"We have seen how one man treats them," Ariana argued, shaking her head. "This isn't something we can run at, Liam. We need information; more than that, we need time. We don't have the ships to be able to mount an attack on Skarra, much less the knowledge of their terrain that would be necessary. Surely there must be a spymaster somewhere in this stinking city?"
"I am not suggesting we declare all out war, Highness," Liam argued, addressing her by her title, rather than her name, spreading his arms in supplication. "Let me make some inquiries. That is all I'm asking. We cannot leave our people to suffer under Skarran rule, no matter how they are treated."
"Discreet inquiries," Shaye added, straightening up. "I know a few people we can get in contact with, see what they know and work from there." She glanced up at Liam curiously - was he happy with that plan?
He nodded his head at Shaye's suggestion, glad she was in agreement with him. He wasn't suggesting they declare war just yet, but they should at least know what they were dealing with here and how many of their own people's lives might be at risk.
"They're right, Ari," Rory said quietly from where he sat near Ariana's side. "We need to know what's going on with Skarra."
"I know," Ariana sighed, perching herself on the arm of Rory's chair. "All right, see to it," she said with a decisive nod. "Let's keep it just between us for the time being, though."
Shaye smiled, inclining her head to her queen. "As you wish, Highness."
It wasn't quite as much as Liam might have wished for, but he knew it was the wisest course of action for now. "As you wish," he echoed his wife's reply, looking between the two royals and realizing how tired they both seemed. "You should get some rest," he told them both, looking from one to the other.
"I should make sure the woman has a place to sleep and maybe to work, if she wants to," Ariana said, worrying over something someone else had already taken in hand.
Shaye chuckled, shaking her head.
"Gerard seems to have things well in hand," Liam pointed out, with the slightest hint of a smirk on his face as he looked to Shaye, some sort of unspoken communication moving between them. There came a knock at the door, and he glanced that way, but waited for Ariana to respond to it.
A little confused over the look that passed between her captain and his wife, Ariana glanced at the door as the knock sounded. "Come," she called, and the regal tone was back, the queen on display once again, even if it were only for a messenger.
"Highness," the messenger greeted her with a both as he stepped into the room and offered a bow to both her and the others gathered. "I have a message from Kari of Clan Tarven wishing to inform Her Majesty that her granddaughter has gone into labor," he informed them, a message that was not only directed to the queen, but to those in her company, as well.
"Thank you." Ariana inclined her head to the messenger, waiting until he was gone before casting a teasing smile down at her husband. "You're going to be an uncle."
Shaye snorted with laughter. "Trust Liayna to pop hers out just as we've started brewing ours."
Rory smiled as he slid his fingers through Ariana's. "That's good news, anyway," he said. It seemed a fitting way to follow up the visit from the Skarrans, giving them hope for the future. He was not one to question the gods when it came to such things, glad for their blessing. "Shall we send a message in return?"
Ariana considered this for a moment, squeezing his hand fondly. "Let's visit this evening instead," she suggested. "We can sneak out easily enough." Realizing that she probably shouldn't have said that in front of the captain of her Royal Guard, she looked up at Liam, eyes wide. "That is ..."
"What, do you think you will be going without an escort?" Liam countered, trying to look stern, but unable to keep the smirk from his face. Apparently, he was hoping he and Shaye would be going along. After all, Conall was like a brother to him, and Liayna and Shaye had grown fond of each other.
Ariana glanced at Rory, biting her lip against the smile that was threatening to rise. "Just don't tell on me to Gerard," she told Liam earnestly. "He doesn't need to know that we can sneak out of the palace at any hour of the day or not without him realizing we've gone."
"Oh, yes ... The first thing I was going to do is tattle on you to the First Blade, when I am the Queen's Captain," Liam replied, trying to keep as straight a face as he could. Rory chuckled weakly, still worn out from his attempt at healing, and Liam's gaze slid that way. "Go rest while you have a chance, if you're going to be sneaking out of the palace later," he urged them, waving a dismissive hand at them, as though if were the king dismissing his subjects. Perhaps he had been leader of the rebels a little too long.
Ariana's brow rose at the dismissive hand, a small smirk playing about her lips. As much as she appreciated Liam O'Connor, he did have a habit of forgetting that she was the queen. Shaye, on the other hand, burst out laughing, doubling over as she sagged against the couch, all but weeping with hilarity as she waited for her husband to realize what he'd done.
"What?" Liam asked, looking from one to the other, and either not realizing what he'd done or having done it on purpose. "She is with child, and he is clearly exhausted. If they are to go gallivanting about the wilds at night, then they both need their rest," he pointed out, gesturing toward the queen and her consort as he made his point. "You really did not think we were going to let you go alone, did you?"
Shaye gasped for breath, still snickering as Ariana let herself laugh a little. "One of these days, captain, you are going to do something like that in front of the court, and I'll have to demote you to save face," she warned teasingly.
Liam shrugged, unconcerned. "You would be hard pressed to replace me, Highness," he retorted with an exaggerated bow. Though she was his queen, they were also friends, though he sometimes forgot his proper place and had to be reminded.
More than a friend, Liam was something of the brother Ariana had been denied all her life. After all, Adare's ghost had never shown any hostility toward the man; perhaps he, too, understood that the sometimes intimidating commander filled a void he would never be able to. She laughed, her turn to wave a dismissive hand. "Go away," she told him cheerfully. "We'll meet you in your old quarters after dinner."
"As you wish, Majesty," Liam replied with a nod of his head, a wink tossed to Rory before he turned with a half-smirk to Shaye. "Are you through laughing at me, wife?" he asked, offering a hand to pull her off the couch.
"No, but I can walk," Shaye answered, bowing to the queen just to drive the point home. "See you later, children." Taking Liam's hand, she pulled him toward the door before he could put his foot in his mouth again, wondering how Gerard was doing with the skittish young woman they still hadn't got a name for.
Liam's smirk widened, as he got his wife's drift. Together, the couple left the company of the queen and her consort with plans to join them later to accompany them in visiting Clan Tarven.