Bannen Rothowar Sr., current ruler of Tel’Aran, sat stoically at the head of the large, intricately detailed marble table in Council Hall. The hall was dark and empty, save for a few candles and his most trusted advisor, Mordet Tamond. The candle light wavered unsteadily as Bannen raised his cup to his mouth, tasting the warm sweetwine left from the assembly held earlier in the day.
“Must you sit at the Ardeum chair, Mordet? There are plenty of other seats available,” Bannen gestured grandly at the dozens of empty seats about the table, his voice sardonic.
“I don’t see the problem, sire. Absolutely no one is going to barge in this room and demand that I return their seat,” Mordet replied, smiling through thin, pale lips. He poured himself a cup of the room temperature wine and relaxed back into his seat, cradling his vessel and examining it as if it were very interesting.
“I suppose you have a point there. The heirs of that family will never forgive me for what I have done, I suppose, regardless of my intentions. To the kingdom,” Bannen said sadly, lifting his cup and drawing a long drink from it.
“To the kingdom indeed, my lord.” Mordet nodded and sipped his own drink.
“So have you any news from the Ardeum house?”
“It has been taken care of my lord. Do not trouble yourself any further with such matters. We must focus on current events, after all.”
“Current events, of course. First though, have you been well? You still bear the patch over your eye, and your attendants told me you had been ill the last week.” Bannen eyed the man curiously in the dark, a measure of concern across his hardened features.
‘The infection in my eye seems to have ruined it, I am afraid. The patch stays, unfortunately. As for the past week, I have been a bit weak. I believe I ate some undercooked fare at the The Silver Sword.” Mordet arched his eyebrows and adjusted his patch uncomfortably.
“The Sword eh? I have always enjoyed the beer there. Can’t remember sampling anything else, however.” Bannen cleared his throat and changed the subject. “Have you heard anything further from Awrisia and Turoth? The fools they sent us to ‘represent’ them say little and know even less.”
Mordet smiled and sat forward. “I have the best men working on it, sire. They are trying to conceal the fact that both the armies of House Dynan and Corbett were marching to defend Ysthera when it fell. So far there is no further talk of opposition, and the soldiers have all gone back to their homes.”
“Neither of those Houses have sent their leaders to bend the knee to me either,” Bannen stated matter-of-factly.
“Nor do they intend to, sire. Rumor has it that Lord-Knight Burke Dynan and Lady Della Corbett are waiting.”
“Waiting for what?” Bannen asked curiously.
“For your empire to fall apart, sire. They believe that in time the people will grow to hate you for the way you took power, and that they may be able to sway an ally of yours, or two.”
“Fools. A few more years of senile Ardeum rule and things would have been much worse. Are you aware that Mathair was actually trying tobantechnological advances?”
“Of course, milord.”
“Ah yes, it was you who brought that to my attention, after all. In any case, the people will soon see that they are in safer, more capable hands. We will need more than our failing magicks if Yser’s Wall ever comes down, or if the Osyrans ever land upon our shores.”
“Indeed.” Mordet sipped his wine cautiously, then continued to speak. “There is one matter to discuss, sire.”
“Yes?” Bannen poured himself another cup of wine.
“Have you thought to relent upon your son?”
Bannen sighed. “Aylan is a confused child. I know the situation I left him in was quite precarious, and that is very regrettable. I should have him released from his confinement, I suppose. I should talk to the boy.”
“Confinement, sire?” the advisor queried, with a confused look of seemingly feigned ignorance upon his face.
“Yes. Do you not remember that I had him confined to his quarters?” Bannen sat forward, a questioning look upon his face.
“The last I heard of it, you had him sent away, exiled to the family hold in Delinash.”
“I most certainly did not,” Bannen spat angrily, his deep set green eyes flashing wide. “That boy is to stay here and learn how to become a king if it kills him. Or I kill him.”
Mordet sat silently, as if surprised.
“He is still here, isn’t he?” Bannen asked, his eyebrows furrowed with anger and worry.
“I will check, milord.”
Bannen stood, finishing his latest cup of wine with a long quaff and tossing it to the side. “If he isn’t here, find out who let him out and where he went, dammit.” He paused, thinking. “Spare no expense, I want that boy back here.”
“And in one piece. Of course, sire. I will see to it immediately.” Mordet hid a thin-lipped smile as he followed the king out of the quiet, candle-lit Council Hall. They parted ways just down the long hall, Mordet heading in the direction of Aylan’s bedchambers, and Bannen heading to his own. The day had been long and full of incessant political bickering, and Bannen had heard quite enough. He needed a glass of something stronger than wine and a good night’s sleep, and he aimed to find both shortly. Mordet, however, had different aspirations for the rest of the evening.
The king’s advisor did not bother to stop at Aylan’s chambers. He exited the castle itself and headed for one of its sister structures, the barracks of the city’s armies. He nodded to the guards as they let him pass, and immediately went up a spiral flight of stairs and knocked on the first officer’s door.
“It’s late, who is it?” A gruff voice asked as Mordet rapped on the door.
“Open the damned door, Stane.” Mordet barked.
The door swung open. The stout, hairy inhabitant was wearing only a towel, and he looked more than a bit upset about the intrusion. He was of a medium height, with a small nose and knobby ears. He ran the fingers of his free hand through his thinning brown hair and adjusted his towel as he spoke. “You know, a man might have something going on at this point in the night.”
“Wipe that sullen look off your fucking face, Stane, or I’ll rip it off.” He glowered with such anger that the short hairy man actuallycowered.
“Sorry, sorry. I was only joking around, that’s all.”
“That’s all.” Mordet looked at him one more time, and then seated himself in a wicker chair nearby. “I’ve not been in the mood for games this last week, Stane. Watch your step, or I’ll see that you lose everything I’ve seen fit to grant you this last year.”
“I’m sorry, master.”
“Indeed.” Mordet toyed with his long black hair, considering his next words. Then as if remembering something, he snapped his fingers. “Send the wench out.”
The stout man winced, trying to hide his displeasure. He complied, speaking loudly enough to be heard in the adjoining room. “Andra, time to go. Now.”
A buxom young blond woman hurried from the door of the bedchambers, clothed only in a bed sheet and carrying a bundle that must have been her clothing. She murmured a short protest as she passed Stane, but he gave her a hard look and she continued on out the door. The stout man looked at her wistfully look as she disappeared out of the doorway and bounced down the hallway. Mordet was sure that he had just cost Stane a small fortune. Entertainment that good looking surely did not come cheap.
“The king has recently ‘discovered’ that his son is missing.” Mordet declared, wasting no time.
“Took him long enough.” Stane replied derisively.
“I had to tell him, actually. The damn fool might’ve never known.” Mordet sat forward, sighing, with his head in his hands.
“Why would you do such a thing?” Stane was clearly shocked.
“Because that damned boy has something I want, you fool. I don’t have him anymore, and I need that son of a bitch back.”
“What can I do?” Stane asked, taken aback.
“I managed to get you into a position of power over a good portion of the King’s army. Did you not think I would still require something of you?”
“Of course, master. I did not mean it that way.”
“The king will undoubtedly send out search parties once he finds that Aylan is not in Delinash. I want you to have one of our men in each one of them, to make sure that I get to the brat prince before the King does. Once my powers return to me completely, I may be able to locate him myself, but until then I need to be sure he will see me before his father. Understood?”
“I will do everything I can, master.”
“See that you do. And send for Croth. I need him again.”