“You aren’t going to like it above.”
“When have we truly ever?”
“I am serious, Symon.”
“So am I.”
Symon eyed Dawkin as he stretched out on the couch in the Fourpointe Chamber. His brother had given a detailed account of his two days above Terran, during which he spent his time under heavy guard, making funeral arrangements and bolstering the castle’s security. His chronicle of events had been as troubling as expected. Much of the Marlish Court had left Arcporte Castle to return to their own manors. Many departed of their own accord. However, some were asked to leave, for fear that their thirst for reprisal would endanger the Ibian royal family and their accompanying Court members.
Though the danger to Kin Saliswater and the other Marlish nobles was real, it proved a secondary concern, for Dawkin had spent much of his stint above assuring King Felix and his kin that they would be safe. It was all for show, to be sure, what with his empty promises and increase in stationed guards. But it had worked at staving off panic. For the moment.
The danger of an Ibian flight from the capital was further subdued by the weather, which matched the tone of a country in mourning. Tears of Mar, in the form of rain and sleet, pummeled the castle and the city it overshadowed through the night, allowing Dawkin to descend without worry of Kin Garsea disappearing in the darkness.
Symon had taken in all the details, as did his brothers. Ely, whom they considered still at risk of self-harm, was administered a potion of Truscubium root and Highmoorr lavender. The brew had a calming effect, one that allowed Ely to keep his wits and partake in the truth session. Gerry was also offered the concoction but turned it down, despite Symon’s insistence. All three had stood by while Dawkin went through the most intimate details of his time above.
Now, rising carefully, Dawkin scanned the Chamber. “Where did Ely and Gerry go?”
“To their rooms.”
“Your truth session lasted longer than usual.”
“You know how thorough I can be.”
“True. That said, it was still stretched out, even for you.”
“Forgive me. In the fog of my session, I must have felt compelled to stress every point.”
“I don’t mind. None of us did. The other two were just tired, is all.”
“Considering all that has happened, it is a wonder that any of us have risen from bed.” Dawkin nodded to Symon, his stare pinpointed on his chin. “Speaking of which, how do you feel?”
The reference to his wound prompted Symon to clench his teeth, an act that sent a shot of pain through the right side of his head. Two days spent in bed while Dawkin was above - alternating between cold cloths, potions and poultices – had reduced the swelling to the point that it was barely noticeable, even though the agony remained.
“Better,” Symon admitted.
“Has Ely . . .”
“I’m sure he didn’t mean it.”
“Yes, his bout of madness was uncontrollable, without a touch of thought or intention. As always.” Symon promptly marched to the side table, where he poured himself a goblet of wine. In one gulp, he finished it. “In your recollection, you said you sent Sir Everitt to make inquiries. Do you think that was wise?”
“How do you think the Court will interpret Prince Jameson sending away his Right Captain?”
“Interpret?” Dawkin came to his side. “Brother, you of all people should know the importance of action above all else in times such as this. Never mind putting on airs. If any baron should question the reasoning or logic behind me sending away our most trusted guard, so be it. We need answers to what happened. Given the . . . circumstance of Father’s demise, I felt it best to entrust Everitt with the task of discovery.”
“Aye,” Symon conceded, though the thought still struck him as unwise.
“What are your intentions when you ascend?”
Symon poured himself another drink. He raised the goblet to his lips but took no sip.
“Symon?” Dawkin asked, leaning in to his brother.
“Have you seen Father?”
“No,” Dawkin replied, gravely. “The mage still works to repair the damage he endured, to make him presentable. Our servants report that his body will be ready for viewing at Mar-by-the-Sea Cathedral come the day after tomorrow.”
“I will then go to visit him.”
“But before I left we agreed that each of us would ascend one by one for a private viewing at the cathedral.”
“Dawkin. Twice, under guard, our father was assaulted. Up there, in Arcporte Castle, the epicenter of our island. A place we considered the safest in all the nation. We took his safety . . . all of our well-being . . . for granted. I will not assume the same false sense of complacency while his corpse is being readied for his funeral. I will personally triple the sentries you have established around the mage’s chambers. It may not be enough. But at least it will show that Kin Saliswater is strong, that we have some sense in us yet.”
Symon downed his goblet of wine. He set it on the side table and left.
Once ascended to the prince’s chambers, he found himself unable to sleep. The hour remained dark for the time he paced his room, then the library, awake. He considered reading one of the many manuscripts that lined the shelves or studying a map from the vast collection. He perused the assortment, finding that none appealed to him though.
What is the point? he finally asked himself after circling the private library twice over. We have holed ourselves in this study or Father’s grand library to read and study, in the guise of preparing ourselves for some greater challenge of the mind. And where did it get us? Where?
Symon, the anxiety of the question and so much else grating on his nerves, readied himself. Though resolved to not dress in full armor – that such a show would further unnerve the rest of the castle – he also did not want to leave unprotected. He put on a shirt of mail and leggings of thick leather before dressing in a pair of trousers, shirt and doublet. He strapped a sheathed dagger to his right calf before pulling on his long boots and wore a dirk at his right hip and his sword to his right. He felt foolish for taking such care in his own castle, but convinced himself that is was necessary.
The torches and sconces in the corridors and staircases beyond his chambers continued to burn strongly as he left his chambers. Beside each, as well as at every door and under every arch, a sentry or guard stood at attention. Every one he approached or passed made a move to follow him, so that he may not go on alone. However, for each that made a move forward or took a step, Symon extended his hand, motioning them to stay put.
He wandered through the galleries and corridors of the curtain walls, eventually making his way up and around the battlements. The brisk sea breeze from the harbor cut through his doublet, shirt and trousers, reminding him that in his haste he had ascended without a coat. Nonetheless, for the discomfort his lack of garb offered, it also reminded him of his vigor, his life. At least I can retreat to the castle and find a fire to warm myself, he told himself. Father can no longer entertain that privilege. His body will never warm again. It will only grow colder.
Symon slowed his walk to a stroll that he may better partake of the sights of the city below. All except a few taverns and outlying buildings slept on, their windows shuttered and unlit, their doors shut. The storm that Dawkin had spoken of in the Fourpointe Chamber had paused, replaced by a fog that had settled over the city. Tis a light blanket, Symon thought as he breathed in, his nostrils, tongue and lungs considering the smell and taste from the ocean. The rain and sleet will return. I can feel it. Mar has yet to stop mourning for our fallen king.
The musing sent a shudder through Symon. Brushing past the battlement guards, he hurried down the curtain wall steps and marched across the main bailey toward the central kitchen.
There, in the hearth, embers from the night’s previous supper preparation burned and offered the only light in the room. A single guard within the doorway nodded to Symon as he entered and made his way to the fireplace with his hands outreached.
“Oh, Your Highness.”
Symon turned to find a kitchen attendant, a young boy no older than twelve, abiding in one of the side doorways. In each of hands he held a pot slightly larger than his head.
“Forgive me, I was not expecting your presence.” The lad made a motion of respect, something akin to a bow mixed with a curtsy. His confusion amused Symon, who resumed warming himself over the coals.
“You needn’t offer any apology,” Symon replied, grinning. “I came here unannounced.”
“May I get you anything?”
“A cup of tea? A loaf of bread? A stool that you may sit?”
“No, no. Don’t bother. I am only here for a moment. Carry on with your business.”
The boy, still thrown off, strode to the other side of the room to a wide table. He set the pots on top before retrieving a pitcher and wooden bowl from an adjacent table.
“Just curious,” Symon began, looking over his shoulder to the guard. “Why is the kitchen under watch? Especially at this hour?”
“Your Right Captain commanded it,” the guard said, his eyes forward, absent of any direct contact with the prince. “He wanted to ensure that no knife went missing, that every blade in the castle was accounted for.”
Smart, Symon thought. “And what are you doing here at this hour?” Symon asked, addressing the lad. “Not even the bakers are awake.”
“Yes, Your Highness, I know. I came down here early to prepare. Well, to practice, really.”
“Making bread. I’m one of their apprentices. I only started last week. They charged me with the preparation of materials. One was even kind enough to allow me to try and punch the bread before baking.”
Symon laughed, momentarily ignoring the pain in his jaw. “You mean knead the dough?”
“Aye, Sire. They had me kneading. But I must have done it wrong or something, for the bakers yelled at me and cut my supper portion in half last night. So I thought I would come down and practice before they rose for the day.”
“I see.” Symon withdrew from the hearth and sauntered to the lad. “So what are you to do now?”
“I was going to take this pitcher here,” he said lowering it for Symon to see inside. “It’s filled with some water I warmed. Then I added the yest.”
“Yes, pardon, My Lord.” He then tipped one of the pots he brought in to reveal the flour within. “Then I was going to pour it into this bowl and add enough flour to make some dough.”
Symon looked from the pot to the bowl to the pitcher. “May I?”
The lad stared at Symon, unsure of how to respond. “Why, yes . . . Your Highness,” he squeaked.
Symon saw that the guard at the door was equally taken aback. While looking from the guard to the baker’s apprentice, he removed his doublet and draped it over a chair before rolling up his sleeves. He then proceeded to pour some yeast-infused water into the wooden bowl before scooping a few handful of flour in after it.
“Then I just mix it with my finger?” Symon asked.
“Yes, you may. Unless you would care for me . . .”
“No, I have the gist of it.” Symon dug his fingers into the bowl, stirring the powder into the liquid. The combination soon bonded to create a thick, white paste that clung to his digits.
“It gets a little messy,” the lad warned after the fact.
“I can see that.”
“The bakers then add a pinch of salt and a bit of oil. Then they mix in a little more flour.”
“My, I can see this is beyond my patience.” Symon removed his caked hand from the bowl, admiring it while the apprentice fetched him a cloth.
“I was told it takes a while to master,” the apprentice replied. “Although you did well for your first time.”
Symon threw his head back and laughed. “Did I, now?”
The lad, realizing the fault of his cavalier speech with a superior, bowed. “Forgive my . . . common words. I was never taught how to address a king.”
Symon, not wanting to embarrass the boy further, composed himself. “I am no king. Not yet. I remain a prince until my coronation.”
“Oh, forgive me . . .”
“You may stop apologizing,” Symon insisted. “You enjoy this work? In the kitchen?”
“Tis an honest day’s labor.”
“Aye,” Symon responded, sensing his polite demeanor and indirect reply to the question. “Tell me, have you ever seen my father’s guards and soldiers train in the bailey?”
“Have I?!” The lad perked as though given a satchel of gold coins. “I see them every time I fetch water from the well, during the day. They fight hard. I don’t know how they do it.”
Symon leaned in, whispering. “Would you like to find out?”
The apprentice stared at him, puzzled. “Your Highness?”
“Guard!” Symon shouted, straightening.
“Your Highness,” the guard marched to his side and paused at attention.
“Take this young man to the commanding officer on duty at the guardhouse. Tell him that effective immediately, this young man is to be trained as a squire.”
“A squire?” the lad asked.
“Does that meet with your approval?” Symon inquired.
The apprentice shot him a look, curious and bewildered, his mouth agape. Symon caught the faintest hint of hope in his young eyes. He wondered if that was the first time anyone – royal or commoner – had ever thought to question the young man as to his dreams and desires.
“Would you like to train with my men? To become a guard? Perhaps, if the opportunity arises within the standing army, a knight?”
“Why, yes. Your Highness. I would.”
“Very well.” Symon pivoted to the guard. “Escort this newest recruit. Once he is at the guardhouse, return to tell the baker his apprentice has been relieved of his duties. We have a multitude of servants in other parts of the castle. The baker is free to pull another apprentice from any one of those.”
“At once.” The guard clipped his heels and extended his hand to the doorway. The apprentice, still in shock at the turn of events, strode to the door and left with the guard.
Symon glimpsed at the viscous paste in the wooden bowl. He grinned. At least one in this castle will have a good day, he mused.
He made the rounds through the castle once more. By the time he came upon the main bailey again, the grounds were starting to show signs of life. The darkness that had provided him companionship through the early hours receded, giving way to a dim gray that allowed all a better view of the storms that threatened to unleash from above.
From the arched corridor Sir Everitt emerged. His gait was brisk and by the sweat that peppered his brow Symon judged that he had just returned from a hard ride.
“I insisted. I needed a moment alone.”
“You cannot afford such a luxury at the moment, my Prince.”
He sighed. “I suppose not,” Symon said, going along with his Right Captain’s penchant for caution.
“Tis for the best, though. I need a word with you, Your Highness.”
“And I with you. But not here.” Symon looked around him. Servants and attendants crossed the bailey, offering a respectful glance their way and a bow whenever they came close enough to garner Symon’s attention. None appeared to linger or stall long enough to pick up on any conversation of length. Still, Symon remained suspicious of all, especially as Everitt had news reserved strictly for him.
Everitt nodded to the nearest hall. Symon shook his head.
“My father was assaulted not once but twice, the latter taking his life. We need a more secure venue to speak.”
“I can round up some mounts, have them ready within minutes.”
“No,” Symon replied. “I have a better option.”
With no outward haste, he led Everitt to Wystan’s chambers.
Only two guards stood at attention outside of the mage’s quarters. Symon granted them leave from their duty, leaving Everitt and Symon alone with Wystan and the late King Audemar.
Descending the stairs to the cellar, the two discovered the mage applying a thick salve to the open wounds on Audemar’s chest. The monarch, stretched out on a long table, laid bare except for a folded cloth that covered him from the waist down.
So concentrated was Wystan that he did not notice their approach until a creak on one of the stairs startled him from his task.
“Prince Jameson!” he exclaimed, as though saying the royal’s name for the first time.
“Mage,” Symon stated solemnly, his eyes never leaving his father’s corpse.
“I must apologize for the current state of your father. Had I known you were to visit today, I would have made him more presentable.”
Symon raised his hand in a gesture of assurance. “Tis fine, Mage Wystan,” he said as he rounded the table where Audemar rested.
“The Prince requires a moment alone with his father,” Everitt added. “Mage, would you be so kind as to leave us? I will stay to keep guard, of course.”
“By all means, take all the time you need.” Wystan bowed as he backed away from the table, pulling a towel from a nearby hook to wipe the salve from his hands. He ascended the stairs and shut the door behind him as he left, leaving the two alone.
“Look at him, Everitt.” Symon gazed at the whole of his father. The color had drained from his body, leaving a pale canvas across the expanse of his skin, even on those areas that were once tan from years of hunting and battle-marching. Symon put his hand over his father, gliding his fingers and palm above the wounds of his torso. He recalled how as a small boy, he would lay across his father’s chest, which heaved up and down with every breath the king took, his heart thumping beneath layers of bone and flesh.
His chest will rise not. Nor his heart beat, Symon told himself. Never again.
“Your Highness, you have my condolences.”
Symon looked up to find Everitt, his head bowed slightly. Just enough to convey respect, though not so much that Symon could not see the tears coalesced in his eyes.
“I’m sorry, Everitt,” Symon offered. He had overlooked the early years of their friendship, when Everitt was placed as a charge of Audemar, in the waning years of the Century War. Back then, an agent of Kin Foleppi had attacked Furde Manor, claiming the Kin’s eldest son and Everitt’s brother, Adequin. In response, Baron Ralf had begged the King to take in and protect his last boy. Audemar had done so without hesitation. “I didn’t consider how difficult this would be for you as well.”
“Tis fine, Your Highness,” Everitt replied, raising his voice to feign boldness through his sadness. “I should be here to see him, with you. Tis right.”
Everitt sighed. Then, taking a deep breath, he set his hands on the lip of the table, as if to compose himself. His focus and clarity of mind returning, he stared at Symon. “You need to listen, Your Highness. I have news.”
“Do you recall how you, well . . . how you suggested that I bring in men of certain repute into Court, to listen and flesh out conversations. In particular, you had me charge those men with . . .”
“Spying. Yes, I remember.” In truth, he did not. He did, however, listen to Ely recall such an edict, which he issued without the consent of his brothers. Following his truth session, Ely had fervently argued his position, claiming that the Ibians were not to be trusted and that they needed all the information on them that they could gather, no matter the source. In hindsight, his brother had the right of it.
“I met with those men.”
“Their news is dour.”
Symon glanced at his father’s corpse. “Undoubtedly.”
“What I mean to say is, it is not what I had hoped.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“The men spoke of Grand Duke Xain, and how he was infuriated after you challenged his honor and courage in the dungeon.”
Dawkin. Damn him. And here I believed Ely was the foolish one.
“The Grand Duke kept his mouth shut on the subject at first. Or, at least around his uncle. But whispers of his dishonor escaped his lips here and there so that by the night of, of our King’s treacherous demise, many in the Ibian Court were aware of the slight made upon their royal family.”
“Did he plan anything?”
“No, Sire. He had no solid plans. Only ill will.”
“So the barons of his Court knew. They were enraged. Insulted. But were they so much so that they would dare to commit regicide? And so soon after finding out?”
“I expressed those same doubts, so I pressed the men further.”
Everitt sighed again. And hesitated.
“Out with it!” Symon commanded, gesturing to his father. “We have no time for manners.”
“Kin Foleppi are not the only ones with foxes. Marland has several, all our own.”
Their conversation went on for another hour. Everitt offered up all that he had learned. Symon questioned him unceasingly, wanting him to elaborate on every detail, to the best of his ability. He would have queried him further, but a knock on the door of the workshop interrupted them.
“Your Highness,” Wystan said from the other side. “Are you well?”
“I’m quite fine,” Symon insisted. “Give us another moment.”
“As you wish.”
Symon lowered his head in frustration.
“Prince, if you would care to continue this conversation . . .”
“No. I have the jest of it. You have named enough suspected Kins.”
“I am sorry, Your Highness.”
“No, no need for that. The doubts of our barons are many. And they are grounded.”
“Grounded? Your Highness, you can’t possibly think there reason for others to believe . . .”
“What choice do they have? Their King is dead.” Symon stared at his father. “Sir Lijart died trying to protect my father. Whomever did the deed looked like me. He saw my face. He pointed to me. He accused me.”
“Yes, but only we heard him.”
“Aye, but this castle has as many ears as it does stones.”
“Without Lijart to live to breathe his words again, any mention of your involvement would be rumor, that’s all.”
“True. But that is hardly cause to celebrate. There may still be those who think or are made to believe that I orchestrated my father’s assassination, so that I may take the throne for myself. After all, I have no . . . brothers . . . to stand in my way. I am an only child, the sole heir to the Crown. Several would-be barons have wished their lingering fathers ill will, that they may proceed to inherit their lands by birthright. Why would any baron, bishop or commoner in the land expect any less ambition of a prince?
“But then say no one thought I did it. Let us consider that every Marlish man and woman believed my hands were clean in this affair. What then? Even in such a scenario, I am not without blame. I remain the prince who allowed his father to be struck not once but twice, the latter a fatal blow to our monarch. The whisper of the name ‘Prince Fool’ will turn into a roar that the nobility of this land will not be able to deny. The Conclave of Barons will have no choice but to remove me. I will be banished to my manor, my title stripped. The legacy of Kin Saliswater will be tarnished. And all that my family, my father, has worked for through the generations – the alliance with the Ibians, the peace that followed the Century War – will be lost.”
Symon pounded his fist on the table. It struck the wood with a thud, his hand landing beside his father’s.
Everitt looked upon his Prince, speechless. Symon, after a moment, lifted his head.
“Say something, Everitt. Anything.”
“Your . . .”
“No. Do not address me as a Prince. Not now. Not after I’ve lost so much.”
“Very well, James.” Everitt rounded the table to stand beside Symon. He set his gaze back on Audemar. “What would he do?”
“Yes. Our King.”
“Hell, what wouldn’t he do? I remember tales of all he did when he discovered that Kin Foleppi, those damn Tosilians, had infiltrated Marland.”
“So do I. He returned from the Afarian Front to lead the vetting process. My father says he spent nearly every day and night for almost two years on his horse, riding from this manor to that one, then back, over and again. He personally chased down every lead, every mention of a fox. He sent agents and spies and soldiers into fields and hamlets. He demanded every bloodhound from every manor be delivered to him, that he may hunt down the Foleppi.”
“Aye. So many wild chases. Through caves. Over streams. Into forests. Sometimes the Tosilians would kill mercilessly anyone who bore witness to them, or set afire the woods in their wake, that the hounds may lose their scents and turn cowards. Still, my father always managed to find them.”
“And so will you, James. Be they from Marland, Ibia or Tosily. We will find our enemies. We will uproot them. Kin Saliswater will live on.”
Everitt clapped his hand on Symon’s shoulder. Symon gazed upon his father.
Another knock came upon the door. “Prince Jameson?” Wystan ventured.
“Yes, Mage, we’ll be right there.” Symon took one last look at his father before turning to Everitt. He extended his hand to the stairs, urging Everitt to go first.
The two reached the top of the staircase and opened the door to find Wystan waiting patiently on the other side.
“Prince Jameson . . .”
“My apologies, Mage. I only wanted time to pray over my father. I regret keeping you from your work.”
“Tis fine, Your Highness. However, my dedication to my work is not why I knocked. While you were within, I took to the streets beyond the castle, to gather my thoughts and rally my focus. What I found was most peculiar.”
“The price of goods – wheat, whale oil, potatoes, wine – has surged. I inquired with one of the shopkeepers about the fluctuation, and he responded that it was due to the Ibians.”
“Well, that is to be expected. In fact, King Audemar, may Mar bless his soul, anticipated this very thing. Your Highness, I will see to it that my men ride into the city to ensure that price gouging is put to rest.”
“I wish it were that simple,” Wystan interjected. “But the increase of which I speak is much higher than any that can be attributed to a visiting Court, even one as grand as that brought in by the Armada.”
“What are you saying, Wystan?” Symon inquired.
“The Ibians are purchasing supplies in bulk, Your Highness. As though they are readying for a long voyage.”
“They mean to return to Arinn,” Symon realized.
“Your Highness,” Everitt said urgently. “With your word, I can enforce a decree, suspending the sale of large quantities of goods . . .”
“No, nothing of the sort.” Symon paused, considering the implications of it all. Damn it, he cursed to himself. If only Dawkin had known of this concealment. He would have been able to provide wise counsel. I will need to descend to brief the others. But not before securing things here, above, lest something happen in my absence.
“Time. We require more time.” Symon looked to Wystan. “When did you intend to make my father presentable?”
“For his viewing, why, I had told High Bishop Perceval that the King would be at Mar-by-the-Sea by the morning after next.”
“Delay, but not too long. Say til that night.”
“The church will have been locked to the public by nightfall, with the King not available for viewing until the next morning.”
“Yes. That will set aside some more time for us without raising eyebrows.” Symon turned to Everitt. “That will be enough time for you to gather every soldier and reservist of Manor Saliswater to our steps. Many will see it as a show of respect, putting aside the fact that we are bolstering our numbers.”
“That will leave your ancestral home undefended,” Everitt stated.
“Aye, I am aware. Still, it is necessary. In the meantime, I will have a word with King Felix, to secure his attendance at the services. The initial viewing, the wake, the funeral and the burial. Undoubtedly he will attend all. Still, if we make a great enough show of it, he will not leave until the whole of the services have ended, as a show of respect.” Symon nodded to Wystan. “Mage, I believe you have some work to do.”
“Indeed, Sire. Right away.” Wystan hurried down the steps. Everitt closed the door behind him.
“I’ll have the guards return to stand watch before I leave,” he confirmed.
“See that you do. What with everything that has happened, I would not put it past the assassin, or assassins, to assail my father’s body just to spite Kin Saliswater.”
“Yes, Your Highness. And what about you? Will you need accompaniment to King Felix’s quarters?”
Symon tapped the hilt of his sword. “I will manage.”
“As you wish.”
Everitt made his way to the adjacent corridor.
The knight stopped to face Symon.
“You’re welcome, James,” Everitt said. He nodded, then disappeared into the hall.
The Northwest Tower had never been a favorite of Symon’s. Situated on a perch of rock, it was second only to the tower that housed the King’s Chambers, and held views of the harbor and the Red Meadows and the Whiterange Hills. Its position was far from desirable, though, as it stood in the path of the sea winds that swept in on the Meadows. The gusts – a breeze at the best of times and a gale during squalls and storms – invaded every door, window and crack of the tower. For all the efforts to cover the walls with tapestries and warm the rooms with roaring fires, Symon always sensed a chill. Unlike those he experienced on hunts and during missions, the air in the Northwest set upon him a sense of unease, as though the tower was not meant to stand on this part of the grounds.
Such a feeling stewed in his gut as he ascended the heights of the structure. The staircases offered no direct route to the top, so Symon was forced to climb one set of stairs, then cross an expanse to another, and repeat his effort on the next floor. With each traverse, he found the numbers of his sentries dwindling, replaced by the growing presence of the Realeza, the personal guards to the King and Ibian royal family. Adorned in cedar-green scaled armor and draped with golden capes, each Realeza guard stood with a halberd in hand and a sword at his side. Pound for pound and inch for inch, Symon suspected they could match his own sentries, a troubling consideration when he thought of their possible numbers within the castle and in the ships of the harbor. He climbed the last two floors without seeing any of his own men, a fact that further put the prince on edge.
At the top floor, Symon found a line of Realeza, four across, standing at attention. Before them, an attendant sat at a desk, musing over some papers with a quill in hand and an inkwell within reach. The prince strode forward, deliberately allowing the sheaths of his dirk and sword to slap his legs. The noise did nothing to detract the attendant from his duties, as he did not bother to raise his head, even as Symon came right up to him.
Seeing that he was being ignored, Symon cleared his throat.
“Yes?” the attendant asked, raising his eyes yet not his head.
“I have come here to have a word. With the King.”
“Name?” The attendant inquired, dipping his quill into the ink.
Symon paused, incredulous. The attendant raised his eyes to him once more.
“You know it.”
Symon lifted his gaze to find Grand Duke Xain emerging from Felix’s quarters. He closed the door behind him as the line of Realeza parted to let him pass.
Xain addressed the attendant. “Master Seapetra, I believe it has been a while since you’ve had a break. You may take your leave.”
The attendant rose and bowed his head to Xain. “As you wish, Your Grace.” He then rounded his desk and strode down the hall, never once looking to the Prince.
“May I be of some assistance, Your Highness?” Xain inquired of Symon.
“I certainly hope you are of more help than your attendants.”
“Please forgive Master Seapetra. As far as servants go, he is an acquired taste.”
“Perhaps. But I didn’t come here to talk of servitude. I came to have a word with your uncle.”
“Oh, well, I’m afraid he is indisposed at the moment.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Is he unwell?”
“He is, how do you say in your tongue? Grieving. Your father’s death was most untimely.”
“I regret that the loss of a Saliswater has inconvenienced His Majesty.”
“Your Highness, pardon my poor choice of words. I do not mean to belittle your own grief. It is just that my uncle was beginning to form a bond with your father. While Marland and Ibia at times stood on opposite lines during the Century War, King Felix always had great admiration for the late King Audemar, Mar bless his soul. That admiration matured into respect and camaraderie as your father and my uncle began the correspondences that led to our historic diplomatic mission. I assure you, Prince Jameson, that I do not overstate nor embellish when I say that my family will genuinely miss your father.”
“I am moved by your tribute, Grand Duke. In that same spirit, I must insist on a word with the King.”
Symon stepped to his side to move around, yet found the Grand Duke to persist as an obstacle.
“And I regret to inform you that I cannot allow that.”
At that pronouncement, the Realeza clipped their heels and pounded the base of their halberds on the floor. An impressive show of force, to be sure. Yet one that did nothing to impress Symon.
“How long before the King regains his composure?” Symon inquired, visibly perturbed.
“Who is to say? With your father’s funeral only days away, King Felix may find himself too unfit in his mourning to entertain the notion of seeing any visitors. Even ones as regal as yourself.”
“I see. In that case, if your uncle should be able to marshal his anguish and rouse himself from his quarters, please send word to me immediately so that I may speak to him. From the funeral to the alliance to other matters, he and I have much to discuss.”
“I will be sure to have the attendant make a note of it when he returns.”
“Thank you, Your Grace.”
Not wanting to look at the Duke any longer, Symon offered him a curt nod before pivoting and heading back to the stairs.
“Aye, Your Highness.”
Symon halted. He knew that was a slight. From where? With Gerry? Dawkin? He could not be certain. That rotten bastard, Symon thought, half-tempted to march up to him.
No. Let it go. It is not worth it.
Symon resumed his stride, his steps striking the tiles beneath his feet more than necessary. With the marked effort, the ache in his right jaw returned, throbbing as though anew.
He made his way down the stairs to the floor below. He crossed to the set on the opposite side. He descended. He marched. He descended.
Upon arriving at the ground floor, a stab of pain shot through the right side of his jaw. Had there been a servant in his proximity, he would have lashed out, demanding a stein of ale to soothe his aches. But there was no sort to answer his company. He had decided to stride the long hall without attendants, one sparsely guarded, that he may be left to his thoughts.
Is this what I have to look forward to as monarch? Aches? Wounds?
Or worse. Disappointment. Frustration. Rage.
No, Symon told himself. This life is not for me alone. For this is what we have to look forward to as king.
Symon caressed the right side of his face. That was enough to send a surge of agony through his head. In response, his chin drooped. His shoulders sagged.
He shook his head in disgust of it all.“Heavy are the heads that wear the Crown.”