Hiros had had an…interesting conversation with the brothers last night. It seemed that Natasi had a much bigger part in mind for him than he had ever known. It seemed that his little Sigil of Sketching was about to become very useful.
He stifled a laugh. And to think, here he was, a king. He was going to have every luxury he could ever have dreamed of, and be too busy to enjoy them.
Not too long ago he had been blowing smoke rings in the bandit camp and thinking that he was a king among men for he was able to lord it over his other bandits and some female captives. He had looked at kings as something to aspire to, as something to envy and call himself when he was succeeding.
Now he truly was a king. And more people wanted him dead now than ever had when he was a bandit. He had ten, a hundred, a thousand times the responsibilities of then, and while he had perks and benefits to match he had no time to enjoy them.
Who would ever want to be king?
But he kept the rueful laugh inside, for it would look bad to chuckle while being crowned.
He sat on the throne, which had been wheeled out from its usual place to the formal audience hall. Like bandits and pirates knew what the hell a formal audience hall was.
This one was filled with drunken idiots who were here to celebrate with the free booze and whores that the Blood Red King’s coronation mandated.
His clothes were as far different from those of the ragged labourers as they could be. Theirs were stained, faded, often torn and patched; his were fresh, new, made of silks, satins, and furs, in regal purple and red colouring. He thought the colours made him look like a bloody idiot, but they were apparently traditional.
The scent of old blood surrounded him, making him nauseous; the clothes were not stained red with dyes, but rather with deaths.
The crown sat atop his head slightly lopsided, and he had his pipe clenched between his teeth. The pipeweed they had given him as the king was good. Better than anything he could get his hands on in the alleys here.
But, it was still horrible compared to the stuff they’d stolen from duke’s caravans back in the day.
Ah well. He was king now, better get used to it.
The coroner…no, that wasn’t the word, was it? Hiros couldn’t be bothered by trying to remember the proper word. Oh well, the coroner it was then. He was droning on and on about something, but all the people wanted to hear was “Eat, drink, and be merry”, although in slightly more vulgar terms than that.
Hiros was also looking forwards to those words. He had wrung a promise from the assassins that he would be allowed one night of fun before the work started. He intended to make good use of that night.
The best women, the best wines, the best pipe weed (god, this stuff really was horrible compared to what he was used to stealing from his bosses), and the best wine-induced sleep he could put himself into.
He would enjoy being king, even if only for one night.
Just as Hiros began to lose himself in his little fantasy, the coroner finished his speech.
“And now, a few words from the Blood Red King”
Ah. This part. Well, the brothers had told him what Natasi wanted him to say. May as well get it over with.
“Ladies and gentlemen”
The crowd snorted at that.
“We’ll, I hope, have a long and illustrious time together. I am the Blood Red King, and I intend to bring big changes to our lives! We’ll see riches like we’ve never seen before, victories aplenty, many chances to cheat the world, perhaps even a kingdom under our thumbs! We’ll lie, swindle, and be merry! But first, first my friends, there is a very special ceremony we can’t forget. Tonight it is time to drown yourselves in wine and forget your troubles with a beautiful lad or lass! Tonight we celebrate future glories!”
The crowds cheered, and the cheers echoed from all across the city.
Of course, there would be many who would not be drinking; plenty of people would take advantage of the drunkards to settle old scores, take some marks, earn a few coins. But they were in the minority. Most people, all across the city, would be celebrating the rise of a new king, just like they’d have celebrated the defeat of a challenger.
And Hiros would be joining them. He grinned round at his court, grabbed the nearest wine glass, and drained it in one go. If he died of poison, well, he’d already Linked (and made those Links permanent) his own heartbeat with the heartbeats of those closest to his position in a one-way link. If his stopped, so would there’s. He grinned, both at the thought of a good night, and at the certainty that if he died, so would anyone close enough to have stood to gain by poisoning him.
The Shadow Prince stared across the bridge in confusion.
The wall across from him was shining with light, and the entire cavern resounded with the sounds of cheering.
“Ah. Prince, it seems you have arrived just in time to hear about the old King either beating down a challenger, or being deposed”
Weeros stared past the Prince at the city alight with lanterns and torches.
“Since the lanterns are red it means the city is bathed in blood, symbolically. You have a new boss”
“You said that sometimes the new King’s have the old Princes killed”
“Ah. Yes. I did. But, you see, you are not really the old Prince anymore, are you? You are a new Prince. You don’t really have any memories of your past, but you have the same skills. You’ll make a fine new Prince for the new King”
The Sketcher and the Prince were escorted by five of the crew of the ship, and a guide. The captain had stayed behind to “arrange for a new cargo”, leaving the increasingly nervous ship’s Sketcher to guide the Shadow Prince to his meeting with the Blood Red King.
The Prince was sorely tempted to grab the Sketcher, take his coinpurse from his coat (which held the necessary letters, and the gold), and toss the runty fool over the bridge.
But that would look bad with the crew, and then he’d be at the mercy of an unknown city. He restrained his temper.
“Right. And if he doesn’t want me, I’ll snap his neck and make my own way out”
As the Prince turned and began to walk across the bridge, the Sketcher opened his mouth to contradict his ability to do so…then snapped it shut as his broken hand twinged, and hurried after the bigger man.
The city was alive with lights and drunkards. Thieves and pirates fell out of doorways into the Prince’s path with almost every step, and every other step was taken over the body of some poor fool, either passed out or dead.
The crew behind him simply trod on the downed men, but the Prince took care to not step on the bodies. The dead deserved their rest, and the drunk would have enough worries in the morning without bruises from him.
“Up the hill, yes, to the very top. That’s where we’ll find the king”
A few minutes after arriving in the city proper the Prince had decided that it might be fun to ignore the ship’s Sketcher and see how long it took him to get annoyed. It had been a count of three thousand and sixty seven since he had started. One corner of his mind had started a counter then and hadn’t bothered to stop.
So far the Sketcher seemed more than happy enough to be avoided by the man leaking shadows.
Time to change the game.
Spinning, the Prince stared the Sketcher right in the face.
The smaller man jumped at the sudden movement, came down on a body, and went sprawling.
The crew sniggered.
“Ah, ah, yes Prince. The top. You had said you wanted to explore the city, but as it is getting late I suggest that we maybe make our way to some stairs?”
“That is fine”
His language was…odd. It seemed too precise. But the Prince didn’t know how else to talk. It was as if his memories of his past life had taken with them the casual tones and grammar of the others when they fled.
Yes, you were raised to speak that way, and you’ve forgotten how not to.
That damn voice in his head again. For the past hour (three thousand six hundred and ninety eight count) it had been radiating silent disdain for the city and the situation. Now was the first time it had spoken in a while. The Prince decided to ignore it too.
Instead he looked around for some stairs.
The court of the Blood Red King was an even bigger mess than the rest of the city. While it had been true that the higher they climbed the more drunken fools there were and the less sober murderers, this building seemed to fly even in the face of that.
This was debauchery on an entirely different level.
The Shadow Prince negotiated a minefield of men and women engaged in sexual acts, pirates and thieves seeing visions from narcotic substances, and rowdy gamblers who were so drunk they could barely see straight.
Twice he had to break limbs when drunken brawls had threatened to pull his party into their midst. Even when drunk beyond all reason, a man leaking shadows folding their friend like a pretzel was a warning sign.
The crewers looked almost green with envy while Weeros just looked green. He seemed to have a weak stomach oddly enough.
“Ah, ah yes. It should be left”
Continuous interaction with the monster he had created had drained all the sibilant promises of pain from the Sketcher’s voice.
The Prince crossed the room as rapidly as the room itself allowed, and entered the doorway on the left. It was more like a hole in the wall, as they were in something more properly resembling a cave system than a building. Weeros promised that these led to the Blood Red King’s quarters, which were indeed more like proper rooms, but the Prince didn’t particularly care either way.
So long as he could see the King and get what he wanted, he was happy.
Standing guard at the next door were three surly looking men. They seemed particularly unhappy, possibly because they were not allowed to join in the revels.
“Nobody sees the King. He’s busy” The middle one, widest in the shoulders and with a face like an ape, glared at them as he stepped into the Prince’s path.
“Ah, well, we have special permission. You see, he is the…” Weeros’ speech faded under twin glares from the Prince and the ape-man.
“You deal with it then”, he squeaked at the Prince as he thrust papers into his hand.
“I’m the Blood Red Prince. I’m the King’s right hand man”
The guard looked at him quizzically.
“The Blood Red Prince huh? I don’t remember the King having no Blood Red Princes”
The Shadow Prince offered the guard the letter; with a wary look the man took it and, squinting, looked the page over.
“Ah. The Blood Red Prince. Yes. ‘Course”
Pocketing the coins that had been hidden within, he turned and waved the other two guards away.
“We’ll let the Prince pass, if he offers the toll”
Sighing, the Shadow Prince stepped forwards and punched the man in the kidney. As the thug collapsed, the other two drew steel, ugly looking daggers with spikes on the hand guards.
“That fool just recieved the only toll I am in the mood for paying. Are the two of you going to delay the meeting with my liege any longer?”
The two exchanged looks and shrugged.
“I think you should go see the King”
“And if you off him then we get another party”
The Prince ignored the fools once they’d put their weapons away. The door swung open into luxurious apartments - You once had nicer - that were decked out in reds, golds, and purples.
The Prince found himself in a sitting room with comfortable looking arm chairs and couches everywhere. There were two doors off of the chamber; one was closed, while the other opened into an opulent bedroom.
Stepping forwards, he looked through to see a man in a ridiculous purple and red raiment, a thick cloak trailing behind him through the puddles of wine on the floor.
Two men in boiled leathers the colour of midnight leapt to their feet, hands going to swords. They looked like brothers, the one on the left the taller of the two. The one on the right had a scar across his cheek, and both wore longswords and daggers at their belts. Scar had a longbow across his back.
The man in blood-stained raiment was currently emptying his wine glass onto the stomach of a woman lying on the bed, and trying to smoke a coin purse.
Weeros stepped forwards, eager to take control again, and bowed to the man, who had not yet noticed them.
“My liege, might I present to you the Blood Red Prince of the late King. And my Prince, let me introduce to you his majesty King Hiros, the newly crowned king of Faron Rek”
Once Tomas had killed the pirate captain, the pirates had, of course, gotten quite angry. Storming the ship, they had begun to carry out their threat of putting people to the sword, starting with the three on the quarterdeck.
A swarm of arrows, followed by a group of infuriated pirates, had come racing their way.
Laerian smiled as he thought back on it. They really hadn’t stood a chance.
The arrows had proved ineffective as Tomas mysteriously managed to dodge them all.
Even stranger were the arrows that came towards Laerian and the merchant captain. They’d been, well, some of the pirates swore that Laerian’s scarves snatched them out of the air, or deflected them into the paths of other arrows, but that was crazy. It wasn’t like the two they had brought aboard were Sketchers were they?
No, it was more likely that they too had managed to dodge most of the arrows, for three had caught the merchant; two in the legs and one in the shoulder.
Then the pirates had managed to close with the trio, and things had turned into a rout.
What Tomas had lacked in skill with his blade he made up for in speed and strength, each strike either taking a pirate out of the fight, or setting him up to be able to do so.
The pirates had found in him an unbeatable foe, but perhaps Laerian was the worse one to be fighting.
He had coiled those scarves out like whips (they must have wires and weights sewn into them, the pirates said, for otherwise they couldn’t move, and strike, like they had done that day). After the enraged men and women had stared at him for a moment, they’d tried to kill him.
And failed. None got closer than the reach of his “whips”. Each movement of his arms took down another pirate, or threw one into another, or turned them about so that their swords met the flesh of their allies.
Fighting Tomas had been simply impossible, in appearance and reality. Fighting Laerian had seemed entirely possible, victory certainly within their grasp. Questing for that impossible goal was what had so defeated them in the end.
And that defeat had led to Laerian’s current position.
He leaned against the elaborate woodwork at the back of the ship and couldn’t help but smile again, the expression splitting his face.
He and Tomas were being escorted, by three pirate ships, to Faron Rek. Once a lull had appeared in the fighting and the impossibility of their task was realized, the pirates had retreated to let the captains confer.
They’d all agreed; these two were more trouble than they were worth. They’d deliver them to Faron Rek, take an extra price from the merchant ship to cover the losses they’d suffered, and go about their lives.
At the thought of the price paid by the merchants Laerian’s expression did grow somewhat more somber. They hadn’t all deserved to be stolen from, especially not all their cargo and anything at all of value on the ship.
After all, only the captain had been in league with the pirates.
But, if they had tried to stop the pirates, they likely would have only ended up securing a death penalty for everyone aboard the ship.
Three more days to Faron Rek. He could live with that guilt until then.
The Blood Red King turned blearily, his eyes flicking back and forth before finally focusing just to the left of the Shadow Prince’s face.
The two men stepped into the Prince’s path, eyes narrowing. Then, almost in unison, their eyes widened, and they turned to look at each other.
“I’ll delay them. You explain to the King” His last two words dripping with sarcasm, Scar turned to the newcomers and ushered them back into the previous room. As they left, the Prince could see the taller one lifting a bucket towards the King.
Likely the man was not in for a pleasant awakening from his stupor.
But that didn’t interest him at the moment. Scar did.
“Who are you?”
The guard turned at his question and looked him over. The Prince knew he was an impressive figure. He was tall, and many had described him as handsome, both faint memories, and also women in the port before they noticed his shadows. His eyes, a dark, shadowy grey, were matched by the black stubble of his beard. His flesh leaked shadows, he was clad in loose fitting white pants and a sleeveless leather jerkin that he had borrowed from the pirates. Sitting on top of that was a long red coat, taken from Captain Dashiel’s private collection. Belted at his side was the longsword that he had been found with. However, thankfully, the scar on his chest, more a shadow-filled trench in his skin, was hidden from sight. That would have attracted more attention than he wanted.
But that hadn’t been what had startled this man and his, the Prince assumed, brother. They had assessed him as a threat, and then they had noticed his face.
That was when they had exchanged looks. So, who were they to recognize him, and what might they know of his past?
“Ah, Blood Red Prince, this would be one of the King’s three bodyguards, loyal servants who…”
The Prince turned slowly to look at Weeros. The Sketcher would interfere with this chance to learn about his past, this he was sure.
One part of him knew that the easiest way out would be to break the smaller man’s neck.
But you know that would be wrong.
Even though he was an enemy-he is of Lomwar, and a pirate, a great enemy-the voice now insisted that killing him would be wrong.
But would he have any other chance to find out who he was?
“…and then they usually get rid of the old bodyguards, but sometimes keep them on. Although, who knows about the loyalty of hired dogs? Afterall-”
The Prince turned to tell the ship’s Sketcher to silence himself, but apparently Scar took offense at “hired dogs”. Weeros stammered to a halt as the man’s sword was suddenly pressed to his throat.
“Speak again, and die”
It seemed that Scar was a man of few words.
“Prince”, he half turned to nod in recognition, “We didn’t think you’d be here yet. Or that you’d be so grey”
Apparently he was also a bit of a comedian.
“I’m who he said. Bodyguard of the King. But he’s drunk now. You can wait for him. My brother is trying to get him to lucidity. He can answer your questions. I won’t”
The Prince shrugged and settled in for a wait. Talking to Scar would likely be pointless, and he didn’t seem like a man that you wanted to press.
He’d wait, and then he’d talk to the King, and then, if he didn’t get some answers, maybe he would ignore the voice in his head, and kill some people.