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King, Chapter 18

Chapters 1-17 are here:

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

~Chapter 18~

Tyson watched as a man and a half-lizard, half-bird fell out of the rising transport. Then he wasn’t watching, but racing to where Gibson had fallen. He reached his brother, but his attention was pulled to the sky again when he saw that it wasn’t a man falling anymore, but a dragon.

“It’s all true,” Gibson breathed, watching while the dragon swooped down over the treetops practically over their heads. Tyson nodded and picked him up. “It’s all real.”

“We have to move, Gibbie. Get up, or all those real things are going to come down right on top of us.” Tyson looked up and his eyes widened. The dragon was struck, and falling again. Tyson pulled his brother along, stumbling for the Landing Port. The sounds of trees snapping like twigs reached them. Tyson tripped when he looked back. He pulled Gibson off the street and under the awning of a stone building. They both cringed when they saw the transport and the blasting ball of light that seared into the ground. An explosion rocked the air, pounding through them, and the windows behind them shattered from the repercussion.

They waited, holding their breath to see if the dragon would rise again, or if the Lord Chancellor would appear. The transport turned away and disappeared. The sound of its engines faded. Long moments later, the streets started to fill with people, their dazed faces looking to the sky. The sound of weeping filtered through the town.

“Where is he?” Gibson asked and Tyson shook his head, still watching over the trees the space where the dragon had disappeared. “Is he dead?”

Tyson shook his head again, leaning Gibson back against the building. “I’ll go find out. Will you be all right?”

“Yes. It stopped bleeding.”

Tyson left him and hurried to the woods. The destruction of trees amazed him, and he climbed over huge trunks to the place where the blast had struck. There was nothing but a ring of black and a few smoldering branches. He didn’t stay long, fearing a return of the transport and Maralt. When he got back to Gibson, one of their friends was with him.

“Did you see it?” Creg asked while he wrapped a makeshift bandage around Gibson’s shoulder. “I can’t believe it, Tyson. It’s real. The dragon is real.”

“He may not be so real anymore, Creg. He’s not there.”

“You mean…you think he’s dead? The Lord Chancellor?”

“I don’t know what happened to him. But, I don’t think Maralt would have left if Marc Talryn was still alive. Can you get Gibson back to the house?”

“Sure Tyson,” Creg said.

“What are you doing?” Gibson asked, his face pinched from worry and pain, and a growing fear.

“I’m going after him. Someone has to. If something’s happened to the Lord Chancellor, no one knows what Maralt is doing. I’m going to try and follow him, find out where he’s going. Gibson, he’s after Juleta. He’ll kill her if he finds her. I have to go.”

He didn’t wait for his brother’s approval, glancing at Creg with a nod before he turned for the Landing Port. He dreaded going back inside through all the stiffening bodies, but he did it anyway. He crept through and around the dead, trying to stay as far away as he could. He heard a noise from the Captain’s office, someone moving around, and for a moment, he thought the Captain might still be alive.

The Captain was just as dead as ever, but Jak Strattle was looking over the desk. He was a Guild pilot they’d lost track of. He used to fly escort runs to Altair, but lately, he hadn’t gone any place where trouble might find him. He jumped when Tyson came in. “Tyson! Are you all right? What happened here? I mean, I saw the dragon, but…”

“I need to take your ship, Jak.”

“My ship? No. I mean, why? We can’t leave. We have to—”

“I need to follow that transport, and I don’t have time to argue. We have to move now.”

Jak looked likely to argue, but he didn’t, finally agreeing with a hesitant nod. “A transport? What’s so important about it?”

“Maralt Adaeryn is on board. We have to find out where he’s going.”

Jak closed his eyes, but started for the bay where his old ship was docked. Tyson looked around the office before he followed, shivering at the sight of all the dead eyes that stared at him. It seemed to him that there was fear in all those faces, telling him to stay, telling him to get as far away from Maralt as he could.

 ***

“I’m all right,” Marc said when he didn’t feel that way. He groaned as he untangled himself from Ralion and pulled to his feet, but then had to sit. Ralion was beside him the next instant, looking him over with a worried face. He hurt just about everywhere, bruised and scraped up, but otherwise not so badly injured. He winced when he stood again, moving for the companel on Ralion’s desk. He meant to contact Beren, afraid that Maralt knew just where Juleta was and would get there before Dain. He touched the controls and pain shot up his arm. An arc of light crackled at his fingertips, gluing him in place. Ralion grabbed him and hauled him back, stumbling over a chair and down to the floor.

“Now what?” Ralion said as he sat up.

Marc didn’t bother trying to stand this time. He shook his head, sure that if he used the companel again to contact Beren that the same thing would happen. He didn’t know why he wasn’t supposed to interfere, or who was ensuring that he didn’t, but he had a bad feeling that it was the good guys. “I have to go back to Distalt,” he said, propping himself up against the desk. “He killed a lot of people there.”

“Marc, how are you ever going to keep Dynan from finding out about this?”

“That’s why I’m going to Distalt.”

“What about Dain? Lyle and Ames?”

He shook his head. “I don’t think there’s anything we can do to help them. Nothing I’ll be allowed to do anyway.” Suddenly he wasn’t so sure that sending Dain was the right thing to do, afraid he’d end up fighting him for Maralt.

“What are you going to tell the other one, Dain Ardin?”

“I don’t know yet.”

“He’ll be able to tell if something happens. Either of them. Dynan always knew when Dain was in trouble.”

“I don’t think…No. Not this time,”

Ralion shook his head. “That’s comforting.” He got up to sit in a chair. “So is the thought that you’d make us go along with this, like it or not. Reminds me of someone I never want to see again.”

“You could look at it another way. You wouldn’t be committing treason against the Crown Prince that way. Innocent by default.”

“Too late for that. If I’m going to break my trust with Dynan like this, I’d rather know about it than live with being used after the fact. You’re not Maralt. Don’t forget that. Not that Maralt would bother talking about it,” he said and shook his head. “Treason for the good of the state.”

“I doubt Dynan will look at it that way.”

Ralion shook his head. “No, he won’t,” he said. “You know, before I went into the service, I wanted to be a farmer.” He smiled at that distant memory. “Maybe I’ll have the chance to do that.”

Marc glanced at him and smiled despite the oppressive weight he felt settling through him. He couldn’t really imagine Ralion doing anything else, but admitted it was a novel idea. “I heard about the pigs, and well, I remember them, too. That’s one of those memories that has been right there, always.”

“Dain almost didn’t forgive me for that.”

“Maybe he’ll join you, and you can be pig farmers together.”

“No.” He stood and held down his hand. “I’ll go tell Kyle. You want me to give him the whole story or just make it an order?”

“Tell him.” Marc stood, turning to look out the window. “I’ll be back when I can. If you hear anything from Beren…”

“I’ll let you know.”

Marc nodded, and thought himself to Distalt, using Gibson Ven as his conduit. Marc startled his parents badly, but they recovered quickly enough. “But we saw you fall,” Gibson said, half-rising from the chair he was in while his mother tended his wounds. “At least, we saw the dragon fall.”

“That was me, but I managed to get away before Maralt could blast a hole in me. Where’s your brother?” Marc looked at them when everyone froze for a moment, then he knew it, and groaned. “He went after him,” he answered his own question. Marc started shaking his head, but then realized he was upsetting the parents. “I’m sorry.” He thought Tyson was probably going to end up dead, and these people weren’t at all prepared to face that possibility. He didn’t guess any parent took that threat well, and thought of his own. “You weren’t supposed to get mixed up with this, not like this. I’ll do everything I can to get Tyson back here. He shouldn’t have gone.” He glanced at Gibson, and the boy almost shrank from him. Marc shook his head, not meaning to frighten them. “You need to get your things together and get ready to leave. Do you have any family?”

“Yes,” Randal said, and a glance to his wife. “We could—”

“Does Juleta know where?”

“Yes, she’s visited with us. My mother—”

“You can’t go there. I’ll let you know where in a minute. When I get back, you need to be ready. I’ll get a Medic over here as soon as I can.”

“He’s dead.”

“I’ll get one.” Marc nodded, and left them. He stood just outside on the Gurrell’s side porch, and he could see down the street. Ten people lay dead, scattered house to house and marked by the huddled groups that stood over the fallen. He activated his receiver, forgetting what had happened the last time until he heard Ralion’s voice. He remembered then, but nothing happened. “I guess I can talk to you without getting zapped.”

“That’s good.”

“I need a relief team in here. Maralt killed everyone he saw. Port is closed. They’re all dead. The City guard is dead and that kid we talked to took a ship and went after Maralt.”

Ralion swore. “Tyson, right? At least Dain knows who he is.”

“Except Dain doesn’t know he’s coming. Try putting me through on receiver. Maybe that’ll work.”

“Sure. I’ll try it,” Ralion said, then hesitated. “No, wait. How many times has our Com system been messed with? No. You wouldn’t want that kind of current coming in through your ear piece, Marc.”

“…Right. You have a point. Thanks. Get that team in here. And don’t go through Morlin. He’s busy dealing with Errien.”

“I’ll get them out to you.”

“Tell the Captain I’ll find him when he gets here. I need to move the servants. Dain told me there was a house on Altair. Where is that?”

Ralion explained that the Telaerin mansion on Altair was near a town called Nylin, but didn’t know when it had last been occupied. “I’ll get the local guard to send someone out. Check the place over.”

Marc agreed, and cut the channel. He looked down the street again. He didn’t want to be seen. He didn’t want to face these people, or the blame he felt for this atrocity. He was responsible for it, for every death that happened here.

He thought he knew what he was doing when he sent Juleta to Beren, but now he wasn’t so sure. Doubt was his master, and he should have expected it. That seemed to be the way it worked. One minute he was certain what he should do, usually before he did it, and when it was too late to change back, his certainty evaporated. The thing that told him which way to turn, left him, and when it did, he was cold and lost, the voices silent. He had yet to learn to wait patiently for them to return.

Those voices were different from the constant, insidious whispers that assailed him at every turn. He knew who directed them, the face of a demon swirling continuously in his mind. He still had a hard time believing that the others came from the Gods, but he listened to them anyway. Their intent at least was clear enough and matched his own.

“But Marc, they mean to take you. You can have everything you want and keep your life,” a whisper broke into full voice. A hole opened before him, its interior spinning with black and a man stepped out. As he did, the Gateway closed to a pinpoint, hovering at his back.

“You’d like me to believe that,” Marc said, glancing around to see if anyone would notice this apparition. The man before him watched with him. He was dark like Maralt, but different. Marc didn’t think he’d ever encountered this one before. It was hard to tell.

“I am Adiem, your father.”

Marc started at the name, but shook his head. “My father is in Rianamar at the Palace. I have no other.”

Adiem smiled easily and leaned back against the porch railing. “Yes, Meril is your father and Farina is your mother. That’s true. That part of you that is flesh and blood,” he said, and reached his hand up to touch a scrape at Marc’s temple. Adiem stopped when Marc reared back away from him, and he shook his head. “I am the first of our kind. You’re an Adept telepath, which means my seed is in you. I was created by the Gods, just as you were. I was part of their great and glorious plan for humanity. I followed along as expected, did as I was told, just as you are now, but I found out something I wasn’t supposed to. I discovered who the Gods are. I will tell you, they are no different from you or I. They were men once, long ago before they evolved into the beings that they are now. But certainly no better than you. They fear you, Marc. Why do you think they want to get rid of you?”

“They don’t want someone like you running around loose, is why. Neither do I.”

“Of course they don’t. They have power that they don’t wish to share. They won’t tolerate it in anyone but themselves. They want control and they’ll get it by any means. They distort the truth to ensure it. They destroyed our home, Marc, so that the knowledge would die.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“I didn’t expect you would. Not now, when they have such a hold on your mind. They tell you what to do and you do it, even when you doubt. I know. They did the same thing to me. I was cast aside though, exiled to a pit of darkness.”

“Yes, I’ve been there.”

“And you think that existence is what I deserve? Well, you won’t like it anymore than I. I’ll be seeing you there soon enough.”

“Only when I come to lock you away.”

“That’s what they would have you believe. You’re expected to give yourself to them, but they will reject you, and that small part that they haven’t ripped away will find only one home. It’s an unpleasant existence. Is it any wonder that we seek to escape it? No, you won’t like it either.”

“So you want me to think that you were put there unjustly?”

“I was, and there are so many others now, trapped as I am. You’ll set us free. It’s your fate to do so. In that moment, after you’ve taken your forefathers to yourself, the knowledge and power that the Gods possess will be yours. You’ll understand then. The truth will be revealed. When you see that I’ve spoken honestly of this, you’ll decide then. I only wanted to forewarn you of what you’ll be faced with. The others certainly won’t.”

“The Gods tell me what I need. They don’t rule by fear. They don’t seek the subjugation of man, or their destruction.”

“They seek to contain and control what is normal and inherent in all men by denying knowledge. And when they can’t, when that knowledge breaks through the boundaries they’ve erected, force is met by counter-force. Chaos is the result. They’re the ones responsible for this atrocity today, and you with them, as I am. Yes, in equal measure. When you’ve taken us all, you’ll have the power to break the cycle, to allow knowledge and truth to come from the dark shadows. The bonds that enslave us all will vanish.” He straightened, looking around at the dead. Families and neighbors were slowly starting to move indoors, carrying the fallen with them. There were others starting to look around, looking for someone who could explain, who could give them a reason for why this had happened. “The fate of all mankind rests in the choices you make. All mankind, Marc. We’re all hoping that this time, you’ll be wise enough to make the right decision. I’ll see you again.”

He was gone the next instant, stepping back inside the black maw that opened to receive him. It closed around him, sealing him away, but not before Marc saw the grimace of pain and weariness that twisted his face.

Marc closed his eyes, wishing he could excise his words so easily.

 ***

Jak Strattle looked over the controls of his ship, wondering what kind of trouble he was getting into. He’d been peacefully sleeping one off on board and woke to this nightmare. Dragons and Maralt Adaeryn. That name sent a bolt of fear through him, and he double-checked to make sure that the transport couldn’t track him. He stayed back beyond its ability to scan, far back. He glanced at Tyson Ven. “Why don’t we just call Central Control?”

“If you think you can get through, and if you think Maralt won’t know it, go ahead. We don’t know where he’s going yet.”

“You’re going to tell me what this is all about and how you got mixed up in it before we do anything,” Jak said. What he really wanted to do was turn around.

As Tyson started relating what he knew, Jak was convinced they had to turn back, and then Tyson described seeing Dain Telaerin with the Lord Chancellor one moment and not the next. He didn’t want to listen to the part about the dragon, and he felt suddenly sick when he heard how many people had died. “Dain Telaerin is going after him?”

“Sounded that way. The Lord Chancellor said don’t let him get in your head, and Dain said he’d bring him back.” Tyson frowned then. “Maybe Juleta said something, anything that might tell us what she’s gotten into. Why would Maralt want to kill her anyway?”

“What if she did? How would we find out about it? And Maralt kills people because he likes to, because he wants to hurt Dynan and Dain Telaerin and Cobalt.”

“I have her access code. Can you get into that system?”

“No, I don’t…Her personal account?”

“Yes.”

Jak frowned, thinking if he could access his own personal account, then he could get into Juleta’s, too. He wasn’t the same class of people as she, but he didn’t think the files where segregated by how important you were. “Let me just try. What’s the code?”

Tyson gave it to him, leaning over the screen to see what would happen. A moment later, Juleta Gurrell’s personal account opened. “Yes,” Tyson said, smiling over this small success.

“Where is she?” Jak asked.

“She was at the Palace. A Palace messenger came before dawn this morning, and Lord and Lady Gurrell left very soon afterward. I heard them say that she’d been moved, but they didn’t say where.”

“That means the Palace has her hidden somewhere. Have you heard the talk that’s been going around? About Liselle Telaerin and Prince Dynan?”

“I don’t pay any attention to that sort of thing, Jak. Who cares?”

“A lot of people care, and they use what ever they can find.”

“Liselle came to the house with Juleta.”

Jak rolled his eyes, afraid again. Anything to do with Liselle meant trouble, just the same as Dain. He turned back to the screen and started reading, even though he felt guilty for the invasion. Juleta Gurrell had a death sentence on her head, and somehow Liselle had gotten her mixed up in something big enough to warrant Dain’s involvement. That made it the worst possible kind of trouble. Jak skipped to the end of her journal. Her last entry stopped him. “It says she’s afraid.”

“There isn’t anything there,” Tyson said, and sat back in his seat. “We have to get to her before Maralt does, or she’s dead.”

Jak nodded, trying to think past the pounding of his heart. “There aren’t many places the Palace can hide her. Their homes are the first likely choice. Have you heard anything about the Beach Manor?”

“No, but that’s a likely place.”

“Yes, and so is Beren.” Jak frowned over that. Beren was almost too obvious, because Dain and Dynan lived there as often as they could. That meant they knew people that they could trust. Jak supposed that was true of the Beach Manor, but the twins hadn’t gone there so often. That was a once a year excursion that the whole family went on, except that one time that Dain had gone by himself. Liselle Telaerin had been the cause then, too. “This is crazy. We’re crazy, you know that? To do this is just stupid, Tyson. We could end up getting killed. If Dain Telaerin has anything to do with it, we’re sure to find trouble.”

“We have to help, Jak. No one else knows that Maralt is coming. I saw the Lord Chancellor fall. If something happens to Dain, we’re dead without him. We have to help.”

“Dain is crazy. Always has been,” Jak muttered, then checked his coordinates against the transports. He couldn’t tell which way Maralt would turn; for the Beach Manor, or Beren. If Jak wanted to get there in front of him, and he definitely wanted to do that, he had to guess now. “We’re going to Beren. If Dain is involved with this, that’s where he’d go. That’s where he would send Juleta to keep her safe. I could be wrong. I hope I’m wrong, but that’s what I think.”

“What about the other places, on Arel and Altair.”

“They wouldn’t send Juleta to Altair. Not with Dynan there today. They haven’t used either of those homes in years anyway. It’s got to be Beren or the Beach. I think Beren.”

Tyson hesitated, then nodded. “Beren it is. Can you get us there?”

Jak nodded, really not liking the idea. “I can get us there. This ship, it isn’t much, but it’s faster than a regular transport. I’m going to head us off toward Arel so he doesn’t think we’re following him and then we’ll get in front of him. We’ll get there before he does.”

A few hours later, they arrived over the Beren Port, dropping down inside the landing bay. It was dark still, but it wouldn’t be for long. As Jak set the ship down, Tyson stood. “Warn the Captain. I’m going.”

“Be careful, Tyson. Your Ma will kill me if I don’t bring you back.”

Tyson nodded, and left the ship. Jak sat right where he was, listening to the outside sounds for a while. The birds were starting to wake up. He hated the dawn. Tried hard not to see it on most days. He muttered over it and meant to go talk to the Port Captain, but then he heard the sound of a transport engine coming in for a landing. Jak went to the ramp, looking up at the craft as it lowered just two bays over and knew it was Maralt. He stood transfixed an instant longer. Maralt looked down at him, his eyes narrowing and then the edge of the building took him from sight.

Jak stumbled back on board his ship, his hand automatically reaching for the ramp controls. He thought about Tyson, and thought him dead. He moved quickly then, powering up the engines and preparing the ship for liftoff. It didn’t take long, since he’d only just shut them down, but it seemed forever before the indicator lights changed over. The moment they did, he got the ship moving, popping up out of the bay with reckless heed to safety. His hands shook, but he managed to engage the engines and set a course. It didn’t matter where. Away was the general idea. The ship moved forward, and Jak left Beren behind.

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Filed under Epic Fantasy, Guardians of the Word

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 14

Chapters 1-13 are here:

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

~Chapter 14~

Juleta Gurrell sat in yet another parlor that was attached to an unused suite of rooms tucked in along the far side of the Lord Chancellor’s quarters. She held her hands folded together, stiffly composed, but Marc knew she was terrified. With good reason, he thought. The charge of treason very often carried with it the penalty of death. Her face was so pale he thought she might faint.

“You’ve been busy,” he said, feeling little sympathy for her, angry at himself for not acting on the forewarnings he’d had about her. “I don’t have time for hysterics, Juleta. You need to tell me what you know, what you’ve done, and who you’ve done it with.”

It took her a moment to answer and he felt his patience cut thin. “I didn’t know…”

“I’m not interested in what you didn’t know, my Lady.”

She nodded and her paleness increased. “When I came here, it was at Queen Alexia’s insistence. My mother is a friend of Lady Elise Taldic. When I expressed an interest in coming here, all my mother had to do was write her and I received her recommendation.”

“Alexia expected you to spy for her.”

“I didn’t have a choice.”

“I’m sure you think you didn’t. We’ll get to what you’ve told her in a moment. First, I want to know what your involvement with Lady Liselle is, and what you know of the drug that was given to Prince Dynan last night.”

She closed her eyes, swaying slightly in her chair. Marc took a step closer, thinking he’d have to catch her, but his proximity frightened her into recovering. “I…Alvuen…”

“Juleta,” he said in a milder tone and poured her a glass of water. “I’m not going to do anything to you, but I need this information and I need it now. What about Alvuen?”

“She gave me a box to give Liselle. She said it was a gift. She instructed me to invite Liselle to my parents’ home, but to keep quiet about it.”

“She gave this box to you? Directly?”

“Yes, last night at the Ball.”

“Did you know what was in it?”

She started to shake her head, then stared down into her hands. “I saw what was in it, but I didn’t know what the vial held.”

“You knew that Liselle was going to give it to Dynan.”

Her admission was longer in coming, but she nodded. “I didn’t think Alvuen meant to poison him. I would never—”

“She didn’t mean to, but the drug was sufficiently toxic to cause death if misused. Dynan is lucky to be alive this morning. Or maybe not so lucky. Were you ever told the point behind the use of this drug?”

“I guessed it when I found out what it was, and then Liselle told me when she arrived this morning. They mean to drive Prince Dynan and Lady Loren apart so that he has no choice but to marry Princess Danetha.”

“Liselle indicated this to you?”

“Yes. Alvuen too, but I didn’t understand what she meant at the time.”

“What did she say?”

“That she had a plan that would ensure her Queen’s wishes would be followed. But she didn’t say it, she wrote it. We used a messenger when we needed to communicate. His name is Reve Brezden. I passed him notes on what I saw and he delivered them to Alvuen. He would deliver her return messages to me.”

“What did you do with the notes?” Marc asked, thinking it would be too easy if she still had that particular message.

Juleta shook her head. “I always put them in the fire. That’s what she told me to do.”

“Alvuen?”

“Yes.”

A knock on the door interrupted his next question, and Ralion came in. “I’m sorry. I thought you should know. We’ve found a Palace Messenger murdered. His name was Reve Brezden.”

“Where?”

“In a storage bin in the pantry.” Ralion hesitated, glancing at Juleta. “His heart was cut out.”

“Maralt.”

Juleta gasped, her breath stuttering through her teeth. She covered her mouth as she dissolved into instant tears. Marc frowned and nodded Ralion into the next room, but left the door open to keep an eye on her. He kept his voice down, so she wouldn’t hear. “How was he discovered?”

“By another servant, who thankfully didn’t start a huge commotion about it. He alerted the guard, who then called me. Everyone who saw the man has been instructed to keep quiet. It’ll get around anyway, but the story I put out was a case of robbery gone wrong. I have his purse, which has a good bit more coin than a servant of his rank should have. The man bragged it seemed, about how well off he was. His finance account says the same thing.”

“All right. She’s next you know. Liselle too.” He started pacing, wishing now that he hadn’t sent that messenger to Shalis. Maralt’s involvement changed all the rules. “We have to get them out of here. We won’t be able to move Liselle unnoticed until tomorrow, if then. We need to move Juleta now.”

“Maralt doesn’t leave his witnesses alive.”

“He didn’t know that we were aware of her activities, otherwise, she’d be dead by now.”

Ralion glanced at him at that, conveying with a look that he hadn’t been aware of Juleta’s activities either.

Marc only shook his head. “Who do we have who we can trust and won’t be missed?”

Ralion took a moment to think about it, forcing Marc to rein in a wave of irritation over the delay. “Lyle Dowd has a place near Beren. Last I heard, he was completely recovered from what happened the night we landed. He and Ames Lithford can take her.”

“Will they?”

“Yes, and unless Maralt goes himself, they should be able to handle anyone else. They were both trained here by Boral. They both went through conscription. They aren’t stupid.”

“All right. I’ll get her out of the Palace. We’re going to say that she was sent back home to her parents. I’ll think of why later. I want a message sent to the Gurrells—I’ll want to write that—delivered to Lord Gurrell only. They’ll need to move, too. I want a false trail laid out to cover their real destination. Their servants are to be told that they’re at the Beach Manor. Set it up. Let me know when you’re ready.”

“There’s one more thing. The dead man was a Palace Messenger. His seal has been stolen, which means that Maralt has it and he’ll use it to get access. I’ve already recalled the rest of the messenger staff, but it will take time to check them all and keep it quiet.”

“Right.” Marc shook his head, fearing that events were going to spiral out of control, if they hadn’t already. “I don’t want Dynan to know about this either. I need to think it through some more. He’s liable to come unhinged if he hears about Maralt. He doesn’t need it right now.”

“No, he doesn’t. All right. I’ll tell Kyle the same thing.”

“Get a guard in here who we know. Juleta will be staying in my rooms until we’re ready. No one comes in. No one talks to her.”

“Understood.”

“I’m going to see Liselle, and tell her what I want her to do. I’ll be back.”

“Marc, what do you want Liselle to do?”

“She’s coming to dinner tonight, Ralion. She and Dynan are going to talk to each other and act like nothing ever happened. We have a population to convince of that.”

Ralion didn’t look like he thought it possible, but he nodded, and Marc left him. Liselle’s reaction to his presence mirrored Juleta’s, but she covered it better. Still she took a step away from him, covering her middle as though trying to protect something. Marc didn’t waste time talking, but went to her and touched her forehead. When she thought to move away, he commanded her to be still, while he searched her mind for any trace of Maralt’s presence. He ignored everything else, concentrating only on that, but didn’t find what he thought would be there.

“Tonight, when Dynan returns for dinner you’re going to attend. You’re going to act and look as though you’ve done nothing wrong. You’ll smile and eat and converse as though nothing at all has happened. If you’re asked about last night, your response will be that you were talking with him. Adel was with you at all times. You lost track of time. That’s all you’ll say. All you will indicate in any manner.”

“Dynan will never—”

“He will. He understands what’s at risk here. Regardless, you have no choice in this. You’ll do exactly as I’ve said. I will see to it.”

She understood what he meant and her eyes widened. “Perhaps you aren’t so different from Maralt after all.”

“Different enough. You’re still alive.” He touched her forehead again, inspecting the shield he’d made on her first return and found it still strong. He put another in place that would prevent her from joining with Maralt voluntarily. “And I intend to keep you that way, so that when the time comes, you’ll be able to testify to Alexia’s duplicity in this and face whatever punishment the King decides. You better hope that King turns out to be Dynan. Ambrose isn’t likely to be so forgiving this time. Now, you’re going to tell me everything you’ve done from start to finish.”

He pointed her into a chair and sat across from her. “It isn’t what you think,” Liselle said, and as Marc listened, he began to understand what she meant.

~*~

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