Prince Amfortas was sitting in the chamber, drinking a glass of wine when Lanval Equitan entered. It was such a potentially normal scene that it made the fact that Amfortas’ clothes were splattered with blood all the more startling. Of course, Lanval’s attire was fairly blood-splattered as well--and also torn and close to ruined--but he was… acting as if it were. Amfortas was sitting there, casual as could be, while looking like he’d just slaughtered a hog.
Lanval found this… worrying. Not the killing--that had always been part of the Prince. But the growing sense he was getting was that Amfortas cared less and less about… keeping hidden. And that was bad. Very bad indeed.
Amfortas set down his wineglass. “How did things go at the Maiden’s Palace, Serjeant?”
Equitan took a deep breath. “Not… good, sir. The eunuchs were waiting for us. Armed and ready.”
The Prince chuckled. “Really, Lanval. When you arrived in this fashion, I was expecting less than pleasant news but this? It’s rather like being bested by a troop of performing dwarfs.”
“No, sir, it was like being bested by a trained squad of fighting men,” said Lanval. “Protecting the palace is what those… things do, and they prepare for it a great deal. The place is full of hidey-holes and secret passageways. I’ve lost sixty men to them already, not counting the wounded, and am like to lose more going the place over.”
“So the men without manhoods are the truest men in Tintagel,” said Amfortas with a pleasant chuckle. “Somehow it seems appropriate.” He shut his eyes, and took another sip of his wine. “I’ll send Gilly to set the place ablaze. That should flush your eunuchs out, and the little dear will enjoy it. Why she’s still positively giddy about taking care of the Senate.”
Lanval nodded awkwardly. “I can imagine.” The aging Almacian gave a cough. “Still--it’s a tad obvious…”
“These are grave times,” said Amfortas with a placid shrug. “The servants of Darkness strike with increasing boldness.”
“And there is the problem of not having the Queen,” noted Equitan.
“Do they know we do not have her?” replied Amfortas. “We will simply claim we do. If we must, we find a substitute. Few of them have ever seen the girl. In their day to day life, it will make little difference.”
“This does threaten our control of Tintagel, sir,” said Lanval bluntly. “We have this city, and a few of the ports, but much of the countryside, and the other islands…”
“Can be taken care of,” said Amfortas. “As long as work on the fleet continues, than our control of this nation is… sufficient. Do not get bogged down on side issues. Things progress. Not perfectly, perhaps, but adequately.
You’ve had things go your way for so long, sir, that I fear you are unable to tell when they aren’t, thought Lanval, without saying it. “Will you want clean clothes, sir?”
“Soon,” answered Amfortas. He glanced at the blood on his sleeves. “He did not last long, I fear. He was even begging me to kill him well before it was over.” He shook his head. “I do wonder sometimes why women are counted the weaker sex. They so often bear things so much better than men.” He sighed. “I admit I mishandled Queen Yolande. I should have listened to you on that matter. Had her killed first, when we arrived.” He looked at Lanval curiously. “How would you have handled that?”
Lanval shrugged. “Nothing much sir. Killed her, after a bit of torture--so they’d know it been done, you see. Perhaps--throw in some novel desecration of the body. Tear out the guts and use them to decorate the walls, for example. People find it unnerving.”
Amfortas nodded. “I suppose they do. These things never bother me, really. I suppose it is part of being the Champion of Light. The Seven desire their instrument to be pure and pitiless, judging all in the truthful glare of the Holy Light.” The Prince was smiling blandly as he said this. “That… little Erl child--the Badb’s daughter--she kept saying I was empty inside. But that was nothing more than the lies of Darkness. I am full--full of one thing, the urge to serve the Seven. An urge I follow to the utmost.”
Lanval watched as the Prince took another sip of wine. You have been coming unhinged, he thought. Or as unhinged as someone like you can become. And now I know why. You were supposed to beat those things in Joyeuse--whether you lived or died, they were going to do what you wanted. But that didn’t quite happen, now did it? If you were anything close to a normal man, you’d be scared--but you’re not. So instead you’ve got this vague feeling in the back of your head that you might lose, and that makes you eager to prove that you’re still in control. And that is what leads to bloody messes like this horror--because having that urge makes you… less in control.
Amfortas took another look at his Serjeant-at-arms. “My dear Lanval--I didn’t notice. There’s a wound on your arm.”
“It’s just a scratch, sir,” said Equitan. “I’ve had worse.”
“Do have a barber look at it,” noted Amfortas. “Wounds on the arms can prove most disabling. I’ve even lost men to them. And I can’t have that, Serjeant. I still need you.”
Lanval stood and bowed. “And I am proud to know that, sir.” He turned to leave, and wondered to himself how long that would be the case, as well as wondering how long the reverse would remain true as well.