I've been back and forth recently with all kinds of things to think about especially with my son coming up to his first round of GCSE's and panicking all over the place. As he's tutored at home I get caught up in the drama when his tutors put the pressure on. Sigh. Never mind; over soon, and the Summer Holidays are approaching.
Anyway, this week I chose the prompt 'a pregnant pause' which was perfect for this piece
As if it had been waiting for my pause, the door flies open causing everyone to start as it strikes the wall. The king surges to his feet with his hand on the pommel of his sword and I wish I had thought to arm myself. Not that I would be allowed to bear arms in this place, I am sure.
The king, along with others who had risen, sink back in their seats and, instead of a shocked silence, as whispered unease fills the chamber.
“Castien. What are you doing here?” the king asks. His voice had no warmth and his eyes are narrowed.
“Taking my rightful place,” Castien responds. His face is death–pale but his bearing is regal and his expression set. “I am Crown Prince after all, or have I missed the decree that strips me of my title.”
“No such decree exists or ever could. Crown Prince you are, and so you shall remain until the end of my days when you will be king.
It Castien notices the ice in his voice that borders on regret, he doesn’t show it; doesn’t even flinch.
“Good, then I believe I have a seat at Council and I have long neglected my duty to occupy it.” He crosses the room with a purposeful stride and sinks into the chair next to his father. I can’t be certain but I believe that if he had not sat down he might have fallen. Even from where I stand I can’t but note the tremor in his hand as he raises it in and rakes it through his hair, in an already familiar gesture of nervousness.
After a long, pregnant pause, the king shakes his head.
“May we be permitted to continue,” the king asks. Ice drips from his words and from his expression words would be exchanged between father and son after the meeting.
A glance around the room reveals surprises. The expressions range dramatically from fondness to surprise to downright disapproval. In one case it was chillingly calculating.
“To summarize gentlemen. The situation is dire. A dangerous rebellion is brewing in the South and Tian’s people are offering an alliance that might just be enough to save us.”
I am drawn by Castien’s gasp and meet his wide eyes. I hold them as the chamber erupts into calls and muttered conversations. Castien seems shocked, but he hides it quickly and rises to his feet.
To a man, the councillors, who had all but ignored the king’s attempts to settle them, fall silent.
“I cannot see how this is a matter for debate or discussion. Danger threatens us and we have received an offer of a powerful alliance. Are we really so entrenched in our arrogance that we would push it aside. Can we really afford to?”
“We have been provided with no evidence of any threat,” one of the councillors chimes in, but at a glance from Castien he subsides.
“We do not need and alliance with demons.” The oily tomes of the man I do not trust, the one who seems to be calculating weakness, slide into the conversation. “We are strong and they are weak. They have nothing to offer us.”
“My father has been there. He has spoken to Tian’s father. He says they are not weak. Would you call your king a liar?”
I don’t know if Castien notices the flash of hatred in the man’s dark eyes, but I do. I will watch this one. It would be not be wise for the king to leave him behind when he travelled through the forest.
“No, of course not. But I stand by what I said. We are stronger; strong enough. We don’t need them.” A rumble of consent had Castien bridling. I would almost see sparks flying from his eyes and hair.
“How low have we fallen that we would thrust away the hand of friendship in a time of need. Yes, we are strong but even the strongest have fallen. Have you forgotten how close we came to disaster in the demon wars?” He casts a glance at me and I cannot be sure whether he is apologising for calling me a demon or fearful that he has revealed too much to me. If the latter, he need not have worried. There is little about the kingdom we do not know – now or ever. As our only real threat they have been under constant surveillance.
“We have been presented with no evidence this is a time of need.”
“The only evidence you require is the word of the king.”
“But we are his counsellors; his advisors. His word is––”
“Law,” Castien breaks in. “The king’s word is law, and you are here to counsel and advise, not to demand or decree. You would do well to dwell on this.”
I am concerned that more expressions are edging toward hostile. I had thought my prince to be more diplomatic. The last thing we need is for him to alienate members on the council.
“This is no longer a discussion about whether we believe in the threat, or whether we enter the alliance. From here the discussion is how best can we counter the threat and what terms we should discuss in the alliance. Father, do you have terms drawn by the – by Tian’s father?”
Dumbly, the king nods.
Castien turns to me and smiles. On the outside he is calm and composed, but his eyes hold a desperate plea. I don’t see how I can help him.
“Forgive me, but this is a discussion you should have no part in. Would you be so good as to return to your chamber. Someone will come for you when we have a proposal to lay before you.”
As so his pleading is for my forgiveness. He has it freely. His dismissal holds no sting. It is to be expected. My Castien has much to learn of the arts of war.
Now on to the other amazing briefers this week