893 109 40

The view from the enormous window behind the throne was unrivalled in all the kingdom. Standing at a particular spot, midway between the throne and the glass, perfectly framed the entire north-eastern section of the valley, taking in everything from the city below to the mountains a hundred miles distant. Half of Lagonia. The difficult half.

King Guijus Tellador stood with his hands clasped behind his back, observing the morning sun as it stretched its golden gaze across the hills and towers, penetrating the dawn and forcing the dark shards of shadow back to the mountains. The Northring was the perpetual thorn in his side, home to Baron Lief and his sort of men. It was there that the feuding states had concluded their wars, three generations ago, and it was probably there that war would one day break out again. The guilds in the north were troublemakers, not that they would ever openly challenge the throne; choosing instead to undermine at every turn, pecking away at policy and progress such that he spent all his time in diplomatic battles and economic arguments rather than tending to his kingdom. Guijus' reign had never been about ruling with a fist of steel, his duty being instead to govern with a soft, caressing glove. Maintain the status quo, ensuring that no faction tipped the scales of influence too far: that was his part to play. The valley could not survive another civil war and so he trod carefully and sensitively, never able to over-reach for fear of inciting a response.

A life's work, dedicated to ensuring that nothing ever happened. His grandfather had forged the alliances and shaky truces which had led to the formation of the Lagonian Kingdom, salvaging something from the chaos of the war with the outsiders. His father had consolidated that power and made the Telladors the most powerful family the valley had ever known, in the process turning Lagonia into a plentiful land of technological marvels, crushing all who would oppose his vision. They had both been too successful, leaving Guijus with nothing left to do but maintain their legacy. He had no great war, no extremist religious movements to suppress, no plagues or starvation to overcome. Lagonia was safe, stable and self-sufficient, with a prosperous and happy people.

Oh, for some form of calamity.

Guijus held the metal crown at his side, running his fingertips over its overly ornate and intricate design. Inlaid into the band was a day and seasonal clock, while its configuration could be shifted to emphasise particular moods - the angry king, the stern king, the compassionate king.

In the corner of his eye he noticed a shadow of movement in one of the recesses of the court. Fenris Silt stood there, having entered silently. One of the few people he could wholly trust, having been part of the court since Guijus was only a boy, and always a voice of reason and careful thought, Fenris understood the machinations of Lagonia perhaps more deeply than Guijus himself. It was a fact that Fenris would always strenuously deny and upon which Guijus would remain insistent.

Guijus fixed the crown back in its rightful place atop his head. "Do you bring good or ill tidings this misty morning, Fenris?"

"A boy was sighted emerging from the sewers near the docks," said Fenris quietly, approaching slowly, his eyes fixed on Guijus. Fenris had never been a man to avert his gaze, even from royalty.

"I see." The sewers were off-limits to all but carefully vetted and monitored work parties. People were told to keep clear of them for fear of drowning, or encountering the dangerous creatures that were purported to dwell in the tunnels. Fenris had been the one to suggest circulating such rumours, several decades ago. The reality was that there were no monsters left around the capital, or even to the south. They'd been hunted to extinction before Guijus was born. "Presumably not merely a lost waif?"

"We're in the early stages of the investigation, but we think not."

"A prisoner, then," Guijus said, clenching his teeth. An embarrassing security drama was the last thing he needed, with Lief and the other families sniffing around the court and scenting blood. "We should have bricked up those tunnels. I've always said that." As his engineers had politely pointed out, bricking up the sewers was not a simple task, but at least it would have kept them wholly separated from the rest of the city. Their proximity to the prison had always felt like a problem waiting to happen.

Fenris paused, took a breath, and released a short, sharp sigh. "He was not a prisoner, your majesty," he said, slowly. "He was a worker."

The room felt suddenly cold, a chill wrapping itself around Guijus' chest. "Save Aera," he muttered. "Are you sure?"

"We're confirming it now. No prisoners or missing persons have been reported from the prison, which leads me to look deeper. Literally and figuratively. It is more difficult to get accurate data from the processing floor," Fenris said, looking out of the window, across the splay of the city, "but I am assuming the worst and planning accordingly."

"Good, good," Guijus said, nodding repeatedly. "No, this is not good. How could this have happened? How have you let this happen?"

"I am investigating, majesty," Fenris bowed slightly. "This is my top priority."

"It had better be!" Guijus shouted, his temper erupting. "Do you have any idea what this boy could do to us? What him talking to the wrong person could do to this country, to this court? To me?"

"I am aware of the facts, your majesty."

Guijus turned and swept his hand across the low table that stood next to the throne, scattering breakfast plates across the floor. "The facts? The facts!" He stormed to the window, pressing his hands against the glass, his breath gathering in front of his face. "I'll tell you the facts, Fenris, shall I? The facts are that we've kept this secret for far too long, and now it's about to blow up in our faces. It's a festering wound, Fenris."

"The oldest secrets are the hardest to reveal, majesty," Fenris said. "Though I would acknowledge that this is not a secret of your doing. This is your inheritance."

"Yes, my father and grandfather's legacy," Guijus spat the words. "Shackles about my feet. Do you think they laugh at us, even now, Fenris?"

Fenris looked up at the sky. "That is not for me to say."

"You must find this boy, Fenris. You must find him, get him off the streets, and bring him back. He doesn't belong out there."

"I am confident that we will locate him before any other faction. The shipbuilders, for example."

Guijus let out a cry of anguish. "The shipbuilders! If Lief's damned guild gets anywhere near this they'll turn the boy into a weapon."

"I am aware of the danger."

Guijus pointed at the door. "Then see to it, rather than wasting your time talking with me. Take care of it, you understand? Update me only when there is news."

Fenris bowed. "Understood." He turned and walked swiftly across the chamber.

"Fenris," Guijus called. "Do not let my daughter know of this. Kirya must remain innocent of the realities at play."

Fenris paused, looked back towards his king. "With respect, your majesty, there must inevitably come a time when she will know the truth."

"That time is not this time! Matters are not yet ready." Guijus slammed his closed fist against the window, rattling its enormous frame. "This threatens to derail everything I have worked towards. Do not let this be our undoing. Do not disappoint me, Fenris."

The other man left and King Guijus Tellador was left alone in the throne room, the mechanical crown ticking gently through the seconds of the hour.

The Mechanical CrownWhere stories live. Discover now