He breathed in the fresh night air. Finally, they had come to an adjournment for the evening. War Council or no, Reaghann admitted that it was nice to be out of his own Palace, even out of Hardewold after all.
King Rickstan stepped out onto his balcony as well, which adjoined his own, evidently with the same idea as Reaghann’s. Fresh air and relaxation.
“Ah. King Reaghann. In the flesh, as it were.”
Odd choice of words. “That I am. How was your trip?”
Rickstan smiled suddenly and looked down as if at a personal joke. Then he leaned on the marble guard rail, enjoying the night sky. “A bit long, but I’m sure your trip all the way from HarCourt was far longer.”
“A bit, yes, but a smooth one just the same.”
Reaghann realized then that Rickstan was not wearing his mourning clothing anymore. He never had replied to Reaghann’s birds asking of his brother’s safe return. Reaghann was unsure how to approach the subject.
“I think that, unless summoned by War Councils or wars themselves, I shall stay at home more often. Not that Fairview Palace isn’t a beautiful castle.”
Rickstan gestured to the grandness that surrounded them. Reaghann would have to agree. HarCourt was built more to sustain than to impress, but at some point, it, too, had been beautified by some Queen and her ladies.
“Well, I can’t boast nearly the beauty of Fairview, but HarCourt does have a bit of beauty to it, at least in some areas of her. Perhaps one day you’ll visit.” He smiled.
Rickstan smiled vaguely. “I remember my last visit quite vividly, as a matter of fact.”
“My Coronation, yes,” Reaghann had hated that day. What a blur that day had been.
“Yes, I remember that day very well, and what a feast,” Rickstan recalled. “But –”
And he offered Reaghann his hand, as if they were strangers, to meet for the first time.
Reaghann accepted it, and Rickstan gripped it tightly.
“I visited HarCourt very recently, for quite a lengthy stay, in fact. Unbeknownst to you, of course.”
Unbeknownst to me…. Then Reaghann’s eyes grew wide and he looked down at Rickstan’s hand.
Rickstan held up his hand, where no scar sat between his pinky and ring finger, but his ring and middle finger, to indicate that he was the second twin.
Rickstan was in fact… Rilstrom…!
Rilstrom shook his head ever so slightly and said aloud, “Say nothing.”
His Coronation ring covered his Second Twin Scar and his signet ring, designed with Rickstan’s initials, covered the space where the First Twin Scar would be.
Reaghann’s breath was taken away. He was speechless – he had no idea what to say. This was a plot, a conspiracy, regicide even, possibly….
Rilstrom stood and watched as Reaghann took in the implications of this.
“But – where…?”
“It turns out my dear brother, my own twin, wanted me out of the way. Just in case I wanted the throne. Which I don’t, I actually despise it. But he had me seized, my wife and child killed. He told everyone that I went to stay at one of our other castles, and was set upon by bandits, kidnapped, killed, my body never found. He wouldn’t have me stay in our own Dungeon, for I might have been recognized, so he sent me to yours. He kept me alive in case he should need me, or so he explained to me when I returned.
“He is, at this very moment, occupying a traitor cell at a location known to me and three others, which is three better than I’d like and where he is far better taken care of than I ever was. And he is also quite mad now.”
Rilstrom sighed and looked down at his coronation and signet rings.
Reaghann stared at him. “I am afraid I don’t know how to respond….”
“Oh, don’t. I still don’t. Except that each day, I am glad to be out here, with fresh air and good food and….” Rilstrom trailed off and shrugged.
“You have my deepest regrets and apologies.” Reaghann suddenly asked, “How did you escape? Was it with the help of a young girl?”
Rilstrom nodded, a smile spreading across his face. “Yes, and I – and my country, in fact, shall be forever grateful to her.”
“I spoke to her just once. She was behind the wall in a tunnel, looking through a spy hole at me. Whatever was her name?” asked Reaghann, as he fought to keep eagerness from coloring his voice.
Rilstrom laughed a little. “Oh, those tunnels. Thank the gods for them.” Then he shook his head. “Saucy little minx. She never did tell me her real name. She went her way and I went mine. But I thank every god for her every day.”
Reaghann nodded. So Lady Green Eyes she would forever remain.
“And what of his wife? His children? Surely some people recognize the difference,”
Rilstrom nodded. “Apparently, they noticed immediately, for I like dogs, and he did not. Also, it seems, he liked tea, while I do not. He was not an early riser while I am. A few other subtle differences. The Queen finally cornered me. She said she and the children really hadn’t cared for him in years, yet still, he was her husband, their father. So she would go along with the charade, for she was far happier now with me.”
Reaghann was taken aback by the entire story. Someone had been complicit in the entire arrangement, he knew, but he would have time to ponder that later.
“You will need to establish your own bloodline for a succession to the throne,” Reaghann commented.
Rilstrom shook his head. “No, the real successors belong to the first twin, that’s only right. As for my own bloodline, well – I wouldn’t expect any wifely duties from the Queen, we agreed upon that. Unless she were willing, of course. That would be untoward of me. And besides, you’re the Hound of the East, not me.” Rilstrom smiled.
Rilstrom smiled, but Reaghann could see lines on his face and gray in his hair that shouldn’t be there – and the man was of an age with him.
Reaghann scoffed. He shook his head.
“If anyone needs to establish his bloodline, it’s you.” Rilstrom – or Rickstan as he would still need to be called, said, “Reaghann, Hound or not, you need to marry, my friend.”
Reaghann exhaled. “Not you, too. I already got this lecture the night I arrived, from Rhutgard.”
“From Rhutgard, or from the Eastern Shield?” asked Rilstrom.
Reaghann frowned. “Both, I think.”
Rilstrom slapped him on the back. “Well, then, start looking around. Shaw is already recently tied to you. And I can’t imagine that there’s a lady in all of Hardewold that you’ve not slept with by now….”
Reaghann sighed and stared up at the stars again.