Chapter Thirty-One – continued
Adrian could feel his heart thudding in his chest and hear it hammering in his ears. He wanted nothing more than to retreat into a corner and stare at the dark walls. Merike had been intentionally killed. It meant more than just war with the sea witch, but war with the Pearl Kingdom now. Royal blood had been spilled.
Swallowing hard, Adrian finally lowered the parchment and crushed it in his hand. Eyes forward and mouth grim, he strode to the head of the table, drawing eyes and silence in his wake. With a nod to Kyanan, the doors to the chamber slammed closed, making several men and women jump in their seats.
His gaze hard, Adrian studied the faces staring at him. He only had grim news for them, news that would make them erupt. He wasn’t quite sure if he was pausing for the dramatic effect or to savor the last silence he was likely to ever get again.
“I have news from the seas,” he announced, his voice echoing through the silent chamber. “This morning, a body was found on the shore.” He raised a hand to silence the suddenly clamoring voices. “I must, unfortunately, report that Princess Merike has been killed.” Amid the gasps and low murmurs, Adrian plowed on. “Her body showed signs of being tied up and dehydrated, much like a fish out of water. This, of course, heralds a dangerous time for us as, until now, our battle has been against the sea witch. With Princess Merike’s death, we face war with the entire Pearl Kingdom.”
Voices exploded before him, the silence of just a few minutes before shattered with outrage and fear, demands and questions. Uninterested with their fighting amongst themselves, Adrian fell back into his chair and sat, slumped, with his hands laced over his stomach. His eyes darted around the room, studying each councilor and general.
His eyes fell on Ephraim and his general friend at the far end of the room. The general was screaming and waving his pipe around, unaware whenever he clipped the man seated next to him. He was red faced and screaming at some of his neighbors, though Adrian couldn’t make out his voice in all the noise. The councilor was arguing with the woman seated on his other side, his hands wildly gesticulating. There were a few times when it looked like he was going to backhand his friend, but it never seemed to happen. All told, though, the whole lot were little more than children in Adrian’s eyes. There was no order to speak of; just men and women getting angry when no one else shared their ideas for how to fight their way, completely forgetting they were supposed to serve under the King. Well, Adrian, at the moment.
Adrian wasn’t sure how long he waited, but, eventually, the voices seemed to die down and become hoarse. He took that as his cue and bounded to his feet.
“That’s enough!” he announced, his voice carrying across the room, running roughshod on the voices still yelling at each other.
Eyes slowly turned to him, some showing reproach, but most grudgingly acquiescing to their current liege.
Adrian folded his arms. “I may be young, but His Majesty King Gray appointed me his heir, leaving me to run the Kingdom while he is at war, to lead the war plans. Should I have need of your input, be certain I will ask for it. For now, our most pressing duty is to inform His Majesty the King of the Princess Merike’s death.”
Adrian fought the urge to sneer at the silently stewing councilors and generals. Abigail’s voice rang in his head, reminding him he was the Crown Prince, the future King, and a man of royal blood. How would Genevieve expect the future husband of her younger daughter to comport himself? Even if he hadn’t seen Abigail’s mother since his adolescent days, she was still a force to be reckoned with, the most proper and dignified lady the court had ever seen. The kind of lady the court would never see again.
“I require a volunteer,” Adrian said. “I need someone to sail on our swiftest ship to take word to our King. He is out on the open waters, in serious danger as we speak.” He ran his eyes over every assembled person, slowly. “Your disrespect ends now, or you will be dismissed.” He began to pace, a few steps in one direction before turning around for another few steps. “To argue directly with the King’s wishes was unheard of just a few years ago. To speak over the King was unheard of. The King grew lenient with you lot, but, if we are to win this war, that must change.
“Now, I don’t propose that I take his place, but the fact remains that the King placed me here in his stead, to lead you, to make the plans, to make the decisions.” His voice hardened. “Should I require your ideas, I will ask. There will be no more of this clamoring, of this arguing with one another.” He waved a dismissive hand. “All of you have comfortable offices and chambers to do so with each other out of my earshot.”
With a deep breath, Adrian leaned forward and pressed his palms against the table. He eyed them again, seeing the leashed fury and high color. But he didn’t care. If the mermaid princess could so easily be killed, so could his uncle. If that were to happen, Adrian would be King. He felt an urgency to establish himself as the head of the Kingdom, as the one in charge of this rowdy group that thought themselves above a king.
“I require a volunteer. One individual to take word to the King. Who will it be?” He pushed himself upright and waved a hand. “Decide among yourselves. The King trusts each of you, so I trust you’ll take the message directly, intact.”
“No need,” a voice rang out amid the silence. At the end of the table, the elderly general rose. “Of everyone here, I’m the only one with battle experience out on the seas. It isn’t a pretty sight, and there’s far less glory in sailing into it than anyone thinks. I’ve led ships through war and storms. I can get the message to the King sooner than anyone else here.”
Adrian swept his eyes around the room as the men and women turned to each other. But no one spoke up so, with a nod, Adrian dismissed the general to prepare for his departure.
“Now,” Adrian said as the door slammed shut after the older man, “we must discuss ensuring the Pearl King is aware of his daughter’s death.”
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