Quenching the Thirst
“Tell me.” The command was spoken by Konstans to his brother’s chamberlain, Arion.
“Other lords have received the same summons. King Rainier is gathering his troops in Fontaine,” Arion explained. They were meeting one cold morning in the dragonlord’s study, some weeks before the Raven Days and while Godfrey was still journeying to Middanhal from Hæthiod.
“Anything at all to indicate the king’s plans?”
“There is no unrest anywhere in Ealond to quell. While many of his vassals demurred when he took the throne, none have openly defied the king.”
“Herbergja,” Konstans mumbled. “The kings of Ealond have an unhealthy obsession with that city. Rainier must know that he cannot hope to conquer, let alone keep Herbergja without a fleet stronger than what Thusund can muster.”
“The king seems to believe otherwise.”
“What else have you learned?”
“Nothing more about Ealond,” Arion replied with regret. “I am waiting to hear from your reeve in Hæthiod. I do bear news from the south.”
“Rumour in Plenmont is that King Adelard seeks to marry Arndis of House Arnling. He is sending his army into Hæthiod to assist Sir Adalbrand as a token of this coming union. Your reeve sends this.” He placed a letter upon his master’s desk.
Konstans leaned back in his seat, frowning. “I wondered what kept Adelard asleep for so long. Everything falls into place now,” he considered. “Adelard strengthens his claim by marrying another dragonborn. He combines his army with the Order forces in Hæthiod, led by an undefeated commander. When these two, king and knight, march into Middanhal to lay claim to the Dragon Throne, who can oppose them?”
“But they cannot both take the throne,” Arion reminded his master. “Is it the king or the knight who seeks to be crowned?”
“It does not matter to us,” Konstans countered. “Either way, we will be an obstacle to be removed.” He exhaled through gritted teeth. “It is obvious now. These dispatches spreading the news of Adalbrand’s victories. He is laying the foundation for his treason.”
“The Order, Korndale, Ealond,” Arion muttered. “It does not bode well.”
The dragonlord of Adalrik sat quiet for a while. “I must take action. Tell the envoy from Belvoir to come see me in a few days,” he instructed the chamberlain. “Return to me afterwards. There is much we must attend to.”
A few hours later, Konstans entered the royal wing. The kingthanes noticed his approach, but did not hinder the dragonlord, and he was allowed straight access to the parlour by the royal chambers.
“My prince,” Konstans greeted Hardmar while inclining his head. “May we speak in private?”
“Lord Konstans,” the prince spoke affably. He saw sitting down with a cup of wine in his hands, evidently in a good mood. “Leave us,” he commanded, causing Berimund and another kingthane to vacate the room. “What brings you here?”
“You recall that I promised to watch Adalbrand in case he became a threat,” Konstans reminded him. “I have recently learned that he has joined an alliance with the king of Korndale.”
“An alliance? What for?” Hardmar frowned.
“The king will wed Adalbrand’s sister, tying them together. The king’s armies will march to Hæthiod, where no doubt the treasonous knight will take command of them. Given that his father died a rebel in Heohlond, it is no wonder that the son follows the same path.”
“I knew it!” exclaimed Hardmar. “He has always coveted my crown. He must be stopped!”
“I have a plan to do so,” Konstans explained. “Adalbrand is beyond our reach in Hæthiod, surrounded by Order troops. He must be lured to Middanhal, isolated.”
“How can that be done? Since he plans treachery, he will be wary of anything we do,” interjected the prince.
“As atheling, Adalbrand has a seat in the Adalthing. If it is convened to discuss unrelated matters, he will have a reason to come to Middanhal. Furthermore, the protection of the landfrid will make him feel safe and not suspect anything.”
“Clever,” Hardmar granted. “Some of the nobles may grumble that we break the landfrid and seize Adalbrand, but as a traitor, the king’s peace does not extend to him regardless.”
“I have no such intentions,” Konstans exclaimed, sounding almost shocked. “If we break the sacred peace of the Adalthing, every member will turn against us. We need the Adalthing to formally declare Adalbrand a traitor, but if we imprison him while he is under the protection of the landfrid, the noblemen would see him freed purely out of spite if nothing else.”
“Are they fools? Why would they protect a traitor?” Indignation overflowed in Hardmar’s voice.
“Because if the landfrid protects a traitor, it also protects them,” Konstans explained impatiently. “I have a better way. The peace only extends two weeks before the Adalthing assembles. We simply make sure Adalbrand arrives in Middanhal earlier than that.”
“I see,” Hardmar remarked doubtfully. “How will you accomplish that?”
“Trust me, my prince, as your dragonlord. Solving such problems is my responsibility.”
“Very well,” the prince declared. “Accomplish this, and you shall have my utmost satisfaction. My dissatisfaction will be of equal measure, should you fail.”
“That will not happen,” Konstans claimed tight-lipped. He gave a curt nod and turned on his heel, leaving with speed.
While Konstantine sometimes sought out other young noblemen at the court for games and merriment, living in close quarters with his family meant that his evenings were mostly subdued in nature. The Red Hawks, who by now kept watch over most of the Citadel courtside, had furthermore been instructed to ensure the dragonlord’s son stayed out of trouble. Because of this, Mathilde was rarely disappointed when seeking out her son in his chamber.
“Konstantine,” she called out as she walked inside. Unlike other times when she visited him, her voice was heavy.
“I am here, Mother,” he answered, looking up from his bed.
“Sit up,” she told him, and when he did so, she sat down next to him. “Konstantine, my son, you do not seem content.”
“I have nothing to complain about,” he told her. “It is dull here, but so would Valcaster be, or Uncle’s house if it had not been burned down.”
“I mean discontent with your lot in life,” Mathilde elaborated, prompting confusion to spread across her son’s face. “As your mother, it is my task to remedy that. I have spoken with your father, and we have devised a solution.”
“You spoke with Father?”
She nodded. “There is something very simple you can do, which will thrust you out of the shadows and into your rightful place again. I have arranged everything, but I need to see you take action yourself. Your father needs to know you deserve this.”
Mathilde took out a small flacon from inside her clothing. “Tonight, Valerius’ nurse will sleep heavily. I have seen to it. Myself, I promised Alexandra to stay with her in her room. She sleeps poorly of late.” The woman gave a smile. “This is for you.” She thrust the small flask into Konstantine’s hand.
“I do not understand,” he said confused.
“Tonight, you will not be disturbed. None will be awake. Go into Valerius’ room and let these drops fall into his mouth.”
“What on earth for?”
“To prove you are my son,” Mathilde told him harshly. “To prove your father worthy. Do you think he is satisfied having an idle son, lying about all day?”
“But what will this do?” Unease overflowed Konstantine’s face.
“It will set things right.” She grabbed his chin with her hand, staring directly at him. “Are you a child still, my son?”
“No, Mother,” he mumbled awkwardly through her grip.
“Do this, or do not expect to be part of our family,” she told him as her nails dug into his cheeks. She relinquished her hold on him and stood up; despite her short stature, she seemed imposing in comparison to his seated position. “Tonight. Do not disappoint me,” she impressed upon him. As she left, he stared down at the flask that was clutched in his hand still.
It was long past the hours when the dragonlord gave audience, yet he had a visitor nonetheless. Jerome of the Red Hawks sat in the seat opposite Konstans’ desk, staring at the nobleman with either curiosity or suspicion in his eyes.
“I am told you are the kind of man I need,” Konstans declared.
“That depends on what kind of man you seek, milord,” the heathman replied.
“I need someone who will do exactly as I say, no matter what it is, no matter what it takes. Who is motivated by coin more than anything.”
Jerome raised an eyebrow. “Usually, lords want loyalty first and foremost.”
“I am practical. I have more gold at my disposal than anyone else in the Seven Realms. I find it hard to trust a man who is loyal merely by his honour, but a man loyal to gold, that man I can trust,” Konstans explained.
“There’s reason in that.”
Konstans took out a heavy bag that filled out his hand. “We will start with silver for now. This bag is yours if you accomplish a task for me.”
Jerome eyed the coin purse greedily. “What do you need done, milord?”
“Tonight, I want you to sneak into my brother’s bedchamber. As a Red Hawk, you should have no trouble getting there, and my brother sleeps alone.” Konstans retrieved a small flask with his other hand. “He always has a cup of wine standing by his bedside. Pour this vial into the wine without being noticed by any. Return to me by morning for your payment.”
“What’s in it?”
“If you get paid, does it matter?” asked Konstans.
“No,” the other man admitted. “Why not do it yourself, milord? You have easier access than anyone.”
“He is my brother. It should not be done by my hand.”
Jerome licked his lips. “And after I do this, should I expect to find my own wine someday spiced in the same manner?”
“If you leave no trace, what reason would I have for that?” Konstans hefted the coin purse in his hand. “Enough questions. The choice is yours. Do you want the coin or not?”
“Aye,” Jerome answered and extended his hand to take the vial. “I’ll do it.”
As night fell, the interior of the Citadel became quiet except for the occasional kingthane, Hawk, or Order soldier walking rounds or relieving a comrade from his post. In her chamber, Valerie woke. She reached out to grab a cup standing by her bed only to find it empty. With an annoyed look, she got out of bed and left her room. She stumbled around in the darkness of the hallway until she reached one of the parlours and found a pitcher. Filling her cup, she took a hearty draught. Only then did she look back at the corridor she had come from, and the sight of frail light made her frown.
Walking towards it, she saw that it came from Valerius’ room; the door was ajar. She peered inside. The small chamber had an alcove, from which snoring sounds were emitted; the child’s nurse was fast asleep. The boy himself made no sound; he was lying in his cradle. Sitting next to it, holding a candle, was Konstantine. The young man sat on the floor with one hand on the child’s bed, gently rocking it.
“Konstantine,” Valerie whispered. “What are you doing in here?” She stepped inside, closing the door behind her.
“He was making sounds,” Konstantine explained. “I was just rocking him to help him fall asleep.”
Valerie took another step to stand next by the cradle and touched the boy’s cheek with her hand. He stirred a little but continued sleeping. “He seems fine now,” she told Konstantine, sitting down next to him. “You can probably go back to bed.”
“I will stay,” he declared, staring at the empty door. “Until morning. In case he needs me again.”
“There is kindness in you,” Valerie said affectionately. “You should show it more often.”
“Perhaps.” He paused. “What is it like, now you have a brother?”
“Konstantine, I have always had a brother,” Valerie admonished him. “You and I grew up as close as siblings. Granted, I disliked you the first year or two when you did nothing but cry, but you have grown on me,” she grinned.
“That is good.” He gave a faint smile. “It is good to have family.”
“He is lucky,” Valerie said and nodded towards the sleeping Valerius. “Lucky to have you as his older brother. All the things you will teach him when he grows up.”
“Yes,” Konstantine spoke. “I will take care of him,” he promised, staring at the closed door.
Close by, a Red Hawk moved through the wing occupied by the House of Vale. He walked past the empty rooms belonging to Valerie and Konstantine, he heard the sounds of Alexandra and Mathilde sleeping in the former’s chamber, he passed Valerius’ room with its closed door. At last, he reached the innermost quarters. They were not locked; this location was deep inside the wing with many guards between here and the rest of the fortress. The door opened obediently to the mercenary’s touch, and he walked inside.
In the bed slept the jarl of Vale, the richest and most powerful man in Adalrik. A cup of wine stood nearby. The Hawk took out a small vial and poured its contents into the goblet; then he tucked the empty vial inside his garments. Within few moments and without causing a sound, Jerome was out in the hallway again.
Leaving the wing, he eventually came across a few of his fellow Hawks making their patrols. “Seen anything?” they asked.
“All’s quiet,” he told them. “My watch is over. Time for me to get some sleep.”
“Lucky,” one of the Hawks said enviously.
“Very lucky,” Jerome smiled.