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Authors: Kel Kade

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BOOK: Reign of Madness (Revised Edition)
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Shiela was startled by the reprimand and glanced over to see
Rezkin’s disapproving stare. She blushed slightly and replied, “Oh, yes. I
meant
a
couple
of commoners and our dear cousin. Forgive me,
Frisha, I meant no offense,” she said with feigned regret.

Frisha rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. “I’m sure you
didn’t,” she remarked. “I must say, Shiela, I find myself greatly concerned for
your wellbeing,” she said, her brow furrowed with worry.

Shiela’s eyes widened in trepidation of some unidentified
threat, “Oh, why is that?”

“I had not realized your constitution was so delicate that
the mere presence of other human beings could render you so senseless,” Frisha
remarked fretfully. “I worry that this journey could cause you an inordinate
amount of stress. Perhaps you should reconsider attending.”

Reaylin snickered behind her hand as she held back a giggle,
but Palis and Brandt burst out laughing. Even Malcius wore a sly grin, which
immediately fell when Shiela scowled in his direction. Shiela’s face reddened,
and she turned her attention to Rezkin. He observed the young
lady
with
a somber face but a glint of laughter in his eyes. Shiela knew the handsome
nobleman was watching to see how she would react. The heat slipped from her
cheeks as she grinned wickedly. She sidled up to Rezkin and wrapped her arms
around one of his muscular biceps as she turned to face Frisha. She then gazed
up at the young warrior with doe eyes and said sweetly, “I am sure, dear
Cousin, that I will be quite well during the trip. From what Uncle Marcum said,
Rezkin, here, is quite capable. I will be in good hands.”

Rezkin lifted a brow and cast a feral grin down at the young
woman. Frisha was fuming but felt a shiver crawl up her spine at the look.
Rezkin appeared as a lion that had just sighted his next prey – and not
in a good way. Shiela interpreted the look as a different kind of hunger and
smiled suggestively. Malcius cleared his throat just as another sound reached
their ears.

“Do not drop that, now, and hurry up! We do not have all
day, you know,” said a familiar voice. Frisha and Tam’s eyes widened as the
late arrival stomped onto the deck. “Ah! I did not realize I would have the
company of House Jebai. What is this? House Gerrand, too, I see.”

Malcius bowed low as did Palis and Brandt. “Lord Tieran,”
Malcius intoned, “I did not know we would be traveling with such esteemed
company.” His eyes glanced at Rezkin who was mostly blocked by the others. He
was pointedly
not
bowing. Malcius added, “Or, rather,
additional
esteemed company, I should say.”

“Additional?” Tieran queried with a furrowed brow. His eyes
fell on Rezkin as the young warrior stepped from behind the other young men.
Tieran’s face paled, and his jaw dropped slightly. “Oh, ah…I see. Lord Rezkin,”
he sputtered as he bowed slightly in greeting, “it is…ah…good to see you,
again.”

Malcius glanced between the two, his interest piqued by the
superior lord’s strange behavior. “You two already know each other?” He
immediately thought better of his question and waved it off, “Of course, you
do. Introductions are not necessary.”

Rezkin greeted Lord Tieran wearing the same feral smile from
a moment ago, only it looked decidedly more dangerous when directed at the
duke’s eldest son. His other prey had arrived. Rezkin had seen the Duke’s
request for passage for his son and had taken it upon himself to assign the
young man to their ship. He had also sent a missive to the Duke, in the
general’s name, explaining the security that was already assigned to the
vessel, so Tieran had not come with his own guard. Since the duke already had a
number of men assigned to the tournament, Tieran’s personal guard would be
pooled from them upon his arrival in Skutton. Tieran and his manservant were to
share the final room. It was not inappropriate for a manservant to share
quarters with his master when traveling, and contrary to popular belief, many
of those who served the upper Houses were of lesser nobility. Tieran’s
manservant was the fifth son of a minor landless noble.

Tieran gulped as he received the full brunt of Rezkin’s
heated gaze. While Rezkin played the amiable upstanding noble for the others,
he kept Tieran firmly in his place through fear. “So, ah, Lord Rezkin. Does
this mean your lovely girlfriend is around here as well?”

Rezkin’s grin lost its edge and suddenly became as bright
and pleasant as it had with the others. He brushed off Shiela’s grasp and
turned abruptly. With a sweeping motion he presented Frisha, “Yes, you are
quite right! My sweet Lady Frisha is attending the tournament, as well,
escorted by her cousins, of course.” All eyes turned to the startled young
woman, and she blushed at Rezkin’s recognition of her as his girlfriend once
again.

Shiela’s jaw dropped. “
She’s
your girlfriend?” The
young lady’s shocked inquiry was accentuated by a shrill whistle and the sudden
rocking of the ship as it began drifting away from the dock.

On sure feet, Rezkin strode over to the stunned Frisha and
took her in his arms as he gazed longingly into her eyes. Somehow, the
performance did not seem as difficult as he thought it would be. Rezkin had
spent some of his time in Kaibain studying the interactions between men and women.
He even attended a few stage performances during the night that were classified
as romances. The exchanges seemed strange and foreign, but he was practiced at
mimicking behavior, so he was confident he could pull it off.

“How could I
not
be completely besotted by this
stunning woman? She is a brilliant diamond in the rough.” He paused
theatrically. “Well, I suppose it is not that rough considering her father is a
shrewd and extremely successful businessman. I am quite sure his acquired
wealth exceeds many of the smaller Houses, in fact. Not to mention she is the
heir of Lord Marcum Jebai.” Rezkin intentionally referred to the general as
lord
and added his family name for emphasis.

Tieran furrowed his brow. “Really? A
commoner
has
been so successful?”

“Quite.” Rezkin remarked. “We must not forget, gentlemen…and
ladies,” Rezkin said as he bowed slightly toward Shiela and Frisha, “that,
while the nobility serve as the mind and voice of the kingdom, the commoners
are the kingdom’s blood. Without them, the kingdom would cease to function.”
Rezkin then grinned smugly, “And, I, for one, prefer my blood rich and
plentiful.”

The duke’s son narrowed his eyes suspiciously, “Yet, you
would choose to bind yourself to one of common blood?”

Rezkin laughed heartily. Frisha and Tam jumped. It was the
first time they had heard him laugh, and to their ears, it did not quite sound
genuine. “Oh, please, Tieran,” Rezkin said, waving off the lord’s concern while
intentionally dropping his title. “Is noble blood so weak as to be defeated by
one commoner parent? Both the count and general are as strong as any noble can
be,” he remarked as Malcius and Palis straightened proudly. “Do not doubt that
Lady Terissa is just as formidable and respectable.” Frisha jerked her head to
stare at Rezkin. What did
he
know of her mother? Rezkin stroked his jaw
as he mused, “Considering her father’s intelligence and success, I would not be
surprised to find that he was actually the remnant of forgotten line from a
minor house.” Frisha frowned. She knew full well her father did not belong to
any noble house, and she was sure Rezkin knew it, too.

All the nobles looked at Frisha appraisingly, as if seeing
her for the first time. Rezkin was pleased as he observed their contemplations
and lightly remarked, “It is a shame I have not been able to convince the
general to accept my proposal.”

Shiela’s jaw dropped. “You
proposed
? For
Frisha
?”
she questioned with scorn and disbelief. The young men all scoured Rezkin’s
appearance trying to process the information.

“Why would Uncle Marcum reject your proposal?” Palis finally
asked. “He speaks so highly of you.”

“Alas, you have struck on the conundrum that has become the
bane of my existence,” he said dramatically with a heavy sigh. He shook his
head and continued, “I can tell you for certain that Marcum definitely
recognizes his niece’s worth. Perhaps he is holding out for someone more active
in the court, perhaps a
duke
,” he mentioned offhandedly as he waved in
Tieran’s direction. The young man shifted uncomfortably, and Frisha blushed
furiously. “For all I know, he could be holding out for a
prince
! What I
do
know is that, despite my promises of wealth and power and protection,
he continues to deny me.” His face fell, and he looked away in heartfelt shame.

Frisha placed a hand on his arm as she gazed at him
sympathetically with tears in her eyes. She knew that much of what Rezkin was
saying and doing was an act, but she could see his sincere distress over his
rejection. Even Shiela’s face softened at the young romantic’s plight.

Malcius shifted uncomfortably before he remarked, “The
general is a cunning man, Rez. Perhaps he only hopes to test your resolve.”
Shiela scowled at her brother as she elbowed him in the ribs. Prompted by his
aggressive sister, he continued, “I am positive it has nothing to do with you,
personally, and I am sure that any House would be elated to join with you.”
Shiela gave her brother a pointed look, and he added casually, “My own
included.”

Frisha sent Malcius a dark look, and he winced as Shiela
smiled smugly. Rezkin turned back to the group as he gathered his composure. He
pretended not to catch Malcius’s implication. “Yes, you are probably correct,
Malcius.” He straightened proudly and gripped his doublet over his heart as he
said, “I shall remain steadfast and determined. The general may yet change his
mind.”

Rezkin glanced over at Captain Jimson who had been standing
not far away eavesdropping on the conversation while presumably reviewing
paperwork. The warrior had not informed Jimson of his plans, and Jimson really
had no idea what Rezkin was up to with this whole charade. The captain
recognized a signal when he saw one, though. Rezkin’s look was his cue to
interrupt the conversation.

“Lords, Ladies, now that we are underway, the ship’s captain
asks that we all meet on the quarterdeck for instructions in safety and ship’s
protocol. If you would, please follow me,” Jimson said as he turned and led the
way.

Captain Crowleson spent nearly an hour explaining the layout
of the ship, a bit of sailing terminology and what everyone should do in the
case of an emergency. To the men, he explained where they should take up
positions if the ship came under attack. Being a passenger ship, rather than a
warship, the carrack had little in the way of defenses. Most of the space that
would be used for weaponry had been designed as quarters for the crew and
passengers. The captain explained that there had been no attacks for as long he
had been sailing the Tremadel, but he wanted to be thorough.

During his speech, the captain also made it quite clear
exactly
who
was in charge while they were on the ship. Tieran and
Malcius sniffed in disdain, but Rezkin piped in with exuberance, assuring the
captain that everyone understood the need for certain protocols when on the
vessel. Chastened, the young men nodded their assurances, as well.

In the short time Rezkin had been in the presence of the
nobles, he had effectively manipulated them into viewing him as the leader. He
left open the implication that he was of very high standing without ever
divulging his House affiliation, not a small feat among nobles. General
Marcum’s assurances had gone a long way in generating that trust with the
Jebais. Rezkin wondered just how hard the general choked on his words when he
issued such praise. Rezkin had successfully cowed the duke’s son through fear
during their previous encounter, but the Jebais’ assumption of Rezkin’s
superior status encouraged Tieran to believe the same. Tieran simply assumed
the Jebais knew with whom they were traveling.

Gaining control over the traveling party was only one part
of Rezkin’s plan, though. He could have done so through a number of different
methods. The easiest would have been to simply state that the general had
placed him in command and left them to wonder as to his status in the hierarchy
of the kingdom. That would have done nothing to further his second goal,
though, which was to aid Frisha. If Rezkin could rewrite the opinions of the young
nobles of Houses Jebai, Gerrand, and especially Nirius, then Frisha would have
a much higher chance of being accepted as an equal in high society. If Rezkin
could not keep Frisha for himself, then he could at least help her make a
smooth entrance into society and hopefully have a happier life.

Rezkin’s third goal was to create an acceptable persona for
himself. The general was a prime example of how suspicion and fear could turn
others against him, and people feared what they did not understand. If Rezkin
acted as himself, the others on this voyage would be distrustful and could turn
against him. He could have played the role of a commoner and been effectively
invisible, but then he would have had a difficult time guiding events according
to his plans. Most people seemed to want to believe he was a noble, so he
decided to let them believe as they wished. Surprisingly, allowing people to
believe he had the utmost power and authority was the path of least resistance.
Besides, the young warrior would need a strongly defined and accepted persona
if his plans for the tournament were to succeed.

For the rest of the day, people mingled and chatted. The
nobles gossiped about court and courtships. They even invited Frisha to join
them when Rezkin was not present. Captain Jimson spent some time getting to
know his comrades, and the Jebai House Guard kept to themselves playing dice or
bones. Tam found a secluded spot near the poop deck to read his book. He was
feeling out of sorts. His friends all seemed to fit into some niche, and he did
not belong with any of them. Only Reaylin was in a similar position, and he was
not yet desperate enough to suffer
her
.

BOOK: Reign of Madness (Revised Edition)
12.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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