Conflicts of interest

155 23 3

There was blood on the streets. As the barge - formerly the procession vehicle - made its slow, undulating progress across the lake, a tense, supine silence settled over the party. King Guijus's rage had been audible even as he remained within the lower deck, the shouts and crashes continuing uninterrupted for several minutes. When he finally returned to the upper deck, his face a cloud of fury and violence, nobody dared look him in the eye or utter a word.

Fenris had moved to his master's side, wordlessly, knowing this his presence was needed even if he did nothing but stand in close proximity. The king would need to know that he was surrounded by strength, though every person gathered on the upper deck was a potential threat. From the guild leaders of the north to the ambitious nobles of Treydolain and the landowners of the south, the guests each had a unique potential to unsettle the rule of the Telladors. While life and business were good, that would never happen; but the instability of Seldon's arrival and reveal, combined with the calamitous events of the evening, had shifted the valley into an entirely new and more dangerous political reality.

"Understand," the king had declared, holding up a clenched fist, "that tonight's event will not go unpunished. At the dawn of any new era there will be those who wish to draw us back into the darkness. That will not be so, not this day." The stars blinked in the night sky above, and Fenris had noticed some of those gathered glancing skywards awkwardly. "The light of day will burn away this vile poison like the charred remains of a fire." Perhaps sensing that stretching the metaphor any further would be unwise, Guijus coughed and turned, taking Fenris' arm in his firm grip and leading him to the front of the vessel, from where the guests dutifully moved away. The king leaned in close to Fenris. "Seldon is gone," he'd said, under his breath.

"Gone, my lord?" Fenris had known to tread carefully. He had seen the king in such a foul mood only a handful of times in all his years and had seen the man wield it against those unfortunate enough to say the wrong thing at an inopportune moment.

"He is not on board, Fenris," the king had hissed through a clenched jaw. "The fools below did not realise he was no longer with us until we had made for the water."

Fenris had moved to the edge of the deck, leaning hard on the railing to strain a view back towards the shore, but it was already too late.

"We cannot turn back," Guijus had said with a deep sigh. "It would reveal ourselves."

"Those streets are not currently safe for your majesty, either, or indeed any of your guests," Fenris had noted.

"How did you let this happen on your watch?" the king had said, barely containing the volume of his voice. "I should have you hanged for incompetence."

No message could be sent now that they were on the lake and they would not make landfall for another half an hour at least, once they reached the Verase residence. "I will ride immediately to the palace," Fenris had responded, choosing to ignore the threat, "notifying guard stations along the way. The entire city guard will be mobilised to find him, whether he is dead or alive." It would not be easy, he knew: his security forces would already be scouring the streets for the attackers and any associated with them; expanding the search to include Tranton Seldon would complicate matters.

The vessel had made its agonisingly slow journey across the lake, docking at last with the over-designed, automated Verase dock. The party had disembarked, venturing into the estate gardens and great hall as planned, though the continuing festivities would undoubtedly be subdued and threaded with doubt and suspicion and accusations.

Fenris had made sure that the estate was secure, had given orders to Pienya to carry on in his stead, then had commandeered a racing horse from Verase's stables and departed, riding back along the southern edge of the lake, west towards the mesas which loomed black against the sky, where they blotted out the stars like two defiant fingers held aloft. The moon's reflection had shimmered on the water, while the city lay illuminated in the darkness, seeming inappropriately quiet and calm at this distance. Veering away from the lakefront, Fenris had pushed the horse faster, its hooves impacting on the soft, sandy ground, breaking away tufts of dry grass in its wake. Then they were up and into the streets; the clean, wide, immaculate streets of this district. Reaching the foot of the mesa, where the ground inclined noticeably, he had abandoned the horse to a city guard, passed on instructions, then boarded an automated car which whisked him up the steep, sloping path to the mesa plateau.

The Mechanical Crown (complete novel!)Where stories live. Discover now