Walking into the room Neal had to pause for a moment. He should have been surprised that it would all end in the study of all places… but he wasn’t. Nothing his father did anymore could surprise him. The man himself was standing at the expansive window, his back to his rebellious son.
“We didn’t expect you to make it this far, Neal.”
Neal didn’t go for his sword still hanging in its sheath on his hip. This wouldn’t be a duel of steel, it would be a duel of wits. At least until Neal was close enough to use a dagger. The study was too enclosed to offer its services to a sword fight. Perhaps that was part of the King’s plan. Nevermind that all the rest of those plans had failed.
“I had help, sir.”
Raymond, King of Raanan, turned then to gaze sadly at his only son. “We have done everything for the good of Our country. Do you think that We’re worthy enough in Our wrongness that you would endeavor to strike down your own family? Your father?”
“Did you hesitate when you gave the order to lock up Lavena? Did you even realize my fiance was bound for your dungeon? If you wanted to protect this country so badly, then you should have started caring about her people. You’ve become a boil on my land, and I will not suffer your existence any longer.”
The King laughed. His chuckles grew into guffaws and he clutched the window frame to keep from falling over. When he had himself back under control, his vague smile stayed. “You are a fool, Neal. You think these people will let you rule? They’ve blinded you of the truth of the world to turned you into a puppet. They will kill you once We are dead. You have no sister, and you have no lover. They are demons in the flesh of women. Those that We cared for are long, long dead. We’ve been trying to save the great and needy people of Raanan from the demons. Our goal is noble and necessary. If you kill Us, you commit treason, and nothing will be left for you but the demons.”
“If I don’t kill you, I’ll hang for it. I’m well aware of my punishment if I fail. If the people who love me end up killing me because I wronged them? It will not be for ridding them of you.”
“If you don’t kill Us, then we will be lenient. We will let you take your own life. It is a kindness, you see, for a traitor like you.” The smile vanished and the King’s eyes grew mad and hard. “A kindness to not have you drawn and quartered, We think. For that is what We wish to see.”
Neal touched his side where the bandages held him together and winced, unless he settled matters soon, he’d wake up just as he was pulled apart. Getting an arrow to the side was never a good time, getting one right as you storm a castle? Even worse. His damp hand told him just how much dashing through the castle had cost him. If he could just get to a Healer, he would be fine. The sooner the better.
“I can’t let you leave this room alive, sir,” he said.
Raymond sighed like a man roused out of bed to squash a spider. “Come then, and We shall see who leaves alive.”
Neal dove in under the sweep of his father’s saber, thanking his goddess that he had been taught knife play by the miscreants his sister called family. He didn’t want to make this man suffer, though the King deserved it. No, Neal simply wanted to end it all and put the civil war to rest.
The older man was unnervingly fast with his weapon, but the ex-prince was more agile and danced out of range, before gracing Raymond with another slice on delicate skin. He cut away to weaken the man, to slow him down, biding his time for the finishing blow.
With sweat from exertion dripping into both sets of wary eyes, Neal found peace with his decision at last. This wasn’t his father anymore, but a murderous madman to be put down. Cold calmness stole into his veins and froze his heart as that last stroke opened the Crazed King’s throat from ear to ear.
Liam staggered through the halls, lost but unwilling to rest until he found his way out. Kin had told him directions as the troll had continued freeing captive mages from their bonds. Yet, with a mind that felt like it was filled with lead fog, the Firestarter hadn’t made sense of anything Kin had spouted. He’d just nodded and retreated, looking to find help. As he turned another of the seemingly endless corners, he came across a body. Ever the scavenger, Liam didn’t hesitate and stooped down to see what poor soul he’d found. After all, if they had gold, they didn’t need it anymore.
It was a little disappointing when he rolled the body over and found the young man alive. Even more, the mercenary fought down his instinct to walk away and let the man bleed out, because it wouldn’t do to have their new king die before the bastard could even be coronated. With hands that still felt like ice, Liam patted the young noble’s cheek, frowning when he had to do it again.
“Rise and shine, your lordship. Ain’t the time nor place for a nap, ye get?”
Neal struggled to get his eyes open. “I realize that. I’m just…”
Liam slapped the other man’s face. “None o’ that. I don’t think my King would like it if I left her favorite pet to die. So, get yourself upright and I’ll drag your scrawny ass out of here, mister noble, sir.”
“Goddess, Cath has people everywhere, doesn’t she?”
“Aye, but I don’t expect my King planned on my being in the dungeons. Do you?” Liam responded, grunting as he pulled the young man to his numb legs. Neal blanched, either for the fact that he was trying to stand, or for the fact that there were people locked up somewhere, Liam had no clue. But it made the mercenary feel better all the same. “Kin, you know that bastard, eh? Kin, is gettin’ folk lose. I’m to find help. Now you get to help me look, eh, yer lordship, sir?”
“Indeed. Take a left up here.”