10. Friends in Low Places

“The food was excellent, Mandigaill the Hunter, and since the price is now paid in full, I shall continue the tale of Anaxantis and the Invisible Chains. Go, undress and sit upon the stool.”

“No, it is not the same stool and yes, this one has a knob in the center of the seat.”

“Yes, I suppose it resembles a phallus. A small one, barely four inches long and not very thick.”

“No, it is not difficult. Just sit over it and it will find its place all by itself. The knob is smooth and well oiled.”

“See, you soon get accustomed to it.”

“Why? The short answer is, because it pleases me. You don’t want to know the long answer. Now, where was I…”

Ehandar heard ‘I’m moving out by the end of the week’ echoing around and around in his head.

No, no, you can’t leave me just like that. I love you, damn it. I need you. I can’t lose you so shortly after I’ve found you. I know you love me too. Don’t do this. Don’t do this to me… Don’t panic. Don’t panic. It’s just the strain we’re under. He doesn’t mean it like that.”

“Why?” he managed to ask relatively calmly.

“It’s becoming too dangerous. Have you considered what would happen if anyone found out that… that we’re not just brothers sharing the residence of the lord governor? We would lose all authority, and right at the moment that we should be thinking about strengthening the army too.”

“And so, just like that you’re moving out? Where will you even go?”

“Lorseth can house six thousand troops, so almost half of the barracks are empty. I’ve requisitioned some of them for my personal use. I’m having one of the barracks that was meant for a general made ready for me.”

Ehandar tried to think rationally and come up with reasons why Anaxantis shouldn’t go. There was one, the real one, but it would sound too pathetic.

“Have you asked Demrac?”

“Asked Demrac? No, why would I?” Anaxantis raised his eyebrows. “I have informed him of my decision, though.”

“The secret charter gives him a higher authority than ours over the army.”

“Ehandar, Ehandar, you’re really not cut for this, are you? Yes, the secret charter gives him greater authority over the army, but as long as he keeps the charter secret, he can’t use it. For all practical purposes it doesn’t exist. We’re not even supposed to be aware of it. So, is he going to show his trump card over some old barracks? I don’t think so. He’s far too clever for that. And furthermore…”

“His authority may be higher than ours as far as the army is concerned. Lorseth however, with all its grounds and all its buildings, is a royal domain and doesn’t pertain to the army.  As such it falls squarely under our authority. I can see no problem.”

“You can see no problem?” Ehandar asked. He couldn’t hide the bitterness in his voice. “It’s as easy as that, is it?”

“Easy? Easy? Do you even know that it is almost more than I can do to prevent myself from falling into your arms in public and damn the consequences? Have you any idea what it costs me to have to keep this a secret? How I long to show you off to my friends? The truth is that it is almost unbearable. It is too painful. No, it is better we see each other only in an official capacity. We have a shared responsibility after all.”

Ehandar sat down in the chair next to his brother. He took one of Anaxantis’s hands and placed a light kiss on it. He took a deep breath. Maybe simply stating his true intent, bringing it all into the open, was his best chance.

“Let’s leave this mess behind us. You know as well as I do that we were set up. If we stay, one way or another, it will be the end of us. I have a friend who, at this very moment, is investigating the conditions under which we could seek asylum in the city state of Soranza. We will be safe there. Safe from the Mukthars and safe from Father and our brothers. Bring all those of your friends who want to come with us. We could be happy there, I know it. I know I can make you happy…”

Anaxantis looked into his eyes and kissed him softly on the lips.

“Yes, you could. But I can’t leave. We have a responsibility, Ehandar. Twelve years ago more than fifteen thousand civilians lost their lives, and I am not going to let that happen again. Not as long as there is a single breath left in me.”

“And our lives? What about our lives, Anaxantis?”

“Our lives were never our own, from the moment we were born, Ehandar. Don’t you see that? That was long ago decided, in 1414, when Portonas III climbed over mountains of dead bodies to ascend the throne. Whether we want to or not, we live in function of the kingdom. Once our family grabbed the Devil’s Crown it was impossible to relinquish it again, and its curse extends to all of us. Besides, the people depend on us to protect them. The most we can hope for are some stolen hours.”

“No, no, it is me who depends on you, me,” Ehandar thought feverishly. “The people are not even interested in their own defense. The people will weather the storm as it comes, just as they did twelve years ago and there’s nothing we can do. I know. I tried.”

“However,” Anaxantis smiled timidly, “speaking about stolen hours… I am not leaving this evening.”

The senator looked at his visitor with an impassive face.

“Two princes and a nobleman. Trachia? No, there is but one prince left and nobody is too sure where he is now. Lorsanthia? Unlikely. Ximerion maybe? Yes, probably. They have three or even four princes. Now, that could become awkward, what with the queen of Ximerion already having been granted asylum.”

“I hope the parties involved understand that they will have to pay their own way,” the senator said evenly. “If we grant them asylum it is as citizens, not as, eh, high nobility.”

“Oh, the princes have their own independent assets and I am assured that it will be easy to transfer them to Soranza.”

The senator handed a parchment to Gorth.

“These are the conditions and the rules the concerned parties will be expected to adhere to, were we to grant them asylum.”

“Could you give me any indication of the likelihood of that happening?”

“Well…” The senator hesitated, “If I had an idea of who we’re talking about, I could maybe hazard an estimation.”

Gorth thought about this for a moment.

“The parties involved are the princes Ehandar and Anaxantis of Ximerion and myself, Gorth of Sidullia. I am not important, I am just a personal friend of one of them.”

“So, I was right. Those are the youngest of the lot, if I remember correctly. You can’t blame them, I suppose. In that barbarian kingdom the struggle for the succession is merciless. All the more so now that there are four contenders. Strange though, Queen Emelasuntha is the mother of the youngest. How come she hasn’t arranged asylum for him? Well, no matter, provided they bring ample funds they are welcome,” the senator thought.

“You understand that the final decision is not entirely mine. In the end a committee decides, but I can see no objections at first sight. I’ll have a definite answer for you by the beginning of next week. You’re welcome to visit me again then.”

Back in the great marketplace Gorth looked around.

“Too early to go back to my lodgings and Ehandar has given me a small fortune. So, first a good meal and then to the girls, the real girls and not those middle-aged hags that hang around the camp at Lorseth. All seems to go well, and Soranza is a nice city. Much cleaner and lighter than Ormidon. I think I’m going to like it here. Tomorrow I’ll take a ride into the countryside and look at some domains. I even have time enough to inquire whether Soranza needs cavaliers.”

The two men had traveled the distance between Lorseth and Soranza as quickly as they could. It was after midnight when they stopped at the gates of a vineyard. The night guard asked them a question, and the men gave the expected response. They were immediately led to the main building on the hill. A servant guided them into a tastefully decorated room, bade them be seated and brought them wine, asking them to wait while Queen Emelasuntha was informed of their arrival.

Ten minutes later they saw a tall, striking woman, with a strong, beautiful face, and long golden blond hair flowing behind her, enter the room. She was followed by a short, thickset woman. They both sat down in elegant, comfortable armchairs.

“Have you been taken care of? I see they gave you wine.”

“Thank you, Your Highness, we have ridden practically day and night, and we are tired and hungry. But it can wait until we have delivered our message,” one of the men said.

“Please, proceed.”

The man told all he had learned from Renda. When he had finished, Emelasuntha remained silent for a while. Then she asked some questions, mainly to confirm that she had understood everything correctly. She looked at Sobrathi who nodded that she had no further questions. Emelasuntha clapped her hands and a servant silently appeared.

“Prepare a warm bath for these gentlemen. Wake the cook and let him make a hearty meal. See to it that their horses are taken care of and show them to their room in the guesthouse. And give them plenty of wine.”

She stood up and took two gold pieces out of her pouch.

“Thank you, men. You are my guests. Sleep as long as you like and then, before you return, go visit the fair city of Soranza. I hear it offers many entertainments for young men such as yourselves. Here is a rioghal each to pay for them.”

“Most generous, Your Highness. Thank you.”

The two men bowed and followed the servant out of the room. Emelasuntha waited a few moments. Then she grabbed an intricately ornate vase and threw it forcefully against the wall.

“Argh. Did you hear that?” she roared at her friend while getting hold of a chair and smashing it on a nearby little table. “They tried to poison my son.”

She took a statuette that stood upon a cabinet and threw it in a wide arc through the room. It shattered with a satisfying sound into a dozen pieces.

“Emelasuntha, dear, stop. You’re demolishing the place,” Sobrathi said.

“Oh, but this is not the end of it,” the queen bellowed, her rage unabated. “Heads are going to roll and blood is going to flow. What do they think? That the royal house of Mekthona is game for the hunting? Do they think we are cattle they can slaughter at their leisure? Argh. I swear I’ll hang them by their own intestines. I’ll feed their corpses to the swine.”

“Dear, dear, let’s remain calm and talk it over,” Sobrathi said as soothingly as she could.

“She looks for all the world the living embodiment of Astonema, and not in her capacity of the Goddess of Wisdom, but of the Goddess of War. No wonder that the people of Torantall, more than twenty years ago, looked up to the walls when the city was under siege and took heart when they saw her walking upon them, going from guard post to guard post. They knew the princess was possessed by the power of the Goddess. When they saw her, they saw Astonema herself and they breathed easier. All of sixteen years she was.”

“Well, how smart Anaxantis must be to see that the letter was a forgery?” the baroness resumed. “He knew there was something wrong with the medicines and had them thrown into the sea. He takes after you, my dear.”

“Yes, I prepared him well, and a good thing that I did too. What worries me is that he must have been out of medicines for several weeks, if not months, by now. Yet, he seems to be thriving. He exercises, he travels from Lorseth to Dermolhea and back on horseback, he is active for days on end and doesn’t seem to need much rest. All those things were unthinkable a few months ago. Strange, don’t you think?”

“Yes, now that you mention it. It almost seems as if—”

“—the medicines were making him ill, or rather keeping him poorly, instead of curing him. Not only the last batch was bad, but all those years somebody must have been tampering with them.”

“But who? And why?”

“I don’t know. Yet. Think about it. Whoever did this knew I wasn’t able to order a new batch, so they did it in my place and forged my handwriting and my seal. Who has the means and the power to do that? Who could convince Birnac Maelar that I had given the order?”

“Emelasuntha, Maelar is a doctor. He must have known what the effect of those so-called medicines would be. He must have known all those years. After all they were prepared under his supervision.”

“By the shield of Astonema, you are right. He must have known.”

Emelasuntha paced back and forth.

“That stinking rat, that filthy swine, how dare he harm my son? How dare he? How dare he?” she hollered.

She looked around the room, but all that could conveniently be broken already lay shattered on the floor. She breathed deeply.

“Tomorrow we depart for Torantall. I’ll ask him myself and I’ll make sure he’ll answer me.”

“No,” Sobrathi said. “No, my dear, that’s too dangerous. Let me go. I’ll bring him here, where we have the room and all the time in the world to ask him as many questions as we want. Here, where we won’t be disturbed. While I am gone, you can devise just how you will interrogate him.”

“Will you manage to get him here without anybody knowing?”

“Oh, I dare say so. Nobody will even know what happened to him. I will personally supervise the whole operation, but I’ll let the Tektimora do the actual work and let them deliver him here.”

“The Guild of Thieves? Excellent idea. Can you contact them?”

“Don’t worry, my dear, the Lord of Thieves and I go back a long way.”

Emelasuntha laughed.

“You know the Tektiranga himself? Why, my dear baroness of Burgotharr, I didn’t know you had friends in low places. After all these years you still manage to surprise me.”

“Oh, my dear,” Sobrathi said and grinned, “the Tektiranga and I know each other from the siege of Torantall. Well, he wasn’t the Lord of Thieves then. But he nevertheless stole my young girl’s heart and he also took my… well, you know.”

The next day Gorth set out for the countryside. Since he had more than enough time on his hands he rode his horse at a leisurely pace. Once he had passed the highway he encountered three riders, a rather rotund female and two men, who rode at the gallop, which indicated that they were in for a long ride, but not especially in a hurry. He caught a glimpse of the face of the woman and immediately recognized her. She didn’t seem to remember him. Of course, he had bleached his hair, and he must have grown since she had last seen him. Why would she have paid any attention to him at the time? He had seen her often enough, when Queen Emelasuntha came to visit her son in class, making nothing of it that she was disrupting the lessons and that she embarrassed little Anaxantis before his older brother and his friends. She was one of the ladies-in-waiting, or a maid or a friend. He was not too sure which.

“What is she doing here? There is a rumor doing the rounds in the barracks that the queen has escaped. Could it be that she too has sought asylum in Soranza? I wonder if Ehandar or Anaxantis will be thrilled upon hearing that? The Senator must have known, but if that’s the case he didn’t seem to mind. I must try to find out for certain.”

Try as he might, Ehandar found it almost impossible to concentrate on the fresh bundle of parchments the clerk had brought him. His thoughts returned involuntarily to the devastating announcement of Anaxantis that he was moving out. They had made love, and Ehandar had sought signs in every caress, in every kiss, in every smile and in every glance. Nothing seemed to have changed, and Anaxantis had responded as eagerly as always to his merest touch. His kisses had been as warm as ever. There had been no mistake possible that Anaxantis was deeply in love as his fascinated gaze traveled over Ehandar’s body. It almost made him believe that it had only been a waking nightmare. But he knew it wasn’t.

“Anything interesting?” Anaxantis asked when he entered the war room.

Ehandar woke out of his somber musings.

“Huh… Yes, maybe. A request for you from the general of the cavalry,” he replied, “and the answer of the duchess-regent of Landemere onto our summons for military assistance. You’re going to love her response,” he finished, his last words dripping with sarcasm.

“What does Iftang want from me?” Anaxantis asked.

“I don’t know. It was clearly addressed to you, so I didn’t open it.”

Anaxantis looked to make sure he had closed the door and gave him a fleeting kiss on the cheek.

“You can open my letters, you know. I don’t mind.”

“Even so. It would make me uncomfortable. I don’t want to pry.”

Anaxantis had broken the General’s seal and scanned the few written lines.

“Oh, it’s only a request for an audience. He would like to know my plans for the reconnaissance of the Renuvian Plains. I’ll take care of it today. What does the duchess-regent offer us?”

“All of two hundred foot soldiers and fifty cavaliers. The duchy had some losses in revenue because of disappointing harvests and the repairs to the ducal castle have cost a fortune, it appears. And blah-blah-blah. She regrets, she deplores, she apologizes and she even laments… But two hundred and fifty men is the best she can do for the moment.”

Disgusted, he threw the parchment on the table, where Anaxantis retrieved it. He scanned it quickly

“This is outrageous. The duchy should be good for at least ten times that. At the very least. Ehandar, she’s mocking us. She’s dismissing us like children with a few pieces of candy,” he said, after having read it quickly.

“I agree, but what can we do? It’s the same everywhere. Nobody seems to be interested. The mayor of Dermolhea. Don’t even mention the county of Mirkadesh. Their council leaves everything in the hands of the Gods.”

Ehandar shrugged absentmindedly.

“You’re not exactly helping our cause either, dear brother,” Anaxantis thought, annoyed. “You’ve let them walk all over you. No wonder we can’t raise troops. By now even the most insignificant lord of the Northern Marches knows that you can fob off the lord governors with cheap baubles and empty promises. With every move you make you’re ruining what little standing we had. I can’t let you go on like this.”

His guard had entered his room and announced that a soldier had come to deliver him a message. When he had asked from whom, the guard had excused himself about a dozen times and stressed that he was only repeating, literally repeating what the soldier had said: “I have a message from Anaxantis for the general. Please tell him that.”

He had told the guard to let the soldier in. He turned out to be a rather sturdy young man with a round face. Polite enough.

“Good morning, General,” he had said. “Anaxantis was wondering if it would be convenient for you to join him around midday on the training grounds in the woods?”

“Why bother calling yourself prince or lord governor when you are Anaxantis?” he remembered thinking.

Of course he hadn’t misunderstood or mistaken the form for the substance. It might be pleasantly formulated but it was a summons nevertheless.

“We’re rather informal on the training grounds, so please don’t trouble yourself with donning a full uniform, General,” the soldier had added.

The general had said that it would be an honor.

“All righty, then,” the soldier had said with a broad smile, “see you around midday.”

About an hour before noon he had set out to the woods. He wore a uniform, but a simple one, without any signs of rank or regiment. He knew in which part of the woods the lord governor and his private band exercised, and he was not surprised to find that the road that led into the forest was guarded. He had identified himself simply as “Iftang Busskal, to see the lord governor” and they had given him directions. They had been apprised of his arrival, he understood. All around him he had heard noises of men exercising. At one point he passed a clearing where a haughty young man with wiry black hair was training men in archery. As he penetrated further into the woods the noise seemed to die out until he neared a fairly large clearing. He had dismounted and from a distance had looked on. The same soldier who had brought the invitation was loudly admonishing a boy with long, blond hair.

“That is because you are doing it wrong. Again.”

With that the soldier had jumped upon the boy, who had fallen under the weight of his attacker.

“Get off of me, you big oaf. You’re flattening me,” the boy had complained.

“Yeah, well,” the big oaf had replied, “that wouldn’t happen if you followed my instructions for once.”

“We’ll try again tomorrow,” the young man had reacted disgusted.

“No, we’ll try it again immediately. Tomorrow we’ll have to start all over again and we’ll get no further.”

“Oh, all right then. What am I doing wrong?”

“You tried to stop me. That’s what you did wrong. You can’t stop me. I am too big for you to stop me. You must turn the force of your opponent against himself. That way, the stronger your enemy is, the better it is for you. Now listen carefully, Anaxantis. Don’t try to stop me. The only thing you have to do is deflect me just a little. You see the difference? You need only a little bit of force to do that. You grab me by the arms, put your right foot in my belly and let yourself fall as if succumbing to my attack. You arch your back and with your foot guide me over you. Your legs are much stronger than your arms. Always use your legs instead of your arms if at all possible. The force I put into my attack will make me fly way, way beyond you. Got it?”

“I think so.”

The soldier had lunged at him again and this time didn’t land flat out on him, but a little bit farther, with his groin on the young man’s face.

“Much better. Not quite what it should be, but much, much better,” the soldier had said enthusiastically.

“That’s entirely a matter of opinion. Get your crotch off my face,” a muffled voice had grumbled.

The soldier had helped the young man up.

“Tomorrow we’ll get it right. And if you do it right your opponent will be in temporary shock. I’ll teach you how to exploit that by pouncing on his back, with one knee right on his spine, knocking the wind out of him, and then I’ll show you how to force his arms behind his back and dislocate them both with one elegant move. Snap. Like that. They’re helpless after that. If you want I’ll even show you how to break an arm.”

“Neat,” the young man had said with a grin.

The general stood looking enthralled by the scene that had played before him. Of course he had recognized the young lord governor, but in this unassuming setting he was just a young man among friends. Then he heard footsteps behind him. He turned around and saw a lanky youngster with half long brown hair come towards him.

“Ah, General,” Hemarchidas said. “Welcome. Follow me. Anaxantis is expecting you.”

Iftang Busskal felt somewhat out of place in this group of young men almost half his age. Two others joined them, and then the lord governor invited him to eat with them. During the meal they told, interrupted by bursts of laughter, how they had fared with the new recruits. Busskal got the definite impression that the young lord governor was forming a private army here in the woods.

“At least he is doing something,” the general thought. “Maybe the old commander is past it and this is the future. I wonder if the young man really knows what he is doing, or if he is just playing around.”

“Guys, I’m going for a stroll with the general. He has some questions for me,” Anaxantis said after they had eaten.

He took the same path he had taken with Marak.

“So, General, what is on your mind?” he inquired after a while.

“Well, My Lord, a few days before you fell ill you mentioned your desire to explore the banks of the River Mirax, if I recall correctly. You are aware of the fact that this will take a considerable time, so I was wondering when exactly you were planning to undertake this mission.”

“In the meantime I have thought things over and I’ve come to the conclusion that there are not that many possibilities for the Mukthars to cross the Mirax. Whatever they do, they have to come out somewhere between the forests in the south and the east. That shortens the stretch of river we have to investigate considerably. I would also like to investigate the terrain between the Mirax and our borders. Maybe we could find a place where we could ambush them.”

“Excellent. You know I am your man. I’m slowly rotting away in that blasted camp.”

“There are a few things I have to take care of first. So, I’m afraid I can’t give you an exact time period. But, let’s say, February next year at the very latest. However, I will need you before that. You seemed to enjoy our trip to Dermolhea. Well, I’m planning another one.”

“Where to?”

Anaxantis laughed.

“All in good time, General, all in good time. If everything goes my way, in a few weeks. Maybe earlier. Keep it to yourself, though.”

They had arrived at the bank of the river and sat down upon a rock.

“I have a question of my own for you as well, General,” Anaxantis said tentatively. “You are familiar with what happened twelve years ago?”

“More or less, My Lord. I was not stationed in the Northern Marches at the time, but I heard enough rumors. I was very young and just a junior officer in those days.”

“How do you explain the total failure of the army at the time?”

“To be honest? It can’t be explained. They would have had scouts. Your predecessor, the count of Whingomar, had an excellent reputation. By all reckoning the army should have been able to maneuver itself between the Mukthars and Dermolhea.”

“And yet it didn’t. So what happened?”

“Can I be frank, My Lord?”

“By all means.”

“If we rule out incompetence, then the only remaining explanation is foul play.”

“Yes, and by whom?”

The General remained silent for a long while.

“Only Whingomar himself… but it doesn’t ring right. He was far too competent and he was a man of honor. He would never deliberately have botched up a campaign. Not to mention that it would have amounted to high treason.”

“Yet, such accusations were never made.”

“I know.”

Anaxantis laid a hand upon his shoulder.

“Well, if anything should come to mind one of these days, be sure to inform me. But you have given me something to think about.”

“Huh? Something I said?”

Anaxantis smiled.

“Oh yes, but permit me to keep that to myself for the time being.”

When the General left he was moderately satisfied with what he had accomplished. The lord governor had extended a standing invitation to visit the training grounds whenever he had something to say, or even when he just felt like it. But what he had really hoped for, he hadn’t gotten. The lord governor hadn’t spoken the sentence to him that, as rumor had it, only a few had heard.

“My friends call me Anaxantis.”

Ehandar sat in the big chair by the fireplace, staring into the flames.

“There’s no reason for me to despair. He loves me. It’s just his warped sense of honor, of duty, that makes him do this. But not everything is lost. Let him try to stop the Mukthars. Eventually he will come to a point where the conclusion is inescapable. When it all starts falling apart around him, it will be much easier to convince him. Yes, it could even work to my advantage. It could very well be that the moment will come that Soranza is our only possible destination. So, I’ll go along with him to the bitter end. Till the army is decimated by the barbarians and flight is the only option. And then what? Face Father? Admit that he has lost an army through overestimation of his capabilities? By being stubborn? I will never convince him, but the Mukthars surely will. Meanwhile I will concentrate on keeping him safe. I can see to it that he doesn’t expose himself to unnecessary dangers. Stay close to him and watch his back. And I can prepare our way out.”

Anaxantis sat at the table, a book before him.

“What are you reading so late?” Ehandar asked.

“Oh, a book on the laws of Portonas III.”

“Grandfather? Whatever for?”

“When he ascended the throne he promulgated a lot of special laws. They were never retracted. Maybe there is something in them we can use against the duchess-regent of Landemere. Grandfather was something else, even for a Tanahkos. Did you know he predated his reign by a whole week? In the battle of the Karmenian Hill he defeated Berimar IV whose body was later found on the battlefield. He had himself hailed as king by his own army, but later he claimed to have declared his right onto the throne a week earlier, and he dated his reign from then. Which in effect made all those who fought for Berimar IV — the lawful king at the time, mind you — traitors. And all this notwithstanding that his claim onto the throne was as good as non-existent. Do you know how he had himself proclaimed? Portonas, by the Grace of the Gods, the Right of Arms and the Laws of the Land, High King of Ximerion. Now, mark the order. The first claim is of course nonsense. The Gods, for obvious reasons, didn’t do a thing to further Portonas’s right onto the kingship, but in the eyes of the people it gave his title a veneer of divinity. The last claim is an unadorned lie. No law on the books at the time supported his bid for the Devil’s Crown.”

“No, that’s not correct. Our family is related to an earlier king. I forget who exactly, but I remember distinctly our teacher saying something like that.”

“Rubbish. There was only a vague and very tenuous family connection with a king of an earlier dynasty. There must have been at least thirty men in Ximerion with better claims to the succession after Berimar had fallen in battle, who, incidentally, all died in the following years. Mysterious illnesses, strange accidents, unsolved murders or they were indicted, judged, condemned and executed on all sorts of trumped up charges from conspiracy to rebellion and high treason. He eradicated every last scion of the previous dynasty.”

“We don’t kill only each other, I see,” Ehandar said bitterly.

“Only the second claim, the right of arms, has any validity. And only because it amounts to saying, ‘I am king because I have killed all who dared say otherwise’ and nothing else.”

“Quite a scoundrel, our granddad.”

“Portonas wasn’t even his name. He was called Bordomach. He simply looked through the list of previous kings, until he found a name that vaguely sounded like his, and then he claimed that Bordomach was just a local variant of Portonas.”

“And it wasn’t of course.”

“No. The names have nothing to do with each other. Portonas I and II were father and son, the last kings of a short-lived dynasty. Portonas II was sixteen when he died, without leaving an heir, in an accident. He fell off his chariot and broke his neck around 880. For Grandfather the only thing that counted was being able to call himself ‘the third.’ It gave an air of continuity, of legitimacy, where none existed.”

“If all that is true, then our whole House is illegitimate?”

Anaxantis shrugged.

“I doubt that any royal house is really legitimate, provided you dig deep enough. What counts is the actual balance of power. It all depends on how you look at it. Possession of power is its own justification. As I said, by dating his reign a week before the battle of the Karmenian Hill he effectively made three-quarters of the nobility into traitors. Hardly fair, but he made good use of that status. You should read the part on the so called Traitor’s Law, if you ever have the time.”

Anaxantis stretched, yawned and stood up.

“Tired already?” Ehandar smiled.

“I’ve had a very busy day. I think I’m going to bed early.”

“Close the curtain. I’ll be quiet.”

“Thank you,” Anaxantis said and kissed him goodnight.

When he closed the heavy curtain that separated the big bed from the rest of the room, he saw Ehandar walk over to the table and take up the book.

“Good. Be sure to read the chapter on the Traitor’s Law. You’re smart enough to see the possibilities.”

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