King Thran looked remarkably regal lying on his death bed. Breath escaped his lungs in wisps as flimsy as paper, his skin a pallor twice as white. His barons crowded the room, hanging on listening as the last of the air left his body and his heartbeat stuttered to a stop.
The physician bowed his head and slowly closed the eyes of a King whose rule had ended as abruptly as it had begun. A baying scream of heartbroken agony erupted from the Queen as she clutched her husband’s hand to her chest. Her ladies closed in on her to pull her away from the corpse.
A hushed whisper had fallen over the barons, who each held no such love for their deceased ruler. Nevertheless, the prospect of a new King hung heavy over their heads.
Just beside the King, on a table, his book of the gods sat open and forgotten. A book he poured over every night in front of the hearth. Many believed that the gods he so worshiped and sacrificed to had forsaken him.
Not many knew of the assassin’s poison that had been bubbling under his skin since he had become king and had become an obstacle to the prize of the crown.
The royal messenger slipped from the room. It was he who would officially deliver the news of the King’s death to his successor. The satchel he carried felt like a noose, the letter it contained held the seal of the King himself.
Just that morning, while the barons scrambled to gain last-minute favour of the King, and hopefully his country, he had gotten a scholar to draw up this letter. Without direct intervention from the standing King, the country would fall to the next in line for the throne. Which is exactly what King Thran had allowed, much to the dismay and anger of his barons.
The country would fall now to his youngest brother.
Behind him the messenger heard the murmur of voices. And then one shout rattled the walls with its finality.
“The King is dead! Long live the King!”
The messenger hurried away from the castle.
The Captain of the Guard was looking out the window at the mountains in the hinterlands when they came for him. He had not missed the announcement of the death of their new King. His reign had lasted no more than a month, though longer than his older brother’s, it had ended with the same fate.
Two kings dead in the last two months. The first the only one of which he was not at fault. Illness had swept the first King to his death, but the murder of his son could not be so easily explained. Of the fact that they were both murdered, he was sure.
He would hang for his death. He would hang for his failure to protect his King. And, as his own Guard dragged him away from the window, he knew that his hanging would welcome the fall of his country.
The news of the young King’s death travelled faster than even the messenger. By the time he had reached the summer estate of the last true Prince of Midian, the information had already reached his ears.
With impeccably polite orders and a smile, he forced his servants and guards from the dining hall, where he would eat alone without them to distract him. His attendants followed his instructions with wary glances and rolling eyes, without fear of being punished. You see, the Prince of Midian was as blind as an owl in the sunlight.
As sightless as he was his servants knew that the sounds of shattered glass and muffled shouts through the thick wooden door were not products of his condition. No, instead they were side-effects of a King’s temper.
It wasn’t until the messenger had arrived and the room had quieted down again, did they dare to knock on the door.
Two words were spoken in answer. “Come in.”
When his guard pushed the door open they were greeted with the sight of an upturned table, food splashed walls and a wine-soaked carpet. In the middle of it all, he sat upon a chair of beautifully carved wood.
If the former King looked remarkably regal as he died, his brother was unremarkably remarkable. From his linen shirt to his unkempt hair and muddy boots, he looked more like a countryside baron, not the ruler of a country.
Nevertheless, the messenger dropped to his knees, lowering his face to the ground as if to kiss it. As he fell so did the rest of the people in the room. Bowing and pledging themselves to their ruler, their sovereign. Their King.
He watched them without seeing them, wondering of their thoughts, of their possibility of betrayal, even as they swore their lives to him.
“The King!” Members of the court dropped to their knees as he swept past. If not for the flurry of guards that surrounded him, many would not have been able to distinguish the youngest heir as their new ruler. His absence at court had been prevalent ever since the early years of adolescence and this did nothing to endear his people to him.
He walked out of the King’s chambers, though none knew how he had appeared at the castle at all. He was plain in the most ordinary of ways and his appearance shot sudden disdain through the crowd of onlookers.
A blind king was a joke, a hoax. War was brewing outside the country of Midian and the last thing it needed was another weak king.
“Door.” The new king’s voice cracked the guards beside him to attention. As if they believed him mute as well as blind. But he had stopped five feet from the throne room doors on his own, like a man with sight would have, and waited for them to open.
The king would meet with his barons. Men who would shoot their own sons in the back for a chance at the throne. Ruthless, regal and bloodthirsty, they would chew this king alive.
When the doors of the room opened, he walked forward into the gold and red dripped room, towards his rightful throne. Horns blared out and people clapped at his arrival but he ignored them in favour of walking up the satin red aisle. His hand dropped to the far right of arm of his throne when he reached for it, and the barons exchanged smiles of amusement. A king who couldn’t even find his own throne.
He did find it though, his fingers dancing over the long-backed chair for a second before he turned and sat down. The barons had all already seen two kings sit before them on the throne, so were unimpressed by the youngest brother.
“Welcome.” His voice was gravelly and rough, the hard Northern accent made them flinch back. Peasants, villagers and soldiers talked like that. The royal court was a place of sophistication; of elitists, whose voices matched those in the South. “It is deeply regretful that we must meet under such dire circumstances.” All were silent. All were thinking that if not for his brother’s death none would be so unlucky as to meet him at all.
“As is customary of the rites of the gods, I will honour my brother tonight on his journey to the gods.” Just as his brothers had done before him, this was expected. “Every other matter politically and otherwise can wait until after my brother’s cremation.”
A mumble of unrest rippled through the crowd. Midian, a small country under the protection of cold northern mountains, was on the verge of a civil war with its Southern neighbours and had no time left to save on a dead king.
“Your Majesty, if I must remind you: time is of the essence.” Baron Corvine was a large breasted man with the face of a rat, who a talent for twisting words in just the right way. He had had the last two king’s ears, and plenty of their gold.
The King turned his useless eyes towards him, his expression dry. “I have travelled miles to make it here when the news was sent to me. We have yet to be attacked. My brother’s body has just barely grown cold, and I have not been formally crowned king. Time will hold.”
“If it does not? What will you do then?” Baron Secede, a man of few words, who should have said even fewer.
“Well, perhaps then I will take your opinions under advisement,” The King spoke blandly, his hand twirling one of the rings on his finger around and around. “Are there anymore questions? Of any importance?”
His barons just watched him, unsure of this new king who had just dismissed them as if they were small children with worries that were insignificant and irrelevant. Thinking of whether he would be a threat, or if he was just a fool. A king without the power of his barons was a dead king.
“None?” This King asked when no one said anything. “Good. You are dismissed.”
No one moved for all of thirty seconds, casting looks of disbelief at one another. The late great King Galien had been a kind man and a weak ruler. His mind was moulded, his choices predesigned by his barons so that he was the figurehead of their desires. His son had not been much better: on the throne for a little longer than a month, he had leaned on his barons for support. This kind of blatant disrespect had their backs straightening in anger.
This new King showed no emotion and made no move to say anything, until they had begun to file out of the throne room. Before the door was closed behind them, they looked back at the King. He had shifted during their departure and now had a boot kicked up on his knee, an arm extended across his leg, his eyes turned towards the window. As if to say that they were not even worth the effort it took to look in their direction with blind eyes.
That was the moment they all decided that they hated him. The moment that he made enemies out of the most powerful men in his country.
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