King Chapters 1-14 are here:
Alexia glanced at Alvuen as she entered the parlor, but then resumed pacing in front of the hearth before a crackling fire. The chill of the place had all but seeped into her bones. A cold draft slid across the floor, despite the thick carpet. The taste of salt coated her mouth and throat. The constant boom of the waves hitting the cliff set her nerves on edge.
“Your Majesty,” Alvuen said as she watched. “Is something wrong?”
“What was Liselle Telaerin doing at Juleta Gurrell’s this morning?” Alexia demanded.
“Apparently the two are acquainted, Your Majesty, and Liselle obviously needed a place to go after—”
“What do you know of what happened between Dynan and Liselle?”
“Only what you’ve heard,” Alvuen said, “that Dynan was with her last night. Liselle’s maid, Adel has been talking about it, and—”
“Adel is mute. She couldn’t have talked about it to anyone, except through comboard, where there would be a record of her actions. And now I come to find out that the Palace messenger you used to instruct Juleta is dead. Juleta herself is closeted with the Lord Chancellor, who is quite capable of discovering her connection to me.”
“The Lord Chancellor is capable of forcing Juleta to say anything he wants, something everyone is aware of. She wouldn’t willingly tell him anything of her activities for the sake of her family and herself. They’d be ruined. If it were to come out, that she was spying for you, it wouldn’t take much to discredit the Lord Chancellor’s motivation in forcing such a confession.”
“And if she’s found to have some other connection to what Liselle did?” Alexia asked, hardly able to believe that it had happened, or that there was a possibility that the duplicity of it could lead to her.
“In what way, other than opening her home to Liselle? She had nothing to do with Dynan staying the night with Liselle. That was Liselle’s attempt to seek revenge for what happened before.”
“I’m aware of her motivation. I need to know what Marc Talryn learns from Juleta, and what can be done to counter what he discovers. None of this can lead back to me, Alvuen. It would give Dynan exactly what he needs to break our agreement.”
“None of it will,” Alvuen said. “I’m certain of it.”
“Whatever needs to be done to ensure it…”
“Of course. I’ll let you know what I find out.”
“Yes Marc,” Dain said as he adjusted the ship’s speed, trying to make up time. The controls flashed. The hum of engines came up through the deck. It felt great. He looked over at Dynan. “He wants to come out here.”
“He doesn’t say exactly.”
Dynan sat up a little. “Fine.”
Marc appeared in the doorway, looked out the view screen, then at Dain. “I need to talk to your brother. Alone. I’ll explain in a minute.”
Dain hesitated, looking again to Dynan. He nodded almost absently. Despite Dain’s best efforts to cheer him up, nothing worked for more than a moment or two. He stood, relinquishing his chair to Marc. “I’ll be back in the hold.”
Trevan and Kenon were the only ones awake. The guard’s eyes widened slightly, and Dain guessed he was wondering who was flying the ship. Trevan only glanced at him before returning his attention to the console that took up most of the back wall. Dain sat with him, and noticed his hand resting close to the engine controls.
“Think I forgot how?” he asked.
“No. Just giving some back up. A good thing too, since you’re here instead of minding the controls.”
“Ship looks good, Trevan. I’m glad you were able to save her. I need some flight time though, with all these new controls.”
“Well that’s comforting to know.”
Dain laughed and Trevan shook his head. “What have you been working on lately?”
“Nothing. Been too busy fixing all the broken stuff.”
“Oh come on. I can’t believe you aren’t inventing anything new.”
“Really. Mostly I’ve been upgrading and modifying what we’ve already got. Not nearly as interesting, but it has to be done. How’s Dynan?”
“He’ll be all right. Sure is a mess though.”
“When is it not?” Trevan said. “Sorry I missed all that business with Maralt. I had no idea.”
“That’s the way it needed to be. Besides, looks like you’re getting a chance this go around.”
“Do you think Marc is going to make it? I mean, do what he’s supposed to? Pretty rotten spot for him to be in.”
Dain shook his head. “I don’t know, and it’s beyond rotten. It’s not right. Personally I think if he pulls this off, they ought to reward him for it, not kill him.”
“But wouldn’t that leave open a way for Maralt to come back through him?” Kenon asked.
Dain turned to him. “No more than that possibility exists in me or Dynan. The way this is supposed to work is Marc takes all of Maralt, if we can ever catch him, and then all the ancestors. He then delivers the package unto the Gods, giving them back their collective power. Once that’s done, they don’t need Marc’s help anymore. His reward for performing this task is to be wiped out in the process. Some justice there.”
“But the reason for taking him too is to stop any part of Maralt from remaining. It seems unavoidable to me, since the Lord Chancellor is holding Maralt, and has been all this time, that he could do so without being influenced by him.”
“You don’t know Marc very well, do you?”
“No, Your Highness, but I know men well enough to know that the constant lure of such power would be difficult if not impossible to completely resist. It seems to me that the Gods should know better than either of us what’s best. They’ve chosen to take Marc for a reason.”
“If your Gods were so wise, it seems to me that they wouldn’t have let this happen in the first place.”
“They’re your Gods too, Your Highness.”
Dain looked at him, wondering a little at the guard’s presumption. “No, they aren’t.”
“You would turn your back on your faith, the thing that has kept you alive, for the fate of one man?”
“I turn my back on anything that’s unjust, and anyone or any entity that chooses to ignore what’s right.”
“You would damn your soul? Do you even understand what that means?” Kenon said.
“I’ve been to the Demon’s Gate, Lieutenant. I think I have a better idea of what it means than you do.” Dain leaned back in his chair. “So fear of being returned to that place, damning my soul as you put it, because I don’t believe in the Gods’ choice should be enough to change my mind, right?”
“That’s the problem I have with the Gods. I don’t believe in their plans. I don’t submit to them, therefore I get the Gates. They rule by fear, which makes them not so different from the thing they’re trying to stop. The Gods I believe in are a little kinder than that.” He shook his head. “I guess they don’t exist.”
Kenon seemed to want to object, but Marc came back then, and the guard’s eyes widened again. “Hi, Trevan,” Marc said. “Dain, your turn.”
Marc pointed back to the hall between sleeping quarters, since at the moment, those were all occupied, and started explaining his plan. The thought of Dynan having to face Liselle and tolerate her presence turned Dain’s stomach, but he saw the need for it. “Dynan agreed to this?”
“I hope you don’t expect me to be nice to her.”
Marc smiled at that. “That would make everyone suspicious. You get to act like you always do, just not like you want to kill her.”
“Have you talked to him about ordering her execution?”
“No, Dain, and I’m not going to. Neither are you.”
“What about Alexia?”
“She knows that I’ve got Juleta. She’ll cooperate as far as tempering the reaction to this. Play along like everyone else.”
“What are you doing with Juleta?”
“She’s staying with me for the time being. Dynan doesn’t know about her, or Alexia’s possible involvement yet. There are a few complications I need to sort through before I drop that one on him. I want to get him through this dinner and a decent night’s sleep. I’ll talk to him about the rest of it in the morning. I’m sending Dain Ardin out with him tomorrow.”
“I want you at the Palace. I didn’t tell Dynan this either, but Maralt killed Juleta’s go between. The man was a Palace Messenger.”
“He’s on the move.”
“Yes, he is. Everyone who has to be shielded has been. I’m not so sure how many more I can manage. He has a Palace Messenger badge now that allows him access to everywhere. Right now, I’m restricting access to the Royal wing to staff officers only. Senior guards have been alerted to the situation.”
“Why not all the guards?”
“Questions about security have a tendency to cause a lot of panic. I have to get back. Make sure he’s ready. As soon you land, we’re heading in for dinner.”
Dain nodded, frowning slightly. “How are you getting around anyway? I mean, who are you using to get back?”
“Ralion. See you in a few.”
“Marc—” Dain growled under his breath because he was gone already. “I didn’t think he was supposed to do it that way.”
“Do what?” Dynan asked from the door. “Where’s Marc?”
Dynan nodded, not really paying attention anymore. “I have to change,” he said, and disappeared into his room. The door hissed closed behind him. A few minutes later, the XR-30 set down in front of the Palace.
Dynan waited for the ramp, not so eager to face the thing that he had so willingly unleashed. Mostly he was afraid that it would all fly out of control. Some of it already had. He hadn’t expected Alvuen to do such a good job getting the news out. He’d thought to be able to contain it better than it had been. Now the Governors knew. That was something he hadn’t considered and should have. He couldn’t let any of it show, but more importantly couldn’t even think of it. Marc knew some of what had happened, but not all. At least, he wasn’t acting like he knew.
Dain clapped him on the back, nodding him on. “It’ll be all right.”
Marc was waiting at the ramp, explaining again what he needed to do while they climbed the stairs. The XR-30 lifted off, spun around and maneuvered to the far side of the Palace. As they reached the doors, its engines powered down. Dynan wondered how he was going to get through this dinner. He still felt awful and hadn’t expected that either, not for this long at any rate.
Marc took him upstairs to the Royal dining hall and as they entered the Royal wing, met Dain Ardin at the door. He nodded to something and Dynan guessed he was talking to Dain. “We’ll be there in a minute,” he said, nodding him on to the hall.
Dynan saw Loren standing in the arched entrance, her face a mask. Her eyes showed some of the terror he felt. Dynan didn’t dare look at her long. Marella was with her. “Your Majesty,” Dynan said, trying to smile and mean it.
“Welcome home, Your Highness,” she said, and he noticed the chill in her tone.
He looked to Loren again, but she ignored him. If he hadn’t known better, he would have been convinced that she hated him. “Thank you,” he said, and had to clear his throat. “It’s good to be home.”
“How was the Approachment?” Drake asked as he joined them. He held out his hand, and raised an eyebrow at him.
“It was long, Drake.”
“That’s all? No words of wisdom from Cobalt’s citizens?”
Drake seemed to think that was funny. Dynan didn’t feel like discussing it. Standing so close to Loren, acutely aware of her fear, was more than he thought he could stand when there wasn’t anything he could do about it. He excused himself to his other guests. He went to Danetha first and kissed her hand. He saw Liselle across the room, standing not very far from Ralion, who was there to watch her, though that too wasn’t readily apparent. She looked the same as always, collected and in command of herself. Not even a hint of the night’s activities could be discerned from her expression. She smiled at him, dipping into a curtsy. He smiled back, amazed at her composure. He tried keeping in mind what he would feel like if everything that was being said of him had really happened, and a shiver ran up his spine.
“The worst is over,” Marc said silently. “You’re doing fine. We’ll get you out of here as soon as possible. Neithia is calling for dinner now. You’re sitting with Ildin Taldic and his wife Rene, Alexia, Danetha, and Guildmaster Dunn of the Ag Guild. Ildin is going to ask you about what happened. You know what to say.”
Dain and Dain Ardin arrived then, causing a distraction with their behavior that Dynan knew was planned. A moment later, and they were all seated and served. He smiled and talked and forced food down. That was the worst of it, having to eat. When the subject was broached, not by Ildin, but Alexia, Dynan shrugged. He admitted to a lapse of good sense in talking the night away with Liselle, but that was all.
“I thought as much when I heard the rumors this morning,” Alexia said. Dynan was a little surprised that she was going along with it all. She was afraid though, and for a change didn’t have much choice. “But really, Your Highness, I thought you would have learned your lesson by now. This kind of scandal is hardly appropriate behavior for a future King.”
“What scandal?” he asked. “I needed to talk to Liselle uninterrupted. My schedule isn’t exactly conducive to more reasonable hours. I knew it was my only chance. Someone else decided to turn it into something it wasn’t ever. It’s a little incredible, after all, that the person attributed to spreading all these rumors can’t speak. I’m too busy right now to have much concern about it. At any rate, all that talk has been disproved. Adel never said anything, not even by the comboard she always carries. Liselle is here, not at the Beach Manor. If any of these rumors were true, do you think I’d have her here?”
“No, I don’t suppose you would,” Ildin said, “considering that last time these rumors surfaced, she was promptly married off to Gauvin.”
“You know as well as I do who was responsible for that,” Dynan said evenly. “My father handled that situation far differently than I would have, and you witnessed the results.”
Ildin nodded. “You were denied the throne.”
“You can apply the same logic to this instance. There are many, it would seem, who’ll do whatever they can to keep me from the throne, Ildin. They haven’t managed to kill me, so they resort to this. Not much has changed.”
“We’ve only the next five days to get through until you’ll be crowned,” Ildin said with a slight smile. “I’m sorry, Dynan. I should have expected that there was more to this than first appeared. I’ll see to it that my colleagues are informed.”
Dynan thanked him for the sentiment, hoping the Governors would listen. Dinner and the usual gathering afterward finally ended. Marc got him out early under the pretext of a meeting and took Dynan to his rooms. His brothers were waiting for him with Geneal. Dynan hardly made it to the washroom before his stomach finally rebelled. They held him while he was sick when he preferred to be left alone. Geneal gave him something to calm his nerves, though it didn’t seem to do any good. He was too tired to keep up the subterfuge, especially with Marc. Dynan wanted them all to go away, and no one would leave him. He had to wonder what his Lord Chancellor was doing to keep it all contained.
They helped him into bed, being overly solicitous. He wondered how angry they would be when they found out the truth. Really, he just wanted to feel better, and then he’d be able to think again.
When they all finally left him and he thought he should be tired enough to sleep, he couldn’t close his eyes. About an hour later, he gave up trying. He got up, got dressed and quietly slipped out.
He was a little surprised he made it out of the building without being stopped by using the service entrances and back hallways. There were guards on the door he took to get outside, but he ordered them to stay where they were and not tell anyone that they saw him.
“Wait, I mean, Your Highness, don’t…”
Dynan stopped on the walk to the barn and turned back around. “What is it?”
The guard who spoke swallowed and faced him. “You’re not leaving, are you?”
Maybe the man thought he was about to run off. With only five days to the coronation, it was a tempting notion, but Dynan shook his head. He cocked a thumb over his shoulder. “I’m just going to the barn.”
“Right. Of course. I’m sorry. I wasn’t suggesting—”
Dynan shook his head to cut him off. “I don’t want company.”
“Understood,” the guard said while the other one with him remained stone-faced and staring ahead as if Dynan wasn’t there. They both knew he wasn’t supposed to be out without a guard. “Just to the barn?”
“Just to the barn,” he repeated and doubted the solitude he sought would last.
The T-shaped building stood some distance from the Palace. It was cold enough that once inside the building, the warmth was a welcome relief. The stable was deserted too, though a couple of low ambient lights popped on when he moved down the main aisle. They went off behind him again as he turned left at the intersection. The riding ring was this way. He meant to get a horse and spend the next few hours not thinking.
The familiar smells of hay, leather and horses mingled together to take him back to a time when he was a boy who spent hours out here as often as he was allowed. There were only good memories lurking in the shadows. He looked up. The rope Dain used to swing on from the loft was still attached, draped over a hook so it was reachable. The rope was long enough that they could swing all the way over to the outside wall, land on the ledge, then turn around and swing back.
Dynan thought for a moment to go up and try it out again, but guessed his hands wouldn’t tolerate the abuse too well. Probably for the better, since there was no one around to notice if he fell. It was a long way down from there.
A soft nicker pulled his attention from the roof back to the aisle and he saw when he looked that Gilraen had been brought down from the XR-9. Dynan smiled at that, as she started bobbing her head, tossing the glossy black mane. She pushed her head into his hand, allowing him to scratch her.
“Nice to be on solid ground, isn’t it,” he said to her and laughed when she bobbed her head again.
He thought he’d pull her out and ride her, but another nicker from across the aisle punctuated by a hoof hitting the wall made him turn. For a moment, he couldn’t believe it, but there was no mistaking the animal for any other. There was no other like him, from the black sheen to the white diamond splash on his forehead that looked like the Telaerin seal. The horse bowed his head down the way he always used to.