King, Chapters 1-5 are here:
Dynan leaned back in his chair at the King’s desk, reading as Gaden explained that he couldn’t find Marc. Yes, his receiver was working, but he wasn’t in the Palace or Rianamar. The only time they lost track of him was when he shifted outside the Palace, or changed form. “I don’t know where he is. His family is going to pull in the front gate any minute. I don’t know what to tell them.”
“Get Shalis down here and—no, don’t get Shalis. Get Bronwyn. Have her come down and take care of getting the Talryns settled upstairs. Don’t tell them anything. Don’t tell anyone anything. Did you talk to Drake?”
“Yes. He sent word to Trea. Everything is taken care of from that end.”
“All right. The story we’re going to put out is that Aldridge abducted the Talryns a few days ago, and then brought them here to use as a trap for Marc. Aldridge won’t be alive to confirm or deny. That’ll work long enough until they have a chance to learn a little about us.”
“For seven days it ought to work,” Gaden said, then looked down at the floor. “After that, I kind of doubt they’ll want to stay here anyway. Put them on a ship and send them home.”
Dynan nodded when he didn’t want to. “Welcome to Cobalt,” he said. “Your son is going to die to save us all. Thanks for stopping by. Now that you know what happened, you can go home.” He pushed himself to his feet and collected his comboard. “Whose justice brought them here? I’m going to try and find Marc. I’ll be in the arbor.”
The gardens looked and smelled more beautiful than he ever remembered them. Deceptively peaceful, he thought. An oasis of calm in the midst of chaos.
That calm was abruptly shattered by the appearance of Jamis, the Master Gardener, coming around the far bend in the walk. He was old and hobbling, but he held Garan firmly by the arm in one hand, and Durnin Mardon with the other. Durnin’s eyes were saucers, but as Garan was pulled along, he kept staring back over his shoulder. Jamis saw Dynan and brought the two truants straight to him.
A string of complaints followed, which Dynan finally cut off after reading the long rant. “Jamis, I’ll see to it that they aren’t allowed in here until this play area is complete. Lt. Grist, I want a guard on all the doors at all times. I want to know who was supposed to be watching these two and how they got away. For now, I want them escorted back to their respective parents. Garan, didn’t your father tell you to stay out of here?”
“Yes, Uncle Dynan, but—”
“Durnin did you know that Prince Garan wasn’t supposed to come down here?”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
“Lt. Grist is going to see to it that your parents are aware of that fact and the two of you suitably punished. Durnin, go wait at the door. I’m not going to have this anymore, Garan,” he said after the other had gone. “This is your last warning. Straighten up. Start doing what you’re told, or you’re going to spend the rest of your life in your room. You’re going to go with one of these guards right now. If you try and get away from him, I’ll be the one coming after you next. Not your mother. Not your father. Understand?”
Garan was only capable of nodding. He glanced back again. “I saw something…someone,” he said, and Dynan thought he knew. “There was something bad about them, and I felt like I needed to hide. Grandsir Roth always told me that was what I should do if I was scared of someone. That’s why we went into the playground. We were only going to look at it.”
Dynan forgot about being mad as he read. “Who did you see?”
It wasn’t too hard to guess that he got his opinion about her from his father. “Who else?”
“I don’t know her name. I think she’s one of Queen Alexia’s ladies.”
“Lady Alvuen?” he asked, and nodded. A chill shook through him, of anticipation and uncertainty, neither of which had anything to do with Garan. Dynan wondered if the little boy would tell Dain. He stooped down, softening his tone. “Listen, you can’t go off without your guard.”
“I’m not allowed to do anything.”
Dynan had to nod to that too. “For now, Garan, it isn’t safe.”
“He’ll just kill them,” he said, and wouldn’t look up. Dynan remembered easily enough how many people had died at Maralt’s hand right in front of the boy.
“They’ll call for help,” Dynan said. “Most of them have been shielded, so Maralt can’t hurt them. The ones who are supposed to keep track of you have been. I know you don’t want anyone to be in danger. Neither do I, but Garan, that’s their job.” He took him by both arms. “You know I’ll get to you, don’t you? And your father – both of them, and Marc, too. All of us, against one of him. We’ll get to him first. Can you believe that?”
Garan almost shook his head, but then he nodded. “I’m sorry.”
“All right. You still have to go to your room, and you still have to tell your mother and father about this. You’re supposed to be in class right now, aren’t you?”
“It’s really boring. They’re talking about things I already know.”
Dynan couldn’t help but laugh. “I want you to tell your Grandsir Ambrose that. Those exact words. Your father too. Go on, now.”
Dynan sent him on his way, mollified Jamis again and finally sat down to do what he’d come to the Arbor to do. Except he couldn’t. When he concentrated, he couldn’t find Marc at all. Dynan looked in the places he knew to look, and he thought he knew them all.
“Why do you even bother, Prince,” Maralt’s voice erupted in his mind, and startled him to his feet.
Maralt hadn’t changed since Dynan last saw him, despite the ethereal existence he was consigned to. He wore the same leering grin. His eyes were black to match his soul. He was taller than Dynan, though not by much. Facing him was still just as difficult. Memories of past tortures flooded through him, but he tried not to show any of that.
Messel and the other guards all moved in, until Dynan stopped them. Messel was shielded but the others weren’t. “That’s right,” Maralt said. “I can’t do anything to you, but these others…Marc can’t protect you all, or even himself. Beliel owns him, Dynan. You should have left him there. For your own sake. But this is a fact you’ll soon discover. In the days to come, he’ll betray your misplaced trust, fool that you are. You always were too trusting. No one dared tell you though. Maybe you’ll have the courage to thank me later, but I doubt it. Don’t say you haven’t been warned. Even your precious brothers will turn against you. All because of your ill found faith in Marc Talryn.”
“What’s your point, Maralt? That I should trust you? Thanks, but I think I’ll take my chances with Marc. Even though you did your best to subvert him, it didn’t work. You think he means to betray me? Why now, when he’s had so many opportunities before? He’s never touched me. Not once. You talk about faith and trust when you have no concept of what they mean. Did your master send you here? His weakling attempt to make me question my belief in Marc won’t work. Why don’t you run along and tell him that? Tell your precious demon that his plans are failing. Tell him no matter what he does, no matter how many creatures from his rotting pit he sends against me, he’ll fail. He will always fail because I have someone more powerful to stop him at every turn. I have Marc Talryn. He’ll never turn to you. He’ll never accept what you offer. Go Maralt. I’m done with you. Run to your Master.”
Maralt only smirked at him. “I assure you, he’s not done with you. He’ll be visiting you in your dreams tonight. Have a nice day, Your Highness.”
Dynan waited until he’d vanished before he sat down again. “Won’t be any different from last night,” he said and laid back in the grass, glancing up at Messel. “I can’t find Marc. I don’t know what to tell his parents. I want to crawl into a hole somewhere and never come out.”
Messel nodded, relaxing only slightly with Maralt’s departure. “I don’t think there’s a hole deep enough, Your Highness.”
Dynan grunted at that, and tossed aside his comboard, effectively cutting off his ability to communicate. He wondered if Aldridge was dead yet, and if Dain killed him. Dynan understood his desire for revenge, but didn’t think his brother realized the hollow consequences he would be faced with. An order signed. Another life taken. Dynan wondered if it would ever stop.
He rolled onto his stomach, and studied the grass knoll he was on to forget about it all. A small speck of an ant caught his attention and he watched while it struggled with a clipping of grass, hauling it down the green blade it had been cut from. He watched its progress, wondering where it would take the morsel.
“My advice,” he whispered, “is to stop while you can and eat it now.” The ant kept on, and was almost down when the hem of a blue gown brushed it off its careful perch and it was gone. “Told you,” he said and rolled over to find Liselle standing over him before she arranged her gown and joined him.
“Told who what?” she asked when he’d retrieved his comboard.
“The ant you just mashed. Never mind,” he said when she looked at him strangely. When he sat up, he saw Lady Alvuen walking away from them. “Strolling with the enemy?”
“It’s called being polite, Your Highness.”
“Since when are you polite?” He smiled at her imperious glare.
“That’s not a very nice thing to say to someone you coerced into attending the Ball with you.”
He rolled back onto his stomach, searching the grass beside her gown for the ant. “I didn’t coerce you. If you don’t want to go, don’t. With what you have planned, maybe it’s a better idea.” He used the optic function on the comboard to read in the next thing he asked. “How is all that going, anyway?”
“As expected,” Liselle read back to him and then she deleted the lines.
Dynan grumbled under his breath, which made the comboard run an error.
“What’s wrong?” Liselle asked.
“You mean besides that I can’t hear a word you’re saying, and I have more problems than any man has the right to have? Absolutely nothing. Nothing is wrong with me.”
“If you’re looking for sympathy then you’re going about it the wrong way.” She leaned down beside him, looking into the grass. “Look at all the things you can be thankful for. You can’t hear, but you can read well enough and therefore communicate. Your father is alive. You have two brothers instead of the one you started out with. That one has me jumping for joy. And you have the love of the woman you want to marry.”
He smiled because he hadn’t really been serious anyway. “Thanks for the sermon. I’ll try to remember all that next time Maralt shows up, or something worse.”
“You mean he was just here?”
“Yes. Had a lovely talk too. I always enjoy trading threats with him. Gives me a headache every time.” He glanced at her then, saw that she was frowning over something and asked her why.
“Nothing really,” she said but the quizzical frown remained for a moment longer. Then she smiled. “If you have a headache, I have the cure. Come over here. No, don’t argue. Just do what you’re told for a change. You’ll feel better when I’m finished with you, I promise.”
He relented after a brief hesitation, deciding that there wasn’t any harm in it. Besides, one of Liselle’s massages was guaranteed to make him feel better. That, he knew from memory. He made himself comfortable with his head resting in her lap. He smiled at the cool touch of her fingertips on his face, closed his eyes and let his mind wander.