(Continued from Part IV)

His Majesty, the mad king, Colter thought. Then he laughed. The man thought himself a god. But what was he to Colter?  If Colter was willing to give his life to protect His Majesty, if Colter was willing to obey his every command whether he understood or not, if Colter’s entire existence was bounded by His Majesty’s will, how did that not make him a god? His Majesty was Colter’s god even if no one else claimed him.

Colter quietly turned the key to the outer door of His Majesty’s anteroom and carefully locked it behind him. If he was discovered now, it would cost him his head. But that thought didn’t bother him as much as he expected it might. He was going to save his king, and that’s what mattered. That’s what he lived for.

Colter was slinking down an empty hall when he heard His Majesty’s voice from behind one of the identical wooden doors that stood to his left.  The voice of the god of Belden sounded uncharacteristically frantic.

“You can’t!” it screamed. Then it truly screamed.

Colter was surprised to find the door to the king’s antechamber unlocked.  He was even more surprised to find the prince within, standing over his father, holding the king’s own sword.  The blood of a god flowed red onto the stone floor. The body quivered briefly and lay still.

Colter drew his sword as he approached the body and the patricide that stood over it. His Grace looked confused, lost, but Colter was glad to see his clothes remained unsullied. He pulled his helmet off with his free hand and dropped it. The clang of metal echoed on the stone. The only other sounds in the room consisted of dueling breaths: slow from Colter, fast and ragged from the prince. Colter tried to hold the prince’s eyes, but His Grace would not meet his gaze.

“Your Highness,” Colter said, looking down at the floor. He didn’t yell; his voice barely rose above the sound of iron-shod feet running up the stone hallway.  He looked up at the prince. His grace’s eyes were glazed, his pupils dilated. Colter brought his sword up to a ready position.

“You have no chance against me,” Colter said. “Drop the sword and step back to the wall.” The prince, his face ashen, looked at his own sword as if he had only now noticed it in his hand.  Voices arose from without the room, joining the sounds of approaching boots. The rest of the guards would be here for the king’s assassin any moment.

The blood of a god flowed red onto the stone floor.

“Please, Your Highness,” Colter said. “Drop the sword. You can not escape.” The sword landed quietly on the king’s chest, then slid into the pooled blood that had gathered between his belt and his elbow. The prince walked backward, then pressed his back and his palms against the wall immediately opposite the open door. His eyes were wide and glassy. They looked briefly toward the doorway, then at Colter. Finally, the Crown Prince of Belden collapsed to the stone floor and hid his face in his hands. His whole body began to shake.

Colter picked up the king’s sword with his left hand and held the blade aloft. The warm blood of a god ran over his fingers.  The guards were almost here. He stepped over the body, placing the corpse between himself and the door, placing himself between the door and the prince.

Colter slid his own sword across the stone floor toward the prince. It passed the man unnoticed and came to rest against the wall beside him. Colter then turned toward the door, rubbing his leg against the king’s corpse, taking care to get as much blood as he could on his clothing.

He ran his blade behind the king’s ear, leaving a small trail of crimson on the skin. When it met resistance, he twisted it. A two-inch, bloated leech bounced off the king’s shoulder and landed on the floor, crimson in crimson. Coulter would explain the leech to His Majesty later, if he lived that long. Maybe he could even find the warlock who had it placed. The Rookies and their captain appeared in the door as Colter crushed it beneath a bloody boot.

Shock appeared on a trio of faces when they beheld Colter, standing above their liege, wearing his blood. The king’s sword rang loudly upon the stone, splashing more crimson onto trousers already stained. Colter placed his hands upon his head in surrender. They felt sticky in his hair.

As the Rookies tied his bloody hands behind his back, Colter looked at the prince, who was lifting himself to his feet. The color had returned to the prince’s face. He wiped the wrinkles from his suit, then seemed to notice Colter’s sword for the first time. He took to one knee and picked it up.

“The king is dead,” Maddas said, glaring up at Colter from where he was examining the corpse.

Colter watched the prince take a deep breath and slide the clean sword into the scabbard that hung at his side. Then he looked down at the captain of His Majesty’s Royal Guard.

“Long live the king,” he replied, as the Rookies led him away.