Deep Secrets: Part Five
King Coltzan I was not a fool, and he knew a magic ring when he saw it.
Instead of putting them on, he slid them into a pouch. It hung at his side all through the next day, while he organized things: who would be the lord of the place under him, which Royal Guards should go out to inform the people and what they should say, where they should go next.
At noon, the blue Uni made him eat lunch.
“You can’t organize everything, you know,” she said.
Coltzan smiled at her. “Watch me.” But he ate what she put in front of him.
That night, his army made camp in front of the palace. King Coltzan watched the construction of his own tent, hands stuck in his pockets.
The Uni came up to him. “Tent, your majesty?”
“Well, I can’t sleep in there.” He took a paw out of his pocket to wave it at the front of the palace. “That’s for their new lord to have.”
“Their new lord—who won’t be here for three months. You’re king now, Coltzan. You have to get used to sleeping indoors sometime.”
“No, I don’t.” He smiled, watching the tent rise like a giant sail over the other, smaller ones.
“Where will you sleep when we get back to Sakhmet? There’s no room for tents there.” The Uni was torn between exasperation and amusement; her horn was raised in irritation, but a smile flitted across her face.
“Tear down the palace,” the Kyrii said promptly. “We can put up tents in the empty space.”
The Uni laughed despite herself. “Do you have the answers for everything?”
He turned to look at her. “Of course I do,” he said, looking at her oddly. “I’m the king.”
She hesitated, and then smiled. “Pride goeth.”
“Now, are you going to leave me in peace, Delia, or will I have to order my royal guards to take you away?”
“I am the Royal Guard,” Delia said, but she went to oversee the rest of the tents anyway, leaving him alone with his thoughts.
That night, sitting in his tent, King Coltzan took the rings out of the pouch and held them to the candlelight.
He watched how the light flickered through them, though they were opaque; how the light caught in their edges.
He rapped on the table with them and listened to the sound they made, and even smelled them cautiously.
He didn’t quite dare lick them to see if they tasted of anything.
Then he put them back in their pouch and went to bed, not entirely satisfied. Sleeping, he dreamed that each described the circle around the iris of an eye, and that they were staring at him through the cloth of the bag. Not just staring at him, but through him: through his life, what he’d done, what he’d seen.
They were measuring him up, and seeing if he would fit.
Fit what? he wanted to ask, but they weren’t talking.
The next day he went to Delia.
“We have a detour to make,” he said.
The Uni looked up from her maps and plans. “Do we, now? And I thought we already had our hands full, what with delivering your merry message all around the country. This place is in pieces, Coltzan, slivers and little specks, not big wedges. I had Juney count—there are two hundred-odd kings and queens we have to call on in the next year to present a unified front to the Maraquans.”
King Coltzan waved his hands. “The Maraquans,” he said. “If this works, we won’t need to worry about the Maraquans.”
Delia raised her eyebrows.
“Look—let’s just send messengers. If they don’t like it, we send out troops from Sakhmet. It’ll only take them a little while to get there, anyway. This way, we’ll just be exhausted at the end of it, and we won’t be at Sakhmet City to receive the ones who agree. It only works if they’re all like Nassei was.”
“Where is he?”
“I don’t know. He was taken into custody. He might be in the dungeon.” He stopped. “Don’t change the subject.” The Kyrii paced, smoothing his fur with his front paws. “I just have to do this.”
Delia leaned against her command table. “Do what?”
King Coltzan wavered, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. “Well—”
“Out with it,” she said sternly.
“Those rings. The ones I took from Nassei.”
“They’re Faerie-touched, magic. I want to know what they do—they do something, I can tell.” Coltzan had started pacing again. “But I can’t tell what. I’m not gifted in that. And they might be useful—for persuasion. Either for the little kings of our splintered country, or for the Maraquans.”
Delia nodded slowly. “So you’re going to—”
“Exactly.” The Kyrii stopped pacing to grin at her. “Ask the expert.”
Three figures left the camp an hour later: one tall, with an easy, long stride, and two shorter in different degrees. They headed away from the palace, and away from the faint smudge on the horizon that was Sakhmet City.
They headed away from civilization.
King Coltzan was wearing a hat pulled low and a thin silk scarf around his neck to pull up if the wind got too bad. A little pouch hung at his belt, under his jacket. The only sign that he was king was the golden crown sewn onto his left sleeve, just below the shoulder, and that was filthy, clogged with dust and sand. Disregarding the heat, he wore the light jacket, long pants, and a shirt.
His companions—both of the Royal Guard, one Usul and one Aisha—trailed behind him a little. Swords hung at both their waists, within easy reach, and they wore sleeveless jerkins and short pants.
They held conversations in glances, looks, and rolled eyes behind their King’s back. Neither was exactly sure what they’d gotten in for: their commander had singled them out for some reason known only to her, and off they’d gone, with provisions and water enough for three days.
Delia had told King Coltzan he didn’t have to carry a pack, but he’d taken one anyway.
The Royal Guards were not sure yet whether they admired him or hated him. There was still betting, in camp, on whether or not he’d survive the year.
Both of them had bet he wouldn’t, and, though neither quite knew, they both had the suspicion that this was, in some way, Delia punishing them for it.
The sun shone down on them, baking them and every individual grain of sand. King Coltzan forged his way over sand dunes and through little valleys until the sun was dazzlingly, dizzyingly just above their heads, and there was no shadow.
They sat down to rest. King Coltzan dug a hollow out of the nearest dune with his foot and sat in it with his back to the wet sand, and, after a moment’s hesitation, the Royal Guards followed suit.
He and Delia had picked them up in Sakhmet, where, for decades, their principal job had been guarding the palace. They had little weaponry training and even less knowledge of how to survive in a desert.
Coltzan, on the other hand, knew intimately how to survive in a desert. He’d been doing it since he was born.
The Aisha guard, Raen, exchanged a look with Osiri. The blue Usul nodded.
“Where... are we going, your majesty?”
Coltzan turned to grin at the pink Aisha. “I thought you’d never ask. And don’t call me ‘your majesty’ out here,” he added, uncapping his water. He took a swallow, and then tilted it so a few drops fell on the sand. They soaked in, or evaporated, immediately. “It’s disrespectful.”
Osiri cleared her throat. “We’re asking now,” she said. “Where are we going?”
“Nowhere.” The Kyrii leaned back, capping his water, and stowed it back in his pack. “Isn’t it a beautiful day?”
Osiri and Raen looked at each other.
“Oh, don’t look so alarmed.” He took his hat off and pushed his paw through the longer fur on the top of his head. “We’re going to visit someone. It’s possible she won’t see us.”
“She lives out here?”
Coltzan smiled. “Something like that.” He clapped his hat back on his head. “It’s less of us finding her than it is her finding us. If we don’t find her in a few days, we’re to head back to civilization—well, as much as there is of that in the Desert.” He scrambled up cheerfully and swung on his pack.
The Royal Guards got to their feet. He was starting to sound a little sun-crazy, but he was their King, and the most they could do was drag him back to camp at swordspoint.
And everyone did say that strange things lived in the far reaches of the Desert. Raen and Osiri guessed that they were about to find out if that was true.
They pulled on their packs and followed their king, Raen trailing behind for a few steps to make a note of their direction and where the camp, and the palace, lay.
It would be hard to get out of sight of something so large as the palace, but if they did, they’d be in trouble.
To be continued...