40: The Triumphant Return
We entered the throne room, empty except for us. As we passed through the threshold, Nya waved her hand to a guard standing in the hall and whispered something in his ear. She was probably asking him to retrieve the King. It wasn’t as if she could demand he see us; even though she was a princess and he her father, he was the King of both the Rynish and Thiolish kingdoms – not even she could force him to do anything he didn’t wish.
Our steps echoed in the large expanse of the room, despite how quietly I tried to walk. The chandelier wasn’t lit, but the light from the hallways illuminated enough that we could see into the darkness. The hairs on the back on my neck stood on end, both from the chilly temperature and the awkward situation I had found myself in. What was I going to do? Did I even have a choice?
It felt like eons ago when the King had summoned me to entrust me with this mission, though it was actually only months. I stood, trying to appear aloof and confident, though every single muscle in my body shook with adrenaline and fear. I stiffened my posture, my head deliberately faced forward, limbs stock straight with my hands clasped together behind my back in a professional pose, ready for the King to arrive.
A few minutes passed in this uncomfortable quiet, me standing alone, Spenser walking in small circles, taking in the scene of the throne room, whereas Nya had made herself comfortable on her throne. Where she was sitting, similar to the grand ballroom, was a grand stage, complete with a small set of stairs covered in an exquisite red and blue carpeting. The King’s throne sat to the right of center, and was an imposing, high-backed steel chair covered in magnificently royal blue cushions. To my left of center, at the King’s right hand, was the Queen’s throne. Exactly the same in design, but instead clad in vivid crimson. The Queen’s throne was just like her position in the Kingdom – equal to the King’s.
Zante Urion had followed in the Rynish tradition that the King and Queen were joint rulers and must agree before they could legally declare anything. For the Rynish people, it was of the utmost importance that the two rulers were compatible and complementary, just as their gods were equal and opposite two halves of a whole.
This was to his advantage, as Queen Miraa was a military strategy genius, the daughter of the Rynish family’s Grand General. If she didn’t agree with Zante, it was probably in the Kingdom’s best interest to follow her instinct. It was thanks to her that he even had the throne. Though he overthrew the Rynish royalty so that he could have her, she was the one who purposefully misinformed her father and his army about Zante’s attack. Of course, he had assembled the Suryan Mages for the purpose of conquering the Kingdom so he could marry Miraa, but even those powerful mages wouldn’t have succeeded without her inside help.
Nya’s throne was shorter than the others and sat in line, on the King’s left hand. Instead of a cold steel, hers was a shiny and brilliant brass, complete with an indented sun that sat just above her head, looking almost as if she wore a halo. Her cushions were reminiscent of the sun as well, with beautiful golden cloth covering the yellow metal. She was lounging in it now, comfortable in her extravagant chair, seated leisurely with her right elbow propped on the armrest, her hand supporting her chin as she waited for her father to arrive.
With a flair, he finally did arrive, the Queen at his side and followed by a handful of fledgling Suryan Mages, his royal Kingsguard. Typically, that was honor that was given to the highest Suryan Mages, but since both Liss and I were unavailable, I supposed the King would have to make do. I recognized them all, knew all of their names, and each of them gave me a slight head bow when they saw me. As they were on duty, I didn’t expect them to give me the full greeting as usual. Etiquette is not as high a priority as the King’s safety.
The King flashed by us, paying us no attention until he reached his throne next to Nya. Spenser quickly rushed to my side, eager to begin. He stood tall, glanced over at me, and mirrored my pose. I was still standing with my hands behind my back, tall, confident, and professional. The King sat in his throne, the Queen in hers, and the few young Kingsguard found their places on the dais behind each of them, adopting a pose similar to my own, as well.
The King stared at us. “I see you’ve returned,” he said, unimpressed. “Who is this you’ve brought with you?”
“With the assistance of Spenser Red,” I nodded towards Spenser, “I have returned with invaluable intel.”
“Just you two?”
“Not exactly, sir,” Spenser interjected, eager to be included in the conversation. “There are a couple more – one should be in the ballroom still, and the other two are planting bombs at your castle walls as we speak.”
“Oh?” The King beckoned one of his Kingsguard over. “Send out a team to retrieve them,” he said nonchalantly. “What do they look like?”
Spenser described Dean and the two other Naga with enough detail to satisfy. When he’d finished, the King nodded to the Mage he had given the order to, and the Mage sped off to assemble his team and fulfill his charge. My throat tightened as I thought of the two Naga that we had just thrown to the wolves, and of course... Dean, alone in the ballroom. I couldn’t do anything for him now.
“And what’s this about bombs being planted?” asked Zante.
“The Naga have infiltrated this party, your grace, to sabotage the integrity of your walls,” Spenser said carefully, “but I know where they’ve planted them and where they planned to put the rest.”
The King called over a second Mage, and this time, tasked this one with collecting the bombs. The Mage started to step off the dais and embark on his task, but the King held up his hand, stopping the Mage in his tracks.
“Don’t run off so fast, child,” he said quietly to the low ranking Mage. He turned to address Spenser again. “You know where they were planning to plant the rest?”
“Yes sir – we have a map.” At this, Spenser rummaged in his chest pocket, pulling out the very crumpled, slightly smudged, thick piece of paper.
He held it out with both hands, and the Mage the King had been speaking to stepped forward to take it from him. I heard a shuffle of movement, as if somebody had taken several steps in the echoey room and abruptly stopped, but nobody had moved. The royals were preoccupied with the map, and nobody else seemed to notice. I shook it off, blaming my overactive imagination.
“Anything else I should know about these bombs?” asked the King.
He and the Mage both looked warily at me, wondering why I hadn’t added much yet.
“The Raven made them, your grace,” I said, eyeing Spenser, who’s mouth had opened, ready to speak. “I assume when the structural integrity of the casing is compromised, it destroys everything around it.”
I watched the King take in this information. He looked at his Queen, and they shared a look, communicating silently. They turned back to face us, and the King waved away the Mage. The Mage swiftly exited, half running, his nose stuck in the map Spenser had given him.
“Now that the immediate concerns are taken care of,” the King said, satisfied, “what else do you have for me?”
I swallowed down the lump in my throat. “The Raven is but a common woman who climbed the ranks to become leader, though I could not uncover her real name. However, she is a very powerful mage, some sort of magic sink.”
I cleared my throat, allowing for the King to ask any follow up questions. Instead he stared at me, silently urging me to go on. “Spate is not imported, as we initially expected,” I said, not allowing any emotion to betray my voice. “It is instead, manufactured by the Naga themselves. The Raven was involved in its invention several years ago, and now, it’s their main source of income.”
The only thing I could withhold was Dean’s involvement, as it was the only thing that Spenser didn’t also know. My heart sank, because it wasn’t enough. But I had to keep going.
The King rose his eyebrows, surprised. “Interesting,” he said, “Go on.”
I dipped my head in compliance, and said, “My King, you already know that the Naga gang is supporting the rebel forces. But the Naga are also allied with Dobridland.”
“Dobridland?” The King asked, his voice definitely a pitch higher as he posed the question. “Hmpf,” he huffed in annoyance. “Dobridland...That does not bode well if they’re lending their army to the rebels.”
“That’s my assumption as well, my King.” I agreed. “In addition, the reason you did not receive your shipment of your loan from the Bank of Kinia was because of the Naga gang. They have intercepted it and have that financial resource, as well.”
I left the part out where Spenser, Dean, and I were directly responsible for that. I glanced at Spenser, who remained silent as well. It didn’t matter in any case. The deed was done.
“Is there anything else?” asked Zante cautiously.
“The rebels seem to have found a figurehead, your grace,” Spenser interjected quickly.
I broke my stiff pose to turn my head sharply. He hadn’t mentioned anything about this to me.
Spenser whispered gently, “There are murmurs, whispers, that the Rynish Prince is alive and well.”
The King was shocked silent with this, mouth gaping in a rather un-regal manner. “The Rynish Prince?” he gasped.
The Rynish Prince was dead, as far as I and the entire public knew. He had been executed, shortly after the rest of his family, years ago. If the rebels had this up their sleeve, even if it was only a rumor... the Rynish people would stop at nothing to join them.
“I don’t know for sure, sire. These are rumors, after all. It could be nothing,” Spenser shrugged. “But I hear that Dayne Cerul is planning to lead the rebels to regain his throne.”
The King, still evidently in shock, sat back in his throne, dumbstruck once more. He looked at the Queen, who stared back at him, confused. Nya shrank back in her throne, as if she were trying to minimize the space that she took up.
“Spenser Red is your name, isn’t it?” the King asked, addressing him.
“Yes, your grace, that is correct.”
“You’ve provided an invaluable service to the throne, Mr. Red,” the King said regally, adopting his official business tone of voice. “We are indebted. What do you ask of us, in return?”
Spenser smiled softly, and, giving me one last glance, turned his attention to the King and said, “I wish to be given a noble title and land.”
“Easy enough,” the King waved his hand, dismissing the task in the air. “Consider it done.”
Spenser fidgeted minutely, shuffling his feet and looking down as if embarrassed.
“Is there anything else?” questioned King Zante. “Ask now, and I will grant it.”
“Your grace, if you could arrange a marriage for me,” he said quickly, spitting the words out as if he would lose courage given enough time, “I would be eternally grateful.”
My mouth fell open. Marriage? Where did that even come from? He’d never mentioned anything like that before, although it’s not as if we spent a lot of time divulging our deepest desires to each other. I just didn’t peg him for the type of man that wanted to get married.
The King seemed just as surprised as I, and said, “I will not force a marriage on anybody, but I will certainly present the idea to some of the noble ladies of the court.” He smiled to himself, watching my dumbstruck reaction to Spenser’s question. “May I ask you something?”
Spenser nodded, “Of course, you may ask me anything, your grace.”
“Why ask for a wife immediately? Surely, you could attract one easily, now that you have a title and holdings.”
“Nothing would make me happier than to have a family, your grace, and life is short.” Spenser said, entirely serious.
A note of sadness tinged the words, and I realized that as a bastard, he probably was cast out as a child, forced to live as an orphan. I wondered if that was how he ended up on the streets, and with the Naga gang.
“I’ve gone long enough without one,” he said with determination.
The King smiled in sympathy and took this opportunity to appreciate his wife and daughter who sat next to him. They each smiled in return. Looking at Spenser, I could see the longing on his face plain as day; he really did want a family. I could sympathize, and despite the circumstances, admired his resolve.
“Well, Mr. Red, it is certainly easier the way you did it than how I went about it. Conquering a nation to marry the woman you love is not for the fainthearted,” he chuckled. “I will grant you a lordship, and you will have Tarr Castle on the western Rynish coast, overlooking the sea. Do you know it?”
“I think so, your grace, though I’ve never been.”
“We will provide for your journey there. In the meantime, what would you like your new name to be, Lord of Tarr? You will no longer be a Red, now that you are titled. You may choose any surname you wish.”
“I don’t know, I’ve been called a Red all my life. It feels wrong to call myself something else. How about Redd, with two d’s, if it please you, your grace.”
“Accepted. Lord Spenser Redd of Tarr, you are granted safe passage to Tarr castle, where you will oversee the people living there as a loyal servant of the throne.”
Spenser nodded and bowed deeply to show his gratitude.
The King turned his attention to me, and said, “Larke Fields, you have proven yourself once again, and we welcome you to return to the Kingsguard as you were, High Suryan Premiere.”
The King prompted the High Suryan salute, and I returned it.
“You may return to your quarters to rest.”
I nodded, and with a heavy heart, I left the room, conflicted.