The night was coming to an end but still the man waited. News would be coming any minute now and he could not risk missing it. It would not do for anyone else to receive the news first, for once it was out, events would have to move rather swiftly. Everything would have to be played just right or his entire plan could fall apart and after so many years of planning, to fail now would be unbearable. He strained against the silence of the night, listening for the sound of hoof beats that he knew must be coming.
The guards at the door were ignoring him; they knew better than to bother him and his pacing. He had cultivated a manner of keeping odd hours and being out and about long after other people had gone to bed. The mannerism would serve him well tonight, as it would not look suspicious when the rider would surely arrive.
The minutes stretched on and on the eastern horizon the sky was just turning a lighter shade of gray and it would soon be dawn. He grew more agitated, cursing the slowness of man and beast under his breath, careful to not draw undue attention to himself. He was beginning his fourth lap around the palace grounds when he heard what he had been waiting for. The wild clatter of hooves on the cobblestone roads drawing nearer. The man moved swiftly to the front gate, reaching it just as the rider pulled up the exhausted horse. The guard called out challenging him. “Ho there, name yourself and your business at this hour.”
The man who had waited drew in his breath sharply, patience, patience he thought, no need to tip your hand now.
The response came back haggard and worn with panic in his voice, “Derrick sir, scout of the fifth brigade. I bring urgent news concerning the Emperor and his family.”
There was a clattering as the gate opened and the man who had waited so long checked himself then strode forward. The scout had just ridden through the gate when the guard saw the man strolling up. “Greetings, my lord. I did not realize you were still up. This scout brings urgent news.”
“Yes, I heard him. What is the matter, young man? You look like you’ve had the devils chasing you since Larenshire.”
Derrick slid off his horse, his face wary but full of concern and terror. He took a moment to collect a breath then blurted out, in a rather uncomely fashion, “My lord, the Emperor’s ship was lost at sea. A piece of their mast was found along the shore line just a few days ago. It appears it was shattered in a storm, but it’s hard to tell the exact circumstances. Runners were sent out, but no sign of the ship was found anywhere along their intended course. Given the amount of time they have been gone, it is all but certain they are lost.”
Of course it is certain, the trap was well sprung. The guards cried out and the man made a good show of looking shocked and horrified. “This is grave news indeed! Lost! Guards, lock down the palace! The princess must be informed, but no visitors this day; it would be too hard on her.”
The guards, still stunned, grunted in agreement and moved to carry out the lord’s orders. The lord looked at the scout. “Go now and rest, there is nothing more to be done but we shall have to soon send out the message and will have need of your full report, now I must report this news at once.” The scout nodded and led his horse to the stables warily. The lord turned and walked quickly into the palace. He was up the flight of stairs and walking down a darkened corridor when a large figure appeared from the shadows. “So then, is it done?” The voice was raspy with a slight sneer in it.
In a hushed hiss the man responded irritably, “Count Darga, you really shouldn’t surprise a man like me on a night like this. It could lead to unfortunate consequences. Yes, it is done. Things are going to move quickly now but we can’t move against her yet, she will have a lot of public support from the pity this will generate so we have to wait until we can pull the rug out from under her. Now then return to your quarters and for Crumbalceel’s sake, act surprised and sad at the news. I won’t have you or anyone else ruining this for me now.”
“Of course, though I almost wish I could see the little bird’s face when you give her the news.”
“You’ll have plenty of chances to see her crying soon enough. Now get out of here before someone else shows up”
The larger man stomped off down the hallway and disappeared. The other man continued on his way and a few turns later stood in front of a door. He stopped for a second and savored the moment and allowed himself a small smile. Everything is going according to plan. He drew himself up and screwed up his face into of look sadness and regret, and then pounded on the door.