King Chapters 1-7 are here:
Dynan looked down at his brothers and bit back a smile. “Well then snap your fingers and I’m sure it will all happen at your command.”
“That would be a first.”
Before Dain Ardin could do anything though, a side door opened, and a tall, lithe, fairy of a woman tiptoed into the hall. Aloft in her hand, held so precisely, a blue rose bloomed. Lilting strains of music accompanied her, and she danced to the center of the room. Dain Ardin’s mouth fell open, and Dynan struggled against laughing. The dancer glided forward and presented the blossom, moving with the grace of a swan. Dynan took the rose, and just because he knew it would drive his brother crazy, he kissed the girl’s hand. He got a really nice smile for it, too, and a few people oohing about it.
Four other dancers followed the first with the same gifts for Their Majesties. Dain and Dain Ardin separated, moving back out of the way. Then the hall began to fill with dancers, each going to a selected guest and to everyone’s delight, entreated them to follow. There were hundreds of them, all beautiful women. Dynan didn’t dare look at Dain Ardin.
Loren glanced in from the parlor door, watching how the guests were proceeding. She’d been peering in that way most of the night. A quick look and then she disappeared. Dynan hadn’t been able to avoid noticing her yet. He stared down at the rose in his hand, smiling when he couldn’t help it.
Beside him, Liselle leaned closer and he glanced at his comboard, really beginning to doubt that he’d ever hear again. Still, he laughed silently at Liselle’s reminder to contain himself. “I am having a very nice time, my Lady. For a change.”
“I can see that,” she said and meant that everyone else, but particularly Alexia could see it too. Dynan looked at Loren again and nodded reluctantly. While he knew the necessity and importance of keeping his reactions less obvious, he didn’t feel like going through the struggle or constant effort. Still, he couldn’t afford to anger Alexia much more than he already had. Her response to his choice of escorts bordered on contemptuous. If she could have forbidden it, she would have, but whatever Ambrose had said to her seemed to chill her desire to do much more than frown about it.
While the hall emptied, he tried to think of something other than what a tremendous job Loren was doing, or how beautiful she looked in a gown of cream and pearls that reminded him of her wedding gown, but ended up shivering over Marc’s latest struggle. Dynan didn’t want to think about that either. Instead, he watched his brothers’ continuing drama. Every time Dain Ardin tried to talk to any of the many available women, Dain was right there to dissuade him, or the women, whichever tactic worked. By the time they were ready to leave, they were fairly glaring at each other. Eyes widened as more and more people became aware that something was brewing. Dynan had to turn so that those same guests wouldn’t see him laughing about it.
“What are the three of you doing?” Liselle asked.
He grinned at her. “You’ll see.”
“You’re not going to do that horrible battle you always used to do.”
“I’m not. Are you kidding?”
“But they are? This ought to be interesting.”
“That’s right, and you are going to play along.” He stood, and took her hand to help her up. He stuck the rose in his glass of water, then asked a guard to make sure it was taken to his rooms.
Creal eased by them on his way out. “If this morning was any indication of the display we’re going to get, then I’m looking forward to the festivities.”
“You won’t be disappointed, Your Majesty.”
“How are you feeling, Dynan?”
“Better, thank you.”
“And Doctor Elger’s latest prognosis?” Creal asked, nodding to the comboard.
“She said all we can do is wait. I’m getting along well enough. Trevan is a genius.”
“A talent he has displayed quite a few times. With him at the helm of technologies, Cobalt shouldn’t have too much difficulty recovering from Kamien’s negligence. There are several new inventions that Ambassador Brown has recommended to me. When he gets through with the preliminaries, I hope you’ll be able to find time to talk to me.”
“I’ll make time, Your Majesty,” Dynan said, a little surprised that Creal was making such a proposal.
“After the coronation will be sufficient, I think. I’ve seen your schedule.”
“All right. Thank you, Creal.”
“Are you certain that all this Approachment business is necessary? It seems a bit risky to me, considering the circumstances.”
“I can’t hide, even when I might want to.” Dynan grimaced at that.
The King seemed on the verge of disputing that assessment, but he didn’t, shaking his head instead. “No, I don’t suppose you can.”
“You can look at all our security precautions if you’d like. It’ll make you feel better. I put Dain in charge of that, you know. He has pretty good incentive to keep me safe.”
“He doesn’t want your job,” Creal said, nodding. “We don’t want him to get your job either.” He chuckled when Dynan glanced at him, but then sobered. “But what precautions are there against the thing you fought in the Temple.”
“That’s Marc’s department,” Dynan said easily. “The enemies that my guards can take care of, they will. Everything else, we deal with as it comes. I’m sure you noticed how well armed these boys are. Laser rifles, stunner, sword, dagger and a few other items I’m not even aware of.”
“And if it’s Maralt who attacks you?”
“He can’t actually, but if for some reason that were to change, or some other creature of the night shows up, we have our response time down to moments.”
“If Maralt appeared right now…”
While the King went on to describe his hypothetical attack, Dynan concentrated, wondering how Marc would feel about a drill for Creal’s benefit. A little practice on the new Approachment procedures wouldn’t hurt. Dynan was, after all, leaving the next morning. As he felt the first hint of contact, he decided to keep this drill more localized than it would be if it were real. The number of guests precluded a full-blown alert. He didn’t want to make the night any more complicated for Loren either.
“Marc. Ready for a drill?”
“Oh sure.” Dynan heard him tell Trey that he had to go, that he would explain later, that it was only a drill, and then appeared at his side. This was a relatively new skill Marc had suddenly been able to do, shifting as a physical being rather than a thought. It was the only way he could without losing control of Maralt.
Creal was visibly startled, but he didn’t have time to react before Messel reached for him. “Your Majesty, please come with me.” The guard hardly waited for an answer before pulling the King back behind Dynan.
Beside him, Marc activated his receiver. “Priority one alert, secluded to the dining hall. Seal the room. Quietly please.”
Marc didn’t tell the recipients of that order that this was only a drill. Not right away. When he did, the guards’ demeanor didn’t change. There weren’t that many guests remaining. Drake and Alexia had already moved out to the stair. There were a few Governors lagging behind. Ildin Taldic was one and Jerrid Peroll was another. Governor Valsand had also been caught and didn’t look too happy about it. Lord and Lady Gurrell looked the most bewildered.
“Inform the guests, and let them go,” Dynan said when he saw Loren ushered in by the ever watchful Renning. She had been informed of the drill when the guards were, and stared at him as though she couldn’t believe what he was doing. An eyebrow arched and Dynan turned to Creal. “Seen enough? There’s more to come upstairs.”
“So I gathered,” Creal said. “Yes. Thank you for the demonstration. I must have missed that report on Marc’s latest capabilities.”
Dynan smiled. “I haven’t had much of a chance to write one. Stand down, priority one alert drill. Thank you and well done.”
Creal looked at Marc with a mixture of awe that mingled with unease. “So no matter where Dynan is, you can reach him, appearing just like you did?” Marc nodded without elaborating. Dynan could tell he wasn’t interested in a discussion about security, or what he could do. Creal didn’t seem interested any longer either, nodding as he noticed Loren approaching. “I think the Lady is coming to tell us it’s time to move on.”
“Yes, Your Majesty, I am,” Loren said. “His Highness is holding up the proceedings at the moment.”
“Then forgive me for delaying him.”
“My Lord Chancellor, Princess Shalis is also waiting for you, so if you’re finished with the security demonstration…”
“We’re finished,” Dynan said, still trying not to smile. He walked to the door with her and Liselle, one on either side. He still found it a little discomforting that they had become such good friends, but then he shrugged over it, and leaned over to Loren. “Are you going to take a break long enough to dance with me?”
She looked at him, eyes slightly widened in a silent bid to make him be more careful about his interactions with her. “Then I would have to accept all the other invitations I’ve received this evening, Your Highness, and that would leave me little time for anything else, like making sure your celebration happens the way you want it to.”
“Being a Prince, you know, usually means that I can ask for things that others can be denied. I thought, considering the effort you’ve gone through, that some small display of appreciation was warranted.”
She started to shake her head, but couldn’t voice her concerns. He knew what they were. Alexia would notice such a gesture and she wouldn’t like it. He wanted his other guests to know who was responsible for the evening’s entertainment. Loren remained hesitant.
“Let me know if you change your mind,” he said, smiling at her as they reached the door. He realized then that he would have to leave her there and didn’t want to. “Don’t disappear all night. I want you to watch.”
“I plan to. If only to make sure you and your insane brothers don’t frighten all our guests.”
“The guests will figure it out when they start fighting.”
“Start? Don’t you mean when they stop?”
He saw Alexia out in the hall, walking with Drake, and they both looked at him expectantly. “You’ll see, but only if you’re there.”
“I’ll be there,” Loren said. “But you have to make it that far for any of this to start. Go.”
He finally did, leading Their Majesties with the help of a few dancers, up by the back service stairs to the Guest wing. It was a lot of climbing and left him winded. They met Shalis in a small parlor used tonight as a staging area. His brothers, however, weren’t there. “They’ve already gone in, fighting over who was taking Bronwyn the entire time,” Shalis said. “You have to do something about them. Are you ready, my Lord Chancellor?”
“Yes, Your Highness. Did you tell her about my family?” Marc asked silently.
Dynan hesitated briefly, almost afraid the answer wouldn’t be the right one. “No. Loren either. Is that all right? I mean—”
Marc smiled a little. “Yes. I just have to remember not to talk about it.”
“Are they all right? Are you?”
Marc nodded, smiling again as he took Shalis’ hand. “Yes, they are.”
Dynan noticed the lack of response to the second question, but didn’t press it. He watched as they started down. “Well, that’s something.”
“What about you? How do you feel?” Marc asked, glancing back over his shoulder. The crowd spotted him and started cheering.
“As long as I keep moving, I’m all right.”
“Just don’t over do it, Dynan. The last thing our guests need to see is you falling over.”
“Yes, Mother. I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.” He turned to Liselle. “My Lady, are you ready? We’re next.”
“Yes,” Liselle said, watching after Marc and Shalis. “How do you feel?”
“Just don’t over do it, Dynan,” she said, and he laughed. He took her hand and they went down to the ballroom.