It had been three months since Arthur had been caught and brought to Forbearn for justice. Janah may not have arrested him publicly but he had still committed treason and he had to be tried in front of the royal court, even if no one beyond that circle knew Arthur’s real crime. As far as the guards and the junta were concerned, he had been brought to court for his own safety from the renegades. That the king could keep an eye on him and prevent further mischief was understood.
The royal court consisted of King Janah and Queen Mother Romeena. Janah had been too aloof when his father was alive to really understand the strange triangle his parents had found themselves in. As an adult, he found, he still did not care what their equation had been. The two had greeted each other coldly and once the guards had left, Janah had pronounced his statement.
Arthur was arrested, yes, but instead of a cell, he was given a room in the seldom-used wing of the palace. There would be guards outside his room at all times but he would be treated with respect. He could have the use of the entire floor if he so desired. But he wasn’t to travel anywhere.
The solution was so neat, Arthur wondered just how long Janah had been working on it. Had he flooded the towns and villages with his photo just so he would surrender? So he could ask Arthur to reveal every little detail of how he had succeeded in his coup? Did he now want to keep him close so he could pick his brain, or have him killed when he became too much of a nuisance?
As it turned out, none of what Arthur had been thinking was right…or rather it hadn’t been the entire story.
“I hope you’ll be comfortable here.”
Arthur looked at the soft bed, thought of the warm, fragrant bath he had just had, the plate of food on his table, the sunshine in his room and laughed derisively. “If you knew of the hovels I have been living in these past years, you wouldn’t ask me that.”
Janah nodded. “I may have been wrong about you,” he said, as the two of them sat down to share dinner.
Arthur took his time chewing the vegetables on his plate. He slathered the bread with butter, put a slice of cheese on it. He chewed that. He knew the cook had changed since he had step foot into the palace but the food tasted different. Even though he had surrendered his freedom, the food tasted of it. He asked, “In what way were you wrong?”
“You’re far smarter than you look. I think it’s your demeanour that confuses people. You come across harmless but you’re not, are you? My father may have been mad but he was an astute judge of a person. He chose you. That’s the only reason you’re alive by the way. Had you been anyone else, I would have had you killed a long time ago.”
“You have a surprising amount of respect for a man you call mad. I don’t understand it.”
Janah took his time to gather his thoughts. It was something Arthur had noticed about him. He was careful and took his time before speaking. It was a tactic that Reifire used when he was negotiating and had no cards to play with. The silence would unnerve the person and they would mumble and inadvertently give him something to work with.
“I choose to focus on the right things. He was a great man. Terrible, yes. But great nonetheless. I have learnt more from him about running the empire than I could have from books, or my mother or god forbid, the courtiers.”
Arthur smiled. “Is that why I’m here?”
Janah rose from his place. “Remember this Arthur, or whatever name you choose from here on. We’re not friends. I do not foresee us ever meeting again. You’re here because I wish it so. And to honour my mother’s wish that you not be harmed.” He saw the way Arthur’s eyebrows climbed his forehead and plunged on, “You’re the only one who could understand what she went through in the time of the crusade.”
“You’re here, Arthur, to be my mother’s waiting woman.”
With that he swept out of the room, the doors closing with a bang behind him.
Arthur’s shock quickly turned into disbelief which gave way to hilarity. Once he had got himself under control, he went to one of the windows and looked out. He tried to understand what he was feeling.
He was relieved because Mr. Chubs’ chapter was over. He was grateful he was alive and well. He looked forward to chatting with Romeena, even though they had never gotten along. They couldn’t. They had both wanted the same thing and yet had not been able to have it fully.
Janah could sweep out of his room as dramatically as he wished but Arthur knew he was also here because he was a game piece. How this game piece could be used Janah was not sure but he wouldn’t discard it out of petulance. In this, he was his father’s son. He knew a meeting with the king was in the offing. He had after all been travelling through his empire for the better part of fifteen years.
But mostly, the restlessness had finally settled. It wasn’t just a calm before the storm. It was just peace. He was home, as close to Reifire as he could be. Even if home was a jail he couldn’t escape. He found he had no need to escape. His time was over. All he could do now was record what had passed and record what was to come.
That would be his legacy.
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