Chapter 4 – A Belated Confession
Fourth Day of Learning 1142 — Battle Song Eve
Lord Ormund stood at a desk, ignoring the comfortable chair beside him, in spite of the fact that the chair’s arm pushed uncomfortably into his thigh. On the desk lay three tomes, all open to different pages, all accounts of the same phenomenon, and all completely different in their recounting of it. Lord Ormund scoured each page for some clue as to its veracity, even the most minor indication of which of the three might lead him down the right path. He had been searching for this secret for years and was no closer to finding what he was looking for than when he had started. Arguably, he could even be further from the truth, because when he’d started he had at least had a direction, whereas now he was completely lost.
He was attempting to divide his mind into two parts so he could cast two different spells at the same time. He knew it was possible because a few of the greatest mages in the world had once been able to do so, at least according to historical records. He’d found multiple accounts of at least Lord Terreth being able to cast two spells simultaneously, making him one of the most powerful mages in the history of the world. The Aldes, those who spent their entire lives studying magic and teaching it at a remarkable (but now lost to time) school, had called Terreth an arch mage, a greater mage, or even a demigod in one case. Terreth called himself a hard worker who got lucky. Whatever the case, he had been able to do something no one alive could replicate. And Lord Ormund aimed to be the first person in centuries to figure out how to do it.
He wasn’t alone in his quest, of course. Other mages of various backgrounds were busy researching the same thing he was, but Lord Ormund had an advantage, or at least hoped that was the case. He had been able to lay his hands on one of the oldest tomes of knowledge in the history of the world, which was why he had embarked on this journey in the first place. It had cost him the vast majority of his savings, and more than a few favors, but he had attained it, and only now, years later, began to suspect that it might be a fake. All that time and money, and he wasn’t even sure it was the genuine article… but he wasn’t sure it wasn’t either. It contradicted much of the current thoughts on magic, which didn’t make it a fake. Mages in the days of the Empire were undeniably more powerful than they were today and, while many explanations were put forward to explain why this was, none of them were completely satisfactory.
Priests of Iorana had long sought the truth of the matter, and though the goddess of magic herself claimed to know it, she wasn’t sharing. Iorana wanted mages to learn about magic through hard work and dedication. She wasn’t big on hand outs. So he stood, eyes scanning the three books in front of him, comparing, contrasting and in general giving himself a headache. He needed to divide his mind into three sections just to understand how these books related to each other, never mind how to cast two spells at the same time.
Such were his thoughts when there was a knock on the door. He groaned, straightening up to his full height, annoyed at the pain in his stomach. He had been so focused on his studies, he hadn’t realized the edge of the desk had been pressed into him the entire time, and now he was forced to deal with this new pain in addition to having a headache. The door had saved him further pain, but it was an unwelcome interruption nonetheless.
“Yes, yes, what is it?”
He opened the door without waiting for an answer and a page stood outside, looking at him nervously, then trying to stare past him into his rooms. He moved his great bulk to block the girl’s view, before eying her with his sternest expression.
“Well, what is it?”
“The King requires your presence in the throne room.”
At once, Lord Ormund’s demeanor changed. “Yes, of course. At once!”
He closed and locked his door, stopping only for a moment to cast a magical alarm on it that would notify him if anyone attempted to break in, and followed the page in the direction of the throne room. He couldn’t imagine what the king wanted with him at this hour, on Battle Song Eve of all days, but if there was anything Lord Ormund cared about as much as magic, it was his standing in the palace hierarchy. He’d come a long way since his early days as an apprentice but still felt insecure about his position. Any chance he had to impress the royal couple was an opportunity he would not willingly forgo. The books could wait. His king needed him.
He made his way to the throne room faster than a man of his weight should have been able to move, surprising the young page, who had trouble keeping up with him.
He reached the throne room several paces ahead of her and walked inside. To his right and closer to the throne, the king and queen stood over a boy lying on a sleeping mat. Angel Morrow, the king’s personal healer, was also present. Lord Ormund hadn’t stopped moving, even while taking in the scene. He bowed to the king and a bit more deeply to the queen, though he doubted anyone noticed. He was sure, however, that they noticed he didn’t kneel. Given his weight and the shape of his knees, both the king and queen discouraged it. Both were far more concerned with the well-being of their subjects than the respect that was their rightful due. Lord Ormund appreciated it, though he often thought that he should kneel anyway, just to make sure they were aware of his desire to serve.
The healer had been speaking the whole time, though Lord Ormund’s thoughts didn’t stop him from understanding what was going on. Perhaps all the practice of dividing his mind was actually starting to pay off.
“I don’t find anything medically wrong with him. His breathing is strong, his heart rate seems normal enough, he seems to be comfortable , there’s no fever, no chills, nothing to indicate any issue at all.”
“Except?” prodded Lord Ormund.
“No one can wake him.”
Lord Ormund studied the boy, who he only now realized was Prince Eric’s young servant. Dahr, or something like that. He didn’t do much work on servants, but he saw the King’s concern and, like everyone else, he’d been aware of rumors that the king had had a child out of wedlock. The thought angered him, though he was careful never to show it. If Queen Treya had been married to him, he’d never have strayed from their marital bed, no matter the situation. But kings will be kings, he supposed. He pondered the goddess of honor’s thoughts on the matter.
With a theatrical flourish he didn’t need, and he was pretty sure that everyone present was aware of the fact, he cast the spell Detect Magic. There was no magic coming off the boy. He had been relatively sure that was the case anyway as he could usually feel magic, but it didn’t hurt to be thorough. He cast a second spell. No evil either. In fact, as far as he could tell, the boy was experiencing no pain or discomfort at all, as the healer had said.
He cast a third spell, then a fourth. Nothing and nothing. The boy should be up and around if someone tried to wake him. He reached forward with his senses, trying to touch the boy with his mind. He had tried this on numerous occasions in the past, and had never had success, but at least it looked like he was doing something while he thought desperately to figure out what to try next.
The boy was unconscious, but not injured. He had not been poisoned. Of course he hadn’t. Angel Morrow was certainly capable of figuring out any physical problem. They wouldn’t need him if the problem was physical, so think magically. What would keep a person from waking up? It wasn’t a curse. It wasn’t a sleep spell. Think.
Suddenly an idea occurred to him. It was an impossible idea but worth checking since he didn’t have any other. He cast another spell, frowned, and cast it a second time just to make sure.
“What is it?” asked the King, and no one could have missed the desperation in his voice.
“It seems,” said Lord Ormund carefully, “that the boy has no soul.”
“What do you mean he has no soul?” asked Queen Treya. To Lord Ormund’s surprise, she seemed as concerned as the King.
“As I said. His soul is…missing.”
“What could do that?” asked the healer.
“Nothing. If you lose your soul, you lose your life. You die. It’s the very definition of death, as far as I know. It should be impossible for the soul to leave the body while the body is still living. Well, except during a soul journey.”
“A soul journey?” asked the king.
“It’s very rare, and nothing a young man like Dahr here could accomplish on his own. It’s very much like what happens to you when you transition, which is why it requires a potion blessed by a god.”
“My son Eric is transitioning as we speak. He left for the Temple of Sheba a couple of hours ago.”
“Interesting,” said Lord Ormund thoughtfully. His mind raced as he tried to put together the pieces of the puzzle. “Perhaps…no, that’s preposterous.”
“What is?” asked Queen Treya.
“I was thinking, and this is a long shot I admit, but if the boys are strongly connected, I suppose it’s possible that when Prince Eric started his soul journey, he somehow took Dahr with him, but I don’t see how that’s possible. Not without some sort of divine intervention at any rate.”
“They are very close,” said Queen Treya, cautiously, he thought.
“They are half brothers,” said the king, matter of factly.
Lord Ormund was completely taken aback. Clearly the Queen knew, since she didn’t react at all. Angel Morrow didn’t seem particularly surprised. It wasn’t that the boys were brothers that surprised him, so much as the king openly admitting it. He reacted quickly to cover his growing self consciousness.
“The more I think about it, the more unsure I am. As I said, it’s just a theory, and I only posited it because I can’t think of anything else. That doesn’t mean there isn’t something else going on that I simply haven’t thought…”
At that moment, Dahr sat up and opened his eyes. He looked confused at the group of people crowding around him, but it only lasted a second.
“Is Eric okay? Did he come back?”
Before anyone could answer, Angel Morrow spoke. “Can you tell me your name, boy?”
“I’m Dahr. Don’t you recognize me?”
“Can you tell me what day it is?”
“It’s the Day of the Dead. Battle Song always starts on the Day of the Dead.”
“And what comes after the Day of the Dead?”
Dahr looked confused by the question but answered anyway. “Loresday.”
The healer nodded with satisfaction, but Dahr had no time for him.
“Did Prince Eric get back?”
King Terrence answered. “Not yet. It may be quite a while before he returns.”
Dahr shook his head. “No, Your Highness. He’ll be back shortly.”
The king was about to talk, but Lord Ormund interrupted. “How can you know that?”
“Because I was with him.”
“I don’t suppose you’d care to explain that,” said the king.
Dahr shrugged. “I don’t know if I can, but I think we should wait for the prince. He’ll want to tell you what happened himself.”
The king opened his mouth to speak, stopped himself and nodded. It was Eric’s night after all. He’d already taken a bit of that away.
“It is as you say,” said the king. “We will wait for Eric and hear the story from his lips. It’s the least we can do on this special night.”
Dahr dropped his gaze so the king wouldn’t see the look in his eye, but when he glanced up, the queen was staring at him. She opened her mouth to say something, and he shook his head very slightly. She was surprised at the boy’s temerity, but she would wait to see the reason for it. If he were to be believed, her son would return to the palace soon enough.
The first thing Prince Eric saw when he awoke was Kalutu standing over him.
“Welcome back, Prince Eric.”
The prince stared up at the were-owl from where he lay confused on the sleeping mat. He felt completely disoriented. “What happened?”
It was a stupid question. Sheba had told him that there had been some problem with his transition, and it would have to be continued at another time. She hadn’t however, said what that problem had been, or how it could have happened in the first place. Eric had heard his share of transition stories, some funny, some tragic, but he’d never heard of a transition being cut short and continued later.
Before Kalutu could answer, the door to the room opened and two priests of Sheba entered, weapons drawn. They immediately moved toward the unfamiliar familiar.
“Stop!” shouted Eric.
Both of the priests paused. The high priest entered the room and spoke. “Do you know who this is, My Prince?”
Prince Eric looked embarrassed. “Er, yes. This is Kalutu, my…familiar.”
The high priest shook his head. “Nothing comes out of the dream, my prince, and servants of Sheba don’t have familiars.”
Eric shrugged, then realized he still had his arm through the straps on the back of the shield. “Perhaps this time was different.” He held up the shield to show the priests. Sheba’s symbol glowed in the middle of it.
“This is most unusual,” said Veloran, eyes fixed on the weapon.
Kalutu moved to help the prince up, but Eric waved him away. He rose without the use of his hands, keeping the shield before him. The high priest forced his gaze back to the prince and continued speaking.
“My mistress informs me that something odd happened during your transition, but I’ve never seen or heard of anything like this. I am most interested to hear what occurred.”
“Actually,” said Eric, “I think we should make our way back to the palace. This is a story everyone needs to hear together.”
The High Priest looked reluctant for just a second, then tilted his head as if he were listening to someone Eric couldn’t hear.
“Yes, My Prince. It seems Sheba wishes you to return to the palace immediately.”
The walk back to the palace was far faster than the walk to the temple had been. For one thing, it was later at night and cooler, so moving was a decent way to stay warm. Also, there were far fewer revelers on the street to slow their progress. Finally, Prince Eric set the pace, and he was anxious to get back and check on Dahr. He held the shield at his side as he moved through the streets, the light from the sigil helping to illuminate the way, making the torches carried by some of the priests unnecessary.
Others with magic items might hide them at night rather than tempt the occasional brazen thief, but holy relics like the shield would be safe anywhere. Holy relics only received their power from the divine source, and stolen holy relics almost always lost any power they might have held as soon as they were taken. Furthermore, only the most foolish thief would risk angering one of the gods. Thieves, after all, depend on stealth or guile. Having a god’s attention wasn’t likely to work out well for them, at least for the majority of gods. A few of the darker deities such as Tharin, the God of Thieves or Deloshi the God of Deception might approve of theft, but no experienced thief would attempt to steal a weapon that bore Sheba’s sigil.
Though they were walking much faster, the walk seemed interminable to Eric, who couldn’t stop thinking about what had occurred and what it meant. This was supposed to be his transition to manhood. The day he earned his class. He had envisioned himself returning to the palace in triumph. Would his father be disappointed? Could he bear to see that look in his mother’s eyes, knowing he’d let her down? How would he break the news to them? What would Dahr say? Had his brother really been there, or was he just part of the dream?
When the palace finally came into sight he started running, and the priests made no move to stop him. Instead they ran with him, easily keeping pace, until they were stopped by guards at the gate who, upon recognizing the prince, allowed them entrance.
When the throne room doors opened, King Terrence left his throne and moved toward the three figures who had entered the room. The first was his son, who looked almost exactly as he had hours earlier, though Eric’s eyes were on the floor, not on his father. Terrence also noted that, for once, he didn’t kneel, even though there were others present. Not that he cared about formalities at the moment. It was just another indication that all was not right with his son. They were back too early, and everyone knew it.
With his son was Veloran, the high priest of Sheba, who he knew well. And then there was the creature—a man with the face of an owl. He studied it only briefly before returning his attention to his son. What was that in his hand? Was that a holy shield? Where had it come from?
The high priest had knelt upon entering, and the owl-man had followed suit immediately. The king bade them rise louder and faster than courtesy demanded. All he cared about now was finding out what had happened to his son. It was the high priest who spoke.
“Your Highness, I regret to inform you that the transition had to be cut short.”
King Terrence raised an eyebrow. To his knowledge, this had never happened before.
“Furthermore,” continued the high priest, “Prince Eric received two skills, and will receive his third at a later time. At that point his transition will be completed. These are the words of Sheba, who favors your family in general, and these boys in particular.”
“These boys?” asked the queen. The high priest only now turned to her, focused as he was on the concerned king.
“While Prince Eric has not completed his transition tonight, Sheba wishes me to convey her congratulations to Dahr, who did.”
King Terrence’s jaw dropped. He didn’t speak for several long moments while he tried to find words to form the questions he knew he should be asking. Before he could, Dahr spoke.
“I was there, Your Highness. I was in the dream with Prince Eric.”
“That’s impossible,” whispered the queen, though so softly Terrence wasn’t sure anyone but he had heard her.
The king looked at Veloran for an explanation.
“Your Highness, I wish I understood or could explain the events of this night, but I can not. I can only pass on the final instructions from Sheba. My lady wants you to waste no time adopting the boy, Dahr. To delay will bring danger to both of the boys.”
The king opened his mouth to speak, thought better of it and nodded. He looked at his son who still hadn’t raised his head.
“It’s okay, Eric. It will be fine. The goddess favors you. This is part of some larger plan, and before you know it, your transition will be complete. Would you tell me what happened?”
Eric finally looked up and met his father’s eyes. Slowly he began the story that started with his walk to the temple and ended with his abrupt departure from the dream. Neither the king nor queen interrupted him with questions, though they had many. Neither had ever heard of an item or a familiar coming out of the dream and into the waking world. Nor had they heard of two people sharing a familiar. The king wanted to ask a million questions and couldn’t decide on which, so instead he turned to the owl-man and did his best to force a smile.
“I have no idea how you’re here, but if Sheba willed it, you are welcome in our home.”
Kalutu bowed deeply. “Your Most Royal Highness, you honor me. Know now I will do my best to protect both of your sons.”
“Oh, I’m not his son,” said Dahr, quickly. “I’m just a servant.”
There was an uncomfortable silence for just a second before the king, aware every eye was on him, spoke. “That’s not true, Dahr. You are my son.”
Eric and Dahr looked at each other and then, to King Terrence’s astonishment, broke into simultaneous grins.
Queen Treya didn’t react visibly to the public announcement that Dahr was the king’s son, but inside, her heart leapt. When Dahr’s mother had died, she had insisted the boy be brought to the palace and even then she’d wanted the king to acknowledge him. The king might have erred by straying from his vows, but the boy was blameless in this, and the woman he’d lain with had grown ill and died in the years after her son was born. There was a time when Treya had resented her, but whatever her sins, she had more than paid for them, and the queen couldn’t deny that the boy was a delight. And the way Eric and Dahr were together? How could she not love a child who brought her son such happiness? What kind of mother would she be?
Originally, she had wondered about the other woman, but she never spoke to Terrence about her, as she had no reason to stoke his guilt. If he had been glib about it, or dismissive, she’d have prodded more, but her husband was not only genuinely contrite, she could feel his pain and decided that adding to it was pointless.
She had made sure that Terrence had provided for the woman, not that she’d thought for one second he wouldn’t have. It wouldn’t do for the king’s son to live in poverty. The queen had even traveled to pay the woman a visit once, though she had used other pretense to make the long trip. She had wanted to get the measure of this woman herself. Terrence was constantly surrounded by temptation, but she was certain he’d never strayed. Why had this woman been different?
She hadn’t expected to like the woman and had even thought, briefly, about inviting her to come to the palace with her son. It would have been better for her and the boy. But then she thought about what that might have done to her guilt-ridden husband and reluctantly had left the woman to raise the boy with whatever help she could offer in secret.
The fact was, she had spent more time checking in on the boy than her husband had, not because he was uncaring. He had made certain the woman and boy had the resources to live, but they had been a reminder of his failure. Treya had never sought to punish him, because he was doing just fine in that department on his own. The depth of his remorse, even so many years later, was something she’d never understood. It had happened, it was over, and he had learned from it. Sheba desired nothing more.
When the woman had become sick and could no longer care for Dahr, taking him in hadn’t even been a question in spite of her husband’s reluctance. The child had needed a home and he was Terrence’s blood. His mother hadn’t lasted long after her illness began, and Dahr didn’t speak much of her, though at times, Treya thought he was remembering, when melancholy cast a shadow over his persistent optimism.
Treya kept an eye on the boys, who seemed to be getting more tired as the night went on. The others in the room had more or less started ignoring them, and the two boys chatted amongst themselves for briefer and briefer intervals.
“Terrence, I think it might be wise to excuse the boys.”
“What?” Terrence looked up from his conversation with Veloran. “Oh yes. Goodnight, boys. We’ll talk more on the morrow.”
Almost immediately, he returned to the conversation. She shook her head ruefully and walked to where the boys watched her. Of the two Eric, who’d done more fighting, was almost out on his feet. Dahr seemed a bit overcharged, but he might be overtired. They stood huddled with Kalutu, the strange owl-man who’d emerged from the dream with them. Yet another unprecedented event.
“Come on, let’s get you two to bed. Kalutu, if you’ll wait here, I’ll come back and arrange a place for you to sleep.”
“A room. You do sleep I assume.”
“I would assume I do too, but then, I’ve never been a familiar before. Though I won’t need a separate room. If it’s all right, I’d like to stay close to Dahr and Prince Eric.”
“They share a suite of rooms. We can have a sleeping mat brought up for you.”
Kalutu bowed deeply. “Your consideration honors me.”
“Are all were-owls this well-mannered?”
“I have no idea. I’ve never encountered another.”
The queen studied Kalutu speculatively. She couldn’t imagine how lonely that must feel.
She gestured to the boys, and they followed her from the throne room, Kalutu taking up the rear. He moved silently, she noticed, unlike the boys who, in their fatigue, thumped along behind her. When she reached their rooms, she stopped and spoke to Dahr.
“Make sure Eric takes his medicine tonight, Dahr. It’s not good if he misses it too often.”
“I will,” replied the boy.
“Mom, I’m right here!” complained Eric.
She smiled. “Then you heard as well, and Dahr won’t need to remind you.”
Eric groaned and gave her a hug before entering. Dahr turned to follow him, but the queen cleared her throat.
She opened her arms, and Dahr, uncertainly, stepped in for a hug. She embraced him tightly and kissed him on the head, something she’d never done before. His tentative grip slowly grew tighter and she held him. Clearly, it was something he’d missed or perhaps had never known. The queen’s heart went out to him.
“Sleep well, my sons.”
Dahr turned to look at her before entering the room. There were tears in his eyes. Then he continued forward and the door closed behind him. Treya felt a pang as she moved away. They weren’t boys anymore, not really. They were young men. She had to remember that.
She briefly wondered if it was safe to leave them alone with the owl-man, and then decided she was being silly. Sheba would not let anything come out of the dream that would hurt the boys. If anything, she should appreciate them having the extra protection.
Kalutu followed Prince Eric and Dahr through the doorway. The room was an antechamber, a central area between two doors on opposite walls, each of which presumably led to bed chambers. There were several large comfortable-looking chairs and a sofa, as well as an unlit fireplace. Everything was in shades of blue, including the intricately patterned rug which covered a good portion of the stone floor. A lit oil lamp hung from a hook on the wall. Two paintings that exactly failed to match the rest of the room decorated opposite walls, leading Kalutu to assume the boys had picked them out rather than the person who had furnished the room in the first place. One of them depicted a desert scene, while the other showed a dense forest at dawn.
Kalutu watched with interest as the boys got ready for bed. Up until this point, he had witnessed only the unusual, but now he got to see the routine.
Dahr and Prince Eric washed up, changed into night clothes and Eric took his medicine, grimacing just a bit at the taste of it. Kalutu wondered what he needed meds for, but he didn’t ask, as he wasn’t sure that was polite. After all, they barely knew each other. There would be time to get closer in the days to come. After a round-robin of bidding each other goodnight, his masters retired into separate rooms, leaving Kalutu alone with his thoughts.
Kalutu had remained in the antechamber, considering all that had happened to him. He settled into a chair far more comfortable than any he’d had the pleasure of sitting on before. He leaned back into it, decided it was quite too comfortable and forced himself back to his feet. If he were going to be on guard, he would have to forgo the comfort. It wouldn’t do to fall asleep on his first day.
Not that anyone had asked him to guard the boys, but he had been born an owl, after all, and he was quite used to staying up all night. It would be interesting to see how he could fit sleep into his schedule. As an owl, he used to sleep twelve hours a day, though after contracting lycanthropy his need for sleep was greatly diminished. At the moment, he didn’t feel tired at all, though he was still a bit sore from the fall.
As he silently paced the room, he thought about all that had transpired. He was a familiar now, and that entailed responsibilities or at least he imagined it did. Yet no one had bothered informing him what those responsibilities were. It seemed like everyone was just getting used to the situation, but tomorrow, he’d need to have a conversation about what was expected of him in his new position.
He felt perfectly at home in the palace, which was a bit odd, because he’d never really felt at home anywhere else. Not back when he was an owl. Not after he’d become a were-owl. This was the first time in his life he could say he felt like he was exactly where he was meant to be.
He thought about that for a long time, because it really didn’t make very much sense. The only thing he was sure of, was that he was not even on the same world he’d been born to. He’d known it instinctively at first, but the night sky had verified the information almost immediately. This world was in desperate need of extra moons. Moons were very important in his world, since the calendar had been based on their movement. He wondered if that was true of this world as well.
Kalutu hadn’t learned about calendars until he had become a lycanthrope, and they had seemed like some arcane science to him. Calendars were wonderful. They allowed you to keep track of events over long periods of time. But since he had not had that knowledge prior to learning about them, he had no idea when anything had occurred before that point. He didn’t even know how old he was. Thus his discovery of calendars ended up being both bittersweet and world changing.
And this new circumstance had been world changing as well, literally and figuratively. He had been in the woods, in the middle of a hunt, tracking his quarry as best he could without the ability to fly. Hunting on the ground felt wrong, but it was all he had. And then, just as he had taken a step forward expecting there to be solid ground beneath his feet, he had fallen out of the sky and onto Prince Eric. As painful as it had been, it had been even more humiliating.
And somehow, in that moment of transition, he had known who his masters were, and that he was no longer on his world, though at the time he hadn’t realized he was in Prince Eric’s dream. He would need to find out more about that too. Could he go into Prince Eric’s dreams now? He didn’t think so. Kalutu would have scowled if beaks could move that way. He really didn’t know very much, and he’d have to correct that as soon as possible. He needed to know enough to at least be useful.
He had assigned himself the job of protecting Dahr and Prince Eric, but the palace had guards and so he probably wasn’t needed for that. After all, the princes had lived here for many years without him guarding them, and they seemed just fine. He was an unneeded last line of defense. At least he hoped that he would be unneeded, because he didn’t have training in arms. This whole situation was so frustrating.
So, list of priorities for the next day. Find out what he needed to do as a familiar. Find out if there was a way he could improve his knowledge base. Question everything until he had enough knowledge to be useful. At least he had a plan, even if it wasn’t much of one, but it made him feel a bit better.
Throughout the night, he would pause at each door and listen carefully, making sure the boys were breathing peacefully. If he’d anything but a beak, he’d have smiled. At long last, he’d finally found purpose to his existence.
Fifth Day of Learning 1142 — Battle Song
Early the next morning, after far too little sleep, King Terrence instructed a servant to summon his sons for breakfast in his chambers. Treya had woken early and found somewhere else to break her own fast, which he appreciated. The burden of this confession fell on him and him alone. He wasn’t looking forward to the conversation the situation had forced on him, but he also didn’t want the boys to hear the truth from anyone but him.
While he waited for them to arrive, he sat reading reports he’d received from as far away as Death’s Doorstep. Some had taken quite a long time to reach him, which meant the information in them was already outdated. He tended to read those sooner, since waiting would have made them even less useful than they likely already were. It was always good to know what neighboring kingdoms were up to and in one case, even a distant kingdom.
The men and women who penned these reports weren’t exactly spies. They were people who kept an ear to the ground for interesting information. If he could gain a trade advantage or a strategic one, it was worth the time and coin it took to keep the reports coming in. Information was currency, and you could never have enough currency.
At length, both breakfast and the boys arrived. Terrrence wasn’t particularly pleased to see Kalutu with them, but that was doubtless something he’d need to get used to. It was hard to think of the owl-man as a familiar and not just some stranger who had followed the boys home. He had to keep reminding himself that Sheba herself had somehow sent this stranger to watch over them. It would be awkward for a while, but he’d get used to it.
There was much ado about sitting and serving before servants disappeared and everyone began eating. There was fresh baked bread rolls, an assortment of fruit, breakfast pastries, eggs, honeyed ham, fruit juice and, of course, tea. The king took a moment to put sugar in his tea, put down his spoon, looked around the table and spoke.
“I know you probably have a lot of questions about Dahr being my son. I’m here to explain to you what happened, and how it happened, and I’ll answer any questions I can.”
Dahr had just taken a spoon of porridge, but he swallowed quickly and spoke first. “How did you meet my mother?”
“I’ll get to that in a moment, Dahr, but first, I’d like to explain how you came to be.”
Prince Eric rolled his eyes. “Dad, we know where babies come from.”
“Yes, but that’s not exactly what I was talking about. You understand that though you’re brothers, you’re really half brothers. Dahr has a different mother than you do.”
Prince Eric shrugged. “I just sort of figured you’d lain with someone while you were off to war.”
King Terrence’s jaw dropped. “What?”
“I mean, it was sort of obvious you were his father, since he looks a lot like you.”
Dahr smiled and jumped in. “When I used to be down in the kitchens, before I was Prince Eric’s servant, the women used to talk about it when they thought I was sleeping. Everyone thought you were my father, though no one would ever say it in front of you.”
“Everyone?” the king asked. This conversation was not going the way he’d expected. “So you both figured out that Dahr was my son, and that I’d been with another woman?”
“Well sure,” said Eric. “There’s a lot of adultery at court. It’s not like guards don’t speak about it when they think we’re out of earshot.”
The king grew serious. “You understand though that I broke my vows. That’s not all right.”
Eric gestured with a piece of fruit he’d speared with a knife, instead of using his fork. “We know, dad. It’s not good that you did it. We get that. But Maynor said that sometimes things like that happen.”
“About me?” asked the king, incredulously.
“No, about Lord Elnor and one of the palace servants,” said Eric.
“Lord Elnor lays with a servant?” The king couldn’t help himself.
“Would you like to know which one?” asked Dahr.
“No!” said the king too quickly. He was rapidly losing control of the conversation.
“Look,” he continued, before the boys could further interrupt his train of thought. “During the war, I was seriously injured and out of action for a period of weeks. A widowed innkeeper allowed me to stay at the inn and convalesce. She was lonely. I was in pain and aching to get back to the fight, but my body wouldn’t let me. We…comforted each other. We both knew nothing would come of it.”
“But something did come of it,” said Eric, looking pointedly at Dahr.
“Well, yes. I supposed something did at that.”
“So what did you think of her?” asked Dahr.
The king paused for a moment to gather his thoughts. “She was quite pretty. She worked hard. She was determined, which to run an inn by herself in a war torn kingdom she’d have had to have been. She was intelligent and, as I said, lonely. But she was a good woman.”
“Did you love her?” asked Dahr.
“No,” said the king. “And she didn’t love me either. She and I were both world-weary adults, who knew whatever comfort we could derive from each other during a very bad time would be very short-lived. It would have been foolish for either one of us to fall in love.”
Eric shook his head. “You can’t choose who you love, dad.”
“You’re right. And I was in love with your mother.”
“Then why did you stray?” asked Eric.
And there it was. Out in the open. The one question he really didn’t want to answer, yet he refused to shy away from it. “It was wrong. I was weak, and frustrated, and injured. My men were out there fighting without me. In some cases dying without me. But I wouldn’t have been much help in my condition so I just lay there, in an inn, waiting till I healed.”
Eric looked confused. “Didn’t you have access to healing potions?”
“I had taken the best healing potion I could get, and it saved my life, but no healing potion could have completely healed the damage I suffered. I should have died… that I didn’t was a miracle.”
“So you were on death’s doorstep in Death’s Doorstep?” asked Eric, eliciting a chuckle from Dahr.
“In fact, I was, though there was nothing funny about it to me. Coming that close to death in a place where there was even a chance I would rise as the enemy…”
The king shuddered, remembering. Both Eric and Dahr watched him, respectfully allowing him time with his thoughts. Finally, he continued.
“I had a lot of time on my hands, and during the war, the inn wasn’t really that busy, so Cora had a lot of time on her hands too. We got to talking, and talking became interest and attraction. But it was still wrong. I still shouldn’t have done it.”
“Are you sure?” asked Eric. “I mean, Dahr wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t.” Before the king could answer, Eric had another thought. “How did mom find out?”
“I told her as soon as I came home,” said the king. “It was bad enough I had broken our marital vows. I wasn’t going to compound that by keeping it from her.”
“Was she mad?”
“She was more reasonable than I had any right to deserve. She asked a few questions and barely ever brought it up again. And it was she who insisted we take in Dahr when Cora got sick.”
“I miss her,” said Dahr, wistfully.
“I know,” replied the king. “I wish things had been different. I know she loved you very much, Dahr.”
“She spoke of you, you know.”
The king looked surprised.
“She did. She never said it was you, she just said you were a soldier. She didn’t tell me you were injured though…or married. She said you were a good man, and that when I grew up, she hoped I would be like you.”
King Terrence looked thoughtful, and took a moment to remember. “I’m sure you’ll make her proud. I know you’ve made me proud.”
He glanced at Eric to see if there was any jealousy or resentment there, but there was none. Eric’s eyes shone as if the king had been talking about him.