“What the hell?” A large, barrel-chested man shouted as he barged into the chambers, his sword drawn. “How did he get past the guards?”
“I should be asking you the very same question, Officer of the Guard,” another man – this one in robes of embroidered silk, bearing the insignia the Court Advisors – said scathingly, his eyes focused at the dead man on the floor. His blood pooled beside his head, the result of two arrows that pierced his eyes.
“Are you suggesting that my men allowed him access to the King’s chambers, Roma?” The officer asked heatedly, suppressing the urge the attack the advisor. “There is no way that my men were responsible for this.”
“Then how do you explain this, Garrem? Are you suggesting he just materialized into the room?”
“That’s enough out of you two.” Another man – this one arrayed in in armor, bearing the Royal Seal of the King – spoke up. He still had a bow in his hand, but he place the arrow back in his quiver. Beside him, on the throne, sat King Darrian, his face an unreadable mask. “Someone sent an assassin to kill His Majesty and you two want to quibble about how he managed to make it into the chambers? This is not the time.”
“With all due respect,” Roma bowed at the Chief Guard, “but I dare say it is. There was a serious breach of our defenses and we need to know how and why. Who was responsible? How did he get in? What do we need to do to shore up our protection of His Royal Highness? This isn’t something we can ignore.”
“There will time for that later, Roma.” King Darrian replied for his Chief Guard. “Right now I’m more interested in who this assassin was, and who sent him.”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Roma looked at everyone in disbelief. “It must have been the Yelians. Look at what he’s wearing! He’s one of their guards!”
The king glanced at his advisor with a look of pity before addressing his Guard. “We need to search him.”
“I’ll do it, Majesty.” Garrem started towards the assassin but was stilled with a gesture from the Chief Guard.
“Not yet. He may be warded.”
“Warded? But he’s dead. Surely any wards that protected him would have broken the moment he breathed his last.”
“Perhaps, but we don’t have the luxury of making that assumption,” the Chief Guard informed the Officer of the Guard. “Our allies made that same mistake and when they investigated the dead body of the assassin to be, there was an explosion and arcane fire rained on everyone assembled in the room, killing everyone in the room, including their king. Fortunately, the prince happened to have left the room moments before the attack and survived. I’d rather not take that chance.”
With a nod, he signaled to a couple of spellcasters who stood behind out of sight behind the tapestry of Founding of the Realm. The couple, a man and his wife, began to chant incantations, searching the deceased for any wards or curses. After several tense minutes, the woman turned and addressed the Chief in an unusually low voice, “He is clean. There are no wards, talismans, or other magical items on his person. He is as he appears, unprotected and undeniably dead.”
“Thank you,” King Darrian sighed with relief. “You may go back to your station, but don’t wander off. We may have need of your services again.” The couple bowed low, and without a word left the chamber. “Now you may search him, Garrem.”
Garrem made swift work of searching he deceased. He turned out his pockets, pulling out Yelian coins, maps, and orders to assassinate the Chanalian court, stating with Darrian. “It appears to be a Yelian guard, Your Majesty. His manner of dress, his meager possessions, everything points to an act of betrayal.”
“There you have it,” Roma said silkily. “Yelia has engaged in an unprovoked, and may I add, cowardly attack on our sovereign. We must respond in kind!”
“Our closest allies?” Darrian spat angrily at his advisor. “Are you so witless that you are blinded by what you see and fail to see the truth?”
“The truth is plain enough for even the most dimwitted to see, Your Highness. King Lain has betrayed you, as I always warned you he would.”
“And your hatred of the Yelian’s has betrayed you, Roma. It wasn’t the Yelians.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“If I may,” Garrem stood up, wiping the blood from his hands with the dead man’s cloak. “He is as he appears to be, a Yelian, or so we are made to believe.”
“What are you going on about, Officer of the Guard?”
“We have employed assassins before, Roma. Maybe not often, and never towards an ally, but against an enemy we have. It’s a dirty game, but not one we are above employing at need. No assassin is stupid enough to go in dressed in a manner that’ll betray the one responsible for the assassination. He must go in dressed to be unnoticed. He will carry nothing other than his weapon. No one goes in with orders in his hands, coins of his home realm. Whoever is responsible wanted to implicate our closest ally, that much is obvious.”
“If not Yelia, then who?”
“Answer me this, how did he get in?” the Chief Guard asked the advisor.
“How should I know? Ask your Officer. It was he and his men that failed to stop this would be assassin from storming the chamber.”
“This was no failure of either my men or our defenses. There are no unguarded points of entry, and to get here, he would have had to force his way through several layers of protection.”
“There is one way,” Darrian said.
“What?” Garrem exclaimed, his face draining of all color.
“At peace. There is a secret way in and out, known only to myself and a few key personel.”
“And am I not to be trusted?” Roma asked indignantly.
“In a word? No.” The Chief Guard replied. “Other than the King, only myself and the Royal Attachment knows of it. The spellcasters erase all knowledge of the passage should one of the Attachment leave the King’s service. There is no one who could possibly know the secret way in.”
“There is one,” Garrem sighed. “Amian”
“What?” Roma scoffed. Do you suspect the Prince might have tried to kill his father? What could possibly make you even consider that a possibility?”
“The fact that he defected to Morta,” the Officer replied. “It’s not a big secret that he blames the King for the Queen’s death. It’s not unheard of for the son to kill the father to ascend to the throne, and in this he has cause, though his cause in an unjust one.”
“Yes, I fear you’re right, Garrem. “The Chief Guard nodded. “I’m also disposed to believe Amian’s the one behind the attack.”
“Where’s the proof?” Roma asked, his arms outstretched to those assembled in the room. He paced in front of the body, almost like a counselor pleading his client’s innocence. “Where’s the proof that the prince had anything to do with it? I defy you to show me.”
“Proof?” The Chief Guard sneered contemptuously. “We have no proof, only suspicions at the moment, but bear with me. The assassin managed to sneak in undetected. The only way he could have made it into the chambers undetected would have been through the King’s passage. Also, the attack lacked subtlety. It was unrefined, poorly planned, and even worse in its execution. This bears Amian’s hallmark.”
“Without proof that the the prince did it in exile, how can you be so swift in judgement? There’s no way he could have done it from Morta.”
“You’re absolutely correct,” King Darrian agreed, “at least not without assistance, Roma. Pella! Ostian! We need your assistance once more!”
The spellcasters appeared immediately from behind the tapestry. “Your Majesty!” Pella replied as she and her husband bowed.
“We suspect that there’s a traitor amongst us. What do you see?”
“Often the sight is cloudy,” Pella replied, “but this is not the case. The traitor is here, in plain sight, paying deference to the one-time prince, the traitor Amian. He lacks subtlety and wisdom and betrays himself with his defiance of the obvious and his defence of the guilty. Look no further, Majesty. There is no need to employ the ancient magicks. His own words brands him a traitor.”
“How dare you?” Roma spat. “I would never betray the kingdom!”
“But you would betray the King, Roma?” The Chief Guard pulled his sword from the scabbard as he stepped down from the dias and reached out to grab the advisor.
“Darrian betrayed us first, leaving us vulnerable to attack. He’s guilty of the Queen’s death, and countless other subjects, all for a fool’s errand. No, his kingship is over. The Prince Amain is the rightful King.”
Roma pulled an orb from beneath his breast pocket. “Death to the treasonous king!” He threw the orb towards the king but the orb hovered for a moment and then a burst into blue flame, showering Roma with arcane fire. Pella and Ostian muttered furiously as they directed the orbs power towards the traitor, his screams echoing from beyond a chasm, fire consuming him until nothing remained but a charred heap. The magic dissipated and Pella and Ostian lifted their wards.
“What luck!” Garrem exclaimed.
“Luck?” Pella raised an eyebrow. “It was obvious he was the traitor from the start, such as it was obvious that there were no wards protecting the assassin. Ostian scanned the room from artifacts of magical properties as I searched the deceased. We set up a barrier around Roma once we were certain.”
“Why then didn’t you tell us?” The Chief Guard yelled angrily.
“What has happened had to play out,” Ostian replied hoarsely, speaking for the first time. “He had to reveal his guilt before we could intervene. We are not murders, nor are we employed as such. Neither are we soothsayers. Our duty is to protect the king and not dictate the flow of events to our will.”
“You did well,” the King thanked the spellcasters. “Now we must respond in kind. Amain’s actions has earned him the title of traitor to the realm. Son or no, he must answer with his blood. Garrem, you know what need be done.”
“And so it will be done,” Garrem said with a sigh before bowing to his leige and turning away, his heart heavy. The one-time prince’s life was forfeit, and it would fall to him to carry out the sentence.