Good Night, Sweet Prince, Part 9

This is the last section of the story that was waiting to be posted.  After you read this, you can go back and read the post for June 23rd – which is set just after Ilya and Taurys return to Veligrad.

**

The last person that Ilya expected to see when he slipped back into the king’s council chamber was Lord Andrien among the other nobles.  His brows furrowed slightly as he realized that the king was cheerfully humiliating his uncle once again.

He resisted the urge to roll his eyes or glare.  The last thing he needed was another beating just then.  Instead, he schooled his features into an impassive mask.  With all eyes on the king and his uncle, Ilya was easily able to drop the jewel into the royal chalice.

The young queen was seated beside her husband.  As Ilya slipped back towards the door, she touched his hand and murmured into his ear.  Whatever she was saying, it seemed to amuse him.

He laughed and then looked at his uncle.  “Bring my wine, uncle,” he said, his tone imperious.

However Lord Andrien felt at being treated like a cupbearer, he didn’t roll his eyes.  Instead, he stalked over to the table near where Ilya had been standing.  He poured wine into the chalice and then stepped back to the king.  “Your majesty,” he said, as he bowed politely and handed the chalice over to him.

Ilya’s breath caught in his throat as the young king took the chalice.  The poison wouldn’t act too quickly.  If they were all fortunate, they’d think that whatever ailment took his father had claimed him as well.

The young king drained the chalice and then dismissed his uncle.  Ilya nodded once and slipped out through the service entrance at the same time that Lord Andrien left through the main doors.

**

Unlike with his father, Ilya wasn’t at all surprised when he heard that the king was dead.  What did surprise him was the news that Lord Andrien had been arrested for the death.  He was beside himself.  The last thing he’d wanted was to implicate the boy’s uncle.

There was to be a trial by combat, but Ilya couldn’t stay for that.  He was meant to be leaving.  At the same time, he felt compelled to set things right first.  He arranged things so that he would be attending to Sir Georgi as the knight prepared himself on the day of the trial.

“It – it makes no sense, Sir Georgi,” he said, his tone soft and deferential.  “I mean, his majesty enjoyed taunting your lord brother, but… why would Lord Andrien kill the king?”

“They say he could stand the torment no longer,” Sir Georgi said, shaking his head.

Ilya heaved a sigh.  “A crime like that, though… it would have happened in an instant of anger,” he said, his voice faint.  “I heard… people were saying it was poison.  That – that sounds like an assassination, not a crime of passion.”

“There is that,” Sir Georgi said, his brows furrowing.  “Perhaps… the invaders from Veligrad…”

“The Veligradians might seek to destabilize the government,” Ilya said, nodding.  “Killing the young king would do that.”

Sir Georgi nodded once and then strode out of the room without saying another word.  Ilya heaved a sigh and then waited for a few moments.  Then, he followed quickly.  He paused long enough to collect his cloak and a bag that held his few belongings.  Then, he turned his steps towards the stairs that would take him out through the exit closest to the town.  Nearly everyone would be at the trial.  Now was the perfect time to escape.

He was nearly to the stairs when an older man stepped onto the landing in front of him.  He blinked at Ilya for a moment.  “Where are you off to?” he asked.  His eyes narrowed as he took in the cloak that Ilya wore and the bag on his shoulder.

“Um…” Ilya said, blinking.  He took a step back and shrugged.  “Home,” he said.  “I – I’m n-needed at home, my lord.”

“I’ll just bet you are,” the man said, a smile touching his lips.  “Brother mentioned there was a spy.  I think I’ve found him and – and you killed the king, didn’t you, little one?”

Ilya’s eyes widened as a knife seemed to appear in the man’s hand.  As he lunged at Ilya, Ilya sidestepped and caught the man’s wrist.  In the blink of an eye, the fight was over.  Ilya turned to face the man and swallowed the bile that rose in his throat.  He was an undercover agent, not an assassin.  He hated killing, but there was no doubt that the man was dead.

Cursing, Ilya grabbed the body and dragged it into an alcove.  “God, forgive me,” he breathed.  “It was an accident.”  Then, wiping away tears, he left the corpse and hurried down the steps.  He didn’t stop running until he had reached the rendezvous point.

He began pacing along the bank while he waited for Taurys.  Until then, he’d never killed anyone.  Now, he’d killed two men, one hardly more than a child.  His mind went to his own child.  He imagined it as a son, one with his mother’s dark looks.  The boy would have been about ten years old – just a bit young than the young king.

Bile rose again and he didn’t fight it this time.  He bent over and retched.  He nearly screamed when someone touched his arm.  Then, he saw that it was Taurys.  “I’m not a very good assassin,” he admitted.

“You’re not an assassin at all,” Taurys countered.  Then, he beckoned Ilya towards a boat.  “Let’s go, before you’re missed.”

“They won’t miss me,” he said, as he followed Taurys.  “They think Lord Andrien killed him.  Everyone’s at the trial.”  He looked out towards the horizon and saw the setting sun.  “Actually, the trial’s probably over.  He might be dead by now.”

As they climbed into the boat, they heard alarm bells ringing.  Taurys frowned.  “A prisoner’s escaped,” he said, his voice soft.  He looked at Ilya.  “It seems he’s not dead after all.”

Ilya sighed softly.  He looked back towards the castle.  “If he’s escaped, good,” he murmured.  He couldn’t stand the thought of having more blood on his hands.  “Snow Father protect him.”

Taurys blessed himself and nodded.  Then, he took up the oars and said, “Let’s get home.”

Ilya gave him a weak smile and nodded.  “Home,” he repeated.  It had been far too long since he’d been home.

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