He rolled his neck around and sighed. When he opened his eyes, he stared up at the paneled sealing. The agriculture report he’d asked from Lord Wardston was not going to read itself, and yet here it was, full of fluff, so that it – and Lord Wardston – would appear full of information.
He let it flutter through his hands from front to back. Worse, whoever scribed it wrote in small, fine print. Reaghann slapped the report on his desk. His father would never have read this tripe – he delegated all this fine work to his Inner Secretaries.
But Reaghann was not his father, nor did he trust such information to Inner Secretaries. He did not want men he did not know running his kingdom, especially in such… uncertain times.
There, he’d admitted it. Reaghann propped his legs up on his desk and swallowed some wine from his goblet. For these were uncertain times. He could not explain why, or how, but he just felt it in his gut.
He had received reports of increased ship sightings in the Treasure Sea, from sailors who docked at the Singing River to as far north as Swindle Bay. Most of the sailors called them pirates, but too many pirates in one sea… equaled a coincidence, and Reaghann did not believe in coincidence. He had only been a child during the Twenty Years’ War, but he’d listened to men who planned it, and if he’d learned anything, it was that there was no such thing as coincidence.
Increased activity also up the Rosh River into Shaw. And by no one special, no people of a specific quality or attribute that had been determined. Scouts found more travelers headed East in general, through the Free Lands, though all had plausible excuses.
More people – whether by land or by sea – were the result of three things: plague, money…
And Reaghann would have heard of the first two long before now. In fact, the first two were the direct results of the third. War always caused disease and financial opportunity, and usually the two were intertwined, he remembered an advisor of his father saying during the Twenty Years War. So greed was a disease, mused Reaghann. Many of his Councilors would argue that concept, while others would applaud it. And still others would never recognize it within themselves….
To hell with this bloody report. It would still be ready to bore him in the morning. Reaghann opened his drawer, ready to toss the report on top of his other papers.
And then saw those papers, neatly arranged. Again. This was the third time now.
Who was arranging his parchments for him?
To be sure, he actually found it interesting, the order in which they were arranged, from worth his time to utter tripe. But it only meant that someone – Reaghann could not imagine who – was going into his desk drawer and sorting his paperwork.
Reaghann considered each of his Inner Secretaries but again dismissed them, as he had the first two times he’d discovered this. Only Katham remained as a possible suspect, given his knowledge of Reaghann’s interest on certain subjects, and Reaghann did not consider Katham likely, for he was a servant, a steward of sorts.
And then the back of his neck prickled.
He had missed it the first time, when Lord Drury had sat across from him, though he had smelled the slightest of soap scents. He’d dismissed it as launderers soap lingering in the air, perhaps after the dusting of his curtains or some such thing as servants did.
Oddly, he did not consider himself to be in danger. He took a sip of wine.
“I could use the company – come out and have a goblet of wine.”
Reaghann thought he heard an intake of breath. Pleased with himself, he held up his goblet in an invitation.
“No? Very well, then.” He picked up the report and then looked at his open drawer. On a whim, Reaghann said, “I assume it’s you who has been rearranging my proposals for me.”
There was a nervous clearing of a throat behind the wall, and then a quiet, distinctly female voice said, “Yes, my lord.”
Surprised, he realized two things. One, that the speaker was young, and two, that the speaker was a servant.
“Well, then.” Reaghann didn’t want to frighten her off, for this was the most intrigued he’d been in months. “You got it mostly right, though there were two near the bottom I was interested in.”
“If you please, my lord, I put any you considered assholes on the bottom. Or those whose statements just repeated themselves.”
Reaghann smiled a bit. “And how would you know who I consider assholes?”
The girl took in a deep breath behind him. “The walls hear all, my lord. So it’s said.”
He raised an eyebrow. “If I thought anyone would believe me, I could call you in on treason charges.”
She coughed and sounded suspiciously smug as she replied through the wall, “You’d have to find me first, my lord.”
“Well, no one would believe I was conversing with someone behind the wall, anyway. And yet…” and Reaghann turned in his chair, “there you are, aren’t you.”
A bright green eye widened and then fell back from the spy hole he’d long ago forgotten about.
“Well, don’t run off now, it was just getting interesting,” Reaghann called lowly.
After a few seconds, the girl appeared at the spyhole again.
“I’m here – for a reason.”
“One would presume so,” he replied dryly.
The girl said nothing for a moment, but Reaghann believed her green eye narrowed a bit. He was only trying to coax her out, he wasn’t trying to harangue her – surely whomever she was, she knew that.
Then the girl said, “I won’t be back after tonight. I have – information for you that you have to believe. Just… tell me you’ll trust me when you see it.”
Reaghann’s demeanor immediately changed. This he did not like the sound of. “What exactly does that mean?”
“My lord – I mean, Your Majesty –” the girl stumbled, “you’re not….” She looked from side to side in an attempt to find the best way to phrase her next statement.
“Well, out with it, girl.” Reaghann was suddenly impatient and he did not like the turn this conversation was taking.
“You’re not exactly safe here.”
Well, there it was, outed and matter-of-fact. As direct as one could hope for, Reaghann thought.
“Who are you?”
The girl was shaking her head. “I can’t say.”
“What’s your name?”
“I can’t tell you that, either. I’m going to be gone and you won’t find me anyway, so don’t search for me. I only wanted to tell you that… and to give you… some information that you – you must know, Your Majesty.”
The girl was nothing if not earnest. And direct. Still, the whole idea sounded ludicrous….
“Do you at least promise to consider what I’ve come to tell you, and to… give you?”
“Give me?” repeated Reaghann. He thought for a moment. “First answer this. How often have you been in my desk to rearrange my papers?”
The girl cast her eye downward. “Three times now, my lord – Your Majesty.”
“And how do you know how to arrange them?”
The green eye glanced up at him briefly, looked down, then stared at him straight on. “I watched you once when you were throwing your proposals about, lords you liked and didn’t. And then… I watched a Council Meeting.”
Reaghann’s mouth fell. “A Council Meeting? How – is there really a – behind the...?”
The girl nodded.
Well. That was not good news at all. In fact, that frightened him a good bit. “And?”
She didn’t reply.
“Do you have a name that I can call you, or will I just be speaking to you through the wall?” Reaghann asked, slightly irritated.
“I can’t tell you my name.”
Utterly perturbed, Reaghann said then, “Well, then Lady Green Eyes, what did you think of your Council Meeting?”
He watched her blink, then roll her eye.
“That interesting, was it?”
“I actually was almost asleep when you finally adjourned it.”
“Well, we have that in common. I feel quite the same most meetings,” Reaghann returned.
He thought she was smiling.
Then she grew serious and told him, “I have information for you. You need to believe me when I tell you that… that there are… certain people… who do not wish you well.”
Part of Reaghann would like to have laughed. He’d known that his entire life, there were people who had not wished generations of his family well, and he was no exception. But Lady Green Eyes behind the wall was quite earnest.
“And how do you come to know this, exactly? Other than common knowledge….?”
He detected a sniff behind the wall. “That is… a long, long story. But – here.”
And before Reaghann’s eyes, a rolled-up parchment pushed itself through the spyhole toward him.
Well, he now had proof that he wasn’t imagining the entire event. He stood up and pulled the rest of the parchment through the wall.
“What is this, exactly?” Reaghann asked slowly as he unrolled it. Names were hastily scribbled upon the parchment, names of lords he knew, some he worked closely with, even….
“People who do not wish you well,” said his green-eyed friend behind the spyhole.
“Where did you get this?” Reaghann asked sharply.
Taken aback, Lady Green Eyes replied, “I wrote it, wrote the list down, myself.”
“Well, that much I can see –”
“I’m sorry I didn’t spend more time on my calligraphy up in the bowery, Your Majesty….”
“Am I right, to presume that you are chastising me?”
The green eye in the spyhole narrowed into a green slit.
“Very well, very well,” Reaghann placated the girl with upheld palms. “But answer my question – where did you get this information?”
Lady Green Eyes behind the wall considered Reaghann for a moment. Finally, she answered, “From the desk of a… very bad man.”
Just as he was about to express his irritation with that answer, Reaghann heard another paper being pushed through the spyhole. He pulled it through.
Names written upon it were divided into three sections.
He glanced up at her. “All right. I’m waiting.”
“At the top, those men?” she said.
“Those people are dead by his hand, personally.”
“What?” Reaghann was shocked. Surely she was mistaken.
“That’s actually why I’m leaving, or my name will soon be added to that list.” She paused, then continued. “The second section, with all the names. They are people he consorts with in some way, some of them may be responsible for – other deaths. Or other… bad things.”
“Other bad things? Do you even know how mad you sound?” Reaghann leaned backward and took a swallow from his goblet.
He could see her nodding. “Yes.” She took a breath. “You needn’t believe me. But I hope you do. Just hear me through and then decide. After all, I could have left days ago.”
Reaghann glanced down at this second list, and then up at Lady Green Eyes. Then he leaned back against his desk. “Carry on, then.”
She stared at him. She really did have striking eyes, Reaghann thought idly as he waited for her to continue. “Do you know the King of Shaw?”
Whatever did that have to do with anything? What an odd divergence. “Of course I do. King Rickstan. What of him? What has he to do with your story?”
She cleared her throat and looked down. “You know, then, of his brother. His twin.”
“Yes. Prince Rilstrom. His wife is pregnant, or was. He should be a proud father by now. Again, your point?”
Her green eye had widened and then looked down.
“Come, Lady Green Eyes, I am losing patience. I enjoy a good intrigue as well as any man, but you need to hurry this along….”
“Your Majesty, did you know of a state visit from Prince Rilstrom and his wife several months ago, to visit you here?”
A state visit from Shaw? Of course not. He’d have known. In fact, he’d have been pleased to host one. Months ago, in fact, she said? No. He hadn’t seen anyone from Shaw but the Ambassador.
“There was no visit. No visit planned. Of all people, My Lady of the Green Eyes, I think I would be the first to know. Neither the Prince nor his brother visited, nor was any visit planned.”
“That’s because you were never to find out of it. They were set upon by bandits while traveling here. She died, all the men traveling with them died, and the Prince himself was captured. He’s been down in your dungeon, in a traitor cell all these months.”
Reaghann reacted to this with a mixture of disbelief, shock, and anger. That was absolutely untrue! Unfounded. And he told the girl so immediately.
The girl pushed an iron key through the spyhole. “I found this in his desk as well. I overheard him talking about it all. That’s how I know. He told the other man that he ‘didn’t care if the Prince lived or died at this point, although he may yet serve a use, maybe it would be best to keep him alive still.’”
Sickened, Reaghann reached for the key.
“No. He’s not there anymore. I’ve taken care of him. That man was telling Lord Hampsherd this – Lord Hampsherd knew all of it and is a part of the entire plan. You were never to know. The brother is escaped now and on his way safely home to Shaw, Your Majesty.
“I’ve sent birds – the real birds, not the fake birds - to the King of Shaw to watch for him and help him home, which explained to him the truth of what really happened. Because Your Majesty, all these months, he’s been mourning the death of his brother and sister-in-law, and your people here let you think they were alive and well, don’t you see?
“If your ally King Rickstan were to find out that you had his twin brother all these months that he’s been locked up down in your traitor cell, you’d lose an ally, or worse, he’d cry war on you. Do you know who would set you up like this?”
Reaghann had sat through this entire story, frozen. Could it be, that the girl was completely mad? She seemed so serious, so intense…. He just could not believe it – Prince Rilstrom, locked in his dungeon and he hadn’t even known…. Who would do such a thing?
“How… how…” He was at a loss for words.
“Not how, Your Majesty. Who.” Lady Green Eyes stared at him.
“All right then. Who?”
“You have to promise to at least consider who I’m about to tell you.”
“I’ve just found out I’ve harbored a man in my dungeon that the rest of the land thought dead. I think I can take a name,” Reaghann snapped.
He watched her green eye narrow but didn’t care. He decided she was being more speculative than irritated, anyway.
“This man, he is an – assassin. A very good one, that no one knows about. And he’s very good at being among people – everyone thinks he’s clever and witty – no one would see him as an assassin, unless you saw him in his private time, like I have. So when I give you his name, you have to trust me. I’ll be gone in a few hours, from HarCourt altogether, before he finds me, too. I just wanted to let you know all this before I leave.”
Reaghann nodded. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know, but he waited just the same.
She pushed a scrap of parchment out.
“Lord Drury” it read. His head jerked up.
“I told you, you have to believe me. He is a very, very bad man. Here –”
And a silver flash was pushed out of the spyhole. It fell onto his carpet. Reaghann picked it up. A key. Immediately he recognized it.
“Where did you find this…” he breathed.
“In a hidden compartment of Lord Drury’s desk, along with the key to Prince Rilstrom’s cell.” Lady Green Eye’s voice was quite somber.
“This is a key to – something – of my father’s. Something I haven’t seen for years, not since he passed away….” Reaghann thought it was lost when they’d packed his father’s belongings so that he himself could move into the chamber as King. But no, here it was. The key to the hidden chamber in his father’s bed chamber…. And in Lord Drury’s desk all this time.
Lady Green Eyes had his full attention now.
“Your Majesty, I don’t know what you’ll do with this information, but I only hope you’ll put it to good use, and – be careful of yourself. Take caution. He is very dangerous, more than you can possibly imagine.” Lady Green Eyes sounded terrified and that green-eyed gaze was intense.
“I’d like that dungeon key as well, if you please,” Reaghann told her.
She paused and glanced away. “If you go down tomorrow and look in the very last traitor cell, you’ll see where he’s been held. Just wait until – just after noon tomorrow.”
Reaghann shook his head at her. “You know, I could just open the wall and take the key from you, Lady of the Green Eyes.”
She stepped away from the spyhole. “You know where the door is?” she whispered.
Reaghann smiled. “I like to think I know my castle a bit better than others who run about. Though obviously you know it at least as well. I saw my father use that door when I was a child. He used it fairly often. To be honest, I’d forgotten about it until the other day when Lord Drury sat here.
“It would appear that you know the tunnels far better than I do,” he commented.
“They’re everywhere,” she whispered. “Look on the floor – wherever you see chalk, there’s a tunnel – just be careful, and bring a candle to light the way.”
“On the floor. Outside, lying on the floor, you’ll see chalk wherever there’s a tunnel. Always bring a candle, Your Majesty, to light the way….”
Reaghann thought her voice was receding as she said that last.
On a whim, he bent forward and peered into the spyhole.
“Lady Green Eyes?”
But no one answered.