Updates:  Chapter 17 of Mystic Seasons Series Mythopoeia Book -8 posted, chapter eight of Lady in the Labyrinth posted high fantasy booksyoung adult fantasy books

William Myrlhigh fantasy books, young adult fantasy books

Chapter Twenty-Two

       When Ursula arrived in Petronia, the funeral for her brother had already finished. There had been a public ceremony for the second prince, and public mourning. The public always knows how to be sad when it is commanded to be. They wore black hats, or black ribbons pinned in their hair or on their shirts. The women did, in any case. Death was the province of Bemoi, the Lady of Ravens. It was the province of Hush, as well, naturally, but no one would 
have openly worn his signs. For a man to do so would have been unlucky. To do so would be to invite him home. Throughout the vast and empty city, men and women went about their daily lives much as usual. 
       Ursula herself had a dress for the occasion. A large part of being a princess was having a dress for every occasion, not that she cared much for her brother. She had as little feeling for her siblings as they had for her. If Thyriel had not intervened, no one would have thought to send for her. 
       Ursula rode in a carriage Torbral had brought up from one of his manors. Daya accompanied her, as well as three men on horseback who were loyal exclusively to House Loman. The carriage was well kept; comfortable and plush. It had glass windows and silk curtains. Ursula was being pampered because of her pregnancy. If not for that, she would have ridden double in the saddle with Daya, if she had been allowed to go at all. The carriage was not marked and no one recognized them in the city. They rode to the very gates of the sprawling palace before being challenged.
       “Who rides there?” questioned one of the royal guards. They wore kettle hats and blue tabards bright with the emblem of the fenryth, the same that graced the shield. 
       “The first princess.” The carriage door was opened for Ursula, and she stepped out far enough to be seen. Only one of the guards recognized her, but it was enough. She was shut inside again for the remainder of the journey to the central buildings. The palace took up a substantial portion of the cityscape and would have required hours to traverse on foot. 
       “Will we be able to stay?” Daya asked her. 
       "I think so. Thyriel will help me, if no one else. I may be a member of the House of Loman, but that does not mean I am not first princess. Our place is here, and Thyriel will know what laws need to be recited on my behalf to make it so.” 
       Daya was quiet for a time, and then quoted the oft remembered phrase, “The headless gods are fickle.” Fortune and Misfortune could never be prophesied. They had inflicted Hamal on her and Ursula both, and then, quite as inexplicably, had taken his life. Hamal’s spirit, grim thing that it was, had been returned to the Mondial’s weave. 

                                                                                               *       *       * 

       Magal was drinking.  Grimeye, Orimeye; these things happened, of course. That was one reason why a king must have so many sons. Still, it was a shock, would always be a shock, when the flesh of your flesh sickened and died in his prime. He had lost children before, but they had all been bastards and could not be counted as closely to his heart. Magal had commanded the philologist to investigate the death. Thyriel reported back that he could discern nothing in the Mondial that bespoke of curses or other ill magics. Poison was a possibility, but there were no signs or traces that he could detect. Magal did not know whether Thyriel was lying to him. In his seventy odd years of life, more than thirty years as king, he had never met a man who was harder to read. 
       Magal drank. 

       “A delegation from Ashram begs to see you.” 
       Magal looked at Thyriel from under heavy lids. Those white robes, the long, womanish hair, the smooth womanish face; Magal wanted to break the man. In that moment, he hated him.

       “Send them to my Steward. I am grieving.” 
       “The city grieves; its master goes deep into his cups.” 
       Magal nearly went for his sword. It was a philologist’s place to question his Lord. One tradition Magal could have done without. What if he sent Thyriel’s head to the Tower of Philosophy? Would there be repercussions, or would they simply send him a meeker replacement? Too much work. 
       “You will bother me until I agree to see them myself?” 

       “I will, your majesty.” 
       “Bah! Go get them then.” As Thyriel turned to exit the sitting chamber, Magal threw his wine cup at the man’s back. The surplice was stained deep purple across his shoulders. Thyriel stopped for a heartbeat, then went on without comment. 
       Magal laughed. It lightened his mood sufficiently that he was ready to receive the priest delegates, at least for a few minutes. Or so he believed, until they arrived. The door opened into his sitting chamber, and four men entered, Thyriel and three delegates. Through the archway Magal could see the brims of the kettle hats worn by his guards. Then the doors closed. 
       “Sit with me,” Magal offered perfunctorily. 

       “We will stand,” the lead delegate said. All three wore red robes with gold stripes running down from their shoulders. In addition, the speaker wore an ivory chain. He had a hawk’s face. Magal’s jaws clenched. He was not drunk enough for this. 
       “I am Tarmon Guydon. I have been appointed to deliver you a warning. There is unrest in the far south, below the keepholds. Our Eyes have told us that a terrible power gathers in the Blue Wastes.” 
       “That means nothing to me,” Magal interrupted. 
        The delegate held his hands clasped easily at his waist, resting over his navel. He waited the space of a breath before responding. 

        “That may be. We will speak no further of what is beyond your concern if you wish, and if you are of the opinion that the sickness of your neighbors will not become your own upon the morrow.” Magal said nothing, so he went on. “In the east, Carrolan has undergone a flux. Our eyes see something, we cannot be sure, but the Seers and the Readers agree that the ripples there represent a great danger to your country. Our Eyes have sent word that one of the Wardens has been killed in a Test of Arms, and his seat on the Wheaten Crown taken by the victor.” 
       Magal grumbled, “Others have done so before.” 
       “As you say.” The delegate bowed his head in deference. “Yet there are other, stranger tidings as well. There are sightings innumerable of a crystal sword, a sword of blue glass, carried by the new Warden.” 

       The king fumbled for his wine glass, only to remember what he had done with it. He called for the servant, waiting in the shadows, and was soon in his libations again. The delegates from Ashram waited with infinite patience. “A sword of glass? What good is that? I could break it in my hand.” 
       “No, my lord, you could not.” Thyriel spoke from behind the priests. 
       “The apostate is correct,” Tarmon said. “There were nine items forged before the Fall of Men and Gods. After the Fall, these nine were scattered, so that their combined power could never again bring such ruin. One of their number hangs in your Longest Hall. Another was sent south into the Keepholds, that they might defend themselves from the demons of the Wastes. This is the sword that was lost, and we believe it has been found. It would explain a great deal 
of what the Readers have said over the past weeks.” 
        Magal leaned back in his chair, groaning. “Get to the point.” Not a flicker of emotion crossed the delegate’s face, not a mote of feeling in that austere countenance. The king hated them all the more for their unearthly reserve. 
        “The point, honored Petronus, remains that the resurfacing of this weapon signals troubled days to come. We are not so far from the Time of Darkness, and this blade is known in our records as the Living Flame and the Deatheater. Its evil will not be satisfied that the wielder has become a Warden. This is only the beginning. The one who holds the Flame will be driven to burn all that he sees. This evil may soon have all of Carrolan behind it to cut into your realm.” 
Magal frowned. “Thyriel, what have you to say…” But Thyriel had gone. 

                                                                                              *       *       *

       Ursula’s carriage pulled up to the entrance of the wing where her room had always been. No one guarded there, as this was deep within the palace compound, and the royal defense was only a skeleton of what the palace should demand. She stepped out and down, assisted by Daya. The men from Loman dismounted. 
       “This place is empty,” said one. 
        “We’ll see if there’s anything in her rooms worth taking back with us.” All was spoken as if she wasn’t there. How was she going to manage this? She drew herself up. 
        “I thank you for accompanying me on this journey,” she began. “I wish you Betai’s love on your return.” She took a step past them to the door. One caught her shoulder. 
       “What are you talking about, lass?” 
       “Your services are no longer required.” She was as imperious as she could muster.  “You may go.” 
       “We are to bring you here and bring you back. It’s the funeral and then home for us.” 
       “I am the first princess of Petronia. My home is here at the palace with my family.” 
       The man’s face darkened. “You are a Loman widow, is what you are.” 

       “Gentlemen, greeting! Thyriel appeared among them, startling everyone, Ursula included. “You are to be rewarded for your honest service.” Small bags appeared out of his heavy sleeves and distributed. “Now you may go.” 
       The man at arms looked at him strangely. “Master Philosophe, we are to stay with her until she returns to the House of Loman.” 
       Thyriel leaned down until their faces were level.  Ursula had never noticed before quite how tall he was. 
       “You are going now.” It was spoken in a mild tone, yet all three men obeyed. The carriage driver followed their lead, turning his horse in a circle as the men cantered away. 
       “Thank you.” 
       “Welcome home, princess.” 
       Ursula hugged him and began to cry. 
       Thyriel patted her shoulder. “There’s no need for that. Let’s go inside.” 
       “I’m pregnant,” she sobbed. 
       “Let’s keep that to ourselves, shall we? Come along, Daya.” Thyriel brought them into their old home, leading them up familiar stairs and through remembered hallways. They came to her chambers, unchanged since she had gone, except Ursula saw many new books piled upon her bed. New to Ursula, but old, very old books. They were printed rather than copied by scribes. 
       “These came from your Tower.” 
       “It is not my tower, and yes, they did.” Thyriel stood in the doorway to her bedchamber. It would have been a great impropriety if he had been anyone other than himself. “Now that you have returned, I believe it is time that we resumed your lessons. I cannot but imagine that your studies have slackened in your absence.” 
       Ursula scanned the titles. “The Notes of Battle Harmonies by General Pale, The Way of Kings, Machiavelli’s Failures. What is all this? What am I to do with these?” 
       “You will read them and discuss what you find therein with me.” 
       Ursula continued to examine the works. All of them were unfamiliar to her. “Persuasion, an Art. Really, Thyriel, what do you expect of me?” 
       Thyriel’s serenity was a palpable thing. He smiled. “I expect no more or less than I always have. You will learn. You think these things are of no use? They are certainly more relevant than the machines you design. As first princess, it would behoove you to learn the methods of a diplomat.” 
       “These things are more than that.” 
       “As you are more. Or will be. I fear your family is in danger. It is of utmost importance that your mind remains keen, and that you learn the skills required of a leader.” 
       “I will never lead.” 
       “If you will never lead, then I suppose you will have to follow my syllabus all the more closely, won’t you? Now, there’s a great deal I need to convey, and only so many moons in which to do so.” Thyriel clasped his hands behind his back, head raised high, eyes smiling.     
       “Let us begin.” 
       Ursula sighed. 

                                                                                              *       *       *

        Ariad Thoughtful paced the endless hallways, living up to his name. It would not do to say that he had loved the second prince, but he had certainly been accustomed to having him about. Being second prince himself now was not something that pleased him, not if the killing was about to begin in earnest. Their father was in his seventies, and the diadem could keep him alive well into his first century barring any adverse fate. He might not be king so long. 
       Ariad wondered if his father had forgotten his own ascension to the throne. Magal was a first born, as his name suggested; but there was a reason no royal uncles made their presence known in the palace. Three were dead and another exiled for crimes against his own family- not his brother, but his wife and child. Ariad had always been curious about that particular episode of Petronus history, but there was no one to ask. His father would only repeat what 
had been recorded in the histories by Thyriel and his copyists. No use at all. 
       He wanted to believe that the prince’s death truly had been a sickness, sudden and deadly, shortening the line. Except, it never was. A prince’s dearth was never natural. They never had the chance to die naturally. 
        Ariad’s feet took him to the chambers of the first prince. He could not say why he drifted there, except by instinct. When he reached the door to his elder brother’s inner rooms without sight of a single guard or servant, he was glad he had come. Plainly, something was amiss. Locks meant little to him, but to open this one would have been unwise. Better to use the secret halls. 
       Backtracking until he came to the desired dead end, Ariad ran his hand along the cracks in the mortar until he found the clasp. A faint click, like a crossbow mechanism’s release, and then he threw his shoulder into the stone barrier, pushing it aside. The alley that presented itself was so narrow; it forced Ariad to sidle along at an angle, as if the path had been built for children or Fae. He knew the way by heart. He may have been the only one to know, considering how little used they always appeared to be. He walked through dust like snow He came to a nook that looked in on his brother’s bedchamber through the smallest slit in the stone. How vulnerable these passages made his family. How powerful they made him feel. His eyes widened as he focused on the bed. 
        Magal the Younger lay on his back, his arms up and his hands behind his head so that it rested in his palms.  His broad chest was exposed and Henai’s hand rested over his heart, all the smaller by comparison. It was not that Ariad had not noticed the royal consort’s beauty before.  He had simply never paid it any mind. Unclothed, she was breathtaking. What was she doing with the prince? Henai sat on her heels in the style of Nihon. She was a half-blood, he was sure, and she leaned over the prince with a face painted by lust. In a soft voice, she spoke to him, and her 
words carried in the silence. 
       “You are the strongest of all, and you deserve to lead.” 
       “I will, when the day comes.” 
       What if it has already come? There may be war with Carrolan; the Seers of Ashram have spoken. Has your father not told you that?” The prince scowled. “He told you?” 
        Henai’s gaze grew sympathetic. “They have seen it, and that your father is not fit to lead. He has never been a general, or a man of war. He is not strong like you, but old and fat. He will cringe and dither. He will not fight and Petronia could fall.” 
       Magal the Younger laughed. “Petronia cannot fall, fool woman. It is eternal.” 
       “Petronia cannot fall,” Henai agreed, “with you as its king, as you are already mine.  When the battle begins, you will vanquish the enemy beneath an open sky. You will have the shield and you will have me. Think on the glory of your victory, once your father has stepped down.” 
       “He won’t. You know he won’t.” 
       Henai’s hand slid down to his stomach, and then slipped beneath the blanket. Magal groaned. 
       “We can’t go on this way,” Henai breathed. “It is not safe for you. What of your father’s anger?” 
       “He can’t do anything to me.” 
       “Would it mean nothing to you if I died? He would kill me if he knew. And a secret such as this cannot last. The walls talk.”
       “I would protect you. No one can touch you but me.” 
       The prince’s eyes were closed, so he did not see her other hand raise to the dark coils of her hair to remove a pin. ‘What?’ Ariad wondered, just as her wrist flicked and the pin flew through the spyhole. Ariad’s world went gray, and then black. 
       “What was that?” Magal asked, his languor undisturbed. 
       “Nothing,” Henai said, “but rats in the walls.” She brushed his covers aside and sat astride him, nothing but amour in her narrow eyes. “You want me?” she whispered. His hands moved to her thighs, but she caught and held them with her own, not quite lowering herself onto him. “I want you,” he growled, but still she held him off. “You say you will protect me? As long as I am your father’s consort, you cannot. He can always touch me. He can do with me as he chooses, as long as I am his.” 
       “You are mine.” 
       “Am I? Are you the king?” 
       “I will be soon. And you will be my queen, not just a consort.” 
       Henai’s hips moved and she watched the prince’s eyes close like a sleeping child. 
       “Yes, my king. Yes.”

© Aug. 30 2013 William Myrl