The Grand King’s office was crowded with his top advisers; Former Second King Shelton, General Rohan of the Royal Guard, General Ruairi of the army, Admiral Pavle of the navy, and Coulta. It was past nightfall, and they’d been there since the early evening. As soon as the statue presentation had ended, Coulta had spoken to Shelton and Wildas, and an emergency meeting had been called.
“I have no answer as to where this threat is coming from,” Coulta stated – for what felt like the hundredth time. “He was running a simple observation on the lord of Port Blasin, just to make sure he was on our side.”
“We’ve been doing it with every major lord in the country since the civil war ended,” Shelton added. “We need to make sure no one is going to pick up Varin’s plan where he left off.”
Coulta nodded. “A few days after getting there, he reported finding an underground society working against the crown. He was going to try to get in to find out more. A few nights ago he sent an urgent message to me saying he thought he’d been found out, but he couldn’t be sure. I told him to wait until he knew for sure, and then get out at all costs. That may have been the wrong advice.”
“No, it wasn’t,” Ruairi declared, leaning back in his chair. Candlelight made the old scar on his left cheek stand out. “We need to know who is behind this. If it’s a small rebel group, we can deal with them, but if they’re spies for another country – Dyrai, for example – we need to prepare for something bigger.”
“I thought we had a treaty with Dyrai?” Rohan demanded.
Shelton shook his head. “It expired years ago. Your father tried for years to get King Idas to extend it or create a new one, but we gave up eventually. Refusing to sign a treaty is one way to say ‘we’ll be on your shores soon enough’.”
“I’ll start getting the ships prepared,” Pavle sighed. He was slumped in his chair next to Ruairi, his brother, still clearly bothered that he had missed the unveiling of his eldest brother’s statue because he had been leading a training exercise on the river. Coulta couldn’t help thinking that at least the training wouldn’t be a complete waste if war did come from Dyrai across the sea.
“We still don’t know where this threat is coming from, though,” Wildas pointed out, leaning against his desk with his arms crossed over his chest. “It could just be a rebel group, for all we know.”
Coulta sighed. “I already sent someone back there, before this meeting even started.”
Wildas rubbed his face tiredly. “Why? We can’t throw all of our spies at this if we want to have any spies at all.”
“I know,” Coulta assured him. “But I sent a team. They function very well together.”
Shelton nodded. “I know exactly the trio he’s talking about. I would have chosen them, too. They are extremely good at what they do. They will keep each other alive.”
Coulta knew they would, too. The three were clearly lovers who had been together for several years. They’d probably have married and retired by the time Coulta became the spymaster upon becoming Second King, but Phelin law only allowed marriage between either a couple – whether of opposite sexes or the same – or a group of four made up of any combination of the sexes. Because the spies were involved in a triad relationship, they were left to simply live and work together without marriage titles. Coulta was glad they couldn’t retire into marriage, though – he doubted he could find a team to work for him as well as they did. The woman involved in the triad was also the best female spy Coulta had to work with.
“I would feel better if they were trained to kill, as well,” Coulta admitted, glancing at Shelton, then back to a very visibly stressed Wildas. “Then I would be even more confident in their ability to make it back.”
“We don’t keep assassins,” Pavle grumbled.
“I don’t know,” Rohan pointed out, “Coulta did a fairly good job assassinating Lord Varin last year.”
Wildas sighed and massaged his forehead. “I’ll think about it, Coulta, but I can’t say I want to approve it.”
Before Coulta had a chance to argue, someone knocked on the door that joined the office to Wildas’ bedchamber. They all turned to look as Queen Myri stuck her head in. “I’m really sorry to interrupt this gentlemen meeting, but I have some family business with my husbands. And, no, it can’t wait. Oh, Shelton, too. We may need you.”
Concern clenched at Coulta’s heart. All he could think was that something had happened to Anil or their unborn child.
“We’ll meet again after breakfast tomorrow,” Wildas told his generals, and immediately went to the door, Coulta and Shelton following.
Myri closed the door when they were in Wildas’ dimly-lit bedchamber – which was slightly larger and more decorated than Coulta’s, and had a somewhat more massive bed that easily fit all four of them – and she sighed heavily. “Anil’s bleeding. I’m afraid she might be losing the baby.”
“You’re the healer, Myri,” Shelton said calmly. “What is it you need me to do? I’m not very skilled when it comes to healing magic, so I doubt I’ll be able to reverse it if that’s what’s happening.”
She nodded. “I know. But women who miscarry often have weaknesses in their Life-Giving Force. You were able to detect the fact that Coulta completely lacks that force, so I want to know if you can sense how strong hers is. She might not lose the baby, but if she does, I want to know if it’s just because she’s young and it’s her first, or if fertility teas are in order to strengthen her.”
Coulta could tell by the expression on his husband’s face that Wildas was almost in a panic. “This isn’t common?” the Grand King questioned.
“It happens,” Myri said with a sigh. “Sometimes it’s nothing. I want to make sure.”
They followed her across Wildas’ room to the door that opened into Anil’s chamber. The queen was laying in her large bed, looking rather pale in the candlelight. Coulta stayed by the door with Wildas, and Myri joined them when Shelton shooed her away from the bed so he could work. Coulta felt Wildas grip his hand tightly, and he returned the gesture, putting his other hand on Myri’s shoulder. Wildas did the same, and their wife leaned back against them.
At the bed, Shelton sat gently next to Anil and carefully took her hand. Anil turned to look at him, and the all watched as he carefully placed his fingers over her wrist and closed his eyes.
After what felt like an eternity, he set her hand back down on the mattress and rose to his feet. “I don’t think she’ll lose the baby,” he told them all. “Her Life-Giving Force is far too strong to allow it. As long as she rests, everything should be fine.” Then he left, giving them all a smile.
“Anil, you’re on bed rest,” Myri declared, breaking away from their husbands.
“For how long?” Anil asked, but she was smiling slightly. “Shelton said everything will be fine.”
“Until I tell you you’re past the dangerous period,” Myri answered, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
Coulta knew from experience just how controlling the healer side of Myri could be. He’d been injured spying for Shelton soon after he’d arrived at the capital, and Myri had taken charge of him as soon as he’d arrived back at the castle unconscious on his horse. That was before any of them knew they’d even be getting married, and now that they were, she was worse.
“Just don’t force her to drink those horrible teas you gave me,” he told her.
She just smiled pleasantly at him. “Worked, didn’t it? Now, you two,” she added, motioning to the door. “Out. Let me take care of my patient. And, Wildas, you look terrible. There’s a jar in my room of herbs used for a relaxing tea. It’s already properly mixed, just take two pinches of it and make some tea, if you can’t sleep.”
Wildas moved closer to the bed and Coulta followed, letting go of his hand. “Thank you,” Wildas replied, stopping to give Myri a light kiss. Then he leaned down to kiss Anil. “Get rested. You and the baby.”
Coulta kissed his wives as well, wishing Anil well, then left with Wildas. “I can make that tea for you,” he offered when they were back in Wildas’ chamber.
“If making love with you doesn’t help, then you’re welcome too.”
Coulta raised an eyebrow. “I thought you were exhausted.”
Wildas nodded. “But I need you before I can relax. This day has been utter misery. I need to know something is right in the world.”
“Then I will prove it to you,” Coulta declared, pulling him into a tight embrace and kissing him.
I thought once November was over I’d have so much more time to catch up here. Obviously, I have been utterly failing at that. Mainly, I’ve just been catching up with reading and school. It’s finals time, then I’m going to have two months off to do nothing – except work!
The first thing I plan to do, when I actually get the time (I have to leave to do my Christmas shopping in, like, five minutes – put that off, too) is catch up on my backlog of reviews that I need to post. So, prepare for that.
I’m also going to catch up on posting King of Blades. I like posting it here, since I’ve been failing at short stories lately, too.
Then I’m going to massively update all pages of this blog. And sidebars. And the Facebook page.
Then I’m going to edit Meant to be Broken and hopefully enter it in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. Haven’t decided for sure if I will, though.
Then I’m going to finish King of Blades. It’s only going to be a novella. Nothing really big.
And I’m probably going to do a lot of other things, too. Like, feed the dogs before I go shopping with Mom.
It was a much warmer day than Second King Coulta would have liked, but he had promised both Prince Rohan, commander of the Royal Guard, and Former Queen Yvona, the best swordmaster in the country of Phelin, a sword match. He’d tried to politely decline the invitation the day before, but they had both informed him that he would lose his edge if he spent all of his time obsessing over the status of his spies and sitting in his office. Though, he had to admit that it was a great stress remover to fight a skilled opponent in the arena. If he used his full abilities, he’d be able to defeat them both easily, but without magic they were all almost evenly matched.
Coulta barely avoided a sneak attack by Rohan, and as he spun away he noticed the crowd that had gathered around the practice arena. It seemed like people were always drawn there when someone convinced him to fight. He didn’t know if it had to do with him being the Second King, or his skill with blades, or the exotic look the odd marks on his skin gave him, or maybe this time it was because three members of the royal family were dueling together. Coulta blocked a hit by Yvona and realized that Former Second King Shelton was leaning on the fence, speaking to Queen Myri.
Suddenly, Shelton pointed a finger at the three fighters, and none of them could move. Coulta was frozen with one sword blocking another attack by Yvona, and his other sword locked with Rohan’s. They all knew who was doing this to them, because they all knew how powerful a sorcerer Shelton was, but that didn’t stop the annoyance Coulta felt. He locked eyes with Rohan, who let out a deep breath of exasperation through his nose. Coulta could feel it on his face, so he exhaled right back at the prince, who did it again. It was quickly becoming a breathing war before Shelton finally released them.
“You should probably all get cleaned up,” the sorcerer told them, once they had all gotten their balance again. “I was just told that we have an unveiling to attend.”
So the master sculptor had finally finished the late Grand King’s statue. Coulta sheathed his swords and followed his family back to the massive castle. He sighed as soon as he got inside, and instantly felt a hundred times cooler than he had outside.
Coulta bathed and was just finishing dressing in his typical black clothing when Grand King Wildas entered his room through the door joining their two rooms. Wildas was dressed in dark green, making his hazel eyes look more green than brown, and his chestnut hair was loose. His expression was pained and distant.
Coulta finished pulling on his black boots – he still refused to wear the uncomfortable shoes all the other court members wore – and walked over to his husband. Wildas didn’t object when Coulta pulled him into his arms, but it wasn’t a contented sigh that Wildas released when he put his arms around Coulta.
“This is the last thing that we do for him,” Wildas said quietly. “Then I have to accept that he’s really gone.”
“I know,” Coulta replied, even though he didn’t really understand what Wildas was feeling. After all, he had never really known his father, and had no memories of him.
Wildas took a deep breath, and Coulta knew he was fighting to stay in control of his emotions. He pulled away slightly, and Coulta kissed him. Wildas kissed him in return, then took another deep breath to compose himself. “We should go.”
Coulta nodded and followed him out. Queen Myri was waiting, dressed in a violet gown. When they joined her, she hugged Wildas. Moments later, Queen Anil also joined them, dressed in a gown similar to the one her wife wore. Coulta thought she looked remarkably well, considering her reported boughts of recent morning sickness – she had announced to them only two weeks earlier that she was carrying the Grand King’s heir. It was something that Coulta was trying to get used to. Anil was his wife as much as Wildas’, which meant that the child was also his, even though biologically it was impossible – Coulta’s curse had rendered him infertile.
Together, the four of them made their way down to the elaborate entrance hall of the castle, where statues of all the past kings, Grand and Second, lined the hall. In front of a veiled statue, they found the sculptor, several of Wildas’ many siblings, uncles, aunts, and cousins, Former Second King Shelton – dressed in his violet sorcerer’s robes – and Former Queens Yvona and Xiao. Both women were wearing dark gowns, and Xiao looked like she hadn’t been eating or sleeping well for quite some time. Coulta knew she hadn’t been handling the death of her husband as well as her remaining spouses were handling it, but he hadn’t expected her to look quite this unwell.
“She’s not well,” Myri said quietly, so that Coulta and Anil could hear her, but not Wildas, who was speaking to the master sculptor.
“Can you do anything for her?” Anil questioned softly. “You’re a healer.”
“Yes, but I can’t do anything for someone who refuses my help,” the other queen argued. “I’ve tried to help her numerous times. She won’t let me.”
“The last thing Wildas needs at the moment is to lose a mother,” Coulta pointed out.
Myri shook her head and sighed. “I know. Trust me, I know. There’s simply nothing I can do.”
The conversation was disrupted by the squat sculptor raising his voice to speak to all of them. “My lords and ladies, your majesties and highnesses, it has been an honor to sculpt the likeness of His Majesty, Grand King Deandre. I present to you now my life’s work.”
Coulta thought the artist was a bit over-dramatic, especially when he bowed low enough to nearly touch the floor with his wild hair. But the statue truly was a masterpiece. Deandre stood before them, immortalized in marble, holding a shield that bore the leaping-steed crest of the royal family. A long cape flowed around him shoulders, and on his head was a marble replica of the grand crown that now belonged to Wildas, and was only worn for public ceremonies. And his face was remarkably detailed. If the statue hadn’t been devoid of human color, Coulta would have thought the Former Grand King could come alive again.
Coulta jumped when a hand gripped his shoulder, and started to lift his arms in natural defense, until he realized it was Rohan.
“One of your agents is here,” the prince told him quietly, taking his hand back. “He’s injured.”
Which would explain why someone had returned before Coulta had expected them. “Is he in the infirmary?”
Rohan nodded. “I don’t know how bad he is, but he was having trouble staying conscious.”
“Do you need me?” Myri questioned.
“The other healers can take care of him, they said,” Rohan answered. “Just get there as soon as you can. But, Coulta, you should see him now, in case he doesn’t make it.”
Coulta nodded, and turned to his wives. “Tell Wildas and Shelton.”
They both nodded, and Wildas followed Rohan toward the infirmary. He had a feeling it was the same spy who had contacted him a week ago. The spy had told him that he might have been found out, but Coulta had told him to stay where he was until he knew for sure. Now he doubted his own judgment, and he needed to know what was actually going on.
That wasn’t to happen, though. As soon as he stepped into the infirmary, a young healer ran up to him. She bowed, then informed him, “He died, Your Highness. I’m sorry.”
Coulta nearly slammed his fist into the stone wall from frustration, but the young woman’s next words kept him from doing something that foolish.
“He told me one thing before he died. War’s coming.”