I go to my rooms, keeping my Sergeant with me after he does his ‘searching for assassins’ routine. Luckily my senior sergeant Bevin is the sergeant on duty, so I don’t have to do much explaining.
I tell my ladies to go walk in the gardens. I trust them—I know I can trust them—but the fewer who know, the better.
“Bevin, I want you and three other guards here fully armed and ready to travel just after the mid-day meal.” I’m packing my own saddlebags as I talk. “I want six horses waiting outside the east gates saddled.” I hand him the packed saddlebags and unlock my vault—if we have to travel, I’ll need money. “The four of you will meet me here. We are going to drag Alys to the shrine of the Nursing Sisters.”
“It didn’t work with the King.” Bevin isn’t really objecting, just commenting. Of course the sergeants had noticed.
“That’s why the horses. If we must, we will ride north. Holiness and distance,” I tell him. “Those are the two things we found in the old lore.”
As Bevin is leaving, carrying my saddlebags, Mynar comes in. He’s not looking cheerful, but he has controlled his anger, at least outwardly.
“Lady Ckel will come to us here when father enters mother’s bower. I will wait outside once he enters.”
“And I need to get the Sword.” No one questions what I am doing when I wear the Weapon.
The waiting is the most difficult part. Six of us lounging in my rooms, finding nothing to talk about. One of my ladies looks in periodically, sees we were still here, and leaves again.
Then Ckel appears, and it starts. Mynar heading toward father, and me with one Weapon, four guards, and two silk scarves, heading for Alys.
No one questions us as we walk through the castle’s east gate dragging a blind-folded and gagged Alys. She is fighting, but my guards are large and two of them hold her easily, with me leading the way and the other two in the rear. We left behind two of Alys’ guards, slightly damaged, and several of her ladies, screaming and running about. They were completely surprised and put up only minimal resistance. Stupid of them to be surprised, they should have expected retribution whether she is Enchanter or bitch.
We draw curious looks as we go down the street, but no one moves to question us. Between respect for the Weapon and fear of the Weapon I do not believe any would protest if I planned to burn her at the stake. Some would run and gather wood.
I see the gate to the shrine’s forecourt standing open as always. As we near it, Alys redoubles her efforts fighting the guards, slowing us, but not able to stop us. We drag her through the gate heading for the chapel door—I will explain later and beg forgiveness if necessary.
I draw the Sword by reflex, frightened, not sure what I am seeing. The guards release her, and step back, drawing useless weapons, as she falls to the ground. I am finally pulled back to putting conscious thoughts together when I ‘hear’ the sword’s muttered ‘strange’.
Alys, what was Alys, lies on the cobblestones of the forecourt—a dried, desiccated body disintegrating into dust as I and my guards stand in silent circle around it.
“Close the gate,” a decisive voice commands, and I turn to see Senior Nursing Sister Mays crossing from the dormer. “What is this, Wielder?”
“This is—was—Alys, an Enchanter, who has bespelled the king,” I answer loudly. Rumor has vilified father, now it can vindicate him. “I had thought that the holy precepts of the shrine would break the enchantment.” The look she gave what was left of Alys caused me to continue in a more apologetic tone. “I did not expect this.”
Mays moves closer to the body, inspecting but not touching it. “This has the look of one long dead?”
“Or perhaps,” one of the older sisters clustering around us suggests, “The look of someone who had unnaturally prolonged her life and had her enchantments abruptly removed.”
“Oh.” Which is pretty much all I have to say.
“Get a reliquary,” Mays commands. “We will clean this up, both literally and spiritually, but once boxed and sealed, you will remove it.”
I nod in agreement, but we are interrupted by banging on the gate and cries of ‘the king’s name’.
The Sword still drawn, I move to answer it, and Mays does not interfere. It is one of the King’s guards. “Prince Mynar bids you return,” he speaks aloud, then drops his voice to a whisper only I can hear, “The king just fell unconscious.”
I leave two of my men to aid the Sisters and run with the others back toward the castle. Somewhere along the way I remember to sheathe the Sword. By the time I reach the castle, father has been carried to his bed, and mother cajoled into hers.
In a whispered discussion Mynar and I try to decide what to do. There are guards all around us, tripping over each other, awaiting orders—needing orders.
We reach agreement, and Mynar orders Ambassador Aker and his entourage confined to their rooms. Swift messengers, including Leum, are to be sent to Halft summoning Ambassador Hauilr home, and warning our merchants there of possible hostilities. Men run to obey, comforted that the Heir knows what needs to be done.
The hall is suddenly silent as mother’s senior lady glides out to speak to us. “Her pulse is strong,” she tells us, “And she wishes to know what has happened.”
I leave to speak with mother, not knowing is always more stressful than knowing. Behind me I can hear Mynar summoning the Lord Advisors to council.
Three days later, the doctors begin to think father will live, and four days later he wakes with a raging headache and an even worse temper.
Mynar and I are in our places, as usual, but I have the Weapon strapped to my back—very much not as usual. All of the Lord Advisors are in attendance, except Lord Taver who is putting the army at ready. The signals have been lighted on the Spires, one fire for warning, and couriers are riding with detailed orders. During the night, the Spires’ fire will be seen, and during the day, their smoke.
The rest of the great hall is crowded with the court, the guild masters, guards, and any palace staff who have convinced the Steward they are needed, or who haven’t and are busily watching and staying out of sight.
Our people enjoy pageantry, and it doesn’t get any better than a full court with an angry king. They are enthralled.
“You will return home,” father is speaking loud enough that even those in the very back of the hall can hear him clearly. “And you may tell King Afred that if my armies march, it will not be toward Mysk.
“And,” father steps closer, so that only the Ambassador and those of us on the dais can hear him, “You had best look carefully at your king’s eyes.”
Father leaves. We follow, mother’s hand lightly resting on Mynar’s arm, making clear to all who watch that it is courtesy, not support.
The ambassador is out the great doors before we follow father out the king’s entrance in the back. The rest of the court stays to gossip and compare opinions.