the branches the bones of liars and thieves

Mordred smiled and set his goblet down on the table beside him. There was a light to his brother's eyes, an eagerness, not unlike the kind Loholt showed when tempted with the offer of cake or biscuits. The key to everything was knowing what people wanted, and what they wanted you to be. If you could figure out those two things, you had everything you needed.

"Enough to keep you busy, brother," he explained levelly, meeting Murphy's eye. "We have a lot to do."

The floor beneath their feet rumbled as Angmar turned over on the floor below. The great dragon lay curled on his pile of treasured things, apparently asleep, but ever watchful. He eavesdropped on the conversation, his great blue eyes shut tight, envious of Murphy's dragon. She was small enough to go where he could not.

"I need you to keep a closer eye on my little bird," Mordred said. He leaned back in his chair, folding one leg gracefully across the other. "She gets more powerful by the day and I fear her loyalty continues to lie...elsewhere." He picked up his goblet again between his finger and thumb and took another drink. "I'm monitoring her myself, of course," the king continued, staring down into the fire, "but four eyes are better than two. I want to know when she will betray me. I'm afraid it's only a matter of time."

He could have killed her, long ago. It would take only a nod and a whisper, yet another body for his nephew to mourn. And yet, there was something captivating about her, a muttering of potential which, with the right nudges, could become something useful. For a time, at least. Nothing in the world stayed useful or fascinating for very long. Such was the nature of life.

"You still watch my sister too, of course?" Mordred resumed. He rolled his empty goblet between the flats of his hands, his eyes back on Murphy. "My men lost track of her for an hour or so in Oliford yesterday afternoon. I want to know why and how. Anything out of the ordinary, anything too ordinary, and I want to know about it."

The king rose to his feet and crossed back to the table beneath the window to re-fill his cup. Murphy was observant enough to ensure it always contained his favourite of Arthur's vintage's. His brother had left him quite a cellar and he was finally developing a taste for it.

"A group of guards were on patrol a month or so ago and they came across an alliance agent by the name of Guy Penry. No one has seen or heard anything from him since. He hasn't been to the forum to report to any superiors there, so I find myself wondering who he is and what he's doing here. Keep your ear to the ground for me, won't you? One of your tavern contacts might know something my guards cannot learn."

Mordred lowered himself back into his seat. "I trust you with these missions, Murphy because they are family business, and you are family." He managed another smile, injecting it with fondness and faith. "I have two final tasks for you, brother. One is perhaps a little more delicate, and the other...the other might just be the most important thing you ever do for me." He leaned forwards, resting his elbows on his thighs, narrowing the space between them.

"Do you think you can manage all of these things for me, brother?"

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


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