Chapter 4

“You called, father?”

Vindi’s voice was loud when compared to the silence that had come before it, but it was a welcome interruption, and Artinious looked up in relief, a smile flickering across his lips before it vanished again.

The king of Tethlyn was proud of his son, as the young man seemed like he was set to surpass Artinious in every way possible. Vindi was a bit taller than him, with a lean but muscular frame, and his sun-bronzed skin suited his auburn hair and piercing blue eyes perfectly. It was only appropriate that Vindi moved with all the grace of a hunting cat, his clothing moving smoothly despite the extensive gold embroidery and jewelry he wore, with a single ruby earring dangling from his right ear. The only disappointment was that Vindi had no skill with magic, but neither did Artinious, so he couldn’t blame him for that.

“I did. How are you, Vindi? I don’t suppose you found out anything about Imel’s death?” Artinious asked, pushing his chair back from his desk, a shadow of worry rushing over him at the thought of Imel’s death. Most people thought that it was suicide, but Artinious was certain that couldn’t be the case. Imel wasn’t the type to take his own life, no matter what was happening.

“I’m just fine, father. Frustrated, perhaps, but fine.” Vindi said, slowing his pace as he approached, an unhappy frown on his face. “As for that… I haven’t found anything.”

“Nothing?” Artinious asked, his eyebrows rising quickly, incredulity rushing through him. “That’s preposterous! Imel would never commit suicide!”

“I know, father. I agree, and perhaps I should clarify that I found nothing that indicates it wasn’t suicide.” Vindi said, giving a frustrated wave as he added. “I found a wealth of other indiscretions by his staff, like one of the maids stealing the worn sheets rather than disposing of them, and the gardener skimming some of the funds and making do with less expensive supplies, but regarding his suicide? Nothing. He’d ordered everyone to finish early so as not to disturb him, and none of the guards heard anything that night.”

Worry rushed through Artinious, which combined with the crisis he’d gotten word of that morning to become something greater. He dearly wished that Imel was here to ferret out the source of all the problems.

“And no signs of any assassins?” Artinious asked, a finger tapping his desk nervously, and after a moment he stood.

“…no, nothing. His doors were all locked, no signs of them being picked, tracks, or anything else.” Vindi said after a momentary pause, a frown on his face. “Is something wrong? You seem nervous.”

Artinious drummed his fingers on the desk a little harder, not answering for several seconds as he gritted his teeth, then inclined his head.

“Yes. Yes, something is wrong.” He said at last, and flipped open the letter that had arrived that morning. “A message from Duchess Appleglen arrived this morning. You know she’s been planning to replace Marquis Eldan for some time, since he’s never been enthused by the potential war with Pharos.”

“He is right on the border. You’d think he’d be hungry for the territory, even if it’s possible he’d take heavy losses.” Vindi agreed, crossing his arms and frowning. “Did something happen?”

“You might say that.” Artinious replied dryly. “She decided to accelerate her plans, due to the unrest after our attempt to destroy the Mage Association failed. Unfortunately, it seems that somehow the marquis caught wind of those plans, and he, most of his nobles, and nearly half of the Duchess’s subordinate lords are in open rebellion. Her citadel is likely already under siege.”

“What?” Vindi demanded, his nearly-bored expression clearing instantly as it turned to outrage. “How could he do something like that? It’s treason!”

“Ah, but he isn’t rebelling against the crown. He’s rebelling against the Duchess, for trying to take away his birthright.” Artinious said, his tone biting, and anger rushing through him. “Nevermind the fact he’s been growing increasingly unreliable over the last few decades. I’m almost afraid he’s thinking about trying to secede and join Pharos.”

Vindi blanched and straightened, asking. “What can I do to help? We can’t allow that to happen.”

“Then we’re thinking alike, since you’re one of the few people I can trust right now.” Artinious replied with a grim smile, straightening. “I’ve already sent orders to muster as much of the army as we can in three days, and you’ll be taking command. Crush the rebellion, I want Marquis Eldan’s head on a pike.”

“Of course, father!” Vindi said, straightening and his eyes brightening in enthusiasm. “I’ll deal with them quickly!”

“Just be careful. Between what’s happened to the earl and Imel, I’m not sure what’s going on. I can’t afford to lose you.” Artinious cautioned, worry swirling through him.

“Oh, don’t worry, father. I have no intention of dying.” Vindi said with a grin, and saluted casually. “I’d best go make sure my armor is ready, though!”

“Excellent.” Artinious said, and watched as Vindi left. He waited for a minute, then pulled out a glass and a bottle to fill it. He usually didn’t drink during the day, but sometimes he had to make an exception. This was definitely one of those days.

Now he just had to hope that Vindi would be safe, and would be in time to rescue the duchess. He didn’t want to lose even more of his staunchest supporters, not with how rumbles of instability were going through Tethlyn.

Chapter 5