King, Chapters 1-4 are here:
Garan Telaerin tugged at Prince Durnin Mardon’s sleeve when he saw that their tutor was distracted with the other children. It was a comfort to discover that despite being the son of a King, Durnin didn’t act differently from any other kid Garan had met. He didn’t put on airs and he was fun to be around. They were opposites in looks; Garan had blond hair and blue eyes and Durnin had dark brown hair like his mother and dark eyes to match. They were the same wiry build and about the same height, though Garan edged him out there.
“Let’s go down to the arbor,” he whispered and eased for the open door that would take him out of the nursery through the servant entrance. Durnin hesitated, but then agreed and the two of them slipped out unnoticed. “My father is building this place to play. You have to see it.”
“Won’t we get in trouble?”
Garan stopped a moment at that thought, guessing that he would. All that usually meant was that he would get frowned at and told not to do it again. He was bored and tired of being cooped up. Having never had a play place specially built for him, he couldn’t stand waiting. He wanted to see how soon it would be finished. “It’ll be all right. Come on.”
They made it through the servant’s quarters without being seen, winding their way down one floor to the next until they finally came out beside the courtyard. After a quick dash down the long hall to the arbor entrance, they were in. There weren’t any guards inside, but at the exit at the very back where it opened to the outside. The sounds of birds chirping and singing opened up around them as they entered. The smell of green was everywhere with the occasional flower to go with it. There was no place better.
Garan turned for the path that would take him back to what he called his corner. He saw Jamis, the Master Gardener, over on another path, and the boys crouched down so they wouldn’t be noticed. Jamis was old and didn’t hear too well, so he was easy to get by.
There were other people strolling the stone walks that wound through the garden. Garan saw Lady Liselle with another woman who had dark, almost black hair. For some reason he got the impression that they didn’t want to be seen. Lady Liselle, he knew. His Uncle Dynan liked her, but his father didn’t. The other one he wasn’t sure of, but remembered seeing her with Queen Alexia, and guessed that she was one of her servants. He was only getting used to being around Kings and Queens, so keeping them all straight was a new challenge for him and not so easy. Everyone seemed to think he should just know.
When Alexia’s lady servant turned abruptly and saw him, her dark eyes narrowing at the sight of him, a shiver ran down his spine. For a moment, he was held frozen in place. There was a strange, uncomfortable gleam in her eyes. She did not feel very friendly.
Durnin tugged on his arm then, pulling him down the path toward the sprawling wood structure that was so close to being finished Garan could hardly stand waiting anymore. Suddenly, he didn’t really want to be there though, and looked after Liselle and the other woman. She was still watching him, and he was afraid. Durnin was already crawling through the barricades that were set up to keep them out until the play area was finished. Garan went after him, forgetting all the warnings from his father about being in here before the barricades were down. All he wanted to do then was get out of sight, and the tower fort, finished or not, provided just such a safe haven. When he climbed up and looked out one of the narrow windows, the Ladies were gone.
Trey Talryn watched his captor muttering under his breath about some communications problem he was having. Aldridge Faulk was agitated, but more than that he seemed fearful, though he covered whatever was bothering him the next moment. He jerked around, the lanky white hair hanging in unwashed strands around his face, and glared at Trey.
“What are you looking at?”
“You,” Trey said when he should have said nothing. They’d learned that over the course of the long voyage from Cadal. Aldridge was insane and a murderer.
He lunged out of the chair by the controls and crossed the hold of the ship in three steps, yanking Trey up by two fistfuls of shirt. One hand drew back and descended, striking him hard across the jaw.
Aldridge was a murderer, but he wouldn’t kill them, a thing they had also discovered after only a few days on board. He was under orders to bring them to Maralt. That order saved Trey again, for the third time now, from anything more than a solid beating. Pushing Aldridge this way, to the brink of disobedience, was almost worth the pain to watch the fear of what Maralt might do to him settle in.
He picked Trey up off the floor and hit him again, and would have struck him a third time, except his father came into the hold. Aldridge shoved Trey at him. “Keep your brat out of my business.”
Meril took Trey and pulled him back behind him, facing the albino’s rage without flinching. Aldridge turned away first and stumped back to the controls. He didn’t stay there. He left the hold for the flight deck, muttering as he departed.
Meril took hold of Trey carefully by the face to examine his injuries. His father had aged since they left Cadal. It seemed like there was more grey in his dark hair than before. The lines at each eye deepened to furrows. He moved slower and with more care. The same was true of his mother.
“I’m all right.”
“You have to stop challenging him,” Meril said in cold fury. Like Trey, he had silver grey eyes. Like Marc too, and Matt. “Or you’re going to get yourself killed.”
“He isn’t going to kill any of us.”
“He isn’t going to kill all of us, Trey,” Meril corrected. “He only has to show up with one to appease his master. Do you really think Maralt will care that much? It’ll be enough to hurt Marc if any of us are dead. Aldridge knows this. Right now, he’s keeping us all alive for a reason, probably as a means to barter for his safe passage if it comes to that. If circumstances warrant it, he’ll kill us all, one by one. But he’ll save your mother for last. Think about that and stop putting yourself at risk.”
Trey didn’t argue. He lowered his voice and made sure Aldridge couldn’t hear them. “There’s something wrong. He’s tried communicating with someone, three times just in the last two days. It isn’t working. He talks to himself all the time. Some code he used to use isn’t working. I saw a group of planets that seem pretty close on one of those screens. We’re running out of food. I think we’re going to stop soon.”
Two days later, they found out Trey was right.
Landing was just as terrifying as launching, but they did it uneventfully. Aldridge shut the ship down and left them without explanation. He waited at the end of the ramp until it had closed again. The air that blew in never smelled so amazing. Trey turned to his parents.
“We have to get off the ship,” he said, and moved to the flight deck to look out the small windows after Aldridge. He was disappearing through an opening inside a building that the ship sat in. There were other ships coming in to land or taking off. Trey could hear them, some closer than others. He hurried back to the hold, and went to a section of the ceiling where he’d seen Aldridge climb up before. Late one night, when everyone else was asleep, Trey had climbed up to see what was there. He discovered a compartment that housed a lot of equipment that seemed necessary to run the ship. He also found the emergency escape hatch.
His parents were afraid they would be caught and afraid they wouldn’t be able to find help. They didn’t know where they were. They only had one name to give and they all knew the trouble Dynan Telaerin had been in. There could be more danger saying they knew him than saying nothing at all. Trey managed to convince them, quickly, that they had to take their chances. It wasn’t too difficult to realize their lives were in greater danger the closer to Maralt they came.
Trey led them to the top of the ship after trying the controls of the ramp. He knew they wouldn’t open. Aldridge put some sort of code on them. The hatch was a simpler control. There was a lever to pull. The thing hissed and popped open.
Daylight streamed in. Welcome fresh air poured through the opening. In moments, they had climbed out and clambered down off the nose of the ship. Trey led them through a different opening than the one Aldridge had taken, afraid of running into him, especially without anyone else around. The tunnel-like halls were empty. Around every corner they feared to see him, and that fear didn’t leave them even when they finally found their way free of the building.
Outside, a vast city spread before them. Roadways drew away from them with building after building. There were crafts of a kind they had never seen, floating along, pulling into the area of the building they had just come from. A shadow cut off the light as another flying ship came in, whirring over their heads. Farina cringed, gripping Meril’s arm tightly. They felt exposed and didn’t know what to do or where to go to get help, if help even existed.
Trey spotted Aldridge hurrying down one of the roads ahead of them.
“We should follow him,” Meril said. “We follow until he starts back for the ship. We’ll be able to stay out of sight that way. We need to find an official of some sort. They’ll be in uniform.”
“Meril, where are we?” Farina asked, looking after the craft.
He looked around and shook his head. “I wish I knew.”
Dynan walked through Marc’s office on his way to his own and found the Lord Chancellor with his feet propped up, leaned back in his chair and his eyes closed. Dynan thought he was asleep, but Marc straightened as soon as he walked in. “Everything all right?”
“Yes. Just listening to a file. Too much reading gives me a headache.”
Dynan nodded, then turned for his office when Gaden came in. He tapped the comboard he held against his hand. He looked worried, and Dynan closed his eyes, fearing some new catastrophe. “What is it?”
“I just got a report from Central Con on a ship we had red-lined. It’s an X833 and matches the registry on a ship we tracked going back to Cadal. Right around the time you left.”
“What?” Marc demanded and sat up.
“They just landed at City Port and the Captain there gave me a description of the pilot that matches the one we have on Aldridge Faulk.” Gaden looked sharply behind him then, leaning out the door. “Dain wait! Both of you. They’re not listening.”
Dynan swore again and started after his brothers, but Marc stopped him. “Wait Dynan. They’ll be all right. Listen to me. Together they won’t have any trouble with Aldridge, and we need to get to him before he has a chance to connect with Logue.”
Gaden frowned then, reading from the comboard. “Port just reported a man, a woman and a younger man leaving the craft. He overheard the woman call one of the men Meril.”
Marc paled. “That’s my father.”
“Dain,” Dynan said, forcing his brother to listen, explaining that Marc’s family was involved. He grabbed Marc by the arm when he meant to go too.
“Let me go.”
“No, Marc. My brothers will take care of this. Like you said, they won’t have any problem with Aldridge. They’ll take care of your family. You’re not going and that’s an order.” A chill raced through him when Marc turned on him, but Dynan didn’t let him go either. “We’re going to wait here together. Sit down. Start thinking about how we’re going to explain this. Gaden, call Drake and tell him he needs to notify our pretend Talryns on Trea to pack up and disappear.”
Those people had been plucked out of obscurity by the Queen of Trea to give Marc the appropriate background in the hopes of keeping where he was really from secret. They’d managed it so far, and needed to keep it that way still even though Dynan was certain the other Royals knew where Marc was from the same way they knew where Loren was from. There had to be a day, soon, where the pretense and the subterfuge wouldn’t be necessary, but it wasn’t this day.
Marc sank into the chair in front of the desk, his face a mixture of realizations, none of them happy. He put his hand to his head and started rubbing his temple.
“They’re going to be all right,” Dynan said. “All of them.”
“I know they will. That’s not…”
Dynan frowned at the comboard, unable to tell what was wrong without being able to hear him. “What is it, Marc?”
“My wish,” he said, then wiped his eyes. “Dain asked me what I wanted most. We were talking about what’s going to happen and how he doesn’t feel that any of it is fair. So he asked me and I told him that it didn’t matter because it wasn’t possible.”
“You told him you wanted to see your family again.” Dynan watched while Marc bent over his knees. “Maybe there’s justice in the world after all.”
“Just the unforgiving kind.” Marc looked up at him. “How am I going to explain all this? They’ve come all this way under who knows what sort of circumstances to find me, only to learn that in seven days I’m going to die. They aren’t going to accept that. Whose justice brought them here?”
He stood then, mumbling something the comboard couldn’t translate and before Dynan could stop him, he disappeared. Dynan swore again while Gaden stood in the doorway looking confused.
The transfer pilot wisely relinquished the controls, but by the time they arrived, stopping near the Market Square, the man had paled considerably. People saw them as they climbed out, noting the abrupt way the craft halted, and apparently recognized that there was something dangerous afoot. Many of them turned around and walked the opposite direction.
“What’s happening?” Dynan asked.
Dain glanced at Dain Ardin. “So far, nothing, except for a bunch of people wondering what we’re doing rushing in to town with just a couple of guards for company.”
“You took your guard? That’s something.”
“Roland and Avry” Dain said. He glanced at the two men, both of whom were his double in height and build. Both men were blond, and the same in every way possible to Dain physically. “We’re starting to clear the streets.”
“Why?” Dynan asked.
“They see us and know there’s trouble,” Dain said, searching through the sea of faces, looking for one. In the process, he noticed expressions of worry and fear staring back at him. With good reason, he thought. He hadn’t managed to come into town without some sort of catastrophe following him. “One thing after the other.”
Dain Ardin looked over at him. “Had enough yet?”
“About a week ago.”
The Market Square opened up around them, filled with people going about their business. It was a fine day, clear and crisp and there were about two hundred people milling about.
“This could be difficult,” Dain Ardin said.
“Try impossible. He could have gone anywhere from Port.”
“But he didn’t,” Dain Ardin said then, nodding toward the far side of the square. “By the baker’s shop.”
“I see him.”
Aldridge stood with his back to them, but Dain would know him anywhere. He was a tall man and his hair was albino white. He was Maralt’s assassin, far more than Logue ever hoped to be, deadly with a sword and heedless of who got in his way.
Dain looked around and found two men wearing the kind of cloaks he wanted just then, borrowing them with a slight smile. As he handed one over to Dain Ardin, he saw the men’s eyes widen. They’d heard of his double, staring between the two of them. That they hadn’t believed it until just then was apparent.
“Avry, you go that way,” Dain said, pointing into the square as he pulled the cloak around him and the hood up over his head. He directed Roland the other direction. “No arguments. I don’t want anyone else getting caught up in this. If Aldridge sees us, he’ll grab someone off the street and kill someone else to prove his point. Move.”
Dain Ardin nodded and moved off a few paces, keeping his cloak closed with one hand, while readying his sword with the other. Aldridge remained at the baker’s, collecting supplies now. Apparently, he didn’t intend to stay. Every now and then, he turned around to search the crowd. On one of those occasions, he looked right at Dain Ardin and his eyes narrowed.
Dain picked up his pace, trying not to attract attention at the same time. A young girl walked a step or so in front of him. Aldridge saw her. His hand shot out for her. Dain leapt forward, snatching at her cloak and got her a second before Aldridge could. Dain hauled her back, pushing her down. A dagger appeared, aimed not at him, but at Dain Ardin.
Dain stumbled over the girl, but crashed into Aldridge as the dagger was thrown, and it thunked harmlessly into a tree, one of many that lined the walkways. Another dagger was in Aldridge’s hand as they fell, slashing down at him. Dain twisted and grabbed the descending arm. Aldridge stared down at him, and almost turned to look back.
“Your worst nightmare,” Dain said.
Aldridge froze as a sword slid across his neck, cutting his jaw. He did turn then, slowly, and the blade followed him around to rest at his throat. Dain Ardin stood over him, smiling, while Aldridge gaped at him. “Surprise.”
Avry and Roland moved in with their weapons drawn, prompting a lot of people to back away. Most already had and now stood staring. Dain got up and went to the girl to help her. She hadn’t had time to be surprised, hardly aware of her danger until it was already past. Dain sent her off quickly, but not before she threw her arms around his neck, and to the amusement of the growing crowd, gave him a lasting kiss.
A young man, bearing a strong resemblance to Marc, cautiously approached them. Dain saw him and held out his hand. “You must be Trey Talryn.”
Trey stared at him, but took his hand. “You’re not—”
“I’m his twin brother. My name is Dain. Your mother and father—” He stopped because he saw them approaching from the same alley Trey had come from. He introduced himself again, and pulled them back to where Dain Ardin stood with Roland and Aldridge. “I know you must be worried and confused by all this, but it would be better if you didn’t ask too many questions right now.”
“But he’s not Dynan either,” Trey said.
“Is Marc all right?” Meril Talryn asked, even as Farina did.
“Your son is fine,” Dain Ardin answered, flashing Dain a look while he introduced himself. “Our situation is a little complicated. Marc is up at the Palace waiting for you. We’ll answer your questions, but not here. There’s a transfer on the way. My, uh, brother and I have to deal with this man. We can’t take Aldridge to the Palace.”
Dain realized why not. Maralt had split himself into Arlon and Logue. They couldn’t risk that happening again. “Dynan, has that transfer left yet?”
“Send down a messenger then, with an order for Aldridge’s immediate execution.” He explained his reasons for that request and Dynan agreed.
“You’ll need three witnesses, other than yourselves, since you and Dain Ardin are his accusers. Grab them off the street. It doesn’t matter who. I can send someone down from the Medic Center to do this if you want.”
“Do you think I’m going to have a problem carrying out your orders?”
“No, Dain. That’s not what I mean.”
“I’m going to cut off his filthy head and leave him to rot on the beach. I’m not going to have a problem with this.” He turned to the Talryns. “The transfer is on its way. Roland will wait here with you. Get them something to eat if they want. No one talks to them, and please, don’t talk to anyone here. Roland, there’s a messenger on his way with our orders. Send him to the beach.”
Dain turned to the gathered crowd and raised his voice. “I need three men to act as witness to the execution of this man. His name is Aldridge Faulk. He’s one of Maralt Adaeryn’s assassins. He’s charged with murder, attempted murder, acts of torture and a string of other crimes too long to list.”
The men whose cloaks he’d taken came forward with four others. Dain picked one more and as he directed them toward the beach, the transfer pulled up. They waited to see the Talryns off, and then turned for the road that would lead to the shore of the Wythe Sea.