Disclaimer: I don't own The King's Blades, and I never will. The universe, characters, and situations belong to Dave Duncan. I'm just borrowing.
Author's Note: This is quite possibly the first ever Fanfiction from Dave Duncan's fabulous series, The King's Blades (Both known as the Tales of the King's Blades, and the Chronicles of the King's Blades). Begun two Christmases ago, and now available due to many fans asking for this category and Xing graciously granting it, I present to you the beginning of:
A TALE OF THE KING'S BLADES
One choice leads Lord Roland down a road of insanity, redemption and risk, while another young man's dreams teeter between reality and possibility. Rebellion and conjury rock the entire Ancient and Loyal Order of the King's Blades, leaving the former Sir Durendal fighting to keep control of his own soul.
Sometimes too much control can be bad. Sometimes no control is worse.
They were two of a kind, really, even though Granville was a leaner and harder version of the King. Only a blind man could have missed the fact that the indomitable Rector of the Wylderland was King Ambrose's bastard son, and the one spectator for this encounter was anything but blind. There were no Blades present today, for what reason the King had not specified, but perhaps even he was mindful of his unacknowledged son's volatile temper. And maybe he simply wanted to spare Granville public shame.
Maybe. More likely, Ambrose simply didn't want anyone else to know about this meeting. Even Bandit stood outside the door, and the Commander of the Royal Guard was privy to all the major state secrets.
Except for this one.
The storm was coming; inevitably and inescapably. Ambrose had made a promise, and for the good of the kingdom, he was about to break it. While the promise itself had been given in Chivial's interest, nations were fickle things. In politics, promises were made to be broken, or if not, at least subject to renegotiation and reinterpretation. Nothing was black and white, and that was especially true when the succession was involved. And no one knew better than Ambrose IV that royal politics were worse than any other; even parliament could not hope to compare to the maelstrom created by the current royal family. The House of Ranulf had more black sheep than almost any other on the face of Eurania, and only one legitimate heir.
At three years old and a handful of months, Prince Ambrose wasn't exactly an alluring prospect, especially with a country embroiled in a war against rouge conjurers of its own. This was a fact that all the distant relations and black sheep knew very well, yet Ambrose IV hadn't been on the throne for nineteen years without learning a trick or two.
"You wished to see me, Sire?" Surprise flickered in Granville's golden eyes as he spotted the tall figure leaning against the far wall, but his face showed nothing.
The King only grunted. After a moment of studying his liege's face, Granville straightened warily. Few knew how to read Ambrose's moods better than the Rector, and the King's narrowed eyes and stormy expression were proclaiming Very Bad Things.
A long silence passed, and knowing the eventual outcome of this unorthodox gathering did not make waiting feel any better. Kings, however, existed to be waited upon, no matter who was doing the waiting. Fortunately, Ambrose never had been able to remain silent for long, and the fat man lacked nothing when it came to courage.
"I believe that you have not yet been formally introduced to my chancellor, Rector."
Suspicious gold eyes narrowed as Durendal pushed away from the wall, nodding to the other man. They were almost the same height, and he met the burning amber eyes without effort. "Earl Thencaster."
"Earl Roland, I presume." Although Durendal had been chancellor for over eight months and Commander of the Royal Guard for six years before that, he and the Rector of Wylderland had come into contact very few times. It was widely known that the aforementioned Rector had very little use for enchanted swordsmen, and thus paid very little attention to Blades in general. Besides, apart from a short visit to Greymere following the Night of Dogs, the Rector had been busy pacifying the Wylderland—which, Durendal knew, translated into burning and butchering to his heart's content. Two weeks previously, however, Granville had sent the Ciarán to Ambrose in chains, ending years of unrest.
But that wasn't enough, and they all knew it. Granville's eyes were on Ambrose again, and Durendal waited. The King wore an expression of tired curiosity now, as if he wondered if the two of them would strike sparks, but for once, Ambrose did not try to provoke either man. Instead, he stomped over to a chair and dropped his massive bulk into it with a thump. The sturdy chair's legs creaked, but offered no further protest. Like almost every other object or person in Chivial, it had learned that fighting Ambrose was as productive as opposing a tidal wave.
In the uneasy silence, Granville spoke. "We have not yet been introduced," he said with a shrug. His uncanny eyes cut briefly to Durendal, then looked back at the King. "Is there a reason why now is the moment to do so, Sire?"
Questioning a King was always tricky, but Granville had always been an exception to the rules.
"Lord Roland is privy to all of my decisions." Ambrose glared pointedly. "Therefore, if you are to continue being of use to me, I suggest that you get to know him. Well."
"As Your Majesty commands." The bastard had the sense to bow, even if he did so stiffly. He did not, however, glance at the chancellor, following the King's lead. Durendal remained silent, and waited. It did not take long.
"I applaud your efforts in the Wylderland," the King began after a moment, but even the backhanded compliment made Granville's eyes harden. He was accustomed, Durendal knew, to being offered a seat. The past three or four years had brought Ambrose much closer to his bastard son, yet not close enough. Not for this.
The tension in the air was almost thick enough to eat. Most of the barriers that Ambrose had erected between himself and his illegitimate son had melted away before now, but Durendal could sense that the King erecting them once more. He was not enjoying this one bit, not gloating or preening as he was so often apt to do. Ambrose was simply doing what had to be done.
"My successes, Sire."
Amber eyes narrowed in the pudgy face. "That, Rector, remains to be seen. In a few months, we may find rebellion starting all over again. It's happened before."
"I find that extremely unlikely, Your Majesty," Granville objected.
"But not impossible." Pointed look. Durendal read the irritation there, but the Rector either did not see it or chose to ignore the warning signs.
"Nothing is impossible, Your Grace, but I would place further rebellion in the Wylderland right alongside Ranulf I coming back to life after four centuries in the grave," he retorted.
"Would you now?" Ambrose demanded.
Granville returned the glare. "I would stake my life on it, Sire."
"I'm sure you would," the King scowled. "But would you stake my kingdom on it, Rector?"
"Yes, Sire." There was no hesitation, but the chancellor resisted the urge to wince. Granville should have known better—but then again, perhaps he was counting on Ambrose to appreciate decisiveness over sound judgment.
King Ambrose snorted. "You would." He clambered to his feet, returning the angry glare. "And that is why you will never be King."
"What?" Color filled the Rector's cheeks immediately, and the objection was a barely contained shout. Instinctively, Durendal found his body tensing, but he forced himself to relax. He was no longer bound, which made it easier, but a lifetime of protecting his King made hackles rise on the back of his neck.
Ambrose's face had turned bright red as well. "Don't take that tone with me, you insolent upstart!"
"Upstart?" Granville snarled. "If I am an upstart, what does that make the man who created me?"
"You have no right to speak to me in this manner, Rector!" Ambrose bellowed. "And if I made you, I can unmake you—I'll shorten you by one overreaching head!"
"Oh, will you?" the bastard challenged.
"Continue acting in this disrespectful manner, and find out," the King growled dangerously. His eyes narrowed, but Granville ignored the warning signs.
"I have no respect for a man who breaks his word," the other retorted coldly.
Ambrose's mouth dropped open, and the fat man stared. Even Durendal felt his eyebrows rising; Granville's fury matched the King's in the same way that his copper hair and beard were identical to Ambrose's own. The two men stood face to face and only a few feet apart; the King's glare sharpened, but even that did not daunt his bastard son. In the silence, Durendal heard shifting outside the door. The Blades outside were becoming understandably anxious, and he imagined that Bandit was only inches away from bursting inside. The Rector, however, was not the inimitable type.
"You promised to legitimatize me when I pacified the Wylderland," Granville stated furiously. "I have crushed the rebellion. I have delivered the Ciarán to you in chains. I have done all you asked, and more—yet you still will not recognize me? You yourself admitted that I am the only one worthy to be your heir!"
"Worthy?" Ambrose snarled. "Worthy? You aren't worthy to rule a pigsty, Butcher of the Wylderland! The Ciarán was a test, you self-absorbed incompetent! If I left my country to you, Chivial would bleed and burn and die! You might be strong, Granville, but you have no concept of restraint."
"You're just too vain to be the first King of Chivial to legitimize a bastard," was the bitter reply.
Ambrose laughed at him. "Vain? All Kings are vain, boy! And I am too 'vain' to leave my country in the hands of a bloodthirsty maniac!"
Granville snorted. "Who will you name heir, then?" he demanded. "A sickly toddler? An unmanageable wench? Or will you bequeath the country to your fop of a nephew, Courtney? Bloodthirsty they are not, but Parliament would walk all over any of them."
"Oh, so now you fancy yourself a political expert, do you?" the King asked scornfully.
"Acorns don't fall far from the tree, Father."
"You presume too much, sirrah!" Ambrose thundered. "Two words from me and you won't survive the night!"
"You won't kill me. You need me," the Rector replied with contempt. His face was tight. "You'll use me like the others, and then discard me." Granville's sharp eyes narrowed. "But not until then. And I will outlive you."
Instinct prickled; Durendal felt as if someone had dumped a bucket of cold water over his head. Unseen, he shifted slightly to his right, every muscle in his body tense. Granville had completely forgotten his presence, but Ambrose had not. Alarms were blaring in his head; Durendal did not need to be bound to sense danger.
"Will you?" Ambrose's eyes flashed. "Not unless you find your way back into my good graces, you won't! Otherwise, the only way you'll be leaving this room is under escort to the Bastion!"
"My army won't stand for that."
"You're army is comprised of mercenaries," the King retorted. "I'll buy them off."
It was Granville's turn to laugh openly. "You know as much about armies as you do about conjuries," he said. "And both frighten you to death."
Durendal did not miss the emphasis; nor did he miss the sudden hardness in Granville's eyes. Almost immediately, his trained eyes also noticed subtle movement of the Rector's right hand, how it crept casually towards his left wrist. While no Commander in their right mind would let an unbound man into the King's presence with a sword, the chancellor was not surprised to note the dagger concealed in Granville's left sleeve. The Rector was probably only testing the waters, seeing what would happen, but still—he would take no chances. Harvest slipped an inch out of her scabbard, making Granville's head snap around at the soft noise. Durendal was just out of striking distance, but that could change in a heartbeat.
"I will kill you before you can draw," he said quietly.
"You think to threaten me?" Granville demanded, his amber eyes flashing. To the left, Durendal watched the King's eyebrows rise. But Ambrose did not intervene.
"Should I need to?"
Granville was silent for a moment, studying the chancellor as if gauging the truth behind his words. Durendal could see him calculating angles, measuring how long it would take a Blade-turned-politician to cross the few feet between them. However, feeling contempt for Blades was far from the same thing as underestimating them, and Granville's hands slowly moved apart as his face assumed a neutral expression.
"Of course not," the Rector replied, visibly reining his anger back. "I would never think to threaten the King. I am, always, his Majesty's most humble and loyal servant." His nostrils flared. "In all matters."
Crafty Ambrose was having none of that. His eyes were still hard. "In this matter?" he asked pointedly.
Pain flickered across Granville's face. He let out a deep breath. "Of course, Your Majesty."
"Good." The hard expression eased slightly. "Do not think, Rector, that we do not value your services highly."
"I would never presume to think so, Sire," was the wooden reply. The anger had disappeared off of Granville's face, only to be replaced by no expression at all—but there was something wounded and cornered in his eyes that Durendal had not expected. Nor, he realized, had Ambrose. But before the King could speak, Granville bowed. "May I have your leave to depart, Your Majesty?" he asked levelly. "I will return to my army and await your orders."
"Go, then." Ambrose's response was uncharacteristically quiet, and as the door closed behind the Rector, he moved back to the same chair, staring at it for a long moment before lowering his bulk into the seat. He sat in brooding silence for several long moments, and Durendal waited quietly, watching an assortment of expressions flash across his King's face. Unsurprisingly, worry and regret were two of those emotions, despite the fury Ambrose had just displayed. This had been harder on him than the King was ever likely to admit.
Finally, he sighed, glancing at his chancellor. "He is a brilliant soldier but too ruthless to be a ruler." Ambrose's eyes narrowed. "There are many faults I will tolerate, but if Granville ever becomes King, it won't be long before he starts treating Chivians just as bloodily as he treats the Wylds."
One arched copper eyebrow indicated that Ambrose was waiting for an answer, and Durendal nodded quietly in response. "I would not serve such a King, sire."
"Nor would I ask you to."