Chapter 11

Edgar signed another document and set it aside, noting that there was still a rather higher ‘to do’ stack on his desk than ‘done’. That there were stacks at all was a sign that Vesper had been at work the previous evening, or perhaps this morning, tidying up the half-ordered chaos of his monarch’s desk.

Edgar took the next paper from the pile - it was of rather greater importance than most. Troop deployments in the Tower region.

He sighed.

The discussion of this very thing had encompassed his and Celes’ labors for some time the previous day.

He could allocate more troops there, of course, but that would be risky. Would it help? Could they defend themselves against... whatever it was? Most likely, the answer was a disturbing no. That was clear from the first report he’d received.

And it was questionable if the benefits of further cordoning off the Tower outweighed the risks.

Bandits and monsters prowled the countryside, and needed to be cleared away or at least controlled. However, the Zozo region aside, they had become less of a problem of late - of greater concern was the possibility of uprisings in the towns and cities.

Paradoxically, the more resources Edgar poured into those areas, the more their leaders demanded. The more they resented having to use those resources to build shelter and provide work for refugees. Yet they had no choice in the matter, if only to keep the refugees from clogging the streets.

There weren’t many coming in now, but those already within the safety - and confinement - of city walls were packed to overflowing.

And with each increase in homes came an increase in walls, in the number of troops or funds the city watch demanded, in a hundred and one things common sense would never suspect were important. But common sense rarely had a place in government.

To say nothing of the amount Edgar was certain many of the civic leaders pocketed. In truth, he was glad of that. Greed and dishonesty in small things kept them honest in the bigger picture - or at least dependent.

But for how long? How long before ambition outweighed avarice, or, to give them more credit, patriotism overcame pragmatism?

For that matter, though there hadn’t been a major outbreak of violence in months that could be traced to them, there were the die-hard Kefka cultists who still remained at large. Agitators at best, actively dangerous at worst, he could hardly risk leaving them unchecked.

But at the same time, how long before more enterprising men and curious children began to make the trek, only a few miles from Tzen and a few more from Albrook, to where the Tower had once stood?

How many of them would never come out, if there weren’t more soldiers there to keep them away?

Edgar glanced at his gilded pocket-watch, a gift from his father what seemed like centuries ago. Good Lord, seven o’clock already? Well, he might as well just work through dinner-

Dinner!

He’d asked Terra to dine with him tonight, and here he’d nearly forgotten.

Edgar grabbed the watch from his desk and replaced his quill pen in its holder. Then he darted to the door and down the hall, hardly caring that his movements presented less than the picture of regal dignity.

He reached for the handle and tucked his watch in at the same time, and threw open the door to the royal dining room with a flourish meant to make up for in style what it lacked in timeliness.

He found Terra not the least bit impatient.

“Oh!” she said, looking away from one of the paintings as he came in.

She looked like a painting herself, though in truth no painter could properly do her justice. It had not taken much convincing to get her to exchange the wardrobe she had brought for what fineries remained in Figaro castle’s closets.

But even the gown she wore tonight - fit, Edgar could not help but think, for a Queen - could do nothing to outshine the beauty of her warm smile.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” Edgar said.

“It’s all right,” Terra said. “I was just admiring these wonderful paintings.”

“I’m glad you enjoy them.” Edgar smiled. “I do so love beautiful things,” he said quietly. He strode to her side. “Shall we discuss them over dinner?”

“Of course, Edgar.”

He pushed a button on the wall and leaned closer to it. “Dinner for two, please,” he said, speaking as clearly as he could.

He was fairly certain he heard a muffled acknowledgment on the other end of the line, so he looked back to Terra, who was staring incredulously at him. “Why were you talking to the wall, Edgar?” she asked.

He cocked his head. “Why surely, my dear, you are familiar with this wonder of modern technology?”

Terra stood on her tiptoes and leaned forward. She peered at the button. “Is there someone on the other side?” she asked.

“It depends on how you mean. If by the other side you are referring to the other side of the wall, no. But there is another button down in the main hall, at which sits one of the royal attendants. He can hear what I say, and I, likewise, what he says. At least,” Edgar added, thinking about the troubles he’d had with the device since he’d installed it, “in theory.”

“That’s amazing,” Terra whispered, still eyeing the button a bit warily.

“It’s quite efficient. Far too unreliable for official business, though.” And that was unfortunate. Too unreliable for official business, and too unreliable at any long distance for anything. At least, God willing, it would get their dinner delivered in a timely enough manner to help make up for his own tardiness.

Another luxury which would help make up for that was less to Edgar’s liking, but he thought it for the best anyway. He held down the button again. “And could you please send for the court musician.”

He hadn’t had much of a chance to fulfill his original intention of keeping an eye on Ghaleon, and he had no intention of doing so that evening. But whatever the man’s secrets might be, his talent was unmistakable.

“I do so love music,” Terra said, smiling softly.

“I hope my player meets with your approval.” He’d so loved music himself, but lately his passion for it had been dulled.

Terra, thankfully, had been in increasingly good spirits since she’d arrived. While Edgar had at first been concerned about her, he was now beginning to wonder if it was himself he should worry about. Had he really been so much accustomed to looking for the bad that he’d seen something where there was nothing?

Edgar didn’t know, but he hoped so. And if it was not just a figment of his overactive imagination, then Edgar hoped whatever had troubled Terra when she’d come to Figaro were at an end.

Dinner was served. A few minutes later, the court magician made his appearance.

Ghaleon was, as always, the picture of courtly formality. As always, Edgar couldn’t shake the feeling that each flowery compliment from the man was just a thinly veiled insult. Unlike Ghaleon, who could not let his intention be known clearly to the object of his barbs, Edgar had only to keep his feelings about the man from Terra.

“Your Majesty is most gracious to have given me the chance to present my humble efforts to himself and the young lady,” Ghaleon said, bowing even lower than when he’d come in.

Edgar inclined his head slightly in return. “As always, I am pleased to see you so happy to serve.”

Ghaleon straightened from his bow with a flourish and held up his lute. “By your leave?” he said, and began to lightly brush his fingers over the strings.

“Of course,” Edgar said.

Ghaleon’s playing was masterful, and Edgar did not even particularly object to the selection of his ‘favorite melody’ some time into the performance. Whatever power that song held, it held it only over the unwary.

Edgar looked to Terra. Would the melody effect her as it had him? But no, she had sunk back in her chair, her face pale. He gently took her hand in his. “Terra, are you all right?”

She turned to him and forced a smile. “I’m fine, Edgar.”

It was obvious that she didn’t want to worry him, and, in truth, he didn’t want to be worried.

Yes, it was a shame, really, that he refused to let himself be lost in the music. It’s sweet melody was almost enough to make him forget his worries, to forget even who was playing it.

Edgar shook his head.

This was madness.

He was not fond of forgetting. When he had a problem, he dealt with it.

So why was he considering it now?

Edgar held up his hand, which had the desired effect of silencing Ghaleon. “An exemplary performance.”

Ghaleon bowed, but his eyes never left Edgar’s. “I can receive no higher praise than yours, Your Majesty,” he said. Then, shifting his gaze to Terra, he added, “and did the young lady enjoy my humble art as well?”

Terra didn’t respond for a moment. “Oh... yes. It was wonderful.” Her voice, normally so full of life, was almost expressionless.

“I am happy that my performance pleased you, my lady.” Ghaleon bowed even lower. Then he straightened and took a step back.

Edgar considered telling his court musician to remain just because it was clear Ghaleon would rather not. At the same time, it was apparent that Terra was uncomfortable. “That will be all, Ghaleon,” he said.

With a last bow, this one to Terra alone, Ghaleon strode to the door at a pace somewhere between dignified and rebellious.

Either that, Edgar thought, or I’m just being paranoid.

When Ghaleon had taken his leave, Edgar turned to Terra. “He plays well, doesn’t he?”

“Yes, he does.” Terra lowered her eyes.

“Is something amiss?” Edgar rose from his chair and laid his hand on her shoulder.

“It’s nothing.” Once again she tried to force a smile. Once again, she wasn’t very convincing.

He sighed and looked down at her. “Really, Terra, if something is wrong, let me help you.”

“It really is nothing, Edgar.” She looked to the door. “Who... was that man?”

“He is the court musician, Ghaleon.” Edgar cocked his head. Whatever could be the matter?

“He just made me nervous, that’s all.” Terra rose and turned to face him. “Edgar, I should have told you this before, but the reason I came to Figaro so early was because... I’ve been having strange dreams.” She lowered her eyes. “I thought perhaps if I got away for awhile they might-”

“What sort of dreams?” Edgar asked, taking her hand.

“Nightmares, I think. I mean, it isn’t that I remember them entirely. It’s just that when I wake up, I-” Terra shivered. “I feel like I felt when I saw that man.”

Edgar thought about all that had happened since Ghaleon had come to Figaro. No, there was nothing beyond a half-hidden arrogance that the man could be accused of. Even the effects of his music could be explained in so many ways. Certainly, there was no way to link his presence with the greater problem.

But Terra had once been half-esper. If the events around the Tower really did signal a return of magic...

“You must think me awfully silly,” she said. Her big green eyes seemed to be pleading for him to think otherwise.

That plea did not go unanswered. He enfolded her in his arms. “Terra, I’ve been nervous about Ghaleon since the day he came. Something about him seems inherently suspicious.”

He wondered if he should tell her about what had happened at the Tower. No. She was upset enough as it was. There was no reason to disturb her further. Surely, not yet.

After all, there was a good chance that, if magic really was returning to the world, it would be she who told him.