(Continued from Part III)

Colter arrived at the door of the guards’ anterroom, and he was frowning again.  Nothing seemed to be going his way. He had talked to both Rookies: each would be guarding His Majesty the next day, neither would trade positions with him.  He visited the prince’s quarters in the castle to tell him about the leech. Upon learning His Grace was not present, he ran across the city to the prince’s private residence.  Hawk Face politely informed him that the prince was not at home, but had gone to press a lord into providing more men for the King’s campaign. He politely declined to tell Colter what lord it was. Then he politely slammed the door in Colter’s face.

Colter had run all the way back to the castle. Now he stood before the door a sweaty mess, waiting to ask the man who had stolen his position for an audience with the king so he could physically subdue His Majesty and rip a leech off his head.

“No,” Captain Maddas replied. “I’m afraid that won’t be possible.”

Maddas sat at a large table covered with official-looking papers that Colter knew amounted to little more than guard schedules and admission forms signed by various nobles.  Colter was briefly relieved at being passed over by His Majesty, as guarding always appealed to him more than paperwork. Perhaps His Majesty had noted this propensity and wisely chosen someone who would be better at paperwork. Or perhaps he had passed over Colter in order to keep his favorite guard close to him. Colter would surely ask, right after the leech came off.

The captain continued. “A number of your comrades inform me that you have tried to shirk your special assignments and approach His Majesty directly. You add now to insubordination what I consider to be an unhealthy interest in the affairs of His Majesty. I assign you therefore to the cell that I had hoped you might avoid. Lexor! Mansin! Please escort Colter to the late captain’s cell. Then hurry back, I need you here.”

“Please escort Colter to the late captain’s cell”

A hand from behind him slid Colter’s sword from its sheath. Each Rookie then placed a hand on one of his shoulders and held an arm, pulling it back slightly.  They were turning him toward the door when the prince entered the room. His Grace seemed in a hurry, and he was visibly angry about something. The prince made straight for His Majesty’s quarters, though Maddas moved to cut him off. The captain had the good taste to make his interception look like a greeting. The Rookies stopped briefly to watch their new commander in action.

“Captain Maddas.” Colter heard the prince’s deep voice resonate from the stone walls. “Remain at your post and do not let anyone, especially Baron Monshasi, disturb us, or I’ll have your head.”

Maddas asked the prince to clarify.

“Because one of your men is passing information to Tannin.” The prince turned and waved a hand toward where Colter was being held.  As the prince’s eye fell upon the captive for the first time, Colter saw it twitch again. His Grace had good reason to be nervous: the army was to march in mere hours, and here was his chosen assassin being hauled off to a cell!  The prince turned back toward the captain and poked a ringed finger into his chest.

“I will not have my father’s stratagems in the hands of the enemy before they are in the hands of my commanders. Such a situation might result in my death or, what is much more likely, your death. Do you have a problem with that, Captain?”

Colter was not surprised to hear, as the Rookies turned him toward the hall that led to his new cell, the words, “No problem, Your Grace.”

At least now Colter knew that His Majesty was in his personal chambers.  Of course he did not have a key to the king’s quarters. But the Rookies had not removed the keys he did have, one of which led to the king’s anteroom, which connected to a hallway that would get him close. The Rookies had been content with disarming him.  All that remained therefore was to recover his sword, to reach His Majesty, and to remove the leech.  To do that, he needed to avoid the cell. He did not fight his guards. Instead, he sneezed.

“Health,” one of them said.  They really were good kids, and Colter hoped to be able to avoid hurting them too badly. He did, however, notice that when he brought his hands toward his face, they had released their grips on his arms. Perhaps his cooperation had caused them to relax. No matter: as soon as he was sure they had passed beyond the captain’s hearing, he sneezed again. This time he did not bring his hands to his face: he brought his knee to the groin of one and, recovering his sword from the collapsing Rookie, his pommel to the nose of the one now behind him.

Then he ran, turning corners as quickly as he could. He had his keys, he had his sword.  The Rookies, lying on the hallway floor, did not yet know the castle well enough to pursue whom they could not see, nor would they expect him to flee toward the king’s quarters. They would return to the captain and face his rage.  That would give Colter sufficient time to find His Majesty.

(Continued in Part V)