Bitter. Heroides Sigfried thought biting into the nectarine. Not only was its taste repulsing but also its color. A nauseating shade of bright orange that made his blood boil and the vein in his right temple pulse violently. He threw the offensive fruit out the open window before him, watching as it flew for several feet in the sun and land on the head of an unsuspecting servant tending to the gardens below. A yelp of surprise and alarm met his ears satisfactorily.
“Heroides, there you are!” the unmistakable weak and heaving voice of second chairman Aquis sounded from behind him. “I've been anxious to speak with you, My Lord!”
Gripping his upper-arms just above the elbows, he withheld a long sigh. “Yes Aquis, what is it?”
“It's about the Princess.”
Of course it is. That bitter tang came back to haunt his tongue. Everything these days seemed to revolve around the subject of the princess. A subject he had long grown tired of. Aquis shuffled closer, standing beside him at the large window. “The King did not answer our plea this morning. Rudely interrupted by her Highness storming in, running on about some kind of importunity. As if a Princess could have such an urgency.” he scoffed haughtily, stuffing his jittering hands into his long sleeves. “His Majesty informed me that he would 'think on' our matter.”
“The Queen is expecting his decision at this evening's meeting.” Heroides admonished.
“Yes,” the older man drawled out in a sigh. “However, does not the King's indecision often mean his indifference?”
“That seems to be the tendency. Regardless, we have plans already in motion and the Queen is determined to see it through. The King will have no choice but to approve it once everything becomes public.”
“Indeed.” Aquis had the audaciousness to laugh. “Is your son yet returned to your estate?”
“No. He will arrive tomorrow. It seems he could not be so easily dismissed from exile.”
“Enjoyed himself on Crystal Islands did he?” The elder chuckled. “I hear those mermaids are hard to walk away from!”
The ill attempt at a joke did not strike Heroides as funny, instead he shot a glare in response. Was the man not aware of the vast amount deaths just this year alone caused by mermaids? It was a serious problem. Aquis took the hint and cleared his throat, setting his expression into a more serious reflexion. “I have talked again with the others on the council and finally converted most of them to our side. Except of course--”
“Migsby, Brisdail and Pe'tui.” The small headache at the back of his head grew more intense with the pronunciation of each name. He knew it would have been a miracle for those three loyalist bastards to agree to their plans. And yet he'd prayed for such a miracle. He even went to the temple to do it.
“Yes.” Aquis drawled equally as dejected. “They're as stubborn and traditional as ever. Pe'tui had the audacity to call me a traitor, can you believe it?”
“Anyone who doubts the direct bloodline is a traitor in his eyes. Yet his eyes fail to notice that the bloodline has become traitorous!” Heroides stepped up to the window and slammed his fists into the stone sill.
“That girl-that-that charlatan, they want to sit on the throne cannot be allowed to rule!”
“And now our hope of keeping this out of the Princess's ear is lost. They're probably already at her chamber door.”
The Queen's vote would ultimately decide before the matter was officially brought before the King and court. However, if there wasn't a full union of the council, the opposing members would be able to ally with the King (or worse the Princess) and combat the order with an alternative option. That is how they would lose everything, and Heroides did not take well to losing. “We must gather our best arguments and disperse them amongst our allies. We must be prepared for whatever absurd angle Pe'tui and his lemmings will try to thwart us with –wait!” He held up a hand. “I will send my man out to eavesdrop on any contact they might have with each other. Perchance we will learn of their intentions.”
"Couldn't we have one of our allies, Frans perhaps, simply approach them to get their 'opinion on the matter'?”
“No. They'll be expecting that, damned blood hounds.” He picked at the crumbling mortar between the stones in the sill, flicking three crumbs out the window with vigor. Why do those three have to be so bloody sagacious?
He could hear the shuffling of Aquis twiddling with his sleeves which meant another question was on it's way.
“Has your son accepted his part in our scheme?” Aquis cautiously inquired.
“Yes, naturally!” Heroides whirled to face the man. He'd not expected such a stupid question. “What man would say no to becoming a King?!”
“No.” Sigurd answered flatly, crossing his arms to further press the decision.
“Why not? It makes sense!” Rickard debated, his eyebrows frighteningly taught together, hands raised in exasperation.
“I'm not objecting to the idea, Father, merely the method.” He breathed out in an exhale. Gods this is tiring. “The idea will work quite effectively. However, Lucas is...” He ran his hands roughly through his hair before dropping them into his lap palms up. “It's a completely absurd idea! He's far too naïve to be thrown in such a position- even if it's all planned and scripted.”
Rickard fell back against his chair with a huff. “Then who? Who would you suggest, Sigurd? Thaddeus?!”
Sigurd nearly choked on air. “Oh GODS NO, that would be insane! Forget the dragon, they'd tear each other apart.”
“It would be a disaster yes I know, but it must be someone within our circle of allies. Which cuts out the entire Queen's side of the family, leaving us with very little options. Most suitors on the King's side have been married off recently or were among the dragon's victims. It would take a miracle to convince any of the remaining suitors to even consider it, leaving us with only one option. Our family. Had the gods been generous in giving me more sons this would not be so difficult! However, they did not, so it is either Thaddeus or Lucas.” The Captain of the guard lifted a hand to his brow, rubbing his temple methodically.
“I just wish...” his voice faltered. Eyes dropped contact and stared lamentably at the desk's surface. A pang of guilt pulled in Sigurd's gut, followed quickly by a deep and unwelcome sorrow.
“Just say it,” he pushed through clenched teeth, trying to keep his tone indifferent. “I know you're thinking it so just say it...”
A moment of silence passed, in which Sigurd found a chip in chair's wooden handle very interesting.
“Say what?” Rickard finally murmured.
“That Proteus would have been the perfect match. You wish you could send him.”
Another silence -a heavier silence, hung between them. In which the chip became two as Sigurd splintered it with his fingernail.
He heard Rickard shuffle in his own chair, then the screeching of wood rubbing against wood, followed by deliberate footsteps. Sigurd only looked up to meet his Father's eye's when he saw his shined black boots come to a stop before his own greatly worn and muddy pair. Gently, the tall man eased down onto one knee, laying his right arm over it.
“Proteus would have been a good match, that is true. May he dwell in peace with the Gods.” Rickard lifted his left hand and laid it over Sigurd's chip-picking hand, ceasing any further destruction to the chair.
“However, that is not what I was going to say.” His voice grew softer until it was almost a whisper. “...I wish I could send you.”
Sigurd felt his heart catch at the back of his throat. The air in his lungs expunged leaving him wanting for breath.
By right of family line, he should have just as much claim as either of his brothers... if it weren't for one obvious and execrable problem. Consequently, not even under pain of death would he have expected to hear those words come from his father's mouth. Rickard did not meet him in the eye, however, just nodded. His brow furrowed and lips pressed into a thin line. The creases along his forehead and under his eyes deepened, revealing paths like a map down the landscape of his face to each scar that pinpointed battles fought.
“You would be the perfect match. You know what's at stake, you wouldn't have to be directed at every step. You would handle it professionally, you would treat her well, and I have no doubt you'd be able to protect her and yourself from whatever this dragon is. Nonetheless, ...I ...can't.”
His words died out in a troubled sigh. But Sigurd didn't need to hear them. He knew. As much as he wanted to claim a calloused indifference to it, he couldn't wholly ignore the familiar sharp, gritty pain of that cerebral long blade. Rusty from plunging deep into chest and organs so repeatedly. The stab wound had become so accustomed to it's occurrence that it almost had become numb to the sensation. Almost. Incongruously, a slight grin pulled at the corner of his mouth.
“Yes... Couldn't have the Council looking into the Grimhilt family's dark little secret, now could we?”
Rickard hesitated in response, shifting his gaze away. Clearing his throat he stood quickly, returning to his desk. Sigurd watched as he lifted the quill from the inkwell, then scribbled it down across a roll of paper. The tense silence continued, only interrupted by the sounds of soft calligraphic scratching, the whispering hiss of hot wax dripping, then the resounding thump of the Grimhilt House seal.
“Take this to the palace, give it to Pe'tui's hands only. Tell him, we have our solution.”
Shoving off the chair Sigurd accepted the paper roll handed to him. “And that is?"
The Captain's shrugging shoulders told him it was one he did not like. “That Thaddeus Grimhilt will act as our surrogate suitor for Her Royal Highness, the Princess.”
“Did you hear that?”
Ceasing the vigorous buffing of his sword, Daublin pivoted round following his comrade's pointing hand to face the trees at the edge of the forest. The woods were dark, shrouded more like it, despite the awfully bright midday sun beating down over them. A light breeze rustled the leaves and such, a few birds and squirrel noises. But nothing that should conjure up the panic the boy was relaying.
“Hear what?” He scoffed sticking the tip of his sword in the ground between his feet.
“That!” Martie's face went sheet white, his blonde eyebrows disappearing up under his helmet, eyes locked onto forest edge. Daublin threw his buffing cloth into the dirt next to his sword and stood, fists planted stubbornly into his waist. Listening more careful this time. ...annnd nothin'.
“Stop actin' so green Martie! I knew we shouldn't have told you all those ghost stories last night! Sheesh, tryin' to make my job harder for me?”
The younger man shook his head. “No-no Daublin, it's not that! W-what if it's elves?!”
“Elves?!” thrusting his palm against his forehead he groaned a mix of curses. “Look kid, we are still in Royal Province for Saints-sake! Elves haven't been this far up the southern coast in over twenty years. Believe me, there's nothin' out there--” Whiifffff! Something whizzed past his head. Turning, Daublin saw that it was an arrow with bright red feathers, and it was stuck square in Martie's shoulder.