DargonZine F10, Issue 3

Worthy of the Title Part 1

Melrin 1013,


This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Worthy of the Title

A frantic, far-away echo shattered the quiet of the library. “Master Roisart, Master Roisart!”

 

The panic in the voice caused Roisart to snatch his gaze immediately from the copy of “Legends and Myths of Thasodonea” and stared instead at the open doors of the library. He could hear commotion down the long halls of the old keep, the doors that opened and shut in quick, startled rhythm, the running of the servants called from duties, the wails and shouts. Over it all, he heard the call still, ghastly and ghostly, frightened and far-away. “Master Roisart! Master Roisart!”

 

Young Roisart stood, raced across the room. What has happened? the young nobleman wondered, concerned. Has a war come to Dargon? Although the library was a great room, Roisart soon reached the opened double doors and called out, “Here I am! What is it?”

 

The heralding servant who been wailing his name slid to a stop and then turned to his master. Fright and despair on his face, the servant rolled his eyes and cried dramatically,”Oh, Master Roisart, go quickly to the study. The baron is dead!”

 

Roisart paled and his eyes bulged, as if he had suddenly been stuck in the stomach. “Dead? The baron dead?” But he cannot be dead! He is healthy, and only five and forty! Quickly, Roisart demanded, “Where is my brother?”

 

The servant gulped the tears he wanted to shed and replied sorrowfully, “He is in the study, master. He has sent for you.”

 

With a quick wave, Roisart dismissed the near-blubbering servant and rushed with all his youth and strength to the study, the office of the baron–the late baron. His blood beating in his ears, he threw open the heavy door and cried, “Luthias! What has happened to our father?”

 

The face that met Roisart’s was the same as his own: the deep brown eyes; the straight, aristocratic nose; the smooth, well-defined jaw; the pinkish lips, usually merry with smiles, now twisted with grief. Roisart’s twin looked him in the eye and said, slowly and solemnly, “Roisart, our father is dead.”

 

“Dead?” denied Roisart scornfully. “Dead how? Father is young. He has never been ill–”

 

“Roisart,” repeated his twin brother Luthias deliberately, “our father is dead.”

 

“But what could kill our father?” demanded Roisart. “He’s as strong as a horse.”

 

“No, Roisart,” sighed Luthias, falling heavily into the padded chair behind the desk. “The horse was stronger. Sit.”

 

With a reluctant grimace, Roisart came into the room and sat in another padded chair, the one that faced his father’s desk. Memories of his father crowded his thoughts. There was that time that he and his twin Luthias, very small boys, had squirmed in this chair as their noble father scolded them for some forgotten offense. And the times that they had brought their school books in here to study and be near their father. And the time when their father had lifted them both on his strong shoulders to look at the lion’s head that hung on the wall. His father was a strong man…

 

“What do you mean,” blurted Roisart, “the horse was stronger?”

 

“Dragonfire threw him. Father’s neck was broken.”

 

“Dragonfire?” gasped Roisart. “But, Luthias, Dragonfire is the best trained stallion in the stables! Father trained him himself! I remember! And Father–Father is the best horseman alive! There is no way that he could have been killed in that way!”

 

Luthias closed his eyes. “Roisart, there is no doubt that Father is dead. I have seen the body.” He opened his eyes again, stared at his brother. “Do you wish to?”

 

Roisart quieted a little. He kept Luthias’ gaze a moment, then looked at the carpeted floor. “No, Luthias,” he replied in a muffled way. “I want to remember him living, not dead.”

 

His father truly was dead. “But it wasn’t the horse,” he murmured.

 

“What does it matter what it was?” wondered Luthias, almost snapping. “There are matters to be attended to. The body must be prepared and buried by sundown, as is the custom. I have called the priests.” Luthias then waved at a fine piece of parchment on their father’s desk. “I am trying to find words to tell our cousin, Lord Dargon, of this. And I’ve sent for Manus.”

 

Roisart gave his twin a quizzical look. “Manus the Healer? Why?”

 

Luthias shrugged. “Father deemed his wise, and so do you, my brother. And there must, for the next five days, be a regent.”

 

Roisart quieted and nodded. “Yes, a regent,” he agreed. He had forgotten for a moment that there were five days between this day, the third day of Melrin, the Spring Festival, and the third day of Yule, when he and Luthias would reach the age of majority, twenty-one. Only then would they be old enough to rule the barony in their father’s place.

 

“Luthias!” Roisart gasped urgently, “Which of us shall inherit?”

 

Luthias scowled with old ferocity. “Accursed be that midwife who neglected to note which of us is elder!”

 

“You can’t blame her. Mother was dying, and she was trying to save her.”

 

“She’s caused us more problems–and Mother died, in any case,” snapped Luthias. “And now there is no way to decide who is to rule.”

 

“I often told Father that he should choose one of us,” sighed Roisart. “But he wanted to wait until we were twenty-one, until he thought we could both accept his choice.” Roisart thought for a moment. “Could he have left some will?”

 

“I don’t know; I didn’t even think of that,” Luthias grumbled. He began to rummage among the papers on his father’s desk. By the time that Luthias started to search the desk’s drawers, Roisart was lost in thought once more. “Damnation!” cried Luthias in frustration. “Nothing!”

 

“It couldn’t have been an accident,” mumbled Roisart. “Father was too good a rider, and Dragonfire too good a horse.”

 

Luthias slapped the desk in anger. “Roisart, haven’t you been listening? One of us is soon to become Baron of Connall, and with no indication of which of us Father wished to rule in his place. None at all!”

 

“No papers?”

 

Luthias shook his head. “Unless there was some other place he kept them.”

 

“Do you have the key to the locked drawer?”

 

“Yes, and I’ve already looked. Only the seal and the proclamation that made him baron of Connall.”

 

“Nothing at all, then,” murmured Roisart. “He never even had a favorite between us.”

 

Luthias smiled affectionately at the memory. “It was a point of honor for him,” Luthias agreed. “He let each of us be who we are, and loved us both equally for it.” He scowled then. “But it gives us trouble now. How are we supposed to determine which of us shall next be the Baron of Connall?”

 

“We have no proof of first-born,” Roisart began his analysis. “And we have no proof of favoritism. On that, we are agreed.” Roisart looked his twin brother in the eyes, the eyes so like his own. “Luthias, we have never been able to lie to one another. Tell me, then. Do you wish to rule in our father’s place?”

 

Luthias gave his brother a look of consternation. “Rule?” He appeared to be thinking of the possibility for the first time. “I had always assumed that you would rule. You have read so much more…”

 

“True, but Father made certain that we both were learned enough to rule well,” Roisart argued. “And you are so much better a fighter than I.”

 

At this, Luthias smiled, almost wickedly. “Don’t underestimate yourself, Roisart. I wouldn’t want to fight against you.”

 

“Thanks,” Roisart replied almost ruefully. “But answer me, twin. Do you wish to rule?”

 

Luthias let the possibilities roam his mind, then said, “I will if I must, Roisart.” His voice was strong, calm, and even, as if Luthias were older than his almost twenty-one years. “But I have no great wish to be a Baron and rule.”

 

Roisart sighed like a man beneath a heavy stone. “Nor do I, my brother. Nor do I.”

 

“It must be decided, Roisart,” Luthias stated. “And it must be decided soon.”

 

Roisart mentally sought possibilities. “We could gamble for it. Cast dice…”

 

Luthias stared at his brother with surprise and disbelief, and when he saw that Roisart was completely serious, Luthias began to laugh. “Oh, Roisart, thank you. What would I do without you? In the midst of grieving a father and trying to solve a dilemma that has plagued us throughout our lives, you and only you can make me laugh.”

 

Roisart wrinkled his brow and looked at his twin brother in a confused way. “But Luthias, I meant it. We should cast dice.”

 

Still smiling, Luthias continued. “I know you meant it, Roisart, and that was what I found amusing. Cast dice? Would that hold any authenticity before the court? You’ve got to be more practical about things like this, Roisart.”

 

“Practical? Authenticity?” stammered Roisart in mock indignance. Even in grief, his twin could still make him play. “You wish practicality and authenticity, my brother? Then why don’t we just go to our cousin lord Dargon and let him decide? What more authentic and more practical solution could you want? We should let our Lord decide, and save ourselves the trouble.”

 

“That,” Luthias agreed, “is the wisest thing you’ve said in a week, Roisart.”

 

“Then I’ll have the horses saddled,” Roisart offered as he rose from the chair.

 

“Have you forgotten that our father needs yet to be entombed?” Luthias asked with stern gravity.

 

Roisart started. He had forgotten. In that golden moment, when he and his brother had teased each other, when everything was like it had been before, Roisart had forgotten. Now, the knowledge came back like a stinging boomerang. His father had died.

 

“There is much to be done,” Luthias softly said.

 

“You do it, then,” Roisart urged his brother, thoughts of their father’s death ruling out all else. Luthias watched his twin sympathetically while Roisart buried his head in his hands. “No,” mumbled the young nobleman.

 

Luthias left the desk and went to his brother. He put a hand on Roisart’s shoulder. “No?”

 

“Our father did not die,” Roisart declared with passionate conviction. His head flew from his hands, and Luthias, startled, moved backwards. “And I’m going to go and find what murdered him!”

 

Murdered! His father was dead! The knowledge screamed inside him for release, for action. And there, in the study, Roisart cried out like a small boy and began to weep. And Luthias, the practical one who knew that crying for a dead man was useless, put his arms around his beloved brother, and, as they had done all things in their life, they wept for their noble father together.

 

***

 

Roisart adamantly insisted on riding his father’s prized stallion Dragonfire to Dargon, despite the grooms’ warnings of evil spirits. Roisart, though he believed in a spirit world, scoffed the very idea and declared above the fearful projections of the grooms that he would ride his father’s horse, damn it, and that was that. Luthias, too, scorned the idea of evil spirits possessing his father’s steed, but watched his twin with worried eyes. After all, that strong, red mount had thrown their father yesterday to an unexpected death.

 

And Roisart had been behaving strangely. Yesterday, just after the twins jointly mourned their father in the privacy of the old study, Roisart had burst out of the keep’s gates, taking with him a groom, the groom which had accompanied the twins’ father on his last ride. No, the young lord hadn’t been acting desperate, the groom had told Roisart, just a wee strange. They had gone back to the scene of the death (there was still blood on the new grass), and Lord Roisart acted as a hound on the hunt, dashing here, darting there, rummaging through the brush. And when they had returned, Roisart, withdrawn, had refused to speak to old Manus, who had just arrived for the funeral, and didn’t even deign to speak to his own twin. After they had entombed their dear father, Roisart returned to normal–as normal as a grieving son could be–but still, Luthias worried.

 

Luthias motioned the protesting grooms to be silent. “We have a right to ride our father’s horse,” Luthias told them gently. With another wave, he dismissed them. When they had gone, he asked, “Twin, are you all right?”

 

“Yes, I… I just wanted to ride him. He was Father’s favorite.”

 

That was true, and it was for good reasons that Dragonfire was the late Baron’s favored horse. Luthias admitted to himself the incredibility of his father dying on horseback, especially that particular horse’s back. He didn’t press the issue. Instead, Luthias gazed up at the dark, pre-dawn sky. “We should get moving.”

 

Roisart nodded, and motioned for the brace of guards and a manservant to urge on their mounts. Stately, but not lethargically, the party moved forward toward Dargon.

 

It wouldn’t be a long trip, thankfully. The earliness, on which had decided the night before, would shorten the trip more. Besides, the brothers had no wish to try to wade their good horses through the crowds which would be soon flooding the roads on the way to the Melrin festival. And neither wanted to deal with the curiosity and pity of a peasant crowd seeing twin noblemen dressed in mourning blue.

 

Yes, it was best to get to Dargon early. The earlier the better; the earlier they arrived, the sooner their cousin Clifton Dargon could decide, once and forever, which of the two was worthy to be Baron of Connall. And the sooner that was decided, the easier both twins would feel.

 

The little band moved ahead, each of the members buried in thought. Luthias looked at his twin, and knew that Roisart was still wondering how their father could have died like that. Concerned for his brother, and, indeed, what had happened to his father, Luthias, too, considered, and kept turning his head to watch his twin.

 

After about an hour–halfway to Dargon–Roisart caught his brother’s eye and almost smiled. “Father always taught us that the good fighters live long. It still makes me–”

 

Roisart felt something hit him hard, and at once found himself on the hard, startling ground. For a wild, wicked moment he thought it was true: Dragonfire is a mad horse and he threw my Father!

 

Then he saw before him the sly-eyed, leather-clad man who held a steel knife sharpened to the point of beauty. Then he heard the manservant’s cry, “Masters! Thieves!”

 

Roisart erupted from a form lying prostrate in the dust to a poised warrior. It took him only a moment of squinting in the half-dark to take in the situation: seven thieves, all dressed in tooled leather armor, all armed with swords and knives. And the near darkness which made the counting difficult worked to his advantage and Luthias’; it was easier to see the light brown of leather than the blue of mourning in the pre-dawn light.

 

Luthias had already taken the battle and his good sword into his own hands. Instinctively, Luthias was battling a brigand on one side of his horse; the opposite foot automatically kicked at another oncoming thief. Without blinking from the divided effort, Luthias continued to thrust and parry, to swirl his sword in the darkened air against the severely outmatched thief.

 

Roisart heard the dull, weighty footfalls of an charging thief and poised himself for the fight. Using every instinct his father had branded onto his brain, Roisart the warrior side-stepped the thief’s attack and thrust his blade into the peasant’s back. Blood from the spurting heart sprayed him once, then subsided.

 

Abruptly, his breath was stopped, and there was a terrible weight on his back. A mighty snake constricted his throat. His eyes bugged; in the shadowy light, he saw the manservant’s head explode into pulp. One of them must have a crossbow, he thought. Angry and desperate, he flung the assailant on his back toward the ugly sight. As the first beam of dawnlight reached him, Roisart plunged his sword into the second thief.

 

Two thieves were fencing with Roisart’s brother, and trampling a dead comrade beneath their feet. Kick one, stab the other, quick, parry, Luthias! But Luthias was fast, well-trained. Roisart scanned the area. One of the guards was dead. The old manservant was dead. The other guard was ineptly trying to beat off the remaining two that plagued him.

 

Roisart sprinted to his servant’s rescue, screaming a frightening but meaningless sound that masqueraded as a battle cry, and swinging his sword above his head. Roisart saw his guard fall in seeming terror, saw a thief fall from his bloodied blade, chased the one who tried to run away.

 

But he was tripped, and fell onto one of the thieves’ dead bodies. His face flopped onto the fatal wound received by his guard. Warm blood gently blushed his cheeks. Like a man suspended in a dream, he watched as the fleeing scoundrel was joined by another, and together they ducked into the shadows of the woods.

 

Winded, Roisart lie still and gazed at the corpses.

 

“Roisart!” A voice was calling him. He heard the careful steps of a well-trained horse. “Roisart! Are you all right?”

 

Good Luthias. Roisart scrutinized the leather, the blade, the corpse. He managed to draw a breath and speak. “These are too fine for common brigands,” he croaked.

 

Luthias rolled his eyes and groaned internally. “We’ve got to get out of here, Roisart! Two are on their way to get others. Are you hurt? Can you ride?”

 

Meticulously, Roisart pulled himself to a sitting, then standing position. Luthias saw the blood on his brothers face and paled. Frantic, he began to dismount. “No, I’m all right,” Roisart assured his brother, holding up a hand to stay him. “Don’t worry, twin. It isn’t mine. I’m all right. I’m not even bruised. I can ride. Luthias, look at this.” He bent and retrieved a sword. “Look at this. These were no common thieves, Luthias.”

 

Luthias whistled at Dragonfire, who neighed once and came quickly to Luthias’ call. “Quickly, Roisart. We must get to Dargon before they can return with more.”

 

Graceful as a acrobat, Roisart vaulted onto Dragonfire’s waiting saddle. “Luthias, this may not be–”

 

“Never mind!” Luthias interrupted harshly. “Let’s leave this place, before we’re butchered! Come!”

 

Spurring their steeds, the twins raced to the city of Dargon.

 

***

 

The Lord of Dargon’s hardened guardians of the Keep considered screaming or fleeing from the terrible apparition which confronted them first thing in the morning on the fourth of Melrin. A red horse and a black one, both in a lather, scattered a few early travelers from the road as they charged up to the gates of Dargon Keep. Upon the horses were twin death-riders, dressed in death-blue, with faces out of nightmares. The grisly visage of the one on the red mount was streaked with drying blood; the countenance of the other was a horrid purple on one side, deathly pale on the other.

 

But the sergeant had long been a veteran, who had just joined the company after returning from the wars where he had witnessed many deaths. Death, even delivered by death-riders, inspired no fear in him. “Who comes, in the name of Dargon?” he demanded boldly.

 

The one upon the black horse, the one with the mockery of a harlequin face spoke, and his voice was as loud, as bold, as fierce, as the sergeant. “I am Luthias Connall. He–” One apparition motioned to the other. “–is my brother, Roisart Connall. We have come to see the Lord of Dargon. Admit us!”

 

These ghostly horrors, sons to the Baron of Connall? The guards muttered their doubt amongst themselves. The sergeant scrutinized them. The blood and the bruise made recognition near impossible, and he had never seen the sons of Connall, only the Baron himself. “You are unfit to see the Lord,” snapped the sergeant.

 

“When are men unfit to see the son of their father’s brother?” Roisart shouted angrily.

 

“Admit us,” demanded Luthias fiercely. “It is urgent!”

 

“What is happening here?” asked another voice. Luthias and Roisart exchanged glances and expelled a simultaneous, relieved sigh. Bartol, bard and personal body guard to their cousin Lord Dargon, had arrived, thanks to the gods. Neither twin wished to argue with this new sergeant all day.

 

Bartol saw the double terror before the gate and stared at the twins for a moment. The gaze was intense, searching for a clue to identity beneath the defacings of the previous scuffle. Then Bartol ordered, “Admit Masters Roisart and Luthias–now.”

 

The sergeant turned away, giving the twins a look askance. “Do as he says,” he grumbled.

 

Reluctantly, the guards opened the heavy gates, all the while muttering amongst themselves. Bartol bowed at the noble brothers as the urged their exhausted steeds into the courtyard. “Grooms!” called the bard. Two lads–hardly old enough to be called grooms, Roisart thought–ran forward to lead their mounts away.

 

“See they’re brushed and taken care of,” Luthias ordered sternly. He dismounted as if he were aching all over.

 

The so-called grooms mumbled affirmations and led the tired horses away. Bartol looked after them and then turned to the brothers. “Masters, what has happened?”

 

Roisart appeared pensive; Luthias scowled. “We must see our cousin, Lord Dargon.”

 

“He’s not yet risen, but I shall call him,” promised Bartol. He looked quickly around the courtyard. “Nidh’r,” he called to one of the servants unloading a wagon filled with new tables, “come show Master Roisart and Master Luthias to the study.”

 

The strong youth that was Nidh’r joined the twins, then led them through the familiar halls of Dargon keep to their cousin’s study. Often, the twins had played in this Keep, when their father and his brother, the late Lord of Dargon, were both alive. After that, when the twins were young men, and Clifton Dargon, six years their senior, had become lord, Luthias and Roisart had accompanied their father to the Keep for balls, banquets, and other affairs of state and society.

 

It had been nearly six months since they had been here, though; snowy, treacherous roads halted all noble society gatherings for the winter. But when the Melrin festival came, all the festivities began again with the Melrin Ball, sponsored by Lord Dargon himself.

 

Nidh’r bowed the twins into the study and seemingly melted into the castle. Too weary to fall into chairs, Roisart and Luthias rested on their feet a moment, waiting for their cousin.

 

“Roisart and Luthias?” they heard suddenly. Their cousin’s voice was muffled by the door in back of the study. “Of course, they’re here, Bartol. The ball is tomorrow night. They and mine uncle are supposed to be here. What do they want to see me so early for?”

 

The door in the back of the study opened in one, swift movement to reveal Lord Clifton Dargon, who stopped short and stared at his cousins. They, too tired to speak, returned the gaze. They saw Clifton, Lord of Dargon, yet another version of themselves. Clifton’s face wore a startled expression, but otherwise, he looked alike enough unto the twins to be their brother. He stood taller, however, perhaps due to his greater age, and the fairy which had brushed the twins’ dark hair with a bit of auburn had neglected their cousin. But the eyes were the same, dark, and full of concern.

 

“My god,” the Lord of Dargon finally said, “what befell you two?” Clifton stared at their faces. “Are you all right? Bartol, call Griswald.” The bard crossed the room, and stuck his head out the door. Dargon continued his inspection. “Roisart,” he continued, gazing at the neckline of the one twin’s mourning clothes, “you look like someone hung you and slit your throat. You had better sit down. Luthias, what happened to you?” The blue of the clothes finally washed over Dargon. “My god!” he cried. “Who are you mourning?”

 

“Father,” Luthias announced stoically, “died yesterday. Dragonfire threw him.”

 

Suddenly, Dargon’s face went white. Bartol, at the door, began to laugh. “Dragonfire threw your father? Your father, who almost invented horsemanship?” Bartol gasped between guffaws. “Come, masters, I know that jesting is a great part of Melrin, but you could have at least thought of something more credible.”

 

“That’s just it, Bartol,” Clifton said with a note of doom in his voice. “If it were a jest, my cousins certainly would have come up with a more believable story than that. And they wouldn’t appear here in mourning clothes stained by blood.” The Lord of Dargon looked from one twin to the other. “Someone assassinated your father. And it looks like they tried the same upon you.”

 

“They weren’t common thieves who attacked us,” Roisart agreed. “Their weaponry was too superior for that. And I rode Dragonfire here. He’s still the best stallion ever trained.”

 

Dargon nodded. “Yes, Roisart. It’s absurd to think that your father was killed on horseback.”

 

“But it isn’t practical to think him assassinated either,” Luthias contended. “Why would anyone want to kill our father?”

 

“Probably for the same reason that they’ve been trying to kill me,” sighed Lord Dargon. “Luthias, sit down, before you collapse. Bartol, get some breakfast for my cousins.” Bartol nodded and slipped out the door. Dargon stared at Luthias until the portal shut again. “What happened to your face?”

 

“One of the bastards threw a rock at me,” Luthias quickly brushed the bruise away. “I’m all right.”

 

“And I was lucky enough to be covered with someone else’s blood instead of my own,” Roisart told his cousin. “But this isn’t important. How long have people been out to assassinate you, Clifton?”

 

Dargon shrugged and fell into his chair. “A few years. We’ve been unsuccessful in tracing it.” He grimaced. “I had feared for your father, as he was my heir.”

 

“Did Father know of this?” Luthias wondered, finally sitting.

 

Again, Dargon nodded. “Of course. I wouldn’t keep a thing like this from him. I set great store upon your father and his advice, and I needed it badly at the time.”

 

“We were never told,” Roisart informed the lord. “That isn’t like Father.”

 

Clifton smiled. “Not like him? Roisart, remember, you were only sixteen? seventeen, perhaps? when this all started. To your father, you were still boys. I wanted to have you told, but your father refused.” The Lord of Dargon again became grave. “It appears that I was correct in thinking that you, cousins, were also in danger. And now, that your father is dead…”

 

“Yes,” began Luthias “Now that father is dead, we have a problem.”

 

Clifton Dargon nodded. “I shall have to send some body guards to attend you. You’re not safe.”

 

“Clifton,” Luthias’ voice insisted on attention, “there is no Baron of Connall. We don’t know who is the elder, and Father didn’t have a favorite. We have six days–you have six days–to appoint a Baron. Manus is regent now, but we become adults soon, Clifton, and this must be decided quickly.”

 

“I can’t put one of you in that sort of danger,” Dargon declared. “I won’t do it. You’re in peril enough already.”

 

“Clifton, it must be done,” Luthias reminded him roughly.

 

“Listen, Luthias,” the Lord of Dargon requested politely, but with a hard edge in his voice. Roisart realized that his cousin must have been feeling very frustrated. Here Clifton’s uncle were dead, probably because he had been Dargon’s heir, his own life was in peril, and he had no idea who was seeking to end his life and why. And now there was Luthias. Roisart understood his cousin’s exasperation. Luthias could drive one to distraction by just looking at the surface and acting.

 

“Listen, Luthias,” Dargon began again, “if I name one of you Baron of Connall, I’m sentencing you to death. Any favor I show either of you will get you killed. You’re my heirs now, and whoever killed your father, whoever is trying to kill me, may also try to kill you. If I give proof that I think one of you is more worthwhile, you’d be struck down in an instant, and the other of your would be set up as a puppet in their plans–whatever they are.”

 

Dargon paused and took a heavy breath. “And I have no wish to pit you one against the other. Decide yourselves.”

 

“Decide ourselves?” Luthias echoed, incredulous. “Clifton, how are we supposed to know who would be a better–”

 

Luthias and his twin twisted as the door behind them opened. Lord Dargon looked above their heads. “Ah. Griswald. Good. Come in, and attend to my cousins.”

 

The old physician, his hair still unkempt from sleep, shuffled into the room and dropped a leather case of sorts. He looked at each of the twins, then turned his attention to Roisart. “What happened to you two?” he grumbled, examining Roisart’s bloody brow.

 

“We were attacked by brigands,” Roisart explained. “I’m all right, Griswald. It’s their blood, not mine.”

 

Griswald crossed over to Luthias then and turned the young lord’s head towards him. “Hmmm,” he fussed. “Nasty. I can take care of that though.” He stooped, opened his case and fumbled in it. “What’s the mourning for? It’s Melrin.”

 

“Our father died yesterday,” Luthias told him simply.

 

Griswald appeared to flinch, or to shudder. He quickly looked Luthias in the eye, then turned back to his bag and began fumbling again. In a moment, he gave a gruff, mumbled, “Sorry.” Then: “He was a good man.”

 

“Thank you, Griswald,” Roisart answered kindly, although he thought the eulogy sounded a little grudging, or angry, perhaps.

 

Griswald stood quickly, a little vial in his hand. “Here, youngster, this way,” he beckoned Luthias. The term annoyed the young nobleman, a nice cream to his anger. But he turned, and Griswald poured some of what was in the vial onto his hand. Then he gingerly began to rub it into Luthias’ bruise. “You be careful now, lad,” he said gruffly. He turned abruptly to Lord Dargon. “He’ll be all right. I’m going back to bed.”

 

Without a dismissal, Griswald turned and left, slamming the heavy door behind him.

 

“What’s wrong with him?” Luthias wondered, trying to crack a smile. His face was already beginning to feel better, and the violet hue was fading.

 

Dargon shrugged. “He’s not usually this cranky when we wake him. I would think that a physician like him would be used to it.”

 

“Perhaps something is ailing him,” Roisart speculated. “Or something is weighing on his mind.”

 

Clifton shrugged. “God knows. Griswald rarely speaks.” He looked at his cousins. “You know you are welcome to stay here with me. I was expecting you for the festival. And you will come to the ball.”

 

“You would think that civilized custom would give us more time to mourn our father,” Roisart complained angrily.

 

“Life goes on, Roisart,” Luthias said. “And so must we.”

 

There was a knock on the door. “Yes?” asked the Lord.

 

“It’s me, sir,” Bartol called.

 

“It’s all right,” Dargon answered. “Come in.”

 

“The cook will have breakfast ready for you and the young lords shortly,” the bard informed them, entering and shutting the door. “The south dining room is being prepared.”

 

Clifton nodded. “Thank you, Bartol.” To his cousins, he said, “There have been rooms prepared for you down the hall. Why don’t you refresh yourselves and change clothes before we eat?”

 

Luthias rose and stretched. “Good idea, Clifton. Roisart?”

 

His twin stood as well. “Coming. We’ll meet you there, Clifton.”

 

Bartol and Lord Dargon watched at the twin nobles left the room. The bard shut the door behind them and turned to his lord.

 

“I want a watch kept on my kinsmen, Bartol,” Dargon ordered. “See to it personally. I’m certain that, being here, they’ll go out into the festival. They may be in danger. I don’t want them harmed.”

 

“It will be done, my lord,” Bartol answered.

 

***

 

A strange rhythmic knock sounded at Griswald’s door. Hastily, Griswald turned from his work–ruining it in his hurry–and opened the door. There stood that Lek Pyle, the despicable merchant that had threatened Griswald so many years ago to join this insane plot against the Lord of Dargon.

 

“You killed Fionn Connall,” Griswald accused.

 

“Of course I did,” Pyle snapped. “Do you think I want him to be the Lord of Dargon after we are rid of Clifton? He was too strong.”

 

“And now what do you do?” the physician challenged. “Now there are twin heirs. Which shall die and which shall live?”

 

Lek Pyle displayed a wicked grin. “I’ve already decided that, my dear Griswald. I’ve had them watched. Their guardian, Manus, has already told me what I want to know of them. When we rid ourselves of Clifton’s menace, we will dispose of Luthias Connall as well. Like his father, he is too strong, and not wont to listen. The other–Roisart, is he?–is also quite a strong young man, but he will listen to arguements, and it will be easy to trick him into convincing the King to go to war with Bichu.”

 

Griswald felt angry, uncomfortable. “What now, then? When do we end this insanity, Pyle?”

 

“Soon, dear Griswald, soon,” Lek Pyle vowed. “Tommorow, at the Melrin ball. I’ve already arranged for two crossbowmen. They will be here tommorow afternoon. I need you to mix poison, quick poison, for the bolts.”

 

Griswald’s discomfort turned to near sickness. Was he to poison one of the men he had just healed?

 

Pyle saw the near-ready protest in Griswald’s eyes. “Do it, Griswald. Remember,” he threatened through his teeth, “your life is in my hands.”

 

As it had been from the beginning, Griswald remembered with bitterness. He turned to the worktable. “It will be done.”

 

Lek Pyle smiled. “Good.” The merchant looked intensely satisfied. “Now, dear physician, I must leave. I, too, attend the ball.” At Griswald’s surprised expression, Pyle added, “Did you think I would miss my triumph?”

 

The merchant left the keep laughing.

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