"Teluride, what have you done?"
The prince turned from his father's bloody form and stared at the spectre of his uncle in the doorway. Terrin's face was white--as white as the moon outside--and the faces of the castle staff crowding behind him showed no less horror.
"What have you done?" Terrin asked again, and, as if from some unseen prompt, the prince answered.
"My father..." His voice was rough and grating, his eyes unfocused."My father..." He swayed, and nearly tripped over the bloody dagger at his feet.
One of the Council members pushed past Terrin and caught the Prince as he fell.Only the prince saw Terrin's face darken at this intrusion, and he was too dazed to make note of it.
"Help me with him!" The man lowered Teluride to the ground and turned to the onlookers. "Someone see to the King!"
Two more members of the King's Council pushed past, but it was evident to all that the King was already dead. No one could lose the amount of blood that soaked into the carpets and bed sheets, and survive. Not even their King.
"My father!" the Prince protested as the Council members held him down."Help him..."
"I think he's beyond help," Terrin snapped, "and you've made sure of that, haven't you?"
One of the Council members gaped at Terrin. "Surely you don't think the prince..."
"He's been ill; we all know that," Terrin replied smoothly."Illness can do strange things to a person's mind..." He left the actual accusation unsaid, but everyone present knew exactly what he meant.
"You're a wizard!" Another man pushed past the growing crowd and joined the others. "Can't you make him tell us?"
"Force him to talk, you mean?" Terrin asked, his voice still maddeningly calm. His eyes glittered at the thought. "I could, but it might damage his mind even more. If I forced a confession, whether guilty or not, he might not have a mind left when I'm finished." He paused. "I don't know if I want to do that to my nephew." His voice was perfectly modulated between sorrow for the King and worry for the prince.
On the floor, surrounded on all sides by the Council, the Prince moaned.
"Do it," one of the men snapped, his face pale as he faced the gory scene."I want to know who did this to our King." The others, not as vocal now that the stink of blood and excrement was thick in their throats, nodded their assent. Terrin knelt beside Teluride, careful not to kneel in the blood, and the Council moved away.
"No! Don't hurt him!" Someone new pushed through the crowd in the doorway, and Terrin frowned when he saw who it was.
"Alban, step back," he snapped. "This is none of your affair."
"Teluride didn't kill his father," Alban retorted. "He couldn't have!"
"Perhaps the Prince's sickness has transferred to you?" Terrin asked, his voice still calm, but there was an undercurrent to it now, warning Alban from continuing in that vein. "You've been ill, too, Alban..."
"I'm not sick." Alban's face showed otherwise, for it was dreadfully pale, and his eyes burned with what looked like fever. Only Terrin knew it was not, but he wasn't intending to enlighten anyone. He needed his son; needed the power he carried. The fever in his eyes was a spell, nothing more, but no one else knew that.
"Alban, we found him here with the dagger in his hand," Terrin said gently, as if talking to a child. "I'm not one to accuse out of line, but the evidence damns him." His gaze promised punishment later if Alban kept interfering.
"My father..." the Prince whispered from the floor.
"Your father is dead, Teluride," Terrin purred, facing the Prince again."Did you kill him?"
"Dead?" the Prince blinked dazed eyes, and tried to focus. "Dead?"
"Stabbed to death," Terrin said, almost conversationally. "Killed.By you?"
"No... I... heard..." Teluride struggled to sit up, but the Council held him down. "My father is dead?" He couldn't seem to grasp that little fact.
"He said no," one of the Council members said with a hint of relief."He said no."
"Did you expect him to confess?" Terrin asked sharply, then immediately softened his tone."Teluride, did you kill you father?"
"He's dead?" Teluride asked, nearly lucid now. "My father is dead?"
"Did you kill your father?" Terrin pressed, and backed his words with power this time. Teluride jerked on the floor, muscles spasming. He made a wordless sound of protest as Terrin focused more power into the question, but could not seem to speak."Did you kill your father?" Terrin asked again.
Alban stepped into the crowd surrounding the prince. "You're killing him!" He tried to stop the tremors that ran through Teluride's body, but the spasms only grew in strength. Terrin's eyes gleamed.
"I warned you that asking him this might damage him in some way," he said."I can't do a thing about the..."
Teluride's eyes widened, and he stiffened on the floor. His spine arced, bowing until it seemed his back would break, and the muscles along his arms and neck stood out in stark relief.
"You're killing him!" Alban said again, aghast. The Council members struggled to keep Teluride immobile, not wanting their prince to hurt himself any more than he already had.
"Go back to your rooms, Alban," Terrin growled, dropping all pretense of civility. "I'll deal with you later." Alban hesitated, obviously torn, but he could not disobey a direct order. He started to speak, wilted when Terrin glared, and staggered out of the room. The people clogging the doorway melted away as he passed by.
"Hold him still," Terrin ordered, and produced a small bottle from an inside pocket. "If I can get him to drink this, the convulsions should stop."
Teluride's eyes were still wide; his spine still bent at an unnatural angle. Terrin forced open his mouth, ignoring the damage he inflicted, and poured the milky liquid down the prince's throat. Predictably, he choked, but Terrin held his mouth closed until he swallowed the drug. Its effect was almost immediate. Teluride's whole body relaxed, and his eyes slipped shut.
"What should we do with him?" one of the Council members asked in the ensuing silence. Terrin pretended to think. Quite honestly, he wouldn't mind seeing Teluride hang for his father's murder, but hanging was a common man's death. Nobility would be sealed alive in a cell, or forgotten somewhere down in the dungeons. Or executed. He almost smiled at the prospect.
"Post a guard on him, but leave him in his rooms," he finally said."We have to get a confession before anything can be done--and it's still possible he might be innocent."
"We saw the dagger in his hands," one of the Council members said darkly."If he is innocent..."
Which he is, Terrin's mind supplied, but he didn't say a word. For his plan to bear fruit, Teluride had to be guilty. Teluride was the sacrifice for Terrin's quest for his brother's throne.
"Just make certain he doesn't start convulsing again," Terrin reminded them, and stood. "I'll prepare more medicine, just in case he does."
"Where will you be, Lord Terrin?" The Council stared up at him, already looking to him for answers. This had been too easy by far.
"I'll be in my chambers," he said. "Call my name, and I will come if you need me." He swept out, past the bloody form of his brother, past the gawking peasantry and Lords in the doorway, and past the deserted hall to go to his son's rooms.
Alban had nearly destroyed his plans by showing up when he did. If the Council found out that Terrin himself had killed the King, his plan would be ruined. If they found out Teluride's sickness was Terrin's doing, they would try their best to have him killed, but they would fail.
Terrin would make sure they would fail.
Alban staggered down the corridor leading to his rooms, unable to resist his father's order. He hated leaving Teluride alone with them; hated seeing his only friend helpless on the bloody carpet, but he couldn't fight the spell.
Now that he had his mind back, he knew it was a spell. He didn't remember much from the past month or two; his memories seemed to be shrouded in a darkness he couldn't pierce. He wasn't sure he wanted to pierce it.
He didn't notice the figure hiding in the shadows by his door until it spoke his name, but the spell still forced him forward, and he could do nothing but obey.
"Alban!" He recognized the figure now; recognized the cloaked form of his father's vampire, but couldn't reply until he'd stepped inside his room. He drew in a choked breath to cleanse the smell of blood from his throat, and sank to his knees as the compulsion deserted him.
"Alban?" A rustle behind him announced the presence of the vampire."Where is Teluride? What is going on?"
"The King is dead," Alban whispered, winded without knowing why. He hadn't run all the way to his rooms, after all, but he felt strangely weak. Was the weakness part of the spell? Now that he had his mind back, would the spell still hold him?
"You're not free, are you?" the vampire asked, hovering in the doorway."You're not free."Alban heard him turn to go, and turned himself, one hand out to prevent him from leaving.
"Don't go. Please."He felt like a fool for begging, but the vampire was the only one who could tell him what had happened. "I need to know..."
"You need to know nothing," Terrin growled from the doorway. He pushed past the vampire, and Alban tried to get out of his way. "How did you break free?"
"I'm not free," Alban snarled in helpless frustration. "I can do nothing like this--let me go!"
"Nothing? You say nearly ruining my plans is nothing?" Terrin grinned at his son, showing even white teeth. "I will not let you go. Ever."
Still kneeling on the floor, Alban stared up at his father in dismay."Why?" He couldn't think of anything else to say.
Terrin smiled again, but his teeth remained hidden behind thin, pale lips. "You have power I need," he said simply. "And you are my son."
"And Teluride?" Alban asked, feeling despair well up in his chest."What about Teluride?"
"He merely got in the way," Terrin replied. "Stay here. I don't want to see you set foot outside your rooms until I am crowned King. Do you understand?"
King? Alban tried to argue, but his mouth would only form two words. "I understand," he whispered, and bowed his head, defeated.
Terrin turned towards the vampire, and the cloaked form shrank back. "And I don't want to see you anywhere near the prince. Do you understand?"
"I understand," the vampire whispered. "You won't see me anywhere near the Prince." Terrin stopped in front of him, searching his shadows for any sign of deceit, but the vampire's head was bowed, his posture submissive. Terrin pushed him inside.
"Until I am King," he said. "Remember that." He wasn't looking at Alban, but Alban answered anyway.
"Until you are King."
The sound of the key in the lock echoed in Alban's head like a sentence of death. He collapsed, falling forward onto the dusty floor, and heard the vampire's soft voice break the silence.
"Do you truly wish to know what he made you do?" he asked, invisible in the darkness.
Alban raised his head. He had to work to find his voice--it seemed to have vanished along with his will to move.
"Yes," he finally whispered. "Please."
"You won't enjoy it," the vampire warned.
Alban waited a moment to see if he would elaborate, and then sighed. "I know."