A March of Kings (Page 20)

Kendrick sat in the Hall of Arms on a long, wooden bench, seated beside dozens of his brothers in arms, members of The Silver. He studied his sword as he sharpened it. His spirits were broken. His father's passing had hurt him more than he could say. As long as he had lived, the way that the word perceived his relationship with his father had troubled him. MacGil was his true father. He knew that, deep in his heart. He treated him like a true father, and he knew that to MacGil he was a true son. His true firstborn son. Yet for the eyes of all the world, he was illegitimate. Why? Only because his father chose another woman to be his queen.

It was unfair. He had accepted his role as bastard and had played the good son out of respect for his father. He had dutifully repressed his feelings his entire life. But now that his father was dead, and especially now that Gareth was named King, something within Kendrick could no longer accept the status quo. Something inside him fumed. It was not that he wanted to be king; it was just that he wanted the rest of the world to acknowledge that he was MacGil's first born, that he was legitimate – as much as any of his half-siblings.

As MacGil sat there, sharpening his sword with the stone, again and again, making a high-pitched noise that cut through the room, he thought about all the things left unsaid to his father. He wished he had more time, wished he'd had a chance to tell him how grateful he was for raising him as one of his own. To tell him that no matter what the world thought, he was his true father, and he his true son. To tell him the words he had never spoken: that he loved him.

His father had been taken away from him too soon, and without warning.

Kendrick sharpened the sword harder, digging the stone into it, as rage rose up within him. He would find his father's murderer. And he would kill him himself. He was determined. Many suspects floated in his head, and hour to hour he pondered one after the next. The one he pondered most of all, unfortunately, was the one he was most afraid to think of. The one closest to him. His younger half-brother, Gareth.

Deep down he could not help but wonder if Gareth was behind it somehow. He remembered that meeting, Gareth's rage at being skipped over for Gwendolyn. Raised with him, only a few years apart, he knew, too well, Gareth's devious nature; as long as he had known him, Gareth had envied Kendrick, being older, being firstborn. He had viewed Kendrick as an obstacle. He felt that Gareth would stop at nothing to have the kingship.

Kendrick sharpened the sword as he pondered other suspects; there were many enemies his father had accumulated, enemies of the state, enemies he had conquered in battle; rival lords. These hit less close to home and were easier to dwell on. He hoped it was one of them. And he would explore each one. But no matter how hard he tried to think of others, again and again he found himself returning to his half-brother.

Kendrick sat back and looked around at the other Silver, all maintaining their weapons on this dreary day. The summer sun had been replaced by sudden fog and showers. The day after the summer solstice always brought great change, was always considered a day of maintenance, in preparation for the new season. It was also the day the Legion left for The Hundred. Kendrick recalled his new squire, Thor, leaving, and he smiled; he had taken a liking to the boy, and expected great things of him.

As Kendrick studied the other members of the Silver, many of them older, hardened warriors, all sitting around the table, joking with each other, all with formidable weapons, he felt grateful, as always, to be a member of their ranks. They had accepted him as a true member – and he had earned it. At first, when he was younger, he had been greeted warily; many assumed he was only here because of his father, or that he, being royalty, would look down on them. But slowly, over time, he had earned their respect; he had fought his way up, side by side with them at the hardest battles, and they had come to see he was like them. Eventually, they had accepted him as one of their own. He took great pride in that. Whenever anyone had tried to show him favor for being the King's son, he had always insisted on being treated as one of the common men. Over time, the men had come to see that he was genuine, and they had come to love him. Over many years, Kendrick knew that he had become the most loved member of the royal family – even more so than his father. He was the only one, in fact, that the Silver respected and treated as a true soldier, in his own right.

That meant more to Kendrick than anything he had done in this world. All he'd ever wanted was to be a true and respected warrior of the Silver. Looking around, he saw the respect in his brothers in arms' eyes, and could tell that many of them, especially the younger ones, were beginning to look to him as a leader. Since the death of his father, more than one of them had come up to him and expressed dismay that he had not been chosen to be king. He could feel they wanted him as their leader. But his father clearly had wanted Gwen to rule, and above all, Kendrick felt he must honor his father's wishes. That was what mattered most to him.

On the other hand, he resented Gareth's usurping the throne and worried for the future of the kingdom. Gwen was not strong enough to lead a revolt of the men. If it came down to it, then he would rather rule over Gareth, only for the sake of the well-being of the Ring. When Gwen was older and able, he would gladly hand power to her.

“What did you think of the ceremony?” asked Atme, sitting beside him, oiling down his axe handle. Atme was a fierce knight with bright-red hair and beard, from the far Eastern corner of the kingdom; Kendrick had fought with him in too many battles. He was a close and trusted friend.

“What do you think of your younger brother's being king?” he added.

Kendrick looked back at him, saw his earnest expression, and saw behind him several more members of the Silver, watching for his response. He could see in their eyes how badly they all wanted him to be King – and how anxious they were for his brother's rule. No one trusted his brother. That much was obvious.

Kendrick debated how to respond, how much to say. It was clear from Atme's use of the term “younger” that he was goading him on. What he wanted to answer was: I think it is horribly unfair. Gareth is unfit to rule. It is a disaster. He will bring our kingdom to its knees. My father never wished for this. He is turning over in his grave, and something must be done.

But he could not say this. Not to these men. Not now. He would demoralize them, and possibly cause a revolt. He had to think carefully of his next move, of how best to handle the situation. In the meantime, he had to be careful with his words.

“Time will tell the fate of all things,” he answered, noncommittal.

The men turned and looked away, nodding, pretending to be satisfied. But he knew that they were not.

Suddenly, a great crash came through the doors of the hall, and all heads turned as in rushed a dozen of the King's Guard. Kendrick was surprised that they would burst in like this, into the hall of The Silver, and that they would dare bear arms inside this hall. It was something he had never seen before. The Silver, hardened warriors, all reacted, wheeling, watching.

The King's Guard rushed through the room, a dozen of them, and as Kendrick watched, they headed right for him. They wore stern expressions, and Kendrick wondered what was going on. He could detect their urgency and at first wondered if they were coming here with a request for help.

They stopped before him and one of them, one of his father's deputies, Darloc, a man who Kendrick recognized and who had been loyal to his father for years, stepped forward with a grim expression.

“Kendrick of the Clan MacGil of the Western Kingdom of the Ring,” he announced in a formal, grave voice, as he read from a scroll, “I hereby declare that, under law of the King, you are hereby arrested as a traitor to the realm for the assassination of King MacGil.”

Kendrick's hair stood on end, and his entire body went cold.

An outraged gasp spread throughout the room, as his brothers in arms slowly stood from their seats, tense, on edge. A thick silence blanketed the room as everyone watched Kendrick for his reaction.

Kendrick stood slowly, trying to breathe, to understand. He felt as if his life flashed before him in a single moment.

Kendrick studied Darloc's face, lined and grim, and he could see that he was earnest.

“Darloc,” Kendrick said steadily, forcing himself to keep calm, his voice resonating in the dead-silent room, “you have known me my entire life. You know that these words you read are not true.”

Darloc's eye twitched.

“My liege,” Darloc answered sadly. “I'm afraid that my personal beliefs do not matter. I am but a servant of the King and I am merely carrying out what I have been commanded to. Please forgive me. You are right. I could never believe such slander myself. But my beliefs are subservient to those of the King. I'm afraid I must follow orders.”

Kendrick stared back at the man, and he could see the solemnity on his face, could see how upset, how conflicted, he was at having to be in this position. He actually felt bad for him.

Kendrick could hardly conceive the audacity of it: his own brother, accusing him of murdering their father. That could only mean one thing: Gareth was threatened, and had something to hide. He needed a scapegoat immediately, no matter how flimsy. In Kendrick's mind, that solidified it: Gareth killed him. It made a fresh fire burn within Kendrick – not because he cared about being imprisoned himself, but because he realized that Gareth was the assassin, and he felt compelled to bring him to justice.

“I am sorry, Kendrick, but I am going to have to take you in,” Darloc said, and motioned to one of his men.

As the soldier took a step forward, Atme suddenly jumped to his feet and stepped like lightning between the man and Kendrick, drawing his sword.

“If you wish to touch Kendrick, you will have to go through me,” came his grave voice.

Suddenly the room was filled with the sounds of swords being drawn, as every member of The Silver, dozens of them, leapt to their feet and confronted the king's guard.

Darloc stood there, looking very afraid, and in that moment he must have realized that he had very badly miscalculated coming here. He must have realized that his kingdom was just one move away a full-fledged civil war.