AU for major timeline discrepencies. In canon, Kaddar may not even have been born when Roger was in Carthak. My mistake.
A Pleasant Dinner's Conversation
Kaddar approached his meeting with his uncle with a healthy trepidation. He wasn't aware that he had done anything worthy of a reprimand or praise, and this summons had come out of the blue.
He entered the small dining room and knelt, bowing his head. "Majesty," he murmured. "How can I be of service?"
"Kaddar! You look well," Ozorne said genially, looking up from the papers he had been perusing. Kaddar wondered what that was supposed to mean. "Rise, rise, my boy. No need for formality tonight. I merely thought I ought to catch up with my favourite nephew, so I've arranged a little dinner for the two of us."
As Kaddar stood, he saw that Ozorne meant this literally. The table had been set for two, and Ozorne was already sitting down.
"Come, take a seat," the Emperor invited with an expansive gesture. "I'll call in the servants."
Kaddar sat down slowly, his heart sinking. He liked his uncle, he truly did. Ozorne had always been very kind to him, but he was the Emperor and rarely did anything on a whim.
At Ozorne's call, the servants immediately bustled in with food. Clearly they had been waiting for him to arrive.
Kaddar stared down at the soup being placed in front of him and worried.
"Well, eat up, my boy," Ozorne encouraged. It was poisoned, Kaddar panicked suddenly, then got a hold of himself. This was his uncle, and just because he was behaving a little strangely didn't mean that he was trying to kill him. Ozorne wouldn't do that.
Tentatively, he picked up a spoon and took a mouthful of soup. It was very good, and he took the next with more confidence. Glancing up at the Emperor, Kaddar saw he was doing the same.
For a while they ate in silence, before Ozorne asked, "And how is the University?"
"Oh, wonderful, Uncle. I am enjoying myself greatly," Kaddar replied quietly.
"That's good to hear," Ozorne said with a smile. "I have only the fondest of memories of my own time at the University."
Kaddar smiled back, relaxing a bit. Perhaps this was only a social invitation.
"I hope you're taking the opportunity to learn from Master Ganeel," Ozorne continued, and swallowed another mouthful of soup. "He is only staying for a few more months, you know."
"Yes, Uncle. His knowledge of summoning spells is extraordinary. I feel I've learnt a lot from him."
"We are very lucky to have him," Ozorne agreed.
"All of the guest mages are very talented," Kaddar said, hoping that this was what Ozorne wanted to hear. He was sounding far too casual. He had to be getting at something. "The program has been a great success."
"Well, not all," Ozorne said with a sad frown, but it wasn't directed at Kaddar. Kaddar went cold. He knew this was no random subject of conversation.
"Has something happened, Uncle? Is there a problem with one of the guests?" he asked, mentally running through the current list. He hadn't heard anything unusual about any of them, but his sources were nothing compared to his uncle's…
"No, no, there's no problem with any of the current guests. It's only – have you been following international affairs?" he asked, looking troubled. Kaddar didn't believe it in the slightest.
"Not as such, Uncle, I'm afraid…" he trailed off apologetically.
"Then you wouldn't have heard the latest from Tortall. Nasty business," Ozorne said with a sigh and a shake of the head. "You recall Duke Roger of Conté?"
Very carefully, Kaddar lifted his spoon and took another mouthful of spoon. Bright Mithros, he prayed, but didn't know what he was praying for.
After a moment, he said thoughtfully, "Yes, I recall him. Very powerful, wasn't he?"
"Supposedly," Ozorne said with a shrug. "My sources say he tried to kill the Queen and Prince of Tortall and was killed in a trial by combat."
Ozorne paused, then said as if the thought had only just occurred to him, "Now I think about it, you two were quite close, weren't you?"
Close. Well, that was one way of putting it. Kaddar had the sudden urge to laugh. Or maybe cry. He did neither, instead methodically taking another spoonful of soup. After a moment, he said, "Oh, not close, as such. I quite admired him though. I certainly wouldn't have picked him for a traitor."
"Nor would I," Ozorne agreed sadly. "Treachery is always a tragedy, but it is especially terrible when it is a member of the family. He was the King's nephew, you know."
The words seemed to hang in the hair long after they had been spoken. Kaddar tried desperately to think of something to say.
Eventually, he said a little shakily, "Well, at least he's dead. Treachery simply cannot be tolerated, even in barbarian countries like Tortall."
Ozorne looked at him approvingly. "I could not have put it better myself. There is no crime greater than regicide. We can only be grateful that the Duke didn't succeed."
"Yes, certainly," Kaddar agreed fervently. "An unfortunate incident all round."
Ozorne smiled. "Well, this is an unpleasant topic for such a fine soup. I must remember to compliment the cooks. Are you finished?"
Kaddar looked down at his bowl. He hadn't, but suddenly the soup suddenly seemed tasteless. "Yes, thank you, Uncle. I believe I will save some room for the next course."
Ozorne smiled again, approvingly. "Good boy." He called for the servants, who immediately arrived to remove the plates and serve the meat course.
Kaddar took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. It seemed that this dinner had been intended as a warning, not a sentencing. Very well. The warning was duly noted, and there were only three more courses to go.
He's not going to kill you now, Kaddar told himself firmly. Stay calm. Focus. Oh, Roger, you fool. What have you done?