Chapter 16

King Periphral was sitting at his study desk.

Pondering. Contemplating.

Panicking.

He hoped that his little speech this morning had at least some effect. It was a win or lose situation.

“Excuse me, sir,” Someone was outside the door. Again.

“Ahem. You may come in,” The king gathered his thoughts and nodded when Captain Vailos strode in.

“What is it?” King Periphral asked. “Something good, I hope. I’ve had enough of bad news these past two days.”

“Actually…” Captain Vailos hesitated. “Something that you may not like.”

Periphral closed his eyes. “Tell me. It can’t get worse than this.”

“Well, the bad news, or the dreadful news first?” Vailos licked his lips nervously.

Periphral looked up wearily. “Does it make a difference?”

“The messenger has escaped,” Vailos’ expression was a clouded mask. He walked up to the desk and placed a stamped envelope on the table. “And as to which news is worse, that’s up to you to decide after you read this.”

King Periphral opened his eyes and groaned. “The messenger… Escaped?” He pinched the letter in between his thumb and forefinger waveringly, then weighed it in his hand. “This has been checked through by the security, I presume?”

“No one has read it but me,” Captain Vailos glanced at the king, who appeared to be coming apart at the seams. “I figured you would appreciate the privacy. And to give all the dozens of letters to you directly would be too time consuming.”

“Thank you for your consideration,” Periphral pinched the bridge of his nose, and then made to open the letter. He peeled off the seal and took the letter out gingerly. After making sure it wasn’t dusted with something potentially harmful, he began reading.

Dear King,

            My greatest condolences on the so-called loss of your son. Pretty ironic, don’t you think, to lose your enemies’ son? Rather reminds me of the unfortunate loss of your daughter that many years ago.

            King Periphral balked. Who was this person?

Now, I sent a messenger some time ago and I see that your… little talk that you gave this morning was in reaction to that young man, who quite surprisingly, hasn’t returned yet. Perhaps you thought he was an empty threat? I can tell you that I do certainly have a secret, but I wasn’t referring to the secret of you attacking Cardiza. In fact, that didn’t concern me at all.

            Shivers went down Periphral’s back. His castle was being infiltrated- there was no doubt about it.

Actually, I was referring to the… gem you keep under your throne. The one that was supposedly burnt after you seized the throne? Well, there isn’t any point in denying it. I know it exists.

            King Periphral held his breath. In this world, besides himself, only three people knew that gem existed. There was his wife, Captain Vailos, and Commander Violetta. That was all. And now- he shook his head.

Captain Vailos looked at the king, assuming a sorry expression for what he was going through. He couldn’t imagine how much pressure he must be under.

So what do I want? I want the throne. I want the gem. I want pandemonium. I could create pandemonium well enough, but I’ll give your nation a chance. So by noon, I’ll be here at your castle. You can surrender, but nothing you do will be able to stop me. I will let your people live, but you won’t live to see many more sunrises. Do what you like to protect yourself, but be warned- you shall die.

            Wish you the very best till then,

            C.V                                                      C.V

            King Periphral stared at the signature, his face pallid. It was as if it signed his death will.

“You read this?” The letter was shaking in his hand.

“Yes, sir. It was safety precautions. Normally a blackmail letter like this wouldn’t be shown to you, but I surmised that this was important,” Captain Vailos answered carefully.

“Yes, yes, I’m glad you showed me the letter,” King Periphral’s expression assumed the opposite. Judgment day had come.

“What do you think we should do, your majesty? I’ve already tripled the guards at the castle gates. This may just very well be a prank, but this person holds very… confidential information about you. He could ruin your life just be leaking out word that the gem still exists,” Vailos looked at him, his mouth twitching uncontrollably.

“He or she knows to much,” The king murmured. “But even then, he doesn’t have evidence.”

“How about today, at noon? Do you think he can really get to you? Get past all the guards?” Captain Vailos fiddled with a quill.

King Periphral eyed him. “Who’s to say that the person is in the castle right now?”

“My lord, if you’re implying-” Captain Vailos’ face turned a fiery red.

“I’m not implying anything, Vailos,” King Periphral kept his cool. “But safety precautions must be taken. Tonight, place ten guards outside Darren’s room, as well as Darius’, although I’m sure he won’t be pleased. And I think we should move the gem elsewhere… It’s very disturbing- this C.V. Where could he have gotten his information from?”

Captain Vailos nodded. “There are countless possibilities as to who he is. We don’t know what C.V is- it could be his name, his nickname, anything! It may not even have anything to do with the person.”

“Yes. And there has to be someone inside the castle helping him,” King Periphral’s thoughts swirled and he felt nauseous. Why must fate be so cruel? Why, of all times, must someone betray me now? This, added on to the problem with Morteus, was too much to handle.

A faint knocking sound reached them.

Periphral took a deep breath and dismissed Vailos with a wave of a hand. “You may go now, Vailos. Deal with whoever it is outside.”

“I’m afraid you can’t just ask your subordinates to deal with me, dear,” Queen Isabelle glided in. “What is that that I’m interrupting here?”

Vailos started. Retreating steadily, he bowed mid-step and quickly hustled backwards. “Thank you, your majesty. I will go now,” Vailos turned around and rustled out of the hall, closing the door behind him.

Queen Isabelle stared after him with piercing eyes. “Is it just me- or is-”

“-Captain Vailos acting out of character today?” King Periphral sighed, exasperated. “He has reason enough to.”

Isabelle traced his glance to the letter lying portentously on the desk.

“May I?” She picked up the letter daintily and unfolded it, its white page crackling. She began to read.

Queen Isabelle held the letter in her hand, preoccupied with the threats. Her unfaltering gaze fixed on her husband, who was quaking in despair.

“Who could it be? Captain Vailos-” King Periphral stopped abruptly. C.V. He blanched. Captain Vailos? “He just gave me the letter.”

Queen Isabelle frowned and held her cold hands to his face, brushing his wrinkles with her long fingers. “What’s wrong? Your expression is ghastly.”

No, it can’t be. Periphral’s eyes’ widened at the prospect. His most trusted advisor, betray him? Not possible. And yet part of him had suspicions about the captain. With the exception of Commander Violetta, Captain Vailos was the only one who knew about the gem, and who could really cause damage to his reign. “C.V… Captain Vailos…” And Commander Violetta. C.V. “Commander Violetta?”

A blank look of shock shadowed his face.

“No, no, how could that be? It doesn’t make sense,” The queen looked at the letter over and over again. “If they wanted to destroy us, or your kingdom, by all means, they could have done it years ago! And they need not blackmail us into it, they could just topple us over with a snap of their finger.”

These words were not exactly music to Periphral’s ears. “That’s extremely assuring, dear.”

“What I’m saying is that it is not possible,” Isabelle sat down, as if to proclaim the finality of the statement.

“Then who is it?” Periphral’s brows wrinkled in profound frustration.

“I don’t know,” The queen murmured. “But we need to know, and fast,” She closed her eyes as the tower bell tolled four times.

They had eight hours.

It was all they had left.

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