A Silent Game of Spies

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Father walked in and sat down before him. Merridon had heard him long before he had appeared. He’d grown used to Father’s footsteps long ago, a brisk, purposeful stride, not a heavy one but focused.

Merridon stared at him for a moment.

“For once, Father, I can easily say that you look worse than I do.”

Father snorted and shook his head. “On that score, you’re right.”

“Tell me you won.” Merridon leaned forward. Father’s face a mess of bruises – not one but two black eyes, so someone must have had a good one-two swing. A split lip with a slight scab. Purpled bruising… Merridon wished he’d seen that fight. There’s a man awaiting trial down in the Dungeon somewhere, if he hasn’t already been hung, he thought with amusement.

Father sighed. “Between you, me, and these dusty books of yours – I think it was a bit of a fair fight. But I knocked a tooth loose, so, there’s that.” Father gave a bit of smile but stopped when it stretched the scab on his lip.

“And has he been hung yet? Or is he at least sitting in a cell?” Merridon could not take his eyes off his father. Father had trained his sons in a bit of boxing when they were boys, but apparently, he’d forgotten to keep up his guard.

“Well – can’t do that, not either of them. Or at least, it hasn’t been done in, probably two or three centuries….” Father licked his lower lip.

“Hanging? You may be as sick as I am, too, Father. A good blow to the head may have rattled your brains.”

“No – not that. It was Hardewold. Cheeky little runt. Can’t hang a king of the Eastern Alliance.”

Merridon’s eyebrows shot upward. “No! You and the Hound, going at it! Over… what, policy? Please, Father. At least tell me a fight like that –” he threw his hands up toward Father’s face, “was over a really good reason, a woman, or because you were completely racked.” Merridon laughed. Best visit in years.

Father rolled his eyes to one side and considered. “I suppose you could say it was over a woman, but not in the conventional sense….”

“Oh, Father, please. Stop being so boring and tell me. Were you at least racked?”

“No! I was sober and I was pissed off, are you happy, then?”

“Well, what about the Hound? Him, it could be definitely be a woman. And racked.”

“No more so than I, I’m afraid.”

Merridon sighed with disappointment. Then he brightened. “Speaking of women, how did my step-mother take it?” He had never met another person so proper and mannerly. “I’ll bet you got your arse handed to you again once she saw you.” He laughed.

“Did you call me here for a reason, Merridon, or was it simply to jest at your father?”

“I actually did have a reason, but jesting at the most powerful man in the Land looking like shit takes a bit of precedence.” Merridon could not help but laugh again. He had rarely seen his father appear at all unseemly, perhaps a few times unshaven… a few times. This – was quite memorable.

Father smiled a little with affection. They had come to a point in their relationship where Merridon was an adult and they could speak with each other as adults now. He accorded Merridon the respect he spoke to other adults with. Merridon suddenly recognized it for such two or three years ago, for Father was not just being a father, or a king, but speaking of random adult matters as friends did.

But at the moment, he saw that whatever was happening in the War Council was taking its toll on Father and he looked exhausted, and even beneath the bruises, Merridon could see lines of worry. Well, this wasn’t going to help.

“But, Father, I did have a reason for asking you here.” And Merridon handed him the sealed parchment.

Father stared at it and then looked up at Merridon. He took it but didn’t open it.

Gesturing with it, he asked, “What, Merridon, is this?”

“Read it, Father.”

Father didn’t glare at him. But he did heave in a long sigh.

He popped open the seal.

To: His Royal Majesty of Romeny,

King Rhutgard Anghus Farradan Firthing, First of His Name

Eastern Seal of the Eastern Seal Alliance:

I, Merridon Angus Tallard Firthing, First Son and Crown Prince of King Rhutgard Anghus Farradan Firthing, First of His Name, Eastern Seal of the Eastern Seal Alliance Do Hereby Abdicate and Renounce all claims to the Royal Throne of Romeny, all of its Titles, and Responsibilities Therein, to include the Title of Eastern Shield of the Eastern Shield Alliance.

On This Day, I Do So Swear:

“Merridon. What is this?”

“Father. I am abdicating the throne. I believe that makes Kendrick the Crown Prince now,” Merridon replied quietly.

“But you needn’t do this, Merridon. You may yet –”

“Father!” Merridon slapped the table with both hands. He loved his father dearly, but he clung to his ideals, he never saw the truth of things unless it was shoved up in his face, and even then, he would refuse to confront it.

That had gotten Father’s attention. Merridon reached out and placed his own, weak, pale hands atop Father’s hands. “Father,” he said gently. “I am dying. You know this, whether you want it to be true or not. Soon, I won’t be able to leave my bed.” He stared intently into his father’s eyes. “I cannot ever be king. We both knew that many years ago. With war starting, it is best that I abdicate now, so that you teach Kendrick, and Keldrick as well, all they need to know about running a kingdom. I am doing this now, so that you needn’t deal with – unnecessary paperwork – later.”

Merridon smiled gently. He was suddenly seized by emotion – he hadn’t realized how hard this would be.

Father stared up at the ceiling and swallowed. Merridon saw his jaw clenching.

Finally, he looked back down at Merridon and nodded shortly. His eyes were bright with emotion he was struggling to hold back.

Merridon took a deep breath and twisted off his Crown Prince signet ring. It was too big for his finger now, anyway. He offered it forward to Father.

Father pushed his hand back. As he spoke, his voice trembled. “Crown Princes – who abdicate – wear their signet rings on their other hand.” Tears spilled down his face. “Damnit, Merridon –” and he pushed his chair back with such force that it fell over as he left the library.

Merridon heard something in the corridor crash into pieces.

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