The Birth of a King
In the southernmost region of the Land of the Nine Kingdoms sat the gleaming
city of Tarent, the capital of the Kingdom of Borunda. The sun was sliding into
the waters of the Endless Sea as a retinue of Salacian soldiers passed through
the open city gates and made their way towards the Royal Palace of Borunda. The
shopkeepers paused in the act of closing their shops to turn and gaze upon the
small column of foreign soldiers. Their faces beamed when they saw the Royal
Standard of Salacia and realized that King Hector had arrived at last. They
waved in welcome and then bowed their heads in respect as the Salacian king
passed by. King Hector smiled broadly at the citizens of Tarent and waved as he
rode by. When the Salacian entourage reached the palace, the Borundan guards
greeted them and held their horses as they dismounted.
"Shall we accompany you inside?" a Salacian officer asked King
"There is no need," the monarch replied. "Make the men
comfortable. We shall be here for a few days, I imagine."
"If we are not already too late," frowned the officer.
"It couldn't be helped," shrugged King Hector as he turned and
entered the palace.
A Borundan officer welcomed the Salacian king and escorted him through the
empty corridors of the palace, their footsteps loudly echoing in the silence.
"Has the queen given birth yet?" King Hector asked anxiously as
they wound through the stone maze.
"Not yet," came a worried reply. "You can tell by the empty
corridors. Everyone is in his or her room praying for a safe delivery. When the
new prince is born, the whole world will know by the shouts of joy and singing
that will ring from this palace."
"So it is to be a male child then?" asked the Salacian king.
"That is what the wisper declared," nodded the officer as he led
the way up a flight of stone steps. "The wispers are never wrong about such
"No, they aren't," agreed King Hector. "I've never heard a
decent explanation of their skills, but you are right; they are never
"It is magic," shrugged the guard. "Wispers know everything
that will happen in the future."
"They do have an ability of magic," smiled King Hector, "but
they cannot foretell the future. They have no more sense of what tomorrow will
bring than you or I do, but they do have the ability to see within the womb. I
wish someone would explain to me how that is done."
The officer suddenly halted and opened a door. He stood to one side to allow
the Salacian king to pass into the room beyond. King Hector entered a large room
and halted as his eyes took in his surroundings. A long table ran down the
center of the room, and it was loaded with plates of food, but no one was
sitting at it. Along two of the walls were rows of leather chairs, and more than
half of them were filled with men. King Hector recognized some of the faces as
belonging to the rulers of the nine kingdoms. He assumed that the others were
prominent citizens of Borunda. Most of the men puffed on pipes, and a dense
cloud of smoke hovered in the air. Through the haze, he noticed King Eugeon
pacing the floor at the far end of the table.
As the officer closed the door behind him, all of the faces in the room
turned to gaze upon the new arrival. King Eugeon's face broke into a warm smile,
and the Borundan king promptly marched towards the Salacian king. King Hector
smiled in return and walked to meet his host.
"I thought you would miss the event," greeted King Eugeon.
"Welcome to Tarent."
"I would not miss it for the world," grinned King Hector. "A
first born is always an event to be shared by all. I apologize for my tardiness,
but my own queen has just gifted me with a daughter. I could not leave until I
was sure she was taken care of."
"Understandable," King Eugeon nodded warmly. "That is your
third, isn't it?"
"It is," nodded the Salacian king.
"It must be something in the air," chuckled King Eugeon. "Your
neighbor, King Caedmon, is also expecting another soon."
"So I have heard," replied King Hector. "His will also be
female. It should happen within a fortnight."
"It's those cold winter nights," laughed King Eugeon.
A woman's cry suddenly pierced the air from beyond a doorway at the far end
of the room. King Eugeon's face blanched, and his left eye twitched nervously.
He looked anxiously towards the door, and King Hector's hand shot out and rested
comfortingly on the Borundan king's shoulder.
"Go see what is happening," urged the Salacian king. "I can
see to my own needs here."
"Thank you," King Eugeon murmured as he turned and moved quickly
towards the far door.
King Hector walked to the table and heaped meat on a plate. He paused to look
around the room and saw King Caedmon waving for the Salacian king to sit near
him. King Hector nodded and walked over to his friend and neighbor and sat down
next to him.
"At least you have your priorities straight," smiled King Caedmon.
"Greet your host, stuff your face, and then visit your old friends."
"We must observe protocol," nodded King Hector as he looked back to
see the Borundan king pick up his pacing again. "Eugeon is a nervous wreck.
I doubt that he will last the night without collapsing."
"He has had a run of bad luck," sighed King Caedmon. "This is
Abigal's third attempt. It is as if someone has put a curse on the royal line of
"Eugeon is not an only child," frowned King Hector. "I know
that he has a sister."
"True, and she is also expecting any day now" shrugged the King of
Arin, "but that is two out of seven pregnancies for Eugeon's father. I know
of no other royal line that has such troubles, and it extends back for many
generations. It seems like the Borundan throne is always in jeopardy of having
"Perhaps," conceded King Hector, "but the Borundans have
always birthed good kings. Remember that it was a Borundan king who ended
warfare in the Land of the Nine Kingdoms. We have lived in peace for
generations, and it was a Borundan king who brought it about."
"True," chuckled King Caedmon.
"What are you laughing about?" questioned the Salacian king.
"I always find it amusing to hear the phrase Land of the Nine
Kingdoms," replied the Arin king. "In fact, there are only eight
kingdoms. Lom is ruled by a council, not a king."
"It could be worse," King Hector laughed softly as his eyes darted
around the room. "Capri is ruled by a madman, and Hyrem is not much of a
kingdom at all. Perhaps it should be called the Land of the Six Kingdoms and
"True," King Caedmon replied solemnly. "King Quanto is
deranged, but he is still a decent man. We should not make fun of our fellow
"I am only offering up levity to lift the gloom around us,"
shrugged King Hector. "You know that I stand with all the rulers of the
Land of the Nine Kingdoms. Salacia is always among the first to help our
neighbors whenever they need it, but that doesn't mean that we should not laugh
Suddenly a baby's cry could be heard from beyond the door at the far end of
the room. Everyone's head turned towards the door, and a broad grin spread over
King Eugeon's face. Before anyone's smile had a chance to fade, a woman's scream
pierced the air. King Eugeon raced to the door and flung it open. The other men
in the room rose and began to move towards the door, but King Caedmon rushed
across the floor to stand behind King Eugeon and wave the others back to their
chairs. The Arin king knew that something was amiss, and he intended to protect
King Eugeon from the flood of nosy well-wishers.
King Eugeon entered the room and stared in horror. Flori, the wisper, was
cradling the newborn prince, but she was also wailing in grief. The king's eyes
moved beyond the wisper to his wife's bed. Queen Abigal's eyes were wide open in
a stare of death.
"What have you done?" King Eugeon shouted at the wisper as he raced
to the side of the bed and held Abigal's head in his hands. "What have you
"I don't know," blubbered the wisper. "It was a hard birth,
but this should not have happened. I don't understand."
"You don't understand?" yelled the king. "You've killed the
queen, and you don't understand? Get out of my sight before I have you hung. Get
The wisper's body shook with grief as she moved to leave, but she realized
that she still held the child. She looked around helplessly, not knowing what to
do. King Caedmon stepped into the room and gently took the child from her arms.
As soon as the wisper was free of the child, she ran through the door, across
the large room and into the corridor beyond.
Flori ran through the empty corridors of the palace and fled outside. She
raced across the grounds and past the gate guards without noticing their
questioning glances. Tears flowed from her eyes and clouded her vision. Twice
Flori tripped as she dashed to the small home she shared with her sister,
Naveena. When she finally reached the house, she ran through the rooms and threw
herself down on her bed and cried. Naveena raced to her sister's side and tried
to comfort her.
"What is the matter?" asked Naveena. "Why aren't you with the
queen? Did the birth go badly?"
Flori nodded, but she continued sobbing without explanation.
"Wispers are not perfect," soothed Naveena. "We have the
magical gift to help, but some things are beyond our help. It is not the first
child lost to the royal family. Don't be so hard on yourself. The king and queen
will try again."
Flori sat up and turned to face her sister. She tried to wipe the tears from
her eyes, but she couldn't stop them from flowing freely.
"You don't understand," sobbed Flori. "The prince was born
alive, but the queen is dead. I killed the queen."
Naveena's mouth opened in horror at her sister's words. Her eyes closed
tightly, and she bit on her lower lip. After a moment, she opened her eyes and
"You could no more kill the queen than I could," Naveena declared.
"It must be a mistake, a strange disease or something, but it is not your
fault. It can't be your fault."
"It is my fault," blubbered Flori. "A wisper's task is to see
to the welfare of both the child and the mother. I failed in my duty. I was so
focused on the child that I failed to see the mother in distress. I killed the
queen. Do you understand what I am saying? I killed the Queen of Borunda. I
should be hung for it."
Naveena stared nervously at her sister. As much as she did not want to think
that her sister had failed, she recognized the truth in Flori's words. A
wisper's magic was in high demand specifically to avoid deaths. In a royal rage,
King Eugeon might very well order the execution of Flori. Naveena would not
allow that to happen.
"You stay here and sleep," comforted Naveena. "I know whatever
happened was not your fault. I will go to the palace and offer my services to
the king. As long as the new prince is taken care of, the king will not have
cause to harm you."
"I should be hung," Flori shook her head. "I killed the
"Stop it!" shouted Naveena. "Never say that again. If King
Eugeon harms one hair on your head, I will make him suffer for it. Sleep. I will
be back in the morning."
Naveena left the room and straightened her clothes. She breathed deeply and
slowly as she tried to calm herself. She knew that King Eugeon would be in a
rage when she arrived at the palace, but she was the only other wisper in the
city besides her sister. He would have to let her take care of the new prince,
and that meant that he could not afford to harm Flori.
* * *
"Sit, Eugeon," urged King Caedmon. "There is nothing more you
can do for your lovely queen. Sit and let your rage subside."
"How can I let go of my rage?" spat King Eugeon. "It is all
that I have left after that wisper killed my wife."
"That is hardly true," comforted the Arin king. "You have a
son now, and he will need a strong father to raise him. And do not blame the
wisper so. I have seen many a wisper in my days, and I have never met one who
didn't value the life of her charges over her own. I suspect that whatever
happened was beyond the aid of a wisper. Do not blame the woman."
King Eugeon clenched his fists, but he slowly nodded.
"Your advice is sound as always," he said softly. "My brain
tells me that your words are wise, but I cannot control the rage I feel inside.
I have so wanted a son and heir to the throne, but never at the cost of my
Abigal. She was all that ever mattered to me. I do not know what I will do
"You will grieve for her," King Caedmon replied comfortingly,
"as all of the Land of the Nine Kingdoms will, but in time you will
recover. Perhaps in a few years you will take a new wife, but in the meantime,
you are blessed with a son. Do not let your rage consume you, as you know it
can. Concentrate on your son's well being."
"I will never remarry," King Eugeon declared adamantly.
"All the more reason to concentrate on your son then," replied King
Caedmon. "He is the heir to the Borundan throne now. What will you call
King Eugeon turned and stared at the newborn that had been placed on the bed
beside his mother. The king smiled at his son as a tear rolled down his cheek.
"Abigal and I had decided to call him Garrick," stated the Borundan
king. "I shall not change that now."
"Should I announce Prince Garrick to the others waiting outside?"
asked King Caedmon. "They must be curious."
"This is no time for celebrations," King Eugeon shook his head.
"You may tell the others what has transpired, but I will not be joining
them this evening. Let them eat or send them to their quarters. I care not
whichever they do. Send my advisor in when you leave. I must make arrangements
for the care of my son."
The Arin king opened the door and stepped out into the large room. The
waiting dignitaries were no longer sitting around the edges of the room, but
were standing around the table helping themselves to food. They looked towards
him as he exited the small room and spoke softly to the advisor who was waiting
next to the door. The advisor stepped through the open door, and King Caedmon
moved to the table to explain what had happened to the gathered dignitaries. He
did not even notice the young woman who moved across the room and towards the
Naveena halted next to the doorway as she tried to summon her courage. She
knew that King Eugeon would be in a foul mood, but she also knew that she was
the only other wisper in the city, and the king needed a wisper desperately. She
was about to boldly enter the small room when she heard the advisor mention her
"We really should get Flori back to take care of Garrick," stated
"No," snapped the king. "The last thing I need right now is to
see her face."
"Then I will summon her sister, Naveena," replied the advisor.
"Whatever your feelings about this matter, Prince Garrick must have a
wisper available to him, and she is the only other wisper in the city."
"That is not true," retorted the king. "My sister Orenda has
the gift of magic. She will be Garrick's wisper."
"The princess?" balked the advisor. "That is impossible.
Orenda is due to give birth at any time now. She will have her hands full
tending to her own child. This is not a wise decision."
"It is my decision to make," asserted the king. "She can move
back into the palace and have her child here."
"With her husband?" questioned the advisor. "I thought you did
not care for Zalman?"
"What is there to like about the man?" snapped the king. "He
never talks, and he has no respect for the royal family. I don't know what my
sister ever saw in him."
"I cannot enlighten you in that regard," replied the advisor,
"but I do know that Orenda would never move into the palace without him. He
is the reason she chose to move out into the city in the first place. Besides,
it is not right for a princess to perform the duties of a wisper, even if she
does have the Talent. It just isn't done."
"Well it will be done this time," declared the king. "Send for
Orenda. If her husband must come with her, so be it. Now that that is settled, I
have some other tasks for you to manage."
Naveena did not wait for the conversation to finish. She turned and hastily
made her way across the large room and out of the palace. Now that the king no
longer needed her services, she knew that she must get her sister out of the
city before he decided to punish Flori. Naveena raced through the city streets
and dashed into the home she shared with her sister.
"Get your belongings together," Naveena shouted as she entered the
house. "We must leave Tarent immediately."
Naveena had started to gather her most prized possessions when she realized
that Flori had never responded to her statement. Thinking that Flori was still
sulking, Naveena threw down her clothes in disgust and stormed into Flori's
room. As she threw open the door, she screamed in horror. Flori's body was
hanging from a ceiling beam, her face blue and her tear-stained eyes shut.
Naveena grabbed a knife and leaped onto the bed. She cut the rope and caught
her sister's body as it fell. She placed the body on the bed and removed the
rope from around her sister's neck. With tears in her eyes, she hugged Flori.
"You did his work for him," cried Naveena. "Why? I could have
gotten you out of the city. We could have lived long lives somewhere else. He
would never have found us. I would have protected you like I always have."
As Naveena rocked her sister's dead body, her tears slowly dissipated. In
their place a burning rage began to boil.
"He did this to you," spat Naveena. "I will make him pay
dearly for this. No, not just King Eugeon, all of Borunda will pay for this
crime, all of the Land of Nine Kingdoms. Everyone will lament this day for the
rest of eternity. I shall see to that. I promise you."
Naveena gently placed her sister's body on the bed and rose. Steeling her
mind with hatred, she stormed out of the house. The daylight had long passed,
and the city streets had been empty for hours. The wisper made no effort to
avoid being seen as she moved quickly towards the beach where Princess Orenda
lived in a small unassuming house.
When she neared the house, she slowed down to think about what she was going
to do. The thought caused shivers to race up her spine, but her rage was
resolute. Naveena moved stealthily towards the house and slid next to a palm
tree. Concentrating her powers as she stared at the small structure, she called
forth a spell of fire. Within moments the thatched roof ignited, and the flames
danced swiftly in every direction.
"Now there is only one wisper in Tarent," snarled Naveena.
"Let's see how your brother handles that."
As she watched the flames grow and start to burn the lower structure, Naveena
heard a scream from the ocean side of the house. She raced around the burning
structure, her eyes searching for the source of the scream. Standing away from
the house on the beach was Princess Orenda and in her arms was a newborn boy.
The princess saw Naveena and shouted to her.
"Naveena," yelled the princess, "come here. Hold Zinan while I
go wake up Zalman. I fear he will sleep through the fire and perish."
Naveena ran to the princess and accepted the baby. As Orenda raced into the
burning building, Naveena called forth another spell of fire. She directed it at
the rear of the structure so that Orenda would never escape alive. She smiled
inwardly as she heard the princess's deathly scream.
"What is happening?" called a man as he ran along the beach and
"A fire," the wisper replied blandly without turning away from the
flames. "Some woman handed me this child and raced into the building. I
don't think she is going to come back out."
"You must be a stranger to our city," remarked the man,
"otherwise you would know that that is Princess Orenda's house."
Without turning her face to the man, Naveena bent down and placed the baby on
"She said his name was Zinan," Naveena called as she stole away
from the man before he could get a look at her face.
Conflicting emotions raced through Naveena as she ran back to her home. She
had never used her magic to destroy anything before, and it scared her, but it
also sent a thrill racing through her body. She had powers that few others had,
so why shouldn't she use them to get her revenge? Someone had to pay for Flori's
After a few minutes she managed to get her emotions under control. She had
claimed a sister for a sister, but it didn't quell her thirst for vengeance. She
was sitting in the dark of her room plotting the next step of her revenge when a
loud knocking sounded on the door of the house.
"Open up in the name of the king," shouted a man.
Naveena's mind raced as she tried to imagine how they had found out that she
had started the fire. As the knocking sounded anew, she quickly reviewed her
magic spells and chose the one she would use on the soldier outside.
"Open the door," shouted the man. "The king has need of a
Naveena frowned in confusion. She suddenly realized that they had not
discovered her crime. She moved quickly and partially opened the door to gaze
into the face of Lavitor, the king's advisor.
"Naveena," the advisor nodded in recognition, "your services
are needed at the palace. Grab some clothes and come with me. You will be moving
into the Royal Palace."
"Moving in?" questioned the wisper. "Isn't my sister already
"Flori did not come home?" Lavitor frowned.
"Home?" echoed the wisper. "Why would she?"
"It is too much to go into right now," answered the advisor.
"Suffice it to say, you have been chosen to raise Prince Garrick."
"That is quite an honor," smiled Naveena.
"Double the honor," replied the advisor. "You will also raise
"Ah, twins?" smiled Naveena. "The royal couple must be
thrilled this evening."
"I would not describe the king's mood as thrilled," frowned the
advisor. "He has lost his sister and his wife this evening."
"The queen and the princess are both dead?" Naveena responded, her
mouth open with horror and her eyes wide with shock.
"Yes," Lavitor sighed heavily. "Now is not the time for me to
explain what has happened. You will have the responsibility of raising two
newborn boys. It will be quite an honor for you."
"I am sure that it will be," Naveena replied. "Will I be free
to engage my sister when she returns from wherever she has gone tonight?"
"I am afraid not," answered the advisor. "At least not until
the passing of Queen Abigal fades from the king's memory. I fear that he might
associate your sister with her death."
"Preposterous," retorted Naveena. "Still, one does not argue
with the crown. How long will my services be required?"
"How long?" echoed the advisor. "You are to raise the
children, Naveena. Your services will be required for as long as the children
need you. Hurry along, the babies need your attention now."
"You go on ahead," smiled Naveena. "I have a few things to
take care of here before I leave. I will be along shortly."
Lavitor, the head advisor to King Eugeon of Borunda, stood in the dark, empty
street of Tarent and watched the door to Naveena's house closely. His final task
of a long and dreary night was complete, and he had no reason to hurry back to
the palace. His first thought was to wait outside Naveena's home and escort her
to the palace, but he dismissed the idea before it could take root. There was no
danger of harm coming to the wisper in Tarent. The city was crime-free except
for the pettiest of offenses. The gates of the Royal Palace always stood open,
and Naveena well knew her way to the palace. She had been invited there many
times in the past.
Lavitor turned away from the door and strode aimlessly through the city
streets. His thoughts were troubled over the day's events. In the span of a
single day, Borunda had gained two princes and lost a queen and a princess. It
was a day that would be remembered for generations. As much as he mourned Queen
Abigal's death, he could not find it in his heart to place blame on the wisper,
Flori. He knew the young woman as one who loved the royal family more than her
own life, and he knew that whatever killed the queen, it was not something the
wisper could have foreseen. Sometimes life was just cruel, he reasoned.
The noise of a crowd interrupted the advisor's thoughts, and he looked up to
find himself approaching the house of Princess Orenda. A wry smile crossed his
lips as he realized where his aimless meanderings had brought him. It was
fitting that his dark thoughts should lead him to the scene of the harshest of
the night's tragedies. He stopped abruptly and stared at the smoldering frame of
the small beach house.
Lavitor had loved Orenda, but she had spurned his desires long ago. He
thought her rejection was one of rank and status, and that was understandable.
Lavitor was, of course, an advisor, not a noble. Had he been able to maintain
that illusion, life would have been more bearable for him, but when she married
Zalman, Lavitor knew the princess's rejection for what it was.
Zalman was a peasant, the son of peasants, and the grandson of peasants. The
man had never seen the inside of a palace, and very likely never would have. For
a long time, Lavitor stewed over the marriage of Orenda to such a lowly man, but
that ended just a few months ago. The advisor clearly remembered the day that
Orenda sought him out at the palace. She had come in an attempt to reconcile
with King Eugeon, who had vehemently opposed the marriage, but the visit had
been in vain. The Borundan King had refused to meet with Zalman or allow him
entry into the palace. Princess Orenda was heartbroken, and she had turned to
Lavitor for comfort.
"Do not hold the decision against Eugeon," Lavitor had urged.
"It is Abigal who abhors the thought of you marrying a man of no station.
She will never relent in her thoughts, and the king is obligated to please her.
Go back and talk to Eugeon. He has the power to dissolve your marriage as if it
never existed. Things can return to the way they were."
"Never!" Orenda retorted sharply. "I love Zalman, and he means
everything to me. I care not a whit about royalty and station. My purpose in
coming today was to resolve relations with my brother, not the King of Borunda.
I do not care if I ever set foot in the palace again, but I do not want to lose
Tears flowed from the princess's eyes, and Lavitor reached out and hugged
her. His own love for the princess overrode his desire to possess her, and he
finally realized that his love demanded that he do what he could to make her
"I will talk to Eugeon," Lavitor said softly. "It will take
some months to overcome the queen's objections, but I am sure that you and
Zalman will be welcomed in the palace before the end of summer."
The princess lifted her head off of the advisor's shoulder and looked into
his eyes. She smiled sincerely and kissed him on the cheek.
"Thank you, Lavitor," she said softly. "I know of your
feelings for me, and I know how hard this will be for you, but I do love Zalman.
I love him more than life itself."
"As I said," Lavitor smiled, "by the end of summer, you will
be back in the palace."
"It is not the palace that I care about," Orenda replied.
"Just get Eugeon to come and visit me. That is all that I ask for. By
summer I shall give birth, and I would so like to have Eugeon there for the
"Birth?" echoed the advisor. "Blessed Monarch! Abigal is also
due to give birth in early summer. The king will be overjoyed by the news."
"I do not expect him to be joyful of my condition," frowned Orenda.
"He detests Zalman, and my pregnancy seals forever my betrothal, but I do
want him to accept me as a sister. That is all I ask for."
A tear started to slide down Lavitor's cheek when a shout interrupted his
reverie. The advisor looked up to see a soldier running towards him.
"What is it?" the advisor asked a little too gruffly.
"I am not sure what it means," the soldier answered defensively,
"but I thought someone should know about it."
"Know about what?" the advisor asked impatiently.
"We were dousing the house with water to make sure the fire did not
restart," explained the soldier. "I was going around and checking for
hotspots when I noticed something strange. There is a hole in the side of the
Lavitor looked past the soldier at the smoldering ruin. Only one wall was
standing, attached to a small portion of a connecting wall. The rest of the
structure had collapsed and burned to cinders.
"There is barely a side of the house left," scowled Lavitor,
"and you think a hole in it is significant?"
"I do," nodded the soldier with a growing sense of concern that he
was making a fool of himself. "I have never seen anything like it before,
and I have cleaned up after many house fires. Come and take a look. It will take
but a moment."
The soldier turned and headed back towards the burnt house without waiting
for a reply. Lavitor fumed at having been so discourteously severed from his
contemplation to inspect the damage of a burnt house, but he obligingly followed
the soldier towards the last remaining wall of the structure.
"So there is a hole in the side of the house," snapped Lavitor.
"So what? The princess died in that fire. Now, that is something I care
about, but the remains of her house hold no interest for me."
"But maybe she got out of the fire," suggested the soldier.
"The only witness to the event was a neighbor, and he said that she did not
come back out the back door. Maybe she escaped through the hole in the
"Anything could have caused that hole," Lavitor shook his head.
"The fire could have eaten through the wood faster in the middle, or a
burning beam from the roof might have smashed through it. The hole means
"But it is a strange hole," argued the soldier. "Look at the
edges where the wood is broken. There are no burn marks at all. In fact, the
paint is not even blistered from the heat. I have never seen anything like it,
and I know that Princess Orenda held the power within her. She might have
A brief flicker of hope lit in Lavitor's heart as he moved closer to inspect
the hole. Indeed, the edges of the hole were free of any effects of heat or
fire. Lavitor reached out and tentatively touched the edges of the wood. He half
expected his fingers to burn from the touch, but the wood was as cold as winter
"Get more men out here immediately," Lavitor ordered with renewed
hope. "I want ever inch of this house sifted and examined. I want trackers
and dogs to see if they can pick up the scent of the princess."
"There are only a few men on duty this late at night," replied the
soldier. "I will notify the barracks to get everyone down here in the
"Wake the men up!" shouted Lavitor. "I want every set of eyes
out here that I can get. I want a report in my office the moment anything is
Without waiting for a response, the king's advisor turned and hurried off in
the direction of the palace.
* * *
By high sun of the following day, Lavitor was exhausted from a night without
sleep. He was sitting at the desk in his office awaiting the next report, when a
loud knock hammered the door. He shouted for the person to enter, and the door
opened to admit an officer.
"The royal physician has examined the bones from the fire," the
officer reported. "He is convinced that they represent the remains of
"And what convinces him?" asked the advisor.
"Everything is consistent with his expectations," reported the
officer. "He verified the authenticity of the royal ring from her finger.
The skeletal remains show proof of prior injuries including a break to her left
forearm from when she was a child. He has no doubts that it is the remains of
the princess. I am sorry."
"As am I," sighed the advisor. "What about Zalman?"
"No other remains were found in the house," declared the officer.
"We cannot even find anyone to verify that the man was in the city at the
time of the fire. In fact, few people have ever seen him. He pretty much stayed
to himself. The trackers did follow a trail that originated near the standing
wall, but they lost it in the surf."
"Lost it in the surf?" echoed the weary advisor. "Are you
suggesting that the man marched out to sea and drowned?"
"Certainly not," the officer shook his head. "The trackers
searched along the beach for some ways and did not find the tracks coming back
on land, but that is not to say the man drowned. I imagine if we expanded the
scope of the hunt, we would eventually pick up the trail again. How far do you
want us to extend this search? Is Zalman a suspect in the fire?"
"No," sighed Lavitor. "There is no possible reason for Zalman
to want the princess dead, still, I would like to know what happened out there
last night. Extend the search to the limits of the city, but no further."
"As you wish," saluted the officer.
"One other thing," the advisor said as the officer turned to leave.
"Find out what village Zalman came from and send a scout up there to see if
he has returned. If he has not, have an artist talk to the villagers and
construct a picture of the man. I want the picture spread widely throughout
Borunda. The man is not to be considered a criminal, but I want him brought to
the palace if he is found."
"And if he resists?" the officer asked with a raised eyebrow.
"I want him brought to the palace," restated the king's advisor.
After the officer left, Lavitor rose from his chair. He could feel the
weariness in his bones, and the knowledge that the princess was truly dead
drained him emotionally, but he still had duties to attend to.
Lavitor left his office and walked woodenly to the nursery. He eased the door
open and saw the two princes sleeping in their cradles. Naveena was immediately
on her feet and moved a chair close to the cradles for the king's advisor to sit
"You look tired, Lavitor," smiled Naveena. "Have a seat and
gaze upon the future of Borunda."
Lavitor smiled weakly, but he did take the offered chair. As he gazed upon
the newborn infants, a smell of lavender pleasantly assaulted him. He turned to
look into the smiling face of Naveena, and was immediately struck by how
beautiful the woman was. He was amazed that he had never noticed her beauty
"All of this dealing with death is not good for you," purred
Naveena. "You need to concentrate more on the future and not the past. One
of these infants is the future King of Borunda."
"That would be Prince Garrick," smiled Lavitor. "They both
appear to be quite happy and well cared for."
"And I shall ensure that they always are," smiled Naveena.
"Prince Zinan will constantly be by Garrick's side and will someday be the
king's advisor as you now are. You should pay particular attention to him. He
could use your tutoring. You have much wisdom to share with him."
"An interesting thought," mused the king's advisor as he decided to
sit. "A prince for an advisor?"
"And why not?" replied Naveena. "They will grow up together
and be the best of friends. Who better to look after the king's best
Lavitor's eyes were glued to the wisper, and a strange longing rushed through
his body. He barely knew the woman, but Lavitor felt as if he could trust her
with his innermost secrets. He smiled boyishly at her.
"How is the investigation going?" the wisper asked casually.
"It is over," the advisor said softly. "Princess Orenda did
die in the fire as was originally thought, but it appears that Zalman managed to
A tingle of fear rippled down Naveena's back. She could not afford for Zalman
to survive, especially if there was any chance that he could identify her.
"I am sure that your men will track him down," Naveena stated.
"He is of no concern," shrugged the advisor. "His marriage to
Orenda was never accepted. If you are worried that he will interfere in Zinan's
upbringing, do not be. Even if he managed to survive the fire, he will have no
say in the raising of his son. I see no reason to be concerned with his
"You don't?" frowned Naveena. "What if he is the one who set
Lavitor's eyes glazed in confusion. "He would have no reason to start
the fire," he stated. "If I even thought there might be a single
reason to suspect him, I would have him hunted down and executed."
Naveena smiled inwardly as her mind whirled. The opportunity proved to be too
good to resist.
"I think the man is highly suspect," frowned the wisper. "I
did not want to mention this to you earlier because I did not understand what
had happened last night, but do you remember asking about Flori when you came to
"Of course," nodded the advisor. "I was concerned about her.
The king was rather harsh on her earlier in the evening. What do you know that
you are not saying?"
"Well," Naveena began hesitantly, "Flori and Zalman were close
friends, very close friends. Is it not strange that both of them managed to
disappear at exactly the same time?"
"Impossible," scowled the advisor. "How could he possibly
Lavitor grew agitated and rose from the chair. He paced the floor in
indecision as if torn between two opposing commands.
"It has been going on for some time," Naveena said softly as she
clinically observed the king's advisor. "Was there any reason for Zalman to
want to see the queen dead?"
Lavitor stopped pacing and turned to face Naveena in horror. Instantly he
thought of Zalman's rejection by the royal family, and his mouth hung open in
"Then the queen's death was no accident," swore the advisor.
"Oh cursed Zalman! One could not imagine a plot so vile and corrupt. I must
advise the king immediately."
"No," Naveena said quickly as she rose from her chair.
"Eugeon's mind is confused right now. If you tell him the truth, he will
not allow me to tend to the children. You must take care of this problem
The thought of not informing the king repulsed Lavitor, but his heart
understood what Naveena was saying. For some reason, he knew that the wisper was
to be trusted, trusted above all others.
"I must remain close to the children," smiled Naveena. "And
you," she added as she blinked lovingly. "You can see that, can't
Lavitor was a man raised to respect protocol, and he had never abused his
position for any reason, but his next move would have shocked any member of
court who might have witnessed it. In three quick strides, he crossed the room
and embraced the wisper. He kissed her passionately, and his heart sang loudly
as the woman responded to him.
"I love you, Naveena," Lavitor whispered.
"And I love you," Naveena whispered back. "I will protect you
against any foe."
"As I shall protect you," promised the king's advisor.
"And what of Zalman and Flori?" questioned the wisper.
"I will have them hunted down and killed," Lavitor replied in a
whisper. "They will learn that one does not hurt the royal family and get
away with it, but I will also spare the king's fragile mind. There is no need
for him to know the details of such a sordid affair."
"Well spoken," grinned Naveena. "Go get some rest. We can talk
later when you are refreshed."
Lavitor obediently turned and walked out the door. As the door closed, a
broad grin appeared on the wisper's face.
"I never fully understood the power of the Talent," Naveena said to
herself as she turned to gaze upon the sleeping infants. "Beware Borunda
for your future now lies in my hands. You shall pay a thousand fold for the pain
you have brought to me."
* * *
Three days of mourning followed the death of Queen Abigal and Princess
Orenda. During those days of mourning, the dignitaries from across the Land of
the Nine Kingdoms met among themselves and talked quietly, but King Eugeon was
not seen. It was rumored that he had attended a private funeral service for his
wife and sister, but he did not make an appearance at the public ceremony. After
the proclaimed mourning period had ended, the dignitaries began to take their
leave of the Royal Palace in Tarent for the trip home.
"Shall we ride together?" asked King Hector of Salacia as he
approached the Arin king.
"It will give us time to discuss what has happened here," nodded
"What is there to discuss?" shrugged King Hector. "I would
prefer to talk about brighter things than the death of royals. The affairs of
the living are always preferable over the affairs of the dead."
"Preferable, yes," nodded King Caedmon, "but in this case the
affairs of the dead are more important to our future."
"What are you talking about?" frowned the Salacian king.
"The Land of the Nine Kingdoms has benefited from an unusual period of
peace and prosperity," answered King Caedmon. "That is all about to
"Change?" balked King Hector. "Because of the death of a
"Two women," corrected King Caedmon. "I am not sure exactly
what transpired in Tarent this week, but I am certain that we shall not enjoy
the repercussions of it."
"I think you are making too much of it," shrugged King Hector.
"While it is a sad occasion for any family to have to bury loved ones, it
is nothing that is going to change the relationships of our countries."
"Isn't it?" retorted King Caedmon. "While the queen's death
may have been unfortunate, there are indications that the death of the princess
was a deliberate act. The murder of a royal has not occurred since the time of
peace began. You too quickly forget the fear and suspicions that used to guide
our forefathers in their time of leadership."
"Surely, you do not think that King Eugeon suspects a foreign agent of
murdering his sister?" gasped King Hector. "Why would any of us desire
to do such a thing?"
"I don't think it was foreign in origin," stated the Arin king,
"but who knows what King Eugeon believes. The fact that none of us saw him
after his wife's death disturbs me greatly. There are certain protocols that any
royal family must adhere to, and King Eugeon has abandoned them."
"You are blaming him for not interrupting his mourning to say goodbye to
us?" scowled King Hector. "That is incredible. The man has suffered
his worst fear, Caedmon. Let him grieve in peace and shove the niceties of
office aside. I am surprised by your words."
"I mean no disrespect to the Borundan king," clarified King
Caedmon. "In fact, I grieve for him. His loss has been severe by any
measure, but ask yourself this question, given the same circumstances, would you
have hidden yourself for three days while all the kings of the Land of the Nine
Kingdoms awaited you?"
The Salacian king gave serious thought to the question as they walked down
the stairs and towards the exit from the palace.
"No," King Hector finally answered. "A ruler's kingdom comes
before himself. The death of the queen was not just a loss to Eugeon, but also a
loss to the citizens of Borunda, indeed a loss to all of the Land of the Nine
Kingdoms. As much as it pained me, I would force myself to observe the public
role that was my right and duty. It is an obligation that cannot be
"Now you understand," King Caedmon nodded in satisfaction.
"King Eugeon has lost the will to lead his country. That will create a
power vacuum in Borunda, and the type of people that step into such a void are
not the type of people that will want to support peace among the kingdoms. There
are harsh times ahead for all of us."
"Surely, the king's advisor can support Eugeon until he is strong enough
to resume his duties," suggested King Hector.
"That is another thing that is bothering me," admitted King
Caedmon. "I have known Lavitor for a long time. He has always been the
epitome of protocol, yet he also appears to be in a fog. He reacted well the
night of the terrible events, but since that time he has failed miserably to
uphold the dignity of the Royal Palace."
"I did hear that he loved Princess Orenda," shrugged King Hector.
"Perhaps he suffers from a similar fate as that of King Eugeon. We should
not be so quick to judge others."
"I am not judging them," countered King Caedmon. "At least not
in the sense that you are talking about. My heart goes out to both men. I would
never want to be in their shoes."
"Then what are you saying?" King Hector asked with an air of
King Caedmon turned and glanced back along the corridor before answering.
"There is foul play afoot here, Hector," the Arin king declared.
"I can not put my finger on the source of the troubles, but I am willing to
wager that it is magical in nature."
"Magical?" balked the Salacian king. "I pray that you are
wrong. Only a fool would use the Talent for nefarious ends. It will consume its
wielder completely. Are you suggesting that the wisper, Flori, really killed the
"I am suggesting nothing of the sort," King Caedmon shook his head.
"I am a fairly good judge of character, and that young woman was mortified
that the queen had died. I think she would have preferred her own death to that
of her patient. No, Hector, I am not accusing the wisper, but wispers are far
from the only wielders of the Talent. Wispers are the public face of magic. They
are the ones who openly declare their Talents and offer them to those in need.
For every declared wisper, there are probably a dozen others who are capable
with the Talent. Some hide it out of shame, others out of fear. A few others
declare their capabilities but refuse to use the Talent. I presume that a city
the size of Tarent might have thirty or more people capable of using the Talent
to one degree or another."
"If what you say is true," frowned King Hector, "Eugeon should
have them all rounded up until he finds out who is trying to usurp his
"King Eugeon is unaware of what is happening," replied the Arin
king. "In any event, the one using the Talent would be the last one caught
as he would be expecting such a move. I do not know the answer to the problem,
Hector, but we can discuss it on our ride home."