Wednesday, 10 April 2019

The range of love between two couples

Thor ran through the night, through the chaotic streets of King’s Court, amazed at the commotion around him. The streets were more crowded than ever, throngs of people hurrying about in an agitated stir. Many carried torches, lighting up the night, casting stark shadows on faces, while the castle bells tolled incessantly. It was a low ring, coming once a minute, and Thor knew what that meant: death. Death bells. And there was only one person in the kingdom for whom the bells would toll on this night: the king.
Thor’s heart pounded as he wondered. He saw that dagger from his dream flash before his eyes. Had it been true?
He had to know for sure. He reached out and grabbed a passerby, a boy running the opposite direction.
“Where are you going?” Thor demanded. “What is all this commotion?”
“Haven’t you heard?” the boy shot back, frantic. “Our king is dying. Stabbed. Mobs are forming outside King’s Gate, trying to get the news. If it’s true, it’s terrible for us all. Can you imagine? A land without a king?”
With that, the boy shoved Thor’s hand off and turned and ran back into the night.
Thor stood there, his heart pounding, not wanting to acknowledge the reality all around him. He could hardly believe it. His dreams, his premonitions – they were more than fancies. He had seen the future. Twice. And that scared him. His powers were deeper than he knew, and seemed to be getting stronger with each passing day. Where would this all lead?
Thor stood there, trying to figure out where to go next. He had escaped, but now he had no idea where to turn. Surely within moments the royal guards – and possibly all of King’s Court – would be out looking out for him. The fact that Thor escaped would just make him seem more guilty. But then again, the fact that MacGil was stabbed while Thor was in prison – wouldn’t that vindicate him? Or would it make him seem like part of a conspiracy?
Thor couldn’t take any chances. Clearly, the kingdom wasn’t in the mood to hear rational thought – it seemed that everyone around him was out for blood. And he would probably be the scapegoat. He needed to find shelter, some place to go where he could ride out the storm and clear his name. The safest place to go, he knew, would be far from here. He should flee, take refuge in his village – or even farther, as far from here as he could get.
But Thor did not want to take the safest route; it was not who he was. He wanted to stay here, to clear his name, and to keep his position in the Legion. He was not a coward, and he did not run. Most of all, he wanted to see MacGil before he died, assuming he was still alive. He needed to see him. He felt overwhelmed with guilt that he hadn’t been able to stop the assassination. Why had he been doomed to see the king’s death if there was nothing he could do about it? And why had he envisioned him being poisoned when he was, in fact, stabbed?
As Thor stood there, debating, it came to him: Reese. Reese was the one person he could trust not to turn him into the authorities, maybe even to give him safe harbor. He sensed that Reese would believe him. He knew that Thor’s love for his father was genuine, and if anyone had a chance of clearing Thor’s name, it would be Reese. He had to find him.
Thor took off at a sprint through the back alleys, twisting and turning against the crowd, as he ran away from King’s Gate, towards the castle. He knew where Reese’s room was – on the eastern wing, close to the outer city wall – and he only hoped that Reese was inside. If he was, maybe he could catch his attention, help him find a way into the castle. Thor had a sinking feeling that if he lingered here, in the streets, he would soon be recognized. And when this mob recognized him, it would tear him to bits.
As Thor turned down street after street, his feet slipping in the mud of the cool summer night, he finally reached the stone wall of the outer ramparts. He stuck close, running alongside it, just beneath the eyes of the watchful soldiers who stood every few feet.
As he neared Reese’s window, he reached down and picked up a smooth rock. Luckily, the one weapon they had forgotten to strip him of was his old, trusted sling, and he extracted it from his waist, placed the stone, reached back, and hurled it.
With his flawless aim, Thor managed to send the stone flying over the castle wall and perfectly into the open-air window of Reese’s room. Thor heard the stone clack into the inner wall, then waited, ducking low along the wall to escape detection by the King’s guards, who flinched at the noise.
Nothing happened for several moments, and Thor’s heart dropped, as he wondered if Reese was not in his room after all. If not, Thor would have to flee this place; there was no other way for him to gain safe harbor. He held his breath, his heart pounding, as he waited, watching the opening by Reese’s window.
After what felt like an eternity, Thor was about to turn away, when he saw a figure lean his head out the window, brace both palms on the windowsill, and look around with a puzzled expression.
Thor stood, darting out several steps away from the wall, and waved one arm high.
Reese looked down and noticed him. Reese’s face lit up in recognition, visible in the torchlight even from here, and, Thor was relieved to see joy on his face. That told him all he needed to know: Reese would not turn him in.
Reese signaled for him to wait, and Thor hurried back to the wall, squatting low just as a guard turned his way.
Thor waited for he did not know how long, ready at any moment to flee from the guards, until finally Reese appeared, bursting through a door in the outer wall, breathing hard as he looked both ways and spotted Thor.
Reese hurried over and embraced him. Thor was overjoyed. He heard a squeaking, and looked down to see, to his delight, Krohn, bundled up in Reese’s shirt. Krohn nearly jumped out of the shirt as Reese reached down and handed him to Thor.
Krohn leapt into Thor’s arms as Thor hugged him back, whining and squealing and licking Thor’s face.
Reese smiled.
“When they took you away, he tried to follow you, and I took him to make sure he was safe.”
Thor clasped Reese’s forearm, in appreciation. Then he laughed, as Krohn kept licking him.
“I missed you too, boy,” Thor laughed, kissing him back. “Quiet now, or the guards will hear us.”
Krohn quieted, as if he understood.
“How did you escape?” Reese asked, surprised.
Thor shrugged. He did not quite know what to say. He still felt uncomfortable speaking about his powers, which he did not understand. He didn’t want others to think of him as some kind of freak.
“I got lucky I guess,” he responded. “I saw an opportunity and I took it.”
“I’m amazed a mob did not tear you apart,” Reese said.
“It’s dark,” Thor said. “I don’t think anyone recognized me. Not yet, anyway.”
“Do you know that every soldier in the kingdom is looking for you? Do you know that my father has been stabbed?”
Thor nodded, serious. “Is he okay?”
Reese’s face fell.
“No,” he answered, grim. “He is dying.”
Thor felt devastated, as if it were his own father.
“You know I had nothing to do with it, don’t you?” Thor asked, hopeful. He didn’t care what anyone else thought, but he needed his best friend, MacGil’s youngest son, to know that he was innocent.
“Of course,” Reese said. “Or else I would not be standing here.”
Thor felt a wave of relief, and clasped Reese on the shoulder gratefully.
“But the rest of the kingdom will not be so trusting as I,” Reese added. “The safest place for you is far from here. I will give you my fastest horse, a pack of supplies, and send you far away. You must hide out, until this all dies down, until they find the true killer. No one is thinking clearly now.”
Thor shook his head.
“I cannot leave,” he said. “That would make me seem guilty. I need others to know I did not do this. I cannot run from my troubles. I must clear my name.”
Reese shook his head.
“If you stay here, they’ll find you. You’ll get imprisoned again – and then executed – if not killed by a mob first.”
“That is a chance I must take,” Thor said.
Reese stared at him long and hard, and his look changed from one of concern to one of admiration. Finally, slowly, he nodded.
“You are proud. And stupid. Very stupid. That is why like you.”
Reese smiled. Thor smiled back.
“I need to see your father,” Thor said. “I need to have a chance to explain to him, face-to-face, that it wasn’t me, that I’d nothing to do with it. If he decides to sentence me, then so be it. But I need one chance. I want him to know. That is all I ask of you.”
Reese stared back earnestly, summing up his friend. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, he nodded.
“I can get you to him. I know a back way. It leads to his chamber. It’s risky – and once you’re in, you will be on your own. There is no way out. They’ll be nothing I can do for you then. It could mean your death. Are you sure you want to take that chance?”
Thor nodded back with deadly seriousness.
“Very well then,” Reese said, and suddenly reached down and threw a cloak at Thor.
Thor caught it and looked down in surprise; he realized Reese must have planned for this all along.
Reese smiled as Thor looked up.
“I knew you’d be dumb enough to want to stay. I’d expect nothing less from my best friend

Gareth paced his chamber, reliving the events of the night, flooded with anxiety. He could hardly believe what had happened at the feast, how it had all gone so wrong. He could hardly comprehend that that stupid boy, that outsider, Thor, had somehow caught onto his poison plot – and even more, had managed to actually intercept the goblet. Gareth thought back to that moment when he saw Thor jump up, knock down the goblet, when he heard the goblet hit the stone, watched the wine spill out on the floor, and saw all his dreams and aspirations spill out with it.
In that moment, he had been ruined. Everything he’d lived for had been crushed. And when that dog lapped up the wine and dropped dead – he knew he was finished. He saw his whole life flash before him, saw himself discovered, sentenced to life in the dungeon for trying to kill his father. Or worse, executed. It was stupid. He should have never gone through with the plan, never visited that witch.
Gareth had, at least, acted quickly, taking a chance and jumping to his feet and being the first to pin the blame on Thor. Looking back, he was proud of himself, at how quickly he had reacted. It had been a moment of inspiration, and to his amazement, it seemed to have worked. They had dragged Thor off, and afterwards, the feast had nearly settled down again. Of course, nothing was the same after that, but at the very least, the suspicion seemed to fall squarely on the boy.
Gareth only prayed that it stayed that way. It had been decades since an assassination attempt on a MacGil, and Gareth feared there would be an inquiry, that they would end up looking more deeply into the deed. Looking back, it had been foolish to try to poison him. His father was invincible. He should have known that. He had over-reached. And now he could not help feel as if it were only a matter of time until the suspicion fell on him. He would have to do whatever he could to prove Thor’s guilt, and have him executed before it was too late.
At least Gareth had somewhat redeemed himself: after that failed attempt, he had called off the assassination. Now, Gareth felt relieved. After watching the plot fail, he had realized that there was a part of him, deep down, that did not want to kill his father after all, that did not want to have his blood on his hands. He would not be King. He might never be king. But after tonight’s events, that was okay with him. At least he would be free. He could never handle the stress of going through all of this again, the secrets, the covering up, the constant anxiety of being found out. It was too much for him.
As he paced and paced, the night growing late, finally, slowly, he began to calm. Just as he was beginning to feel himself, preparing to settle in for the night, there came a sudden crash, and he turned to see his door burst open. In burst Firth, wide-eyed, frantic, rushing into the room as if he were being chased.
“He’s dead!” Firth screamed. “He’s dead! I killed him. He’s dead!”
Firth was hysterical, wailing, and Gareth had no idea what he was talking about. Was he drunk?
Firth ran throughout the room, shrieking, crying, holding up his hands – and it was then that Gareth noticed his palms, covered in blood, his yellow tunic, stained red.
Gareth’s heart skipped a beat. Firth had just killed someone. But who?
“Who is dead?” Gareth demanded. “Who do you speak of?”
But Firth was hysterical, and could not focus. Gareth ran to him, grabbed his shoulders firmly and shook him.
“Answer me!”
Firth opened his eyes and stared, with the eyes of a wild horse.
“Your father! The King. He’s dead! By my hand!”
At his words, Gareth felt as if a knife had been plunged into his own heart.
He stared back, wide-eyed, frozen, feeling his whole body go numb. He released his grip, took a step back, and tried to catch his breath. He could see from all the blood that Firth was genuine. He could not even fathom it. Firth? The stable boy? The most weak-willed of all his friends? Killed his father?
“But…how is that possible?” Gareth gasped. “When?”
“It happened in his chamber,” Firth said. “Just now. I stabbed him.”
The reality of the news began to sink in, and Gareth regained his wits; he noticed his open door, ran to it, and slammed it shut, checking first to make sure no guards had seen. Luckily, the corridor was empty. He pulled the heavy iron bolt across it.
He hurried back across the room. Firth was still hysterical, and he needed to calm him. He needed answers.
He grasped him by the shoulders, spun him, and back-handed him hard enough to make him stop. Finally, Firth focused on him.
“Tell me everything,” Gareth ordered coldly. “Tell me exactly what happened. Why did you do this?”
“What do you mean why?” Firth asked, confused. “You wanted to kill him. Your poison didn’t work. I thought I could help you. I thought that was what you wanted.”
Gareth shook his head. He grabbed Firth by the shirt and shook him, again and again.
“Why did you do this!?” Gareth screamed.
Gareth felt his whole world crumbling. He was shocked to realize that he actually felt remorse for his father. He could not understand it. Just hours ago, he’d wanted more than anything to see him poisoned, dead at the table. Now the idea of his being killed struck him like the death of a best friend. He felt overwhelmed with remorse. A part of him had not wanted him to die after all – especially not this way. Not by Firth’s hand. And not by a blade.
“I don’t understand,” Firth whined. “Just hours ago you tried to kill him yourself. Your goblet plot. I thought you would be grateful!”
To his own surprise, Gareth reached back and smacked Firth across the face.
“I did not tell you to do this!” Gareth spat. “I never told you to do this. Why did you kill him? Look at you. You are covered in blood. Now we are both finished. It is only a matter of time until the guards catch us.”
“No one saw,” Firth pleaded. “I slipped between the shifts. No one spotted me.”
“And where is the weapon?”
“I did not leave it,” Firth said proudly. “I’m not stupid. I disposed of it.”
“And what blade did you use?” Gareth asked, his mind spinning with the implications. He went from remorse to worry; his mind raced with every detail of the trail that this bumbling fool might have left, every detail that might lead to him.
“I used one that could not be traced,” Firth said, proud of himself. “It was a dull, anonymous blade. I found it in the stables. There were four others just like it. It could not be traced,” he repeated.
Gareth felt his heart drop.
“Was it a short knife, with a red handle and a curved blade? Mounted on the wall beside my horse?”
Firth nodded back, looking doubtful.
Gareth glowered.
“You fool. Of course that blade is traceable!”
“But there were no markings on it!” Firth protested, sounding scared, his voice trembling.
“There are no markings on the blade – but there is a mark on the hilt!” Gareth yelled. “Underneath! You did not check carefully. You fool,” Gareth said, stepping forward, reddening. “The emblem of my horse is carved underneath it. Anyone who knows the royal family well can trace that blade back to me.”
He stared at Firth, who seemed stumped. He wanted to kill him.
“What did you do with it?” Gareth pressed. “Tell me you have it on you. Tell me that you brought it back with you. Please.”
Firth swallowed.
“I disposed of it carefully. No one will ever find it.”
Gareth grimaced.
“Where, exactly?”
“I threw it down the stone chute, into the castle’s chamber pot. They dump the pot every hour, into the river. Do not worry, my lord. It’s deep in the river by now.”
The castle bells suddenly tolled, and Gareth turned and ran to the open window, his heart flooded with panic. He looked out and saw all the chaos and commotion below, mobs surrounding the castle. Those bells tolling could only mean one thing: Firth was not lying. He had killed his father. He could scarcely believe it.
Gareth felt his body grow icy cold. He could not conceive that he had set in motion such a great evil. And that Firth, of all people, had executed it.
There came a sudden pounding at his door, and as it burst open, several royal guards rushed in. For a moment, Gareth was sure they would arrest him.
But to his surprise, they stopped and stood at attention.
“My Lord, your father has been stabbed. There may be an assassin on the loose. Be sure to stay safe in your room. He is gravely injured.”
The hair rose on the back of Gareth’s neck at that last word.
“Injured?” Gareth echoed, the word nearly sticking in his throat. “Is he still alive then?”
“He is, my lord. And god be with him, he will survive, and tell us who did this heinous act.”
With a short bow the guard hurried from the room, slamming closed the door.
A rage overwhelmed Gareth and he grabbed Firth by his shoulders, drove him across the room and slammed him into a stone wall.
Firth stared back, wide-eyed, looking horrified, speechless.
“What have you done?” Gareth screamed. “Now we are both finished!”
“But…but….” Firth stumbled, “…I was sure he was dead!”
“You are sure of a lot of things,” Gareth said, “and they are all wrong!”
A thought occurred to Gareth.
“That dagger,” he said. “We have to retrieve it, before it’s too late.”
“But I threw it away, my lord,” Firth said. “It is washed away in the river!”
“You threw it into a chamber pot. That does not mean it is yet in the river.”
“But it most likely is!” Firth said.
Gareth could stand this idiot’s bumbling no longer. He burst past him, running out the door, Firth on his heels.
“I will go with you. I will show you exactly where I threw it,” Firth said.
Gareth stopped in the corridor, turned and stared at Firth. He was covered in blood, and Gareth was amazed the guards had not spotted it. It was lucky. He was more of a liability than ever.
“I’m only going to say this once,” Gareth growled. “Get back to my room at once, change your clothes, and burn them. Get rid of any traces of blood. Then disappear from this castle. Stay away from me on this night. Do you understand me?”
Gareth shoved him back, then turned and ran. He sprinted down the corridor, ran down the spiral stone staircase, going down level after level, towards the servant’s quarters.
Finally, he burst into the basement, to the turned heads of several servants. They had been in the midst of scrubbing enormous pots and boiling pails of water. Huge fires roared amidst brick kilns, and the servants, wearing stained aprons, were drenched in sweat.
On the far side of the room Gareth spotted an enormous chamber pot, filth hailing down from a chute and splashing in it every minute.
Gareth ran up to the closest servant and grabbed his arm desperately.
“When was the last pot emptied?” Gareth asked.
“It was taken to the river just minutes ago, my lord.”
Gareth turned and raced out the room, sprinting down the castle corridors, back up the spiral staircase, and bursting out into the cool night air.
He ran across the grass field, breathless as he sprinted for the river.
As he neared it, he found a place to hide, behind a large tree, close to the shore. He watched two servants raise the huge iron pot and tilt it into the rushing current of the river.
He watched until it was upside down, all of its contents emptied, until they turned back with the pot and trekked back towards the castle.
Finally, Gareth was satisfied. No one had spotted any blade. Wherever it was, it was now in the river’s tides, being washed away into anonymity. If his father should die on this night, there would be no evidence left to trace the murderer.

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