The Obsidean Blade

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Chapter 2

Chapter 2

He walked down the Street of Temples, for once his mind not on the temples. He Did not take the time to consider whether there was a tunnel between the temple of the father of gods, Cuinn, and the temple of the mother of gods, Calleach.He had learned as a child that there was usually a tunnel between the two temples and that there was more contact between the priests and the priestesses then there was supposed to be.

He also passed the Temple of the Local River god, Bheathain. It was the dry season now and the river was down.So far there was nothing unusual about that, so that temple was quiet.No doubt, all of the priests and priestesses were having a quiet dinner and seeking their various beds.

The Prince continued on to the castle. There he saw Jere his manservant and the only person here that Cirroc completely trusted.“I need to speak to the scribes first,” he said.“Then I will want my dinner and a little companionship for the night, if there is any in the kitchen acceptable.”

“I will have your dinner and something else delectable sent to your chambers in an hour, if that is acceptable,” said Jere.

“It is,” said Cirroc. He went to the ante room off the throne room where he would hold court in the morning. He took the dagger out of his pocket and examined it a little closer.He did not recognize it, so it did not belong to any of the assassins he knew.He just got it into a hidden nitch in the room when the two scribes assigned to his court came in.

“By my decree tomorrow will be an official court,” he dictated to them. “I will adjudge cases until mid afternoon.If anyone has a case that has not been heard by then, they will have to come back on the next court day.”He paused then and gave the scribes time to catch up with what he’d said, then he gave them instructions.“Have copied ready to be published first thing in the morning.”

That night, one of the cleaner kitchen maids brought his dinner to him. She waited while he ate it. When he asked, she told him, “I have been told to wait and see if there was anything else you wanted tonight.”Cirroc blessed Jere for knowing him so well.He decided to avail himself of the comforts she could offer, and that he as the master of the city and of the castle, was entitled to.He was sure that her parents had told her that if she came home with his child, not to worry, she would be accepted.So he had her put his dished in the corridor and warm his bed.

In the morning he looked at the beggar’s things. He also went to the dungeon and was there when a couple of the castle guards were bringing the body in.It had been chewed by rats and other animals, but was still reasonable recognizable.The man had only one leg, that made him a beggar.In the twilight of the dungeon Cirroc could see that the man was brown, that is with brown hair and eyes.Try as he might, Cirroc could see nothing else about the man that would answer any of his questions.He turned to the jailor and told him.“Keep the body where it is.I intent to see if anyone will claim it.”

At noon he changed into official garb, with his prince’s crown. Then, with Avock and Grail and some of the fortress guards in place he opened the court and allowed the petitioners to approach.They came in accordance with their rank.At first there was nothing of any great import this time.About half way through the court, one of the guards announced, “Sir, a traveler has just come from the capitol and asks permission to enter your city.”

“Who is it?” the Prince asked.

“It is I,” a voice spoke from the back of the hall. Prince Cirroclooked up and saw another assassin standing there.This one he had known since he was a boy.His name was Loftus, and Loftus had worked as a bodyguard for his father.He had the same black visage as Avock.In height he was taller than Avock, but thinner then Grail.

“What is your purpose for being here?” Cirroc asked. He really did not want to have another assassin here, especially now.

“On vacation,” Loftus answered. Prince Cirroc was relatively certain that was the truth. There were too many penalties to pay if anyone lied here, even for an assassin.So the prince had no reason to deny him entrance to the city.

“Then you may enter the city,” the Prince said. “But Sir Loftus, have a care.I and my people will be watching.”

“As I would expect,” Loftus answered. He bowed in the courtly manner and left the room.Prince Cirroc heard the rest of the cases, which were not many or serious until He got to the last one, a case of a poor wife with a missing husband.“Sir,” she said.Her accent and manner were strange, as though she was better educated and trying to sound like she was not.“Forgive me, I am only a poor woman, but my man is missing.He is not so much, only a poor beggar.Still he managed to provide for me and for our children.Last night he did not come home, so when I heard there was to be court this afternoon I determined to come to you for help, and here I am.”

“You say your husband was a beggar, can you describe the man to me?” The Prince asked.

“I can do better than that,” she announced. “I can tell you his name.It is Jeshu.”

“Well that is helpful,” the Prince spoke with slight condescension. He was being gentle with the lady because he thought that the db in the dungeon might be her husband.“Still I am new in this city and do not yet know the beggars by name.A description of the man would help me more.”

“Certainly,” she said. “Well he is a brown man, not above average height.And he is missing one leg.”That pretty much sealed it and the Prince reacted.The woman clearly saw it and tried to ignore it.She feigned a look of ignorance and cast her glance at the floor.

“Madam,” Prince Cirroc pronounced, “I’m afraid that I might have bad news for you. There is a corpse in the dungeon.I must ask that you examine it and tell me if that is your husband.Avock, show her to the dungeon.I will join you there shortly.

Avock bowed briefly and signaled to the woman to follow him out. Prince Cirroc

dismissed the court and then went into the anteroom. There he put away his crown and robes.In more suitable clothing, he went down to the dungeon.Avock and the woman were waiting for him there as the jailor had refused to open the cell where they were keeping the body until he got there.

“Open- up,” the prince ordered. They entered the cell and viewed the body.

“Ah-h,” she moaned, “It’s him.”

“Thank-you,” the Prince expressed some pity on her and her family. The Jailor dropped the cloth back over the man.The Prince left with the wife and Avock.Grail remained behind with the jailor for a moment.“Well I don’t know how long this man was a beggar,” the jailor pronounced, “but it could not have been very long.”

“How do you know?” Grail inquired.

The jailor exposed the stump. “It’s these wounds,” he pointed out.“I’ve lopped off enough limbs and seen enough lopped off.I can tell you this man hasn’t been one legged for long.These scares are too small.When a man lost his leg some time ago, the scares break open and heal up again and break open again and heal up again.Each time they get bigger.This guys scares are small and new.He hadn’t had them for long.”

In the meantime, upstairs, the Prince took the widow to the anteroom where he had the victim’s personal effects. He also showed her the dagger.“Do you recognize this?” he asked.He made sure she saw the obsidian blade.

She gave it a cursory glance. “No,” she said noncommittally.To Prince Cirroc that seemed suspicious.Most people were more afraid of assassins then that.

“Do you recognize these things,” he said, showing her the beggar’s personal possessions.

“Of course,” she said. “They belong to my husband.Now there is something that I must ask you to do for me.I am a poor woman, I cannot afford to bury my husband.

He gave her the things, but he kept the dagger. “Don’t worry,” he said.“We can

provide a pauper’s funeral for him.” “I thank-you sir,” she said. After the woman left, he put the dagger back.He stepped into the hall and saw the woman still at the end of the hall.Strangely she was talking to Loftus.As Grail came towards them, the woman and Loftus both turned towards the sound of the footsteps. They immediately parted, going their own way.But it got the Prince thinking again, how did this strange woman know Loftus?

Chapter 3

“Well,” the prince observed, “that was interesting. But we have things to do.”Both Grail and Avock knew that it was getting to be time for their daily tour of the city.Grail told him about the scars on Jeshu’s leg.They went with the prince as he went to get his cloak.He went to his chamber and took his cloak from Jere, “Supper at the usual time,” he reassured the man.

They went out and started touring the city. But this time the prince stopped and had Avock talk to the beggars.Avock didn’t like it, but he did it.The Prince wanted to know if any of them knew a beggar named Jeshu.No one knew the man, Cirroc understood enough of what was going on not to have to ask Avock to translate that.So now they had a beggar that had obviously come here from somewhere else.Cirroc began to wonder what other mysteries this victim would present him.

“Fucking liar,” was Avock’s softly spoken accusation as he rejoined the prince.

“Never mind,” Prince Cirroc instructed as he dismissed the accusation. He is just telling us the same thing all the others have said.It confirms what the jailor reported, that the man has not been a beggar that long.”They continued their patrol.As they walked through one of the poorer residential areas, Grail noticed one of the women in a courtyard was doing laundry.The weathered wooden gate was opened at an angle with a broken hinge and she could be clearly seen.It was unusual because none of the neighbors were doing their laundry.The Prince sent Grail this time to ask the lady what she was doing.“What are you doing today, grandmother?” Grail asked respectfully.“Is this your usual day for such duties?” By the look of her, she was of the same race as he was, but older, with gray hair and a stooped back.

“No,” she informed him. “One of my boarders cleared out, owing me rent.These robes were left behind.I figure to wash them up and sell them. That will get me some of the money back.”

Grail reported what he had learned to Prince Cirroc. The Prince decided to question the woman more closely himself.“Forgive me mother,” he said, “but who did those robes belong to? They look to nice for the people who would live here.”

“Aye,” she affirmed, surprised that the prince was speaking to her, “they were. Belonged to a man, his name was Jeshu.Least that was the name he gave me when he took the room.But he never came home last night and right after lunch she come back and took the kid and cleared out fast.”

“In that case, I’m afraid I’m going to have to impound the clothing,” the Prince told her. “The man was murdered last night.I need everything that belonged to the man to tell me who he was.Do you have any idea where the woman and the child went?”

“I only saw the boy,” the woman reported, ”but I think they headed towards the Caravaners road.”

“Thank-you,” the Prince said thoughtfully, “I will send someone to pick up the robes.”

With that, he headed back to the palace along the route he had decided on. The bit of information from the landlady had got him thinking.He wondered who this man was who had recently become a beggar and who might have been a person of some means before that.There were still lots of questions about this man.In fact it seemed to Prince Cirroc that every time he answered one question about the man, he came up with another one.The Prince continued on with his patrol.

When he got back to the castle, he spoke to Jere. “Tomorrow as soon as it is light, I want you to send someone with Grail to fetch some robes from a land lady.Give then a gold piece to give to the woman if there is any problem.I want those robes brought to me here, they belonged to the recent murder victim.”

“Aye sir, I’ll do it,” Jere reassured him. “Do you want me to send you the same wench as last night.”

“No,” Cirroc explained, “I’m too tired for any slap and tickle tonight.” So that night he

just ate his dinner and went to bed. In the morning a servant went with Grail to the house of the land lady to pick up the robes that had belonged to the beggar.When they got back to the castle, Jere looked at the robes and took them right to the Prince.

Cirroc examined them while Jere held them. He found nothing, but he did ask Jere, “Well did you find anything?”

“Just this,” Jere replied, fingering some loose threads by way of a demonstration. “There were house marks here, and here, and here.” He pointed to the usual place for such things, the opening at the neck, the hem of the sleeve and the hem of the garment.“But it’s plain that someone recently removed them.If it had been some time, or if the garment had been worn in between times, the thread that you see would have been gone.”

Cirroc looked a little closer now that he knew what he was looking for. “You’re right,” he agreed.

“If I were you sire, I would be curious to know just whose house mark it was Here confided to him.

“I am too,” Cirroc said. It was the same thing again.He did not get one question answered but another one cropped up.This might answer the question about how a beggar merited the attention of an assassin, but it raised another one about who the beggar really was.

He did have some idea about who to ask about that. In the afternoon, he went back to the landlady.“Grandmother,” he began.“My servant noted that there had been house marks on the robes that we got from you.Did you see it?Can you describe it to me?”

“No sire,” she responded. “I thought that was too, but I never saw one.”

“Then I have one other question for you, grandmother.” The Prince said.“When did the beggar Jeshu and his family come to live here?”

“It was the day the last boat to come from down the river arrived,” she said. “I saw

them get off the boat. I was there with several people to welcome back the High Priest of

Cuin and the High Priestess of Calleach They returned then from meeting with their brother and sister priests in the capitol.”

“That is interesting,” Prince Cirroc said, “thank-you”. On his way back On his way back to the palace he decided to talk to the High Priest and the High Priestess if he could.

In the temple of Cuinn, the high priest was not available when the Prince called. “If he is not available, then I will go to the temple of Calleach and ask to speak to the High Priestess.I will be questioning her on a matter of murder.That is within the realm of my responsibilities.It would be best if she was available to answer my questions,” he told the junior priest who was attending upon him.

The young priest tried to actually act confused about why the Prince had told him that. But Prince Cirroc had a pretty good guess just where the High Priest was and in just what way he was indisposed.The dismissive motion that he made with his hand communicated that to the young man.He left the young priest and slowly made his way across the street.When he got there, a young blonde priestess attended upon him.“Prince Cirroc to see the High Priestess,” he announced himself.

“I will see if she is available,” the young priestess informed him. It did not surprise him that the High Priestess took some time to get ready to talk to him.It was all of 20 minutes later that the young priestess returned and told him that the High Priestess was ready to talk to him.“Madame, I am pleased that you could see me,” the Prince addressed her.I have a few questions I would like to ask you? Did you return from the capitol in the last boat to come up river this season?”

“Yes,” she said. “I was returning from a conference with my sister priestesses in the capitol.”

“Did you notice any of the other passengers on the boat?” he asked.

“You must know that my vows to Calleach do not preclude my enjoying the company of her people; including, sometimes, men.”

“I am aware of that,” he said. “Did you see a well-dressed man with one leg? He would have been traveling with his wife and a child.”

“No,” she spoke pensively. “Was there anything else about him that you can think of?”

“Oh, no,” the Prince said, thinking again that he was not too sure how much he wanted to share with a woman capable of such coyness. “I am investigating the murder of the beggar Jeshu.”

“I remember a man named Jeshu,” she announced. “But he wasn’t a beggar.In fact I got the impression that he was the son of a noble. There was a house mark on his clothing, but I did not notice which one.”

“Do you know anyone else who was on that boat who might have noticed the house mark?” the Prince inquired.“It would be helpful to find out who he was and why he died.”

“Yes I do know someone who noticed,” she said. “But you will have to ask him?It was the High Priest of Cuinn.He notices that sort of thing a little too much if you ask me.”

She turned as though to leave and then turned back again. “There is one other thing I remember about him,” she admitted.

“Please, whatever you can tell me about the man would be of help,” the Prince encouraged her.

“He had a dagger,” she said. “I remember that it had a lovely orange and white cross- hatch pattern on it.”

The Prince drew in a sharp breath. So the dagger belonged to the beggar.He must have been an assassin at some time in his life.The Prince did think, for a moment, that there was no accounting for taste.But if he recalled the rules right, a man who was anything less than perfectly capable physically could not be an assassin.Just to be sure, when he got back to the street, he asked Grail and Avock about it.

“It is true, sir,” Grail said. “A man who is less than perfectly capable or preforming his

job for a long period of time cannot be an assassin. He is forced to leave the guild and usually

becomes a beggar. Do you think that is what happened with Jeshu.”

“Yes I do,” the Prince told him. They went back to the castle while Cirroc processed the information that he knew.He thought about the victim as the man Jeshu since he could no longer think of him as just a beggar.The man Jeshu may or may not have been the son of a noble.But there was no information from the capitol that one of the nobility was missing, and his brother would surely have sent him word about that.The King would also have let him know if any of their young sons and heirs had disappeared.But if it were a bastard son, the king might not have known or told his brother about it.

As he thought about it he realized, that would not usually make any difference in the life of the kingdom. But then again, bastard sons usually weren’t that that important.They weren’t important enough to be killed and an unknown beggar did not have time to make enemies in this town.It might be true that the death of Jeshu was an accident, but he was not ready to dismiss it so easily.

In addition to all, there was the presence of Loftus to explain. He did not think that Loftus had been on the last boat.So what was Loftus really doing here.On his patrols he had seen the man on the street of Temples, and in the bizzare, all the places that you would expect to see a tourist

Finally the river rose and people began to make their way up and down it again. On th first boat came the official summons to court.It was time for Prince Cirroc to pay homage to his older brother for his city.Cirroc thought that with a little luck he would do more than that.H would, hopefully, have more answers then he did questions.The boats were laboriously pulled up the river by teams of horses, and it took them about a week to make the journey.They traveled far more easily down the river when they traveled with the current and carried the horses as cargo.People often joked that coming here from the capitol was faster \by land, but much harder on the anterior part of the body that the nobles thought with.That was why they do seldom made the trip.The trip down was the one the people wished they could take.

The Prince read the summons and told Avock and Grail. “When do we leave?” Grail asked.Avock grunted.

“Tomorrow when the boat leaves,” Cirroc answered. He also told Jere to get him packed for an official court.Jere was busy for the rest of the day.Grail’s and Avock’s packing was much simpler.Assassins’ outfits changed very little.They had to remove their weapons if they were not part of the palace guard and they wore a plain coat over their armor, with their standard helmets.

They boarded the boat. The Prince noticed that Loftus got on shortly after that.He was not terrible surprised, in fact he’d been looking for the man.Cirroc choose not to speak to him just yet.After all there were a couple of stops between here and the capitol where he could be planning to get off.Even if he continued all the way to the palace, it did not prove that he was involved with the Jeshu affair.Nor was the Prince surprised to see the High Priest and a couple of junior priests get aboard the ship.He was surprised to see some priestesses without the High Priestess get aboard.When he asked, he found out that she was not in a condition to travel.Another virgin birth was about to happen at the Temple of Calleach.

Chapter 4

The boat continued on to the capitol. The trip was completely uneventful.It tied up each night at the piers it had used for years.Loftus did not disembark at either place.On the third day it reached the capitol.

The Prince did not go immediately to the palace since Avock and Grail needed a place to deposit their weapons, he sought out a room for them first. It took some time since the city was filling up fast.They did eventually find a place at the Brass Ram away from the more desirable parts of town, near one of the gates in the wall.Since it was late by the time they found the room, Cirroc decided to spend the night there.

In the morning he went to the palace. Avock and Grail went with him.Their weapons were left back at the room.Only the Prince, as a member of the royal family was allowed to wear a blade, and that was limited to a small dagger

The guard at the gate of the castle recognized him and passed him through. As he entered the grounds, Cirroc found himself remembering.He had grown up here.This was where he and his brothers played their war games, and where they trained their horses.It was also where the guard drilled and where sentences were carried out.His worst memory of this place was of having to train his horse under a gallows with a body on it that had been that had left to rot.The stench was almost unbearable and no one missed it when it finally fell apart and could be removed.His best memory was when he had finally bested his arms instructor and the man proclaimed that he had graduated and needed no further instruction.That had been more than a year before hit father passed away.What Grail and Avock’s memories of this place were they kept to themselves.

He continued across the dusty courtyard. In all his reminiscing, he had heard his name called from one end of the yard to the other, and knew that the gate would be open.He passed into the inner court where the memories of his mother were the strongest.She liked to walk in these galleried gardens on sunny days whenever she could.Cirroc thought that he

could just see the image of her in the shade. Then it moved into the light and he realized that there was really someone there.The person smiled and waved at him, but did not speak.It would be improper to do that until he had presented himself to the king as the head of the family as well as the government.He was a bit resentful of his brother having someone here at court that looked so much like his mother until, just as he reached the door to the main hall, he realized that it had to be his little sister, Edain.She had grown so much in the year since he’d seen her last, that he did not recognize her.The same was not true for the porter who opened the door for him.

“Kier,” he greeted the elderly man. “How good it is to see you again.”

“And you too, sir,” Kier responded. “Your brother is having a small court for those who have come early.He thought that he would deal with the family members there and have done with that sooner rather than later.

“Very well,” the Prince acquiesced, “lead the way.”

“Before I do that, I must ask your guard if they have surrendered their weapons.” Avock and Grail said nothing.They merely lifted their cloaks to show their empty scabbards.Seeing that, Kier turned and led the group across the main hall to an anteroom.

Young Lord Bran, the chief herald was there. “Prince Cirroc,” he greeted his friend, “It’s good to see you again.The King is busy right now with your brother Conyer.If you would take a seat, he should only be a moment.”

“Hello Bran,” Cirroc returned the greeting. “No I don’t mind a bit.How have you been doing?Has your father found you a wife yet?”

“I think so,” Bran responded, “although all the arrangements have not been finalized yet.” That was all he had the chance to get out before a commotion in the other room told him that the king was finished with this brother and ready for the next one.

“He’s finished now,” Lord Bran reported, responding to the change in the noise level. Bran stepped immediately into the other room and announced, “His highness Prince Cirroc.”

Cirroc followed him in and approached his brother, King Conleach One look and anyone would know that they were related. Cirroc was a smaller somewhat lighter version of his brother.The king’s hair showed some traces of gray.It was definitely getting to be time for him to marry and produce heirs.The king was wearing a long green robe with guilt embroidery in the shape of symbols of the family and kingdom on it.It was not as fancy as his official court dress, but it would do for now.He was also wearing his personal crown instead of the state crown.Again, it would suffice for the day.

Cirroc approached the throne his brother sat on. He went down on one knee.“Sire,” he uttered.He placed his hands in his brothers and swore his oath of fealty.

“Thank-you the king said, as soon as he was finished.“I do appreciate getting that over with as soon as possible.He sat back and indicated that his brother should rise.“You will, of course, stay in your old room in the palace.”This did not surprise Prince Cirroc.He expected that not only would he stay in the palace, so would all of his brothers and sisters as well as spouses and children.None of the 7 brothers were married, but 6 of the 7 sisters were.Not all of them had children.Two other brothers and 2 of the sisters were there already.

“I would beg a boon of you my brother,” Cirroc said. “I would ask that my personal guard be allowed to join the palace guard for the time that we are here.

“Denied,” the king said. “I will provide all the security that you need.”He got off the throne and moved around the room.Cirroc did not like that.That in effect cut him off from Avock and Grail.But he was no more than uncomfortable and he knew that his brothers and sisters would feel the same way.

After the King was finished with Cirroc, there were no more announcements of arrivals. The King waited a few minutes and then made his own announcement.“Well We seem to be finished here.You may go and get settled in your rooms.We will met again at dinner time.”He left the room and all the brothers and sisters and the few in-laws that were there quickly

did the same.

Cirroc got a couple of servants from the castle to go with him and Pick up his things from the room he had shared with Avock and Grail. “My brother has ordered that I and my brothers and sisters stay in the palace,” he informed them.“You two are to stay here.I will see to it that the rent is paid for as long as I intend to stay here and you will probably accompany me back to Rodas.”

The servants that he brought with him packed up all his things and carried them back to the palace. He got his things settled in his room, he thought that he would soon have to share his room with Rudag, the brother who was closest to him in age.But Rudag had to come from a further distance as his city was a border city.So he would probably have the room to himself for tonight.When he was finished with that he went to the garden and renewed his acquaintance with his youngest sister Edain.She had been in the garden when he arrived.In fact she was still there, along with their oldest sister Cathleen.

Cirroc did what his parents had taught him and saluted the elder first with the words, “My Lady,” and a slight kiss on the hand.Edain whispered something to their sister.

“Cirroc,” Cathleen responded. “How good it is to see you again.”She had married when Cirroc was only 2.After that she had returned only for state occasions, when she was not in a family way, which she had been last year.

“And to see again, my dear sister,” Cirroc said.“How are your spouse and your children?”

“Very well, thank-you, although Dhaidh wishes to go to war.He cries to live the life that his father has glorified to him so many times.Olwen, the baby, just cries.”

Just then, Cirroc noticed a movement in the gallery under the particle. He thought it was probably one of the guards.They had a tendency to gravitate to areas where they saw members of the royal family gathering.He dismissed it the first time and continued asking “And how about your daughters?”“Sheila is actually taking some pleasure in learning to

dance now,” her mother explained, “but Maureen is still to young for that.” These were all of her children that survived.

Cirroc turned to his sister Edain, “And how are you doing, baby sister? You’ve grown so much since the last time I saw you.”

“Oh,” she bubbled with her characteristic excitement. “Cirroc, you should have been here.The social season has been wonderful this year.I’ve been to every ball and most of the cotillions and all the nicest young men in the kingdom have been paying attention to me.”

Cirroc laughed thinking it was because she was a princess who had just come of marriageable age. The young men were changing the way they were treating her.Before she had been a child.Now she was a possible wife.He was smilling and shaking his head when he noticed another movement out of the corner of his eye.He paused and looked to see if it was a guard or another member of the family.By the uniform it was one of the guards.When he looked at the face, he got another surprise.It was Loftus.

Chapter 5

Cirroc did his best to hide his surprise from his sisters. But it did show.Cathleen asked, “What’s wrong, Cirroc?”

“Loftus,” Cirroc said. “When did he get back?”

“Yesterday,” Edain explained. “He came right to the palace and asked for his old job back.Conleach was happy to oblige.After all he already knows Loftus and feels he can trust him.Our brother, the King, is beginning to see plots by brothers around every turn.You haven’t been plotting against him by chance, have you?” she said in that light hearted fashion that was her’s.But Cirroc did not respond to her.He had some very serious questions about just how trustworthy Loftus was.

Cathleen noticed that the shadows were growing long. “I think it is time for us to go it,” she said.“I want to check on my children before it is time for us to prepare for dinner with the King.”She rose and they realized that they were dismissed.They went into the main hall and Cirroc went to his room on the right, while Edain went to hers on the left.

Cirroc’s room was not empty when he got there. His brother Rudag was there.He was, in fact, asleep on his bed.It was in keeping with his character.He always did like his naps.Cirroc always thought that was why he had such a weight problem.He took some time to clean up from the water pitcher that had been left in the room.Then he took the pitcher and basin to the guard robe and emptied it.He picked out something to wear to dinner and then he tugged on Rudag’s toes.“Time to get ready for dinner,” he said.

Rudag made some unintelligible noises and rolled slowly out of his bed. He went through his toilet as Cirroc dressed.Slowly at first, then faster as he realized that time was marching on.“Why didn’t you wake me earlier?” he complained.Cirroc did not respond.They’d had this argument before.Rudag would settle down for his nap and Cirroc would wake him in plenty of time.Then he would get angry with Cirroc for waking him too soon.So Cirroc got into the habit of waiting until he was nearly ready to leave and then woke his brother.He

left before Rudag had quite finished his toilet.

So it was that he was moving alone down the stair case to the main hall. He looked down, and at the bottom of the stair, he witnessed a brief meeting between Loftus and no less a person than the Gran Visir, Lord Kierbhallen.That in itself was not so surprising.But Cirroc did see a small bag of what looked to be gold coins change hands from that worthy to Loftus.He was not close enough to hear any of the conversation.Still it was strange that the Gran Visir should give any of the household guards any money.That was the job of the Lord Chancellor among other things.

He hid until the area was cleared and then continued down the stairs. At the bottom of the steps he discovered that the area was not so deserted as he thought it was.Loftus had remained in the area and notices Cirroc when he reached the last step.He stiffened, and Loftus started to watch him closely.He turned away just as Rudag arrived and before Loftus could see just how worried he was about his family.He went into supper with his brother.

The next day the official court began. The King had given his brothers and sisters permission to don their coronets and to sit in chairs on either side of and below his throne.The king was wearing the official state crown today along with a doublet and robe of cloth of gold, silk hose and golden slippers.Dressed in their court finery, the brothers and sisters made a wonderful and impressive show.They wore the crowns that they were entitled to by their birth, lining the aisle by which the peers of the realm had to approach the king.

The nobles arrived all morning. They too were dressed in their court finest and wearing their coronets.The clothing was cloth of gold and cloth of silver, or embroidered with gold and silver thread.The nobles were young and old, tall and short, fat and thin.All of them wore coronets of varying degrees, according to their positions in the kingdom.One by one, each family approached the King.The wife and children would stand back while the head of the house would step forward, go down on one knee, and swear loyalty to the king.The King would say his part and then the rest of the family would salute the king and move off so

another family could take their place. Slowly, positions along the wall filled up. Most of them were families that were preforming their annual duty.But there were a few with new heads of the family that needed to be confirmed in the titles of their father.The changes of positions were expected.Some of the oldest nobles had died, and their sons simply moved into their father’s positions.There were some heads of households that had come of age during the past year.They were not confirmed in their father’s titles.But there were one or two who still required regents.Most of them would be confirmed in the next few years.When there were unmarried daughters involved, they would glance at the unmarried princes and bat their eyelashes.

A break was called for luncheon and everyone adjourned to the main dining hall for 2 hours. The luncheon was formal only because of the court both before and following it.The meal was served and there was some conversation, but no entertainment.The meal included fowl, pork, some mutton, and beef.There were also platters of bread, some vegetables, but no fruit.Wine was also served. When the meal was over, there was another hour break to clean up and change for the afternoon session.

In the afternoon, things went pretty much as they had in the morning. This time the King wore a green doublet and cloak with the family crest embroidered over and over again in gold and with collar sleeves hems, and garment hems of fur.The brothers, sisters, and in-laws changed accordingly.None of them wanted to be thought of as grander than the King, or to appear to be competing with him in honor.

Chapter 6

The day after the official court was free so that people had a chance to rest up from it. Some of the lords and ladies that had come stayed in the castle.Other’s stayed in great houses in the city.Most of Cirroc’s sisters took the opportunity to shop in the bazaar of the capitol again.For some strange reason, there were not enough guards to accompany them.“Brothers,” the King said.“We find the staff at the castle a little short at this time.Therefore we ask that you don appropriate wear and accompany your sisters. There is nothing of any consequence that will happen here.”Cirroc did as his brother asked.

He accompanied his sister Aine, who was just older then he was. Her new husband, Lord Cullane was also there, but there were no children as yet.Cirroc did not attend too closely, he thought it prudent to give them as much time alone as he could.

But there was something strange that did happen. He ran into Avock there.While his sister and brother-in-law were busy at one stall, he went to another and signaled the man to join him.“Where’s Grail?” Cirroc asked, keeping his voice low.

“Fricking meeting at the guild,” Avock answered, keeping his voice low so as not to offend the ladies and others who were nearby.

“What sort of meeting,” Cirroc asked.

“Fucking guild is voting whether or not to let the farting King become the royal patron. I figure offering some blinking sacrifices wouldn’t hurt to get it passed.Grail is doing the speechifying for me.We figure it means steady jobs for both of us.”

“So you’re in favor of it,” Cirroc said. Avock nodded.“Why do you think you’re going to have a problem?”

“Loftus is talking against it,” Avock said. “He says that people can make more money if they can sell their services to the highest bidder.I don’t fucking like it, and I heard that beggar Jeshu was the farting assassin who brought it up.He said what Grail and me say, that it will mean more jobs for the rest of us.They thought that they decided it the first time with a fight.

I heard that was when he lost his leg. There weren’t no official meeting that time and that was how come Grail and me didn’t know about it.”

It took Cirroc a moment to take it in. That was by far the longest speech he’d ever heard Avock give.It also took him a moment to process the information.“Now I am more curious as to why you and Grail did not recognize Jeshu?”

“Lived most of the time in the fricking country,” Avock said, “Joined the guild in Lien. Came to the palace a week before the fight.All the assassins that work there, takes time to get to know each other.”

“Yes,” Cirroc agreed. “I don’t think I ever at any time knew all the guards that worked for my father.Do you know who the fight was with?”

“No bodies farting talking about that,” he said.

“So whoever won the fight is still here, and is powerful enough that people are afraid of him,” the prince mused. Avock said nothing.“All right,” Cirroc said after a few minutes.“Go back about your business in the guild.”Avock bowed slightly and turned on his heel and left.Cirroc rejoined his sister and her husband.

Chapter 7

Back at the palace, Cirroc considered what Avock had said. If the king became the patron of the assassins guild, that would make his position more secure.He would be unassailable, which was fine with Cirroc.He thought for a moment, that it might also make the princes unstoppable, but that did not bother him.After all, wasn’t that the way kings were supposed to be.

He thought about it more and realized that he had some questions that he wanted to ask Avock or Grail. Where had Jeshu come from when he came into the city?Why had the King gone to him with the suggestion and not to one of the guards that he knew better?The only way he would know that would be if he could ask his brother about that himself.Accordingly, he went in search of Lord Bran.

Finding him in the seneschal’s office, Cirroc asked Bran, “Do you know what my brother is going to be doing today? Will he have a few minutes to talk to me?”

Lord Bran conferred for a moment with Lord Gwen, the seneschal. “He might,” Bran responded.“I will talk to him and see if he will see you today.”“I’ll wait in my mother’s garden for you,” Cirroc said.

An hour later Bran found him there. “He will see you now for a few minutes,” he informed the prince.“I’ll take you to him.”Bran led him to the King’s personal chambers.He had not been there since his father died.Still, when he looked around, he found that it had not changed much.Bran informed the King that his brother was there.

“Brother,” the king said. “Come in, what is going on in your city?”

“ I am investigating a murder, your highness,” Cirroc said. “It is the murder of a man I think you knew.He was Jeshu the beggar, but I learned that he was Jeshu the assassin before that.”

The King drew in a sharp breath, “So that is what became of him,” he said. I wondered about

that, he worked here at the palace for a time, you know. He came here from the country.I

thought that I could trust him because some of the guards here had become untrustworthy.

“How did you know that they had become untrustworthy? “ Cirroc continued to question his brother.

“Instructions were not followed,” Conleach confided in Cirroc. “People would be in places they had no right or reason to be in, sometimes when they were supposed to be in other places.

Cirroc contemplated that and mentally filed it for possible future consideration. “I heard that you were trying to become the royal patron of the assassin’s guild.Why did you have Jeshu bring that up to the guild?”

“First, I asked Jeshu to do it because I believed that someone from the country would be more likely to pass mu wishes on to the guild, he said. “I believe my reasons for that would be obvious to you.”He did not explain anything more about that.

“Well if nothing else, it would give the government a stability that it would not have had before.” Cirroc said.“I’ve learned that he was crippled by a dual with another assassin.Do you know who that was?

“No,” the King said, “It must have happened at the guild.”

“Have you heard any rumors about who might have done it?” Cirroc asked.

“I don’t believe that will help you’re investigation,” the King said, beginning to sound angry. Cirroc recognized that as a dismissal.

“Forgive me,” Cirroc said, “and thank-you for the answers you have already given me.”

He headed back towards his own quarters. In the meantime, the King went into his inner chamber where he had been meeting with the Gran Visir.“Just my baby brother,” Conleach said.“He is investigating some sort of a murder that happened in his city, some beggar by the name of Jeshu.”

“Well we are nearly finished here,” the Visir informed the King. “There is just the report that the vote in the Assassins guild seems to be going our way.”

“Very good,” said the King. “Keep me informed about that.You can go now.We will see you again at dinner.”

“Aye, sir,” he said as he bowed and left.

The gran Visir immediately went in search of Loftus. “We have a problem<’ he told the guard.“The vote in the Assassins Guild is going against us.” He said through clenched teeth.“And Prince Cirroc has traced the death of that beggar to the capitol, and I believe, to the palace.We are going to have to stop him.”

“Are you ready to take on the King?” Loftus asked.

“We are prepared to move during the hunt.”

“Lord Ysbathen is with you?” Loftus asked.

“Yes, now that you removed the threat to his inheritance. But Prince Cirroc must be taken care of first.”

“Hmm,” was all Loftus said by way of acceptance.

That night, Cirroc was coming down to dinner. He was wearing the usual court clothing for an informal court dinner with the King.The only weapon he had was his dagger.He came around the turn in the stair, and came on Loftus.The Gran Visir was in front of them.Loftus cleared his throat, and the Gran Visir turned, nodded, and then turned back and went on into the dining room.

Loftus turned, drew his sword, and attacked Cirroc. The Prince drew his dagger and wished he had Avock and Grail beside him.He parried with his dagger because it was the only thing he had.He also called out loudly, “Help, help.”He did his best to defend against Loftus second attack and was glad he’d chosen to wear a doublet with wide sleeves.That provided him with some protection against Loftus’s blade as he wrapped the long trailing sleeves around his arm.But it would be little better then nothing if he did not get help fast.As Loftus continued his attack and Cirroc was able to counter his moves, Cirroc called out again, “Help, help.”

Loftus continued his attack. Now it became obvious by his moves that he was attempting to dislodge Cirroc form the step above him.Cirroc became determined not to be dislodged.Cirroc defended repeatedly.Loftus attacked from the right.If it had not been for the narrowness of the passage, the fight would have been over in a second.Loftus changed his attack to head on and Cirroc had to change his defense the same way.The Prince wondered if he would be able to keep it up long enough.He called out again as Loftus switched to the left side, which did not have a dagger.He succeeded in wounding Cirroc.

Cirroc knew that he could not afford to let his guard down. Loftus was the man who had killed his weapons master.Now he was relying not only on the things he had learned from that master, but also some of the techniques he had picked up from Grail and Avock.He parried and parried again and hoped that he knew a few tricks that Loftus would not expect.

People were gathering and their footsteps distracted both warriors a little. Cirroc took a chance and did something that Avock had done.He pulled his blade back a little and used his guarding hand to strike against the flat of Loftus’s sword.As more people arrived, Loftus was taken completely by surprise.Cirroc slipped his blade between Loftus’ ribs.Cirroc was so surprised at the success of this, that he almost fell on Loftus’ sword as he dropped it.

As they crashed to the floor together, Cirroc asked Loftus, “Why?”

“Isn’t if obvious,” Loftus said. “I took …” he was gasping now.“a commission…I was to …help the…Gran Visir… become King.”

At that moment there was a disturbance. The Gran Visir, Lord Kierbhallen himself, was in the crowd that heard this.He turned and tried to flee and was stopped by Conleach’s own sword.

“What did he promise you?” Cirroc asked.

“Land…” the pauses from Loftus were getting longer now. “…and a title. It…would…have …been…land…for…my…people.”Loftus breathed his last.Moments later the Gran Visir was also dead.

“How did this start?” the King asked.

“Believe it or not,” Cirroc said, “When Loftus killed a beggar in my city.” Conleach quickly had the healers there to deal with Cirroc’s wounds.

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