The man outside stared at her in mute misery, she flapped her hand at him. “Oh come in, for pity’s sake. You won’t trigger the wards in your current state and I clearly need to have a proper chat with your poor wife.”
Dragos wheezed. “Wife?”
Daren put a cautious toe over the threshold, then stepped fully inside when the wards gave way around him.
He stared at the ground. “We married in secret just over a year ago, right before father sent me to the troll borders.”
Jaeshra ignored them, hurrying towards the ghost now visible just inside the gate. “Oh there you are, you poor thing. Now why don’t you come inside and tell me all about it. Then I can set these silly men of yours straight and on their way to your… son? Daughter?”
She coaxed the shade indoors as the two men looked on.
She glanced back as they went through the door. “She says it’s twins, a boy and a girl and they’re with her old nurse at the mountain farm.”
She glanced inside then turned to the men and said. “She asks the father of her children to please fetch her babies and she asks their uncle to please put some clothes on.”
Daren swallowed, then straightened. “The mountain farm.”
He turned and left the temple grounds, creating a portal and walking through as soon as he was fully clear of her wards.
Dragos was blushing. “I don’t suppose you have any clothing likely to fit me?”
Jaeshra looked him over, he blushed even harder. “Your clothes are in the bathing room. Although you may wish to clean them first.”
Dragos walked towards her, she was distracted by movement at her gate. She waved “Good afternoon Miriam.”
She swayed a little in the blast of air that passed her and smiled sweetly at her neighbouring deity’s head priestess. “If you’ll excuse me. I have visitors today.”
She turned and went inside.
It didn’t surprise her in the slightest when Miriam followed her in. “What visitors and why was that man naked?”
Jaeshra looked up from where she was making tea. “Hmmm? Oh, he was dying. Please mind the ghost. I know she’s in your usual chair but she’s only waiting for her husband to get back with their children and then I’m sure she’ll be off.”
Dragos reappeared, in clean clothes, maybe he’d had some in that bag slung off his shoulder. They didn’t look too wet, thankfully.
He propped himself against the front room’s inner wall, a spot with a clear view through the front door to the gate, and eyed Miriam suspiciously.
She looked between them. “It’s Dragos, yes? Yes. This is Miriam. She’s Bandor’s chief priestess. He’s my neighbour you know, and likes to keep an eye on things.”
Dragos nodded, but said nothing.
Miriam put her nose in the air. “And you are?”
He pushed off the wall and gave an ironic bow. “Prince Dragos of Icehelm, second son of the Lord of Dragons, ice mage and murdering traitor.”
Miriam squeaked, Jaeshra rolled her eyes, saying to the ghost. “Yes, I quite see what you mean.”
Dragos retreated to the wall. “What did she say?”
“Oh, that all the men in your family were madly over-dramatic.” She smiled and offered Miriam tea.
The priestess was eyeing Dragos. “I think I ought to pop out and fetch Bandor.”
Jaeshra frowned. “Why? Do you think me so weak I cannot cope with a visitor or two? I find this a little insulting, Miriam.”
The sky outside darkened, and thunder rumbled. She may only be small, but she was still a god.
Miriam gulped. “No, not at all, it’s just, well…”
Dragos said. “She kept my brother out when I claimed sanctuary. Her Worship is more powerful than I think she lets on.”
She moved behind Miriam to send him a proper glare. There was no call to be giving away her secrets, even if they were silly little ones that didn’t really matter at all.
Her gate chimes went wild again, she poked her head through the door. “Oh good, your brother’s back. He has someone else with him. Who seems to be having trouble getting through the wards.”
She walked into the courtyard, saying loudly. “I’ll collect the babies shall I? Let them spend a little time with their mother while you all shout and stomp at each other?”
Daren turned and thrust a squalling bundle at her, then reached through and pulled a second one from the arms of the man crashing at her barrier.
“I’m sorry. I stopped off to update Father and I’m afraid he’s…”
“Overreacting? Yes, your wife said it was a family trait.”
Daren looked at her with grief-filled eyes. “Can you bring her back?”
Jaeshra sighed. “Not unless you want her to suffer beyond bearing.”
The man dropped his gaze and shook his head. “Never. It’s bad enough that I failed her alive.”
The man at the gate continued to smash at her wards, bellowing to be let at his traitor son. Jaeshra really needed to get rid of Miriam. But how, given the only way out was past the furious king?
She walked inside, handed her bundle to Dragos. “Here take care of your niece. Her mother’s in the chair by the fire if you want her to calm.”
With that she returned to the gate and watched the man attacking her wards. They were beginning to crack. That would never do. She electrified them.
The bolt shot him clear across the clearing. Oops, that had been a little more powerful than she’d planned. It did the trick though, he clambered back to his feet and approached with considerably more caution.
She put her head on one side. “Have you quite finished with your temper tantrum?”
“That boy murdered my heir, he has to face justice.”
She’d had an enlightening chat with the ghost in the stolen moments between drama.
“Actually, your daughter-in-law was the one who put the dagger in. Dragos interrupted your eldest boy raping her, they fought, she stabbed him while he was distracted, he swung and cut her throat as he died.”
“I don’t have a daughter-in-law.”
“Ahhh, yes, she said you were a stiff-necked snob. That you refused to accept your son’s marriage to a mere dryad. Although you were carrying your grandson carefully enough when you arrived.”
The man’s jaw dropped. “My grandson? Daren never said. Just told me to hold him on the way through as it was too hard to carry both at once. Are they both my grandsons?”
Jaeshra humphed. “No, because the other one’s your grand-daughter, but you don’t have much time for females, do you?”
The man puffed up. “Now see here.”
Jaeshra puffed further. “No. I don’t want to. This is my temple, and your son has claimed sanctuary. So until he decides, of his own free will – no blackmail, no coercion – to come out, you will remain out there and behave yourself. No torturing or abusing my worshippers, no sneaking about trying to get the other gods to bully me into giving him up. I abide by the laws of the Oldest and so will you.”
The man frowned. “You’re the actual deity?”
Jaeshra looked back at him. “You’re the King of the Dragons. You have Sight. Use it.”
It was possibly unfortunate that Miriam emerged just as the king opened his Sight and Perceived Jaeshra’s True Being. Witnessing the King of Dragons scramble backwards from her gate was not a good way to keep the busybody priestess believing her low profile.
Miriam came to stand beside her. “What is going on?”
Jaeshra twisted her fingers together. “I may have threatened to call in some favours?”
The king choked, but said nothing, watching them both, wide-eyed.