The songs of nightingales rang out in the trees of the great pleasure gardens of the Amontides that evening, as King Sutekh and Prince Serapis walked down the flowered lane together. “We have been much troubled of late, by certain matters,” said the King quietly to the Prince, who walked six paces behind Sutekh, a rare and signal honor even for a Prince of the Blood.
“What matters are these, Dark Lord?” asked Serapis, trembling slightly. It occurred to him that the Prince Ptah Djehautides had been having such a private discussion with the King on the night that he had mysteriously vanished. Of course, Ptah’s meeting with the King was one of those things which, though everyone at court had known about it when it had happened, had never been mentioned again after he disappeared, and like most such subjects was not advisable to think on very long.
Serapis realized his nerves were not improving, and attempted to think on fluffy bunnies instead. And yet somehow one of the damn things popped into his head with a knife and then he started envisioning himself being chased by a horde of rabbits with sharp implements, which quickly overwhelmed him and hacked him into bloody pieces.
“It is a simple thing, really,” said the King softly, “involving the conquest.” Prince Serapis felt his throat clenching. “Should we add another stair to the Glorious Throne?”
Serapis stared at the Undying One for a moment. “That… does sound like it would be difficult,” he said eventually.
“Indeed,” agreed Sutekh. “Further, it would ruin the present artistic qualities to add another stair--seven is attractive, but eight is ungainly. And yet, somehow, it must show how what the Amontides’ conquered now lays under our feet.”
Serapis slowly nodded. “Yes. Yes. I see.” He fidgeted awkwardly. “Perhaps… perhaps… a rug, of some sort…”
The King’s eyes lit up in excitement. “Yes! Yes! Filled with images of the glory of the Amontides, sewn by the hands of Milesian women, out of the finest and rarest of ingredients in their lands… including the hair of its ladies of breeding!” He smiled at the Prince, and gestured forward. “You have pleased us, kinsman. You may approach two more paces.”
“I… thank you, Dark Lord.” Serapis took two nervous steps forward.
Sutekh nodded. “This is a great and signal honor, Serapis. And yet we have granted it to you, for you have been of great use to us.” He regarded the Prince intently. “The Northern League still refuses to surrender, and the threat of the Empire intervening remains. Will you not fight on for us, kinsman?”
“I…” Serapis shut his eyes. “I am… sorry, Dark Lord, but… I am tired. I have fought the Northerners for a decade now, and I have won every battle I have fought and still… still it exhausts me. The fighting… the killing… I need to rest, Dark Lord. Rest until I am well again.”
There was silence in the garden, then, for a long moment, punctuated only by the songs of nightingales. Serapis held his breath, waiting for the King of Kings’ response. Sutekh Amontides stood there, regarding him quietly, the King’s dark eyes fixed on his. “Very well,” said Sutekh, at last. “We would not see so fine a weapon broken or dulled by careless use. Return to your chateau, kinsman, rest and replenish yourself. All we would ask that you come to our aid if we should need you.”
Serapis gave a deep bow. “Of course, Dark Lord. Of course. I am your loyal subject, and live at your service.”
Sutekh nodded. “Very well. You may leave our august presence, oh Prince of the Marches.”
Serapis remained bowed. “Thank you, Dark Lord.” And then, he politely left the garden, remaining in a kneeling position until he was out of Sutekh’s sight.
Then he stood to his feet and ran to his chambers. He was fairly certain he could get his things in order to leave by the next day over the night.