Home > Prince of Fools (The Red Queen's War #1)(11)

Prince of Fools (The Red Queen's War #1)(11)
Mark Lawrence

“Those slaves that put on this morning’s entertainment in the throne room . . . what’s to become of them, Ameral?” I moved to intercept him while he tried to circumnavigate me, his order-scroll clutched tight in one pudgy fist.

“I’m to set them on a caravan for Port Ismuth with papers dissolving any indenture.” He stopped trying to get past me and sighed. “What is it that you want, Prince Jalan?”

“Only the Norseman.” I gave him a smile and a wink. “He’s too dangerous to just set free. That should have been obvious to everyone. In any event, Grandmother sent me to take charge of him.”

Contaph looked up at me, eyes narrow with distrust. “I’ve had no such instructions.”

I have, I must confess, a very honest face. Bluff and courageous, it’s been called. I’m easy to mistake for a hero, and with a little effort I can convince even the most cynical stranger of my sincerity. With people who know me, that trick becomes more difficult. Much more difficult.

“Walk with me.” I set a hand to his shoulder and steered him towards the Battle Gate. It’s good to steer a man in the direction he intended to go. It blurs the line between what he wants and what you want.

“In truth the Red Queen gave me a scroll with the order. A hasty scrawl on a scrap of parchment, really. And to my shame I’ve let it drop in my rush to get here.” I took my hand from his shoulder and unfastened the gold chain from around my wrist, a thing of heavy links set with a small ruby on both clasps. “It would be deeply embarrassing for me to have to return and admit the loss to my grandmother. A friend would understand such things.” I took to steering him again as if my only desire were for him to reach his destination safely. The chain I dangled before him. “You are my friend, aren’t you, Ameral?” Rather than drop the chain into a pocket of his robe and risk reminding him of scorpions, I pressed it into the midst of his sweaty palm and risked him realizing it was red glass and gold plated over lead, and thinly at that. Anything of true value I’d long since pawned against the interest on my debts.

“You’ll retrace your steps and find this document?” Contaph asked, pausing to stare at the chain in his hand. “And bring it for filing before sunset?”

“Assuredly.” I oozed sincerity. Any more and it would be dripping from me.

“He is dangerous, this Norseman.” Contaph nodded as if persuading himself. “A heathen with false gods. I was surprised, I must admit, to see freedom set against his name.”

“An oversight.” I nodded. “Now corrected.” Ahead of us Double appeared to be engaged in heated conversation through the view grille set into the Battle Gate’s subdoor. “You may allow the prisoners out,” I called to him. “We’re ready for them now!”

• • •

“You’re looking uncommonly pleased with yourself.” Darin strolled into the High Hall, a dining gallery named for its elevation rather than the height of its ceiling. I like to eat there for the view it offers, both out across the palace compound and, via slit windows, into the great entrance hall of my father’s house.

“Pheasant, pickled trout, hen’s eggs.” I gestured at the silver plates set before me on the long trestle. “What’s not to be pleased about? Help yourself.” Darin is self-righteous and overly curious about my doings, but not the royal pain in the arse that Martus is, so by dint of not being Martus he carries the title of “favourite brother.”

“The domo reports dishes keep going missing from the kitchens of late.” Darin took an egg and sat at the far end of the table with it.

“Curious.” That would be Jula, our sharp-eyed head cook, telling tales to the house domo, though how such whispers came to Darin’s ear . . . “I’d have a few of the scullions beaten. Soon put a stop to it.”

“On what evidence?” He salted the egg and bit deep.

“Evidence be damned! Bloody up a few of the menials, put the fear into the lot of them. That’ll put an end to it. That’s what Grandmother would do. Light fingers get broken, she’d say.” I went for honest outrage, using my own discomfort to colour my reactions. No more selling off the family silver for Jal, then . . . that line of credit had come to an end. Still, I had the Norseman safely stowed away in the Marsail keep. I could see the keep from where I sat, a slouching edifice of stone more ancient than any part of the palace, scarred and disfigured but stubbornly resisting the plans of a dozen former kings to tear it down. A ring of tiny windows, heavily barred, ran around its girth like a belt. Snorri ver Snagason would be looking up at one of those from the floor of his cell. I’d told them to give him red meat, rare and bloody. Fighters thrive on blood.

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