At the same time, Everett bounded into the room, having followed his king as fast as he could after sending back a message to the rest of the troops that the king and he were headed back. With a quick glance at the king, he went immediately to his side and held up the large man as best he could until there was a bench underneath him. Everett could feel him shaking.
“What happened?” he asked the servants, breathing heavily, being winded from chasing after Aric. But Everett’s voice was soothing and it calmed the others in the room. They were afraid and did not understand what was happening to their king.
“Prince Joron…isn’t he with you? We were told…told he was to meet you in the stables. We had Ben take him to…”
“With us? He is not with us.” Everett closed his eyes for a moment. “Who told you that? Whose order other than the king’s would you deem necessary to answer to?” Everett tried to keep the edge out of his voice, but he stood in disbelief that the castle servants could have possibly made such a mistake. But then so had he. Everett had thought to question his king with his sudden desire to chase after that foul Gang. They had never been able to get ahead of them enough to capture them. Why would this situation be any different.
Except it had been.
A small fear began to wind itself around his heart. “Answer me!”
“It was the king’s order. We were told it was the king’s order.” They all talked, they all pleaded, all at the same time, until Everett raised his arm for silence.
“I ordered no such thing!” Aric had come off the bench, ready to start swinging his fists, not caring who was in the way.
Everett grabbed Aric’s arms, not necessarily thinking he could stop him if he truly did want to hit someone, but his touch should have a cooling effect. He was right. The king growled, and although his fists stayed clenched, they also stayed at his side.
“Again,” Everett implored, “who told you these things?”
The servants started to talk between themselves, first saying it was Mecham who told them, then Ashi and Dorth. In a few noisy moments, it was clear to both the king and Everett that this lot didn’t know where the orders came from. They only knew that since they were supposed to have come from the king, the group had followed them blindly.
* * *
Aric sat back down with a “harrumph” and put his head in his hands. He was so damn tired. He wished to hell he was not so exhausted. There was no question in his mind it was Diagus who was behind this. He lured Joron out of the castle with the promise of going on a manhunt, kidnapped him, and they were most assuredly on their way back to Blade Rain.
He needed to head for Blade Rain himself. “How long?”
“S-sire?” The voice was weak, coming from the small round woman who had first stepped forward.
“How long ago did Joron leave?” The king had no energy. It was all completely gone.
“About…it’s been…it was shortly… Oh dear…he left before you left yesterday morning, sire. Come to think of it… Ben has not been seen since then either. Did…did we do wrong?” She was in tears.
The king took her hand and patted it before he turned to Everett once more, rising to his feet. “That means they have a hell of a head start. In fact, they’re probably halfway back to Blade Rain already. It makes sense now. He wanted to give himself as much time as he could before I found out about his heinous plot. How far out are the men?”
Everette sighed. “At least another hour.”
“Damn him. He truly outwitted me. My best men still an hour away and they’ll all be exhausted. Doesn’t matter. Gather the second fleet—or third. Hell, get me a bunch of old men. Meet me at the front gates. We’re riding to rescue Joron.”
“But…but, sire… We don’t know the circumstances yet.”
“Everett. If there is something you need to know about what happened, then find out. But you better have a force of troops at the front gate in ten minutes, ready to ride, or it will be your head.” He turned on his heel and headed to the private quarters. He would change his clothes, splash some cold water on his face, and head back out. He would not let that asshole get away with this.
But at this rate, he was already too late to save Joron from his brother’s attack. His heart wrenched, knowing his little lover would not be able to fend for himself this time, even if he had been able to up until now. He was horribly dismayed by the fact Joron would have to endure anything, much less the sick touch of his brother’s hand.
To hell with changing his clothes. There was only one thing Aric needed from his chambers, and he ran like hell to retrieve it. Then he even ran back out to the main hall. He would not take his tired war steed, though he was the fastest in the land. He would have to settle for something less, or he would end up walking. Again he shook his head at the brilliance of the trap he’d fallen into. As he reentered the hall, he heard Everett continuing to shout out orders concerning packed supplies—what and how much—and the questions he wanted answered before departing, one of them being the whereabouts of Ben—not only for the boy’s safety but because he also might have all the answers Everett was after. Aric nodded when Everett turned to acknowledge him, noting servants running in all directions, following Everett’s commands.
“Sire, I…I thought you were… The troops are assembling, sir. Pack horses will catch up to us, as will some of the answers we seek. We need as much information about what happened as possible.”
“Good man, Everett. Thank you.” Aric never slowed down, heading for the outside doors. “Are you coming?”
Everett looked at Aric with shock, scrambling to catch up to his departing king. “I am afraid, sire, even if you gave orders for me to stay, I would have to disobey them.”
Aric smirked. He knew better. Everett only said such brave words because he knew Aric would never forbid him to be at his side. “So be it then.”
Everett’s sigh told of his relief. “Thank you, Your Majesty.”