The knock on the door startled Emory later the next night just as he was serving the prince his evening meal. “Enter,” Riffyn called out and appeared to be surprised it was his father, King Ceray. Riffyn, who had been seated at his desk going over documents, rose when the king entered the room.
“Father!” Riffyn blurted in shock. “Did I forget an appointment?”
The king waved his hand at his son. “No, no. Sit. No need for formalities. Am I not allowed to simply visit my son?”
Emory, who had moved as far to the side as he could once he realized the king had entered, watched as Riffyn’s eyebrows went up at such a statement from his father. Even he knew the king was hard on rules and traditions and from what Emory had been told, the king always called for people, including his son, to come to him. He rarely was ever seen to be wandering around the halls of the castle.
Riffyn gradually sank back into his chair keeping a watchful wary gaze on his father who remained standing, hands clasped behind his back, appearing to be stern and perhaps angry. “A visit, my lord? That would be a change for you. Clearly, you need to discuss something. What is it? Perhaps you are still angry with me with what happened this afternoon?”
King Ceray glared at his son, took a deep breath and exhaled in what could have been termed a huff. “All right then. Right to the point, I see. Yes. I am angry. My own son defying my wishes in council! How dare you?”
“I do not believe Count Halos of Seln Tirion should be executed until it has been proven he is a traitor. Thankfully the council agreed with that.”
“This would all be behind us now if you had not interfered.”
“So, thank goodness I did. Hardly a month ago, you executed that farmer, Seton Earst. He was innocent, yet he was hanged. His father and mother were devastated. They pleaded with you to listen to them, but you would not.”
“The people demanded blood! Even you have to admit it was a heinous act, a brutal act.”
“Yes. True. Emotion took over. I understand your absolute shock and anger at the fact he was accused of murdering an entire family in the Bitter Mountain kingdom for seemingly no reason. I even understand your quickness to condemn with the supposedly several eye witnesses that had Seton in the vicinity. People, I will remind you, you never even talked to. You only went off of King Ulrich’s missive concerning the whole affair. You moved too fast with that knowledge alone. You never checked out Seton’s claim as to where he truly had been so did not have all the facts.”
“His claim was he was with his lover. He refused to give us a name.”
“A name wasn’t necessary. We could have investigated that ale house that was nearby and see if the claim the witnesses supposedly made matched up. We could have at the very least confirmed with the eye witnesses the sequence of events ourselves. But you refused and executed a man who was not guilty.”
“I still hold he was not entirely innocent. He could have told us who his lover was and I would have questioned her. He went to his death with his secret. A secret that could have saved him.”
“But Seton keeping the secret of his lover’s name may not have mattered. We never checked anything out. And mainly because you wanted the whole thing behind us fearing reprisal from a neighboring kingdom. You wanted to make King Ulrich happy, make sure he was willing to bring his daughter here to offer her up as a possible choice for me.”
Ceray brought his head up with an expression of indignation on his face. “I did no such thing! I would never…”
“Father, I know, so quit trying to deny it. I am well aware. Too bad for you and our kingdom the true culprit was found out after you hanged Seton. Yes, it was odd he turned out to be Seton’s friend, so it of course made some sense Seton was suspected, but the man you had executed was still not guilty of the crime. A real kick in the backside was the friend escaped and has yet to be found. I do hope he will be captured and brought to justice. However, I refuse to allow you to follow up that debacle with another round of hurried conclusions. I want us to slow down in this. Halos is most likely guilty. Even I believe that. But we must, for the sake of truth and peace, be sure this time. That is why I suggested caution. The council agreed, so did you. I would need to be convinced of his guilt before leveling judgement.”
“You? You? All of a sudden it is you who makes the decisions for this kingdom? It is I who is king, not you! Not yet!”
“Father, I did not usurp your authority. However, none of us want the war this will raise if you do not wait for convincing evidence of Halos’s guilt. His region is unstable as we are only now just learning. They are ready for battle. With all that in mind, the council believes you were simply allowing me to have a say, governed by you.”
King Ceray stilled when he heard that. “What?”
“I spoke with several of the council members after we adjourned. The consensus is you are training me. You are allowing me to speak my mind.”
“What good is that? Halos is guilty.”
“Perhaps. I need more information.”
Ceray grunted. “Fine. But I’m telling you right now, you’re lucky I let your decision stand.”
“Yes, Thank you.”
The king stared at his son, confusion on his face.
“I mean it. Thank you. You didn’t have to let me speak much less let my opinion rule the day. You were generous. I understand that. Thank you. I believe you made the correct decision.”
Ceray narrowed his eyes at his son. “Let me get this straight. The council believes it was my decision even though you are the one who spoke?”
“Yes. They are under the belief you goaded me into saying what I said. Forced me to contradict you.”
The king sighed. “Because of what happened before?”
“I fixed that now. I gave the Earst family fertile farm lands, fat livestock, promised a year’s worth of supplies.”
“Yes, true. I don’t know if it fixes it. Seton was their eldest son. But yes, you did give them plenty.”
“I did.” The king seemed to puff out his chest with pride. “So, the council still believe it is I who leads.”
“Of course, Your Majesty.”
The king huffed again. “Fine.” He turned toward Riffyn. “But remember, my son, who it is who is king. In future, I will not be so agreeable.”
Riffyn bowed his head in a salute. “I understand. Thank you, my lord.”
King Ceray nodded once and left the room.
Riffyn glanced at Emory. “Come. Sit. Share my meal.”
“Emory. I will not allow you to defy me in this.”
“Yes. Thank you, my lord.”
Emory quickly came to the prince’s desk and sat. He was shocked when the prince reached across the surface to grasp his hands. “Forgive me. I am a little disturbed with my father’s visit. I’m sorry you had to witness that. I want you to know, I do not defy my father. He is the king. But sometimes, his decisions lack – well – discernment, as of late. He seems to be – distracted, I guess. I fear it might be due to no longer visiting the people. He not only stays within the castle walls, but in his royal chambers most of the time. Obsessed with his new bride.” He released Emory’s hands and leaned back. “Even though he was generous with the Earst family, they lost their eldest son and heir to their farm and lands. Larger now due to my father’s guilt. However, no amount of wealth will bring him back. Even though I feel Halos is guilty as well, emotions must be removed when deciding the fate of someone’s life and all claims are to be checked out.”
“Yes, my lord. You… you are very fair and just. A good heart. You will make a wonderful king.” Emory meant every word. His admiration only grew by leaps and bounds by being witness to the way he handled his father. But where Emory’s heart beat that much harder was when the prince blushed.
Riffyn shook his head. “Here I am babbling, boring you with matters of the kingdom. Again, forgive me. Plus, I take back my command that you eat with me. I simply want you to… be with me. But you have to want that, too. If you would rather…”
“No! I, too, want to…” What? Be with the prince? Just talk or… tackle him, kiss him into oblivion, rip his clothes off and touch his feverish skin all over? Emory sucked in breath at his own thoughts.
“Emory? Are you all right?”
“Yes,” Emory gasped.
“You want to what?”
“Be with you, my lord. I mean eat with you. Thank you.”
“Oh. Eat, Of course. There is no reason you shouldn’t join me.” Riffyn shook his head as if to clear it. “There’s plenty thanks to you.”
“Thanks to Duncan. He’s preoccupied with making sure you have the best.”
“He’s a good man.”
“Of course…” Emory swallowed hard. Damn it. Why the hell had he brought up Duncan’s name?
“Again, Emory, are you all right?”
“Fine. I’m fine.” Absolutely fine. It was fucking fate that he had to be reminded that Duncan was the one the prince took to his bed. Duncan was the servant Riffyn cared for. Not Emory. It just was so damn hard to accept. And impossible to continue to act like he was a grateful servant. “But I have… laundry. Your clothes, my lord. I need to…” Emory rose from the chair and headed for the prince’s cupboard.
“Stop. Emory, you’re going to eat first. You are always going to eat first from now on. Do you understand me? Now, here.” Riffyn began to fill a plate. “You will eat everything on this plate before you do one more thing. Even if that thing is to go right to bed. In fact, that will be what you do. We will eat, have a snifter of brandy after, then you will go to bed.”
“My lord, I have new duties…”
Riffyn glared at Emory, raising his eyebrows.
Emory sighed. “Yes. Thank you, my lord. I will do as you say.”
Riffyn smiled. “Finally. You concede.”
Emory grinned. Concede? Oh, Emory would do so much more than simply concede to this prince.
“There. That’s better. A smile. I so love seeing that smile.” The prince chuckled. “The smile and the blush.”
Which of course made Emory blush even harder.