The Lupine Saga 136

“There’s a lie I told you, Ruby,” Va’il said loudly, now looking at the rest of the audience. The audience was still mostly silent, watching the small drama unfold, wondering what was going on, only whispering every so often. Ruby looked up at Va’il again for a second before turning her face away again.

“The truth is, I haven’t been honest about the identity of Fidel’s true son. And this boy here has given me something to think about. If he truly is Fidel’s son, then Fidel’s first son will truly hate his father. He may be happy, for a brief moment, that he has a brother, but the bitterness of knowing that King Fidel cheated on his wife after their marriage would overcome him. But, King Fidel chose a faithful woman, who loved him even in separation. And he was a good king. He may have been eccentric, but he was good, and probably a faithful man. It’s far more likely that this boy is an impostor,” Va’il said. Inside, Va’il had to both laugh and cringe, as he thought, “I’m beginning to understand, Darius.”

At Va’il’s accusation the crowd burst into discussion. It was mostly murmurs, but it was enough to make the boy and Jin look around nervously. Jin then spoke up.

“Enough of this farce, you commoner, you stupid half. This has gone on long enough. Baseless accusations in front of the regent and the prince, how dare you! Since it’s terrible to hold a wedding on the same day and stage blood has been spilled on, we will reschedule the wedding! Guards!” Jin stomped his foot and banged his cane. “Kill this peasant! Dispose of his falsities and rudeness, his imagination, his treason will be his death!”

Va’il glanced at the guards, and then tensed as they lowered their spears and readied their swords. He considered how they were about to move, and how he would move to avoid their charge, but then realized something. He turned and shoved Ruby away, far out of harms way, her face revealing she feared the worst for him. However, with her out of the way, Va’il turned back, hoping he still had enough time to move, dodge, and live. He may have been able to, with his strength, speed, and agility that’d been honed by a year of travel in dangerous circumstances, and a resolute will to do what needed to be done. But he didn’t need to. One of the guards had already jumped in front of the rest, using their massive bearan body as a shield in front of Va’il. He had moved fast enough that the other guards couldn’t stop in time.

Va’il could only look on in horror as the guard fell to his knees, his back to Va’il, a pierced shield that sacrificed himself so that Va’il would be completely safe. And though the other guards could have continued moving on Va’il, the sight and shock of piercing one of their own stopped them from fulfilling Jin’s command. The guard turned his head around and smiled at Va’il.

“Second time, kid. Heh. Don’t know why either time, but I had to save you.”

“Derlik! You, you,” Va’il said, but his throat wouldn’t let him speak more.

“Don’t cry for me kid. I’m not that great a guy. Besides, weren’t you talking about something more important? Please guys, hear the kid out. Let my death be enough for today,” Derlik said while his blood flowed. It was obvious that each word was becoming more and more difficult for Derlik to say, his wounds mortal ones. However he stayed upright. The other guards all backed away, tears in their eyes at the loss of a friend, and bowed. They couldn’t understand why Derlik had stopped them, but they felt a sense of loyalty to their friend, the one of them who had exchanged his life for Va’il’s.

“You can’t just quit now!” Jin said. But the guards in the room didn’t move. Derlik wasn’t anyone special among them, for the most part, but he was one of them. Though they weren’t aware of his role in a plot in the past, or the circumstances of his return to duty some time ago, he was part of the brotherhood of guards in the city of Rising. They had to honor his wishes for the time being, letting Va’il speak for a bit longer, even if they would have to end up piercing him once he was done.

And Va’il did speak. His eyes were full of tears, ones he thought he had run out of earlier, and the audience was silent, now anticipating what Va’il was going to say. He felt sickened that there was such a calm in the air while Derlik’s blood flowed, the bearan still standing as if still a mighty shield.

“I,” Va’il said as he rose, standing tall, “am not fully human. I was born of a wonderful female lupus, and a male human I never really knew. But I learned of him. I denied him for a while. But he gave me a heritage I can’t look past anymore. I must honor that, as Derlik’s sacrifice has made so painfully clear. I have to ask those of you who know about this marriage a question. Miss Melonscone told me that King Fidel wrote something about this marriage. Please, answer this, what did he say?”

Jane didn’t understand all that was going on, and her anger had been dissipated once she saw the terrible thing that happened to Derlik. She was, however, the one who spoke up.

“Fidel indicated that my Ruby was to marry his son,” Jane said.

“Did he specify his son, Missus Melonscone?” Va’il asked as he turned to face Jane, his eyes locking with hers.

“No. He only said his son, and none other. And,” Jane started, a spark appearing in her mind, one that she felt would make things clear, “he said one more thing about him that no one else knows. I’ve told no one but Ruby, and not even Regent Jin. Considering he has been found, it shouldn’t matter if I reveal it, as surely the alias the prince was using there can be verified now. Fidel told me personally that his son was a student at Makeen.”

The audience broke into murmurs again. Va’il turned, this time to look at Listus and Jin. Va’il felt a small amount of relief that Jane had revealed the extra tidbit of information that wasn’t known to all but a few people, and that he didn’t have to bring it up himself. Listus had whispered something to Jin, who shrugged and then whispered something in response to the boy. Both of them looked confused.

“I understand a noble’s hesitance to humor me with an answer to my question, Missus Melonscone. Though now all the answers to come will be shocking to most, disappointing to many. At least now we can be sure. King Fidel was definitely faithful to his wife. They had one child. And it was not that boy standing here,” Va’il pointed at Listus.

“This may seem dramatic, but it’s still a farce. Who are you to come in and lay in these accusations without proof, with such flair and falsities? You disgrace this nation,” Jin said, his voice resolute.

“And,” Va’il said as he walked up to the boy and Jin, “I smell two things about your so-called son of Fidel. First, he smells of dye. Never mind the look, the lack of shine in his hair. Two, what he doesn’t smell of. He doesn’t smell of Makeen. Not of the classrooms, or the wood, or the pollen from the flower garden. Even if it’s been a while, there should still be some smell. Ask anyone with a non-human nose, we can tell where someone has and hasn’t been. Makeen may just be a school, but it still has a fragrance the students know, a fragrance that sticks with them after they go home.”

The whispers and murmurs continued, and it almost seemed as if the audience was enjoying the drama play out. But there was still the dread that they felt about what would happen if Va’il was correct. And so, the audience continued to watch, some with more concern than others.

“Nonsense, to rely on smell,” Jin said, provoking some snarls from the non-humans in the audience.

“Would you prefer a bearan or swine to smell the boy instead?” Va’il asked.

“Not everything can be decided by smell, and do you even know what dye smells like? Or if true, could possibly be covering a certain blue hue? And Makeen’s fragrance, if true, would’ve faded if he hasn’t attended in a long while. You’ve come with a lot of words and have placed doubts, half, but you don’t actually have proof of anything,” Jin said.

And Va’il had to stop for a moment. As much as he could throw doubt, as much as he relied on facts that he knew were true, no matter how much doubt he cast he still didn’t have solid proof. He was sure Listus was a fake, but Jin was calling for evidence. Even the matter of dyed hair could be explained away if the original color was blue, in Va’il’s view, and how was he to know the truth? He had to stop and think. But he didn’t want to be the proof. He turned his head and looked at the girl who was still looking at him fearfully. There she was, still only hoping he’d have the sense to run away and save his own life. He knew that she wanted that, and that after Derlik, she was more scared than ever for Va’il. He also knew that if he saved himself at this moment, he’d be condemning her to a loveless marriage to someone she didn’t care for, and an impostor.

Then he realized it. His real goal was to fulfill what Ruby had wanted, but couldn’t ask anyone else for. And there was a way to achieve that, still. Va’il didn’t want to reveal who he was. But he thought that if he did, Fidel’s words would take care of the rest. He smiled at Ruby, and then faced the audience again.

About James Ashman

I write books of the fantasy, heroic, and adventure types. So far. I'm an author who loves fantastic stories.
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