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Story #4: Deposed

Deposed is the story of good King Ralon who is abruptly stripped of his throne as the tale begins. Unable to give up, he must find the will to not only stay alive, but win his throne back as well. Desposed consisted of 6 parts.

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Part One, November 10, 2009

Sildon Gastak let a wicked grin form on his face as the sounds of death quieted in the next room. He didn't often show emotion where others could see him--his father always said it made people weak--but he allowed it this once. Why shouldn't he? Months of planning and preparing and everything had happened exactly as he'd expected.

With a wave of his hand the soldiers around him rushed into the room ahead of him. It was possible, he supposed, that the quiet didn't actually mean his men were victorious. He'd come too far to risk his life now.

A grunt from his commander marked his safety in entering. He calmed his face and entered the King's private meeting room. A skilled eye picked the room up within seconds. The scene would have made a softer man cringe, Sildon noticed one of his younger soldiers trying not to sick up at the gruesome scene.

Dead men lay everywhere, their blood pooled beneath them. It also covered the beautiful furniture and tapestries. A shame that, the furniture could be cleaned of course, but the fine rug and wall hangings would likely prove a bit more difficult. Unless they saw to it quickly, and that wasn't going to happen.

Four men stood against the walls opposite each other, two to each side of the large room. Soldiers guarded them, pulled aside from chairs where they had been sitting at the long table. They'd had specific orders not to kill these men. It would set a bad precedent to kill his own Lords. They were his now, or would be soon enough. Sildon's grin didn't reach his face this time, but he enjoyed the thought in his head. Even the dead men lying on the floor pleased him. It wasn't as good as getting to kill them himself, but the carnage did bring a measure of satisfaction.

Sildon walked casually around the dead bodies and body parts. He'd made it a point not to wear his cloak this day. It would not do to let it drag along in this room. His pants were tucked into his high leather boots, his fashion actually having a use this day.

He approached the King without fear. He was just another man, now. And he wouldn't even be that soon enough. The thought made him fight down another smile. Perhaps he would personally execute Ralan Belsonn. That would certainly send a message, and it would be fun on top of it all.

"Ah, Ralon, how long have you ignored my threats?" Sildon said. He let one eyebrow rise with the question, to mock the man.

"That is King Belsonn, you worm." The King spat in his face. Contemptuous to the end, it seemed. The man never had taken a care to hide his emotions.

A soldier to Sildon's right back-handed the King with a gauntleted hand, splitting the man's lip and knocking him back down into his chair. If the King had felt the blow, he didn't show it. His eyes only narrowed. Sildon fought the urge to step back at that gaze directed toward him and almost cursed at the thought. He would not let this man disgrace him further, he would not!

"Now, now, Elon. There is no need for all of that." Sildon said, calm once again. He casually pulled a handkerchief from his sleeve and cleaned off his face. "King Ralan Belsonn, I hereby remove you from your throne. The Belsonn line dies today." He revelled in the King's widening eyes.

"You have no such authority Sildon! My people--my men--will not allow such a thing and you know it." The deposed man said. He was a King no longer. Not after today.

Ralon's arrogance tested his patience, but he was ready for it. He pulled an envelope from his sleeve. He made a show of it about the room, letting each Lord get a good look at the wax seal upon it. Hushed gasps filled the room, from all but one of the Lords.

"The charge is high treason, Ralon. How long have you worked with Lord Furlow to the detriment of our kingdom, I wonder?" All eyes turned on the young Lord. The man wore a confused expression--one that Sildon hoped nobody else paid close attention to--then let out a guttural cry.

"Long live the Queen!" The young Lord declared, and the proud man went for the dagger at his side. How the boy must hate Sildon for what he did, but the weapon never left its sheathe. It was just another victory.

The two soldiers guarding the Lord ran their swords through from either side. Blood began to drip from his mouth, but he kept his footing. "You cannot win this war." The boy said quietly, his voice weak. "She proved stronger than Ralon in her manipulations, she puts you to shame." The way Ralon stood behind him, the room thought the words meant for their King. Sildon knew the last was for him. The soldiers growled at that, but there was nothing to be done. His next breath was his last.

The King's eyes were wide. Sildon knew the man wasn't really apart of any treason, but few others would be able to prove his innocence. And none would before he was executed. The man finally saw that Sildon was right, he saw that he was a dead man. Those wide eyes narrowed again.

"And you would take my place, Gastak? You think you would do well upon the throne of Erilyia?" Ralon asked.

"Compared to you my King, any would stand out." His use of the title dripped with sarcasm. "I will bring this kingdom power it has never before known. His plan to form an alliance with the Queen of Tutarthion would indeed bring them great prosperity. The death of Ralon would guarantee that alliance. His plan was thought out to perfection. It was too bad Lord Furlow had to die in the process, really. The man had proven a good ally these last months. Necessity was often a fickle mistress. Sildon would find others to serve in his place.

"Guards, take the King to the dungeons. He is to have no visitors until the full measure of his guilt can be determined. We shall not allow him to flounder for aid from his allies, who knows what lies they would plot in the dark." He spat the words and turned to the three Lords. "This kingdom has lived with too many lies of late. It is time that we learn to live with truths instead." One of the men even nodded in satisfaction, it was hard not to smile at that.

The message was as much for the Lords as it was for the guards. It was never too early to begin preparing these men to see him as their new King. Not that he was worried about the process. His military was more than strong enough to ensure the throne in his name, but the less violence needed the better. Less fun perhaps, but better for the kingdom. He could control his violent urges, when it was necessary.

When the men had taken the King from the room, Sildon motioned for the soldiers to stop their guard of the three remaining Lords. There was no reason to keep them. Rumors of betrayal, treason, and his coup would spread like a wildfire. It was part of the plan, in fact. Nothing would be able to save Ralon before the man was killed. Sildon would see to that personally.

Part Two, November 17, 2009

Ralon Belsonn gritted his teeth as the soldier at his back shoved him hard into the cracked door, opening it wide with the force of his impact. He wanted to strike out at the man, at all the men surrounding him, but it wouldn't do to get killed today. The fact that his hands were tied firmly behind him didn't help. He would have been confident in his ability to take them all on if he'd had his sword. For now at least, he couldn't worry about "what if'."

"I will go on ahead and make sure there is no opposition between here and the dungeon." Said a soldier to his left, a man that once been in Ralon's personal guard. Why had the man betrayed him, or had he betrayed him? Could he use the man still?

The harsh voice behind him, the commanding officer of this group by Ralon's guess, protested. "We were ordered to stay together. You will do no such thing."

"And if there is a problem? Would you tell Lord Sildon you were responsible for losing his prisoner when others came to his aide?" Said the traitor at his side, Pacrius was his name. Ralon noted the man called the usurper Lord Sildon, instead of King. Could that mean he wasn't a traitor after all?

Ralon heard a growl from behind, but he didn't dare turn around. "Should that happen I will accept blame to the King." The commander emphasized the title. Apparently he'd noticed it as well. Still, the commander seemed to second guess his decision at that, Sildon did have a vicious reputation. After a pause he added, "Very well, see to it then. Taksar, go with him." The two left down the hallway at a quick pace to stay ahead of the others.

The rest of the men led Ralon down the narrow passageways toward the dungeon. They had obviously thought this through. The path they took was not the shortest possible, but it certainly reduced the likelihood of running into any of Ralon's own guards spread about the keep of the castle. It only added to his anger at Sildon.

These events were his own fault. Ralon could not put the blame on anybody else. Many had said he should have executed Sildon long ago for his subtle plots against the throne. Ralon had been too proud, a mistake he wouldn't make again. If he had the chance to make another mistake at all.

The closer they got to the dungeon, the more Ralon began to regret his pride. Was he doomed to die alone in a cell? What would happen to his family? Sildon's threat made it obvious that he planned to execute Ralon's heirs right alongside their father. He had no trouble seeing Sildon doing such a thing, the man would probably enjoy it.

What would become of his kingdom in the hands of such a tyrant? Ralon had a duty to protect not only his throne, but the people of Erilyia that put their faith in him as well. Somehow it didn't seem likely that Sildon would see his duty like that.

When they descended the last stairwell into the dungeon, Ralon began to give up any hope of escape. Had he seen even one person loyal to him, he might have some hope of a plan to rescue him. But who would even know where he was being held?

Despite himself, he had to admire Sildon's plan. The man had truly found the perfect time to execute it. Ralon had often thought to keep those loyal to him close, but those he wasn't sure about even closer. Each man in that room today was one Ralon couldn't be sure about. Would they even inform the guards? Or would they wait to see what place they might have under Sildon's banner? It was a good plan.

Two men in full armor stood diligently at a thick wooden door leading inside the castle dungeon. When the guards saw the men coming down, one with hands bound, they knew their duty and one moved to unlock the door. How did these men not care at all that it was their King they were imprisoning. He never did trust the dungeon guards, all of them were more interested in questioning and torture than on who was receiving it.

When the door opened, armed men rushed from inside. Ralon recognized Pacrius leading the charge and his hopes heightened. So, the man had not betrayed him after all! At once, he turned and thrust his forehead into the face of the man holding his arm. With the man's hands gone he ducked to the side so as not to get caught up in the fight.

One of the men with Pacrius quickly moved toward him with a knife and cut his bindings. Hands freed, Ralon took the sword the man held out for him. In the time it took, all of Sildon's men were dead except the commanding officer. As Pacrius went for him, Ralon called for him to stop.

"Sire, this is no time for heroics. We all know you're a blademaster." Pacrius said.

"It is not my ego that stays your hand. This man will become our prisoner."

"Of course, King Ralon, forgive me for questioning your judgement."

"Think nothing of it, you have saved my life this day. Tell me, you have infiltrated their forces, do we stay and fight or not?"

"Sildon has many men, Sire. I believe the best course to be to run, and get out of the city."

Ralon was shaking his head before the man could finish. "We are not leaving the city, Pacrius. The people depend on me, I will not abandon them to that despicable man."

"Very well, Sire. I know a place where we can lay low for now at least. Sildon will not find us. Do we take this one?" Everyone turned to regard the commander being tied up.

(*****)

Sildon Gastack growled as he thrust a dagger across the throat of the messenger standing before him. Men all around the room did their best to look away from the violence. Foolish cowards, let them avert their eyes. Let them fear their new King.

How could someone have infiltrated his personal guard? Pacrius would die very slowly for his betrayal. Sildon's plan had been thought out to perfection, nothing was to go wrong. He had seen to everything. Well, he had the throne at least. The day wasn't a total loss.

Ralon would cause problems for him, he knew. The man had already caused problems. All because of Sildon's trust in Pacrius, Ralon had ridden from the castle with head held high, a procession of guards and servants behind him. All under Sildon's very nose while he was setting up his own men about the castle. Everyone in the city would be talking about it before long. It would push his plans back weeks, if not more.

Sildon sat back in the King's throne. No, he sat back in his throne. King Sildon Gastack would never bow down before another so long as he lived.

So, Sildon thought, you are leaving to the east, are you? No matter, he would find a way to use this information.

Part Three, November 24, 2009

Ignoring the pain in his shoulder, Marcus Thaine slowly poured the steaming water into his wash tub. His left hand shook just a little, straining against the weight of the bucket. He frowned and decided to pour just a little faster.

The streets were becoming more and more dangerous every day. Ever since King Ralon had abandoned them to a tyrant. Marcus laughed a little at the thought of that. Anybody with at least half a brain could see the King's hand in events these last weeks. He must still be in the city. What must the man be feeling after the proclamations yesterday? His plan had obviously backfired quite horribly indeed.

Marcus pulled off the bloodied shirt and took a closer look at the gash in his shoulder. It had quit bleeding and it wouldn't need stitches. There was that at least. A few years younger and he would not have reacted so slowly to the surprise attacker. There was nothing to do about that now, he had been fast enough. The nameless thief that had been hiding in the shadows of the quiet street tonight hadn't been so lucky.

He eased his way into the tub slowly, letting the hot water soothe the aches from his fight. A cool thin strip of beef rested over his left eye. That wound still throbbed underneath the meat, but it had quit swelling at least. Marcus felt sorry for the man he had killed. Desperation made men do things they would usually never consider.

This new usurper of a King had turned Ralon's plan on its head. It was commendable of the man to rally the people to his side, but he had not factored in the vicious nature of his enemy. Sildon had responded by punishing those who spoke favor of the man declared traitor to the throne. Taxes, imprisonment, torture, no tactic was beneath Sildon Gastack. Hundreds were already homeless, only a day after the proclamations.

The man Marcus had killed was likely just another homeless man, or one that would have been soon. Did he have a family waiting for him to come home? Was there a child hoping someone would bring good news? He sighed and ducked under the water. This was wrong, but matters were out of his hands. They had been for many, many years now.

Refreshed and bandaged, Marcus used the rest of the water cooking on the fire and put tea leaves into it for brewing. The leaves were imported from far to the south and carried a heavy price. The plant did wonders to take away pain.

A soft, but firm knock at the door made him frown. A knife slipped casually into his fingers before he even noticed. His nerves truly had him on edge now. But whoever was out there would have seen the room brighten. That meant they had been watching, but for how long, and why? The knife in his hand slipped back to its sheathe as he moved across to the kitchen door.

"Who is it?" He asked, without moving to remove the door brace.

"Hopefully the only man in the city thinking the name Marius Dallon." Said a voice on the other side, it was so quiet he almost didn't hear. Despite the pain he felt, Marcus smiled as he opened the door.

Two men stood outside his door. The cheap clothes looked awkward around the built, solid shoulders of both. "Quickly, come in. We can speak more inside." He told them in a whisper before either had the chance to speak first. The man reacted, unused to being interupted, but they both did as told and moved in without another sound.

"My King, you grace me with your presence." Marcus swept into a deep and formal bow, as was proper. Even in the ratty clothes of a peasant the man looked regal. It was the way he held himself: his shoulders tense, his back straight. A very dangerous man.

"I still am unsure about coming, to be honest. But if there was ever a time for it, I can think of no better. Growing up, my father would always say to me, 'If things ever get so bad you don't know where to turn, seek out Marius Dallon, but only then.' The line is burned in my memory."

"How long have you known that it was me?" Marcus asked quietly. What else did the man know? Most thought him dead.

The King shrugged, "A few years. It was not easy to figure out." He paused, looking at Marcus as if deciding how much to say. "That is part of the reason I decided to come here tonight."

"Just so you know, I did not kill your father."

Ralon looked at him thoughtfully, but his escort tensed and tried to reach for a sword that was not there. Marcus didn't believe the man would have drawn it even if it was, men like him felt more at ease having their sword within reach.

"Years ago, I would not have believed that. I don't know what would make one of the most efficient mercenaries I've ever heard tale of kill his best client. It didn't make much sense, but my father never told me the truth of it all before he died."

It had been decades since the events unfolded. Marcus would never forget watching the closest thing he'd ever had to a friend, die in his arms. After all this time, he was no more than a mercenary at the King's bidding.

"I haven't talked of these matters in more than twenty years, Sire. Just the memory would be enough to get me killed. I did what needed to be done for the kingdom."

"You had to kill him for the good of the kingdom?" There was heat in the man's voice now, a silent rage.

"No, I did not kill your father. I was not lying when I said that. Had I not intervened that day, it would have been you that was accused." The King was taken aback by that, but Marcus went on before he could speak. "Not everyone is so brash as Sildon Gastack in their moves for the throne. I did what I did because you father asked me to, for the good of Erilyia."

"All evidence of your fathers murder would have fit squarely to a youthful son, bent on revenge. You had made an open display of your feelings against him, though you might not even remember it. Had you been accused of his murder, your bloodline would no longer hold the throne. So I did what was needed, and Marius Dallon has been dead ever since."

"I do remember, I'll never forget the last words I said to him were in anger." King Ralon spoke quietly, lost in his memories for a moment. "What's worse is that he was right and I was too young to see it. Perhaps I should have come to see you earlier, and put my mind at rest."

"With all do respect, you did not come here to put your mind to rest."

Anger flashed in Ralon's eyes, but it was gone as fast and he nodded in determination. Yes, he had come a long way since the hot-headed youth Marcus remembered. Perhaps he could help this man. If he still had it in him.

Part Four, December 15, 2009

"It is a risk... but then there are some risks are worth taking."

King Ralon waited patiently while the man across from him considered his words. Neither he or Marcus Thaine had spoken for many minutes while they considered his idea. Ralon found himself more and more impressed by this man. He was quickly coming to realize why his father worked closely with Marcus for so long. He tried to imagine the dedication he must have felt taking the blame for his dearest friend's death.

No, this was not the time to get lost in the past yet again. Marcus gave unassuming a new face in Ralon's mind. It wasn't just his appearance; every characteristic Marcus displayed seemed planned in advance, purposeful. It was something Ralon himself was trained in, but Marcus had decades more practice at the subtle art. Ralon could see his plan being picked apart piece by piece in the old man's eyes. There was hesitation in them.

"What aspect is giving you such problems?" The old man looked up at him and smiled.

"Your father could always tell what I was thinking as well." He laughed softly. "I was just wondering about the warnings of Gods."

"Surely they look down upon us with hopeful thoughts this night." King Ralon said.

"Do they, Sire? Did you know your father tried this as well? It was the very thing that killed him. That is what held my tongue for so long, who can know the plans of those above us?"

Ralon's composure slipped and he sat back in surprise. If that was true it was a very well kept secret indeed. It only took a moment for him to control himself. Unlike Marcus, Ralon felt more sure with the news, this was no accident. He could see the series of events that brought them together tonight. Brought him to speak to perhaps the only man alive that could tell him such a thing.

"This is my destiny, Marcus. I can see it in my mind now." And he could too, the series of events that lead to this decision. It made him consider that he may not be the one to see this done. What if he was only another step on that path? It didn't matter, he would do his duty. "I believe now that it is no coincidence that brings us together in this decision. It gives a purpose to my father's death, a purpose for your blame in it. It may not have been time when he was alive, but Erilyia is ripe for it now. The minor houses are all at each others throats under Sildon's rule." Ralon refused to give the usurper any titles. "All the major ones are choosing which they deem worthy of salvaging."

Marcus nodded, then seemed surprised to do so. The man looked him in the eyes; then he smiled in approval. Ralon had to fight down an embarassed flush. Where had that come from? It was certainly not the first time someone had tried to flatter him.

"You honor your father's memory, King Ralon. Very well, you have my support, I will help you in this."

Ralon let out a relieved breath. That was ridiculous, he hadn't been holding his breath. What was it about this man that stripped him bare with so little effort? He was very good.

"I see no reason to delay in this," Marcus went on, "I have contacts with many of the major houses. Pellevar, Langrin, Isalia, and Miranda will all support you without question. They have great favor with both the people and many of the minor houses. They will be your closest allies in this I believe." Ralon stared in open shock at the old man. He had contacts with all of them? He wanted to ask how, but Marcus didn't give him the chance.

"House Allayan and House Logahve will come around when you have the others in your hand. I make no claims at who you should choose for your plan. I merely suggest holding these houses close to you. With them, you will have the chance to influence others."

Despite himself, Ralon was a bit speechless. He regarded the old man in wonder. What other secrets did he hold in that mind, what more could he offer him? Marcus saw his expression and apparently could see his thoughts.

"I... performed many services for your father. My duties brought me in contact with a great many people. A chance meeting here and there was enough to keep up those connections over time." He paused suddenly, and Ralon could tell the man was considering whether or not to share something else he'd thought of. With a nod, Marcus went on. "I also have a vast network of spies and informants."

Ralon's mind raced with that news. This was something else he hadn't expected. The ability to spread the news he wanted, and get people away from talking about the things he did not would be an invaluable tool. He also realized they had not discussed a price yet. This sort of involvement would surely have a price, and probably a steep one. Marcus was a mercenary after all, if a retired one. On second thought, retired was perhaps a poor choice of words.

"What is it that you want out of this, Master Thaine?"

The man looked up in surprise and then laughed again. "Of course, my trade. You misunderstand my loyalties, King Ralon. I ask no price for my involvement. Despite the look of my home, I am not a poor man. You need not worry about paying me. It is my duty to the throne. It is every good citizen's duty." Ralon did not think many others would agree with that statement.

"Very well then, I would meet with the Lady Miranda first."

Miranda was his biggest supporter when he first took the throne. It was true that it was because she wanted the first chance to control him, but Ralon was no fool, even as a young man. He was lonely and she wanted power. He got what he wanted out of their relationship though; Miranda had not. When she accepted that she was the one who could not refuse him, she had decided not to stay in the castle anymore.

"A wise choice, Sire, a very wise choice." Marcus said.

Sildon Gastak looked out over his kingdom with a glare. Nobody could see his face from down there. He often found himself staring out the window for this reason. How was a man supposed to hide his emotions all the time? No happiness, no sadness. Maybe he did let his anger show from time to time, but he was not his father. He had his own way now. And his way had earned him the throne.

A chant from the streets below called out for King Ralon to save them. The grimace returned to his face. He hoped the man, Sildon could tell it was a man from the voice, would die for that outburst. "Maybe I should just kill them all," he whispered into the air. That wasn't truth though. There were men he wanted to kill, many of them, in fact, but he knew that he needed the people as much as they needed him. Well not as much, he was more important than that.

There was none he wanted dead more than Ralon Belsonn. Where was the cowardly man who had run from his fate? Sildon gritted his teeth at the thought. His advisors agreed that executing the people would break the man, that it would bring him to turn himself in. The fools, Sildon didn't believe the man was that weak, hard as it was to admit. Sildon had killed the advisor who first suggested it with his own hands this very morning. He would simply not accept such failure.

That didn't stop the executions though. Perhaps it would convince the people not to shelter him anymore. Fear was always the best tool for control. The people would fear him enough to cooperate.

Part Five, January 4, 2010

"It was Deltran Pash and Maller Dantis." Marcus paused until Ralon nodded. "You see the significance then. Well their tendency to cause problems won't bother us anymore, or anyone else for that matter. Sildon had both men executed for their so-called plan failing him." Ralon listened careful as Marcus whispered the news. Despite nobody being near them, the man still had a tendency to speak quietly.

"Executed? How is the council taking the news?" He said.

"Yes, you see why I felt the news urgent enough to risk this visit. All the others have agreed to see you now. Not exactly what we hoped, but I believe it is a good sign"

Ralon nodded, and breathed easier at that. He assumed that was what the man had come to say, but actually hearing the words helped none-the-less. What Sildon did would certainly cause a stir in the noble houses, not just in the ones loyal to him either. Both of the men he'd executed were nobles themselves, after all.

More important than that, Sildon had not seen what he was doing by working with the people after all. The arrests and executions had been to draw him out by the suffering of his people, not in retaliation. He couldn't have really thought that would work. That meant Sildon simply hadn't cared about all the people he'd hurt. Ralon gritted his teeth. A very dangerous man.

"Very well, Marcus, leave me then. I will meet as many as I can today. We must move quickly. Word will be spreading of these visits, I assume?"

"Yes, King Ralon. Every house forbid us speak of it, of course, but I know more than enough of their servants. The word that spreads will come from their own houses I assure you."

Ralon nodded and dismissed the man. Marcus had taken a much more active role as advisor for him than he ever had in the past. Ralon had suggested that. Youthful as he seemed, age was catching up to the man. His mind, though, was as sharp as ever.

He stood as his escorts came close again. Pacrius stood in front. Ralon had chosen him as his first for a number of reasons, but mostly because instead of just being loyal, he had gone out of his way to protect him. Any number of times he could have betrayed him, but he had not.

As they approached, he moved toward the gate to Miranda's residence. On any other occasion, his visit would have prompted a lavish welcome. Such a thing would not be advisable today though. He had the feeling Miranda would make a point of that.

At the door his entourage was ushered in quietly. The entry hall to Miranda's home was spectacular. Filled with a lifetime of collections. Despite the dangerous times that brought him here, he couldn't help but smile as he looked over the countless treasures. Miranda and he shared many similarities, but none was as striking as their mutual love of history.

Two sword displays were hung on opposite walls to his right and left at the middle of two winding staircases to each side that met at the top. The swords had belonged to some of the most famous soldiers, warriors, and generals in known history. Not just from their realm, but from all over the world. He loved the different affects cultures had on not only the hilts, but the blades themselves.

Ralon's eyes followed the intricate vine carvings of the staircase banisters all the way to the high balcony at the top. Then he saw her. Miranda had not lost any of the beauty of her youth. If anything, her presence had grown immensely. Ralon sometimes wondered how often she caught him looking at her. Miranda didn't get involved in politics much any more. At least not publicly.

Under her intense gaze, Ralon ignored the rest of her collections and started up the stairs to join her. Welcome party or not, she would have prepared a formal meeting. Her politics were subtle, but they were still there.

He reached for her hand and bowed. "Lady Miranda, time has looked upon you most favorably." He could smell her perfume when he kissed the back of her hand. Her warm skin felt good to his lips. Ralon fought down a blush and straightened, perhaps a bit too quickly. He couldn't help but laugh softly at her amused smile. "It has been a long time since we last spoke. How are you?"

"My Lord Ralon, I-." She began, but he interrupted her quietly."

"That is King Ralon, Miranda." So, she was to have right out with it.

She smiled, almost fondly he would say, but her eyes never changed. She wasn't the innocent girl he remembered, but then he wasn't so innocent either. "Of course, Highness." She said smoothly. "It would not do to for you to acknowledge Sildon's rise in power, but it is he that sits in the palace."

"And cuts down Lords for failing to please him." Her eyes did change at that, she hadn't known the real reason they died. He would have to thank Marcus for that tidbit. "My Lady, I did not come here to talk about that snake of a man. I want to grant the people the right to a more democratic council, and I want the people to decide a more suitable king."

"Ralon, don't do this." She said, and he didn't correct her this time. It was the voice he remembered, Miranda was being his friend again. "Sildon would execute the entire council if you do. You will not get what you want out of this. Many will die."

"You don't trust me anymore?" He asked, smiling. Her eyes were filled with surprise. "Miranda, I will see to Sildon. It is my duty as King. It is with the people's support that I came to ask your aid. Think of me what you will, I was young and I was a fool. But I am good for this kingdom. I am good for this throne."

"You are the best of your line thus far, my dearest King." She reached up and stroked the back of her hand against his cheek. "Oh, Ralon. Why didn't you ever come to see me? Was your pride so strong?"

It was his turn to be caught off guard. "You said you never wanted to speak to me again. I... I merely did what you asked, Lady."

She laughed again. "I couldn't let it be about power, Ralon. It had to be about me. Your pride never let you see that. I never wanted to use you, well, not so much anyway, but you were trained to look at people as pieces of a chess set. Sometimes we like to be thought of as a woman." Her grin at that really did make him blush this time. "Of course I will help you, Sildon is a dog that broke off his leash. You should have dealt with him long ago, and you know it too, don't you? I see a fire in your eyes that is about more than this kingdom."

"I won't apologize for letting him live, Miranda. I may have regrets, but I wouldn't do it any different next time. We have laws that even I should adhere to." He said, and she smiled at the words.

"I want something for helping you." She said suddenly. A knot began to form in his stomach. This he had not expected at all. "If it within my power, I will see it done." He said, carefully.

"Marry me, Ralon. Not the Lady, just me. Be my husband and love me." She spoke in a hurry. It made her look like the young woman he remembered from what felt like so long ago, the girl he did love, with all his heart. "I see how you look at me, I have waited for you for too long to let you go again. Even if it does make me feel like a silly little girl." She looked down with an embarassed smile.

"I should have been the one to ask." He said as he pulled her closer. He put a finger under her chin and tilted her head up to meet his eyes. "I love you, Miranda. I would be twice the man I am with you by my side." He meant that too. He pulled her into a hug and she turned her head so that their lips met.

Some time later he was back on his horse. There were many other people he needed to see before nightfall. Still, he had to admit it was a surprisingly pleasurable start to the day. It helped him to feel like things were in motion. He just hoped it was he who sat on the throne at the end. He thought of Miranda and he smiled. Now he had even more to fight for.

Part Six, January 12, 2010

Ralon looked at the four noblemen on their knees upon the dais with grim determination. Sildon had obviously caught scent of what Ralon had been up to these last few days, even if he'd only actually discovered one of the men he'd talked to. Ralon watched the usurper king look out over the gathered, silent crowd. He wondered what the man thought of the gathering, Ralon could feel the hatred in the stares being directed toward the man.

A slight wave of his hand brought Rickard Palsor to Sildon's side. The wiry man was Sildon's right hand, and was perhaps even more feared than Sildon himself. It was a rumor spoken often enough that Ralon believed. With a dark grin, the man left his side and disappeared behind the line of guardsmen making a stage of today's executions.

The guards were lined up in a box formation around the four noblemen. The front of the box was missing, to allow the people to see what happened here today. It was surprising that Sildon was now making his executions a public event. It truly worked in Ralon's favor, though he didn't like to think of that.

Behind the guards was a smaller gathering of the nobility, some loyal and some not. Ralon had noticed Miranda was not in attendance. It was a gamble of her to ignore his summons. Still, he had to admire her bravery.

The shocked whispers spread through the nobles as Rickard made his way back to the stage and Sildon. The man had an iron grip around Miranda's arm. Ralon took an involuntary step forward and felt a hand tight on his shoulder. As much to stop him as to offer him sympathy, he was sure. It took everything he had to quiet the rage inside of him.

Miranda wore a thin shift and nothing else. Bruises darkened her fair skin, and one of her eyes was swollen shut. Sildon would die today, Ralon promised himself. Or I will, he thought.

"You knew this might happen, Sir. If you play into his hands now we'll have lost all that we've worked for these past weeks." Marcus Thaine said in his usual quiet voice. Ralon just nodded. The man was right, after all.

Despite the pain she must feel, Miranda held her head high, her back straight. She showed no fear, and it filled him with pride. He did love her, maybe he always had. Gods watch over her, he thought, if I am truly worthy of your trust, give me strength today. Erilyia needs a better man than that.

Sildon approached Miranda and touched her cheek fondly and she spit in his face. Rage twisted his features for only an instant before he found control again. He nodded to Rickard and the man knocked Miranda from already shaky knees with the back of his hand. As quickly as she fell, Rickard was pulling her back to his feet, a knife appearing in his hand.

Ralon tensed again, but it wasn't meant for killing. The knife sliced through her shift as easily as butter and it fell to the ground exposing the bruised body that had been hidden beneath. Sildon looked her over with a carnal hunger. Ralon cursed himself for not thinking this through. Damn him and damn the plan. It was time he did something. Before he could stand a voice boomed from behind the line of guards, a few of the armed men even jumped at the unexpected outburst.

"You go too far, King Sildon! You go too far." It was Lord Aden, one of the men he actually had met with.

"Seize that man and bring him to me." Ordered Sildon.

"Now, Marcus. It is time." Ralon whispered and the man nodded.

Sword in hand, Ralon rose along with three dozen men. The appearance of so many armed men caused the crowd to stir around them as people tried to move back. On his cue, the nobles he had met all stood and repeated Lord Aden's words.

"You go too far!" They cried in unison. And other nobles stood as well to Ralon's surpise to take up the call. "Too far!" some yelled, "All glory to Ralon, the rightful King!" others picked up. Surprisingly, the calls to his rule came from the nobles he had not spoken too.

The two guards who were coming to arrest Aden paused wearily as the private guard of a dozen noble houses rushed to form a barricade around the noblemen. The two guardsmen backed away slowly, forgetting Sildon's command, or perhaps just ignoring it. Despite all the chaos, Sildon's eyes were fixed on Ralon.

"So, little King. You finally decide to show yourself. When I kill you, I will execute every one of those nobles who defied me today. Every single one, and the deaths will be on your house." He moved and seized Miranda, one hand holding a dagger to her throat, the other cupping one of her breasts, rubbing it fondly.

Her calm vanished in an instant as Miranda looked into Ralon's eyes. She pushed at the arm holding a dagger to her throat as her heel slammed down onto Sildon's underprotected foot. Her aim could not have been better, Ralon wondered if any toes had broken. Miranda was not done though, she turned and punched Sildon in the eye. The same eye that she could not open, Ralon noted, and he had an idea who had given her that wound at least.

As he stumbled back a step in surprise and pain, Miranda stepped forward and planted her knee firmly between Sildon's legs again and again. Once, twice, three times in rapid succession. The dagger fell from his hands as he fell to the ground. She lunged for it as Ralon and his men took the stage, squaring off against the King's guard.

"KILL THEM YOU FOOLS!" Sildon wailed in agony.

"MEN," declared the captain of the guard. "WE STAND DOWN, MEN. DROP YOUR WEAPONS."

"Noooo!" Sildon was screaming his objections even as Miranda picked up his dagger. Ralon tried to reach her, to stop her from killing the man, but she had never intended to kill him. She rushed past the fallen King and lunged for a Rickard who was quietly trying to escape.

The dagger thrust into the Rickard's leg mid-stride and he fell to the ground with her. Miranda was not done though. She pulled out the dagger as she crawled closer to him and thrust it back into his other leg. Then through his side, and finally through his chest. She pulled herself up to look into the man's eyes as she drew the dagger across his throat.

Ralon shuddered, having a good guess for who had given her most of those wounds. He rushed to her side, pulling off his cloak and wrapping it around her shoulders. She cringed and backed away from his touch and his heart went out to her even more. What did they do to her, he thought. But he had a pretty good idea. Finally, she shook off her shock and noticed who had given her the cloak. She ran to him and he let her bury herself in his arms.

She was crying hard now, thanking him for rescuing her. Aren't you the very reason this happened to her? No, he was not going to go down that path. He summoned Pacrius to his side and reluctantly Miranda agreed to go with him to clean herself up and find clothing. He hated himself for making her leave, but he was not finished here.

He turned to the gruesome scene that had finally calmed down. The line of King's guard was now on their knees, weapons taken from them. Sildon was held between two men, that unnerving calm of his finally lost to his rage at what had happened. With all likelihood the man would not even understand what had happened.

As he stood in front of Sildon, cheers erupted around him. With everything else, Ralon had forgotten all about the crowd that had been gathered to watch nobles be executed for failing their King. Sildon had thought he was cowing these people with his actions, never understanding them.

Ralon turned and held up his sword arm. "FOR ERILYIA!" He cried, and the people picked up the chant. He even heard it coming from the gathering of nobles and soldiers behind him. "Today, my good people," he began, and paused as the voices around him died down. "Today will live on in the memory of Erilyia! Today the people rose up against a tyrant. Today the people fought back against an usurper. Do not declare this to be my day, good people! No, you need only look in the mirror to see who brought down this traitorous man!" He thrust his sword backward into Sildon's face and got the added satisfaction of the man's wince. He turned back to the people, and went on in a more solemn tone.

"I am humbled, good people of Erilyia. I am humbled that you call out favor to House Belsonn. I am humbled that you call out to me as King after all that has transpired. I accept blame for Sildon's actions. As King, he was my responsibility. I am no fool, I hear the rumors of the people like everyone else. Many say I should have stripped this man of title and rank, some say I should have executed him long ago." He paused, letting the words sink in. The plaza was utterly silent now. "I am humbled by you all, good people, and I will say this: I have become a better man by your strength and by your conviction!"

The crowd erupted once again in cheers. He smiled out at his people as an arm wrapped around him. He turned to see Miranda smile up at him, a hood pulled over her swollen and bruised face. She wore a silver and green hooded cloak and he loved her even more for it. To have the strength to come back in front of these people after standing bare to them. And to wear the colors of House Belsonn besides. She stepped forward and raised a hand. It was a simple thing, but the crowd quickly fell to silence.

"Good people of Erilyia," she began, calm and confident. "Anyone can tell you how fiercely I love Erilyia, that I would do anything for her and her people. So know this for truth: King Ralon is the best thing that has ever happened to this kingdom. He is the best thing that has ever happened to me, as well." She turned to him and took his hands. The warmth of her skin made him feel wonderful. "And with any luck, good people, Ralon will accept me as his wife." Miranda smiled up at him and he couldn't help but smile back. He pulled her into a tight embrace as the roar of cheers from their people erupted once more.