Fall of Kings: The Baton Rises

(Just a quick one this morning, but the next scene is some 3000 words long, so I don’t feel as bad as I ought to about this. We’re picking up speed here… I was really happy about the feedback that I got on the last section. Thanks again for joining me on this journey! Word Count: 54,522)

Edmond strutted down the hall towards his meeting with the coronation organizer, a certain jovial spring in his step that only occurred when he was getting his way. His mane of poker straight jet-black hair hung down past the center of his back in gentle layers, swinging in time to his steps.

His mind was occupied by violin strings, champagne bubbles, and the skirts of exotic women. For that reason, the man in the corner needed to clear his throat rather pointedly before grabbing Edmond’s shoulder and pulling him aside.

“What in the-” He cried in surprise before a hand clapped itself firmly over his mouth, reducing the sound to a startled mumble.

“Hush, your Majesty. Not here.” A low voice whispered, leading him into a side chamber off the main corridor.

This room was bathed in shadows, and a shadowy figure drew close to the room’s one light source – an exterior lancet that allowed a narrow slit of light to slice the room in half. Even in the half-light, Edmond was able to recognize the thick, curly salt-and-pepper locks of Archduke Xiu from the North Eastern shores. During his father’s reign, Xiu had lived in the capitol and advised the king on many matters, but since that time he’d returned to his home province to handle the growing threat of piracy.

His blue-gray eyes flickered with intensity as he took in the fragile snowflakes that drifted from gathering stormclouds with cautious purpose and covered the mountains outside the window. Castle Fortinbras dwelt in perpetual winter, residing at the northernmost point of the Northern lands.

The Archduke opened his mouth several times as if to speak, but no words came out. He was unintentionally doing a rather fine impression of a dying fish, sans the whole ‘flopping about’ aspect.

“Archduke Xiu, while I’d love to stay and play kidnappee, I am tardy for a meeting with the coronation organizer. So if you happen to be chewing on some words, I suggest you spit them out.” Edmond drawled, folding his arms over his chest.

“I have a message for you, sire.” Archduke Xiu finally managed.

“So I gathered,” Edmond replied dryly.

His visage, weathered from years of icy storms, traced the morning sky. He passed a hand through tousled hair. “Edmond, I’m not sure you knew, but your father and I used to be close friends. We disagreed on a great many things, such as his appointment of the Grand Duke to his current position. But that’s no excuse for my distance from you all these years. Nevertheless, I feel it is my duty to your father to lend any assistance possible to his only son in times of… shall we say, turmoil.”

Edmond frowned, surprised at the older man’s uncharacteristic informality. “What are you getting at?”

Pacing to and fro, the archduke made some vague, uncertain gestures. Rough hands, sailor’s hands, touched his lips, his forehead, coming to rest folded one atop the other on his stomach. He spoke. “Edmond, you are a ship adrift on the open sea. You are alone in unfriendly waters and the sharks are beginning to circle. Be careful not to injure yourself – the instant the blood hits the water, the sharks will smell it and come for you.”

“Whatever are you talking about?” The young prince quirked an eyebrow, unimpressed.

Xiu made a sound of frustration, halting and turning on him. “Edmond, your life is in danger! There are people looking for a reason to be rid of you – by your father’s grave, don’t give them one!”

Edmond narrowed his eyes. “Who told you this?”

“A man who very likely will lose his life for telling me! He overheard a conversation in The Eagle’s Nest between a suspicious character and someone very similar to Kemtel Rau-”

The younger man scoffed. “Well, let’s throw up the drawbridge and drop the portcullis this instant!”

“Edmond, I-”

“Really, despite the fact that this is my pre-coronation ball and delegate from fifteen provinces and three countries will be arriving in the next couple of hours, we might as well board up the windows for the sake of a tavernside rumour! Never mind the fact that the Western princess herself is traveling across the continent to celebrate my twenty-first birthday and ascension to the throne.”

“Edmond, I was simply suggesting-

“No, let’s toss all my plans aside because a drunkard heard a conversation in a shady bar between one unidentifiable and another man who may or may not be someone that probably doesn’t exist!”

“Edmond!”

“It’s Prince Edmond to you, Archduke Xiu, at least until tomorrow morning, when I become your king.” The young prince slapped a hand against the windowsill to punctuate his point. “You might have been my father’s friend, but I never met the man. I can’t speak to the kind of company he kept. Now, I’ve had about enough of this. I’m very late to a meeting. Good day to you, sir.”

And with a whirl of his raven cloak, he was off.

Xiu sank against the cold stone and let out a slow breath, visibly shrinking. He looked to the lancet once more, his eyes fixed on some point far off on the horizon.

So it came to this.

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