The ride back to the castle was hard, fast and uneventful. Azriel and Eva were barely off their horses, when Malvin ran upto them.
"It's over sisters..Father has gone. He is no more. It is a terrible time for us. Galvin is now the Vizier of Andora."
Eva and Azriel held each other and cried. Ashmeer swore under his breath and stalked off towards the castle, leaving the siblings to grieve.
Malvin said between sobs, "Mother has taken to her room and will not come out at all. She was tending to father all this while, but he died with another woman's name on his lips...he kept calling out for Zivana....."
Azriel stiffened when she heard that name. It made her feel like she and the departed woman were again breaking a happy home.
Eva looked at Azriel through her tears and said, "Azriel, I will go and tend to mother. Go to your room and freshen up. Malvin come with me. Let us go and speak to Galvin and see what is to be done."
Azriel nodded obediently, and ran upto her room, and shut the doot to sob her heart out. She lay there in her dirty clothes for a long time, till tiredness overcame her, and she fell asleep. She woke with a start and realized that it was early evening. There was a knock on her door and when she opened it, Eva stood there with a plate of food. Her eyes were red-rimmed and she said, "Azriel, I suggest you stay in your room today. And for god's sake change those dirty, sweat-stained clothes. You look worse than the innkeeper's wife and that is saying a lot!"
In a few minutes, Azriel sat, freshened up and digging into a delicate steak as Eva sat in front of her sipping from a glass of cognac.
"Mother is heart-broken Azriel. She feels that father never loved her. She will not eat anything. Galvin has been locked up all day with our inner councillors and the Duke of Irismus. I think we will bury father tomorrow and then resume our efforts to stop the Blight at Andora. I am worried about what will happen now."
"What do you think we should do? Galvin is too young and rash, Mother is too broken? I don't know if we can trust the Northerners so much. Let's all go and speak to Galvin. I think that would be best, would it not?"
Eva shook her head, "I don't think that will work Azriel. Galvin has said he does not wish to meet you or speak to you. He has forbidden you from coming for father's burial and service tomorrow. He wishes for you to leave with your betrothed for Irismus as soon as things settle down and the Blight is contained."
Azriel looked at Eva in shock, "Galvin....said this?"
Galvin who had pulled her pigtails when she was younger. Galvin who always kept an extra piece of puff pastry on his plate for her because he knew she loved them. Galvin who had taught her to ride a horse and string a bow. Galvin who lied to mother and father when she went missing. Her world had indeed changed very dramatically.
Azriel said nothing, tears were rolling down her cheeks now.
"Azriel," Eva said, "Galvin may not be speaking to you, but we still have things to do. The Blight will not be contained without a plan. I have asked for a war council tomorrow morning and insisted that you will also attend. You are no longer just a daughter of Andora, but the betrothed of a powerful Northern Lord of Irismus and Ashmeer and I have said that you will have a seat in that war council. So pull yourself together, and be ready for tomorrow morning. There is much to do."
I nodded, looking up at Eva in admiration. Gone was the flirtatious charming young girl with her mind on marriage. Eva had transformed herself into a lady of the house in a few days. Her days at court and meeting many nobles had stood her in god stead and Eva had begun to understand statecraft much better than any of us.
"I'll be ready for tomorrow sister, but do let me say good bye to father one last time."
Eva nodded as if she had expected this.
"We will go later in the night when all are sleeping. They have kept his body in the chapel, so shimmy down your window and meet me on the grounds at the tenth hour. Do you understand?"