Seventy Percent Success Rate; a Tale of Pride

“I’ve noticed a disturbing trend.”

“Oh?” The queen arched an eyebrow, peering across the short table at the head of her personal guard. Even at a private, informal meeting he was an imposing man. His dark eyes were full of storm clouds as his lips pressed into a thin line. A stray lock of black hair drifted over one of his shoulders, and even that didn’t crack his formidable countenance. He may as well have been wearing his armor and bearing down on her with one of the twin blades sheathed at his hips. “Are you sure you won’t have tea?” she asked when she finished her cursory examination of his current mood.

Domerin Lorcasf lifted his eyes from the stack of paper in front of him only briefly. Long enough for her to catch the hint of annoyance in his blue-grey eyes. “No,” he said with considerable impatience. “Thank you.”

The queen shrugged and poured herself a steaming mug, inhaling deeply of the slightly floral scent. She released a small, contented sigh, stirred half a scoop full of honey into the mug and waited for the guard captain to continue.

“As I was saying, I’ve been looking over Zrickle’s reports and-“

“Are you still doing all that work for the division? I thought I made it clear you’d been reassigned.”

Domerin’s lips pressed into a paler line as he lifted his gaze again, barely masking the exasperation that flashed across his face. “You made it clear that you invented a position for me, my lady, and while I am grateful, that makes it fairly difficult to define my regular duties.”

Rose snorted. “Your job is whatever I tell you it is.”

“Yes,” Domerin held onto the s a little longer than usual so that he hissed slightly, “that is the point of this meeting. If we ever get there.”

She offered him a sheepish smile, though she didn’t feel the least bit sorry, and motioned for him to continue while she sipped her tea.

“If you don’t mind, there are a couple of cases I’d like to ask you about.” Again, she motioned silently for him to continue. “First there was Tierak’s team. As you know, they encountered unexpected force on the border and were able to divert a significant skirmish as a result.”

“A boon if you ask me,” Rose replied, allowing herself a moment to feel smug.

“Yes,” Domerin agreed, though his tone remained dry, effectively evaporating some of her triumph. “And then there was the incident with Kaloy-“

“Another great success,” the queen interjected, smiling.

“Except that he almost died,” Domerin continued as if she hadn’t even spoken.

“But he didn’t,” Rose insisted, holding up one finger as if to chide her guard captain. “And that’s what really matters isn’t it?”

“Is it?” For the first time, Domerin seemed interested in what she had to say. He paused with one hand pressed to the paper in front of him, poised to flip to the next page, one midnight eyebrow arched over eyes suddenly alive with curiosity. “Should we stop reporting all these near-death incidents, then? Since they don’t matter.”

Something about the light in his eyes made Rose swallow uncertainly. “That’s not what I said-“

“It is what you said,” that dry tone was back. “It isn’t what you meant.”

Why was it that she could give orders to a room full of a hundred well-trained, battle-hardened soldiers armed to the teeth without flinching, but Domerin Lorcasf somehow made her feel like a teenager all over again? She chafed beneath the weight of his displeasure the way she had once squirmed beneath her mother’s reprimands or her sorcery instructor’s demands. She shifted uncomfortably a moment before she lifted her chin, trying to regain her regal demeanor.

“There’s no point in arguing semantics, Captain,” she stressed the title in hopes it would bring the conversation back under her control. “I thought we were discussing results, here. If all these missions have been successful, why are you concerned?”

Something about the flash of satisfaction in his eyes warned that she had played right into Domerin’s hand. She made a small mental note never to play poker with her guard captain; she might lose the entire royal treasury.

“I couldn’t help but notice, your majesty, that you specifically ordered all of these missions. And I’m keenly interested in the fact that you hand-picked the leaders of every mission, to the point where you rejected several very reasonable offers from division command.”

“Oh?” It took effort to keep her voice from shaking now. How did he notice these things? Granted, she had hired him because he was so utterly thorough, but it was a tad annoying at the moment. “Did I?”

“Mmm,” Domerin replied, finally flipping to the next page. “The other common thread is that every one of the mission leaders reported a near miss – a foiled ambush, a lucky tip that allowed them to avoid trouble, or a battle they only won by the skin of their teeth. Several reported injuries, some of them critical.”

“But no deaths,” the queen replied, again allowing herself a moment to sound smug.

“No deaths,” Domerin agreed. “Which is why I asked Zrickle to pull a few other reports for me.”

Domerin pulled a second stack of papers from his pile and Rose’s heart sunk. Damn bastard.

“They were buried a bit, since most of them involve failed missions or precursors to other incidents. And Zrickle wondered why I would take an interest in such cases, given that the problems were dealt with elsewhere and when. But I was really interested in all of the cases you have had a hand in personally assigning.”

The storm clouds were in the queen’s eyes now. She glowered, wishing she could wither him the way she withered the uppity nobles in her court on a daily basis with merely a glance. “Is that so?”

“Indeed,” Domerin replied without glancing up, idly flicking to the next page. “Especially since these involve deaths.”

“I hope you are not insinuating that I carelessly send my people off to their dooms,” Rose replied with a hint of acid in her voice, “because I would not take kindly to such an accusation.”

Again, Domerin looked at her as though she were a child railing at a parent’s ultimatum and it took all of her effort to maintain her dignified posture. “Not carelessly, no, your majesty. You do it purposefully.”

A cold sensation slunk up her spine, but she refused to shiver. “Because I recommend the best people for specific jobs?”

“The division recommends the best people for specific jobs, your majesty, you choose based on names and faces.”

“You have no proof of that,” she hissed, digging her sharp nails into the polished wood of the table to keep from snarling.

Domerin snorted a dark laugh. “I have mountains of evidence, but I don’t need it. Do I?” Now he looked at her with eyes that pierced the core of her soul, evaporating her ill will in an instant. She had chosen well. Perhaps too well. But she could hardly take full credit.

She bowed her head. “I choose according to my visions.”

He had already ascertained as much; she could tell because his expression didn’t shift in the slightest. “But you do not share those visions with the men you send into danger.”

“Is that what this is all about?” She didn’t bother to hide her surprise, nor her relief. She thought certain they had been about to have words over the way she ran her kingdom, and she would not have been allowed to let that stand, not even from a man as esteemed as this one.

But the tension did not ease from Domerin’s face. If anything, he looked grimmer than he had before. “You don’t think they deserve to know what you have seen?”

The question brought her up short, but only for a moment. “You do not have the gift of foresight, Captain. You cannot imagine what it is like trying to sort through the images, the confusion in order to make an informed decision. Why would I pass this uncertain knowledge on to the men I send into dangerous situations? It would only muddy the situation further.”

“That’s an opinion, your majesty, and I’m not sure it holds up against the facts.”

“You have the facts in front of you! Surely these reports confirm my rate of success.”

“At seventy percent,” Domerin replied, once again steeling the wind from her sails. “Which is significantly higher than half, I’ll grant you. But why don’t we talk about the thirty percent who have failed. I think knowledge might have made a big difference for them.”

The queen gritted her teeth, raising her rapidly cooling tea to her lips and forcing herself to sip before she responded. “I appreciate what you’re trying to say, Domerin, but you still don’t understand. Knowing a possible future can cause people to make poor decisions. They will question their decisions because they will wonder if acting or avoiding a certain situation will cause the destiny to come true anyway. That only makes a dangerous situation worse.”

“It would, if we were talking about the kind of people who questioned their own decisions.” He offered her a grim, paper-thin smile in response to her confusion. “With all due respect, your majesty, you are not a soldier. You may have to make snap decisions on which many people’s lives depend, but you are not versed in combat and survival the way we are. On the battlefield, knowledge is everything. A soldier cannot make an informed decision if he does not have all of the information.”

“That,” Rose replied coldly, “is an opinion for which you can offer no tangible evidence.”

Calm as the sun sailing through a cloudless sky, Domerin lifted the second packet of papers and tossed it across the table to her. It barely missed swiping her teapot off the table. He lowered his hand slowly, his eyes never leaving hers.

“No doubt you recall the details of the visions which caused you to make these assignments. You read the reports, and my comments, and tell me whether or not the information in your head would have made a difference to these men and women.”

Again, she seethed. “Why?” she demanded, feeling like a petulant child and, for once, not caring. “I do not owe you answers for the choices I make.”

“No?” There was a hard edge to Domerin’s voice. “What about when it’s me?”

“Excuse me?”

“What about when it’s me you send into danger.” He lifted another pack of papers, the smallest of the group. Because of course he had already put the pieces together. He probably already knew what the puzzle was supposed to look like at the end.

When she didn’t spoke, he went on. “Do I have a right to know what you’re sending me into? Do I have a right to make an informed decision? Because I’ve had a lot more close scrapes than most. And considering that Crescent just had to drag my ass back from a pretty big disaster, I don’t think I can ignore the evidence in front of my face.”

Rose bowed her head. She didn’t have to ask what would happen if she denied him outright. He would quit. He had never been the kind of man to accept unreasonable orders blindly. It was one of the reasons she had chosen him as her personal guardian. It was not a quality she would have wanted to change. It seemed she wasn’t as clever as she had liked to believe.

“Will you believe me if I say that everything I have asked of you is for the greater good?” Her voice was soft, full of uncharacteristic humility.

“Yes.” His voice had softened, but only by a hair’s fraction. “But that doesn’t change my opinion. Whatever you want me to do, whatever you’ve seen that involves me, I need to know the truth before I allow this to continue. All of it.”

She lifted her chin, her pride flaring to life one last time, “And if I can prove to you that having the details may prove detrimental to our goal?”

He waved at the stack of papers he had tossed across the table. “Then get to it. But I very much doubt you’ll find the kind of evidence that would sway me.”

She said nothing, watching in silence as he rose and strode from the room, leaving the rest of his carefully prepared papers behind.

The truth was that she had already lost; Domerin Lorcasf wasn’t the sort of man to change his mind after he made it up. And she guessed that when she was finished poring over the data he had collected, she would feel much the same way he did.

Except that she absolutely loathed losing, even to an opponent as clever as the hand-picked captain of her guard.

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