King, Chapter 4

Chapters 1 – 3 are here: http://jm-harrison.com/8-king-chronicle-8-sample-chapter/ 

~Chapter 4~

It was nearly dawn when they returned to the Palace, weary, but successful. Several more serpents lost their lives, too many chompies to count and one very ugly worm were all dead. Sent back to their maker, Marc thought as he landed on the front lawn. Those guards who’d never seen him as a dragon before called out in alarm, but they were silenced and then reassured by others who knew better. At least no one shot at him this time.

He waited for his two passengers to slide off, wishing that they would stop talking. They’d been going on constantly all night, and while they hadn’t been arguing, Marc wasn’t sure if their newfound camaraderie wasn’t worse than the bickering. When they hadn’t liked each other, they hadn’t talked so much. The current conversation seemed to keep them from getting off and Marc’s patience wore out. It didn’t take much more than a shake to rid himself of them.

“What did you do that for?” Dain Ardin asked, picking himself up off the ground.

“He always gets a little irritable when he’s about to change back,” Dain said. Marc growled at them both. “See what I mean? Let’s go inside. I’m freezing.”

“I’m hungry.”

“You’re always hungry.”

They went off together and Marc saw Ralion coming out just as they reached the doors, still looking a little haggard. He looked after them, plainly surprised by their behavior. Marc forced himself back into his own body as Ralion came down. “What’s with them?” he asked.

“I think I’ve created a monster. Two of them. They’ve decided to be friends, is what. How are you feeling?”

Ralion shrugged. “All right.”

“You’re up early.”

“Morlin came in.”

Marc stopped at that. “We lost the ship.”

“How did you know?”

Marc shook his head. “When?”

“A few hours ago.”

“Any idea how?”

“None. They’d been reporting in on a regular basis, and then they weren’t. Central Con can’t find any trace of them. One minute they were there. The next they weren’t.”

“How many?”

“There was a crew of five.”

Marc closed his eyes. “Notify their families. Is Dynan awake?”

“No.”

“I’ll tell him.”

“Morlin wants to send another ship.”

“Why? So we can lose that one too? No.”

Ralion hesitated. “He wants to hear it from Dynan.”

Marc stopped on the stair. “Is our High Commander having doubts about my integrity?”

“I don’t know why he said that, Marc.”

“He’ll hear it from Dynan. In the mean time, he better not send another ship.”

“I’ll make sure he understands that. I take it you were successful?” Ralion asked.

“There are probably a few lizards still on the loose. I’m going to have Ambrose put out another bulletin on them. They’re easy to kill, especially when they’re alone. City Guard ought to be able to handle them. The carcass of the worm is burning on the other side of the Governor’s Hall. We found it snuffling around inside the ruins of the ballroom. There was a serpent down by the shore and another heading out of town. I’m hoping that’s all of them. When does Dynan go in for surgery?”

“Geneal’s prepping right now.”

“I’ll talk to him afterward then. Security for the Ball all set?”

“Yes.”

“Do we have any idea why our receivers went down at the Temple?” Marc asked, turning at the top of the stair to look out over Rianamar. Behind him, it was just starting to get light on the far eastern horizon.

“None, except some unexplainable interference caused by the barriers we encountered. The Com system never went down from this end.”

Marc grumbled at that. “All right. No mistakes tonight, Ralion. If we’re attacked again, the whole damn System is going to erupt. It won’t matter if Ambrose refuses the crown then. They’ll take it away from all of them.”

“We’re prepared for anything they can throw at us. I’ve personally checked every person who’ll be walking in the door. We know all the servants. We’re set. The serpents, worms and other creatures of the night are your department. If you think they’re going to send the evil nasties after us again, then maybe we ought to cancel the damn thing.”

“No evil nasties tonight,” Marc said, and felt fairly certain of it. After what Dain Ardin had said about action and reaction, it seemed that both sides had done enough of that to last a while. He knew that the demon had been weakened by Dynan’s actions. It hadn’t gotten what it needed and the gate had closed, by all accounts, in its face. Marc shivered at how narrow that escape had been.

“They’re permanently in our dreams,” Ralion said quietly. “Geneal has me on some inhibitor thing that keeps me from dreaming so much. Trevan too.”

“Well, if it helps, we won a round. The demon won’t be back.”

“Unless the High Bishop dies.” Ralion nodded when Marc glanced at him. “The mysterious they that no one has been able to name until now. I figured it out.”

“He’ll live long enough.”

Marc hoped so anyway. He left Ralion for his rooms to try and get some sleep, but ended up helping Geneal instead. He was surprised to learn that she would be taking Dynan to the new Medic station just off the main hall of the Royal quarters instead of down to the Medic Center. It was easier on everyone, she explained, but especially Dynan. He wouldn’t have to be woken, and he wouldn’t tolerate being carted all the way down to the Medic Center. It was perfectly safe, since the procedure wasn’t that complicated.

Marc waited until she’d moved Dynan to the Medic station, then went to bed. Three hours later he was up again and in Dynan’s bedroom, giving him the daily report. The Prince still couldn’t hear, but Geneal expected that, saying it would take time before they would know whether the procedure was successful.

He was less groggy than Marc expected and looked better. He said he felt better, except his throat hurt. His voice was strained because of that. He sat up in bed, listening while he tried scratching under the bandages on his left arm. Marc told him all the good news first, saving the report on the lost ship for last.

Dynan didn’t say anything for a few moments, except to swear under his breath. “You weren’t wrong.” He swore again.

“Morlin wants to send another ship.”

“And you don’t.”

Marc shook his head, and repeated his conversation with Carryn. “Faith,” he whispered, and rubbed an eye with an un-bandaged fingertip. “Somehow it seems easier to apply that concept to things less real than a threat of an Alcasian attack.”

“Less real than a demon?”

“No, I…It seems different, when it isn’t. So I’m supposed to trust in faith that the Alcasians aren’t coming here to destroy Cobalt on the day of the Rising. The day I’m crowned, Marc.”

“That’s the impression I get. There isn’t much sense in doing anything else. Any ships we send will be destroyed, even if it’s the entire fleet. We’ll end up guaranteeing an attack here.”

Dynan shook his head, and looked at him. “Do you realize what will happen if this gets out?”

“Yes, which is why it can’t. The only person I’m concerned with on that front is Commander Morlin. He won’t like it that you’re not sending another ship. He made it clear to Ralion that he wouldn’t accept such an order from anyone but you. He may not accept it even then. If he doesn’t, he has a legal right to take this to the Governors. It seems that since he’s found out what I’m capable of doing, he feels I’m influencing your ability to make independent decisions.”

“Morlin has known all along that you’re an Adept.”

“He sees what I can do now as a larger threat. He thinks not sending another ship would be a mistake. He doesn’t believe that you’d refuse that recommendation unless I’m making you, or more specifically controlling you. He doesn’t trust me anymore.”

“Why do you think that?”

“Because of what he said to Ralion. I haven’t talked to him myself, mostly because doing so will only convince him that he’s right. I don’t blame him, Dynan. Look at what’s been happening. Better they blame me than you for it all. When I’m gone and everything is all better again, they’ll say you made it that way.”

“I’m not going to let that happen, Marc.”

“Why not? It’ll be true, and not a bad way to start out. King Dynan, savior of the universe. That’s what they’re saying right now anyway. The Savior Prince.” They’d called him that once before, on Cadal and Marc smiled at the memory.

“It isn’t right.”

“Isn’t being blamed for all the bad things that happen part of being the Lord Chancellor? I don’t mind, except for the effect it might have on doing my job.”

“I’ll straighten Morlin out. And he won’t be going to the Governors either.”

“I didn’t say he would, but he has the right to.”

“What right? Did Kamien ever give him that right?”

“Did your father?” Marc smiled at the glaring frown he got for that. “You’ll have to wait until after you’re crowned to abolish that one. For now, we’re stuck with the rules we started with. Morlin has the right, but I seriously doubt he’ll want to use it.”

“It gives him the power to keep me off the Throne. You think he’ll want to use that?”

“No, Dynan.”

“Maybe he’d rather have my father reinstated.” He shook his head and tossed his covers off, wincing as he moved to stand. Marc didn’t help him, watching while he limped back and forth by the bed.

“Worried Ambrose might change his mind?”

“I’m worried that if he doesn’t change his mind, they’ll take it away from both of us. Nice to be so well thought of. I never wanted the stupid chair to begin with.”

“You broke the storm, and people are scared. They see your father as a known quantity that’s reassuring. They don’t understand why he’s able to be here, only that he is. They want that stability. Or they think they do. That’s the key. They think Ambrose as King will make all this go away. You know that it won’t and so does he. You’re now faced with the unfortunate prospect of convincing the people that Ambrose can’t be reinstated. The way you do that is to remind them of something they already know. Chaos breeds chaos. Father bequeaths unto son. That can’t be changed just to suit the times we live in. It’s against natural order. Ask them if they want order or chaos and I think they’ll pick the former every time.”

Dynan stopped pacing and nodded after a while, but Marc could tell he didn’t want to make any case for his own crowning. “I don’t know what to think anymore, except for wishing the last six years of my life never happened.”

“Seven actually,” Marc said. “The anniversary of Ambrose’s death is two days before the coronation.”

Dynan shook his head at that, and sat on the edge of the bed, looking down into his bandaged hands. “Then on that day everyone should be wishing the same thing.”

“It should serve as a reminder that he really did die, and that his presence here is abnormal.” Marc watched him. “You think you’ll feel up to attending the Ball tonight?” he asked just to change the subject. He already knew the answer.

“Yes,” Dynan said, then smiled a little. “My escorting Liselle ought to go over well, don’t you think?”

Marc stared at him. Liselle Telaerin had a long, storied history with Dynan, having drugged him when he was seventeen in an attempt to coerce him into marrying her. She ended up married to Dynan’s cousin Gauvin, who ended up dead the night they landed at the Beren Mansion. Now that she was at the Palace, Dynan had opted to forgive her. Maybe with due reason. Marc didn’t really know her, except through memories that weren’t his own. He thought about Dain’s reaction first, whose intolerance for Liselle was well known, and then Loren’s, who oddly enough, got along with her just fine. He didn’t know what the general populace of Lords, Ladies and Governors would think, but he was certain that Alexia would be furious. “You like living dangerously.”

“I didn’t think I’d need to explain it to you, too,” Dynan said and frowned at him.

“You don’t.”

“First, I want her name cleared. She was nothing more than a victim of Westiben and Maralt at Beren. They used her to get to me and she doesn’t deserve the designation of traitor. Second, taking her will divert attention off Danetha. Alexia won’t like it, I know, but I have to do something to stop the talk about our agreement.”

“That ought to do it.”

Dynan flashed him a look. “Third, if I get too tired and need to leave, Liselle won’t be offended, and in case you were wondering, it was Loren’s idea. She and Liselle have become instant best friends, and she told me she wouldn’t mind.”

“How magnanimous of her. What about the Governors?”

“It’ll give them something to talk about.”

Marc laughed. “Yes, it will. You and your women. You’re getting a worse reputation than Dain.”

Dynan fought down a smile and lost. “Hard to believe, isn’t it?”

“Not after getting to know your family. So have you broken this news to Alexia yet, or are you going to wait and spring it on her?”

“The guest list is going out today.”

“Maybe I’ll just hide out up here then and let your father deal with her. He seems able to do it better than any of us. He intimidates her, which isn’t something you or I have ever seen. That’s something. As far as the crowning goes, at least Alexia will be on your side.”

“Is that supposed to make me happy?” Dynan shook his head then. “I meant to thank you for arranging for me to see Loren.”

The art of sneaking two lovelorn people around unknown, unseen so that they could spend some time with each other without anyone else finding out about it wasn’t a job skill Marc expected to need, and turned out to be more difficult than he imagined. They got caught anyway.

“Except I forgot to tell you that your father was still up. I got an earful, believe me. He was madder at me for letting her see you than at you for…well, you know what for. He’s afraid it’s too big a risk. Really, he was fairly pleased that you stood up to him and told him to mind his own business. He’s so proud of you, Dynan, he can hardly see straight, and happy that he can help you. Except every now and then he forgets that you’ve grown up and earned the right to make your own decisions.”

“He isn’t the only one forgetting. I was this close to going along with it and doing what he told me to. It was sort of an automatic response.”

“The do as your told syndrome. It seemed to work well enough on the Dains.”

“Long enough to keep them from fighting it out right then and there. It’s hard to believe that a shield was all there was to it.”

“It’s not, but it’ll help Dain figure out what he needs to. I don’t think he’s so set against having Dain Ardin help him anymore. They’ve both been through some horrible things, together and apart. At least now, they can talk about it. That’s all they’ve been doing. Constantly. I figure it’ll take another day or so before the good humor dies down a little.”

“You could be wrong too, in which case, we’re in a lot of trouble. One of them was bad enough. Two could be catastrophic.”

Marc smiled when he should have been worried about it. They talked a while longer, and then Marc left Dynan to his rest. He frowned as he neared the door to the hall, hearing the distinct sound of swords clashing in rapid succession. Marc jerked the door open, reaching for his own sword, until he saw who it was.

Anger born from relief changed as Marc watched two expert swordsmen show off for the Palace staff. Dain and Dain Ardin laughed as they danced around each other, swords tapping together with amazing precision. All the guards watched in growing awe. Marc saw the purpose behind this little display, as well as the side benefit of providing a needed distraction from too many worries. They bantered back and forth, drawing laughter from the on-lookers. Marc saw Bronwyn and Shalis standing near the entrance to their room. Marella’s oldest daughter, Magretta stood with them, watching avidly. Her youngest son, Durnin was nowhere to be seen and Ariella, the baby, was likely with her mother. Prince Justin had remained behind to shoulder the responsibility of running the Trea System for the first time. Rupart, Drake’s Lord Chancellor had also stayed behind and, in fact, had the King’s trust and the authority to act on his behalf. Drake had been away from home for more than two weeks, and Marc wondered how much of an appearance the King and Queen would make that day.

Another burst of laughter returned his attention to the duel. Marc realized that they had done this before. It wasn’t so much that the fight was staged, but the speed and precision employed had to have been practiced many times before. Watching them made Marc all the more amazed that he’d survived the Throne Room at all, having faced the end of Dain’s sword that one time.

Still, it was frightening to watch even knowing that this battle was orchestrated. Marc could tell who had seen this display and who hadn’t. By far the most amazed were the guards. They had never seen anything like it. Neither had Marc, and he cringed when the pace picked up abruptly. All pretense of jest vanished as swords flashed and clanged with incredible speed, switched from one hand to the other without flaw and even traded one to the other.

He heard laughter beside him then as Dynan joined him. “You may not want to watch this last part.”

Marc never took his eyes off them, wondering what would happen if one of them made a mistake. They weren’t using practice swords. They danced away from each other, turning to present the narrowest possible target. Their weapons arced back and, amidst the gasps of the crowd, were thrown. Instantly, they raced forward as the blades turned end over end, making a whirring noise as they spun. One wrong move and one or both of them could lose a hand or worse, but the weapons were snatched back from the air and with a flourish, locked against the other at the hilts.

Laughter and an appreciative round of applause rewarded the performance, and with one last flamboyant turn of the blade, executed in precise duplication, the weapons were lowered, and smartly returned to scabbard.

Another round of cheers and applause mingled with relief. Marc noticed Ambrose standing just inside the door with Creal Nyant, smiling as he explained to the King what he just witnessed. Dain and his twin laughed at the crowd’s reaction while they tried to catch their breath.

“Told you we were in trouble,” Dynan said.

“You did that with him?”

“All the time, especially at the big Balls, like the one we’re having tonight.”

“They aren’t listed as part of the entertainment.”

“Neither were we and we always practiced up here too.”

“That was a practice?”

Dynan nodded. “Come on. I want to see what Creal wants. How do I sound?”

“A little strained, but otherwise all right.”

It turned out that all Creal wanted was to see Dynan and make sure he was all right. Marc got the impression that Creal wanted to see him alone, but wouldn’t ask. There had been other requests that Marc remembered and made him wonder what the King wanted to talk about.

Ambrose handed his son a comboard. “Gaden says that until your hearing is restored you might find this useful,” Marc said, repeating Ambrose.

Dynan read for a moment, then activated his receiver. “Someone say something.”

“It’s a new program,” Ambrose said and his words printed across the comboard screen. “Gaden and Trevan modified it slightly, running the audio through your receiver which in turn transmits to the comboard. It’s a little faster than the optics program and it’s more convenient for you if who you are talking to doesn’t have a comboard in hand. Gaden said he has to work on something to narrow the receptor radius in case you need this tonight in a crowd.”

“Or permanently,” Dynan said. “So far I can’t hear a thing.”

“It’s still too early to tell, son. You have to keep a positive attitude about these things.”

Dynan smiled at that. “Yes, sir.”

“What are you doing up anyway? Shouldn’t you conserve your strength for tonight? Have you eaten?”

“I need to move around, or I won’t be able to by tonight. I feel better. I haven’t eaten, but I was on my way to see if you had.”

“Creal and I are about to go do that. Join us, please. Have you had a chance to look over those documents I sent up?”

“Yes, sir. I signed them and sent them back down just now. You should have gotten them.”

“I came from the Guest wing.” Ambrose put his arm around him, leading him away, and Marc watched after them a moment. Dain and Dain Ardin were taunting the guards, trying to entice them into a match. Avry Tor and Roland Clarke were the only ones who agreed and only after several overt challenges questioning their abilities.

Dain Ardin noticed Marc then, and gave him a look, the same sort of daring expression he used on the guards. Marc started shaking his head. “Come on, my Lord Chancellor. I promise I’ll take it easy on you.”

“No way.” Marc left for his office, meaning to spend the rest of the day there, catching up on some work.

~*~

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