Irving caught his arm in the darkness. Dordonas nearly jumped out of his skin.
“Dordonas, what the hell is this about?”
“Well, Irv, my boy, glad to see you, too.” Dordonas scoffed. It was, actually. He looked his nephew head to toe. Still had that slender figure he’d had back – well, he was ashamed to say, seven some years ago it’d been since Dordonas had checked in on the boy last. Well, he was no boy, father of three midling boys. Thirty-five, Irv might be now.
Irving shrugged with a bit of guilt. “Sorry, Uncle. It’s good to see you.” They hugged. “But what, you drag me out here,” and he gestured about the old ruins of a burned down church, “in the middle of the night, in all privacy. What’s gotten into you, Uncle? Are you mad!”
Dordonas snorted. “You heard about your brother, I know.”
A troubled look crossed Irving’s face. “’Course I did.” His voice was quiet. After he took in a deep breath, he said, “Died in his sleep, they told me.”
Dordonas frowned. “And who was that who told you?”
Irving’s eyebrow rose. “Two Guards from Pikeston. Why do you ask?”
Dordonas shook his head noncommittally. “Just – woulda’ been nice if it had been that way.”
Irving stared at him. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”
Dordonas pulled out the piece of scalp he’d kept wrapped up in his breast pocket.
Irving leapt back. “Bloody fucking hell, what is that!” He stared at it, then at Dordonas, then back at the piece of dried scalp dangling from Dordonas’s fingers. The blood was dried now.
Irving’s mouth was open in horror. Dordonas held it higher up in the moonlight. Irving stared at it a few seconds, his eyes round.
“What the bloody fuck! Uncle! You sick bastard!”
“You know it’s his!”
“Did you kill him, then?
“Did I kill –? You really are thick, boy! Of course I didn’t kill him! What the!” Dordonas wrapped the piece of Harv’s scalp again.
“Well, who did! That – that is… that’s regicide! Murder of a king!” Irving spluttered.
“You know, funny how I knew that? What you think we’re here for and not in a pub? Not in your fancy estate?”
Irving was still wide-eyed and open-mouthed. Well, and why not. Not only had his brother been murdered, but the King….
“Now, here. Drink up.” Dordonas handed him his bottle of rum.
Irving looked at it and shook his head. “I don’t usually –”
“I don’t care if you ’don’t usually.’ Finding out your brother, our King’s been murdered is a good fucking time to. Don’t you think?”
Irving looked at the bottle, then held out his hand. He drank several swallows.
“Oh, my boy, have I got a lot to tell you…. But first, drink a little more.”
Irving drank a few more swallows. He sat down on an old bench.
“All right, then. Let me start by givin’ you these to read.” Dordonas gave Irving the documents Harvick had given him to hold.
Irving unrolled them and started to read by the light of Dordonas’s lantern. It didn’t matter if he tore them up, for Dordonas had his separate copies of each. Canny, Harv had been, there in the last few weeks. Thinking of that piece of scalp, now Dordonas knew why.
He watched as Irving’s face changed. “Varley, not welcome here in Storden? Disowned? To be arrested, imprisoned, or banished should he not return? But, he’s my nephew….
“Dordonas, I hate to ask, but… was Harv in his right mind? Is that even his… well… you know what I mean?” Irving asked.
Dordonas nodded slowly. “Got it from below his balcony. They were trying to get rid of a blood stain on the terrace there. Couldn’t help myself, I snuck in, looked at his body –”
Irving interrupted him, horrified. “Uncle, you did what? You could have been arrested! Thrown in the Dungeon! Hung! I know that Palace, I grew up there. Guards posted everywhere….”
Dordonas grimaced. “Not around a dead King’s quarters, there aren’t….”
Irving’s mouth was still open with shock. “Still, guards would have been posted.”
“Relax, boy. I climbed in, climbed back out. What you need to know is, the back of his head is bashed.”
Irving’s mouth worked, but no sound came out. Dordonas realized he could have said that with more tact, they were – had been – brothers, after all. But aloud, he said, “Irv, I talked to him a number of times over the last several weeks, and he was quite sane. Worried, but sane.”
Irving took a breath. “Well, then, this says I’ve moved up in the order of things. And my boys.”
“Irving. You see, don’t you, Varley’s turned Storden into a military state. We’ve always been neutral. That last act of Harvick’s, sending that boy’s warships to Clemongard…. What you think he’ll do when he comes home?”
Irving’s eyes grew wide again.
“In fact, Irv, who you think it was ordered Harv’s death?” Dordonas said as gently as he could.
Irving rolled his eyes and stood up. “Come on. Come on, now. I see what my brother wrote, I hear what you’re saying. But Varley’s his son. Crown Prince. My nephew. And King now.”
Dordonas had expected this. “Aye, with at least twenty thousand troops. You think on that, Irv. Twenty thousand. Harv saw them himself. Three hundred… not three, three hundred warships. That’s thirty-five thousand men. Storden recruited thirty-five thousand men. What’s Storden need thirty-five thousand men for? It keeps a Navy to protect it, what, fifty ships at most, and five thousand men at most to protect the King….
“Irving, aren’t you hearin’ me, boy? Allied with Ormon, fifty thousand men, three hundred warships… your brother murdered. That boy was disowned by your brother. Not a Crown Prince anymore and not King now.”
Irving turned around, rubbing at his beard, thinking. “I should move my family as Talia and the boys have been moved…. Where to go….”
“Not a bad idea,” Dordonas said quietly.
“This, this place that’s not on the map – that’s our old grandma’s estate – you should move them at once. Varley may know of it. There may be a document that mentions it….”
Dordonas raised an eyebrow. “I’ll do that immediately. I know a place, I think.”
Then he took a breath. “Irving.” Irving turned and faced him in the moonlight.
Shaking his head, Dordonas said, “Irving, I’m no Regent. I can’t be Regent to those babes for another some sixteen years….” He trailed off.
Irving’s eyes narrowed. Then he said, “Is that what you brought me out here for, so you could ask me to be Regent? Oh, no, Uncle. I’ve my own life to live. I’m quite happy living my life at my estate in the country with Gerry.”
“You mean, Gerranne.”
Irving gave Dordonas a strange look. “Well, of course I do. I call her Gerry. And I will not play Regent. Harv left that to you, he couldn’t have written it clearer right here in this document then he did,” and Irv gestured with it at Dordonas.
The most stubborn man alive sat right before him, Dordonas swore. “Irving. Those babes aren’t six months old yet and this country is going to war, starting with Ormon. And our country, Storden, is a part of that, allied with Ormon. When Varley gets back, you think he’ll care about that?” And he pointed at Harvick’s last line of succession parchment. “He’ll try to take the crown by force. He’ll take this country to war, against Harvick’s wishes and against Stordish tradition. And Storden needs to keep him out.
“We can’t do that with a six-month-old on the throne and me as Regent.”
Dordonas watched sudden realization dawn upon Irving.
“You need to make a claim for the throne, Irving.”
“You. You need to make a claim for the Stordish throne. You were the next in line for it after Harvick; most in the Land will know that. And if the Crown Prince has been disowned, then the Crown falls to you.
“Irving, you know it’s the truth. You know it is. You grew up there, you got the same education Harv did, you’re the son of the King-before-the-King. You’re Royal Blood. And Varley is no longer a member of the Royal Family. He is disowned. Banished. Right now, he is outside Stordish borders, so he is no longer allowed back in. Banished for life.
“Make your claim for the throne, Irving. You’re the proper King,” Dordonas insisted.
Irving was nothing if not proper. He stood with Harvick’s line of succession in his hand. “And what of this!” he spat. He smacked the succession parchment as he said so.
“And what of war!” Dordonas roared. “I’ll eat my left nut if Harvick knew Ormon was on its way already. I’m here now because I heard two guards say that she was circling around Clemongard to come here! We need a king on the throne now, Irving, you selfish prick! Now step up and make your claim. No one will know of Harv’s line of succession to the twins first. I’ve already rewritten it, you just need to read it. I’ll convince the Queen, who is already petrified, and you find her a nice estate somewhere where she and the twins can live their lives freely, but anonymously.
“The time to move is now, Irving. Get in there. With your wife and your sons. Claim the throne, read the document for all to hear. Banish Varley. And fight this war that’s coming at us. You know Harv would see the sense of it.” Dordonas pulled out Harvick’s royal wax, seal, stamp that he’d stolen, along with parchment. He held it out for Irving to read.
Irving took in a deep breath. He met Dordonas’s eyes, then he took the document and read it.
He nodded once.
Dordonas made as if to stamp it, but Irving held up his hand.
Dordonas bowed and held out the wax, seal, and stamp. Then he bowed.