Home > Prince of Fools (The Red Queen's War #1)(2)

Prince of Fools (The Red Queen's War #1)(2)
Mark Lawrence

The DeVeers’ wall was a high and forbidding one, but it and I were old friends: I knew its curves and foibles as well as any contour Lisa, Sharal, or Micha might possess. Escape routes have always been an obsession of mine.

Most barriers are there to keep the unwashed out, not the washed in. I vaulted a rain barrel, onto the roof of a gardener’s outbuilding, and jumped for the wall. Teeth snapped at my heels as I hauled myself over. I clung by my fingers and dropped. A shiver of relief ran through me as the hound found its voice and scrabbled against the far side of the wall in frustration. The beast had run silent and almost caught me. The silent ones are apt to kill you. The more sound and fury there is, the less murderous the animal. True of men too. I’m nine parts bluster and one part greed and so far not an ounce of murder.

I landed in the street, less heavily this time, free and clear, and if not smelling of roses then at least of azalea and mixed herbs. Alain would be a problem for another day. He could take his place in the queue. It was a long one and at its head stood Maeres Allus clutching a dozen promissory notes, IOUs, and intents to pay drunkenly scrawled on whores’ silken lingerie. I stood, stretched, and listened to the hound complain behind the wall. I’d need a taller wall than that to keep Maeres’s bullies at bay.

Kings Way stretched before me, strewn with shadows. On Kings Way the town houses of noble families vie with the ostentation of merchant-princes’ mansions, new money trying to gleam brighter than the old. The city of Vermillion has few streets as fine.

“Take him to the gate! He’s got the scent.” Voices back in the garden.

“Here, Pluto! Here!”

That didn’t sound good. I set off sprinting in the direction of the palace, sending rats fleeing and scattering dungmen on their rounds, the dawn chasing after me, throwing red spears at my back.

TWO

T he palace at Vermillion is a sprawling affair of walled compounds, exquisite gardens, satellite mansions for extended family, and finally the Inner Palace, the great stone confection that has for generations housed the kings of Red March. The whole thing is garnished with marble statuary teased into startlingly lifelike forms by the artistry of Milano masons, and a dedicated man could probably scrape enough gold leaf off the walls to make himself slightly richer than Croesus. My grandmother hates it with a passion. She’d be happier behind granite barricades a hundred feet thick and spiked with the heads of her enemies.

Even the most decadent of palaces can’t be entered without some protocol, though. I slipped in via the Surgeons’ Gate, flipping a silver crown to the guard.

“Got you out early again, Melchar.” I make a point of knowing the guards’ names. They still think of me as the hero of Aral Pass and it’s helpful to have the gatekeepers on side when your life dangles from as large a web of lies as mine does.

“Aye, Prince Jal. Them’s as works best works hardest, they do say.”

“So true.” I had no idea what he’d said but my fake laugh is even better than my real one, and nine-tenths of being popular is the ability to jolly the menials along. “I’d get one of those lazy bastards to take a turn.” I nodded towards the lantern glow bleeding past the crack of the guardhouse door and strolled on through the gates as Melchar drew them open.

Once inside, I made a straight line for the Roma Hall. As the queen’s third son, Father got invested in the Roma Hall, a palatial Vatican edifice constructed by the pope’s own craftsmen for Cardinal Paracheck way back whenever. Grandmother has little enough time for Jesu and his cross, though she’ll say the words at celebrations and look to mean them. She has far less time for Roma, and none at all for the pope that sits there now—the Holy Cow, she calls her.

As Father’s third son I get bugger-all. A chamber in Roma Hall, an unwanted commission in the Army of the North, one that didn’t even swing me a cavalry rank since the northern borders are too damn hilly for horse. Scorron deploy cavalry on the borders, but Grandmother declared their pigheadedness a failing the Red March should exploit rather than a foolishness we should continue to follow. Women and war don’t mix. I’ve said it before. I should have been breaking hearts on a white charger, armoured for tourney. But no, that old witch had me crawling around the peaks trying not to get murdered by Scorron peasants.

I entered the Hall—really a collection of halls, staterooms, a ballroom, kitchens, stables, and a second floor with endless bedchambers—by the west port, a service door meant for scullions and such. Fat Ned sat at guard, his halberd against the wall.

“Ned!”

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