“You be a good girl for Daddy,” Bethany handed a swaddled Mika to her husband with a kiss.
“Have fun with the kids,” she said. Johnny gave a bit of a helpless shrug. “C’mon, you battle nightmarish creatures and you’re worried about a play date with the Falconhands?” Her smile was wry.
“They are more chaotic than any beast I’ve faced,” he responded as he settled his daughter into the crook of his arm. She laughed. They certainly were a handful.
“Don’t worry about anything here. We’ll make certain that everything is prepared for our guests.”
“Of that, I have no doubt.” Johnny responded, giving her a peck on the cheek as he walked out the front door.
Bethany smiled and waved, and after he was out of sight she took a heavy seat. This baby had been tougher than her sons. She was bone weary. She felt old and wrung out. There was a light knock on the door as it opened and Tonya came in already bubbling over with plans and to do lists. Bethany wondered how her friend managed to have endless energy and enthusiasm. She felt a pang of jealousy arise and she quickly smothered it. It would help no one for the two of them to be having cross words on the eve of an important gathering. The alliance with North Country was a big deal for them all and their new partners needed to see that Thunderheart had a united front.
“….and so if we have the dinner at the lodge table, we can probably work out enough seating….” Tonya trailed off. “You alright, Beth?”
Tonya’s face wrinkled in a combination of concern and annoyance at the white lie. Before she could even draw a breath to speak, there was another knock on the door. Bethany suppressed a sigh and rose to her feet, “I’ll get it. It’s probably Walt wanting to know about the guest quarters.”
Bethany opened the door and was surprised to see Alex’s impeccably attired bride standing on her front porch. Rumor had it that the King’s Consort had deeply sunk into a months long bender and showed no signs of surfacing anytime soon. “Katherine!”
Katherine gave a small bow and a demure subservient smile. “Matron Lao,” she softly spoke, using the formal kin title that Bethany tended to avoid. “I beg forgiveness for the unannounced intrusion.” Her voice was quiet, even deferential, but still carried notes of old world culture. “It is my understanding that Matron Falconhand is here.”
“Of course, come in.” Bethany cast a quick look at Tonya and saw that her friend was equally surprised by their visitor.
Katherine greeted Tonya as formally and with even more deference than she had Bethany. “Kin Mother. Please pardon the interruption.” Her hands spread before her in a conciliatory gesture and her body language was submissive. The scent of her perfume lightly danced on the air as she moved. Bethany struggled to place all of the elements. It was light, fresh, and more spice than sweet. Garou as a general rule disliked perfumes as being too harsh on their senses, but Bethany couldn’t detect a single offensive or off putting note. If nothing else, she found it soothing.
Tonya approached Katherine for a hug. “Nonsense. You’re always welcome here.”
“You honor me.” Katherine replied, enduring the embrace of her mother in law.
“Perhaps we should sit, have tea, catch up?” Bethany suggested.
“I would enjoy that, Matron Lao.” Katherine replied.
Bethany listened from the kitchen as Tonya made small talk with Katherine. Katherine’s replies were elegant in their formality, but Bethany noted there was little substance behind the words. At best, Katherine seemed to be little more than a subservient debutant. Bethany wondered for the hundredth time why Alex had shackled himself to this pretty, but worthless girl.
Bethany served the tea, herbal this time with a little kick. God knew, she needed the energy shot.
Katherine sipped, smiled in approval. “Matron Lao, your talents have been understated.”
“Kat, why are you here?” Bethany asked with a bit of a blunt edge.
Kat lifted a perfectly groomed eyebrow. “I was hoping we could have straight talk.”
“It’s the only kind we prefer, Kat.”
Katherine laughed. “I had heard that.” She took another sip of the tea. “So straight talk it is.”
Bethany watched as Katherine’s entire demeanor changed. She sat a little straighter, her gaze became direct, and the shy serving girl routine fell away. It was a nearly breathtaking transformation and the hair on Bethany’s neck stood on end.
“You are about to invite a den of vipers into your home,” Katherine began. “This is a time of great peril for you, Kin Mother.”
Tonya laughed. “We’ve hosted more questionable people than I care to recount, dear. This cairn is one of the safest places on earth. I’m not concerned.”
“Then you are a fool.” Katherine’s words landed like a slap. Bethany watched Tonya recoil at the reprimand. Her fair skin flushed and her red headed temper was about to make an appearance.
“Kat, you listen to me. My husband…”
“Can do nothing about the war that’s about to waged in your borders.”
Bethany interrupted, “You think there will be an attack?”
“Of that, I have no doubt.” Kat replied. “But it will not be with guns, or klaives, or fists. It will be the systematic dismantling of your alliances with other kin folk. All of the sweat and tears you’ve spent to fuel kin allegiances to your cairn are going to be infected and eaten from the inside out by a malignant force that you don’t even see coming, and by the time you sense the danger, it will be too late.”
“Bullshit.” Tonya replied. “Our allies are like family to us.”
Kat gave a dismissive shrug. “Then I guess we are done here.” With military precision she removed the napkin from her lap and folded it to be left on the table.
Bethany leaned forward. “What do you know? And don’t give me any of your political double speak.”
Kat smiled. “Well, it is the language I’m best versed in, which is why I know that the alliance His Highness has hastily arraigned between the New North Country Proctorate and Thunderheart can really only go one of two ways.”
“And how is that?” Tonya demanded.
“In scenario one, they come here and quietly sow the seeds of discontentment amongst your kin even as your greet them as family with your elaborate meal plans and shows of solidarity. No one will actually hear a single shot fired, but I promise you this cairn will be a battle field. Old alliances will be renewed, old grudges brought to bear, and this will have real world consequence, not only to the kin, but to our Garou brothers. More critically, it will adversely affect His Highness. That can not be allowed.”
“And plan B?” Tonya asked.
“Plan B is where the North Country kin fall in behind His Highness’ banner, completely and without reservation. That their loyalty is so complete and abiding that there is no doubt that when His Highness must marshal forces, North Country will respond.” Katherine said.
“All of this assumes that the Garou will follow the lead of their kin, which we all know is crap.” Bethany commented.
Katherine’s eyes narrowed and critically studied Bethany for a moment. She felt like a bug under a microscope. “You are the wife to an elder in the Garou nation. You are mother to one of His Highness’ key advisors. You wield more influence than you could possibly know.”
“I am not manipulating my husband.”
“Nor do I suggest that. I understand that is not how things work here. But you can pave the way for your husband, and your son to focus on the true enemy out there. This is all within your power.”
Tonya interrupted. “Do you manipulate my son like that?”
Kat smiled, and for once it seemed genuine. “His Highness is particularly sensitive to such behavior. Therefore, I do not offend him that way. His Highness is a brilliant tactician, but his war has many fronts. It is incumbent on me, and on you, to insure that he is not distracted by petty things.”
“Do you even love him?”
Katherine sat back for a moment. “I do. But more importantly, I am a loyal soldier. Make no mistake, I will do whatever it takes to build his monarchy, so that when the time comes he is an unstoppable force of nature. I listen to his words, and I know without a doubt that the final battle is coming. If the Garou fall, we certainly will as well. This happy home you’ve built? Wiped off of the face of Gaia along with everyone you know and love. In that scenario, it would be a blessing to be killed first. But we know how the enemy likes to inflict the most damage possible, so it would be very likely you’d outlive your children. For a time, anyway.” Kat idly pressed the folds on her napkin and let her words sink in.
There was silence.
“What do you have in mind, Katherine?” Tonya asked.
“Let’s discuss your house guests in some depth, shall we?”
Bethany sat forward to pay close attention. The aches, pains, weariness, and doubt she’d been suffering for weeks fell away.
It was time to take action, for her family, for her cairn, for herself. Hell yeah she was all in.