While he had no doubt been raised prim and proper, the foot soldier before her looked ready to wet himself. Clad in the scarlet and goldenrod livery of the Harding family, the young man was shaking so much the helmet he held rattled. He was either extremely desperate or extremely stupid to seek her out and leave his skull unprotected.
“Did you say your name?” Kora asked, her sudden question making him jump.
“Dax Cabot,” he answered immediately.
A common enough name.
“How long have you been with them?” She gestured vaguely to the uniform.
“Since I was about seven,” he said. After a beat, he added, “Ma’am.”
“Not what I asked.”
“About ten years.”
“Now why,” she leaned closer to him, speaking slowly, “would you toss all those years of loyalty to one of the houses closest to the king to come to the Blight?”
Dax straightened his spine, but his Adam’s apple bobbed with a hard swallow. “I heard the rumors of a rebellion against the crown—”
He faltered, but pressed on. “It’s not the usual rabble of talk from those here in the Blight. The rumors are coursing from the noble houses, Harding included.”
Kora raised a thin eyebrow. “Again, so?” I have no interest in noble arguments. Why not tell the king’s advisors of this?”
Dax paled even more, had it been possible. “I don’t know how deep the rebellion has gotten,” he said. “And I… I thought you’d stop it. You’ve the royal family in your pockets, don’t you?”
“Curious.” Kora tilted her head to the side, her gaze narrowing. “Why would a little foot soldier like yourself figure that?”
“Rumors,” was the weak reply.
Silence stretched between the two, Kora staring at Dax and Dax looking anywhere but at her.
Eventually Kora said, “If I was to get involved in this squabble, what would be my reward?”
“The royal family stays neatly in your pocket?” Dax winced at his own answer and looked more frightened than relieved when Kora laughed.
“Keep honing your wit,” Kora said. “Your tongue may be able to save you just as much as your sword. Brogan.” One of her guards – a squinty-eyed man with arm muscles as thick as his neck – stepped forward. In one movement, Brogan put a sack over Dax’s head and pinned the soldier’s arms to his side. “Mr. Cabot, should you wish to really pursue our help in this matter, you’d do well to bring leverage to persuade me to the cause. The Blight works with tangible rewards and goods, not pretty words and promises. Brogan will kindly escort you back to the streets.”
Dax began to stutter a protest, but he fell silent when Brogan nearly lifted him off his feet and out of the office. Graham came in almost immediately after, his gaze lingering on the retreating pair.
“His ass doesn’t look broken,” Graham commented lightly. “Did you go straight for the face? That what the sack was for?”
Kora shook her head, her fingers steepled in front of her face as she wondered how the supposed foot soldier found his way around the Blight enough to reach an audience with her. “He’s still in one piece.”
“Feeling generous today, are we?”
“I would hardly think it appropriate,” Kora drawled, “to maim the kingdom’s prince.”