The branches, the bones of the liars, the thieves

He watched her as she marched the length of the hall with her head held high. She was a woman used to getting what she wanted, who rarely responded well to the world no. He could sympathise with the sentiment. Her high-heels struck a steady purposeful rhythm against the polished wood of the floor, the sound echoing off the walls. Mordred watched Loholt out of the corner of his eye. The boy kept obediently silent, raising large blue eyes to look up at her in terrified awe. It was understandable, Mordred supposed, it would have been difficult to find a woman less like the queen, even if he bothered to scour his kingdom for one.

"Usually, at this time of night, madam," Mordred smiled, "the only person demanding my attention is my wife." He leaned forwards, listening attentively as she reached the desk, and rested her immaculate fingers on its leather surface. A person's hands had almost as many stories to tell as their face.

"Now I'm intrigued," he told her, reaching for an empty wine goblet. He picked it up and placed it on the table in front of him, before filling it with his favourite red from the golden jug by his left hand. When it was sufficiently full, he nudged it gently towards her with a long-fingered hand. It played host to the only item of jewellery on his person; a silver ring in the shape of a dragon, biting the end of its own tail. Its sapphire eyes glimmered in the torchlight, and for a moment, it almost seemed alive.

In the rooms below his feet, Angmar shifted on his treasure hoard, as if roused by his master's very thought. He reached longingly for his king's mind, caressing its well-guarded perimeter with a level of envious affection only a dragon could muster. Mordred pushed him back, firmly. He had not been summoned. He must wait.

"Please," the king continued, taking a sip of his own glass, "do go on."

Very few people who had not been raised to adorn the halls of kings were able to hold their monarch's eye. Mordred met her stare for stare, letting her velvet voice wash over him. He guided his face into an expression of sorrowful resignation, of grim, almost regretful triumph.

"My nephew has long evaded the justice of the law," he told her, leaning back in his chair. "I had hoped that, given time, his conscience might have gained the upper hand, and brought him to me." Mordred sighed, rolling his shoulders in a heavy shrug. "I have been disappointed. "

He retrieved his goblet again, taking another, longer drink, as if trying to steal himself for the task ahead. "A prosperous kingdom is a stable kingdom," he said, apparently more to himself than to her, "Shaman cannot long endure this...civil unrest. But of course, such concerns are the preserve of kings. Tell me, what is this information of yours going to cost me?" He reached out slowly to ruffle Loholt's hair, feeling the fragile warmth radiating from the top of his child's skull. It stirred a possessiveness of his own, not unlike a dragon counting its gold.

"You will find me a generous man," he smiled, all encouragement, "I value my friends."

M o r d r e d
photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin at unsplash.com


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