Crownless (Escalation #5)

The King and his advisor exchanged whispers as the two monks and the Royal Protector stood patiently in silence. Lirios turned his head to face them.

“You may leave now,” said the Royal Advisor.

Tarnan and Nara nodded, and proceeded to the exit. Gélin hesitated. Just before the monks made their exit, he turned around to face the Mountain Throne.

“I wish to stay. The Prince has fallen, and only I am to blame. Can you not grant me my wish of vengeance? Strip me of my title of ‘Protector’, I am not worthy of it. But my heart is proud and I am still able to fight, and I wish to join the King’s Regiment in the war,” Gélin said.

King Bevérian raised an eyebrow but was immediately ambushed by more whispers from Lirios. A near-silent battle of wits and politics was waged between the two, but after a tense minute, the two stopped. They faced Gélin. Lirios smiled.

“You are Royal Protector no more, Gélin. You are to join the Queen’s retainer, and do as she asks. If she bids you to go to war, you shall, but if she decides otherwise, then you obey her. The Queen’s retainer could use an experienced man such as yourself. Now go,” said the King.

Gélin bowed, but Lirios could see that his face was strained and his eyebrows furrowed. Poor lad, but he needs to keep his distance from the King, Lirios thought.

Once everyone except the royal guards had left, the advisor motioned for a table to be brought to the throne. Lirios pulled out a large map made of animal hide. Burnt lines etched into the hide depicted cities, borders, mountains and forests of northern Kal’os, and the three Shaw countries huddled at the very top. The King listened and watched every point that Lirios drew attention to on the map.

The King coughed. “Lirios,” he said, “you need to slow down. Let’s start at the border.”

“Certainly, my lord,” the advisor nodded several times. “While we mobilize our army, we can use the battle monks to strike Mon-Shaw close to our border. They will pave the way for our soldiers, and act as scouts and gather valuable information. We can then send a raiding party over the sea, to land near their towns along the forest, here and here,” he started to speed up again.

Without his brother in the way, he’ll rely on me for everything, he thought. The influence I’ll have! The pleasures I’ll enjoy. Even the Queen… she’s been more than friendly to me lately. I’ll be a king without a crown. A ruler in the shadows.

The sharp sound of footsteps against a stone floor echoed in the halls outside the throne room. The King’s advisor did not pay attention to them, and was lost in the world of the map unrolled in front of him. Cities, mountains, rivers. He now had the influence to take anything he wanted. Although the throne was not on the map, Lirios knew it would be a matter of time before that would be his as well. The footsteps became louder, more numerous, and had a confident rhythm to them.

The King looked up to see who was standing at the entrance to the throne room.

“Ah, my love,” he said before his old lungs gave way once more. The sound of his coughs was dry as sand.

“Queen Amnara, pleasure to see you here. Varkun, please pour the King more wine, he seems to have a dry throat,” Lirios said, and the King’s cup was quickly filled.

The Queen was flanked by several of her retainers, and everyone was dressed from head to toe in metal. The former Protector was not beside her.

“I have heard some troubling rumors,” she said.

The King had a long sip of wine before he replied. “My brother is dead. A conspiracy from our neighbors. Indeed, we are going to war against them,” his voice was weaker than before, as if drifting away to a place where worries could no longer trouble him.

“Is that so? Without consulting any of the lords of war or coin?” the Queen frowned.

“He has consulted with me,” Lirios said. The King dropped his cup, spilling dark red wine over the smooth grey floor. A fit of coughs took hold of him, strangling the air out of his body.

The Queen gasped, and motioned for guards to help their King as she made her way towards the throne. The King’s face turned to a deep shade of pink, on the border of blood red. He dropped to his knees as his guards struggled to find some way to help him.

“My King!” shouted Lirios. He stumbled, tripping over the foot of the table and sent it flying, map and all. “What’s happening to him?”

The Queen tried to help the King up, but it was no use. He stopped breathing.

One of the Queen’s retainers stepped on the small puddle of wine on the floor. Lirios felt the Queen’s presence standing over him as he tried to get back up.

Something hit his stomach, and his breath left his body in an instant.

“You!” she said, with tears in her eyes.

It burned, and hot blood started to flow down his body and collect on the floor.

The Queen’s retainers quickly surrounded the advisor.

The Queen held the handle of her short sword, and he saw the hilt hug his body. It was an imperceptible moment, short and bitter. The blade went through his body and exited out the back.

 “The damned wine, it was you, wasn’t it?” she said.

Lirios shook his head. “No, Queen Amnara, I swear it by the gods,” his eyes raced as he looked at each of the metal-clad guards around him.

“The gods see through your lies, do not swear by them. You foul snake, you poisoned the King,” Amnara said.

The world seemed less real, and foggier as Lirios looked into the Queen’s eyes. His gaze was like a child’s drawn to a fire. Then all went dark.

“Take this traitor away from the throne room. I need to be alone for a moment,” Amnara said. Two of her retainers dragged Lirios’ body out of the throne room, and the rest of the guards and retainers followed them out. Once everyone was gone, the Queen went back to the fallen king.

She knelt down and rubbed his grey head, brushing his wild strands of fine hair. They slipped through her fingers effortlessly, and she would bring them up and watch them fall back down. The High Throne in front of the Queen was empty. She looked at it and smiled.

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