“You’re going to kill King Periphral,” Morteus’ eyes widened.
“It seems apt now, that I do so,” Marlin pulled out a torn piece of cloth from his bag and dabbed his face with it. “He killed your dad.”
Morteus picked up the leftovers from the rabbit they had eaten earlier, and placed them in the cauldron. “Then why didn’t you kill him earlier?” He asked, grimacing as he crouched down to sit on a log.
“Because he was a fair king. I told you so before, and I’ll tell you again. He has now proved to be mistrustful and a change of king may be what’s best for this kingdom,” Marlin looked down at his hands. “Maybe it’s time for revenge.”
“Revenge?” Morteus squinted at him. “For who? My dad? He was the king, no doubt, but your loyalty…” Morteus shook his head. There’s something he’s not telling me. “Who are you?”
“Don’t be impertinent, boy! I will tell you when you’re ready,” Marlin said. “All I can say is that…” He paused, looking at Morteus.
Morteus looked imploringly back at him.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Marlin shook his head. “It won’t move me. I think you might just have to subdue your insatiable curiosity for the timebeing.”
“Look, this isn’t about my curiosity. This is about me trusting you,” Morteus fiddled with his fingers, then looked up, a pleading expression on his face.
Marlin looked at him, his eyes flickering. He sighed. “Alright.”
Morteus shifted on his log and looked eagerly to Marlin. “Really?”
Marlin nodded. “Do you see this scar on my face?” He traced his scar with his finger gingerly.
Morteus nodded meekly.
“It’s no ordinary scar,” Marlin twisted his hands together. “That was inflicted on me by Periphral.”
“What?” Morteus’ jaw dropped. “Periphral? King Periphral?”
“The one and the same,” Marlin’s lips lifted but the smile didn’t reach his eyes.
“How did that happen?” Morteus leaned forward, clearly stymied by the revelation. “I thought you said Periphral was a good king?”
Marlin rubbed his head, massaging his scalp as if he was trying to ward off a headache. “It’s complicated, Morteus,” he lifted his shoulders, trying to convey the complexity of the situation.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Morteus gave a one-shouldered shrug.
“Alright then… Where to start…” Marlin cupped a hand at the back of his neck, swiping off beads of sweat. “King Periphral’s grudge against your father- I was involved in that. In one way or another.”
“You,” Morteus stated flatly.
Marlin shifted uncomfortably. “I wasn’t just a loyal subject to King Alistair. I was more,” he closed his eyes. “I’m his brother.”
Morteus made a noise that sounded like a cross between a strangled pig and a frog with something stuck in its throat. “Brother. Brother,” he stood up, retreating from Marlin as if he had contracted something contagious. “But then that would mean… You’re… You’re my-”
“Uncle,” they said in unison. Morteus felt his jaw go slack.
“Yes,” Marlin said quietly.
Morteus shook his head. “This is a ploy. A hare-brained scheme. You’re just… Just someone that’s trying to turn me against my father. Periphral. Saying that my father’s… Alistair, if he even exists- or existed, for that matter… That was stretching my tolerance to a breaking point. Now you expect me to believe you’re his brother?”
Marlin looked up at him balefully. “I never said all this was easy to believe. That was why I was so reluctant to tell you. If you thought I had any ulterior motive to make you distrust Periphral, it would’ve cast everything I told you in doubt.”
“Yeah, well, you’re right on that count,” Morteus backed up even further towards Majesty. “You sound like you’re trying to hide a lie,” he accused. “How do I know you won’t turn on me?”
“I’m not here to harm you,” Marlin’s eyes hardened at the thought. “I’m your uncle. Don’t you think you should trust me more, rather than distrust me?”
Morteus bit his lip, keeping one hand on Majesty’s rein.
Marlin heaved a sigh. “Believe what you like. At least your skepticism proves that you’re cautious, and that’s a trait well worth having in these times.”
Morteus’ gripped on Majesty slackened. “Well-” Whatever Morteus was going to say was drowned out by a loud trumpeting sound that was coming from the direction of the castle. The hoarse shout of what sounded like thousands of soldiers followed, capturing their attention.
“Look,” Morteus said in a somewhat awed voice, pointing at the vast army out in the distance. They were only specks in the horizon- like ants- but the sheer number of them was daunting. The sight of the uniformed soldiers massed on the fields outside the castle grounds shook Morteus.
“Quick,” Marlin pushed him forward, eyeing the soldiers. He motioned for him to mount his horse. “We have to go.”
All thought of protest and resistance melted away as Morteus was deluged in a cold fear that left him shaken and unable to think straight. He shook his head. Marlin was his only chance of survival. He had to take that chance.
Morteus scrambled quickly onto Majesty’s back and fidgeted impatiently as Marlin hurriedly wrapped up rabbit remains and retrieved the cauldron. He stamped out the smoldering fire, and gathered all the things. Swiftly tossing the sword to Morteus, he jumped on behind Morteus and dug his heel into Majesty’s rump.
“Giddyap!” Marlin shouted. Majesty lurched forward and they galloped past the trees at full speed. The surrounding forest became a hazy blur.
“Where are we going?” Morteus asked, holding on to Majesty as tightly as possible.
“Those soldiers- they could’ve been dispatched to Cardiza, or could’ve been meant to search for you,” Marlin’s tone was deadly serious. “Both ways, it doesn’t help you. If they were searching for you, there’s a possibility of them coming into the hills. If they were heading for Cardiza, they would come past this way anyways. That wouldn’t be safe.”
Morteus nodded, trying not to sound terrified. “So… Where are we going again?” He asked in a voice unlike his own.
“Town,” Marlin answered, his voice straining above the noise.
“Sorry?” Maybe it was the wind rushing past them, but Morteus thought he heard wrongly. “Town?”
“Yep. Town,” Marlin sighed when he realized Morteus’ hadn’t cottoned on. “I thought this out overnight. They would’ve searched the town last night if they wanted to look for you. We’re going back to hide in town because it would be the last place they’d expect you to be. It’s called reverse psychology. If you were a fugitive, the first thing you would do is run as far as possible, not remain in the heart of the king’s realm.”
“Oh,” Morteus nodded, understanding dawning on him. “Isn’t that a little, risky, though?”
“There’s always a risk in everything,” Marlin replied.
It didn’t take long for them to reach the main road. Marlin slowed down and pulled Majesty to a stop at the corner of the road.
“Put on this cloak,” he rummaged in his pack and tossed him a dark cloak. “I don’t want anyone to recognize you.”
Morteus had barely fastened the cloak over his shoulders and pulled the hood over him when Marlin commanded Majesty to gallop forward again.
Focusing his gaze on the town, Morteus shook his head, trying to think. He was with his uncle, planning revenge. His father had been killed.
For all he knew, he could be next.