The main Audience Chamber was a piece of engineering of a kind with the great cavern of Aynithral, if on a smaller scale. In its tiered galleries, a thousand people and more could gather to watch the proceedings. The main body of the chamber could hold hundreds more in procession, without even setting foot on the broad dais that held the throne. That in turn could hold a retinue of a few dozen on its lower tier, and another half-dozen around the throne itself.

It was the site where all royal proclamations of Jisani were read. From this very cavern, he’d sent Dren to the deep vaults. Many an uncomfortable hour had been spent on that unyielding seat.

It wasn’t the most important room in the Deep, though. That was connected to the Audience Chamber by a passage whose winding stone walls deadened sound quite effectively between the two rooms. It was a much smaller, even cozy space, comfortably appointed, and could hold perhaps twenty people. Jisarr had only ever seen it once before. It was a place for making decisions, and in his time trying to placate the Duke’s he’d made precious few decisions of his own – and none of them with consultation.

Now this room would probably take up much of his future. This was the place where the most important decisions of the Jisani were actually made. This was where he would consult with his advisors, once those advisors were named.

It was also where the Rod and Crown had been set. He lifted the former from its stand now, running his fingers over the etched obsidian surface with a sigh.

“Is this what you truly want to do with your life?” Tavi asked.

“No,” he confessed. “What I want to do is learn a trade and peddle it somewhere in quiet comfort with at least one of my lovers. But the city needs its sovereign, and I think, for all they resented what’s been done in my name, the provinces do as well. Perhaps in my lifetime I’ll be able to step down, but if I just disappear now, it looks like the transition would be bloody.” He shook his head. “I can’t let that happen. If I have a chance to bring peace to this nation, I’ll take it. If I can eventually arrange things so that it doesn’t need a sovereign, then I can lay down the Rod for good. But first, there need to be some changes.”

“You’ve been thinking hard on this,” the healer observed.

“I can’t run from it,” Jisarr replied. “I have to face it. But at least now I feel something can be done. I’ve you to thank for that.”

“I can’t take sole credit for that,” Tavi replied, ears splayed. “What sort of changes do you plan, then?”

“Some obvious injustices need to be remedied. I can enfranchise the willworkers in Aynithral on my own word, at least – that’s straightforward enough. There will still need to be special laws that apply to people with such power, but they must be laws that still allow them personhood.” He squeezed the hand of the quiet man beside him. “Certainly the worst atrocities of those laws and customs won’t be repeated.”

“It’s a fair start,” Tavi acknowledged.

“Beyond that… I don’t know,” Jisarr sighed. “I’ll have to ask people who actually know how the laws work.”

“Well. If you come to be known as He Who Listened, there are worse accolades by far.” The healer tented her fingers. “You are, at any rate, more than ready to leave my care. You may still have healing to do, but as with a leg that’s been broken, what your mind needs at this stage is to be used. It will be difficult, but I am confident, now, that you can do it.”

It should have been a relief. How it had frustrated him, to be told that something afflicted him when he couldn’t see the signs of it. Yet now that she was telling him he was finally healthy, what he felt was trepidation.

He sighed. “You’ve brought me this far, and so I have every reason to heed what you say. But by that same token, I’ve come to value your advice. I’ll miss it.”

The Healer paused. “Well, Jisarr… it is any healer’s hope that their patients will never have need to return to their door. But should you find yourself with such need – you know where to find me.” She bowed, and with that she made her way from the chamber.

Jisarr sat in the highest seat, balancing the Rod over his knees, and looked glumly over the other seats ringing the chamber. Soon enough – all too soon – a few of those seats would fill; then it would be time to discuss who would fill the others. For now, though, he was almost alone; a handful of guards – whose presence he was long accustomed to ignoring, now that they were on his side once again – and one other.

He squeezed Dren’s hand with a sigh. Strictly speaking, the willworker was here to supplement his guards as someone who could sense hostility before it took action; but of them, he was the only one who sat with him, in the seat next to his own, within arm’s reach. It was a comforting presence, and he sorely needed that comfort now. The near future honestly terrified him.

But if he wanted to leave the world a better place for his time in it, he needed to go through with this.

Jisarr took a breath, took the Rod in hand, and signalled one of the guards. It was time to bring in the advisors he had so far – time to get to work.