I couldn’t help the snort that popped out of my mouth when I read it. I glanced up at Killian, who shook his head in a long-suffering way.
“Queen Nyte wished to express that she will expect your answer within two days,” the courtier said. “Or else—”
“That is unnecessary,” Killian interrupted. “I’ll give you my reply now. I look forward to meeting Queen Nyte and Consort Ira on the battlefield, and as the recipient of the declaration of a certamen, I will choose the place and time our duel will commence.”
The fae bowed. “I will deliver the message as you have spoken.” Celestina opened the foyer door for her, revealing the team of vampires waiting to escort her off the property.
The foyer practically whistled with the amount of whispering going on. A few fae slipped deeper into the mansion—probably to inform those who hadn’t seen the display.
The Paragon popped out of the crowd like a groundhog and scurried his way up to us, eagerly rubbing his hands together. “That worked well,” he said. “You finally have your resolution!”
“Yeah, now all we have to do is win a duel,” I dryly said.
Killian held out his hand, so I gave him the letter. “It’s what we expected, and it’s a better scenario than an actual war,” he said. “Primarily because now we can finally—legally—crush Nyte.”
Josh gave a happy sigh. “In preparation of the certamen, I’ll take an inventory of my weapon collection for the House Medeis wizards after the party.”
I brightened. “That actually sounds great! We have weapons, but I’m pretty sure yours are a higher caliber.”
Josh bowed his head. “I would be honored to inspect your collection and personally choose weapons for your people.”
“After our first strategizing session,” Killian said. “For now, we have to proceed with the party. We wouldn’t want to appear worried over the likes of Nyte.”
“Right you are,” the Paragon said.
Killian stared at him. “Which is why you need to get lost.”
“How could you say such a thing?”
“You’re a fae. You could be taking information back to Queen Nyte.”
“Oh, please,” the Paragon snorted. “You know I dislike her as much as you do. You’re fixing a problem I frankly didn’t want to get involved in. Good luck to you! But, I see your point. We’ll talk later.” The Paragon waved to us, then scurried off, disappearing back into the swirl of the party.
He passed by Great Aunt Marraine, who was waddling toward me with great determination.
I patted Killian’s arm. “You go ahead. I think I have some questions to answer.”
“Good luck.” Killian leaned over and pressed his lips to my temple, and was then off. Gone before I could protest.
“Hazel, did my old ears deceive me?” Great Aunt Marraine asked. “Are we really entering a certamen?”
I smiled widely. “We are.”
Two nights later, about half of House Medeis and twenty or so Drake vampires were closeted up in the dining room, which had been temporarily converted into the war strategizing room because it was the only place in the house with enough room that wasn’t obnoxiously large, like the ballroom.
Killian stood next to a huge smart board—one of those electronically connected white boards, which had been installed that morning—and was reviewing some of the finer details of battle preparation for the group.
“All vampire troops will be given a sample of Queen Nyte’s and Consort Ira’s scent, in hopes that it will make them easier to pick out,” Killian said.
Tasha raised her hand and spoke only when Killian nodded. “Is it really necessary? Won’t we slaughter most of the troops?”
I made a negative noise in the back of my throat, and my family shifted and balefully eyed our allies.
When the vampires turned so they could look at me—I was sitting at the fringe of the wizard group—I straightened my shoulders and cleared my throat. “That’s not necessary, and it’s not how House Medeis operates. We’ll fight to win, but we’re not going to go in with the mindset of maximizing bloodshed.”
“Agreed,” Killian said. “I’m not interested in upsetting the sensibilities of our fine allies.” He nodded at us wizards. “But it’s also not a good look on us. We’re going into a duel—something that hasn’t happened in the Midwest in a long time. Currently we have the moral advantage—Nyte challenged us after breaking deeply held Curia Cloisters laws. But if we create a bloodbath with our win, we’ll be hated.”
The vampires looked thoughtful and satisfied enough with the explanation.
“Because we have to be aware of the political ramifications of how we defeat the Night Court,” Killian continued, “we’re going to stack the deck in our favor both by our strategy, and by choosing the time and place of the battle.”
A certamen wasn’t like a typical battle fought in a human war. It was supposed to be an alternative to war and gave two sides the chance to hammer at each other and find a decisive victor—presumably with some casualties, but not the mass bloodshed that would result from a full-on war.
Because of supernaturals dying out, over a century ago our society came up with a bunch of rules and regulations for certamen that were supposed to minimize bloodshed and keep society more…polite.
This meant we’d be dealing with a specific framework.
After one Court/House/Pack/Family challenged another to a certamen, the accused were allowed to choose the time and place where the battle would take place. (I’m pretty sure the original creators of certamen were a bunch of crusty old British vampires who came up with these rules after living in a time of dueling, but it worked.)
Allies weren’t always allowed to enter the battle—another attempt at minimizing bloodshed, and political consequences. But Queen Nyte—in her anger—had been stupid enough to declare a certamen on both the Drake Family and House Medeis by proxy. Probably because we wizards had so thoroughly trashed her people in the Curia Cloisters, and she wanted to prove she could effectively fight us.
Gavino raised his hand. “We’ll be fighting at night, then?”
“No. We have our wizard allies to think of, and they don’t see well in the dark.” Killian glanced at the smart board, which was currently displaying pictures of Queen Nyte and Consort Ira. “Ideally the fight will begin at sunset. It will give the wizards enough light to see by, and won’t hinder us much. But that will put a time limit on us. We’ll want to defeat Queen Nyte and her consort by the time night falls, or we’ll lose our advantage.”
Now it was Celestina’s turn to raise her hand. (Not gonna lie, it was pretty cute to see Killian posing like a teacher and his vampires obediently raising their hands.)
When Killian nodded, the First Knight stood. “It seems the best strategy will be to target Queen Nyte and Consort Ira, capture them, and demand their surrender?”
“Indeed.” Killian casually rested his hand on the bottom rim of the whiteboard. “That is the tentative plan, given that it will provide the least bloodshed and the fastest win.”
Mrs. Clark slowly raised her hand, sitting a little deeper in her chair when the vampires flicked their eyes in her direction.
“Yes, Mrs. Clark,” Killian said.
She straightened, her mouth making an ‘o’ shape in her surprise of Killian knowing her name.
(I wasn’t surprised. Mr. Paranoid probably had flashcards made so he could recognize all of my people on sight. Which was kind of touching if you thought about it.)
“What if we capture them and they don’t surrender? Presumably they’ll be executed, but what about the rest of their troops?”
“In fae Courts, the ruler’s orders are absolute,” Killian said. “But once that ruler is no longer alive or in power, the fae are no longer obligated to follow those orders.”
Momoko chewed on her lip. “So the fighting will stop once we take out those two rats?” She spoke quietly, and probably only meant for us wizards to hear.
But vampire hearing was a thing, so Killian said, “Yes. If we provide a proper motivation, they will definitely give up. Fae are selfish things. They have no desire to die for monarchs who are no longer around to protect them.”
Manjeet raised his hand. “Then I imagine we will need a specific strategy to capture Queen Nyte and Consort Ira, given that they will probably spend the bulk of their resources protecting themselves.”
“Exactly. I haven’t settled on a strategy quite yet,” Killian said. “But I do believe it will involve intermingling wizard and vampire forces. Wizards are capable of shielding fae magic and in some cases breaking it, while vampire troops are more skilled at whatever offensive strikes we decide to go with.” Killian glanced at me, which I knew was my cue.
I stood and joined Killian by the smart board. “That’s why we’ll be holding daily joint practices,” I announced. “Allowing us to grow familiar with the process of fighting together.”
“Our strategy will shape and take form as we discover how we best move together,” Killian said.
I hesitated, then added, “Although I personally would like us to experiment and try new things.”
All eyes in the room shifted to me. It was a little intimidating, mostly because I didn’t know what I was talking about and was going entirely based off what Leila and the Paragon had said. “After speaking to several fae, it seems the way to best minimize bloodshed would be to catch the Night Court off guard—as we wizards did at the Curia Cloisters.”
A vampire I recognized but didn’t know by name raised his hand. “Wouldn’t it be easier to overwhelm them with our combined forces? With wizards shielding, we vampires will have an easier go of it.”
“It’s probably the most solid strategy,” I agreed. “But if we can surprise them and catch them in a way they didn’t expect, they should be easier to handle. Fae are prideful and deeply believe in their own intellect. Surprising them would ideally make their forces crumble.”