“No. You are my one of my brother's guards. Tell me first why you're not with him, or rather why he's not here with you!” Demanded Curstov.
The guard looked down as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other. Then he looked up, pleadingly at Curstov, and began again.
"Sir, what I have to impart is of themost seriousnature and I must tellyou onlyandnow. Please come with me." And without waiting for Curstov to reply, the guard walked around the corner of the castle and over to the garden shed. Curstov paused for a moment, watching the guard as he stopped at the door of the shed and motioned to Curstov to quickly follow.
With half a second's consideration, Curstov went after the guard.
The guard knocked once on the door and a second guard from inside opened it.
“After you Sir.” The guard said ushering Curstov and Martin inside and closing the door behind them once they entered.
The garden shed was surprisingly large but ill lit. The only light came from the cracks in the wood panels of the wall. That was also the only source of fresh air once the door was closed; and the room was humid and smelled of dirt and fertilizer.
“Now, tell me what this is about.”
“As you know, we are your brother’s personal guard, we never leave his side.”
Curstov glanced around the garden shed as if expecting King Richard to spring out of the shovel cupboard.
“Where is he exactly?”
“As of late your brother has taken to traveling through the Faeried Forest and as of late…well he’s not wanted our company.”
“Has he sent you away?” Curstov demanded. “You have orders not to leave his side!”
“He ran away one night--”
“When! And you let him--”
“He wandered into a clearing and he was shot!”
“What?! Shot? By who and where is he now? Who--”
“He is dead Sir!”
Curstov froze, his face contorted trying to hold back emotion as the realization of the news began to filter beyond his initial shock. The room waited silently. Martin stepped closer to Curstov and placed a hand on his shoulder, offering the silent comfort of an old freind.
“If he ran away from you, how do you know he is dead?” Curstov demanded, fighting to keep his voice level.
The guard nodded subtly to his companions, they stepped forward stopping at a lawn table over which was a draped a sheet of navy silk. Each man grabbed a corner of the table and moved it from the center of the room. Hidden under the table was a long coffin cut from blackened forest trees.
“No!” Curstov cried his voice breaking as he rushed over to coffin sliding onto his knees as he reached it.
“Curstov!” Martin cried rushing over to his side a look of fear and concern on his face.
“He was shot by a poisonous dart.” The guard stepped forward offering the lethal weapon in a small wooden box.
Curstov ignored the offering; instead he placed his hands on the coffin's smooth cover and pushed it off. The top slipped to the floor with a loud clatter, revealing the stone white figure of his brother, the King. With the exception of a strange lavender pallor that lingered just beneath his skin's surface, the King looked as if he was slumbering peacefully in a fitful sleep.
Curstov stared down at the motionless face of his brother with a mixture of sadness, horror and ironic amusement. He reached down to feel his brother’s face like some stunned dreamer confronted with a reality that only touch could confirm. Curstov closed his eyes as his fingers brushed against the cold flesh. He remained very still as he spoke.
“How—how did this happen?” He struggled to form the words.
“We don’t know. When we realized he was gone, we searched and we found him already dead from his wound.”
“How could you let this happen?!” Curstov growled, his eyes snapping open, fierce with a vengeful fire.
“Curstov. Control yourself.” Martin hissed cautiously.
“We believe it was on D’Aramitz' order.” The guard said.
“Can you be sure of this? What makes you think thus?” Martin asked seriously.
“Whoever it was, was a trained assassin; I know that much from the weapon that was left. There was no way it could be from the savages in the forest.”
“Who else knows of this?” Martin asked.
"We've told no one. Not even all of The King's company is aware of the state of affairs. We came directly in person to speak only with the Prince, as we do understand the potential danger of such information falling into the wrong hands." The guard replied solemnly.
“Thank you good sirs, could you give us a moment please?” Martin asked, resting his hand gently upon Curstov shoulders, as motioned with his head for the guards to recess.
“Yes Sir.” The guards gave a respectful bow before motioning for his companions to follow him out of the shed.
“Curstov.” Martin breathed gently, as he slid down onto the floor next to him. “Are you okay?”
Curstov glanced at him his eyes glossy with tears and a little out of focus.
“I can’t go back there…I can’t continue the meeting…I—I can’t believe this has happened—how...” Curstov murmured dreamily to his hands resting on his brothers coffin.
“I’ll send someone to dismiss the others, you go up to your room.” Martin said.
“I can’t—I—he’s gone—he’s never coming back…ever…”
Switching gears, Martin pulled Curstov to his feet and began to escort him to his chamber himself.
They stumbled out of the shed and into the blinding summer heat once more. However, Curstov hardly noticed the temperature as he trudged and was half dragged by Martin across the courtyard. His mind was elsewhere, separated from his body, still trying to comprehend the death—the murder of his brother.
After making sure that Curstov was secure in his room, Martin left him in an overstuffed arm chair by an unlit fireplace. The curtains where drawn and the room was lit by a few candles scattered over the few tables in the room.
In a distracted manner, Curstov traced the patterns of upholstery on his chair with his thumbnail as he stared absently into the empty fireplace.
The door to the study opened and Martin walked back in quickly, carrying a tray of iced tea. He kicked the door closed behind him.
“How are you feeling Curstov?” Martin asked walking over to the fireplace and taking the seat across from him.
“Lord Rowling was right.” Curstov said speaking blankly to the fire place.
“Rowling? What did he say?”
“He told me I couldn’t just sit silently and not respond to D’Aramitz. I told him it was useless that D’Aramitz was a fool and nothing else. But he is a tyrant. He will take and take until someone slaps his hand! I have got to fight back!”
“Oh, hold up there a moment, what do you mean fight back? We can’t draw attention to ourselves!”
“My brother is dead! TheKingis dead!!Theykilled him! To hell with drawing attention to ourselves!” Curstov spat.
“Curstov, use your head damn it! I didn’t work all these years on integrating you into society just to have you blow it all in an emotional move!”
“Then whydidyou do it?!”
“I didn’t mean it like that, Curstov. I know you loved Richard but this is not the way to go about avenging him. You’ve got to be smart, you have to think things through. Be careful. We can avenge him and still remain in Galdah. We don’t have to blow our disguise.” Martin hissed, the last part in a very low whisper.
“Oh Martin! you’re so frustrating sometimes! My brother is dead! I will avenge him damn the cost!”
“Curstov it’ll be war. When one king is found dead in the forest, it could appear to be a hunting accident; but when two opposing kings are killed in the same proximity, then it can only mean war. That will leave you with two new kings each holding a grudge against each other. There will be a war and it will be bloody, it won’t be about magic or destroying the Faeried Forest it’ll be about pride and it won’t end until both of you are dead.”
“Martin they killed Richard how is that not war already?!”
“It is true that we must respond to these threats but you will not do itpersonally. Wewilldo it in a thoughtful and strategic manner as a kingdom.”
Curstov sighed dropping his head in his hands, the enormity of the situation crowding in on him with each passing moment.
“I don’t want to be king! I never wanted to be king…I don’t belong here and you know it.”
“The land of Galdah needs a king.”
“But it doesn’t have to be me!”
Martin sighed reaching over and patting Curstov’s arm kindly.
“Curstov, you’ve had a hard day. You've just lost your brother and you’re afraid for the future. But don’t lose faith we’ve gotten through worse, just listen to me Curstov and we’ll get through this too. We’ll fix it, you just need a bit of rest.”
Curstov nodded grasping onto Martins words like a damned man grasps at salvation.
“We’ll control it?”
“Yes, we'll control it.”