The aroma of crisp bacon and eggs never made for something so foul.
“Blah, get that wretched stuff away from me.”
Symon leaned on his elbow, his head splitting in pain, seemingly from all sides. He coasted down back onto his pillow, the pressure relenting for a moment.
“I was afraid I made that truth serum too strong.”
Symon, awakening from the fog of a long sleep, cracked open his eyes. The late morning sun shone brightly from the conical opening above, painting the Fourpointe Chamber in bright light. He squinted at the yellow pastel walls as his eyes adjusted. The whole of the process was abruptly halted though by the breakfast plate shoved in his face.
“The smell will fade as it cools. You still need to eat. So eat.”
Gerry laid the plate on the end table by the couch. He made his way back to the brazier, where an iron skillet rested on top of hot coals.
“Must you do that here?” Symon asked.
“What did you eat on the campaign?”
“My rations. Dried biscuits, jerked beef.”
“And last night? At the banquet?”
“Wine and mutton, I suppose.”
“Then, yes, I must do this here. Eat.”
Symon sat up, ignoring the aches from his head as he reached for the plate and fork. Though the scent still curled his stomach, he choked down the food as Gerry watched.
“Better?” Gerry inquired.
“I suppose,” Symon lied.
Gerry set a stein on the end table. Symon glanced at it before giving Gerry a look.
“It’s just good old-fashioned tea. I promise,” Gerry assured him.
“That was quite a tale you told last night.”
“Your antics were . . . brazen.”
“I won. I thought that was the point of my mission to the Upper East Waterlands.”
“You could have been a little more careful.”
Symon stood. For all he’d endured, he was in no mood for a lecture. “You heard all about my exploits, what I thought, why I did what I had to do. I was decisive. I acted. I earned my men’s trust and admiration. No less would have been expected by any of the name Saliswater.”
“It’s just . . . I admit you showed valor, but . . .”
“Your victories are sometimes too much to follow.”
Symon allowed his plate to fall from his hands onto the end table with a thud. Gerry, ashamed, averted his eyes from his brother’s cold stare.
“This is my thanks?” Symon asked facetiously. “I defend our kingdom, fulfill my princely duties, only to face scrutiny because you are afraid of being overshadowed.”
“You could have fallen.” Gerry gestured to his left cheek. “That is not something I take lightly.”
Symon paused. He looked upon Gerry, allowing a moment to pass between them, so their tension may calm. He is not wearing his lifts, Symon thought, noting that his brother had chosen flat-soled shoes over his standard footwear. He’s always hated those lifts.
“Your concern is admirable,” Symon conceded.
“Don’t brand me wrong. I applaud your triumph. We all do.”
“I know. And I realize that my . . . successes . . . are brash at times.”
“It’s all the more to live up to,” Gerry said, a tad ashamedly.
“It is done. There is no great act you must do to follow. My win is yours.”
“You mean ours!”
Symon and Gerry whirled around to find Ely striding into the chamber, dressed in an olive green shirt under a violet doublet. Dawkin followed his lead, albeit with less enthusiasm and in colors of gray and beige.
Ely swooped in to the skillet to pluck a length of bacon. Gerry opened his mouth to protest, but before he could say a word, Ely wolfed it down.
“Charming, Ely, charming,” Dawkin commented. He turned to Symon. “Are you well?”
“Glad to hear it.”
“And that scratch?” Ely asked as he picked a morsel of egg from Gerry’s portions.
“Mage Wystan had a look. It’s permanent.”
“Ooooohhhhh . . .” Ely cooed as he looked to Gerry, tapping his left cheekbone all the while.
“Quit it!” Gerry protested. “You’ll be marked too!”
“But the pain never hurts me so.”
“End it now, the both of you,” Dawkin insisted. He drew a dagger from the sheath tucked into his belt. “Who is first?”
“Oh, I’ll go,” Ely offered, making his way to the couch where Symon sat. Symon stepped away just as Ely plopped himself atop it, leaning on the cushioned arm as he tilted his head back.
Dawkin, seeing how squeamish Gerry was becoming, offered him the hilt of his blade. “You do it,” he insisted.
“Him?” Ely asked, stunned.
“Symon just had his greatest battle yet,” Dawkin said. “He took down a Lewmarian warlord. We can’t have Gerry going up if his face turns green at the sight of some blood.”
“But I’ve done everything you’ve asked,” Gerry replied. “All that we four agreed upon. I’ve increased my lessons, done more sparring . . .”
“Exactly. You have practiced your swordsmanship with the Voiceless, in pads and with blunt weapons. You have never pierced flesh, nor even seen the sight of blood drawn in battle.”
“Tis true,” Ely added. “Dawkin had that spat with the robbers on the Porte-to-Land Highway. And I’ve had my share of brawls in Smallquarter.”
“You being beaten by with a rolling pin is hardly a fight,” Symon jested.
“I was hungry and without coin. What is a prince to do?”
“This one must do his duty.” Dawkin extended the hilt once more to Gerry.
“Come now, Gerry,” Symon urged. “Think of this task as part of your royal duty, of your princehood.”
Gerry, with identical eyes of his brothers upon him, relented. “I’m just glad it’s a small mark,” he said as he took the dagger, his hand shaking.
“So am I,” Ely said, closing his eyes.
The mark upon each of them was easy enough to apply. Gerry held his own as his hand steadied and he cut Ely on his left cheek. Impressed by his control, Dawkin offered his cheek to Gerry, who sliced him in kind. Having seen neither of his brothers flinch, Gerry allowed Dawkin to cut him, though he shut his eyes tighter than needed.
As Dawkin wiped his blade clean, with him and his brothers now all alike in their faces, he turned to Symon. “About your truth session.”
“Concerns?” Symon asked.
“With you, no. Konradt, on the other hand, many.”
“You think too much, brother,” Ely said.
“I have to,” Dawkin retorted. “I’m thinking for four. Not to mention an entire kingdom.”
“I subdued Konradt,” Symon stated, a bit defensively. “He is in chains in our dungeon. The time for concern was before my campaign, not now.”
“But his raids raise questions. Despite the tall tales of sailors and merchants, the Lewmarian commanders are not the brutes most people think. Vice Warlord Videl raised his sons to secure his legacy, to expand his territorial ambitions. Consider their actions as of late. Their voyages and subsequent raids have traveled further from the Lewmarian coast than any of the past twenty years.”
“If what you say is true,” Ely interjected. “That the Lewmarians are purposeful, and are not pillaging randomly, then why the Upper East Waterlands? Aside from some barley and sheep, there is little more there than a few villages. Hardly the stuff of power-hungry conquerors.”
“Iron,” Gerry offered. “A few years ago, Har-Kin Boivin opened an iron mine.”
“A small one, my brother. The warlords don’t desire a little iron. They have their own mines. Along with sheep and barley and scared villagers aplenty.”
“I agree, on the surface, the Waterlands are hardly the location a warlord would desire,” Dawkin continued. “But such an easy target, one that would put up so little resistance, could inspire others to join the cause of the Vice Warlord.”
“You’re overlooking the small fact that we did resist.” Symon pointed to his marked cheek. “We sent a message to Konradt, and one to his father, Videl, as well as the rest of Har-Kin Mynhard. Whatever their intentions were – be it grain, sheep, women, iron, gold or land – we put an end to them. And we have one of their favorite sons. No Lewmarian dare not strike us so long as Konradt remains in our custody.”
“We appreciate your arrest of him,” Gerry assured. “Marland is in your debt.”
“Your princehood is a story of success!” boasted a familiar voice.
The four turned to find the kingdom’s oldest patriarch, Artus, at the chamber doorway.
“Grandfather!” Gerry exclaimed.
“Sons,” Artus said. “You look well.”
“As do you, Grandfather,” Dawkin replied.
Artus entered the chamber, a spring in his step not unlike that of a young prince. His silver whiskers and mane betrayed his otherwise common appearance, as he sported a simple hunter’s vest, shirt and trousers. Gerry strode up, being the first one to embrace him. Dawkin did likewise, followed by Ely. Symon, patiently, allowed his brothers their moment.
“News of the battle was quick to my ears,” Artus said. “You can only imagine my relief.”
“And ours,” Gerry added.
“But this is new.” Artus gripped Gerry’s chin to turn his head and study the mark upon his cheek. He did the same with Dawkin before addressing Symon. “Did the Mage . . .”
“He did,” Symon confirmed.
“Pity it must stay.”
“You know the rule.”
“Yes, yes. Mark one of you, mark all four of you. We can’t have any looking different from another.” Artus turned to Dawkin. “Have you had your chamber session?”
“Our chamber session, no. We only had Symon’s truth session last night.”
“We did start discussing the Lewmarian warlord,” Gerry said.
“Well, far be it from me to interrupt,” Artus said, retreating to a chair against the wall.
“Might as well make this official then,” Ely said, taking his place at the Fourpointe Table.“All the right,” Dawkin agreed. “Let us begin.”