King Chapter 1-9 are here:
Marc smiled after Shalis as she left him to dance with Dain Ardin. He sat the next moment, feeling another wave of nausea creep up on him. Dain, who was standing nearby, turned to look at him. A server was summoned and a glass of water given to him. “Maybe you should call it a night, Marc.”
“I will in a little while.”
Dain frowned at him. “I didn’t think you were having a good enough time to want to stay.”
“I’m not, but Shalis is, and it’s harder for me to control this around my parents.”
Dain smirked at that understatement. “I noticed.”
“I’ll go in a minute.” Marc shot him a white-eyed look, which he ignored.
“Waiting for something?” Marc nodded but didn’t elaborate, making Dain frown at him again. “You’d think you’d be used to these moments of clairvoyance by now. What is it?”
“Why don’t you go dance with Bronwyn or something?”
“Because she’s attending Queen Marella at the moment. She and Neithia are taking turns so that Lady Carmella can get a break.”
Marc glanced a few chairs over at Marella while she spoke with yet another of Cobalt’s Ladies of wealth and power. Someone new for them to latch onto, he thought. Better her than Alexia. The Queen of Yomir stood off to one side, speaking occasionally to one of her women with apparent interest, but that was only so what she was really doing wouldn’t be readily noticed. Dynan stood near the main stair, slowly making his way through the surrounding crowds. Liselle wasn’t with him.
Marc found her standing with Juleta Gurrell and he frowned at that. The same nagging sensation he felt about Juleta returned.
Dynan moved to the stair and found Loren all but hiding behind a large plant. He wasn’t accepting no for an answer though, and pulled her from her sanctuary. Somewhere, someone started to applaud and the sound swelled as more people noticed them. Alexia’s expression didn’t change, but she turned from the display. Dynan brought Loren to the foot of the dais and stood back from her, waiting until the applause died down before moving back to her side.
Marc hadn’t expected him to say anything, and it was obvious Loren wasn’t expecting it either. The hall fell silent as Dynan began telling the story of all the many things she had accomplished. “If not for her, this night and all the other nights and festivities to come, even my coronation would not be possible. As some of you may know, Lady Loren will be leaving us. Queen Marella wants her back. So tonight, I’ll take this opportunity to thank you, my Lady, for everything that you have done for me and for Cobalt.”
As he spoke a servant approached holding another small wooden case. Loren’s eyes widened when it was opened, and a murmuring whisper of awe ripple through those nearest.
“He’s just full of surprises tonight, isn’t he?” Dain said, glancing at Alexia.
The Queen maintained a demeanor of disinterest, but Marc knew she was silently fuming.
“Some of you may remember this brooch from when my mother wore it so long ago. It’s one of the things I remember of her, as well as her delight in things living and growing. I invite you all to visit the Palace arbor, and you’ll see why this gift is so appropriate. This came from a stone found during the original construction of the arbor, and for many years sat untouched and unrefined in the vaults. My father had it cut and set in this brooch when my mother finished the refurbishment of the arbor.” Dynan turned to Loren. “And so I give this to you now for the same reasons and more. Thank you, for all your hard work and dedication. Cobalt is losing two treasures tonight.”
He smiled at her, and moved to pin the brooch on, but realized that he couldn’t with his bandaged and gloved hands. Lyeda, who was Loren’s maid and never far from her, stepped forward to help. “I think maybe Lyeda can manage this more easily, Your Highness,” Loren said, laughing with him and the predicament.
Dynan’s smile vanished and he leaned closer to her. “What did you say?”
“I said, I think Lyeda can…” She stopped when he smiled again and started laughing.
Dynan looked down at the comboard he still held then gave it to the nearest guard. “I don’t think I need that anymore.”
Loren and those around him understood that he could hear again. Word spread rapidly and the cheer that erupted and grew, was loud enough to deafen. Dynan cringed slightly, but kept his smile, while Lyeda pinned on the brooch. Another roar followed the completion of that task. Loren turned to the crowd, bowed her head in acknowledgement, and dropped into a graceful curtsy.
Dynan raised her, lifting her hand to his lips and kissed her to yet another cheer of approval. “Now that I can hear, will you dance with me? Please?”
Loren looked likely to refuse, just in the slight widening of her eyes, but with so many as witness to the request she didn’t decline and nodded. Dynan led her off to the dance floor amidst another round of applause, leaning close every now and again so he could hear her above the noise.
Marc leaned back in his chair and almost shook his head at their behavior. Alexia was watching, so he kept his misgivings carefully masked and to himself. She seemed to realize it though.
“Do be sure to tell him how little this display meets with my approval, my Lord,” she said in a low voice so that no one else heard her.
“He’s only saying goodbye, Your Majesty, and thanking her for everything she’s done to help. Small compensation considering what she’s been through. It isn’t going to hurt anyone, or undermine your agreements with him if you just let them have this time. Not a whole lot to ask when you look at the larger scope of things.”
Alexia bristled. Her eyes narrowed and her voice sank. “The larger scope tells me that Dynan is untrustworthy and reckless in his actions. You, my Lord Chancellor, are not the one to determine for me what is or isn’t acceptable.”
Marc rolled his eyes after her departure, only because no one could tell it, mildly surprised at himself for having responded at all.
“Maybe you’re getting just a little too tired to think clearly,” Dain said, and held up his hands when Marc turned on him. “I’m a little tired myself, and I don’t want to be the one stuck pulling your sorry ass away from some gaping black hole that’s trying to suck you in. All right?”
Marc nodded reluctantly, smiling a little at Dain’s insistence. He had a point. Marc’s family would be waiting for him, and he wasn’t too certain he should go near them again.
“Sleep in my room then, our room,” Dain said, glancing over at Dain Ardin as he returned with Shalis.
“Why don’t we all go up,” he said, handing the Princess back to Marc. He knew he was being ganged up on, and doubted he’d be able to dissuade them. Still, he felt like he needed to stay. Shalis started whispering in his ear, and he laughed.
“All right. I’ll go.”
Shalis smirked at her brothers and got two dark frowns in response. Marc laughed again and tugged her along. He nodded at Dynan as he returned with Loren. Marc turned to tell him of their intention to leave, but waited instead while Loren was returned to Marella. Dynan bent down to speak to the Queen, remaining that way long enough to attract attention. When he finally straightened all the smiles were gone, and he turned his back to Alexia.
Dain leaned over to him. “Some time this same year would be good.”
“Are they sending you off to bed?” Dynan asked, nodding to Liselle as she returned to him.
“Something like that. You can hear?”
“Barely, but yes.” He grinned at that, and turned on his brothers. “I take it that you’re abandoning me too.”
They shared a look and nodded. “I’ll be back for Bronwyn.”
“All right. Stay out of trouble and no more fighting.”
“Trouble? Us?” Dain Ardin asked and gave Dain a push.
“Thanks for the show.”
They bowed in response, grabbed Marc by either arm, and ushered Shalis along at the same time. Their departure was greeted with another cheering round of applause, which Dain and Dain Ardin acknowledge with a short duel at the landing that prompted more cheers.
“They are such show offs,” Shalis said, and pulled on his arm.
“At least they’re getting along while they do it.”
They went on to the Royal quarters, leaving the Dains to catch up later. Marc hadn’t wanted to see his family again, but Trey was out in the hall. Shalis still didn’t know about them, and Marc stopped her just inside the door, even as she noticed his brother. “Who is he?”
Her eyes lit up while he explained the unexpected presence of his family. She wanted to go right down and meet him, meet them all, but Marc stopped her again. “You can meet them tomorrow. They don’t know about you, or us, and I would kind of like the chance to, uh, to…”
“Warn them?” she finished for him, and smiled. “Are you nervous about me meeting your mother and father, Marc?”
“Yes. A little.” He smiled when she laughed at him. “Why don’t you go get changed? I’ll see what Trey wants, and join you in a minute.”
She agreed easily enough, though she was still smiling about his nervousness as she went off for her rooms. The door opened behind Marc, and Dain came in with his brother. They were laughing about something, but sobered quickly when they saw Trey waiting. When Dain moved to intercede, Marc shook his head and stopped him. He moved down to the window to look out at the dark beyond the Palace lights.
“Mother and Father still up?” he asked, and Trey glanced up at him.
“Probably,” he said. “They’re trying to figure out what’s going on with all of this.”
Marc nodded. “Same thing I’ve been doing since I left home.”
“Why didn’t you come back?” Trey asked, looking back at Dain and Dain Ardin as they walked slowly toward them. “I’ve heard enough to know you had more than one opportunity, but you stayed. Why? For them? All this has gotten us into a lot of danger and you into some weird business you can’t get out of. It doesn’t make sense, Marc.”
“I know what you’ve been through hasn’t been easy,” he said slowly, putting a gentle hand to the bruises on his brother’s face from where Aldridge had hit him. “You’re here, and you’re as safe as anyone else. I’m sorry you got involved in it. You’ll be able to go home soon enough.”
“But not with you.”
“Then what’s the point? Do you know what this is doing to Mother? You think she’ll be able to go home and go on? For what? You didn’t even know these people, Marc. Now you’re going to die for them?”
“There isn’t anything I can say that will make this easier for you. I’m sorry, Trey,” Marc said after a silence. “I didn’t ask for this, but I know I have to do it. If I don’t, that thing you saw will become part of your daily existence. You and everyone else here, on Cobalt, on Cadal, every planet will be subject to it. What choice do I have? What choice do any of us have?”
Trey shook his head and turned from him. “Don’t ask me to accept this, Marc.”
He nodded and smiled a little. “At least you and Dain should get along well enough. He agrees with you.”
“I knew he was the smart one when we met,” Dain said, having moved close enough to overhear. He was about to go on, but Shalis emerged from her rooms, wearing a blue and white night robe that was as beautiful as any gown Marc had ever seen.
Trey shook his head again, watching Shalis as she approached. “I don’t understand how you can go along acting like—”
“She doesn’t know,” Marc cut him off. “And I don’t want her to know either. If you can’t handle that, then go back down to my rooms and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He hadn’t meant to speak so bluntly and Trey stared at him, growing angry, but the fear that Shalis would find out reared up in smothering waves. Marc heard Dain swear. “Do as he says or turn around until you can get it together. This isn’t a game.”
“All right. I’m not going to say anything. I said all right.”
“Then start smiling,” Dain said.
Shalis frowned a little as she neared, obviously aware of some difficulty, but she turned to Marc. The ringing hiss in his ears subsided when she slipped her arm around him. Tension left him and he felt he could breathe again. “I think it’s time you were off your feet and in bed,” she said before she turned to Trey and introduced herself. He wasn’t quite sure what to think of her, but smiled easily enough.
Marc saw his curiosity growing, noting the way she had her arm linked through his, confirmed when Trey glanced at him, eyebrows arched. Before his brother could say anything about the relationship, Marc cut him off. “Would you tell Mother and Father that I’ll see them in the morning? I’m staying with them tonight.” He nodded to Dain and realized then that Dain Ardin wasn’t with them anymore, but down at the other end of the hall. A girl stood with him, smiling in a way that left little doubt of what she wanted.
“What is he doing?” Dain muttered.
Marc rolled his eyes. “You’re not serious.”
“Yes, I’m serious. He said he wouldn’t and he isn’t going to.” Dain turned to make sure of it. The hall door opened and Bronwyn came in. Dain froze where he was and swore. He swore again when Bronwyn noticed Dain Ardin. She recognized the implications too.
Marc couldn’t help but smile over the predicament. “I don’t know what you’re so worried about. You keep saying how different you are, so it’s not like you’re the one being unfaithful. Besides, he’s only talking to her.”
Dain stared at Marc like that was the stupidest thing he’d ever heard, but pasted on an easy smile as Bronwyn joined them. “I’m free for the rest of the night,” she said. “I’m going to go change and check on Garan.”
“Good. All right.”
“Come with me. Garan will probably wake up.”
Dain hesitated, glancing back at his other half while Bronwyn pulled him along. “I should probably stay and help get Marc settled.”
“I have all the help I need,” Marc said, putting his arm around Shalis. “But thanks anyway.” He turned from the steely glare that comment produced, nodding to his brother. “Night, Trey. I’ll see you in the morning.”
His brother nodded, though reluctantly. He didn’t turn to leave, staying instead to watch him as he walked Shalis across the hall to Dain’s rooms. Marc looked back as they reached the door. Trey had turned back to the window, shaking his head as stared out into the dark. Shalis hugged his arm, pulling him along, perhaps sensing his mood.
“When you stop and think about it,” she said as they made their way back to the guest rooms, “it’s really sweet of Dain to be so worried. He’s not exactly well known for that kind of devotion, after all.”
“It’s difficult for both of them,” Marc said. “I don’t think Dain Ardin feels the same way about Bronwyn.”
“But when they’re joined again, he will. Right?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think we’ll know that for certain until the day it happens.”
“But that means Dain could lose her. That’s so unfair. You can’t let that happen.”
Marc smiled at that. “I’m doing what I can.”
“Here, sit. I’ll go find—” She deposited him onto the bed, but stopped in the door when she was faced with two large dogs that blocked her way out. “I’d forgotten about you two. Go on. There’s nothing in here for you. I suspect your masters will be along soon. Go away.”
They sniffed the air toward Marc and one of them started in. “I’d listen to her if I were you,” he said as he lay back on the bed. “Really, I’m mostly harmless.”
For that, he was snorted at, but the dogs left. “On second thought,” Shalis said, “I’ll stay.” She closed the door and returned to his side. Marc felt his eyes dragging closed. She smiled down at him when he fought to stay awake. “Don’t bother. I’ll be right here.”
“Promise? You won’t let your brothers chase you out?”
“I promise, and they better not try.”
Marc smiled at that, and closed his eyes.
Dain Ardin walked into his sister’s suite of rooms wishing he hadn’t promised Dain what he had. On his way back from seeing Garan, he stopped abruptly outside Bronwyn’s door, immediately aware of what his brother was doing. He frowned and went in. “If I can’t, neither can you,” he said, startling them both. Bronwyn was confounded. “Fair is fair after all.” He reached for Dain and hauled him away from her. “Goodnight, Bronwyn.”
“What are you talking about?” she demanded as she followed after them.
“I’m not the one to ask,” Dain Ardin said, pulling Dain down the hall.
“Never mind. I’ll see you tomorrow. We’re just going to check—let go of me.”
“Wait. Both of you wait. Dain Ardin, why don’t you go on and I’ll talk to your better half about this.”
“Bronwyn—” Dain started, but she shook her head to stop him.
“I think I can solve this problem. You aren’t the same. We’ll just wait and see what happens next week.”
“See? I told you she’d understand.” Dain Ardin smiled at him, but Dain didn’t share the sentiment at all. “You work it out with her. Try to have a good time, Dain. Goodnight.”
He made it as far as the hall, intent on finding Reisha or anyone, but when he passed the door to his rooms, he knew that he wouldn’t and stopped.
“Great time to have an attack of conscience,” he muttered as he turned for his own door.
The dogs greeted him as usual in the study, as did Lin, his attendant. Dain Ardin dismissed them all for the night, but the dogs followed him back to the guestrooms. He found Shalis was taking the Lord Chancellor’s clothes off while he slept. “Need a hand?”
“No, but thanks. I already got his boots off. That was the hard part.”
“Be careful of the orb.”
“I know, Dain.”
He watched as she deftly pulled off one jacket sleeve, then the other before rolling Marc over to his side to get the garment out from underneath. She did that with the rest of his clothes. Marc slept through it all. “I’m the other one.”
She smiled while she arranged the bedcovers. “I know who you are. I also know that despite this ridiculous reputation you feel you have to promote, inside resides the heart of an honorable man.”
He made a face at that, wishing again that it wasn’t so. “I happen to like my reputation, little girl. I’ve worked hard to make it that way.”
“I won’t tell on you.”
Marc muttered in his sleep, but Shalis quickly soothed him back down, and sat next to him holding his hand. “I think I’ll stay in here,” Dain Ardin said, nodding to the couch. “Toss me a pillow.”
“Take that blanket too.”
“Yell if you need me.” He settled on the couch.
“I will. He’ll be all right. Get some sleep.”
“Well since I can’t get anything else tonight, I think I will.”
He heard the slight intake of breath and could guess that she was rolling her eyes at him. “Goodnight, Dain.”
Clothes rustled as they were draped over a chair. “You better not be getting in without something on, little girl.”
“Just you be quiet, and don’t call me that.”
Dain Ardin smiled as he settled back and soon, sleep overtook him.