Andrew was in the throne room, discussing the repeated attempts on the princess’ life with the king. “You can’t be completely clueless as to who’s behind it.”
The king sighed. “There are many who would oppose the union of Olion and Aryalis, but I do not know of any who would kill the princess to stop it.”
“Well, who is most opposed?”
“Count Alistair, of the Western Reaches. Or, more precisely, his son.”
“The count has no particular feelings towards the union, since his lands will be unaffected. His son the Viscount, however, has a powerful influence over his father, and, for some reason, is strongly opposed to it.”
Andrew frowned, and began to pace the throne room. “Why could his son feel so strongly about it?”
The king looked frustrated. “That’s just it. There’s no real reason for it. The family Alistair has always supported the decisions of the monarchs. For the son to so easily influence the father is inexplicable.”
“Could the son be the pawn of another? Someone outside the family?”
“It is possible. He does have a reputation for keeping some unruly company.”
Andrew nodded. “I think it would be wise for us to have a talk with the Alistair family.”
King James nodded also. “I believe the son is here, on a pleasure trip with some of the unruly friends I just mentioned. I shall send for him directly.”
A servant was dispatched to fetch the young Viscount, and Andrew waited for him to arrive, poring over a map of Aryalis and the surrounding kingdoms. From a purely geographic standpoint, there was no way to tell who might be interested in keeping Olion and Aryalis separate. His contemplation of the maps only frustrated him, so it was with relief that he heard the herald announce, “The Viscount Alistair.”
The young Viscount strode in with a haughty air that was clearly forced, and was failing to hide the nervousness of a weak character. His friends, however, four or so, didn’t need to force any haughtiness, seeming to think that being summoned into the king’s presence was somehow demeaning.
“You summoned me, your Majesty?” the Viscount asked.
“Yes, Viscount Alistair, come take a seat. Your friends, too.”
Andrew examined the young men as they sat, as though he could read their inmost thoughts with a single scrutiny. Two of Alistair’s friends were from known families of Aryalis, not as wealthy or respected as the family Alistair, but at least they were known. The third man, though… Andrew couldn’t place his origin. He clearly wasn’t from Aryalis, nor was he from Olion.
He barely heard the king exchanging the usual greetings and ceremonial small talk with Alistair, absorbed as he was with studying the stranger’s face. It was with a slight start that he was brought back to the conversation, as the king asked, “Why do you oppose the union of Olion and Aryalis?”
The abrupt question surprised the Viscount, who flushed for a moment before answering, “Aryalis is a strong, proud nation. We need not tie ourselves to a feeble country like Olion.”
King James frowned at this. “Aryalis is a nation of justice and equality. Extending this alliance to Olion allows us to show to the dictators that we will lend our strength to those who cast off their despotism and brutality in exchange for justice and peace.”
Alistair made a dismissive gesture. “We can better show them our convictions for justice by crushing any who lack it.”
This back and forth debate went on for several minutes. Andrew watched the faces of the persons involved, particularly Alistair and the stranger. He noted with interest the occasional flickers of reluctance on Alistair’s face, and the slight smirk of satisfaction on that of the stranger.
After ten minutes, it was clear there was nothing more to be gained from this conversation, and Alistair was dismissed. When the Viscount had gone, Andrew conferred with the king.
“He’s clearly not as devoted as he claims to be. I think the motivation comes from the foreigner.”
“I concur,” replied the king, nodding. “I’ll have some of my men investigate him.”
“Don’t tail him. I don’t trust any of your men. I’ll tail him myself. Just investigate him.”
King James raised an eyebrow at this seemingly arrogant statement. Had it come from anyone but Andrew, who had single-handedly slain nearly a score of brigands and saved Princess Marie twice, the king would have reprimanded him for it. “It shall be as you suggest.”
Andrew nodded. “Thank you, your Majesty. Now, I promised Marie that I would join her for lunch, so if you will excuse me.”
“Of course.” The king nodded with a smile.
Andrew left the throne room and returned to Marie’s quarters, where she was still resting after her ordeal. She smiled when he walked in, and rose from her armchair to greet him. “What did you need to talk to the king about?”
“We were trying to decide who was behind the attacks on your life.”
“One. But one’s all we need.”
She smiled. “Of course. Come, sit. The servant just brought lunch.”
They sat down to their meal, and chatted pleasantly while they ate. Andrew allowed himself to forget his troubles and concerns for that brief time, and simply enjoyed the company of the lovely princess.