A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

6.04 – Vivat Rex {Long Live the King}

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“You’re seeing things. There’s no way the King is here.” Frederica’s voice was flat, but she shoved in her pockets and clenched her jaw.

“It’s not the King,” Elena said, “not really.”

“He’s wearing a crown,” Ele said.

“It’s the King’s body. A Mortalis body, susceptible to Fulvio’s Storm.” After so much hopelessness and fear over the past few months, Elena found herself strangely calm, now. “I don’t know why I didn’t expect this. It’s reckless, even for the Twisted, but they’re hardly afraid of being reckless, are they.”

The figure in the crown dismounted from his horse and was talking to the leader of the complement of twenty guards. The group was about halfway between the wrecked monastery and the walls of Florenzia, close enough that Elena could see the expression of solemn gravity on the King’s face as he turned and observed them.

“What do we do?” Owl asked. “I had my doubts about beating the Twisted before, but we can’t fight Fulvio, not when she’s holding the King hostage like that.”

Elena didn’t answer, she simply watched as the King broke off from his guards, leaving them behind in a tightly-formed cluster as he approached on his own. King Pellegrino walked with a long, confident stride, and he looked far less worried than the guards he left behind.

Of course, Fulvio knows exactly what we are and aren’t capable of, Elena thought, while the guards…who knows what stories they’ve been hearing over the past several weeks.

“Elena, we need a plan of action,” Ele pressed.

“I don’t know that we’ll be able to think of one in the next sixty seconds,” Elena said. She glanced behind her at the quarterstaff, shattered when she had killed the avatar of the Storm. “I’d feel better if I had a weapon, though.”

“We’ve sort of moved beyond the point where having weapons makes a lot of difference,” Owl grumbled, but he pressed his long knife into her hands. Elena only felt marginally better, given that the King carried a thin silver sword in one hand, but it was better than nothing.

The prickles in her fingers let her hold the knife just right, and for a moment Elena closed her eyes and took a deep breath, focusing only on the prickle of the Storm and the comfort of knowing her friends were around her.

“Do you remember when I first met the Twisted, and you tried to tell me you had the good of Italoza at heart?” Elena called out, opening her eyes. “You want to try convincing me of it again, using the King’s voice?”

King Pellegrino grinned, slowing as he approached the group. “You see, this is why I left the guards back there, where they couldn’t hear anything,” he said in a rich deep voice, “far fewer awkward questions that would need explaining. And I do love Italoza, Elena, that’s why I want to rule it. I can love the country without loving the Mortalis currently sitting its throne.”

“You haven’t thought this through, Fulvio,” Ele said. “You might be able to kill us here, but the second you skip to another Mortalis’ mind the King will make it his mission to hunt you down and make you pay for what you’ve done to him.”

“Oh dear,” King Pellegrino stopped, a few feet away from the assembled group. “However could I have missed that.”

“Fulvio can’t carry out the Storm’s plans unless she’s the ruler of Italoza, Ele,” Elena said, her eyes locked on the King’s. “She can’t do that if the King survives. I’d bet a thousand florins that she has connections set up already for the crown to fall into her lap, or that she plans on being inside whatever body is given the crown.”

“I really can’t lose in this scenario,” the King giggled, the action entirely at odds with his grave and aged face. “I don’t know if you’ve mused on how hard it is to get rid of a King, but I’ve really had the most difficult time of it. A spymaster by definition has spies, not guards or armies. I don’t have enough muscle to attempt a real coup. I’ve taken over the King for a few seconds here and there, hoping I could technically be the ruler for a short time without him noticing…but apparently that doesn’t count as ruling Italoza, I have to take the crown by force or be given it.”

“So you’re going to what, kill us? Or make us kill the King,” Owl said, “with half a city’s worth of witnesses swearing that it was the fugitives, not the spymaster, who made it happen.”

“Oh I don’t really care one way or the other,” King Pellegrino shrugged, “either you kill him here, or I kill you all and only later does the populous discover that the Rhetor implanted a suggestion that their King kill himself before she succumbed. I’d actually prefer the latter, if I’m being honest. If the King gets stabbed I’ll have to feel the pain until I can catch the eye of that captain of the guard back there.”

The tip of King Pellegrino’s sword flicked upward as he spoke, smiling again. “But you’re welcome to try for capture-by-guard rather than death-by-king. What with the trial and execution, you may buy yourself a whole handful of days more of living. Never let it be said that Fulvio Cordano is unfair to her inferiors.”

Elena lifted her knife, the strange calm permeating her.

“Elena, this is crazy, everyone is watching you from the Castle,” Owl said. “You run, we’ll hold Fulvio off.”

“I appreciate your offer, Owl,” Elena said quietly, “I appreciate you all, more than you’ll ever know. But those guards would catch me before I’d even lost sight of the city, and King Pellegrino would be just as dead. The only difference is Emerald’s Storm would be blamed.”

“It’s such a useful little Storm in that way,” King Pellegrino said.

Emerald had been silent, her arms crossed to hug herself, her lower lip caught between her teeth.

“It could be more useful,” she said suddenly, breaking the tense silence. She flinched when Frederica, Fred, Elena, Ele, Owl and King Pellegrino turned their attention to her, and her gaze dropped, but she continued. “Having a Rhetor on your side, it could be more useful to you than killing me.”

“Intriguing,” King Pellegrino raised an eyebrow. “And I’m just taking you on your word that you’re offering your service, and that this isn’t a trick, am I? Your friends don’t seem worried.”

“They’re not worried because I’ve been using my Storm on them since we first started travelling together,” Emerald still didn’t look up to meet anyone’s gaze, “they can’t not trust me.”

“Emerald?” Elena shook her head, trying to reconcile the conflicting pieces of information she knew to be true. Emerald had used her Storm on them…but at the same time, Elena knew Emerald wouldn’t harm her…

A vague memory of a snow-filled Milian street, long ago, nudged against her memory, but Elena couldn’t quite catch hold of it.

“If this were a trick, I’d just use my Storm on you,” Emerald said, “I’m a Rhetor, I could make you surrender.”

“No, you couldn’t. When I’m inhabiting a body, the Rhetor’s Storm doesn’t affect me since I’m not technically the one hearing it.” King Pellegrino said. He tilted his head thoughtfully, speculatively, “but it’s true that you didn’t know that, did you?”

Emerald shook her head. “Let me join you,” she said simply, “promise me safety from the Guardhouse and I’m yours.”

“Emerald, what are you talking about?” Owl said.

“It’s not…what…” Ele stammered, as if losing his train of thought each time he regained it. Elena’s head pounded again, her vision flickering between storm world and her own. They hadn’t discussed this plan, she didn’t know what trick Emerald was carrying out, she would be so frightened if she hadn’t known for certain that Emerald wouldn’t hurt her.

King Pellegrino held out his free hand, and Emerald stepped across the few foot gap between the two sides and took it, standing next to him.

“Poor Elena Lucciano, poor little Cog,” the King said softly, “from the moment we met to the moment you die, your simple-mindedness and naivete has been your downfall. I hope, when I drive you through, you’ll understand that.”

Elena shook her head a final time, then pushed all of the questions and doubt from her mind  and raised her chin. “I’m not sorry for believing in my friends,” she said, “you won’t ever change that.”

“It wouldn’t cross my mind that I could,” the King said. “Pathetic.” He half-turned, speaking to Emerald but keeping his attention on Elena. “You didn’t even have to use your Storm on her. You could’ve stabbed her in the chest and she’d still have trusted you.”

Emerald flinched, as if the words were a physical blow.

“I…” she said, hesitant, “I really didn’t, did I?”

For a moment, the Rhetor paused, then she reached out for King Pellegrino. She wrapped her arms around his from behind, yanking back to wrench his shoulders. The King shouted and flipped the sword in his grip, bringing it down backwards to rake an angry slash across Emerald’s thigh. Emerald dropped, but she maintained her grip, and the weight of her brought King Pellegrino to his knees, the sword lodged too deep in the ground to move.

“Elena,” Emerald gasped, her face pale, “the King can’t see behind him.”

The impact of her words struck Elena and Fulvio at the same time, and the King struggled to free himself from Emerald’s grip as Owl and Frederica dashed forward to help the Rhetor. Between the three of them, they held the King firmly, unable to turn to catch the eye of the guards far behind him.

The only people in sight were Stormtouched, and Fulvio had nowhere to jump.

“You can’t,” King Pellegrino hissed through his teeth as Elena approached, “you said it yourself, you love this land too much to kill its ruler.”

“I do love this land,” Elena said sadly. “I love it too much to let you rule it.”

With a moment’s pause and a deep breath, Elena drove her knife into the King of Italoza’s heart.

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2 responses

  1. BartHumphries

    The Storm, and people probably said this last chapter, is probably driving Elena to do this. If she won’t become Queen to join him, then help her become Queen in spite of him. It’ll be a lot easier to help someone kill the Queen later and become the new ruler than it would to help someone become ruler of the world.

    Like

    2017-03-30 at 11:20 pm

    • Byzantine

      I’d find it interesting if the storm was lying all along and this was always the plan. He could never convince Elena to sacrifice all those people. But if that was never actually the plan…

      This whole thing seems like a perfect way for him to get rid of the twisted without them realizing it while getting the one he wanted in charge exactly where he wanted her. Elena isn’t the same person who he rejected, all that time ago. I mean, thinking about it how many Echos would actually accept taking over their stormtouched? Sure, some don’t like each other. But for most it would feel like murdering a sibling.

      I also find it odd how little the Storm seems to understand humans, while the Echos don’t have any trouble at all.

      So what the hell is he really planning?

      Like

      2017-04-04 at 9:13 am

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