From the tower window, Rathan peered at the rabble far below him. What with their angry shouting and burning torches, he found the angry mob scene much too cliché for his tastes. Did not anyone have any sense of originality any more? Still, his whole orchestration had worked marvelously, there was no denying that fact.
He turned away from the window and back to his stately, ornate desk. It brushed his mind that soon he would transcend this dreary office and move on to a more stately set of quarters befit a king. The thought brought a smile to his face.
A knocking sound on the door wiped the grin from his lips. While he was fairly certain that his spies had stirred up the populace against Cedric only, he would do well to be cautious. One didn't trust what one could not fully control, and no one could ever claim to fully control the machinations of a population out for blood. He stepped behind his desk, opened a drawer, and laid his hand on the stock of the contained crossbow. The weapon was out of sight, but no less ready for use.
“Enter.” He called at the door.
The hinges squeaked as the portal opened. A stick of a man entered the room. He looked delicate and sickly, the sort that would topple in a stiff breeze. It was all an act, Rathan knew well. This delicate little man could easily slaughter the kingdom's best and brightest. And, hopefully, had just come from doing precisely that.
“Well, Jace?” Rathan queried.
A sigh escaped Rathan's lips, which he punctuated by wearily taking a seat behind his desk. He steepled his fingers; his eyes peered over the created mountain of flesh to stare at his underling. This was not the news for which he had hoped.
“It was that healer, the one they brought in from outside the regiments. Catherine.”
A short silence settled between the two men as Rathan probed his memory. He had to confess that he had paid little attention to the wretched girl. Who would have thought that the little minx would have something like this in her? It was a curious mistake on his, and everyone else's, part.
“The same.” Jace said with a nod. “She must have suspected that this would happen. She had an escape route, supplies and transportation at the ready. Once our men riled up the mob, she grabbed Cedric and they made a clean break from the castle.”
The news whet the appetite of his curiosity. Who was this alien girl and how had she managed to outwit his best and brightest? Somehow, he doubted that Jace would be in a position to provide satisfactory answers.
“She made all of those preparations and you never realized her intentions?”
Jace stiffened at the question, bringing a fair amount of satisfaction to Rathan. The choice of pronoun there had been quite deliberate. If there were any question about who was going to receive the blame, they were now firmly settled.
“We had no reason to watch her.”
Rathan was where he preferred to be: on the offensive. He smiled knowingly as he continued: “She was Cedric's personal attendant and healer, I would think that that fact alone would create cause for investigation. Did you think to research her at all?”
“Enough to determine a basic background. The Marquess Rupe brought her to the castle a year ago and when Cedric fell in battle, Rupe made her his personal attendant.”
“Curious.” Rathan admitted while allowing this information to lubricate the gears of his mind. “I wouldn't have thought Rupe the slave-owning sort. I have to wonder if Cedric, our great and just Paladin of the Sword, was aware of this fact.”
“We don't have that information, yet. We're trying to determine if Rupe had a hand in Cedric's escape or no.”
“Yes, well, while it is saddening that Cedric managed to escape our clutches, this is at least one of those happy times when the truth needs no twisting to support our purposes. Quickly, have our men set the rabble against Rupe. He's always been Cedric's largest proponent. He'll be an easy target. Have him killed.”
The mask of Jace's impassive face actually slipped to reveal a gape of astonishment.
“Sir, alive he can answer questions. Dead, we may never know--”
“I'm aware of the risks. Rupe may know where Cedric has gone. On the other hand, he may not know. Regardless, this is a rare opportunity that is quite fleeting. If we move tonight, we can cut Rupe down and be done with him. Once the riot has run its course, however, we will have a much harder time eliminating him without rousing suspicion.
“No, we must keep our eyes on the goal: the crown. Cedric is gone and can no longer oppose me. If I am to become king, then I must remove Rupe as well. Fate has handed me a kind opportunity. I intend to make use of it. Besides, I have other, more accurate, means of determining where Cedric has gone.”
“And those would be?”
“Not for your ears. Not at this time.”
Jace was quiet for a moment. Rathan could all but see the mental cogs and gears turning as Jace worked out what was to be done and how to do it. The man was efficient, Rathan would grant him that. He also knew when not to press his good fortune. Finally, Jace nodded.
“It will be done.”
“Good. That will remove one more unnecessary pawn from the chessboard. Is there anything else that you have to report?”
“Not at this time.”
“Good, man. Dismissed.”
Jace turned and left the room, closing the door behind him. Rathan sat back in his chair and studied the situation. He turned it over in his mind, examining it from every angle. He needed to be careful. The end game was rapidly approaching, and with its arrival came the temptation to relax and loosen his guard. He could not. He had come much too far to falter at the end.
Once he was satisfied with his own thoughts, he stood and closed the drawer containing his emergency crossbow. A few steps carried him back to the window; he took a long, hard look down at the mob. He smiled. Those poor fools. They had no idea that their every thought and action was nothing more than the result of his manipulation.
Cedric may have eluded his grasp, but Rupe would be easy pickings. The chaos that resulted from Rupe's demise would upset the natural order of the Council. The Council would probably institute martial law for a few days, which would only slather salt on the wounds of the people. Especially, if some 'accidents' were to happen to the people's food supply.
A little political positioning to then show himself as a friend of the people and you had all of the ingredients of a revolution and quick kingship. It was wonderful.
His smile faltered. There was still one loose end to be sown: Cedric. Despite his earlier words to Jace, Rathan had no intention of letting that man off the hook. Once he was king, he could easily deal with that nuisance. But first, he needed to know where the man had run. There was one person who could tell him that... and she was due to arrive at any moment.
“Are you there?” He whispered as though not trusting his own voice with the words.
Several seconds of silence passed. He tried again.
“Are you here?” He repeated, louder this time.
Again, silence was his only answer.
“Eryne!” The word left his lips in a scream. “Answer me!”
Immediately, he felt the presence of someone else in the room. He whirled about to find the shadows of the opposite corner parting. A woman dressed in white emerged from, seemingly, nowhere.
The tension within himself immediately fled. Rathan felt his shoulders relax of their own accord.
“I am here.” Eryne's voice reached his ear. “What do you wish to know?”