Chapter 22: A Knife in the Foot
by Julian Lawler
Table of Contents|
Chapter 21 appeared
in issue 143.
Queen Loren felt like crying. She winced as the door slammed shut, marking the exit of a king. She trembled with emotion and then the tears started flowing. In the palpable silence that covered her suite, her choking sobs were deafening. So much was happening.
She could not understand why Alias was after her son. What should have been a simple operation was now turning into a full-fledged charge of treason.
Palance was missing. Of that, there was no doubt. Spies and informants claimed he was no longer in Acrene Tarrynth. Reports had him in Corinn Ada. If that were true, there was no telling what Alishandre Armestaad was doing to him. Cutting off her cries with a regalness born to her, she stood from her chair and walked over to the suite’s large window.
Geamehn stretched away from her lofty perch like a maze. Three walls separated the Castle District from the Ward District and the Living Quarters. Castle Geas huddled in the middle of the castle District like a large spider. Most of the city lay covered in shadows while the towers and spires that dotted Geamehn gave off what little light there was.
Queen Loren’s eyes strayed to the horizon that lay hidden by the night. Where was Palance? What of his Iinnin Lodar? Were they protecting him like they were supposed to?
She didn’t like being kept in the dark. That was the source of her latest argument with Alias. Palance should have been on his way home. Instead, he was gone. Missing, everyone knew. Alias was becoming estranged to her and she was a prisoner in her own home.
The citizens of Geamehn knew something was wrong. The Light of Acrene Tarrynth patrolled the streets day and night, a thousand strong. A curfew was in effect that was already a week old. People were not allowed out of their businesses and homes in the hours between dusk and dawn.
Skirmishes were starting to break out between the people and the troops. Five deaths had occurred already. In one confrontation an entire blocked burned to the ground.
She continued to look out the window until a knock at the door brought her out of her thoughts.
“Enter,” she said, half expecting to see the angry face of her king again.
She was mildly relieved when a balding man wearing black robes came in.
His pudgy frame moved slowly and he went to one knee when he came before her.
“Robbenson,” she stated.
The man rose struggling with his girth. “I see you have been crying.”
She didn’t respond to his comment, so he continued. “My lady, I have done as you have asked. It is becoming quite a task to glean information from the troops. Even as royal advisor to the King.”
“What have you heard?”
“According to the men, you have been imprisoned within your rooms because the King does not trust you,” he explained.
“The King,” she mused. A thin smile crossed her smear-covered face. “I consider him my king more than my husband now. Something has happened to him. I hope his actions do not cause another Conquest.”
A troubled look crossed his face. “I have more bad news, my Queen. The Light Bearers have been imprisoned and the cathedral has been closed down.”
She was stunned. The shock of the news was mind numbing and for a minute she felt she was going to faint.
The Royal Advisor steadied her, “Brace yourself. You must be strong. The men of the Iinnin Lodar are not being allowed to leave their barracks. They have been cut off from their families. The people are speaking of revolting. They say Palance has been outlawed. Some have it that you have committed suicide. They say all of this behind closed doors, of course.”
“Has there been news from Nomen?” she asked hopefully.
“No,” he said.
“Have the Light Bearers tried to escape?” she asked.
“No,” he said again.
“Have the Light Bearers tried reaching the Sun Cathedral?” she thought out loud.
“Loren,” he started, “there are rumors circulating that Alias has found a way to shield them.”
“But how can this be done?” she wondered. “Robbenson, can you shield a Light Bearer?”
He thought for a moment. “There is ways ma’am. But it is very difficult. I can’t imagine how to shield an entire cathedral worth of Light Bearers.”
And suddenly she knew what she had to do. A plan was formulating in her mind. “You have to find someone to help us,” she said with finality.
“We can’t go against the King, madam,” he stated with concern. “There is maybe a handful that would help our cause. Five men against an entire city.”
Her mind reeled. Maybe her husband was a tyrant. Throughout their marriage, Alias was known to be a hard ruler. There were times when some of his decisions should have been questioned. But it was easy to get blinded. Court life dulled the senses. The games of intrigue between her family and the nobles of Geamehn were fierce. So fierce, in fact, it was easy to lose track of the people.
And now, in her darkest hour, Loren Weakly Demondread realized her greatest folly. Not only was Alias a terrible king, she was a terrible queen, as well. The people of Geamehn, the same citizens who were about to revolt, were angry and they had gone ignored for too long.
Alias’ decisions, she had realized, were not based on wisdom as they should have been, but on power. A kind of power that only a king could command. Instead of respecting the Nation, Alias had ruled with fear. Love was no longer an issue. But doing the right thing was.
Queen Loren bit her lip. “There are nobles who might help us, Robbenson.”
Robbenson still stood where he kneeled to greet his queen. “Will they help us? It would be risky with all involved to approach them on this.”
She shook her head stubbornly. “Tell them it is time for a new rule in Acrene Tarrynth. Tell them the Lord of Nomen travels north with Father Rayul at his side to aid me. Where was Palance supposedly last heard from?”
It didn’t take him long to answer. “Corinn Ada. They will want proof that Ian Dihn is, indeed, on his way. Father Rayul will be enough to bring many nobles to your side, but if they help and the Head priest doesn’t arrive, you can bet they will all turn on you.”
“We can worry about that later,” she cut him short. “Get the word out to them. As for tonight, we need to send a message to Nomen.”
There was light in the Royal Advisor’s eyes that Queen Loren had not seen since they were both very, very young. “We are going to bring the King to his knees aren’t we?”
Queen Loren nodded without a word. If she could have held back the tears, she would have.
Robbenson took both her hands in his and kissed them softly. “My Lady, I have never feared anything in my life. When I was young, there was a young man who used to terrorize the neighborhood. One day, as I came back from the fields, he decided to take the money and food I had made for my mother. Back then I wasn’t as pudgy and bald as I am now. I was a mere twelve years old, and this bully was at least twenty winters. I might not have been bald, but still, even then, I wasn’t the strongest of the children. This bully decided on that day to take a week’s worth of rations and monies from me. He caught me out in the open market where there was no place to hide nor to run. He was a typical cutthroat, so everyone turned a blind eye. Left to my troubles, he approached me and demanded everything that I had.”
Queen Loren stared down at her Royal Advisor. The man had never revealed so much of himself.
Robbenson continued. “I thought of my mother and my father with his broken back. I knew in that moment, long before magic would change my life, that the only thing I feared was my mother and father having to suffer more. With all of the fears gone, I pulled my knife from my belt and fell to my knees. He was so surprised by my actions; he didn’t see me slam my knife into his foot. I can assure you, he felt it. Blood spurted everywhere. As he came down to grab his foot, I lunged up and rammed my knee into his face. His nose was crooked ever after.”
“The constable came after that, took me to the prison, and gave me a ‘good citizen’ certificate. It is how I later came to meet my magical master in the future.”
The Queen stared at the transformed man. She had always assumed Robbenson had come from a wealthy family. “Why are you telling me all this?”
“Because,” came his immediate reply, “the only thing I fear is seeing you hanging from one of the poles your husband has gotten into the habit of putting up every time someone displeases him.”
“What are you saying, Robbenson?” asked the queen.
“Nothing, my lady,” he answered, “but to say that I do not fear stabbing the bully in the foot for you.”
Queen Loren watched Robbenson close the door quietly behind him. She sensed his robes and presence move quietly away and down the hall from her room that had become a prison.
She would have to wait. The Royal Advisor needed to find out how King Alias was blocking the Light Bearers, needed to free some of the Iinnin Lodar, and win some of the nobles over to her side. It was an impossible task, but somehow, she had faith in the little man who had no fear. One thing she did have to admit, it would take more than a knife to stab this bully’s foot.
Copyright © 2005 by Julian Lawler