank you, Nat. Some days I think– It’s hard without Father. I’d hoped for a few more years of his wisdom before I stepped into his place.”
“We all did.” Annat squeezed his shoulder briefly. “Now, for my news, if you are finished.”
“I am,” he replied, stepping back to his paper-strewn table and shuffling the mounds. “What has you smiling this morning?”
Annat reclaimed her seat. “There are three things I wished to speak with you about. The first is that the people are, as I said, willing to trust the monarchy and are in better spirits, at least in the interior provinces. We do not yet have reports from the borders, but I anticipate that they will be mostly positive. I had mentioned as well the upsurge in the old myths among the outlying villages, and there have been several scare-mongering ‘holy men’ trying to dredge up the old gods and their bloody rituals. Last night, I received word that several priests of God are going out to those areas to quell fear and help organize the people.”
“That is good news!” Hannes said, looking up from his reports. “The last thing we need is someone raising a peasant army around his ego.”
“We already have that in Luvaris,” Annat retorted dryly.
“Too true. Well, if the Bishop needs any help from me to protect his priests on their journeys, I’ll give what I can. Might be a good way to reinforce the borders, while we’re at it. That new seminary has turned out some level-headed men, from what I’ve seen, so I’ll take their help gladly.”
Annat nodded. “It will also be an efficient way to move the helms and new battle techniques to the patrols. They’ve been without Riven protection.”
“Excellent point,” Hannes said, pausing to make a note. Then he muttered, “I really need to get some extra help with all these damned papers.”
Annat raised an eyebrow at the profanity; Hannes, though his head remained down, seemed to sense it and winced.
“May I ask where your secretary is, that he cannot help you now?” she asked.
“Off on five other errands,” Hannes grumbled. “I need to know what’s going on, in detail, but this …”
Annat considered for a moment. “Perhaps you could ask Yosha to help you. He seems at loose ends much of the time, and it would do much for his self-confidence if you showed him the trust.”
Hannes paused again, even stilling his hands. He looked squarely at Annat. “Do you think he’s ready for the responsability?” he asked quietly.
Annat met his gaze. “I think he needs the chance to prove himself, whether he’s ready or not. We’ve coddled him, which did him no good. Now, neither he nor we know what he can do.”
“He does plenty with the Riven fights,” Hannes stated, more curious than offended.
“True, but that is not what he needs to prove,” his sister answered. “He is not the warrior that you are, Hannes. You are suited to strategy and combat, for all you chain yourself to the table. Yosha … I think he could be very clever, that he could develop great insight and intuition, if he had the chance to try. You know he’s always avoided direct fights.”
“Which is what made him the perfect pawn for Luvaris.” The young king scowled darkly.
“Yes. He never learned to use his talents wisely. Let us give him that chance.”
Hannes raised his hands in surrender. “Alright, we’ll do that. I’ll send a page for him in a moment. Now, what was that third thing you had to tell me?”
Annat’s smile sharpened. “I’ve come across a few details that I think will help in negotiations with certain ambassadors … and their friends in Sholam.”
“This I cannot wait to hear.”