Authors: Karen Miller
Tags: #Fantasy, #Epic, #Magic, #Paranormal, #Science Fiction
Asher looked at him then, marveling how he could stay so calm in the face of Jarralt’s hostility. Just a little something in the eyes, mayhap. Some flash or flicker of distaste.
Jarralt sneered. Of them all he seemed to be the only one who’d enjoyed a tranquil night’s sleep. Still handsome, still arrogant, wrung by neither grief nor despair, even his clothing was ostentatiously bright: forest green instead of black. There was lace at his throat and a diamond winking like a strumpet in one ear. “How hard have you looked? It’s not quite a day since it happened. I find it difficult to believe you could have reached your conclusion of ‘accident’ so swiftly.”
“My lord, I have exhausted all avenues of inquiry,” Orrick replied evenly. “There are, after all, only two possible explanations for what happened. Either it was an accident or a murderous attack. Quite apart from the fact that nobody in his or her right mind would attempt to slaughter our entire royal family, the Eyrie was closed to the public yesterday. There is only one road in or out and two of my guards were posted at the turn-off to warn away the general citizenry. Nobody approached them.”
Holze said, “Why didn’t they raise the alarm when the family failed to return in good time?”
“Because Her Majesty dismissed them, sir,” replied Orrick.
“The criminal, or criminals, might already have been hiding at the Eyrie, or somewhere close by,” said Jarralt.
Asher cleared his throat. “I don’t reckon so, rhy lord. The picnic was decided on the spur of the moment. Nobody knew ahead of time.”
Jarralt burned him with a look. “So you say.”
“And I,” said Gar. “If that is of any interest to you, Conroyd.”
“Everything about this business interests me,” said Jarralt Then added, after a pause just long enough to be insulting, “Your Highness.”
Pellen Orrick cleared his throat. “Furthermore, both Barlsman Holze and Royal Pother Nix assure me that no trace of arcane interference can be found in or on the bodies.”
“That’s exactly so,” said Holze. “Nix and I examined them most rigorously. No taint of magic was present”
Jarralt scowled. “I wish to examine them myself. As a Privy Councilor, I have the right.”
A frozen pause. Asher didn’t dare look at Orrick, or Gar. Then Holze rested admonishing fingertips on his colleague’s indecently decorative sleeve. “It may well be your right, Conroyd, but I doubt it would be wise. Or well received.”
Face darkened with blood, Jarralt snatched his sleeve free. “Is that an accusation?”
Holze sighed. “No, old friend. It’s a warning.”
“Of what? For what?” demanded Jarralt. “Am I a Privy Councilor or not? Do I have the right to satisfy my concerns or don’t I? The king is
The cleric flushed. “I know that, Conroyd. I held his poor broken body in my own two hands! Kissed his cold brow with my own lips! I know that he is dead!”
“Then you of all people should want this matter investigated thoroughly!”
“I’m sure it has been,” Holze said wearily.
Conroyd! There are only two people in all the kingdom who can be considered worthy of the Weather-Worker’s crown. You and Prince Gar. Surely you see it’s impossible for you to involve yourself in any investigations. Instead you must trust that I, Pother Nix, and our good Captain Orrick here, have ascertained the truth of the matter. Without any fear or favor.”
Asher glanced sideways at Orrick. The man’s hatchet face was sharper than ever as he watched the confrontation with eyes that drank in every gesture, every hesitation, and gave away not a single thought of his own. Crafty bugger.
Jarralt’s teeth were clenched, muscle leaping along the line of his sculptured jaw. “Holze—”
said Holze, so moved that he thumped a fist to the tabletop before him. “Do you think I’d not be thorough? I assure you, I was. While at the Eyrie I examined the remains of the carriage horse
what was left of the carriage. I also did a casting of the area around the lookout. Now while I’m the first to admit I’m no Durm, still I fancy my skills are sufficient for these tasks. Not to mention the fact I am Barl’s devoted servant, dedicated to truth and justice. I would solemnly swear on my chapel’s altar in front of all the kingdom, neither the horse nor the carriage nor any of the royal family were tampered with, and I support wholeheartedly Captain Orrick’s findings. This dreadful event was caused by a caprice of fate, and not by any malignant human agency. Barl, in her infinite, unknowable wisdom, has called Their Majesties and Her Royal Highness home. It is not for us to question why.”
Jarralt’s lips twisted. “I’m sorry, Holze, but I find that hard to believe.”
“Nevertheless,” said Gar, stirring in his dead father’s seat, “you will believe it. Unless you wish to accuse Barlsman Holze, Pother Nix and Captain Orrick of corruption and conspiracy? Perhaps even murder? If so, I hope you have the proof. Barl’s Laws are pointed in the matter of baseless allegations, sir. Some might even say unforgiving. As you well know.”
“What I know,” said Conroyd Jarralt, “is that this matter is far too serious for sweeping under the nearest convenient carpet with a havey-cavey inquiry and a mouthful of religious platitudes.”
“Meaning, my lord?” asked Orrick, scrupulously polite.
Jarralt spared him a scant look. “Meaning the account of yesterday’s … accident… is incomplete.”
Gar regarded him through narrowed eyes. “Conroyd, how many more times must I tell you? You asked me last night if I remembered what happened and I said no. You’ve asked me here, twice, and still the answer is no. Can you honestly believe a third asking will magically elicit a different answer? Perhaps Durm will be able to satisfy your curiosity when he—”
“When?” scoffed Jarralt. “Don’t delude yourself. The man is—”
“Alive,” said Gar softly. Dangerously.
Jarralt smiled; an unpleasant baring of teeth. “But for how long?”
“Nix tells me there’s hope.”
“Nix is a fool who tells you what you want to hear,” said Jarralt.
Asher stirred. “That ain’t true. He’s a good man with the kingdom’s best interests at heart. If he says there’s hope for Durm, you can believe it, my lord. And even if there ain’t, it’s the prince’s decision who gets made Master Magician next. Nobody else’s.”
The council chamber fell utterly silent. Jarralt turned his head, eyes glittering with rage. “You dare? You
to speak to me like that?”
Before Asher could answer, Gar said, “He speaks as my friend … and a member of this Privy Council.”
Horrified, Asher looked at Gar. “Wait a minute. Sir. I never—”
“I need you,” Gar said, his eyes not leaving Jarralt’s furious face. “As I need you, Conroyd. And Durm.”
With an effort everyone could see, Jarralt thrust aside the issue of an Olken on the Privy Council. “I’ve seen Durm,” he spat. “It’s a miracle his brains weren’t spilled on the road as well as half his blood. Even if he lives, you can’t think he’ll be of any use? That he can continue as the kingdom’s Master Magician? If he lives he’ll be noth-” ing but a witless fool and you know it.”
Still reeling, Asher caught his breath. Felt his heart constrict and heard a distant echo of tipsy laughter.
Pellen Orrick looked at him, one eyebrow raised in query; he shook his head. Forced himself to breathe again, quietly, and made his fingers unclench in his lap. Orrick looked away.
Gar said, “I said I need you, my lord. I didn’t say in what capacity. I have no intention of appointing a new Master Magician today.”
“I wasn’t aware we’d decided you had that authority,” retorted Jarralt. “Orrick has yet to satisfy me that we are indeed dealing with an accident.”
Gar shoved back his chair, stood and began to pace the chamber. “Barl give me strength, Conroyd! Do you truly believe I murdered my family? If so, say it. Here and now, with these good men as witnesses. And then perhaps you can explain how I managed to do so while nearly getting killed myself!”
“Even the best of plans can go awry. Or… perhaps it’s that you had an accomplice!”
What madness are you pursuing now, my lord? Who in this kingdom would—”
“Who do you think?” cried Conroyd Jarralt, and flung out an accusing arm.
of course! Your upstart Olken!”
Asher leapt out his chair so fast he nearly fell over.
Are you raving? Me, kill the king? The queen? Princess
Fane? Not to mention poor bloody Matcher and his horses, who never hurt a soul in their lives! You got no call to go accusin’ me, nor no proof of anythin’ neither! The only things I ever killed in all my days were fish and fleas! You take that back, Jarralt! You take that back right now!”
Jarralt slid from his chair like a well-oiled eel. Swallowed the distance between them in three swift strides and backed Asher into the nearest wall. One elegant manicured hand, its fingers laden with rings, flattened itself to his chest.
Jarralt, you vermin-ridden interloper,” he corrected, his voice a virulent whisper. “You misbegotten whelp. You stinking piece of Olken offal. You’re behind all this, aren’t you? How did you do it, hmmm? Who did you suborn with promises and lies to perpetrate this foul deed? The palace staff? A greedy minor Doranen lordling? Or was it the prince himself you bewitched into this murder? And what, in the name of all that’s good and holy, did you hope to achieve by doing it? And did you really think I’d not
Speechless, gaping, Asher stared into Jarralt’s eyes, into bottomless blue wells of such obliterating hatred he thought he felt his heart stop beating. “You are mad, Jarralt. You’re stark bloody raving.”
“That’ll do, my lord,” said Pellen Orrick. His hand came down on Jarralt’s shoulder and his fingers tightened in a warning, and a threat. “Let’s all draw breath and talk like the calm custodians of the kingdom we are. Or should be.”
With a wordless snarl Jarralt stepped sideways, breaking the captain’s grip.
Asher looked at Orrick. “I never hurt ‘em,” he said. “My life on it.”
“I know,” said Orrick. “I have a dozen witnesses to place you at the Tower when the carriage went over the Eyrie.”
“Witnesses?” He didn’t know whether to be relieved or outraged. “You mean you
Orrick sighed. “Of course. I checked on you all. Even Barlsman Holze, may Barl excuse me.” One by one he looked at them, his expression exasperated and uncompromising. “Gentlemen, I am Captain of this City. It is my sworn and sacred duty to uphold Barl’s Laws and bring miscreants to justice. If I thought a man had done this thing I wouldn’t rest until I had him in my hands. Not if he were the lordliest lord in all the kingdom. Not if he were a king himself.” His hard gaze rested on Gar. “Nor even a king’s son.”
Gar nodded. “As well you should not. This kingdom expects no less of you, and the men who serve under your command. Orrick, you’ve said you think these deaths came about by misadventure, not murder. Upon peril to your very soul, I’ll ask you for the last time: do you still stand by that conclusion?”
Orrick squared his shoulders and clasped his hands behind his back. “Your Highness, I do.”
“Very well,” said Gar. “You have the gratitude of this Privy Council for your swift and thorough examination of these events. Be advised, however, that should any new facts come to light and cause you to rethink your conclusion, we expect to hear of them immediately.”
Orrick nodded. “You will, sir.”
Gar turned to Jarralt, a series of thoughts shifting behind his cold green eyes. When at last he spoke his tone was mild, polite, but with an undercurrent of ice. “My lord, it’s no secret we’ve had our differences. But I believe that honest dissent is no bad thing. If our decisions cannot withstand scrutiny then we don’t deserve the authority to make them. I have accepted Captain Orrick’s finding in this matter. The tragic deaths of my father, my mother and my sister—this realm’s king, queen and WeatherWorker in Waiting—did not come about by any human agency. If ever I did impugn your honor in relation to this, I say now I was in error. And I offer you my hand in token of a new beginning between us.”
To accept the prince’s apology Jarralt had to step closer. Yield his position. Asher held his breath. If the bastard didn’t do it, if he persisted in his mad claims of conspiracy and murder, the kingdom’d go up in flames, near enough :..
“A new beginning,” said Conroyd Jarralt, as though the words were broken glass in his mouth. He stepped forward and grasped Gar’s forearm.
His fingers tight on Jarralt’s sleeve, Gar smiled. “So you accept Captain Orrick’s conclusion? Neither I, nor my assistant Asher, nor any man, woman or child associated with or known to me or him, did plan or execute the murder of my family, or the attempted murder of Master Magician Durm.”
Jarralt’s answering smile was complicated. “I accept Orrick has no evidence or proof of it. I accept he made a genuine attempt to uncover the truth of the matter. I accept… the role of honest dissenter.”
Gar stared at him. “And do you also accept I am my father’s true and lawful heir to the throne of Lur? To the title of WeatherWorker? Speaking bluntly, sin do you, Lord Conroyd Jarralt, in this place and at this time, before these witnesses, accept that I am, by Barl’s great mercy, your king?’
Jarralt’s head went back, as though bracing for a blow. Asher stared, holding his breath. If Jarralt chose to fight…
But he didn’t. Instead he offered Gar a curt nod. “Yes. In this place and at this time, I accept you as king. Your Majesty.”
The challenging light in Gar’s eyes faded. Releasing his grip on Jarralt’s arm he let his lips soften into a reserved smile. “Excellent. It seems we understand one another at last, sir.”
Asher nearly swallowed his tongue. Was Gar sun-touched? Did he think one brief arm clasp and a grudging admission meant the end of Jarralt’s opposition? Of his enmity, and his likely crusade for the crown? Did
of them here think that?