"So, then, I heard there were close to a dozen of them left, still," Angus said. "They're congregated around the gangway onto the ship. Some Nuremite lord's with 'em, rallying them up."
"And how many are already down?" Ardyn asked, frowning. She debated between her crocheting and her knitting for a long moment, before setting the latter down and pulling the former into her lap. Below the observation booth, the Lairds milled about the room with their immediate entourages, exchanging handshakes and good-natured headbutts.
"A lot," Angus said. "Anyway, they're all clustered around the ship, and they're shooting wildly into the dark, but what happens next? An arrow just lands right in the center of them."
"Did it miss?"
"No!" Angus grinned. "Blows up! Tear gas, everywhere! They all collapse, choking and gasping for breath, crying their filthy eyes out."
"Are you sure this is an entirely factual retelling of this Midnight character's first rampage?" Ardyn asked, her frown deepening. "It sounds very stylized."
"I heard it straight from the men on Laird John's ship. A couple were awake; they saw the whole thing." Angus raised his hand as if swearing an oath. "Midnight comes right in on the sods while they're trying to get over the tear gas, and boom! Takes every last one down, smashing in their faces and shooting the ones that try and run. She's a war machine."
"And...then what?" Ardyn asked.
"She takes their lord character, and she hangs him by his ankles from the nearest crane." Angus grinned. "Was a sight. Big fat man, hanging there waiting for the kids to come beat on him for candy. Heard she fished him back up later and shot him."
"My word." Ardyn shook her head. "She sounds vicious."
"She does," Angus agreed. "I've got to ask the ambassador if she knows her."
"Oh, don't stereotype," Ardyn chastised, smacking him lightly. "Not every Nuremite is Midnight's pub mate!"
"What about her servants? I figure one of them must-"
"Angus!" Ardyn raised an eyebrow. "The vote's about to start."
"Yes, ma'am. I'm shutting up, ma'am." Angus leaned back. "Not a peep out of me, no, ma'am. Not since you commanded my silence, ma'am."
"I can hear this," Ardyn observed. She smacked him again anyway.
"What was that for?"
"Because I felt like it. Bite me." Ardyn resumed crocheting as King Roger took his position behind the podium.
"All in order!" he called. "Take your seats, my Lairds!"
"Here we go," Ardyn murmured, as the men and women around the room found their way to their Clan symbol-emblazoned desks.
"Let the Candidates for King of Clans present themselves and their names!" King Roger ordered, and Ardyn thought she detected a hint of eagerness in his tone. Yes, he was very old, very tired, and very done with being King of Clans. Ardyn wondered idly what his plans were once today's business and then the immediate transition were completed. Somehow, she could only picture him in a jockey's uniform, trying to fight his way up onto a racehorse, and that made her chuckle.
"Laird Saoirse Claire MacPhearson!" She rose to her impressive height, raising her right hand.
"Have you announced your Intent, following the rules and proscriptions of this Chamber?" King Roger asked.
"I have, Your Majesty."
"Do you swear, if elected Queen of Clans, to serve and protect the Highlands to your last breath, by war or peace, in dark times or bright, and if such is required, to personally take up your sword to fight for her interests?"
"I do, Your Majesty." She bowed her head.
"Your Intent is recognized." He turned. "Laird Truman John MacDonald!"
He rose now, and his right hand with him. He smirked, and MacPhearson regarded him with what Ardyn supposed to be cool disdain.
"Have you announced your Intent, following the rules and proscriptions of this Chamber?"
Ardyn waited while King Roger and MacDonald repeated the exchange, word-for-word. She watched as both MacDonald and MacPhearson lowered their hands.
"Two candidates stand before us today," King Roger said. "Let the record show that the voting has now begun." He banged his gavel.
"Right, then," Angus said. He glanced at the other viewing box. "Lady Ambassador looks nervous."
"Nurem has to be nervous about MacDonald," Ardyn pointed out. "Especially in light of what happened to Uncle John."
"Truman, King of Clans?" Angus snorted. "Pinch me, I'm dreaming."
"Laird MacNaire!" King Roger called. Up rose the Laird in question.
"It is my pleasure," the Laird MacNaire said, clasping her hands behind her, "to place my vote for the first Queen of Clans to be elected by this office rather than succeed a deceased husband: Laird Saoirse MacPhearson."
"Let the record show the Vote stands at one-zero," King Roger said. "Thank you, Laird MacNaire."
"No surprises," Ardyn mumbled. "A lack of surprises is good."
The man himself rose at the call. "Your Majesty, it is my pleasure to vote for the only qualified candidate in this race," he said, grinning at the assembly. "We are electing a King of Clans, not a Queen, and my vote reflects that. I vote for King Truman MacDonald."
"Let the record show the Vote stands at one-one..."
"Arrogant git," Angus growled, as MacDonald retook his seat. "I don't just want to see him lose, Ardyn, I want to see him run out of Lionsmane on a rail."
Pike MacMichael was next, and sure enough, not even MacDonald's little impromptu comedy act dissuaded the silver-haired patriarch from throwing his vote on the pile.
"He's hated Laird Saoirse for years," Ardyn observed. "He'd have voted for Soap. He'd have voted for Midnight over Laird MacPhearson."
"I'd have been tempted," Angus admitted, which earned him another slap.
"One-two," Ardyn said. "And MacFletcher hasn't voted yet."
The next vote, however, wasn't MacFletcher but MacDougal, and Ardyn sighed in relief when his vote went to MacPhearson.
Two-two, she thought, before she had to revise that count when MacFletcher was called up. Two-three.
"He's stalled out, now," Angus said. "It's MacArthur and MacPhearson left, and unless he's talked Laird Saoirse into voting against her own candidacy..."
"MacPhearson," Ardyn predicted. Angus nodded.
"Your Majesty," MacArthur said, as he stood. He glanced around. "It is my pleasure to cast my vote for the best-qualified candidate to succeed you: the one I believe best suited to lead our country forward, and the one whose values best align with those of the Highlands.
"It is my pleasure to vote for Laird Truman."
Ardyn's eyes snapped up. Angus actually jumped out of his seat in shock.
"Shite!" he gasped, before wincing. "Sorry, Ardyn."
"I agree completely," she said. "MacArthur broke with MacTavish?"
"Let the record show the vote is now two-four."
"It's fine," Angus whispered. "Four-four tie once MacPhearson and MacLoughlin vote. That'll put us into a second session-"
"Angus," Ardyn said. "Angus!" She waited until he paused. "Your father was censured!"
She saw the color drain from his face. She watched it happen.
"Oh, no," he whispered.
"Laird MacPhearson," King Roger called, and the hall was oddly quiet. Ardyn swore she heard the Laird's earrings jingle as she stood.
"Your Majesty," she said, with a sick look in her eyes. "Your Majesty, I am pleased to place my vote in the candidate I believe best suited to lead the Highlands forward. I am pleased to..." she broke off halfway through, and Ardyn clutched the base of her throat as she watched the woman come apart almost at her seams in the Chamber of Lairds.
But she pulled herself together. She shook, but she didn't break.
"I am pleased to vote for Laird MacPhearson," she managed to get out, before sinking to a seat. Ardyn thought she saw a glint on the woman's cheeks.
"Let the record show the vote at three-four," Roger MacArthur said. He waved, and Ardyn had to watch him rise, and ascend to the King's podium.
"Hail Truman, King of Clans!"