Artem?’ A stern voice from behind Artem made him pull away from Rowena.
‘Oska, how can help you?’
‘Sorry to interrupt your moment but I need to inform you of an incident that happened last night. Someone broke into a house, unauthorized, and stole a wooden jewellery box containing several valuable bits of jewellery. All my men say that they are not responsible and your men are the only other skilled thieves here.’
‘What are you suggesting Oska? That my men robbed a house just for a jewellery box?’
‘Well I can assure my men were all here last night.’
‘Can you confirm that?’
‘Yes. I was with them downstairs and was the last one up to bed, Ena here was with me.’ Rowena nodded hastily confirming Artem’s story.
‘And you were here all night as well.’
‘Yes,’ Artem lied.
‘Well that’s strange,’ Oska said, slowly getting closer to Artem until they stood chest to chest. ‘Because I had a witness who could have sworn he saw a man fitting your description climbing out of the building in question with a small wooden box under your arm.’ Artem was unable to reply and Rowena looked up at him in shock.
‘Is this true Artem? Is that what this is?’ She looked down at the locket in her hand. Suddenly she felt dirty, accepting stolen goods from a thief. Her father would die of shame if he knew what his daughter was getting mixed up in.
‘Of course not,’ Artem replied quickly. ‘I would never give you something that was stolen.’
‘Then where did you get it from?’ Oska said confrontationally. ‘If you didn’t steal it then you won’t mind telling us where you got it from.’ Artem stood silent, fighting internally about what to say to Oska. Should he tell the truth or lie? Unfortunately Oska was an impatient man, and Artem’s time ran out. ‘By your silence I’ll assume that you are guilty and I order you to leave my lands immediately.’
‘But the boarder with Fersere is over a week’s walk away.’
‘That’s not my problem,’ Oska said calmly. ‘You broke your promise to me as my friend. You knew you were breaking the strict rules of civility between our two nations, but you went ahead and did it anyway. And for that I can no longer consider you my friend.
‘You are no longer welcome at my court and I do not want to see you here again, do you understand?’ Artem nodded. ‘Good. Now get out of my sight before I have to throw you out.’
‘Your majesty,’ Artem pleaded, taking hold of Oska’s arm. ‘Don’t act so hastily, if I tell you the whole story-‘
‘It will make no difference on my judgment. You knew the rules and you’ve lost your chance Artem. Now you have to deal with the consequences. Now let go of me.’ When Artem refused to let go of Oska’s arm, both Artem and Rowena were suddenly surrounded by men, pulling them away from their king. Even in her panicked state, Rowena still managed to notice the daggers that sat sheathed on the belts of the guards. But Artem had no fear of the daggers, struggling against the men who were restraining him.
‘Oska,’ Artem called out, making one last attempt at trying to reason with the king. ‘I implore you to see reason and let me explain.’
‘I am the King! You have lost the right to call me by my name. Now get out!’
Across the room, Rowena saw Ishak standing with the rest of the men, all of their belongings, and probably Artem’s and Rowena’s as well, in their hands. He had obviously overheard what was going on, gone upstairs to warn the others and packed up all their belongings in double quick time.
‘Please,’ Ena whispered to Artem, just loud enough so he could hear. ‘You aren’t going to solve this now. Let’s go and you can send diplomats later when things have cooled off. Please, I don’t want a fight.’ Artem’s shoulders relaxed and the guards let him go. ‘Thank you,’ she breathed, as the guards loosened their grip on her as well.
She carefully coaxed Artem, whose eyes were still fixed on Oska, to the other side of the room. When they had reached the others, Ishak took over, handing Rowena’s bag to her. The group left the deathly silence of the inn and escaped onto the street.
‘We’ll have to go a different route,’ Jem said, pulling out a map from his bag. ‘Fersere’s boarder with Lyria is too far north to reach in a few days and I don’t think Oska would look kindly on us staying in his country for longer than possible.’
‘But he can’t possibly know where we are all the time,’ Rowena said plainly. ‘How will he know if we head north to the Ferserian boarder?’
‘Kings have spies everywhere,’ Ishak said softly, trying not to be overheard, ‘especially those who rule over criminals. Oska will already have men waiting to track our every move and report back to him.’
‘We’ll have to head north west to find the boarder with Madrimar and then follow the main road there until we reach Peria, then find our way to Fersere so we can return our fair maiden,’ Jem said, tracing the route on the map with his finger. ‘Does anyone have any objections?’ When no one replied Jem packed away the map and took the lead at the head of their group.
It seemed that news had already got out among the court community. The group got lots of funny looks from strangers as they walked down the street. Rowena was very glad when they were outside the town walls and on their way again. At least out in the open it was less obvious that they were being watched.