Chapter 3.2: A More Serious Mind

13 4 5

The cook was dragged out to the royal table, his head sagging. 

"You are the one responsible?" asked King Greggon Rose IV in his serpentine drawl. The cook, no more than a score of years in age, nodded slowly. He dared a tentative glance into the eyes of the High King of Seldor and hastily looked away. "The fucking soup was so hot it burned the mouth of the Queen."

"I sincerely apologize, your grace," the young man stammered. "When I sent the food out it was fresh off the stoves. I had hoped it would cool before—"

"You were an ass and you deserve what's coming!" He nodded at the nearest knight, a stocky member of the King's Companion Guard wearing the copperhead of House Rose. "Sir Doncan, this cook has lost his touch. He must no longer need his fingers."

"My liege!" cried the young man as Sir Doncan seized him by the shoulders. "This will ruin me! A cook with no fingers? Please, my lord!"

"Get him out of the Queen's sight!" the King roared. The sounds of the cook's desperate pleas receded as he was dragged through the doorway and down the hall. Moments later, Princess Allison appeared in the same doorway grinning over her shoulder at the spectacle. The Princess, as smug as ever, thought the King. He scowled at her hatefully. "Princess Allison graces us with her presence at last!" he announced in a mocking voice.

"I apologize father, I was not feeling well and—"

"Shut up, whore!" He leapt from his chair, cheeks flexing and eyes ablaze with hate. "I will not have my time wasted by a insolent brat who clings to a deluded notion of self-importance!"

Allison sat quickly, fixing her eyes on the table. Slowly, the King lowered back to his chair. A servant appeared.

"Would you like anything to eat, your royal highness?" she said to Allison.

"Get the fuck out of here!" thundered King Rose. "If she'd wanted anything, she would have come on time!" The servant vanished as quickly as her feet would allow. Allison sulked, hurt and hungry. Say something, sweet daughter. I dare you. But the Princess did not brave even a tiny glance his way.

"Now that we are all finally present," King Rose said, eyeing each of the five people around him individually, "We can discuss the true matters at hand. The void left by the expiration of Chancellor Gonsales's term limit could inspire chaos like the realm hasn't seen in decades, perhaps ever. This election is one of the most important in anyone's memory." He faced the sinewy young man to his left. 

"Lord Marshall, how is your campaign evolving?"

Marshall Lemmon's eyes darted around the room. "It is going good," he mumbled, then reverted to silence. All eyes in the room continued to stare at him for a moment, expecting more, but nothing was forthcoming. Allison was smiling in her too-clever way and the King felt fresh anger boiling to the surface.

"Unfortunately, the polls don't agree. We are dead last, even behind that bitch Calazar." He balled his hand into a fist and drove it repeatedly into the table. "Seldor must not be left behind!" Plates and silverware jumped up and down with each jab. Queen Merilda gasped histrionically.

"Our plan, my lord," said Mario Hernandes once the outburst abated, "is still well at hand. These polls will change."

The King shifted his glare back to his younger daughter. "My concerns have been growing more and more about certain aspects of the design. Perhaps we should find someone different for Allison's role? Someone with a more serious mind?"

"It was my idea, father!" Allison protested. "Nobody else—"

"You can't even show up to dinner on time! How can we trust you with something as important as this?" Allison's face crunched with anger, an eerie emulation of her father.

"I don't suggest including anyone else on this idea, your grace. Only the people in this room know of it and I believe it is safest if we keep it that way," Mario said. The King nodded without averting his eyes from Allison.

"That brings us to the other thing..." He smiled horribly and leaned back in his chair with a contented look. "A deal has been struck that will assure Seldor's prosperity no matter what comes of this Fair and election." His horrible smile somehow broadened. To the others it looked as if his face might stretch right off his skull. "Lord Allaster has agreed to let his sons and the Steward sit for formal Attendance for the favor of Princess Allison." Everyone's mouths fell open, Allison's the widest. Only Mario looked un-surprised.

"Those hook-nosed fucking Pentites?" said Allison. Queen Merilda, only a year older than Princess Cambria, looked positively delighted. 

"Don't ever talk like that at the dinner table!" roared the King, and once again their two angry faces stood as direct mirrors with only the span of the table separating them. "A union by marriage with Pent would unite all the people east of the Great River. That would be strong enough to stand up to Rocklands and House Thomas even if Lord Castrol wins the White Throne."

Anxious silence choked the room, its occupants well-aware that the topic of House Thomas was one that could snap the King's temper faster than any other. Even the mere mention of King Duquesne Thomas, his two brothers, or anything related to them was often enough to send him into a violent rampage that usually ended with someone beaten or worse. Though such outbursts were usually directed at servants or messengers, no one was safe, not his top surlords or even his own family.

Allison buried her face in shame. This is not punishment, daughter. But it pleases me to see you think it is.

"Prince Alec and Lord Jeffrey will both be a part of the night as suitors," the King continued. "But it is Prince Enrick which Allison will pay particular attention to." He concentrated his stare on his daughter. "Is that understood?"

Allison nodded once, almost imperceptibly.

The King hoisted a mug of ale. "To ye 'ole Seldor!" he toasted and drank deeply.

"Seldor never dies!" they all cheered in chorus, some more enthusiastically than others.

The Queen erupted in a fit of coughing. "This wine is horrible!"

"Goddammit!" thundered the King. He snatched the half-filled crystal and raised it to his mouth.

"Father don't!" Allison spurted.

"Shut your fucking mouth, daughter! If I hear one more sound slither from your lips, I'll cut them off and serve them to the fucking dogs!" He swirled the liquid in his glass twice, sniffed it, then sipped tentatively. In a sudden, violent movement, he hurled the goblet against the wall behind and above Allison. Glass shards and wine rained down on the table. "Get me the fucking winesmith!" he roared. And as one of the guards vanished through the open door, the King drew a long knife from a sheath on his hip.

The Razed Ruins Part I: Ill TidesRead this story for FREE!