Logan went straight to his rooms, pleased to find a hot bath waiting for him. After dismissing the hovering servants, he stripped and allowed himself the pleasure of relaxing in the hot water. Slowly, his tense muscles began to loosen and the cramps that had been his constant companion for several days began to ease. Pleasure was to be had, too, in the simplicity of familiar scents of soap and oils. As he washed the sweat and dirt from his body and took the lice comb to his hair, Logan allowed himself the blissful, if transient, lie that he was washing away Aurora and all that he had discovered there.
The truth came knocking once more, however, as he dried and dressed in his royal regalia. In one sense, the familiar clothing brought with it a level of comfort; it was a reminder that he was king of Albion and his will would be obeyed by any and all of his subjects. Whatever he desired was his to command and nobody could sway him from his chosen course. It was the ultimate power and to know that it was the one thing the Crawler could not strip him of made Logan feel considerably more equal to the task of besting it.
Such comfort, though, had a flip-side of expectations. The fate of Albion rested on his shoulders and if the chosen course he would not be swayed from turned out to be the wrong one, there would be nobody to blame but the king. But for the fact that failure would equal the decimation of his kingdom, and therefore a distinct lack of rebels or, indeed, anyone to rebel against, it would doubtless be grounds for revolution. Ever since he had taken the throne at fifteen, Logan had been painfully aware that he walked a tightrope, made all the more difficult because of the act he was following.
Suppose it all came out – he had not yet decided whether or not he ought to tell the citizens what would befall them – what could possibly be expected of him, but that he would go into battle without fear and with all the power, strength and courage that his mother had shown in the battle for the Tattered Spire? Tales of his mother's deeds had been Logan's childhood stories and adolescent lessons; it was impossible for comparisons not to be drawn.
For all of that, though, Logan was certain that he was not a hero. There had been no spark of power in him in twenty-four years, no rush of strength, no skill beyond what long hours in the shooting range gave him. Nothing that raised him above any other man or woman of Albion in that respect. In his youth, it had been a source of shame for him and he still remembered sneaking down into the catacombs the night before his coronation to find his mother's guild seal; the relic that, if tales told truth, brought out a hero's inner spark, only for the seal to lay still and quiet in his hands. He had slunk back to his rooms with his tail between his legs and the ceremony the next day was tainted with the knowledge that he could never be the king Albion expected him to be.
Nine years later, and he thought he had made peace with his deficiency. Time and experience had shown him he did not need to be a hero to be a competent statesman; one did not need magic to observe a country and put into place sound laws that would benefit all. The strength of ten men and the skill to shoot a man down at two hundred paces would go to waste in the courtroom, where logic, aided by a measure of empathy, ruled. In fact, Logan had almost begun to believe that Fate had withheld such powers from him for that very reason; they would be wasted when his skills obviously lay elsewhere and he could serve Albion much better as he was.
Now, though, he desperately wished for power. As he pinned on his sash of medals with shaking hands, Logan prayed to the Light – even to Avo, the old, half-forgotten god of times long past – that he had been made a hero and had somehow simply never realised it. Surely a mere mortal could not be expected to guide Albion through such a catastrophe as the one approaching? Surely it took a man of greater stuff than he to defeat the Crawler? Surely Fate would not be so cruel as to damn Albion by giving its citizens him as their king when he could not protect the land?
Surely they would not damn Rose?
Looking at himself in the mirror, Logan did not see a confident, capable king who would guide his people through the oncoming storm. No, what he saw was not even a man, but a shadow of one; a pale, pathetic being who stared back with wide, fearful eyes. A face that had come out of so many skirmishes unmarked now bore two deep scars across his lips. The sight, combined with the trembling in his hands, removed any desire to shave, though his chin bore a coating of stubble and he generally hated not being clean shaven. A cut throat was not foremost among his desires, though, and he was too nervous and jumpy to allow a servant to shave him.
Well, damn it, it was only Walter he would be speaking to, and the old soldier's appearance was generally as gruff as his straightforward but well-meaning speech.
Logan could use straightforward and well-meaning right now.
A glance at the clock told him there was still over half an hour until their arranged meeting time, but Logan suddenly felt antsy cooped up in his rooms. He had intended to break his fast before the meeting, but his stomach was in knots and eating felt impossible, despite hunger gnawing at him. The one concession he did make to physical needs was to order plenty of tea to be sent to the war room, although privately he thought it would be a wonder if he didn't down a tumbler of whiskey before the meeting was through.
As Logan had expected, Walter had not yet come to the war room, and so he approached the map that lay in the centre of the room, gloved fingers tracing over the peaks and valleys. It showed all of Albion and part of Aurora. The latter had always confused Logan – why show a land believed dead, with no ties to Albion? Now, he froze, staring at the sandy, mountainous region. To his credit, he did not jump to the conclusion that immediately presented itself, but dutifully tried to make other explanations fit. Perhaps it was because Aurora was their nearest neighbour – but Samarkand, to name just one land, was not much further. Perhaps his mother had thought perhaps they would one day have to plot an escape from Albion for some inconceivable reason – but there were lands far more hospitable that merciless Aurora, believed devoid of life.
Yet… Surely the thought that pushed at him to accept it could not be true? No. His mother would not have kept quiet if she knew that Albion would be threatened… Unless she thought, all those years ago, the threat too distant to panic the populace about it just yet. Hadn't he himself wondered if it might be better to keep Albion in the dark about the threat pressing down on it? But Mother had been much wiser than he. She would have told someone, surely.
That, however, just made Logan wonder if Walter would greet his story not with horror, but with dark, knowing eyes.
Logan pushed himself away from the map, as though forcing the treacherous thoughts away from his mind. It felt like the height of betrayal that he might have gone to Aurora and sacrificed the lives of his men only to gain knowledge already had by his mother's inner circle. Desperately, he tried to deny it, thinking of Theresa. She, doubtless, would have told him if someone already knew. She was his mother's guide, she would not deprive him and Albion of allies in its greatest time of need. No, there had to be a much more mundane explanation for the existence of Aurora on Albion's map. He would, Logan decided, ask Walter himself when he arrived; he was sure to have a perfectly mundane answer that Logan would kick himself for not thinking of before.
Thus he was comforted, only to start at a knock on the door.
"Enter," he called, hearing and despising the tremor in his voice. The maid who opened the door, come to deliver the tea he had requested, shot her king a look that made her resemble nothing so much as a frightened woodland creature. It may have been comical at another moment, but Logan saw only a young woman who could not even draw strength from her leader; and what else was a leader for? Was it not his purpose to inspire his people, to keep their spirits up?
"Thank you," he said as she set the tea tray down on a table and gave him a respectful curtsey. "You may go now."
"Yessir," she mumbled, scurrying quickly from the room and forgetting not to turn her back again and to curtsey again at the door, as she ought to. Logan, however, couldn't find the heart to be angry at her. He doubted any show of minor insubordination could anger him, given the bigger issues on his mind.
To speak of which – where was Walter? Twenty minutes still to go. More for something to do than because he actually wanted a drink, Logan poured himself a cup of tea and tried to focus on adding milk and sugar. As he stirred the additions in, he puzzled over the meaning of Aurora being on the map, quite forgetting his resolution not to think on it until he could ask Walter for a sensible explanation. Additionally – perhaps it was because thoughts of his mother, and Aurora, and the map, were all mixed up together – he kept thinking of the last time he had seen something that felt quite out of place in the war room. Irrelevant though the memory seemed, something tugged at Logan; a quiet but firm insistence that he was brushing something off. Looking down at his cup, he saw not the swirling ocean of tea, but a scene long ago played out.
"What the bloody hell were you thinking, Reaver?"
Logan, then ten years old and, having been freed from his lessons early due to completing the assigned topic, had been looking for his mother, wanting to discuss what he had learned with her. By the sound of the raised voice coming from the war room, he had found her – and not in a good mood.
The young boy hesitated; every ounce of his not inconsiderable curiosity urged him to listen, while good sense told him he would likely be in for a whole world of trouble if his mother discovered he had eavesdropped on her, especially when the conversation was taking place in the war room. It was a place of immense importance, where the most serious business of the kingdom was conducted, and although the Queen was slowly but surely introducing the subject of governance to her son, she had made it quite clear that the war room was off-limits.
Of course, that only increased its attraction. In truth, Logan would have been fascinated with the centre of important decision-making no matter what he was told, but the ban only made him more determined to find out what went on behind those heavy wooden doors.
Doors that were, it appeared, not thick enough to quieten his mother's voice as she worked herself up into a truly splendid rage. As he inched towards the door, crouching down next to the keyhole, Logan thought this Reaver a complete idiot to let her get so into stride – or, indeed, to have done something that so offended her in the first place.
It was harder to hear Reaver's reply; the man's voice was, in contrast to the Queen's, soft and calm. Straining his ears, Logan managed to pick up the tail end of his response.
"…know that was there, my dear Sparrow."
Hearing that cleared away any doubts Logan had over eavesdropping. To the majority of Albion, the Queen was just that: the Hero Queen, her royal majesty, a fair and caring but distant figure. To the court, she was usually Queen Avelyn. Only her closest confidants used the nickname Sparrow, which Logan had never quite worked out the meaning of; his mother was no weak, insipid woman, and he would have thought it a grave insult that her so-called friends compared her to such a tiny, insignificant bird, had it not been for the way her face lit up whenever she was so addressed. For some reason, being called Sparrow made his mother happy and so, even though Logan didn't understand it, he managed not to be upset by it.
It was surprising, though, that this Reaver was a close friend and had still managed to make the Queen so angry. Sometimes her other advisors – Sir Walter Beck and Major Swift, to name but two – aggravated her when they pointed out flaws in her reasoning, but that was different. She did not rage, she simply expressed frustration… over what, Logan wasn't sure. Not seeing those flaws for herself, he supposed.
"Oh, of course you didn't!" she snarled now, and Logan tensed, wondering if he ought to fetch the guard. "There's ever so much you don't know until it's convenient to! What was the plan this time – were you really intending to drag me to Aurora with the sole intention of trying to sell me off to that thing? I would have thought you had enough on with the Sha—"
There was a loud bang, as though a piece of furniture had been overturned and his mother's voice was cut off. Reaver spoke, but his voice was too low and the words coming too quickly for Logan to make sense of what was being said, had he still been at his post. At the bang and the sudden stop to his mother's stream of rage, however, he had abandoned the door in favour of charging down the corridor, relief washing over him when he spotted a familiar uniform.
"Guard!" he cried out, trying not to tremble. "Go to the war room immediately! I think my mother needs help!"
Finally looking up from his cup, Logan's gaze drifted around the room until it alighted upon a large, ornate chair, one of several in the room. It looked heavy – certainly heavy enough to cause the bang he recalled. The bang of a chair falling over as someone who had been reclining in it stood quickly enough to knock it over, incensed by what he had just heard. I would have thought you had enough on with the Sha—
Whatever that meant. Logan had puzzled over it for some weeks afterwards, but eventually other issues had pushed the matter from his mind, helped by the fact that, after Reaver was ejected from the castle, the Queen spoke not one word on the matter that Logan knew of and everyone else followed her example.
What had happened after Logan alerted the guard was a blur; that soldier called others and soon a number that seemed like an army to young Logan was charging towards the war room, while servants hurried him away to Jasper, who endeavoured to keep him distracted until safety was declared once more. A fruitless task, as the butler must have known, as the tea and games went untouched as Logan paced his room, questioning Jasper endlessly about what had happened, even though he realised the butler couldn't possibly know.
In many ways, it would have been better if he had, though, for instead Logan had to rely on hearsay and gossip. Far from the most reliable source of information, of course, but as a youngster he had been forced to take what he could get. Stories varied, from the lewd (thankfully, he had been too young then to realise what the maids were really insinuating when they spoke of Reaver having the Queen up against a wall) to the violent (Logan now recalled listening to one particularly detailed story courtesy of one of the grooms when he went to get his pony one day; the boy had claimed the guard found the Queen pinned to the wall by Reaver, her sword at his throat and his pistol at her temple, and the resulting fight had been so brutal it had frightened even the guard). What really happened was beyond guessing – well, he was quite sure the situation hadn't been resolved through sex, not least because Logan shuddered at the very idea of contemplating such a notion in connection with his mother.
Just as he was trying to eject that particular image from his mind, Logan was startled by the opening of the war room door. The face of a footman appeared, anxious as the maid had been.
"Sir Walter Beck to see you, Your Majesty."
Ah, at last! Something resembling a smile came to Logan's face as Walter entered the room. His very presence, emanating experience, was calming… Although Walter himself did not look entirely calm. The expression he had worn earlier at the port – that shocked, worried and concerned look – was creasing his face once more. That did not trouble Logan so much, though, as how that expression might change after he told Walter what had happened.
"Logan," Walter greeted him after the footman had been dismissed, walking over to the king and laying a hand on his shoulder. "How are you feeling?"
It was a reasonable enquiry, but it struck Logan as so ridiculous that he had to fight not to laugh. "I… I've been better."
He could feel Walter's eyes on him as the older man sized up the situation; estimated how deeply he could probe.
"I noticed that you came back without your men…"
Logan felt his stomach clench as the memories crashed over him again; his men, driven to madness and torn to shreds before his very eyes by the Crawler and its demented children, perhaps with the intention of breaking him. Logan certainly felt as though something had broken within him that day – perhaps he had gone mad. Perhaps all this was a delusion of madness… Was he still under the blistering Auroran sun, only dreaming in his last moments of life that he had returned home to protect Albion? Ah, what fine irony…
Reality swam back into perspective with the help of Walter roughly shaking him. Logan blinked, for a moment unsure of what was happening – ah. Home after all… he hoped.
He uttered no word of complaint as Walter guided him to a seat and pushed a glass of whiskey into his shaking hands. Upon receiving the glass, he tried to tighten and steady his grip, but to little avail. His whole body felt wracked by cold, as though he had spent these last weeks in the heights of Mistpeak Valley, rather than under the blazing Auroran sun.
The world seemed to spin around him, tipping and whirling as though reality itself were caught in a gale. Words caught his ear from time to time, but he could hardly make sense of them as a whole – Walter was saying something about food, and sleep, and – shock?
"…have this conversation later. Drink that, we'll get you to your room."
Drink what—? Ah, the whiskey. Managing not to spill any, Logan downed the shot in one go and warmth bloomed within him. The spinning slowed, and he was able to focus on the present once again. Damn his mind, losing the thread of reality itself! Was he truly so weak that he could not even bring himself to recount his failures in Aurora? No – he would not fail all of them in that way.
"My men died in Aurora." The words came spilling out; the world still seemed off, but regaining balance enough for him to speak, though he was still chilled to his very bones. "We found port on a deserted beach and saw a building nearby; some sort of temple, we presumed."
Walter watched him closely for a few moments, as if wondering whether he was speaking fact or spinning imaginings born of a fever. Apparently satisfied that he would receive a sensible account of the voyage, he dragged another chair over and sat opposite Logan.
"Go on," he prompted quietly. "You went in?"
"Yes. There was nothing else we could do; we could see nothing else. I thought perhaps… A temple, there are worshippers, priests, surely someone who could help us." Logan paused, drawing in a deep, steadying breath. "But there was no one. Not a soul. And it was dark, so dark, as though we had walked into night itself, though the sun had been blinding only moments ago. We came to a large chamber with a staircase leading down in the centre, but it was covered by a… a force-field of some sort – one of the soldiers suggesting it was magic and I think it must have been."
Logan trailed off, his mind drifting back to the darkness; how it had seemed so small and cramped, despite how large the chamber was. How the darkness was like a pressing weight upon him…
"Focus, Logan!" Walter's voice, though not harsh, was firm enough to draw him back. "Believe me, I know what it's like to be trapped in the dark, but you have to remember. You wanted to tell me, so there's something important in all of this, isn't there?"
"I… yes," replied Logan. "Forgive me. I remember now."
"And I wonder if I ought to be asking you, Sir Walter," he finished, looking the old soldier in the eyes. For now, Logan saw only confusion, but that could easily be a cover – could, in fact, be truth, if Walter hadn't realised what he was getting at.
"Ask me? What the bloody hell do I know about any of this? I wasn't the one there, was I?"
"No, but I have no doubt that my mother shared her knowledge with you."
"What are you talking about?" Walter's confusion really did seem genuine; the old man's eyes were wide with shock at the words coming out of Logan's mouth and by the way he was clenching his fists it was clear his pride was wounded by the implication of disloyalty to his king. "Logan, your mother never went to Aurora! Apart from you, I don't think anyone's been there in… well, centuries, it must be!"
"On the contrary, my mother went to Aurora fourteen years ago, along with a companion of hers called Reaver. Given that she consulted yourself and Major Swift on all matters pertaining to the safety of Albion, I would find it highly unlikely she did not disclose what she discovered there to the two of you."
Walter was pale; it struck Logan that he looked almost ill. "Logan, upon my oath, your mother never told me she ever set foot in Aurora – and as far as I know, she never told Swift, either. Where did you find that out?"
"I overheard her speaking with this Reaver on her return to the castle," explained Logan, watching his long-time advisor and mentor carefully. True, he had never before had reason to suspect Walter of anything other than unswerving loyalty and did not think him a good enough actor to pretend innocence so extensively. So perhaps his mother had kept her trip to herself… but why? "As I recall, the discussion became quite… heated. I had to alert the guard—"
"Bloody hell," Walter swore quietly, the pieces obviously coming together. "I remember that day – I always thought there was little love lost between Reaver and your mother, but I never saw them as furious with each other as they were then. She never told me why, though."
"They had gone to Aurora and found something terrible there, from what I gathered. My mother seemed to think Reaver had conspired with it against her for some reason." Logan paused. He was well-versed in his mother's adventures but, for all that, he suspected there was much that had been kept from him. "It… seemed as though it was not the first time he had attempted to double-cross her."
Walter snorted. "Like I said, they were hardly the best of friends. He was an old ally of your mother's, though, never quite knew what he did to help her, but… Well, it was enough for her to tolerate him, at least."
"What a figure of mystery this man is." Logan stood, glad that the room did not begin to spin again, and began to pace the war room. "There's a lot I would like to discuss with him."
"Well, as far as I know, he's still in Bowerstone. A businessman now; he owns most of the factories in Industrial."
"Good. It shouldn't be hard for the guard to find him, then."
"Yes, Sir Walter. I think I ought to put out an arrest warrant for him. Let's see… Threatening the reigning monarch, withholding of information pertinent to the protection of the kingdom, attempted murder is probable – tell me, do you think treason covers his list of offences?"
"Look, I wouldn't protest seeing the bastard behind bars, but for the love of Light, Logan, what is this bloody threat to Albion you're talking about?"
"Ah… Yes, I didn't quite get to that part, did I?" The laugh that escaped Logan was more of a bark; humourless, hopeless. "The Aurorans who found me dying in the desert call it the Crawler. It… It's indescribable if you haven't encountered it. Darkness incarnate. Perhaps it is what the Temple of Shadows worships; perhaps it is not of this world at all. I don't know, Sir Walter, but I do know that it killed every last man who accompanied me on that voyage. It and its children – little shadows, half my size, insubstantial enough that you ought to be able to dissipate them with a harsh touch, but murderous – you know, I never imagined that a shadow could kill you. That a shadow could drive a man to madness, so much so that he impales himself on his own sword to avoid being taken by it."
"By the Light…" There was more fear on Walter's face now than Logan ever recalled there being before, even eighteen years ago when there had been a rebel uprising and there had been rumours that the rebels might take Bowerstone. Perhaps, Logan reflected, he had more of a talent for illustration than he had previously guessed. "And yet you survived."
"Yes. It… It left me for last. Perhaps it sensed I was the leader and wished for me to see the true extent of the horror I had led my men into." A shudder ran through him. "Whatever the reason, it was my curse and my blessing; we had been lost in the darkness, but the… distraction allowed me enough time to find the right tunnel and escape. I wandered the desert for hours until Kalin – the leader of the Aurorans left – and her people found me."
He drew in a breath, trying to keep a hold of himself. "The Crawler has devastated Aurora for years; there are but a handful of its people left, living in constant fear. I swore our aid to them, but shortly before I left I had a visitor who brought me grave news. She claimed to have guided my mother – did she ever mention a woman called Theresa?"
At the name, Walter jolted as though struck by lightning. "The Seer of the Spire? She came to you?"
"A blind woman, dressed in red and white, with a hood mostly concealing her face. A seer?" Logan shrugged. "I suppose she must be; she told me she had foreseen… So her visions guided my mother also. Strange, isn't it, how much gets left out of common folklore?"
If Walter took this last remark as an insult to his storytelling, he showed no sign of it. "Sometimes, Logan, it's best if legends are left to sleep, in case keeping them awake encourages more trouble. Seems as though we won't be rid of her any time soon, though. What did she say?"
"That the Crawler, although currently content to ravage Aurora, will in five years be seeking a new feast. A new land to turn into a very ghost of itself; new people to torment." As he spoke, Logan approached the map that stood in the centre of the room, caressing the sandy peaks of Aurora with one gloved hand. "Tell me, Sir Walter, which land is closest to Aurora, which might attract the attention of such a being?"
Logan had not thought it possible for Walter to lose more colour from his face, but he did, so much so that the king almost called for a doctor, fearing a sudden illness. In a few moments, though, Walter collected himself and said, with a great, shuddering sigh:
"Albion. It's Albion, isn't it?"
Logan nodded. "Five years, Sir Walter, to raise defences against something that it may well not be possible to defeat. Five years to prepare for the worst threat Albion has ever faced." His hands curled into fists. "And I don't know how to begin."
At that, Walter too stood and came to stand by the map. Although still pale and shocked, he seemed to feel better thinking of a plan. "We'll think of something, Logan. I told you we would before I knew what had happened and I still stand by it. You are your mother's son—"
"No," Logan cut him off. "I am not, and you know I am not – not in the sense you and everyone else have been hoping for. I am no Hero, Sir Walter; I cannot defeat the Crawler single-handedly by riding out with strength in my sword, skill in my gun and magic at my beckoning, although Light knows I will ride out all the same if it comes to it. But I cannot win alone; I know that."
"It might not come to that, Logan."
Logan gave a bleak bark of laughter. "Sir Walter, you are a soldier of great experience – tell me, honestly, for the sake of Albion, what are the chances of this not coming to a battle?"
"…Low," admitted the soldier. "Very low. But we have five years to plan, Logan, it isn't as though this is an ambush around the next corner."
"But my mother went to Aurora," Logan reminded him. "I suspect the thing she accused of Reaver of attempting to betray her to was the Crawler. I was ten years old then, Sir Walter, do the arithmetic. There were five years between that day and her death, and nothing was done; how can I do any better in the same time?"
"You're assuming too much, Logan. Even if your mother did know about this thing, and even if she had any inkling that it would come to Albion, she would have thought she had almost two decades to plan. Besides, I don't think she did know – your mother would never have stayed silent about something like this, Logan, she worked too hard to defend Albion to let something like the Crawler attack us unawares."
"Then what was she talking about with Reaver?"
"I have no idea," admitted Walter. "Are you sure she said she went to Aurora?"
"Positive." Sighing, the king ran a hand through his hair. "I'll go through her old documents again when I've finished the condolence letters to the families of my men. And if we can get hold of Reaver, that would certainly help."
Walter nodded. "One step at a time. And if he can tear himself away from Bloodstone, I'll send a summons for Swift; who knows? Maybe the Queen did tell him something."
"If nothing else, I would appreciate his advice. He has fought Hollow Men in the past, if I remember rightly; perhaps he can offer some means of fighting that which lies beyond our understanding."
"Right, then. I'll send a message now." Walter stood to leave, only to pause when Logan shook his head.
"First, there's another matter I wish to discuss with you. Something I would entrust to nobody but yourself."
"Oh? What is it?"
"My sister." Logan paused, choosing his words with care as the plan that had been formulating in the back of his mind now revealed itself in completeness. "I would rather Rose did not remain in Bowerstone, Sir Walter. We have five years, but even so… This would be the first point of attack, and the city will become a hive of military activity. Not the correct environment for a child, or a princess, as I'm sure you'll agree. And if the Crawler were to arrive before the date given to me by Theresa…"
"Of course you want to keep her safe, but I'm not sure what I can do – unless you want me to escort her somewhere?"
"Precisely, that and more. I would have you take her to safety – perhaps the royal summer house in Millfields, it's a fair way from the coast and there's a guard presence there as it is." It would be a blow to lose Walter's advice, but this was a task he would trust nobody else with. Walter had been Logan's mentor, but to Rose he had been and still was – likely always would be – the closest thing to a father he had ever known. Walter would guard her better than anyone. "Keep her there and make sure she is safe."
Walter gave him a look that said this would not go easily. "I want Rose safe as much as you do, Logan, but I can't leave Bowerstone in good conscience while we have this attack to plan for."
"You will do it because I decree it as your king, Sir Walter."
"And, as your advisor, I have to tell you that I'm staying here. Logan, you said yourself you hardly know where to begin with your plans."
Logan wavered then. As much as he wanted Rose safe – as much as he placed her safety above all else – it was true that he would be lost without Walter's guidance. Besides, wouldn't it be a better guard for Rose if he knew she could grow up without fear of the Crawler? Without fear of being attacked, smothered by that darkness?
Walter sensed his advantage and pressed it. "Believe me, Logan, I'll do everything I can to keep Rose safe. For now, though… Well, let's take it slowly. Why not wait until Swift arrives and we've got hold of Reaver? Light willing, maybe this whole thing might not be as bad as it first seems."
"I suppose…" It was hard to make decisions. Logan's head was pounding and he was reminded of his thoughts from earlier; the surety the crown gave him, but also the fear of doing the wrong thing. "Very well. Say a month, to prepare and be sure of our information. That will be June; we'd normally leave Bowerstone then anyway."
"A fine plan," agreed Walter. "So: a summons for Swift, letters to the families of your men – compensation?"
Logan nodded. "We have enough gold to send the families their men's wages."
"Marvellous. You see to the letters, and the treasury can deal with the rest. And then Reaver – are you sure about the arrest warrant? It might send him to ground."
"I'm sure. I want him to realise the seriousness of the situation. Even if he does try to flee, his name and description can easily be circulated around the kingdom; he will not evade us for long."
"Very well," agreed Walter, although he did not look entirely convinced.
"And I will look over my mother's documents; they were sent to the archives, were they not?"
"Most of them; I think she bequeathed some of them to the Brightwall Academy." Walter drummed his fingers on the map thoughtfully. "I doubt she would have sent anything that has what you're after, though."
"And, of course, she might have hidden things anywhere. Mother always was secretive." Particularly about something like this, Logan added to himself.
"I'm sure you'll find it. If there's anything to be found, your mother wouldn't have wanted it to go to waste; just to be kept safe until the right time."
Logan sighed. Even though it felt as though everything was slowly coming together, he still felt overwhelmed by the enormity of the task set before him. Still, it helped that Walter had condensed the immediate future into manageable tasks.
"I hope you're right. Now, I won't delay you any longer – we both have work to do, it seems."
Walter gave him a nod of acquiescence. "If Swift can be spared, he ought to be here in a fortnight if the messenger leaves today."
"Very good." Logan was about to make a gesture of dismissal when Walter spoke up again.
"And Logan? I'd advise you to get some food and sleep before you do anything else. You're nearly at the point of collapse and you can't help anyone if you end up bedridden."
Logan grimaced at the thought of delaying the start of his tasks, but he saw the wisdom in Walter's words. "All right, but I will not delay long. If nothing else, there must be many out there desperate for news of sons and husbands."
"There's nothing to be done for the poor bastards now," Walter said, fairly and not without feeling. "They need news, but a few hours won't make a difference either way."
Piece said, he made to leave, only to be called back; Logan hardly knew the words were coming until they left his mouth.
"We… we will win this, won't we?"
Logan thought it pathetic how young he sounded; how unsure. He suddenly felt fifteen again, the glamour and gloss of the coronation over and he, little more than a child, faced with the work of the kingdom piled up around him. Now, as on that day, Walter gave him a warm and comforting smile.
"'Course we will!" he boomed, showing no sign of worry. "Never been a villain yet that Albion hasn't overcome somehow. Mark my words, Logan, you'll do your mother and the people of Albion proud."
It was as hearty a speech as he could have asked for and, if it did not banish the darkness within him, it at least temporarily saw it off to recesses not directly linked to his thoughts; Logan allowed Walter to quit him with a smile that was small but genuine.
They would win. The Crawler would not take Albion, no matter what the cost.
A/N: And that is the last we'll see from Logan for a little while, at least directly! The influence of his decisions will be felt throughout the story, but as of the next chapter we'll be shifting the focus to a younger member of the royal family and the influences around her. Hopefully this won't be too disappointing; honestly, after this chapter, I won't be surprised if it's a relief to escape Logan's incessant angsting. 'Til next time, readers, and please do let me know your thoughts!