A King's Regret
There was loud crash and the main door to the court imploded, showering the floor with splinters of wood and chunks of metal. The king roared for an explanation but was cut short as a single crossbow bolt embedded itself deeply in his chest, pinning him to the throne with a sickening thud. Rishon sprang into action within seconds, his sword swinging in wide arcs as he approached the doorway.
Standing there amidst the smoke haze of her entry, was a single woman, her mouth covered with a silk cloth and her hair in a long braid down her back. In one hand she held a single handed crossbow and in the other a small red box. As she flicked the hand with box in it, a small glass vial spun towards Rishon and when it struck the ground, it exploded with such force that the man was thrown back to other side of the hall.
Finally Urthen managed to get his brain and body working together and he dashed over to the king, hoping against all reason that the man might have survived. He was surprised to find the king breathing, albeit shallow and wetly, and as he turned his eyes locked on to the woman walking slowly towards them. Instinctively Urthen reached for Hala, trying to take in as much as he could to protect himself and the king. He made the connection and began to draw it in but something drained it away as fast as he drew it. The shadowstone wall had a side that backed on to the palace, making it impossible for Urthen to do so much as light a candle, let alone shield anyone.
“My quarrel is with the Mage Slayer.” she said in a thick, singsong Unari accent. “Step aside gifted one, I do not wish you harm.”
“I’m sorry but I can’t do that.” Urthen replied. “This man might be a bigoted bastard but you cannot just go around killing people because you don’t share their beliefs.”
“This man killed my family with his beliefs. I will have justice!” she screeched.
“Urthen.” whispered the king in his ear. “She is the daughter of King Ibram, the Unari king.”
“That’s right, pig.” she hissed. “You took my brothers from me and now I will have your head in payment.”
As she moved to strike the king with her short sword, a blow that could quite possibly have killed Urthen too, a long and thin blade slid from between her breast and caused blood to bloom across her tunic and vest. The expression on her face was one of surprise and she looked down at the blade as if confused by it, dropping her weapon and touching the growing bloodstain.
The blue tint to her skin became more pronounced as she realized her fate, her eyes panicked and angry. The blade disappeared and since it had been the only thing holding her upright, she dropped like a rag doll, rolling onto her back and staring up at the ceiling blankly. Behind her was Rishon, his face a mass of cuts and blood and his left arm held against himself.
“The king, is he…?
“Dead? Not yet but there is little I can do for him and even your physicians can’t repair a damaged heart.” Urthen said.
“I don’t know how she got in.” Rishon groaned. “Every entrance is guarded and her face is far too recognizable, even partially covered as it was, for her to have slipped passed in a group.”
“Are you badly injured?” asked Urthen.
“No I think it’s mostly scratches, although my arm is more than likely broken, nothing serious though.” he replied.
“Rishon?” the king said weakly.
“Yes my king?” Rishon replied, moving to the other side of the king.
“My daughter, Iria. Find her and make sure she wasn’t paid a visit by this bitch.” he spat the words along with blood. “I need to know she’s alright.”
“Immediately my king.” Rishon said, bowing and then limping away, clearly far more injured than he had let on.
Urthen looked up at the king and noticed he was staring at him. His gaze was sorrowful and angry at the same time, as if he was torn between his hatred for the Mage and his sadness at impending death. The bolt was deeply embedded into the wood of the throne, there was no chance Urthen would be able to dislodge it and doing so would just cause the king pain. The best he could do was give him water from a glass beside the throne, which he sipped gratefully before coughing weakly and sighing.
Surprisingly he didn’t seem to be in that much pain, more than likely because he was not far from passing. His skin was losing colour by the minute and his breathing was getting shallower. All Urthen could do was sit with him as his life slowly slipped away, unable to even offer words. Urthen had seen men die before but they had been ill or old. To see someone so comparatively young and healthy just fading away was hard to watch.
“I always thought it would be one of you who did it.” he whispered.
“How would we, Your Majesty?” Urthen asked gently. “The same wall that is preventing me from healing you protects you from Hala completely. We don’t permit Mages to be hired out as assassins and even if one did get it into their mind to try something like this, they would never have the strength or skill to pull it off.”
“I just assumed you would find a way.”
“Despite what you have been taught and what your people have been taught, Mages, true Mages, have no desire to kill or harm others. We only use Hala to better the lives of people.”
“That may be so but it takes more than words to change the minds of a people.” the king said regretfully.
“And if they could, would you have done it?” Urthen asked.
“Yes.” the king replied.
It was not the response Urthen had expected. The sorrow he saw in the king’s eyes was regret and not a sadness for unfinished business at the end of his life. This man, who everyone believed hated Mages with such passion, had in fact been living as a character his people expected him to be. Playing out the old hatreds of his family for the benefit of his subjects.
His father before him and his father before him and so on had campaigned to have the Aracum shut down and the Mages shackled permanently with shadowstone bracelets that would prevent them using their powers. Terrian had never pursued this and whilst he had never made any moves to improve the relationship between Vishanti and the Mages, he had also never actively hunted them.
“I’m sorry Your Majesty. It would seem I and the other members of the Mage’s Circle have been just as ignorant as we accused you of being.” Urthen said.
“Maybe my daughter will be a better leader than I was. She always thought the ban on Mages here was pointless given they were unable to do anything…” he stopped midsentence as his lungs were slowly filling with blood, making it hard to breathe.
“Please Your Majesty, try not to talk so much.” Urthen said, “I’m sure Rishon will return with your daughter.”
There was no response. The king’s eyes were open but stared into the distance and all trace of emotion and life was gone. Urthen sighed and closed the man’s eyes with his hand, silently saying a small prayer to Aynaria for someone who, a moment ago, he would have been willing to hand over to the assassin. Everyone had judged this man so harshly and yet had they taken the time to speak with him, they may have found him to be a very different person to his public persona.
There was a weak groan from the floor in front of the throne and Urthen remembered Kerain, who had not taken the chance to escape, for the most part because it looked like he had not eaten in some time. He was probably injured from his time in the dungeons and this combined with malnutrition may have left the man unable to make logical decisions like escaping.
“Is he gone?” Kerain grunted into the stone floor.
“Yes, he’s passed.” Urthen replied. “Is what he was saying true Kerain? Did you kill the man they accused you of killing?”
“The shadowleaf hastened his passing, but he had very little time left and he was in an immense amount of pain.” Kerain replied. “I did not, however, overdose him as they claimed. The dose was less than I would normally have used for someone his age but his illness had taken so much from his body that even that was too much.”
“Well we need to leave as soon as possible. You need healing and I need to get back to the Aracum to advise the Mage’s Circle of what has happened.” Urthen said.
“Have you forgotten? I’m not allowed back at the Aracum.” Kerain replied. “Your predecessor saw to that and you can’t override his decision.”
“You’re right.” Urthen said. “I need to get you somewhere safe though once I’ve healed you.”
“Well I think it would be best if we worked out the finer details on the way. When that giant gets back, we won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.”