Chapter Forty-Four

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Orven stumbled through the front doors of the castle and motioned for one of the guards to shut it behind him. Once closed, the heavy wooden door muffled the sounds of raised voices and clashing steel ringing through the courtyard beyond.  

Panting slightly, Orven walked quickly on, past the empty thrones on their dais, the tapestries and taxidermy, the statues of long-dead kings and queens, until he reached the stairs. He continued in this way, eyes unseeing, gait stilted and uncertain, one hand clutching a cramp in his side, until he reached Karth's study. With a groan, Orven collapsed into the lush red velvet chair behind the desk. For several minutes, he simply sat and stared at nothing.

At last he stirred, and wiped a hand across his lower lip. He was perspiring, sweat dampening his underarms and back. 

Well, that didn't go as well as I'd hoped...

Aided by an amplifying platform, his second speech as the new ruler of Svard had carried through the courtyard to the city beyond. His voice had echoed off the stones, each carefully chosen word hitting the desired mark... or at least, that was what he'd thought. 

Perhaps it had been the sight of Istenra's soldiers in their Alavardian uniforms, replacing the familiar red and copper of the now defunct Svardian wall guard. Perhaps it had simply been the shock of so sudden a change. Regardless of the cause, the results had been disastrous. Orven thought he would hear those jeers, screams and shouts in his nightmares for weeks to come.

He hadn't expected such violence to erupt amongst the common folk once they learned of their new leadership. After all, when you thought about it logically, it wasn't so much the rise of a new empire as a simple reinstatement of the old, trusted system--with a few much-needed improvements, of course. Histrionics had been expected. The odd brawl. Some ill-informed dissent. He'd assumed one or two well-placed executions would be necessary, just to get the point across. But what had just happened on the streets of Svard...

Orven shook his head and massaged his temples. What a waste.

Pride and short-sighted prejudice. That was the only explanation. They simply didn't possess the necessary intellect. Why else take up arms when it was obvious they'd already lost?

Orven grimaced and tidied a few papers on the desk. Well, it was all over now. The streets were awash in the blood of fools. Perhaps it was a good thing, in the end. Those dissenters would surely have been bad apples, sowing seeds of corruption in his orderly garden. Better to weed them out in the beginning.  

He only wished Istenra hadn't seemed to enjoy it so very much. He would have a word with Thesul about the woman. She was clearly unstable. 

Ah. Thesul. That was why he'd come up here in the first place. 

Orven gave himself a small mental slap. He couldn't afford to become distracted, or allow his faculties to slip. Yes, the scene in the streets had been grotesque, but it was all necessary. The pages of history books were always stained in blood. 

Thesul had entrusted him with this city, and Orven was determined to show there was no doubt of his worthiness. As it was, Ygrael and Varyn were still at large, though it hardly mattered now. The worst they could do was try to warn the rest of Ther--but even if they succeeded in that task, it was already too late.

Enough distractions. Focus. Focus on the task at hand, and the next, and the next. Remember the plan. Remember your reward...

Yes, his reward. Shared dominion over Ther, with his seat of power in Svard, just as Thesul's sat in Alavard. Power, respect, devoted subjects to rule over as king...

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