Chapter 43

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I'm woken up the next morning by Connor's gentle whisper in my ear.
"Happy sixteenth, love."
"Please don't push me out of the bed."
Neither of us speak all day of my appending doom. Connor stays in our chambers all day with the door locked, refusing to let anyone enter, so I roam the castle. Crazy ideas run through my mind as I do my rounds, tasting a new spice in the kitchens and rating the quality of a new exotic silk at the tailor's. The bandit has to pull something crazy in a few night's time.
Something huge. Something that will distract the king for weeks, hopefully months to come.
Something besides stealing a sack of gold or a bag of barley. Something personal to Thomas, something that will intimately affect him.
The bandit is going to kidnap the king himself.
Of course, this will take an immense amount of planning, at least a week's preparation. But it will unsettle him deeply, knowing that he is not even safe inside his own castle's walls. It could distract him for months to come.
That evening, as I'm grabbing a quick bite to eat at my birthday celebration, I feel a firm hand on my shoulder, and Connor directs me quietly back to our chambers.
"Close your eyes." He commands, and I oblige, making sure to allow my amusement seep into my expression. He takes my hand and the door closes behind me. He sets me carefully on the bed, and I listen to his footsteps crossing the room, then the rustling of fabric and wood and the creaking and skidding of a stool.
Then the humming of music, the rich twang of metal strings. I smile, and manage to keep my eyes closed, as he begins to haltingly pluck out a melody on the guitar.
I laugh as he goes hesitantly on. The song is like a newborn colt. Taking a step forward, stumbling, tripping, falling, then picking itself back up and finding it's footing, to make a rapid surge forward. He stops, his fingers fumble and whine on the strings, slip up and hit the occasional wrong note, sometimes too high and sometimes too low, but after he repeats the short, simple melody several times over I can recognize what notes are the correct ones.
Then I realize it's actually quite a beautiful song. Haunting, lilting, sliding and dipping, the kind of quiet, steady strumming that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. I open my eyes, an unstoppable smile dominating my face, and he finishes the final few chords, glancing up for my approval.
"What do you call it?" I say, beaming at him. His face breaks into a relieved grin, and he chuckles.
"I call it, 'The Song Without a Name'," He says, and the guitar is set down beside him with a low hum. "and... happy birthday."
"That, actually, was a good present." I reassure him. "I expected you were up here trying to paint something, or rearranging the room, but I'm very much relieved that it was music."
"So... what shall our friend the bandit be performing next week?" He changes the subject after another minute of beaming laughter.
"Well..." I say slowly. How to suggest this gently. "it seems he's quite intent on kidnapping the king."
Connor blinks. I wait for him to reprimand me and turn me down, and suggest something else, like stealing his armor or something like that. Then he says:
"Brilliant!"
I frown at him. "Really?"
"Yes! Of course, it will be complicated, yes... very much so. But as long as he never sees my face nor hears my voice, he'll be none the wiser. Why, we can blindfold him in the middle of the night, sneak him out of the castle, hold him in the forest for a day or so with a ransom, and once that is paid, he'll be returned, good as new!" He claps his hands together in excitement. "And, on the plus side, it will disconcert him enough so he won't mind us and our personal problems for a while yet!"
"That's the point. I just didn't think you'd be so eager to kidnap your own father..." I say warily, eyeing him like he's just joking with me.
"You kidding? It's not like we're going to hurt him. Hell, he could use a healthy dose of humility..."
"Couldn't we all."

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