“He fights. As is his nature.”
Dawkin slumped in his chair before the chevron engraved on the Fourpointe Table. With one hand, he traced the s carved into the table. With the thumb and middle finger of his other, he rubbed his temples, his eyes half-closed.
“And?” prodded Symon.
“And what?” Dawkin replied.
“The mage. What did he say about the cause?”
“He continues to stay by Father’s side, treating his symptoms. The mage had some suspicions. Mudwater fever. Spoiled pork.”
“Assassins,” Gerry added.
“Gerry,” Dawkin said, rubbing his temples. “Not now.”
“We’re all thinking it.”
“He’s right,” Symon offered.
“Is it truly a coincidence that Father should fall ill when we have guests?” Gerry stood from his seat to lean over his own chevron engraved in the table, which pointed east. “Royal guests. From the continent. Those who were once our enemies.”
“Enough, already!” Dawkin yelled, straightening in his chair. “Of course they are suspects. Every one of them. As is every Marlish baron, bishop and knight with a hint of ambition. Not to mention the royals in Afari, from kingdoms near and far.” Dawkin pushed away from his chevron with his goblet in hand. He made his way to the buffet table, which laid strewn with hard cheeses, day-old bread and pitchers of wine. He reached for the pitcher closest to him. Finding it empty, he seized another. “Is every pitcher in this underground prison dry?!” he asked, raising one in the air.
“Ely . . .” Symon confirmed.
“That lousy drunkard! It’s a wonder he hasn’t drowned in his vice, what with all he consumes. Very well. Let him drink. Let him stay in his room!” Dawkin raised his voice, hoping it would carry past the chamber door.
Symon shifted his weight to his knuckles as he leaned over the Fourpointe Table. “It is his turn.”
“Was his turn,” Dawkin corrected.
“Tis still. We all agreed, at this very table. Each of us would forego the regular rotation for a daily one, that we may see Father during his time of need. When Father was taken to his bedchamber, Gerry went first. Then I. Lastly, you. Now, it’s Ely’s turn.”
“And he’s wasting it!” Dawkin cast the pitcher aside, which shattered into a hundred pieces. Dawkin, with the glazed clay crunching under his boots, searched the remainder of the pitchers for one not hollow. “I grow sick and tired of our brother’s antics.”
“Dawkin, please,” begged Gerry.
“Do not ‘Dawkin, please,’ me,” he retorted. “The both of you should be as inflamed as I am. We follow the rules of Terran to the letter, that our secret may be protected, our bloodline secured. Meanwhile, what does our dear, dear sibling do? He sneaks off into the night, in all manner of disguises, to partake of every tavern and whorehouse like some gadabout. By Mar! There are rules. If this was the Conclave of Barons, he would have had his title stripped and his person expelled.”
“But this isn’t the Conclave of Barons,” Symon replied. “This is Terran. This is the Fourpointe Chamber, with our Table, one not with a chair for every baron. But four.” Symon held out as many fingers. “What happens to one of us happens to all of us. Us three have ascended to pay our respects to our sickened father. Ely – whatever his predicament – has the right to do the same.”
“Aye,” Gerry agreed.
The two looked to their brother. Cognizant of being outnumbered, Dawkin set his goblet on the buffet table. “Seems that if we put this to a vote, I would lose. Very well.” Dawkin rounded the table to pass Symon on his way out of the Chamber. “You go and rouse him out of bed.”
Dawkin stormed from the quarters, slamming the door behind him as he left. Gerry shuddered as Symon looked on after him. As Dawkin’s footfalls in the hall outside echoed through the Chamber, Gerry retrieved a platter of hard cheese and bread from the buffet table.
“Ely will need to eat, if he has any chance of sobering before ascension,” Gerry said.
He made a move to leave. Symon stopped him.
“I’ll ready Ely,” Symon assured him. “You check on Dawkin. I have a feeling he has no desire to see me any time soon.”
Gerry nodded, handing the tray off to Symon before exiting. Symon stared down at the platter, sighing.
“Better get this over with,” he told himself.
Upon entering his room Symon gagged. The stench of an unwashed hermit – one who had perhaps vomited as of late – collided with his nostrils and eyes, sending him wheeling backwards. He raised his free hand to cover his mouth. He set down the platter on the floor to fan the air before him.
“Light,” muttered Ely from the shadows. “Close the door. Tis too bright.”
Symon scanned the room to find the candles and braziers unlit, the conical windows leading in all covered by their respective drapes. He rounded the chamber to pull each one back, thus allowing in shafts of light. With each flash, Ely stirred from under a pile of blankets in the corner of his room.
“I said it’s too bright!” he shouted, his voice stifled by layers of sheepskin and furs.
Symon towed the last drape across its rod, letting in another ray of sunlight. “You need to wake.”
“Let me be.”
“Dawkin just returned. You missed his truth session.”
“What of it?”
“I will fill you in on the details.”
“Say what you will.”
Symon marched to the corner to pull the whole of the blankets off in one stroke. Ely, taken by surprise, writhed on the floor.
“Symon! What the hell?!”
“We’ve all ascended. The three of us. Now it’s your turn.”
Symon leaned over and dug his fingers into Ely’s garb. He lifted him up by the collar.
“Dawkin descended clean of face. You haven’t shaved in days.”
Symon shoved his brother down into a chair. Ely made a move to stand but Symon’s hard paw of a hand forced him back down.
“You really want to play this game with me?” Symon asked.
Ely glared at Symon yet said nothing. Symon fetched the platter from the floor.
“You reek of spoiled wine and bad ale.”
“I’ve had my share of both, thank you.”
“Eat and turn sober. I’ll ready the lather for your shave.”
“Very well, my majesty on high,” Ely responded mockingly.
As Symon poured water into a bowl and gathered a dollop of lather from a bar of soap, Ely gnawed at the bread before him.
“Tis stale,” he said between bites.
“So are you,” Symon quipped.
“Har har.” Ely bit off another piece. “So what did Dawkin have to say?”
Symon paused. He glanced at the back of Ely’s head, which jerked as he tore off another end of bread with his teeth. I must select my words with caution, he knew. The madness of the past few days seems to have subsided. He tires, his craze having been spent. Still, he remains fragile. One wrong word, and his mania will return.
“Symon! Has that shaving soap clogged you ears? Did you not hear me?”
“Yes, about Father. Of course. He, well, he fights. As is his nature.”
“Dawkin came away hopeful,” he lied.
Ely looked over his shoulder to eye his brother. “What of the cause?”
“The mage examined him again while Dawkin was there. He has yet to identify the root of Father’s pain.”
“Puh, the mage. A fool is more like it.”
“Ely, mind your tongue.”
“Any man with a shred of sense knows this was the work of the Ibians.”
“That is a suspicion. Not a fact. The mage—”
“The mage! The mage! What does he know? What do any of them know?!” Ely flipped the platter over, sending the bread and cheese to the floor. Then the chair he sat on met his fury, followed by the table before him.
Symon considered restraining Ely, though he decided against it. Best he acts this way here and now than above and later, he thought.
With his possessions fallen and strewn, Ely swung around. “If that mage had any sense, he would have poisoned the lot of that visiting Court.”
“You speak of war.”
“Why should I not? They started it. We invite those foreign bastards to our capital. They drink our wine, eat our food, have our women and poison our father. Yet here you and our brothers hide, cowards under rocks, waiting for the end of our kin, our king.”
Symon breathed. He does not mean it. The madness is returning.
“Meanwhile, our enemy laughs. I bet you it was that Duke. Yes, Xain. I remember how he embarrassed Gerry. Then Dawkin got the best of him, isn’t that right? Yes, the Grand Duke. I never fancied him. Not from the start. I’m sure our barons feel the same.”
“Ely . . .”
“When I ascend, I will rally the most loyal of them. We will thwart the efforts of our enemies.”
“All in the name of Kin Saliswater.”
Symon gripped him by the collar to slam him against the wall. “You will do nothing of the sort.”
“Why . . .”
“Because you are not Prince Jameson. Only by majority decision at the Fourpointe Table can you take such action. And since you were not there earlier to press such an issue, no vote was made, hence you will not dare to strike our enemies, whoever they may be.”
“You really doubt that it was Kin Garsea, don’t you?”
“Father worked too hard for this alliance to see us bicker and squabble over it. Before the treaty talks, before the Conclave and even before the Armada came into view from our shores, he and King Felix had an understanding. You know how Father is. Pigheaded as any swineherd. He would never entrust the future of our country – nor Kin Saliswater – to any man, whether he be a serf or sovereign, unless he had the utmost conviction in him. Whether we want to believe it or not, King Felix was that man.”
“Symon, how pensive of you. And here I thought Dawkin was the smart one.”
Symon eased his hold on Ely. “Don’t you start.” He gave his cheek a gentle slap. “Are you sober enough to ascend?”
“I suppose. I was far more drunk last time I climbed the stairs.”
“And our agreed-upon course of action?”
“Yes, yes. No rallying the troops. No razing buildings or imprisoning Ibians.”
“Good. Now, off you go.”
Symon stepped away as Ely straightened the length of his shirt and doublet. Satisfied, he proceeded through the door.
In his absence, Symon turned to the mess left behind. Bits of bread and cheese littered the floor, where the upturned platter, chair and table remained. As Symon knelt to clean, Gerry came before the doorway.
“Ely. Ely happened.”
“Is he well?”Symon paused. Is he ever well? he asked himself. By Mar, this one time, I pray he is.