The king is dead.
The last great king of Tira survived the plague that killed his wife and children. He survived the war that followed. Only to die in his bed, asleep. His mouth hangs open and some few flies buzz about, landing on his tongue or in the gaps between his teeth. In death he has soiled himself and the rotten stench fouls the room. A young woman is the first to turn away and throw the shutters open, but as fresh autumn air rushes in, everyone gathered lets out a sigh as if waking from some nightmare.
Down the hall, a child cries. The sound rattles around in the old stone walls. A few folk turn away, as if shamed by the sound. Sotiros does not. He sets his hand upon the hilt of his sword, rubbing his thumb across the garnet gem set in it. He’s been up in these chambers with the king for a long while and there are dark circles under his blue eyes, his black hair is disheveled and falls across his face like a shadow.
“Bring the child here,” he says, and goes to close the old king’s eyes and shut his mouth. The jaw protests, the body already stiff, and it’s with some force that Sotiros finally manages the task, the king’s teeth clacking together. When Sotiros turns around there’s a light sheen of sweat on his forehead. No one has moved. “Before it gets worse. Bring him. He needs to say his goodbyes, and we need to make our pact to him. Our new king.”
No one thinks to argue. Five of them bustle out of the room–more than is necessary to fetch one little boy, even if he may be the future king.
“Do you really think this is a good idea?” Panos has stayed behind–Sotiros’ constant shadow. Light where his friend is dark, broad where Sotiros is lean. He wears the fur lined cloak of those great northern reaches of Skarhold, and he keeps his hair long as they do, hanging loose around his shoulders. “Sotiros. Think about this before you do anything.”
“There’s nothing to think about.” Sotiros sinks into a chair beside the bed. A chair he has occupied for the past five days, near on end, when he hasn’t been out fighting. His hands lay open and empty in his lap, as if he isn’t certain what to do with them without a sword, without the king’s weak hand in his own. “Thomas is king, now.”
“Thomas is a child.”
“There’s no one else.”
“There’s you, still.” Panos stands opposite the bed, the dead king between them. The wind ruffles the curtains and a branch of an old olive tree just outside scratches against the sill, filling the quiet for a moment. When he speaks again, it’s a whisper. “You don’t have to give him this power. He’s not even the king’s son. The soldiers will follow you. If you ask for the crown, they’ll give it to you.”
“And if I ask for it, I’m nothing more than a thief. Tira will follow the royal blood, just like it always has. Thomas is the king’s nephew. It’s the best we have. It’s what the king wanted.” A sound from outside the door draws Sotiros’ attention. The knot in his brow loosens and he shakes out his cloak, but the wrinkles remain. “Here they come.”
The child king comes borne in the arms of a wet nurse that, at five, he was too old for three years ago. His face is red from crying, but someone has convinced him to at least appear royal, and so his little lip trembles but he does not shed a tear. Not until he looks at the king and big drops begin to roll down his cheeks. Still, he does not cry out loud.
“My lord,” Sotiros says, first to speak and first to bend his knee. The others follow–if not for respect of the boy, then for Sotiros, for Panos knows the people well. “Agapios, bring your book over here and witness the crowning of the new king.”
This is the way of Tira, and in that we maintain our motto: Honor Above All.
Even now the threads of fate are being pulled. The world we thought had ended is struggling towards life again. But what fate has ready for us beyond this veil, it is beyond our power to say.