“Bloody bloody bloody bloody bloody hell,” Ely muttered under his breath. “Some just have all the luck.”
Around Ely, barons and baronesses clapped and nodded in approval, a stark contrast to the glare imprinted on his face. He cared not. Not when Mar and the whole world had wronged him as they did.
From behind, a gentle nudge from a patron put Ely off balance. As did a brush from his left side. Both the product of guests clamoring to catch a better glimpse of the newly-married royals before them.
They appeared at the top of a marble staircase, which fanned out to the ballroom below. On the ground level waited a string quintet ready to serenade the couple for their first dance as husband and wife. The guests surrounded the square dancefloor. Though of royal and noble blood, the attendees clustered around the open space like children clamoring for sweets on Harvest Day. Their present enthusiasm, along with the general euphoria that followed the ceremony, was enough to nauseate Ely to no end.
Dear Mar, he thought, I am going to drink myself into a stupor the likes of which none of these patrons have seen before.
Ely’s stomach churned and his anger mounted as Symon took Taresa by her hand to guide her down the stairs. Steady applause accompanied each of their steps and continued until they paused in the center of the ballroom. Even Sir Everitt, who ringed the dance space with a retinue of Marlish and Ibian guards, broke with his tradition of service to offer a clap to the newly married.
The quintet adjusted their bows as Symon slipped his left hand into Taresa’s while his right slid to the small of her back.
Get me a drink! Ely nearly screamed as he shoved his way from the dance floor. The quintet loosed their strings, giving rise to a soft melody, which only spurred Ely on more. He arrived at the nearest bar to the additional accompaniment of ohhhs and ahhhs.
“You!” Ely said in Ibian. He shoved a finger at the barkeep behind the counter. “An ale. Your strongest.”
The barkeep, a sturdy man built like a bull with a coarse mat of black hair to match, replied with a raised brow and wry look. “We aren’t serving such drink tonight. By the Throne’s orders, the menu tonight is of sparkling ambrosia and vintage wines.”
“Mar damn it!” Ely exclaimed far too loudly in Marlish. Those directly around him cast a judgmental glance in his direction, while all the others paid no notice. “Very well,” he went on in Ibian. “Give me a goblet of whatever. With another every minute thereafter. I’ll need it.”
Having not shed his stern demeanor, the barkeep leaned in, his gaze set on Ely. “My lord, I know not from where you hail, but in this land, we show some respect during our ceremonies — especially royal ones. No one drinks until the new king and queen finish their first dance. No one.”
“Not even King Felix?” Ely retorted.
“If you were to sprout a crown on your head and grow a face as presentable as His Majesty’s – rather than the rat’s nest you have now – not even then.”
Ely fumed. Instinctively, his hand went to the dagger hidden inside of his shirt. However, another hand – firm and steady – caught him before his fingers found their mark.
He glanced up to find a Voiceless, in the garb of a noble, staring him down. Then he felt the hot breath of another silent knight as he too leaned in on the opposite side to offer his scowl.
Their directives for the ceremony had been clear. Symon had made sure of that. Neither brother – especially Ely – were to make a scene. If either sibling dared to fall out of line, then the Voiceless had the authority to subdue and remove that brother by any means necessary.
Ely, his actions subdued though his temper continued to burn, looked the two guards of his up and down. His gaze traveled the length of them, resting to the free hand of the one who caught him first.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” the Voiceless signed, his fingers flexing just under the lip of the bar so Ely could see and no other.
“Then let go of me,” Ely responded in taut Marlish words he ground through his teeth.
Ely glanced at each knight, then nodded. The Voiceless eased his grip. Ely pulled away.
“Seems your men-at-arms saved you some embarrassment,” the barkeep said.
Ely opened his mouth to offer a curt retort only to be cut off by a barrage of applause. He swung around to find the first royal dance between King and Queen had ended. The guests broke from their lines around the dance floor to approach the couple. Guards immediately swooped in to keep the eager attendees at a respectable distance and to arrange them in an orderly fashion.
Ely turned to finally order his drink. Before he could, the barkeep slid a goblet of mint green wine across to him.
“Every minute thereafter, I know,” said the barkeep. “So long as you keep that boorish trap of yours shut and behave.”
A curse and an insult crossed Ely’s mind. Several, in fact. For once, he thought better of it, as he was just glad to have a draught in all the boredom.
Three goblets and several minutes later, Ely’s demeanor softened in a way he did not expect. No stranger to intoxication, he studied the glass in his possession, which carried his fourth round of spirits.
“Pardon me,” he called to the barkeep.
The bull in britches, at the far end of the bar serving another, paid him no mind. Still curious, Ely tapped the patron closest to him.
“Kind sir,” he said in his rough Ibian. “These spirits, do they seem off to you?”
“You one of Jameson’s subjects?” the man replied in Marlish.
Though with the classic olive complexion of an Ibian, the gentleman spoke Ely’s native tongue without the hint of an accent. Ely paused, surprised.
“Tis from King Felix’s private vintage,” the man went on, not waiting for Ely to reply. “Predates the Century War, as do most of the spirits served tonight. They say the wine aged so well it gives, well, not drunkenness . . . But, how do you Marlishmen say . . . A good time? A good time?”
“Euphoria,” chimed the woman next to him.
“Aha! Yes, euphoria. Your mood changes and your senses dull; however, you don’t get drunk the same way you would off of ale.”
“Oh,” Ely replied. “Why, I thank you for the information.”
“Yes, well, that’s me. Always offerings, always offering . . . In fact –”
His companion tugged at his sleeve to usher him toward another couple. The man, sensing her hint, bowed and returned to his companion. Ely returned his attention to the goblet in hand.
Euphoria? he mused. Interesting.
He glanced around him. Suddenly, the affair throughout the ballroom changed. No longer did it seem the haughty gathering of earlier. Part of that clung to the air while something grander, more opportunistic, presented itself.
Ely eyed the crowd. His focus narrowed on the familiar — the supple, soft flesh of maidenhood.
It spilled forth not just from the constricted bosoms of corsets and gowns, but powdered cheeks and rosy lips. It beckoned him from every exposed female orifice, whether sensual or not. From clasped hands. From under the cuffs of wrists. From necklines. Earlobes.
Yes, the receptacles of words both bitter and sweet.
Ely glanced at the dance floor. Symon remained at the center, with Taresa at his arm, as the two bowed and curtsied to their guests. They then proceeded to make idle chitchat, nodding politely and smiling as though on cue. Behind those they engaged waited a line of many more patrons, each eager to have their moment of association.
“Dreadful,” Ely said aloud to no one. He chugged the contents of his goblet. He extended it to the Voiceless closest to him. The knight instinctively reached for the glass. But Ely, obviously not caring, released it prematurely, allowing the goblet to shatter into a thousand pieces.
Both knights glared at their sovereign, who did not even bother to turn. Those attendees around him, also in their own worlds, barely shot a glance at the glass bits on the floor.
“Well then, gents,” Ely said to the Voiceless, still not meeting their eyes. “If my brother shall win the bride, then I will turn my sights to the other spoils.”
So began the dance. Ely, at his finest – or worst – slipped between man and matron to chase every maiden. His approach started as delicate. His look, kind. His words, subtle. At first. Until they weren’t. Within moments, he unleashed his flattery with language and gestures oozing all of his charms. He elicited a giggle or smile at first before he fished for a name, then a kin, followed by a story. He soon excused himself when a fairer maiden caught his attention out of the corner of his eye, offering the hollow promise of returning.
On and on this went, first with one brunette, followed by two black-haired beauties, and after that, a maiden of golden locks. The latter responded with a kiss to the cheek before Ely coaxed her to the servant’s hall, where he proceeded to discover the lass was far removed from her maidenhood.
Ely repeated his hunt, the chase and conquest, two more times before returning to the bar to catch his breath. The Voiceless, who he had purposefully lost on his second tryst, were nowhere in sight, allowing Ely to settle back with another goblet in hand.
Conversations swirled around him, like breezes on an open plain. Though the bulk were in Ibian, languages from a dozen lands fluttered upon his ears, as butterflies do on spring petals. Soft, welcoming. Even seductive.
“Hail to the King! The Queen!” said one.
“May they live a thousand years!” cried another.
“What say you? Another stein. And a goblet?”
“Is this vintage new? I’ve never tasted such, such . . . wet, good drink.”
“Oh, my lord. Do go on.”
Ely chanced – nay, interjected –half a dozen more times, not caring for the judgmental glances and inquisitive stares he received. He was simply too drunk on the atmosphere to experience any level of shame.
The swell of attendees softened the brusqueness of Ely’s antics. The ballroom had absorbed several hundred more since the end of Symon and Taresa’s dance, so that now the patrons stood packed elbow to elbow. The influx represented the lower caste of nobility invited to the royal ceremony, those high enough in rank to have some lineage to the barons present but not so refined as to have the coin or mannerisms that came with a more sophisticated upbringing. Ely, always on the prowl despite his self-inflicted stupor, could spot just such marks of the attendees that bordered on being of the common folk. Stitching on clothes tailored by the less-skilled, often crooked, or of mismatched thread. Hair braided or combed though not recently washed so that it bore the sheen of grease. Then there were the scents. Or rather, the stenches. Of course, the masses tried to bury their odiferous bodily secretions with garlands of wild roses or hearty applications of musk oil and perfumes. Such attempts merely added to instead of replacing the stink that accompanied the growing crowd.
Still, Ely did not mind. He welcomed the less affluent, knowing they brought with them maidens less accustomed to refinement, those more gullible, more likely to be seduced by his charms. Such prey – two fair-skinned maidens fresh from the outer hall – came within his sights. Ely snaked through the crowd and their mingled voices, edging toward his next victory.
“My, my, aren’t you a sassy lass?” said one baron a tad too loud.
“My ship, you really should visit my ship. I brought the finest wool,” said another.
“Dear, freshen up my goblet.”
“May the royal couple live forever!”
“Death to the King.”
Ely nearly missed the last one. It struck his ears, though he took another step before he considered the totality of what had been uttered. The words were in Marlish, in an accent he had never encountered. He paused and turned, scanning the throng.
“That Marlish monarch will not last. His reign will suffer –”
Who said that?
“ – within a fortnight. Or sooner –”
Where is he?
Ely could feel the breath of the man speaking those foul words. However, he struggled to see him. The ballroom was packed beyond capacity, with each patron brushing up against five others. Ely, perturbed, shoved his way toward where he thought the voice originated.
“You seem so sure,” replied another man, his Marlish heavily accented.
“Of that I am,” the voice continued. “Jameson is not half the ruler his father was, which isn’t saying much.”
That mangy fox.
“Truthfully, I’m surprised what will happen to him didn’t occur sooner.”
“Oh, and what will happen?”
Ely spun. The two were nowhere in sight. He twisted. Nothing other than raucous banter. He craned his head. He turned again.
And he saw them.
A commanding man, tall and broad, with a beard of stiff, coarse hair that protruded into a rounded point from his chin. He had paused after being asked the question, taking a drink from his stein. With him stood a shorter, slender man, clean-shaven and pale. A clear juxtaposition between the two there were, yet they spoke to one another with such ease and familiarity.
The taller one gulped before resuming his thought. “He will be exposed, as wanting. With every challenge and obstacle presented, he will lose face. First, here in Ibia. Then in Marland.”
The smaller man turned his nose, unconvinced. “You speak with such certainty. Have you not forgotten the victories he has pulled off as of late? Routing the Lewmarians while convincing their Conclave of Barons to extend their rule, all while somehow their castle withstood a surprise attack.”
“Fancy tales and fabrications. No one man can do such things. No. Not one.”
The bearded one continued to stare at his companion, though he paused a moment too long.
Ely ducked. He spun around. No, he couldn’t have. I was careful. At least three guests stood and mingled between Ely and the two subjects of his interest, with others all around. As he always did when trying to blend into a crowd inconspicuously, Ely trod carefully, doing nothing to attract attention to himself. Yet he swore he saw the commanding one look at Ely from the corner of his eye.
“Perhaps you’re right,” Ely managed to hear the shorter one say. “Ah, Your Grace. Venidoze.”
Venidoze? Ely glanced back in their direction. He spotted a third man approach the two. The newcomer had the standard look of an Ibian, with olive skin and dark hair, and was of medium height. He responded to the shorter one in what Ely assumed was his mother tongue. In response, the small man continued the conversation in Ibian, as did the taller one.
They spoke rapidly, as native speakers do, so much so that Ely had difficulty understanding anything other than a few words or phrases. King? The marriage? Disowned. No? Disavowed. Disrupted.
One of the maidens Ely had courted earlier, a brunette, ambled up to him. Clearly of a kin of country barons, Ely hadn’t thought much of their conversation though her bust had inspired him to compliment her nonetheless.
“Fancy seeing you again, my lord,” the maiden – if she was one – said with a grin.
“Oh, piss off. I’m busy.”
“Well, I – I never.”
“Never is right.”
The maiden launched into a tirade of insults, Marlish interspersed with Ibian. Ely perked.
“Wait, you speak Ibian?” he asked. He pulled her closer as he inched toward the three. The crowd had bulged in their immediate vicinity, threatening to turn the safe distance Ely had kept into a buffer that would prevent him from hearing more.
“Why, let go of me!”
“Shhh!” he pleaded. He fished a bracelet from his pocket. He always carried jewelry should he need it to sweeten his seduction. “Here. It’s yours.”
“Really?” the maiden asked.
“There’s more if you help me.”
“Well, if you’d like –”
“Translate. Help me translate.”
The maiden, as if insulted by the refusal of her near-offer, paused. She considered, though, and shrugged. “Very well, my lord.”
“Good.” Taking her hand, Ely wedged through the crowd toward the three men of interest. Approaching them without drawing attention proved difficult. However, when a pair of couples gravitated in behind the gentlemen, Ely saw his chance. He pulled the maiden close to him as he neared his targets.
“What are they saying?”
The maiden craned her head. “The Ibian, there, in-between the sizes of the other two, he’s talking about the king from Colinne.”
“Colinne? Here?” Ely asked, before realizing she was referring to Taresa’s former betrothed. “You mean King Jameson?”
“That’s what I said.”
Ely rolled his eyes. This girl is only good for one thing. Well, maybe two things. “What else?”
“He’s saying the king’s pulses, wait, impulses, can be predicted. Whatever that means. They can be predicted if he is presented with the right catalyst. What’s a catalyst?”
“It’s a type of farm cat. Now what?”
“I agree, gentlemen . . .”
Ely straightened. The last portion he understood, as it was in Marlish. Ely fixated on the speaker of his native tongue, who he saw was once again the tall man. He continued speaking in Marlish as the three went on to reply in Ibian.
“We should not be so bold as to speak in public,” translated the maiden. She cocked her head. “Oh, now that I can’t understand.”
Ely, hiding behind the maiden, focused his hearing. Undoubtedly, the words assaulting his ears –
Wait? Tosilian? Volkmar? Colinnese?
Yes. The men switched languages with ease, speaking all three.
Ely, obsessed, pushed the maiden aside as curiosity overtook him.
“Hey–” the maiden yelped.
Ignoring her, though still using the pair of couples as a buffer, Ely listened.
“Then it is settled,” the tall one said, returning to Marlish. “We will bait the king. He will respond as he always does. Like a hero. Then, with the trap set, we will strike. And the downfall of the Marlish will begin.”
His two companions nodded.
“Let us delve into the details, then. In private.”
The two shorter men turned to the servant’s hall to leave. The taller of them made a motion to follow them. Not before he paused, however, to look about him.
Ely averted his eyes. No sooner did he when an open palm came across his face.
“This is the one, Father!” the maiden shouted. “He’s been teasing me all night, he has.”
“How dare you, Sir. Have you no decency?”
Stunned, Ely stood slack-jawed. He tried to shift his attention back to the three men of interest when the maiden delivered another slap, this time to his other cheek.
“Come now! That one was uncalled for.”
“Serves you right. Thinking you can ignore me. Now, Father – Hey!”
Ely ducked behind the pair of couples who had been shielding him. He darted to and fro to make his way to the servant’s hall. His reflexes served him well, for within seconds, the dimness of the corridor cloaked him.
As his sight adjusted to the low light, Ely scanned the vestibule. The area offered some degree of room, as two servants shoulder-to-shoulder could take to the hallway at any given time. Waiters and cooks took advantage of the space, moving about with their wares and dishes, all while ignoring Ely. The hubbub distracted Ely nearly to the point of him losing his target. Until the flash of the tall, bearded man as he rounded the corner down the hall summoned his attention. Without hesitation, Ely chased after him.
Ely needn’t hurry after the mark too long before the echo of his boisterous chords came into range. He turned the corner to discover the hall curved at random points, so he couldn’t see any person – including the three he chased – more than a dozen paces ahead.
“Following the raid tonight, send word to our compatriots. Have them buy flour by the barrelful. Then the molasses. The fervor will be mild at first, then grow as the taverns and pubs find it harder to feed the masses that have swelled the streets and docks of Arinn for the royal wedding. The Throne . . . Nay, the Thrones, will both release an edict calling for calm and voluntary rationing. When that happens, our agents will take to the –”
Abruptly, the words which had been strong and clear stopped.
Ely, disregarding all concern as a sleuth, bolted. The lit sconces he passed became a blur of streaked orange as he zigzagged the corridor. The walls seemed to close in as the path narrowed to a width not much more than shoulders width. Then without warning, the hall ended.
“What in Mar’s name . . .” Ely panted. Exasperated, he placed his palms on the wall before him. He pushed. He shoved. He clawed at the grooves and indentations of the cut stones, hoping in vain one would shift loose and thereby reveal a secret passage.
The wall did not pivot. Nor did any stone move. Ely rambled back whence he came, repeating his efforts against the walls to each side of him. Again, the stone facades stayed in their place, resistant to his acts of frustration and desperation.
Soon, he came upon the rush of the servants in their hallway again, then after he arrived back in the grand ballroom. He hardly considered his trek due to the unease which overtook him. By the time he reached the bar, his trance was complete.
“Are you well, sire?” asked the gloved hand of a Voiceless.
The motion snapped Ely from his daze. He snapped his head to find himself flanked once again by his two guards.
“Why . . . I’m . . . Wait, where were you? The one time I could have used your help and you were nowhere to be found.”
The Voiceless looked to each other, befuddled.
“We were looking for you!” the Voiceless to his left emphasized the last word with a sharp gesture to vent his frustration. “You slipped away from us. Intentionally.”
“Oh, you knights and your malarkey. Never mind your excuses. We have work to do. Come.”
Ely forged ahead across the ballroom, heeding no protest from the pairings of guests he cut through or interrupted. For the briskness of night could not come to him soon enough.
He pressed on by way of the balconies and stairwells, which took him down the storied terraces of Castle Arinn. Only a handful of guests here and there populated the stairs, and the guards he passed paid him no attention as he came upon level footing to approach the lower gardens.
“Dear Mar!” Ely exclaimed as he tromped through the gardens. “How much longer do we have to walk?” Though Arcporte Castle was the crown jewel of Marland, by contrast, it stood as a hovel compared to the expanse of the grounds and size of the edifices that made for Castle Arinn. Ely glanced back over his shoulder to confirm the Voiceless still trailed him, and in doing so, caught sight of the seven terraces leading up to the ballroom.
“What is this about?” signed one of the knights.
Ely, noting not a soul within earshot, paused. “The King is in trouble. I think.”
Both knights raised their brows, unsure of what to make of Ely’s statement.
“Oh, don’t give me those looks. I know what I heard.”
“What was that?” asked the other.
What was it? The absence of commotion and revelry allowed Ely to reconsider all that had happened. Such reflection shifted his thoughts, stirred his emotions, so he began to doubt the tone and truth of what he heard.
“I need a drink,” Ely began.
Both of the knights cleared their throats. Ely stopped. It was the closest thing they could offer as a vocal protest.
“Please,” urged one. “Tell us.”
“Very well.” Ely paced before the Voiceless, his head down as he stared at the ground, attempting to gather himself. “Two men inside, I caught them speaking ill of the, you know, my brother. It was while all the rest were offering congratulations. It caught my attention. So I listened. They spoke of King Jameson falling, his reign ending. They said it would happen soon, very soon.
“I’ve heard such critiques of my kin before. I’m not an idiot. I know being a royal attracts its share of hate, whether deserved or not. But this was different. They were so sure of Jameson’s failure. They predicted it. With a degree of certainty that would only come from them . . . planning it.”
The revelation jolted Ely. His head rang. A weight formed in the pit of his stomach. All while a sense of dread, not unlike the mania he had known from birth, came over him.
“Those men . . . Those bastards . . .” Ely’s breath quickened, as did his pacing. His mind raced. His fear mounted. “They spoke in all manner of tongues. They were versed in every language of the continent. Perhaps more. So why speak in Ibian for all the guests to hear?”
He glanced at the Voiceless. They offered no response save for the keen narrowing of their eyes.
“Why speak Marlish? At the exact moment I was there?”
It dawned on his guards. Never less than stoic, no expression of panic overtook them. Not truly. Their unsettled nature manifested itself as they shifted their weight from one leg to another, in how their hands inched closer to – but never touched – their sidearms. It bore on them, their silence now matching their tone, their degree of consideration, of dread.
I was meant to hear those words. The threats. The plans. Ely’s mind went on, not waiting for his Voiceless to digest the exposed conspiracy. In spite of my disguise, they knew I was Marlish. They spoke so I understood. My coyness meant nothing to them. They fed me bits. I ate them. They spoke of my brother . . .
My brother, my brother, my brother.
“We need to warn him,” one of the knights said with his hand.
His compatriot nodded. They pivoted to march back up the steps.
Both Voiceless halted to turn to Ely, confusion protruding from their faces.
“They know. About us four. My brothers.”
Ely said no words. The spoken word was too dangerous now, lest the leaves and stems, statues and stones, have ears to betray their privacy. Instead, he resorted to the dialect of his guardians.
“Are you sure?” asked one of the knights.
“Yes,” Ely signed.
“Then why not tell Symon?”
“We need more. More details. Key information on all that is unusual. All that appears out of sorts.” Ely couldn’t chance being wrong about this. His suspicion had to be on point this time. Moreover, he needed proof – and quickly – to bring to his brothers so they could prevent the malaise in store for their kin.
“At least let us warn Everitt. He could extend the watches, raise more guards.”
“No. I fear it’s too late for that. If they know the secret of me and my brothers, then the foxes in this hellhole will notice such a change, no matter how discreet we are.”
“Then this information you say you need . . . Do you have a plan?”
“Something like that.” Ely jingled the coins in his satchel. Not enough. What a time to be bloody poor. “How many free knights do I have at my disposal? Those not assigned to Symon or Gerry?”
“Symon needs a grander detail, now that he has the Princess to protect.”
Of course. Some buffoons have all the luck. “No matter. Four will do. It’s not like the lot of you can act like regular folk, what with your tongues cut out and all.”
Though used to Ely’s jabs, both knights still replied with glares.
“Oh, I didn’t mean it,” Ely insisted. “Now listen, you two gather the four and return with as much coin as you can carry without looking conspicuous –”
“Obvious. No large satchels weighing you down. And get your hands on all the fading potion you can find. Vials upon vials of the stuff, if you can manage. Oh, and bring me a fresh disguise. This one has certainly done little to hide me tonight.”
Ely ripped the prosthetic nose from his face, along with the false mustache and long, curved eyebrows.
“One of us should stay,” offered the knight to his right. “For your protection.”
“Believe me, I am in no sort of danger. If those vermin wanted to slay me, I would be dead already. No, they want me alive, they crave it, to witness whatever it is they have in store. Just go. When you’re ready, meet me at the Cabiiyo Duraldo tavern.” Knowing he would be on his own while his brothers took their turns as Jameson, Ely had memorized the locations and names of the finest – and seediest – taverns and inns in Arinn. “Don’t worry; I won’t attract attention as I wait for you. I promise I’ll be fine.”
Whether absorbing his paranoia, doubting his commitment to behave, or just uneasy with the thought of leaving their detail, the knights hesitated.
“I command you to leave and follow my orders,” Ely barked louder than necessary. Agitated, though offering no act or word of protest, the Voiceless turned.
Ely watched after them until they reached the steps of the first terrace before going about in the opposite direction, toward the nearest barbican leading into the city.
The mood of the citizenry should have brightened Ely. Even the most common of folk reveled in the royal wedding. All about, shouts of glee and bursts of laughter rang. Couples strolled arm in arm. Children chased each other through the streets. Even the beggars smiled more, no doubt helped by the extra coin their upended caps and open palms received.
Rather than celebrate with the city, all of whom had risen to the occasion, Ely sank into the gutter of his mind. The jubilation did nothing to pull him from the depths of his despair. It only served to emphasize all that he – and the subjects of two nations – had to lose.
Don’t become King Fool, not now. Too many depend on you. You need to stay strong. You need to focus –
Ely’s foot sank into a divot left by a loose cobblestone. He fell forward, scraping his knee as his hands braced the ground.
“Are you well?” asked a random citizen in Ibian, a slender man in an elegant doublet, as he broke from the circle of his family to tend to Ely.
“Yes, yes.” Ely waved the man off. Then he glanced down to find his right pant leg torn. Lifting his knee, Ely winced as a sharp pain shot up to his thigh.
Hobbled, Ely pressed onward. He made it another four doors down the block before coming to lean on a hitching post. There, in the shadow of an unlit building, he allowed himself a moment. His mania, subdued ever since he left the servant’s hall in the ballroom, spilled forth.
Why this, Mar? Why this? He prayed through the tears. Have we not suffered enough tragedy? Enough betrayal? Did we survive, conquer, only to face another plot away from our land? Will we not see an end to the foxes in their dens and the knives in our hearts? Will it ever end?
A chill swept through Ely, not unlike the one which visited him at Terran. The one on the night his father died.
He turned to the palace on the hill. Massive. Radiant. Bathed in the light of ten-thousand candles, sconces, and torches, within and outside, highlighting the glory of Castle Arinn.
My brother. My brothers . . .
Ely shoved off the hitching post. Another stab of agony came over his leg. Still, he trudged.
“Symon . . .” he said aloud though only to himself, low enough to avoid attracting attention.
“Dawkin . . .”
“Gerry . . .”
“Symon . . . Dawkin . . . Gerry . . .” His limp fell into a pattern, one in which he hopped on his left leg every fifth step to alleviate his right, if only for a time.
“Symon . . . Dawkin . . . Gerry . . . Symon . . . Dawkin . . . Gerry . . . Symon . . . Dawkin . . . Gerry . . .”213Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡEkQTIIIuzFns 18.104.22.168da2