“I will be sending a Treasury Department employee to retrieve the gold.”
Mikk’s lips twitched in amusement. “I cannot funnel it into my budget?”
“It’s not allowed. No matter how I love you, dear brothers, your budgets are mine.”
“Hear that, Falk? Even if you marry her, you’ll still be paying through the nose,” Nick said, elbowing his younger brother.
“Shut up, Nick.”
“So cruel to your big brother. Gerhie, stop writing and start drinking. This is a celebration!”
“Don’t call me that!”
News spread fast and far of Queen Clotilde’s defeat. The celebration lasted three days and three nights before the royal family divvied out duties to mop up the mess Clotilde made of the country in a few short months.
Rune, Nick, and Mikk set out with the army to clear the lands of all the monsters that flocked to Arcainia in their absence. Falk and Erick set out to take inventory of the lands and crops, hoping to plant winter crops to make up for the poor harvest.
Gerhart and Steffen accompanied Gabrielle to her lands, Carabas, to see what could be done with the remains of the harbor.
Elise was the only royal child to remain behind in Castle Brandis, reinstating customs that Clotilde abolished (public lunches and breakfasts were the first thing Elise restored) and holding the central government together with King Henrik.
She cleared out Clotilde’s quarters, sold all the luxury goods the vile queen bought, and reinstated officials to their previous positions.
When the dust settled, King Henrik met Elise for tea to discuss the country’s future.
“Even though she’s gone, we may still be ruined,” King Henrik said, his mouth a grim line on his face. Much of his youthfulness was restored to him, but there were new lines on his forehead and around his mouth.
“What do you mean?” Elise asked.
“It is like Clotilde’s specter still hangs over us. With all of her wild spending and unbalanced use of magic, it seems she was doing her best to break the country to pieces. Although we wrestled it out of her control, there is only so much we can do. Your brothers have brilliantly managed their departments, but no country could bear what we have without going heavily into debt,” King Henrik said. “If only I weren’t such a fool! If I hadn’t let her grip my mind…”
Elise placed a comforting hand on top of King Henrik’s fist. “There is something you need to see, Father. Come,” she said, leading the way out of her office.
“Where are we going?” King Henrik said, following Elise out of the Treasury Department’s offices.
“Do you remember when you first gave me control of the Treasury Department?” Elise asked, glancing over her shoulder.
“I do. You were barely fifteen, but the timing was too perfect to pass up as the previous department head announced his retirement.”
“Everyone thought you were mad for giving me such a responsibility,” Elise said.
King Henrik smiled fondly. “Ingrid approved. So did Steffen and the rest of your foster brothers.”
“They did,” Elise said as they walked to a more heavily patrolled, well-guarded section of the castle. “And so did the previous department head. He stayed on for a summer to teach and mentor me before setting me loose to bargain and bully my brothers and their respective departments.”
“Foster brothers,” King Henrik said, a smile creasing his lips.
“The Treasury Department was my dream post. I was thrilled when you assigned it to me. I’ve always liked numbers, and it greatly assured me of the esteem and trust you—and Mother—placed in me,” Elise said, leading the way through a squad of guards.
“Of course,” King Henrik said.
Elise stopped outside a large, metal door.
There were two guards posted on either side of the door, but their presence meant very little. No one could get in without the key.
Elise slipped the key off her red sash and slid it in the oddly shaped lock. She let go of the key, which glowed. Something in the door clicked, and the metal door rolled away.
“Like everything else I do, I did my absolute best at running the Treasury Department,” Elise said, removing the key and stepping inside the treasury.
Inside the room were mountains of gold. It cascaded off the walls in flat coins and was stacked in corners in solid bars. There were certificates of debt from other countries that Elise had bought up, priceless jewels, mountains of foreign currency, and blocks of precious stones like jade, amber, and emerald lined up in solid squares that were taller than Elise.
Elise and King Henrik could only take several steps into the room, it was so crowded with gold and coins.
As the only possessor of the treasury key, Elise knew King Henrik hadn’t set foot in the treasury in years, so she delighted in his awe.