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King, Chapter 16

King Chapter 1-15 are here

http://jm-harrison.com/8-king-chronicle-8-sample-chapter/

~Chapter 16~

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.”

“He’s what?”

“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.”

“Not anymore.”

“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?”

“Malari.”

“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.”

“Yes.”

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.

~*~

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King, Chapter 15

King Chapters 1-14 are here:

http://jm-harrison.com/8-king-chronicle-8-sample-chapter/

~Chapter 15~

Alexia glanced at Alvuen as she entered the parlor, but then resumed pacing in front of the hearth before a crackling fire. The chill of the place had all but seeped into her bones. A cold draft slid across the floor, despite the thick carpet. The taste of salt coated her mouth and throat. The constant boom of the waves hitting the cliff set her nerves on edge.

“Your Majesty,” Alvuen said as she watched. “Is something wrong?”

“What was Liselle Telaerin doing at Juleta Gurrell’s this morning?” Alexia demanded.

“Apparently the two are acquainted, Your Majesty, and Liselle obviously needed a place to go after—”

“What do you know of what happened between Dynan and Liselle?”

“Only what you’ve heard,” Alvuen said, “that Dynan was with her last night. Liselle’s maid, Adel has been talking about it, and—”

“Adel is mute. She couldn’t have talked about it to anyone, except through comboard, where there would be a record of her actions. And now I come to find out that the Palace messenger you used to instruct Juleta is dead. Juleta herself is closeted with the Lord Chancellor, who is quite capable of discovering her connection to me.”

“The Lord Chancellor is capable of forcing Juleta to say anything he wants, something everyone is aware of. She wouldn’t willingly tell him anything of her activities for the sake of her family and herself. They’d be ruined. If it were to come out, that she was spying for you, it wouldn’t take much to discredit the Lord Chancellor’s motivation in forcing such a confession.”

“And if she’s found to have some other connection to what Liselle did?” Alexia asked, hardly able to believe that it had happened, or that there was a possibility that the duplicity of it could lead to her.

“In what way, other than opening her home to Liselle? She had nothing to do with Dynan staying the night with Liselle. That was Liselle’s attempt to seek revenge for what happened before.”

“I’m aware of her motivation. I need to know what Marc Talryn learns from Juleta, and what can be done to counter what he discovers. None of this can lead back to me, Alvuen. It would give Dynan exactly what he needs to break our agreement.”

“None of it will,” Alvuen said. “I’m certain of it.”

“Whatever needs to be done to ensure it…”

“Of course. I’ll let you know what I find out.”

 ***

“Yes Marc,” Dain said as he adjusted the ship’s speed, trying to make up time. The controls flashed. The hum of engines came up through the deck. It felt great. He looked over at Dynan. “He wants to come out here.”

“Why?”

“He doesn’t say exactly.”

Dynan sat up a little. “Fine.”

Marc appeared in the doorway, looked out the view screen, then at Dain. “I need to talk to your brother. Alone. I’ll explain in a minute.”

Dain hesitated, looking again to Dynan. He nodded almost absently. Despite Dain’s best efforts to cheer him up, nothing worked for more than a moment or two. He stood, relinquishing his chair to Marc. “I’ll be back in the hold.”

Trevan and Kenon were the only ones awake. The guard’s eyes widened slightly, and Dain guessed he was wondering who was flying the ship. Trevan only glanced at him before returning his attention to the console that took up most of the back wall. Dain sat with him, and noticed his hand resting close to the engine controls.

“Think I forgot how?” he asked.

“No. Just giving some back up. A good thing too, since you’re here instead of minding the controls.”

“Ship looks good, Trevan. I’m glad you were able to save her. I need some flight time though, with all these new controls.”

“Well that’s comforting to know.”

Dain laughed and Trevan shook his head. “What have you been working on lately?”

“Nothing. Been too busy fixing all the broken stuff.”

“Oh come on. I can’t believe you aren’t inventing anything new.”

“Really. Mostly I’ve been upgrading and modifying what we’ve already got. Not nearly as interesting, but it has to be done. How’s Dynan?”

“He’ll be all right. Sure is a mess though.”

“When is it not?” Trevan said. “Sorry I missed all that business with Maralt. I had no idea.”

“That’s the way it needed to be. Besides, looks like you’re getting a chance this go around.”

“Do you think Marc is going to make it? I mean, do what he’s supposed to? Pretty rotten spot for him to be in.”

Dain shook his head. “I don’t know, and it’s beyond rotten. It’s not right. Personally I think if he pulls this off, they ought to reward him for it, not kill him.”

“But wouldn’t that leave open a way for Maralt to come back through him?” Kenon asked.

Dain turned to him. “No more than that possibility exists in me or Dynan. The way this is supposed to work is Marc takes all of Maralt, if we can ever catch him, and then all the ancestors. He then delivers the package unto the Gods, giving them back their collective power. Once that’s done, they don’t need Marc’s help anymore. His reward for performing this task is to be wiped out in the process. Some justice there.”

“But the reason for taking him too is to stop any part of Maralt from remaining. It seems unavoidable to me, since the Lord Chancellor is holding Maralt, and has been all this time, that he could do so without being influenced by him.”

“You don’t know Marc very well, do you?”

“No, Your Highness, but I know men well enough to know that the constant lure of such power would be difficult if not impossible to completely resist. It seems to me that the Gods should know better than either of us what’s best. They’ve chosen to take Marc for a reason.”

“If your Gods were so wise, it seems to me that they wouldn’t have let this happen in the first place.”

“They’re your Gods too, Your Highness.”

Dain looked at him, wondering a little at the guard’s presumption. “No, they aren’t.”

“You would turn your back on your faith, the thing that has kept you alive, for the fate of one man?”

“I turn my back on anything that’s unjust, and anyone or any entity that chooses to ignore what’s right.”

“You would damn your soul? Do you even understand what that means?” Kenon said.

“I’ve been to the Demon’s Gate, Lieutenant. I think I have a better idea of what it means than you do.” Dain leaned back in his chair. “So fear of being returned to that place, damning my soul as you put it, because I don’t believe in the Gods’ choice should be enough to change my mind, right?”

“Yes.”

“That’s the problem I have with the Gods. I don’t believe in their plans. I don’t submit to them, therefore I get the Gates. They rule by fear, which makes them not so different from the thing they’re trying to stop. The Gods I believe in are a little kinder than that.” He shook his head. “I guess they don’t exist.”

Kenon seemed to want to object, but Marc came back then, and the guard’s eyes widened again. “Hi, Trevan,” Marc said. “Dain, your turn.”

Marc pointed back to the hall between sleeping quarters, since at the moment, those were all occupied, and started explaining his plan. The thought of Dynan having to face Liselle and tolerate her presence turned Dain’s stomach, but he saw the need for it. “Dynan agreed to this?”

“He did.”

“I hope you don’t expect me to be nice to her.”

Marc smiled at that. “That would make everyone suspicious. You get to act like you always do, just not like you want to kill her.”

“Have you talked to him about ordering her execution?”

“No, Dain, and I’m not going to. Neither are you.”

“What about Alexia?”

“She knows that I’ve got Juleta. She’ll cooperate as far as tempering the reaction to this. Play along like everyone else.”

“What are you doing with Juleta?”

“She’s staying with me for the time being. Dynan doesn’t know about her, or Alexia’s possible involvement yet. There are a few complications I need to sort through before I drop that one on him. I want to get him through this dinner and a decent night’s sleep. I’ll talk to him about the rest of it in the morning. I’m sending Dain Ardin out with him tomorrow.”

“Why?”

“I want you at the Palace. I didn’t tell Dynan this either, but Maralt killed Juleta’s go between. The man was a Palace Messenger.”

“He’s on the move.”

“Yes, he is. Everyone who has to be shielded has been. I’m not so sure how many more I can manage. He has a Palace Messenger badge now that allows him access to everywhere. Right now, I’m restricting access to the Royal wing to staff officers only. Senior guards have been alerted to the situation.”

“Why not all the guards?”

“Questions about security have a tendency to cause a lot of panic. I have to get back.  Make sure he’s ready. As soon you land, we’re heading in for dinner.”

Dain nodded, frowning slightly. “How are you getting around anyway? I mean, who are you using to get back?”

“Ralion. See you in a few.”

“Marc—” Dain growled under his breath because he was gone already. “I didn’t think he was supposed to do it that way.”

“Do what?” Dynan asked from the door. “Where’s Marc?”

“Gone. Poof.”

Dynan nodded, not really paying attention anymore. “I have to change,” he said, and disappeared into his room. The door hissed closed behind him. A few minutes later, the XR-30 set down in front of the Palace.

 ***

Dynan waited for the ramp, not so eager to face the thing that he had so willingly unleashed. Mostly he was afraid that it would all fly out of control. Some of it already had. He hadn’t expected Alvuen to do such a good job getting the news out. He’d thought to be able to contain it better than it had been. Now the Governors knew. That was something he hadn’t considered and should have. He couldn’t let any of it show, but more importantly couldn’t even think of it. Marc knew some of what had happened, but not all. At least, he wasn’t acting like he knew.

Dain clapped him on the back, nodding him on. “It’ll be all right.”

Marc was waiting at the ramp, explaining again what he needed to do while they climbed the stairs. The XR-30 lifted off, spun around and maneuvered to the far side of the Palace. As they reached the doors, its engines powered down. Dynan wondered how he was going to get through this dinner. He still felt awful and hadn’t expected that either, not for this long at any rate.

Marc took him upstairs to the Royal dining hall and as they entered the Royal wing, met Dain Ardin at the door. He nodded to something and Dynan guessed he was talking to Dain. “We’ll be there in a minute,” he said, nodding him on to the hall.

Dynan saw Loren standing in the arched entrance, her face a mask. Her eyes showed some of the terror he felt. Dynan didn’t dare look at her long. Marella was with her. “Your Majesty,” Dynan said, trying to smile and mean it.

“Welcome home, Your Highness,” she said, and he noticed the chill in her tone.

He looked to Loren again, but she ignored him. If he hadn’t known better, he would have been convinced that she hated him. “Thank you,” he said, and had to clear his throat. “It’s good to be home.”

“How was the Approachment?” Drake asked as he joined them. He held out his hand, and raised an eyebrow at him.

“It was long, Drake.”

“That’s all? No words of wisdom from Cobalt’s citizens?”

“A few.”

Drake seemed to think that was funny. Dynan didn’t feel like discussing it. Standing so close to Loren, acutely aware of her fear, was more than he thought he could stand when there wasn’t anything he could do about it. He excused himself to his other guests. He went to Danetha first and kissed her hand. He saw Liselle across the room, standing not very far from Ralion, who was there to watch her, though that too wasn’t readily apparent. She looked the same as always, collected and in command of herself. Not even a hint of the night’s activities could be discerned from her expression. She smiled at him, dipping into a curtsy. He smiled back, amazed at her composure. He tried keeping in mind what he would feel like if everything that was being said of him had really happened, and a shiver ran up his spine.

“The worst is over,” Marc said silently. “You’re doing fine. We’ll get you out of here as soon as possible. Neithia is calling for dinner now. You’re sitting with Ildin Taldic and his wife Rene, Alexia, Danetha, and Guildmaster Dunn of the Ag Guild. Ildin is going to ask you about what happened. You know what to say.”

Dain and Dain Ardin arrived then, causing a distraction with their behavior that Dynan knew was planned. A moment later, and they were all seated and served. He smiled and talked and forced food down. That was the worst of it, having to eat. When the subject was broached, not by Ildin, but Alexia, Dynan shrugged. He admitted to a lapse of good sense in talking the night away with Liselle, but that was all.

“I thought as much when I heard the rumors this morning,” Alexia said. Dynan was a little surprised that she was going along with it all. She was afraid though, and for a change didn’t have much choice. “But really, Your Highness, I thought you would have learned your lesson by now. This kind of scandal is hardly appropriate behavior for a future King.”

“What scandal?” he asked. “I needed to talk to Liselle uninterrupted. My schedule isn’t exactly conducive to more reasonable hours. I knew it was my only chance. Someone else decided to turn it into something it wasn’t ever. It’s a little incredible, after all, that the person attributed to spreading all these rumors can’t speak. I’m too busy right now to have much concern about it. At any rate, all that talk has been disproved. Adel never said anything, not even by the comboard she always carries. Liselle is here, not at the Beach Manor. If any of these rumors were true, do you think I’d have her here?”

“No, I don’t suppose you would,” Ildin said, “considering that last time these rumors surfaced, she was promptly married off to Gauvin.”

“You know as well as I do who was responsible for that,” Dynan said evenly. “My father handled that situation far differently than I would have, and you witnessed the results.”

Ildin nodded. “You were denied the throne.”

“You can apply the same logic to this instance. There are many, it would seem, who’ll do whatever they can to keep me from the throne, Ildin. They haven’t managed to kill me, so they resort to this. Not much has changed.”

“We’ve only the next five days to get through until you’ll be crowned,” Ildin said with a slight smile. “I’m sorry, Dynan. I should have expected that there was more to this than first appeared. I’ll see to it that my colleagues are informed.”

Dynan thanked him for the sentiment, hoping the Governors would listen. Dinner and the usual gathering afterward finally ended. Marc got him out early under the pretext of a meeting and took Dynan to his rooms. His brothers were waiting for him with Geneal. Dynan hardly made it to the washroom before his stomach finally rebelled. They held him while he was sick when he preferred to be left alone. Geneal gave him something to calm his nerves, though it didn’t seem to do any good. He was too tired to keep up the subterfuge, especially with Marc. Dynan wanted them all to go away, and no one would leave him. He had to wonder what his Lord Chancellor was doing to keep it all contained.

They helped him into bed, being overly solicitous. He wondered how angry they would be when they found out the truth. Really, he just wanted to feel better, and then he’d be able to think again.

When they all finally left him and he thought he should be tired enough to sleep, he couldn’t close his eyes. About an hour later, he gave up trying. He got up, got dressed and quietly slipped out.

He was a little surprised he made it out of the building without being stopped by using the service entrances and back hallways. There were guards on the door he took to get outside, but he ordered them to stay where they were and not tell anyone that they saw him.

“Wait, I mean, Your Highness, don’t…”

Dynan stopped on the walk to the barn and turned back around. “What is it?”

The guard who spoke swallowed and faced him. “You’re not leaving, are you?”

Maybe the man thought he was about to run off. With only five days to the coronation, it was a tempting notion, but Dynan shook his head. He cocked a thumb over his shoulder. “I’m just going to the barn.”

“Right. Of course. I’m sorry. I wasn’t suggesting—”

Dynan shook his head to cut him off. “I don’t want company.”

“Understood,” the guard said while the other one with him remained stone-faced and staring ahead as if Dynan wasn’t there. They both knew he wasn’t supposed to be out without a guard. “Just to the barn?”

“Just to the barn,” he repeated and doubted the solitude he sought would last.

The T-shaped building stood some distance from the Palace. It was cold enough that once inside the building, the warmth was a welcome relief. The stable was deserted too, though a couple of low ambient lights popped on when he moved down the main aisle. They went off behind him again as he turned left at the intersection. The riding ring was this way. He meant to get a horse and spend the next few hours not thinking.

The familiar smells of hay, leather and horses mingled together to take him back to a time when he was a boy who spent hours out here as often as he was allowed. There were only good memories lurking in the shadows. He looked up. The rope Dain used to swing on from the loft was still attached, draped over a hook so it was reachable. The rope was long enough that they could swing all the way over to the outside wall, land on the ledge, then turn around and swing back.

Dynan thought for a moment to go up and try it out again, but guessed his hands wouldn’t tolerate the abuse too well. Probably for the better, since there was no one around to notice if he fell. It was a long way down from there.

A soft nicker pulled his attention from the roof back to the aisle and he saw when he looked that Gilraen had been brought down from the XR-9. Dynan smiled at that, as she started bobbing her head, tossing the glossy black mane. She pushed her head into his hand, allowing him to scratch her.

“Nice to be on solid ground, isn’t it,” he said to her and laughed when she bobbed her head again.

He thought he’d pull her out and ride her, but another nicker from across the aisle punctuated by a hoof hitting the wall made him turn. For a moment, he couldn’t believe it, but there was no mistaking the animal for any other. There was no other like him, from the black sheen to the white diamond splash on his forehead that looked like the Telaerin seal. The horse bowed his head down the way he always used to.

“Galarin.”

~*~

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King, Chapter 13

Chapters 1-12 are here:

http://jm-harrison.com/8-king-chronicle-8-sample-chapter/

~Chapter 13~

Ambrose turned from the window in the King’s office and the view of Rianamar. “What was he doing in her rooms to begin with?”

Marc didn’t have an answer to that. “The guard said Liselle invited him in for a drink. He accepted. She gave him the fenoridan in the drink. You’ve heard the rest. Lt. Tor is trying to locate Liselle right now. I haven’t heard back from him, but I should soon. Alvuen was seen earlier than usual this morning, as were a few of her maids. She was careful enough that no one can directly attribute her with saying anything. A case of conversations overheard. Regardless, it’s all over the Palace and spreading. I spoke to Ildin Taldic a few moments ago.”

“I can’t believe he’s allowed this to happen, again, and with the same woman!” Ambrose turned back to the window, shaking his head. “What are you doing about it?”

“Trying to lessen the impact. Difficult at best when you couple it with past history, but doable, I think. First, Adel couldn’t have said what’s being attributed to her, and I’m making sure that’s known. Officially Dynan did spend the evening with Liselle, but Adel will attest in writing that they were only talking and lost track of the time.”

“But with Liselle gone, sent away, that story isn’t likely to be believed.”

“I intend to have her back here.”

“How, Marc, when you’re not sure if she went with Juleta.”

“I’ll get her back here.”

“Maralt?”

“It’s all connected now. The boundary weakens.”

“A chain reaction starts and we all play our parts,” Ambrose said, and looked down at his old desk, the black surface gleaming in the light. “He could lose the crown over this.”

“And we have you to take his place.”

Marc frowned then. The strong premonition that Alexia was responsible, or at least a participant in these events couldn’t be denied, but she would have known the possible consequences too. She didn’t want Ambrose returned to the Throne, but her daughter married to its King. It didn’t make sense that she should be involved, considering the possibility that Cobalt’s Governors could take the Throne from Dynan. Marc didn’t think she would risk that, but he was certain that she had. Her fury had been genuine though, and he questioned her involvement again. Of course, if none of the Telaerins were allowed to take the crown, Yomir stood to gain in that case as well. That thought led him to wonder if the Queen had given up expecting that Dynan would honor his agreement. It seemed she had. He frowned again, feeling like he was missing something.

Marc remained with Ambrose another hour, waiting for word from Avry Tor. Ralion came back as Ambrose finished his report of the daily business he was handling. “I just heard from Avry. He’s at the Gurrell’s home. Liselle is there. The family is gathered in the back parlor.”

“Tell him to proceed as planned. I want them back here by transport. Liselle should be sent to her rooms, and quietly put under guard. Bring Juleta to me. I’ll be in my quarters.”

Ambrose didn’t need him for anything else just then, so Marc made his way up to his rooms. Out in the hall and all the way up the main stairs, a brooding sense of disaster followed him, but he kept an easy smile and an unconcerned look the whole way. He managed the same for his family too. His mother greeted him at the door, and he smiled at the new gown she wore, a kind of metallic brown and tan with bits of blue sewn in. He didn’t feel the same sense of danger at being around her, maybe because of all the other problems he faced. “I’m sorry I missed breakfast.”

“Have you eaten at all?”

“A little.”

She looked at him doubtfully, then took him by the arm. “How is your day?”

“Crazy, but that’s nothing new.”

“You look tired,” she said, walking with him.

“And you look beautiful,” he said, surprising her. “Do you like it?”

“It’s different, but yes, except for the weight of it. I don’t like that. Your father and Trey are back here somewhere. This is quite a place you have.”

“I know. Too big for just one, but you all fit well enough.” The thought flashed through his mind that he wished they could stay. “I’m sorry you haven’t been able to see more of the Palace.”

“Compared to that ship we were on, this is huge. There’s so much to look at and books to read. Trey has been spending time on the balcony for the fresh air, and we’ve all been drinking a lot of water, but we’re fine, Marc. Don’t worry about us.”

He stopped short as they entered the less formal private parlor. Shalis was sitting with Trey. “Princess. No one told me you were here.” When she looked at him with a slightly guilty expression, Marc shook his head. “You just couldn’t wait, could you?”

“I think it was my father who couldn’t wait, my Lord Chancellor. He told on us.”

Marc glanced at his mother, and she nodded, smiling at his sudden discomfort. “I’ll have to thank him for that,” he said, but laughed.

“I’ve just been listening to Trey and a few stories about you and Matt when you were growing up,” Shalis said.

“Oh really? What stories?”

“The one when you and Matt snuck out of the house in the middle of the night to go out to Kegler’s Cove,” Trey supplied.

“And how much trouble you got into when you got caught,” Shalis said.

“You’re one to talk, little brother. As I remember it, there were a few instances where you—”

“All right. Never mind,” Trey said. “Really, I just made that whole thing up.”

“I bet you didn’t.” Shalis laughed at both of them as she stood. “I was just going to get ready for luncheon with the Queens.”

“Both of them?” Marc asked.

“Yes. Alexia will be joining us.”

“I didn’t know that. Is Loren going to be there?”

Shalis hesitated. “I doubt it, Marc.”

“Was she expected to be there before this morning?”

“Yes.”

“Then she needs to be there. I know it won’t be easy for her, Shalis. I want her at dinner, too. We can’t afford to put on any other kind of face. We smile in the midst of chaos. Everyone sees that and hopefully believes that it couldn’t be as bad as they’re being told. We keep up the pretense, false as it is. We keep some semblance of control. Tell Loren to stop feeling sorry for herself, and get on with it.”

“I am not telling her that.” She leaned up and kissed him. “You can if you want, but I won’t. I’ll see you later.”

“Isn’t that a little harsh?” Farina asked after Shalis had gone.

Marc nodded. “Goes with the job. I need to go talk to Loren. I’ll be back when I can.”

He could tell that his mother wanted to object, but he left before she could. His first thought was to walk over to the guest wing, but he didn’t want to be seen. He wasn’t really sure about traveling through the mind of a non-telepath, but knew he had to in order to see Loren without anyone knowing about it. He concentrated and found her in her rooms resting.

“I need to talk to you,” he said in the way of forewarning before he appeared beside her. Loren straightened, but turned from him, not so much startled as unwilling to see him. The windows overlooked the courtyard and she moved to look out them. “You have to go to this luncheon.” He explained his reasons for the request while she remained with her back turned, not sure she listened or not. “He could lose the Throne over this, Loren. I know you’re angry. I know you’re upset. I wish I didn’t have to ask this of you. He made a stupid mistake, but I don’t think he deserves to have the crown taken away over it.”

“How could it?”

“All the Governors know about it. They all remember what happened with Liselle before. Their decision to give Kamien the Regency was influenced by that mess. Ildin Taldic is worried that it will happen again. I’m just trying to keep ahead of it.”

She nodded stiffly, and again he felt that fear for Dynan dominated her mind, as though she hadn’t considered that possibility. She seemed on the verge of panic. She turned from him, shaking visibly under the scrutiny. Without a word, she moved to her dressing room to change. Marc watched her a moment, suddenly doubtful that her appearance would do anything to lessen the talk going around. He wanted to ignore the voice in his head that insisted that she be there.

He grumbled under his breath, while he concentrated himself back to his rooms using Trey to do it. His brother glanced up from the book he held as Marc materialized right in front of him.

“That must be a handy trick,” he said, and went back to his reading.

Marc sat beside him. “Mostly.”

“Is it always this nuts around here?”

“Yes.”

“And you’re in charge of the place. That explains why at any rate.”

“Thanks a lot.”

“Just calling it like I see it. You were only a Captain after all, on a boat. What makes anyone think you know what you’re doing?”

“Just lucky, I guess. I do know what I’m doing.”

“That’ll be a first.”

Marc pushed him and Trey pushed back. “Do me a favor and don’t tell anyone.”

Meril came in. “Marc, I thought you’d already gone.”

“I did.”

“He just popped back in.”

Marc laughed because their father didn’t know what Trey meant. “Just for a minute.”

“Can you stay for lunch?”

“I doubt it.”

“Well you’re mother is fixing it right now. Stay if you can. It’ll make her happy.”

He thought about it for a minute and realized he didn’t have anything else to do except wait for Avry to get back. “All right. I will.”

“Really? Well good.” Meril smiled, gesturing for them to follow.

“I’m sorry I haven’t been around.”

“No, we understand.” It didn’t sound to Marc like he did, but he nodded, unwilling to go into the other reasons why he kept away. His father put his arm around him. “We want to see you as much as we can, but we know why it’s difficult, especially with this morning to deal with. I’m very proud of you.”

“Thanks.” Marc smiled, but heard Trey laughing quietly behind them, confusing their father again.

“All right. You boys go get cleaned up. I’ll tell Farina.”

Marc spent the next several moments enjoying the company of his family, shutting out thoughts of the future, and it seemed for a while that time stood still.

When at last the call came that Liselle and Juleta were back, he felt better able to manage them. “The Queens are still at lunch, right?” he asked Ralion. “Good. Have them sent along. No escort. They aren’t going to try anything. Have a messenger sent to Shalis. Tell her that Lady Juleta has returned. She came back with Liselle and will await the Princess in her rooms. Shalis,” he said to her in thought, “I’m sending a messenger to you.”

***

“All right. Yes, I understand what you want me to say. Anything else?”

“Yes. Watch everyone’s reaction. That’s all. Thanks. I love you.”

Shalis bit back a smile. “I love you too, and you’re welcome.”

Marc was gone again, and she wondered why he wanted the people in this room to know about Juleta, especially connected to Liselle. It didn’t make sense to her, but then he knew what he was doing. On most days, she amended quickly, and sipped her tea.

They were in the Guest Wing again, in a room that was a small solarium, the roof opening to glass panels that let in sunlight in ample supply. The air was full of the pungent odor of green and growing foliage, the scent of mingled flowers moving with the draft. A fountain played a soothing rhythm of flowing water, along with a trio of musicians who sat off in a far corner, sending the lilting notes along corners and edges in a futile attempt to soften them. It would have been a pleasant gathering, but there wasn’t one person in this group who didn’t know what had happened. Tension prevailed. The music was there to cover the pauses and gaps in stilted conversation.

Shalis glanced at Loren, worried for her. Her face was pale, but otherwise composed. She smiled and conversed easily enough, but there was no mirth in her eyes. The happiness that usually shone so readily was replaced by a nearly vacant, emotionless stare. The turmoil she must be facing didn’t show. Shalis found that admirable, but chilling too.

The messenger appeared, searching for her, and Shalis hardly looked at him. She wasn’t supposed to expect him, after all. “Excuse me, Your Highness. Please forgive the interruption. I have a message from Lady Juleta.”

“Yes, what is it?” she asked, smiling pleasantly. In the periphery of vision, she saw Alvuen lean forward in her chair, and reach for her teacup. Shalis knew it was more so that she could hear what the messenger said.

“Lady Juleta sends word that she has returned to the Palace. She came back with Lady Liselle and will await you in your rooms.”

“Thank you.”

The man bowed to her and left. Alvuen stood in the wake of his departure and Shalis thought she seemed pale. Alexia smiled as she spoke with Marella, but a moment later, she looked to Alvuen, a nearly imperceptible question mirrored in her eyes.

“Shalis,” Marc said hardly a moment later.

“Yes, Marc,” she said, smiling at his impatience. She explained what she’d seen and he seemed satisfied.

“I’ll explain later. Juleta is here now. I need to talk to her.”

~*~

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