King Chapter 1-15 are here
Marc started awake, reaching for whoever shook him before sight returned and he saw Dain and Dain Ardin standing over him. “Dynan is gone. And he’s blocking us, so we don’t know where he is.”
Marc leaned back in his pillows, the chain of the orb clinking as it moved, and rubbed his eyes. “He’s riding a horse.”
“That’s the impression I got before he started blocking. Leave him alone.”
“His guards sent us in here to get you up, so you’ll have to tell them to leave him alone,” Dain said after the two shared a look that told Marc no one was going to be left alone. “They aren’t real happy about it either. He snuck out without them.”
Marc grumbled about it, but got up. A few minutes later and they were all walking out to the barn in the cold before dawn with Kenon and Jon for company. Two guards from the Palace had stationed themselves at the barn doors, but the stables were empty, so they went to the riding ring through an enclosed corridor off the far left side of the building. They heard Dynan before opening the door.
The stallion he rode was a large, jet-black horse, with a long mane that matched his flowing gait. It reminded Marc of another horse that Dynan had acquired from Cadal and he wondered if she’d been brought down from the XR-9 yet.
“I don’t believe it,” Dain said, moving to watch from the railing that circuited the ring. Stands wrapped around the line of the oval building on either side of the doors. For spectators, Marc guessed. He didn’t exactly see the appeal, or understand Dain’s comment.
“It’s Galarin.” Dain Ardin smiled. “Can’t be any other.”
Dain nodded. “Looks like they remember each other.”
That Dynan knew the animal well was apparent in the way the two moved together. The horse pranced, sidestepping down the length of the ring, and then followed the curve of the fence. Dynan anticipated his steps. They could just barely hear him talking and Galarin responded each time. The horse wasn’t wearing a saddle and when Marc looked closer, he realized there wasn’t a bit on the bridle either.
“They remember, all right,” Dain Ardin said, and turned to Marc. “You know that parade we’re all in Coronation Day? That’s what he’s riding.”
Marc started at that. “He’s in a carriage. The big gilded one out back.”
“Count on it,” Dain said.
Dynan turned at the sound of their voices and Galarin turned with him, spinning around without pausing. Dynan smiled. “What do you think?” he asked, and his voice echoed through the empty ring.
“I can’t believe he’s still here,” Dain said, climbing up to sit on the fence rail.
Dain Ardin reached for him. “Careful. I’m sure he remembers us, too.”
Galarin dropped his head, and Dynan swore, grabbing for a fist-full of mane as the horse burst into a gallop, charging at them. Dain jumped down and backed all the way to the wall. Dain Ardin urged the rest of them to do the same. “And don’t stand in front of the door either,” he said. “Just in case he decides to jump.”
Marc turned, opened his mouth to get clarification on that last possibility, but he didn’t have time before the horse was there, lurching to a halt. Dynan held on, even as Galarin reared up and pawed the air. The noise it made startled them all, a trumpeting neigh that echoed through the building loudly.
Kenon and Jon stepped toward the fence, ready to go over, but Dain Ardin pulled them back. “Don’t even think about it. He won’t hurt Dynan, but he will sure hurt you if you go in there.”
“He’s a little possessive,” Dain explained, watching while Dynan regained some measure of control. Galarin’s hooves struck the ground and he snorted at them.
“All right. That’s enough, you big show off,” Dynan said as the horse settled. He was laughing though, and slid down the animal’s neck. “He remembers all right. There he was, right in his usual stall, like he was waiting for me.”
“Maybe he has been,” Dain Ardin said, and eased back to the fence.
Dynan pulled the bit-less bridle off. “Walk,” he said and patted Galarin’s neck. The horse snorted in response and trotted off. “That’s not a walk.”
Another snort preceded a slow gallop. “Neither is that,” Marc said.
“They don’t let him run enough.” Dynan climbed over the fence, pausing to look back as his horse bucked and pranced around the ring. “At least one thing went right today.”
“Dynan,” Marc said. “It’s tomorrow, and you’ve got about two hours before you’re due on board ship.”
“And your point is?”
“I thought that would be obvious.”
Dynan turned from him, walked to the sliding gate door and opened it. He whistled, and stood back. Galarin turned at the sound, galloped over, leapt the fence and disappeared down the corridor. Dynan turned to follow, but Kenon purposely stood in his way, obviously disgruntled.
“I just wanted to see if I could still do it,” he said to the guard and smiled.
“And that’s the last time you ever will.” Kenon raised an eyebrow at him, but he stepped aside and gestured Dynan on with the sweep of his arm. The others followed him out and their voices dwindled.
Marc stayed by the fence, looking out over the ring, so abruptly silent. A hollow shell that held only the sound of his breath. Thoughts of what was happening intruded, filling the void. Maralt was out of hiding. A wake of death and grief would follow in his path. Marc had to decide what to do, how and when to do it. Every action would precipitate another. He could feel the boundaries shifting, chaos gaining another foothold.
The list of options to pursue shrank. The timing was already determined. It was happening now. Marc didn’t think it would stop until the day Dynan was crowned. The thought of that day sent a shiver of dread up his spine. Too many things would culminate that day. Some of them, he didn’t think he would be around to witness. He didn’t think he would see what happened to Dain and Dain Ardin. He knew he wouldn’t see Dynan’s crowning. He wouldn’t see his marriage either, or the Rising of Malari.
Marc frowned as he stood by the fence a moment longer, pondering that particular thought. If the Rising was set to happen in five days, he should be able to see the planet in the night sky. He left the silent ring, and made his way back to the barn. He found the others getting Galarin settled into his stall. There was another man there with them, older, who they all knew. Marc searched memory for his name, smiling when he realized who this was. Judging by the number of questions Dynan was asking, it was apparent that Wilbrin Wright was responsible for bringing Galarin home. He had also taken care of bringing Gilraen off the XR-9. Another discussion took place, about breeding the two that Marc didn’t stay around for.
He left them to the reunion, moving outside, looking first east then west.
Out here where the Palace lights didn’t encroach, a myriad of stars spread above him. He found Arel first, then Altair, easily the brightest points of light in the western sky. By now, Malari should dwarf those lesser planets, but it wasn’t there.
Dain came out and noticed him searching the sky. “Marc?”
“Where is it?”
Dain looked up. “Where is what?”
“It’s probably set already. Why?”
Marc shook his head and kept looking. A hole opened in the sky above the topmost peak of the Tarameik Mountains. A round disk that obliterated light, entwined with filaments. Marc looked down at the orb around his neck. Beside him, Dain swore.
Lyle Dowd glanced at Ames Lithford, wondering how they’d gotten involved with this mess. Lyle had spent the last seven years avoiding danger at every turn only to be neck deep in it now. Ames shook his head as the transfer turned down the lane. Lyle owned the house at its end.
It was a two-story stone building, styled after other larger mansions that dotted the landscape in and around Beren, though it wasn’t quite so large as most. It had been weeks since he last set foot in the place, not since that night at Beren. He had no servants, so the house was dark. The furnishings were covered with a fair amount of dust. Juleta Gurrell looked around herself, pulling her cloak closer to combat the noticeable chill. Ames moved to the hearth and started to build a fire.
“I’ll bring our things in,” Lyle said.
When he finished hauling in their supplies, Ames had the room lit and warm, while Juleta busied herself cleaning. She seemed to be taking it all well enough, though at times she’d stop abruptly, then shake herself free of whatever specter haunted her thoughts.
For himself, Lyle tried not to think of what specter might come through his door, and concentrated on getting his home ready for company and the danger they brought with them.
“You have to find her and get rid of her,” Alvuen said, turning to face Maralt. She didn’t see him as Logue any more at all. It was fascinating to her, how he could control another man to that degree so easily. It didn’t occur to her at all that she saw Maralt due to her own subversion. “Juleta Gurrell has to die.”
“I think I was aware of that,” he said, looking at her. She felt a shiver of anticipation crawl up her back. “I wasn’t aware, however, of your little plot with Liselle. Next time – if there is a next time – I don’t expect that I should have to cover for your mistakes. I’ll find Juleta for you. Liselle will be next.”
“Why Liselle? She’s helped us.”
“She’s a witness, Alvuen. She knows that Juleta got the vial from you. Therefore, she dies, too.”
“There mustn’t be any connection to Alexia in this,” Alvuen said.
“Their murders will be blamed on me. They don’t have any connection between Alexia and myself, not one they can prove, and they won’t get it.”
“Bajain has escaped then.”
“Yes. He’s safely on his way back to Yomir. Once Juleta and Liselle are taken care of, your Queen will have what she wants.” Maralt smiled then, a secret smile that meant he was thinking of something else. “I’ll be gone for several days I imagine. Do you think you can manage here alone?”
“Of course I can.”
“No more tricks, Alvuen. I don’t like surprises. I’ll contact you when I can, through the Rianamar Guild Hall. Study that code I gave you. We’ll be able to communicate openly with that. Send one of your women to the Guild Hall.”
“And just how am I supposed to convince a Guild Communications tech to allow me access to the comterm?”
Maralt smiled again. “I’m sure you’ll think of something.”
“Where will you go to find Juleta?”
“To her home first.” He shook his head. “I doubt that she’s there. That would be too easy. But from there I’ll find her hiding place.” Alvuen nodded, and another shiver surged through her when Maralt took her hand. He reached inside her, and she melted into his arms. “Time to say goodbye, my Lady.”
Lord Joong Gurrell glanced up when the Palace Messenger was announced, and a chill raced through him. The previous day’s activities with Liselle had raised his suspicions and now he feared the explanation. When he saw the Lord Chancellor’s seal, his anxiety increased. When he read, he understood that fear better. His only child was in terrible danger.
Joong Gurrell didn’t stop to consider how it had happened. That didn’t matter. The times were dangerous and that was reason enough. He called his servant to him and explained. He didn’t elaborate farther than the instructions asked of him, following the Lord Chancellor’s advice to the letter.
Before dawn, an hour later, he and his wife were packed and on a transport to Beren.
Maralt didn’t take a transport to the Gurrells. Instead he went to the next Port town, an hour outside of Rianamar by horseback. A transport or a transfer could be tracked too easily. He knew that Marc would have recalled all Palace Messengers, but he was trying to do so quietly, which meant that not everyone would get the word. The Lord Chancellor wasn’t going to announce that Palace Messengers couldn’t be trusted. Just one of them. He wouldn’t announce that either. He kept trying to hide. He didn’t want to alarm people more than they already were. That wouldn’t work for long.
Maralt used the Palace Messenger badge to obtain a transport when he reached Gildor, appearing as Logue, who remained relatively unknown. Another mistake on the Lord Chancellor’s part for not putting Logue’s image out on every possible channel through the Information Bureau. He wasn’t questioned, and was soon on board, bound for Distalt where the Gurrells made their home. He arrived only a few minutes later.
The manor home stood just off the street, surrounded by a high stone wall. In recent years, many of Cobalt’s prominent residences had been encased in such embattlements. Little did they know that there weren’t any walls high enough that could keep him out. He walked to the gate, showed the porter the Palace badge, and was let through, again outwardly appearing as Logue.
A servant answered the door, but only opened it a crack. “Lord Gurrell is not here.”
“I have an urgent message for him from the Palace.”
The servant shook his head. “I’m sorry, but he isn’t here.”
“Where is he then?”
“They didn’t leave word of their destination, only that they would be gone for several days.”
“I trust that means Lady Gurrell and Juleta.”
Maralt nodded to all that, thanked the man for his help and after a brief pause to consider whether he would let the servant live or not, turned and left the property.
Randal Ven closed the door as the messenger turned and breathed in relief as he leaned against it. The man had a crazed, unwelcome sort of feel to him, staring at him with abnormal intensity. Randal shook off the skin-crawling sensation and moved back to the kitchen where he found his wife busy with luncheon bread. “Who was it,” she asked, slicing into soft crust.
“A Palace Messenger.”
Her eyes flicked to his. “The one we were warned about?”
Randal nodded. “Call the boys in. I’m going to send them to the Port Captain. They’ll be all right, Mother. If we follow Lord Gurrell’s instructions, we’ll all be all right.”
She shook her head as though she didn’t believe it. Randal wasn’t so sure he believed it either, but he had to warn the Lord Chancellor. The instructions were very clear. If anyone came to the Gurrells asking after them, especially someone with a Palace badge, word was to be sent to the Lord Chancellor immediately, but with extreme caution. Randal didn’t want to involve his children, but thought they had a better chance of reaching the Port Captain than anyone else. The oldest was about to join the service, and probably had a better idea of what was really going on than Randal wanted to know. That had been the safest way to live during Kamien’s reign. The less you knew, the less likely they were to come after you. Tyson didn’t agree with that philosophy, causing Randal more than a few bad moments. This was one of them.
“Call the boys,” he said again.
Tyson came first, carrying his cloak and sword. He took after his mother in looks, hard around the eyes and mouth, with a set jaw. He had her blue grey eyes and black hair. “I saw him from upstairs.”
Gibson came in from the barn. Scarcely two years younger, he was nearly as tall as Tyson, but not quite as big across the shoulder. Not yet. He looked like him too, but wore his hair longer. He wasn’t going into the military yet, unlike his brother. As soon as he realized what was happening, he ran off and retrieved the same equipment.
“The Lord Chancellor states very clearly—”
“I read it, Pop. Gibson and I are going to tell the Port Captain exactly what we’re supposed to. We’re not going to go looking for the messenger, but he may be looking for us. We can hope he’s half way back to Port by now. They’ll be able to trace him easily enough from there.”
“If that’s what you intend, then why the weapons?”
“Everyone wears a sword now. It would seem strange and attract attention if I didn’t. We’ll be back.” Tyson nodded to his brother and they left by the side door.