Chapter 093 - Misplaced Trust:
Marcus paced along the wooden floor in an attempt to calm himself. It was not successful. While he and Castor had been catered for extremely well, luxurious food and even the chance of women, which Marcus declined for them both, they did not have the chance to leave the building. And it was driving him crazy. There was only so much they could eat and sleep before they got bored. Luckily there was enough room for himself and Castor to practice with their swords, but only very carefully and after they had rearranged the furniture.
“How much longer are they going to keep us here?” Castor asked quietly. “Shouldn’t we really be heading back to the Border Forts? There could be another attack by now. I never thought I would miss the place so much.”
Marcus shook his head as he retreated from the glass window, the old wood groaning and creaking beneath his feet. “No. The Clansmen aren’t that stupid. They can’t just loose thirty thousand men and just launch another assault. With luck that should be the only attack this winter.”
“Still…” Castor tried to think of something but closed his mouth as his mind trailed off.
This wasn’t the first time they’d had this conversation and it wouldn’t be the last. Marcus didn’t mind, at least Castor was trying to think of the bigger picture. Perhaps he would, one day, be able to properly lead the Blue Firestorm chapter.
Marcus sat on the end of the bed, far more luxurious than he was accustomed to, and lay down. Castor walked to the window and pried it open, allowing a cool but pungent air to waft in. That was one thing they didn’t have to deal with at the Border Forts, the smell of thousands of thousands of people living basically on top of one another. They only had to deal with horse shit. As he rubbed his head Castor let out another groan. He sat on the window’s edge, a slight push and he would tumble to his death, and looked down to the city streets below. Before Marcus could ask there was a knock at the door.
“My Lords Marcus and Castor,” The voice was young but undeniably a male. Marcus presumed he was from the court. “Duchess Belinda has arrived. King Lambert has decreed that the court is to assemble as soon as possible.”
“Thank you. We’ll be ready shortly.”
Marcus was sure the man bowed on the other side, followed by the faint sounds of clinking metal moving away. There were many armoured soldiers just outside. More than he anticipated.
“Come Castor. Let’s get this over with.”
Castor nodded and picked up his armour. When both were fully equipped, a few more knives hidden away for good measure, Castor looked out the window again. He grumbled and waved at Marcus.
“It’s another one.” He said quietly.
Marcus looked down to the chaos of city life beneath them. All couldn’t see anything special through the swarming of people trying to live their lives as best they could. It took a moment but he saw what caught Castor’s eye. Four large covered caravans, the same type large and important merchant guilds used to transport goods, moved through the city streets. They were oddly patiently for the people to part but there was an inevitability about the way they moved. Many soldiers, mercenaries judging by their mismatched and plain armour, gently pushed the crowd apart and allowed the carts through. Very odd. Once the carts had passed people flooded back into the void and carried on with their lives. They watched in silence until all the carts had left their sight, heading towards the Kings’ castle.
“That’s the twelfth time I’ve seen carts like that heading towards the castle,” Castor said. “And that’s when I’ve been looking, and that’s not been that often. Any ideas?”
“No…But, bring your sword and shield as well. Better to be prepared, right?”
Castor nodded. Their weapons had been meticulously maintained during their stay, there wasn’t much else to do. Marcus opened the locked door. A young man waited outside, immaculately dressed in Qaiviel colours, flanked by four royal guards. Marcus had never seen these men in action, but he reasoned they didn’t see much combat themselves. However, their weapons and armour were not just for show.
“Sorry for the delay.” Marcus tried to be humble. “Please, lead on.”
The young man nodded and walked down the wooden corridor, the royal guard waited for Marcus and Castor and followed a fair distance behind. Once outside Castor nudged Marcus’s side. He nodded to another passing convoy of covered carts. As he followed the young man he studied the carts out of his peripheries.
Those horses look tired, that’s why it’s moving so slow. It's also riding very hard. They’ve got a lot of weight on them.
A cart veered to the side and fell into a small hole in the street. As the cart fell towards them he saw a spherical protuberance in the cloth, several in fact. A hand imprint pressed onto the canvas for a moment. They disappeared when the cart righted itself but Marcus knew what that was. The question was how many were inside each one. And how many had already come to the capital? And where were they going?
Marcus sped up and reached the side of the young man. “We’ve been seeing these carts arriving in the city. Lots of them. Any idea what they are?”
The young man threw up a curious brow before Marcus nodded towards the last of the carts. The back was sealed tight so he could not see anything inside. He glanced at the carts, shrugged and said nothing. Marcus grumbled and slowed so Castor could catch up. Castor looked towards him but accepted he had no answer. His hand travelled to the pommel of his sword and gripped it tight. Something was about to happen, he could feel it in his bones.
The court had not assembled when they arrived. Marcus and Castor followed the slow processing into the court. Everything inside had been cleaned spotless. Even the carpet had been changed. Again Marcus held back his contempt upon seeing the nobles. They looked just as resplendent as last time but there was a certain anticipation to their steps.
Well, Belinda isn’t someone they speak of. And someone who’s supposedly consorted with heretics is coming here. Of course, they’re excited. I hope that’s the reason why…What about those carts?
The representatives of the other Knight Orders already stood at the side of the empty throne. Each looked their very best. Their armour shined in the light, every colour polished to the highest degree. A rainbow of colours…and black and gold. Marcus felt anxious just looking at them. The Black Rider looked utterly void of emotion, perhaps a faint bubbling of rage behind his otherwise blank eyes. The Golden Roar’s representatives smiled a disturbing and knowing smile and even managed a chuckle. Marcus wanted to punch them, the way they held themselves annoyed him to no end.
Terill and his fat priest were not present yet. The agents of the Church normally swarmed around the King like a buzzard to a corpse. Marcus doubted the King was finished just yet, despite his advancing age. Marcus and Castor were ushered to the middle of the Knight Order representatives. Thankfully he had been positioned far away from the Black Riders and the Golden Roar. To his side stood a Green Viper and the other a Red Salamander. Marcus didn’t know the men well but they seemed good people.
Several young attendants, dressed in the immaculate white and green of the King’s men, clapped once, an echoing and piercing clap that silenced everyone and everything.
“Everyone. Please remain silent for the arrival of King Lambert the Third, King of Qaiviel.”
Everyone looked at the large heavy wooden door as King Lambert approached. His body was ever so stooped and the crown slightly askew as his eyes scanned the nobles filling up most of the court. None had the strength to match his eyes and the King simply passed them over with no regard. When he saw the Knights his expression changed, lightened and revitalised. Marcus had no idea how many of his war stories were true but with just one simple look he knew the King longed to be one of them again.
Behind him, however, hovered the buzzards. Terill and his fat priest skulked behind the King. Both matched the pace of the King and kept their head slightly lowered, an act of submission. One that Marcus knew to be false.
King Lambert arrived at the throne and almost flung himself upon it. With an undignified groan, he adjusted his clothes and rested his old and arthritic hands on the armrests. He cleared his throat and began.
“Thank you, everyone, for coming so quickly.” His voice was soft, clear and a little worn. “Though I know that some of you would have preferred to be on your way home we still have a few pieces to clean up after the recent Clansmen invasion.”
The court, the colourful jesters, murmured in fictions and dramatic agreement. Marcus sighed at their pathetic attempts at pandering. Why did they even try? The King clearly detested them with every fibre of his being.
King Lambert glanced at Marcus. “This…Grand Mage, and his associates. To determine what threat they are to our kingdom, we have called their principle negotiator, Duchess Belinda, from the far east of the Kingdom.”
Another snigger came from the court, one silenced by the furious glance of the King. He wasn’t done just yet. He glanced to Terill who waved to the royal guards at the end of the chamber.
The guards disappeared for a moment, only to return looking a little shaken. Two golden knights, knights of the Golden Roar stepped forth. They were dragging something. Rather, someone. Someone with long bright red hair.
The person looked up, Belinda’s eyes were filled with fury and hate. Her face was bloody and bruised, even a fresh trickle of blood trailed down her face, a tooth appeared to be missing. The once beautiful and lavish dress had been torn and dirtied. Behind her, another two Golden Roar Knights emerged dragging an elderly man in an expensive black butler’s uniform. Alfred was slipping in and out of consciousness while blood poured down his face. Marcus said nothing but moved his hand to the pommel of his sword.
King Lambert remained utterly silent as they were dragged to his feet, thrown at the same location where they had knelt but a few days ago. Belinda landed with her hands outstretched while Alfred was thrown on his side. She hissed a curse at the Golden Knight, only receiving a heavy push and a deep chuckle, and helped Alfred to his knees.
“Someone had better explain this before heads start to roll.” The King’s voice was devoid of emotion as he scratched his chin. Marcus saw his free hand dig tight into his clothes.
“I can, your majesty.” The representative of the Golden Roar stepped forward, an unbelievably smug look on his face. “We have brought those who would conspire with vile heretics to your feet. So that you may render your judgment upon them.”
His eyes flashed to Terill and the other priest. Neither man looked anything other than shocked. His smiled weakened but he carried on regardless.
“These two, once loyal subjects, have conspired with the worst degenerates and heretics. Selling their souls and your people for dangerous and corrupting power.” He almost spat out the last word.
The court was in agreement, seemingly taking Belinda’s and Alfred’s beating as sufficient proof of their crimes. The King remained silent, for now.
“What…What proof do you have of this?” Terill asked. The Inquisitor’s voice wobbled and he clenched his fists on his clothes.
“Yes, Rémi.” The King spoke very softly. “Your proof?”
Rémi smiled and waved to a Golden Roar page waiting at the door. He trotted forth and produced something from his cloak. Rémi snatched it from his hands and held it upon his palms for the king to see. It was a pen, a simple dip pen, broken in three places.
“This pen has been cursed and corrupted by vile heresies.” Rémi began, lowering his head once again. “Holy Adepts of the Church have confirmed that it has been tainted by their magic.”
“Prove it.” The King said, moving forward barely an inch.
Lambert’s presence loomed over Rémi, even sitting on his throne. Rémi quickly realised they had gone too far. The King sighed and leant back into his throne. Rémi began panicking and looked to the priest at his side.
“You were there, Cardinal Abeau,” Rémi shouted to the short and fat man. “You know what I saw. This, and her are tainted by heresy.”
“I have been at mass all morning,” Abeau replied, his voice carefully controlled. “I have never seen this before. While I may have claimed these two consorted with heretics, I did not call for them to be mistreated in such a fashion. Especially with just a…pen, to prove their heresy.”
The King looked to Terill.
“My King, while I understand that you may not take my word for this, but Abeau was indeed at mass this whole morning. He had to leave the congregation early once he heard word of Duchess Belinda’s arrival.”
Rémi’s face paled. Everyone had abandoned him, and now he stood with a beaten royal and her loyal butler. “But, my King, they have confessed to consorting with the heretics.”
“You keep saying the same things…No proof and just words poorly spun…” the king murmured quietly. He appeared to enjoy watching Rémi squirm.
“I did no such thing.” Belinda hissed through the pain wracking her body, pain she had probably never felt before. “And right now I almost wish I had. So I could rip out your throat!”
“Heretic!” Rémi claimed. But the chamber was deathly silent. His body began to shake as he looked at the still silent King.
The king sighed loudly. “So…You have a pen, and perhaps a beaten confession from these two. That does not indicate guilt. We are not superstitious fools like the Clansmen. Especially WHEN YOU JUST WANTED HER LAND AND GOLD! YOU STUPID, GREEDY, IGNORANT FOOLS!”
The volume was of his voice was shocking, Marcus stepped back in surprise. Rémi winced as the King’s wrath was directed solely at him.
The King took several deep breaths to calm himself. “You are a tremendous, greedy fool. Imagine if they had been this Grand Mage, and you hauled him and his female companions out here in this state. I intend for this Kingdom to last beyond my reign.” Lambert breathed heavily through his nose. “And it’s about time I did something about it…Bernard?”
The king glanced at the Black Rider and nodded once. Bernard drew a giant two-handed sword and advanced on the Golden Roar Knights. They still had their weapons and, even if they weren’t fighters from the frontier, they wouldn’t be easy prey. Rémi and the four Knights began to back away but Bernard was quick. Inhumanly quick. He lunged forward and swung at their necks. The swipe severed two heads clean off, ripped Rémi’s helmet free before crashing into the third knight’s helmet. It deformed and the man fell limp to the floor. Pools of blood quickly grew from their bodies as Marcus stepped forward and removed Belinda and Alfred from the battle. The Knights either side helped, excluding Castor who remained stunned and transfixed by what was unfolding before them and hid them amongst them. Neither said anything but he knew they were very grateful. Belinda refused to let go of his armoured fist.
Bernard advanced on the other Knight, whose stance and breathing conveyed nothing except sheer, unbridled terror. He tried to form a line with Rémi but Rémi continued to back away, back towards the rest of the court. Thankfully the colourful jesters back away as well.
Bernard swung once and struck the Knight’s shield. It bent with the single hit before flying loose. Marcus heard the snapping of bones as the Knight screamed and clutched at his shaking wrist. As the sword fell to the floor Bernard struck again, this time with his fist at the helmet. It didn’t kill him but the sheer force striking his face sent him tumbling onto his back. He barely reached the ground before Bernard was on him again, plunging his sword into his chest. The armour buckled and tore like it was paper before the man’s strength. He glanced back to the king, his eyes only slightly satisfied with his kills. The king nodded and Bernard smiled.
Rémi said nothing, only preparing himself for a fight he must have known he could not win. He opened his mouth to speak but Bernard advanced once again and swung down. Rémi was a better fighter than his fellows and knew not to try and absorb the blow. He parried the strike and let the blade smash into the stone ground. Rémi thrust forward one, striking Bernard in the shoulder but only struck metal. It gave him a moment to think as Bernard stepped back, just in case Rémi was luring him into a trap. Marcus knew he wasn’t.
“I only did as-“
“Kill this fool!” Abeau shouted over Rémi. “His madness could have cost the Kingdom dearly.”
Nevertheless, the King ignored it. Bernard wrenched his sword free of the stone and swung again. He feinted another attack directed at his head but changed it at the last moment to his legs. The sword cleaved through his leg armour. Shrill screams filled the chamber as Rémi tumbled to the ground. The court backed further even further. Bernard did not hesitate as he plunged his sword into Rémi’s chest and twisted, ending his life.
Everything remained silent as he returned to his original position, blood still dripping from his armour and sword. The other knights gave him a wide berth but he didn’t seem to care.
“I…” Castor weakly spoke aloud.
King Lambert glanced in his direction then laid his eyes on Belinda and Alfred. “Are you two alright?”
“As…Can be expected, my King.” She was struggling slightly with words and pain coursed through her body.
“Well.” The King nodded to the corpses. “Their deaths will have to suffice for your revenge. I…Bernard, you missed one.”
The king nodded to the page, hiding amongst the court ever since the first swing.
“The boy is not responsible for the mistakes of his master,” Bernard spoke gruffly, almost a snarl. “He will join my order and learn how to be a proper knight.”
Bernard looked at the boy and he almost wet himself under his gaze. Quickly realising the alternative was more than likely death he nodded furiously and slowly approached the throne, keeping as much distance as he could from Bernard.
King Lambert looked at the corpses again and sighed. “I call a brief intermission to my court. We will reconvene once certain unpleasant details are dealt with.” He looked at Belinda and Alfred. “And you two will be able to explain to me what happened. Right from the beginning.”
Why not do that the first time? Why bother going with all this?
Marcus looked at the corpses of the Golden Roar Knights as they were ushered out. He doubted their order could do something like this and survive unscathed. In fact, there was the very real possibility they could be disbanded.
So that’s it.
Marcus looked back to the king as his assistants brought two small chairs for Belinda and Alfred. A faint smile crept over the corner of his mouth as he glanced at the corpses.
I wonder. How much of this you knew was going to happen? Or did you even make it happen?
Marcus and Castor stood to the side of the large wooden door. Now it felt like the first time they had been brought before the king, just with everyone else standing with them. A clear distinction lay between the nobles and the Knights like a river had been cast between them. They chatted and whispered amongst themselves, always glancing at the silent and still Bernard standing to one side of the door. No one had approached him after the fight. Not even the former Golden Roar page. He hid near the back of the Knights for protection and anonymity.
“What an interesting morning.” The Red Salamander spoke quietly. “Though, I’m glad the Rémi is gone. Never liked them.”
“No one did,” Marcus replied. “But weren’t they trying very hard to have Duchess Belinda executed?”
“That failed spectacularly.”
“It did. But he still thought he could get away with it,” Marcus looked towards Terill and Abeau standing as far away as possible, their backs to the stone wall as they observed everyone before them. “Even that fell through.”
“Only because the Church left them,” Castor added quietly.
Both the Red Salamander and the Green Viper laughed, attracting the attention of those nearby but none asked. Bernard shuffled and the nobles panicked. When he didn’t move again they relaxed and resumed their bickering. Marcus felt his annoyance with them grow with every action they took. Why did they behave this way? The King and his children clearly hated it…
“What are they talking about?” The Green Viper nodded towards Tirell and Abeau.
Marcus glanced out of one eye and they were indeed talking. Rather, Abeau was talking to Tirell while he looked blankly through the crowd. Marcus did not have the ability to read lips and there was no way for either him or Castor to get close without alerting them. But there might another way.
Marcus moved through the Knights and found the young Golden Roar page. He looked terrified as Marcus approached but he didn’t try and run away, even though he clearly wanted to flee the country.
“What’s your name?”
The page gulped and looked at the ground. “Noah, my lord.”
Marcus smiled and knelt to his level. Noah locked eyes with him for a moment before trying to shy away.
“I need a favour from you, Noah.”
Noah looked at him. “What, my lord?”
“I’m not a lord.” Marcus tried his best to calm him with his voice but it didn’t have much of an effect. “But I do need your help, and you’re the only one that I can ask.”
“Okay…” Noah began to hyperventilate. “Am I going to die? When I was sent to the Golden Roar they told me it was a good place. I don’t want to die.”
Marcus held his shoulder. “You’re not going to die. Not yet. Bernard is a good person.”
I think at least.
“I need you to get close to those two priests, Terill and Abeua, and listen to what they have to say. Look like your running away from us and rest against the wall. Can you do that?”
Noah nodded and took a deep breath. “I can.”
“Good. I’ll come and get you when it’s time.”
Noah nodded and ran away from Marcus. Marcus watched him as he returned to the Knights. Terill saw Noah approaching and then Marcus’s forced glare. He ignored Noah when he stopped ten odd feet away from them and sank onto the floor.
“What did you just do?” the Red Salamander asked.
“Those two are up to something. And I want to know what?”
“So you use someone that’s effectively condemned to death?” he chuckled. “I thought you were nobler than that.”
Marcus shrugged and refused to answer.
The Green Viper continued speaking to Castor. “But they’re really odd. They’re as tall as children but they could easily drink you under the table.”
“True.” The Red Salamander nodded. “They work very hard though. I don’t think I’ve seen one since I was a child. By the Holy Father, that was a long time ago.”
“What are you talking about?”
The wooden doors creaked open and a young man poked his head through. “The King is ready to continue. If you would please all enter the chambers immediately.”
“That was quick.” The Green Viper smiled. “Guess they’re desperate to get this over with.”
Marcus shot Noah a look and beckoned him to his side. Noah didn’t look at Terill and Abeau as he approached.
“What have you heard?” Marcus said as the Knights and nobles jostled to enter the chamber first.
“I don’t know,” Noah replied. When Marcus glanced at him he almost broke down. “Just that they’re planning something. Something about Rémi going too far. I’m sorry, they didn’t say much.”
“It’s okay. Head inside and stay near Bernard. He’ll keep you safe.”
Noah nodded and joined the crowd. Marcus waited for everyone to enter the chamber, until he, Terill and Abeau were left outside. The fat priest smiled and entered, seemingly without a care in the world, while Terill held a tiny scowl on his face, one that wasn’t directed at him. Terill caught his gaze and quickly averted it, rushing into the chambers.
The bodies had been removed, along with the carpets and nearly every blood stain along with them. A thin, weak line remained between the gaps of the stones, but that was all that even hinted at the carnage that has been unleashed in this room. Where the bodies had been moved to he had no idea, probably through one of the many doors along the side of the chamber.
Duchess Belinda sat to the side of the King, with Alfred standing behind her. They were still both bruised and battered but had been cleaned up as best they could. Their clothes were the same but every effort had been made to clean and mend them. Belinda smiled weakly as Marcus approached and stood in his old position.
The King smiled as he looked to Bernard and then to the spot where Rémi once lay. Marcus was sure that he knew of their actions before this unfolded. To speak such a thing would separate his head from his shoulders.
“Now…” Everyone silenced at King Lambert’s words. “That the…unfortunate incident has been dealt with we can continue. Instead of listening to inflammatory words and empty rhetoric,” he glanced at the two priests, who avoided his eye. “We should listen to the person at the centre of this whole incident.”
He looked at Belinda and nodded. She scrunched her hands on the edge of her dress.
“Very well. I did hire the wanderers to defend our Kingdom. The Grand mage, the Blood Berserker and the masked woman.”
“Do you know their names?” Terill asked quietly.
Belinda looked to the Inquisitor. She studied his face for a moment, a tiny frown formed on his old features before she nodded.
“I do. But that is between myself and the King. I will not divulge that information.” Terill said nothing and allowed Belinda to continue. “During the height of the siege on Maxill, when we were about to collapse, they…they came to our rescue. I immediately hired them to help us defeat the invasion. I did not ask if they were heretics or questioned what they did. They saved many lives.”
“What did you have to give them?” Abeau asked. “No one works for free…”
“Least of all you people,” Belinda muttered under her breath. It was loud enough for Abeau to hear. He reflexively puffed up but held his composure, especially after Terill touched his side.
“Some gold, not very much considering what they did for us.”
“What about the pen?”
Belinda shrugged. “I honestly have no idea. They barged into our room and began ransacking it before one picked up that pen and claimed it was powered by heretical magics. You can understand why I was confused. Especially after they dragged a peasant in, wearing a priests’ smock, proclaiming it to be true.”
Belinda flashed Abeau a smile, one which irritated him to no end.
“This has not been what you expected.” The King reached over and patted Belinda’s hand. “To come here at my request and be assaulted in body and mind…I received word from Lord Marcus that your territory has seen a massive increase in stability and productivity of late.”
Belinda desperately tried to hide the twitch that ran down her neck. “It has, your majesty.”
She opened her mouth to speak but held it shut. The changes the King mentioned had only occurred after Anton arrived the first time, well before his third arrival during the Clansmen invasion. Alfred had spoken at length to him about what happened when they were at Nonbur’n. The King couldn’t know any of that.
“Well, that area has always been comparatively poor...I bequeath to you the wealth of Golden Roar members present to do with as you please. I’m sure that it’ll be a significant sum for you.”
“Thank you.” Belinda bowed her head. “I will endeavour to make my territory, and the Kingdom, a stronger place.”
The King nodded as one of the announcers approached. He whispered something into his ear that brightened his face tenfold. He nodded to the announcer who clapped his hands several times.
“Valérie Qaiviel, Queen of Qaiviel, has returned.” He said. Marcus, noticed a certain burst of energy amongst the nobles.
The wooden doors opened again and a solitary woman approached. Marcus kept himself from gawking, though many did not. Valérie cast an impressive figure; tall, flowing blonde hair, a small but pretty face and a ridiculously curvaceous body that bounced hypnotically with every step. She wore simple but clearly expensive clothes. The form-fitting white clothing left a considerable opening above her breasts. A delicate smile formed on her face, her dark brown eyes only adding to the image of beauty.
As she passed the nobles her smile only widened and grew more sweet, winking every now and then at a particularly extravagant noble, even blowing one a kiss.
Now I get why they dress that way…
Valérie had some white make-up on as well, though it was only a spattering.
“It has been too long Lambert.” She hummed sweetly as she approached the throne.
A large chair emerged on the other side of the throne to which Valérie sat on, gently wiping her backside in a deliberately provocating way. She smiled as she held and began stroking Lambert’s hand.
She must barely be in her thirties.
Castor coughed to his side. He was absolutely smitten. Marcus sighed internally, though he wouldn’t deny that he was having some similar thoughts. Belinda glanced down at her body than to Valérie. He knew that Belinda was a very slim woman.
“How have you been, my dear?” Lambert asked softly.
Valérie giggled, almost chuckling. “I have had the absolute time of my life. But I’m so glad to be back. My tour through the west of the Kingdom has been very enlightening for me. There are so many people within the Kingdom that have yet to receive the blessings of the Holy Father.”
So that’s their way into his head.
Valérie smiled. “The new cathedral looks absolutely stunning.” A sly smile formed on her face. “And so do some of the men out there. But,” She patted his hand. “Those details are very long and boring for most people and not suited for your court. When I arrived they told me you were holding court with nearly every representative of the Kingdom. Whatever for?”
Lambert quickly conveyed what had occurred. Valérie listened with genuine shock and disbelief. When he told her about Belinda’s treatment her face turned red with anger.
“That is no way to treat a woman.” She snapped, at no one in particular. “Where are these fools that dare hurt a woman that way? Well?”
“They’re dead,” Lambert replied with finality.
Valérie smiled. “I’m sure that clever old you had something to do with all that.” She turned to Belinda. “Are you alright my dear?”
Belinda’s eye twitched as Valérie leant forward and pushed her left arm into her chest, accentuating something that needn’t be accentuated even more.
“I am, all thing’s considered. I have been compensated with more than just their deaths.”
Probably enough gold to buy a whole city in fact.
Valérie nodded furiously. “Good. After this is over you must come and speak to me. We’ll get you some things to deal with those nasty scratches and wounds until they heal.” Before Belinda could reply she looked to the King. “But first, the King and I need to become reacquainted. It has been far too long.”
I didn’t think you would have it in you, Lambert.
Many of the Knights felt the same, though none would dare even make a twitch that they held such thoughts. Bernard was the only one to remain motionless, simply keeping his eye suspiciously on the Queen’s hands.
“Something’s wrong,” Castor whispered.
“You’re just jealous.”
Marcus glanced at Castor, who nodded towards the gathered nobles. He couldn’t tell what was wrong but he could feel something. It took another heartbeat before it made sense. The shadows were moving, people were moving throughout the court, along the walls and behind the Royal Guards. They dressed well though not like the flashily dressed nobles. These men and women were very well manicured but there was a hardness in their eyes, a hardness that Marcus had only seen in soldiers. And no noble would ever get his hands dirty.
Slowly the mass began to close in, Marcus rested his hand on the pommel of his sword, but Valérie rose up and pulled the King with her. The surge immediately stopped and dissipated.
What are the Royal Guard’s doing?
Marcus glanced at the door. The Royal Guards stood motionless. Something was very wrong here.
“Everyone, if you will excuse us the King and I need to leave. I also need to see my children. It has been some time since I’ve seen them. I don’t like going so long without seeing their faces.” Valérie took the King by the hand and led him forward. “We will send messengers when we are ready to continue.”
Once again Marcus stood outside the council chambers, with no one really knowing what to do. Food and drinks were provided this time but it felt like it was just thrown together. Considering the queen had just thrown them out so she could bed the king it was understandable.
This time small groups had formed amongst the crowds, smaller divisions amongst the Knights and the nobles. A few stood by themselves, mainly Bernard, but they were the exceptions.
As Marcus sniffed at some heavily watered wine Duchess Belinda and Alfred approached. They both looked a little better but not by much.
“You must forgive me for telling the King about your involvement with the Grand Mage.” Marcus began immediately. “I had no choice but to give your name.”
“I understand. He explained what had happened. And I told him everything about them.”
“So he knows…”
Belinda nodded and leant in close. “He seemed more surprised that it was all true.”
“I…I don’t want to fight them.” Castor quietly mumbled. He was still having flashbacks to the potential storm he had nearly unleashed.
“No.” Belinda smiled. “And neither does the King. I explained they are perfectly harmless, so long as you don’t threaten them.”
Again Castor whimpered.
“He was more interested in why they appeared rather than who they were,” Alfred added.
“I can understand that.” Marcus nodded. “So what about you two? I get the feeling that everything has been wrapped up. Surely you two should be leaving this place before the Church decides to have another go at you. A better attempt this time.”
Belinda smiled. “Of course. The King explained what was going to happen but…the Queen arrived before he could dismiss us. We can’t just leave without his word.”
“The money from the Golden Roar will be put to good use.” Alfred smiled but Belinda looked a little awkward. Marcus knew that he was managing everything while she soaked up the glory.
“I bet you didn’t expect that when you arrived.” Castor smiled, his smile fading when Belinda and Alfred looked away. “Don’t tell me you-”
“It doesn’t matter.” Belinda cut him off. “All that matters is that a dangerous faction has been dealt a serious blow and the King has the pretext to increase scrutiny of the Church. And someone loyal has gained more power and influence.”
“You lost a tooth…”
Belinda shrugged. “I know someone that can fix that in a heartbeat. But…That might be quite difficult now. I was under the impression they were only going to attack us and not break out things.” Belinda pulled on the hem of her skirt. “This is the best thing I have left after they wrecked everything. I’ll need to get something more comfortable before we head back.”
“I’ll see to it the moment we are excused from the King’s audience.” Alfred bowed his head.
“So the pen was magical.”
Belinda nodded. “Yes. And it was the only way to contact them. Well, there is another way but it takes far too long. Anyway, I need to get the King’s permission to leave so I can fix that and get out of this city. Something about this place upsets me.”
Alfred nodded. “The whole court looked like it was alive and starting to close in.”
Marcus was glad that he wasn’t the only one that saw it.
“So we just need to see the king before he gets too…involved,” Marcus said. “If it’s called off for the rest of today you’ll be stuck here for another day. And I don’t want to be in this place any longer. I preferred things when they were simple and I know who my enemy is.”
“I think we all want it that way.” Alfred chimed in with a knowing smile.
“So how do we find the King?”
Belinda turned to a Royal Guard and approached him before Alfred could stop her. She spoke quickly with the man, pouting and planting both hands on her hips. The guard seemed rather unaccustomed to her questions and relented. He waved three more guards to his side. Belinda returned to their group while Alfred looked mortified.
“I just explained that the Queen wanted to speak to me as well. That was enough to get through to them. Hopefully, we catch them before the act starts.”
The four Royal Guards led them away from the chamber and through a nondescript corridor. They walked in silence as they traversed the corridors before arriving at another large door. This was far less garish than the golden trimmed door leading to the throne room. Nevertheless, it was clearly very expensive. The guard that Belinda spoke to sighed and knocked on the door.
He heard movement on the other side before the door slowly opened. Valérie peered her head around the door, the white makeup completely removed and been replaced by a natural flush. A flush from exertion. Belinda coughed and shuffled her foot.
“I’m extremely sorry to disturb you, your majesty, but I need to ask permission from the King to leave.” Valérie cocked her head slightly. “I…I do not feel very comfortable in this place, with what happened to me.” Belinda rubbed her cheek over her missing tooth. “I wish to return to my land and continue my work.”
“I can understand that.” Valérie smiled and shook her head. “Please give me just a moment and I’ll ask him. I’m sure I can convince him.”
She winked and retreated behind the door, leaving it slightly ajar. Belinda shuffled slightly and flicked at her hair, quickly regaining her composure. Whispers came through the door, Valérie’s, and another. But it didn’t sound like Lambert. It was too high pitched. Marcus held his thoughts to himself as everyone else remained standing patiently. Had they heard as well?
Eventually, Valérie peered around the door again, a smile forming on her face. “I just spoke with the King and he says you may go. He was about to tell you that but…well.” Valérie flushed slightly. “It seems that he became a little distracted.”
“I…Thank you.” Belinda bowed her head. Alfred leant to Belinda’s ear and whispered. “The King also gave me possession of the wealth of the Knights of the Golden Roar that assaulted me.”
“Disgusting men.” Valérie winked at Marcus and Castor. “They had been tainted by their greed and turned away from true faith. Not like these handsome men. I will prepare the writ.”
Valérie disappeared again. She returned with a beautiful piece of white paper, a single sheet that would have cost a small fortune, and handed it to Belinda.
“Here you go. I got the names from Lambert. That’s quite a fortune you’ve got there. I suggest that you get their wealth before the other Knights hide that money.”
“We will do that the first moment we can,” Alfred said.
Valérie smiled and curtly nodded. “I look forward to hearing more about you, Belinda. I hope that the Holy Father watches over you from now on. Oh, just one more thing.”
Valérie emerged once again and slid between the gap in the door, wearing a very loose white robe and holding a collection of glass bottles in her arm. “I have these for you. There’s no way a woman should be without their weapons.” She handed them over to a somewhat bemused Belinda, clinking lightly as Belinda struggled to hold them all together. “Even though we will never be strong enough to wield a sword like our men we have other ways to fight.”
Belinda nodded, though Marcus didn’t believe her sincerity. Valérie retreated to the door and waved seductively before closing and locking the door.
“That was easy,” Marcus grumbled.
“Yes…” Belinda looked down to the glass bottles in her arms. “What am I supposed to do with this? I barely use make-up as it is.”
“Perhaps we shouldn’t discuss this right here,” Alfred said quietly.
He looked up to the Royal Guards, who kept their faces blank. Belinda nodded and turned to their guards. “Please take us back to the throne room. We have intruded upon them enough as it is.”
The guards quickly and silently escorted them back to the throne room. Everyone still waited, many of the Knights and nobles were eating and drinking with abandon, some from the different groups even chatting with each other. Bernard stood to one side while Terill and Abeau were stuck in some sort of argument, with Abeau doing most of the talking. Marcus tried to find Noah and found him to the side of Bernard, still wearing his golden clothes. He doubted he had overheard anything this time.
As the Royal guards moved back to the door Belinda moved far away from the main group. Many nobles gasped as they saw the bottles in Belinda’s arms. She smiled towards them and lowered her arms so they could get a better look. She sniggered as they scowled in jealousy.
“Maybe they’re not so bad.” Belinda murmured when she finally stopped. “Alfred. How soon can we leave?”
“Right now if you wish. However, I would suggest that we acquire an independent escort before we leave. I do not trust our current small escort to provide us safety until we leave the city.”
“Are you concerned we’ll be attacked?”
Alfred nodded seriously.
“Very well. Do you know any good mercenaries that we can hire in this city?”
“I do. They should be out of work and eager for an escort job, especially if we pay them well.”
“Please see to that. I want to be leaving as soon as possible.”
“If we could leave we would escort you,” Marcus said.
Belinda smiled. “Thank you. I imagine that you will not be here for much longer. Honestly, if the Queen had not arrived then everything would have been finished and you would be heading back home as well.”
Yes…We would have…
“Castor will go with you to make sure there aren’t any issues.” Marcus looked to Castor, who gave a curt nod. “I will remain with Belinda here.”
“Very well. We shall return as soon as we can.” Alfred bowed his head to Marcus and Castor followed him out.
That left Marcus and Belinda alone. She seemed a little uncomfortable being without Alfred, especially holding the glass bottles in her arms. Marcus helped her place them on the ground so she could relax.
“Sorry again that I had to tell the King your name,” Marcus said. “I didn’t expect that to happen.”
“There’s no way you could have known.”
“You know more than you admitted, don’t you?”
Belinda nodded once. “That…That pen was very important. A gift given by them, which allowed me to contact them no matter the distance. It was quite interesting to use, but now it’s completely useless.”
Belinda sighed and looked at the stone floor. “This place and these people…It isn’t how I imagined it. Nothing like the stories or what I remembered. Why did I want to come here in the first place?”
Marcus had nothing to say.
Both remained silent until Alfred and Castor returned sometime later. The nobles continued to glance towards them and the glass bottles sitting at Belinda’s feet. Alfred looked quite happy when he approached, as happy as someone with a heavily bruised face, something made infinitely worse by his age.
“I have contracted with the White Dogs again.” Alfred began. “Well, a different group than we used before but I can vouch for them. They’re waiting for us.”
Belinda nodded. “Thank you, Alfred. What about the wealth of the Golden Roar?”
“I have organised with the Royal Army to seize their wealth. So long as we give them a small fraction of the total wealth. That will be dealt with while we heading back to Maxill.”
“Very good.” Belinda knelt down and collected the glass bottles. “Marcus, Castor, when you are free of this place meet me in Maxill. There are many things that I would like to discuss with you.”
She bowed her head once and left. Many of the nobles began chatting the moment they were out of sight. Marcus paid them no mind as he turned to Castor.
“Did Alfred say anything?”
Castor shook his head. “Nothing really. It sounded like he knew those mercenaries really well. They already knew him by name and didn’t try to haggle the price.”
“Well, I first knew Alfred as a mercenary. A pretty good one, until he fucked up his leg. He became Belinda’s butler after that. In his prime, he probably could have taken down those stupid Golden Roar knights.”
“Huh…So why didn’t we ask to leave at the same time?”
Both stopped and turned to the new voice, one Marcus had not heard before. A few nobles gasped as a well-dressed young man emerged from the crowds of nobles. Marcus searched his memory for a name.
“You…” Marcus began as the young man approached. He looked very similar to King Lambert, a much younger version. “Forgive me, you are either Leo or Giles. You look nearly identical.”
“I get that a lot. I’m Leo, you can tell which is which since Giles has a scar on his chin.” He smiled sheepishly as he stopped a few feet away, just out of sword striking distance. “Though mother has problems with that all the time.”
“I can imagine that. How can we help, Prince Leo?”
“Father was supposed to tell us that there was a meeting, especially since one of us will be leading the Kingdom in…in the near future.” Leo appeared a little embarrassed by his words. “So whoever is going to take over needs to know how to deal with everything. From what I heard today would have been a good experience.”
Maybe not if the King wanted Belinda and Alfred to be assaulted so he could deal with the Golden Roar and put the Church on notice. If that's what actually happened…
“You didn’t miss much,” Castor said. “Other than Bernard killing some knights.”
“That’s the Black Rider guy, right? I’ve never seen him fight before.” His eyes glistened, just like the near insane level that he wore the first time. “What was it like?”
“Very quick,” Marcus admitted. “I wouldn’t want to fight him. But you probably won’t get the chance to see him fight again.”
Or maybe you will.
“Prince Leo, do you know if anything…strange…is going on?”
Leo frowned and thought deeply, eventually shaking his head. “No more strange than usual. Mother’s home early, which is a little odd. She shouldn’t have been back until fall. If we had known we would have gathered to meet her and not be strewn across the city.”
Before Marcus could ask anything more the wooden doors opened and a young assistant emerged.
“His Majesty is ready to continue and asks that you all assemble as quickly as possible. There is still another important item to discuss today.”
“It’s probably the centaurs,” Leo whispered to them. “They’ve been getting rowdy recently and have started to probe into our western territory again. Though I don’t know how beasts could be that threatening.”
The nobles and knights started to file into the throne room, each jostling to be first.
“Have you ever seen a Centaur?” Marcus asked.
“No.” Leo sighed and shrugged dramatically. “In fact, I’ve barely left the capital my whole life.”
“Imagine a horse’s body fused with the upper half of a human.” Marcus began. “They can move as fast as a horse but they aren’t as stupid. Able to swing a sword or spear and use their tremendous bestial strength to simply crush their enemies…that being us. Thankfully they tend not to wear much in the way of armour so they’re relatively easy to put down.”
“You’ve fought them before?”
“Yes. And I don’t want to do it unprepared. Again.”
His mind flashed back to a muddy field. Mud covered his heavy armour as he scrambled to get to his feet, as men and beasts fought each other in an orgy of blood, iron and flailing hooves.
“Does…does that mean that their women are bare-breasted?” Leo asked, a sly smile on the corner of his mouth.
“Yes. But they don’t have large breasts. They wouldn’t be so agile if they were.”
“Ask your mother why that might be a problem,” Marcus said.
Leo laughed, followed by a loud cough by the attendant standing at the door. Everyone else had already entered.
“I can see why that would be a problem. Come on, my brothers and sister have already beaten us inside. If we wait too long they’ll have the best spots.”
Leo smiled and moved towards the door.
“He wants our support if there’s a succession war,” Marcus grumbled quietly. “At least he’s thinking that far ahead.”
Castor glanced at him and slowly nodded. “I suppose that makes sense. But why would he think that just talking to us would make us support him?”
“The others haven’t yet. I guess he’s just getting ahead of the others.” Marcus shook his head. “Let’s get this centaur thing dealt with then get out of this place.”