“You knew my father?” Morteus’ grip on the door slackened, and he took a few steps forward tentatively, the wooden board creaking under his feet.
“Everyone in this kingdom knows your father,” Marlin said softly.
“But how?” Morteus said, sitting on an intricately carved wooden chair. “Unless my father’s King Periphral?” He shook his head, confusion etched into his face.
“Alas, no,” Marlin lit another candle, and sat down beside Morteus. “Your father was a much, much, more respectable man,” he shook his head, his cropped hair bouncing a little. He stroked his beard, staring at Morteus, scrutinizing him.
Morteus dropped his gaze, embarrassed by the attention. “Who was my father?” He demanded, still looking at his toes.
Marlin put one stubby finger under Morteus’ chin, lifting it up.
Morteus flinched, but Marlin held his gaze.
“Your father was the greatest man that ever walked this Earth,” Marlin said gently, his eyes soft and yielding. “The question is not who your father was, but rather, who you are.”
“What do you mean?” Morteus frowned.
“Do you consider King Periphral as your father?” Marlin asked. “Or do you not?”
Morteus pondered for a second, his shoulders tense with fright and confusion. Should I trust this man? He shoved all his misgivings away and faced Marlin.
“I don’t know,” he answered truthfully. “I did, but considering the circumstances… Not anymore,” Morteus looked him squarely in the face.
“Well answered, well answered,” Marlin murmured. “And a good answer at that. But should you not consider King Periphral as your father, just because he didn’t tell you that you were adopted?” He frowned. “Gullibility is a sign of an underdeveloped mind.”
“Gullibility?” Morteus’ laughter sounded choked, forced. “King Periphral didn’t tell me I was adopted. I found out myself. He was planning to kill me. I had no choice but to leave.”
“Planning to kill-” The blackest of fury rolled across Marlin’s scarred face, his swarthy complexion looking even tanner than it was. “And I thought he was a trustable man, though with faults…” Marlin twisted in the chair, causing it to creak and protest loudly.
Morteus felt a dull ache in his chest, and acknowledged it. “That’s what happened,” he said, the pain faint in his low voice. Then he looked at Marlin with renewed interest and frowned. “What does that mean to you? And you still haven’t answered my question- who is my father?”
“I suppose I can’t keep evading your question,” Marlin said, looking away. “I planned to convince you to go back to King Periphral, but that’s not an option now, no, not an option…” He closed his eyes. “Very well, I shall tell you,” he said in an almost mournful tone, and once again Morteus wondered who he was.
Who is he to plan to send me back to King Periphral? How does he know my father? He repressed the urge to question him, and listened intently.
“Your father was a king, Morteus. A great king, no less,” Marlin’s voice had a hint of agony.
“Who was he?” Morteus whispered, unable to control himself.
“Alistair. King Alistair,” Marlin answered, shadows flickering across his face.
“King Alistair,” Morteus muttered, the word unfamiliar and foreign on his lips. A sudden tremor struck him, and he shivered.
“Yes. King Alistair,” Marlin answered, a reminiscent gleam in his eyes. “Your mother was Queen Antoinette,” Marlin stared out into the distance. “She was a good queen, and was…” His voice trailed off, and he fell silent. “She was beautiful.”
Morteus fought back a wave of emotion threatening to overwhelm him. He would give anything to meet- even just for one moment- his mother. King Periphral, Queen Isabelle, they- they pretended to be his parents, while in actual reality, they were his- his- Morteus choked on the word.
They were his enemies, probably planning to manipulate him to wreak more havoc on this accursed world. He was raised like a pig for slaughter.
Morteus clenched his fists, fury and pain radiating from him. No. It’s not possible.
“I don’t believe it,” he said coolly. “Even though my father, and Darius… Even though they said so themselves… I’m not their enemy. They’re my family,” he spoke faster, desperate. “King Alistair… Queen Antoinette… You… Who on Earth are they? No, no. King Periphral’s my father. Darius and Darren are my brothers. Queen Isabelle’s my mother.”
Marlin stood there, waiting for him to finish.
“You’re… You’re-” Morteus’ voice faltered as he looked at Marlin. His wide, trusting eyes stood out against the patched face. “You’re just telling me lies, all lies! Who is this… King Alistair and Queen Antoinette? This is crazy, I’m just out of my mind.”
“They’re your parents, Morteus,” Marlin said firmly. “You may not believe it, but it’s the truth. King Periphral tricked you for fifteen years.”
“No…” Ferocious agony ripped at Morteus, and it burst into flames of anger. “He- He-” Fury prevented him from saying anything further.
Marlin’s expression softened, and he shoved Morteus firmly down in his seat, his candle flickering wildly on the table. “I’m sorry, I robbed you of your parents. King Periphral, Queen Isabelle, they were like parents to you, were they not?”
“Parents!” Only one word registered in Morteus’ head. A glimmer of hope shimmered in his mind. “King Periphral- he tricked me. I still have hope though, don’t I? King Alistair! Queen Antoinette! My real parents… I may not have lost all, after all…”
Marlin looked too shocked to say anything.
A smile spread slowly across Morteus’ face. “What country are they king and queen of? Where do they live?”
Marlin shook his head and grabbed Morteus’ hand. “You’ve got it all wrong, Morteus. I assumed-” His voice cut off.
Morteus looked at him questioningly.
“Your parents were the king and queen of this piece of land, Morteus,” Marlin sounded defeated.
“But… that’s not possible,” Morteus’ head swiveled back and forth, confusion taking over him. Then understanding slowly dawned on him and despair trickled into his veins. “Wait… What do you mean by were?”
“Morteus- You misunderstand,” Grief saturated his voice. “Your parents- they’re… they’re-”
A look of blank shock was all Morteus could give. “Wha- Who?”
Marlin’s grip tightened.
“Your foster parents killed them.”
“No…” Morteus clutched at the wicker chair, agony lashing at his insides. The hope that he had slowly nurtured collapsed inside him.
Marlin’s expression was grim and foreboding. “That’s right.”
Morteus couldn’t say anything.
He reached out to Morteus. “I’m sorry.”
“No… Don’t,” Morteus pushed away Marlin’s hand, wiping away the relentlessly flowing tears viciously on the back of his hand.
“It’s the truth,” Marlin said. “All that I’ve said is the truth.”
The truth… Morteus thought.
“Why would this happen? It’s not fair!” Morteus broke into sudden hysterics. Marlin caught hold of the porcelain cup Morteus brushed off the table.
“No one said life was fair,” Marlin drew in a breath and held it, and Morteus could tell through his blurred eyes that he was holding back anger.
“But… it’s… It’s unreasonable… And- and inhumane!” Morteus shook his head, uncomprehending.
“Since when has King Periphral been reasonable?” Marlin said wryly, then corrected himself. “I try not to… bear any enmity against King Periphral. He’s a good and just ruler,” he said, a little uncertainly.
Despite himself, Morteus felt the truth in those words. There hadn’t been a single war since he could remember. “I guess so… But… My parents. There must be a reason. Why would he kill King Ali- dad and mom?” He accepted the handkerchief Marlin offered.
“No one knows for sure,” Marlin frowned, his expression unreadable. He thought for a moment, and Morteus felt that he was concealing something. “When I was… A young man…” he started, and a ghost of a smile touched Morteus’ lips in spite of himself. Marlin looked aged and grizzled.
Marlin harrumphed at Morteus’ expression. “I’m not that old,” he defended himself, then continued, “The two kings were best of friends. They were drawn together by chivalry and honesty, against the one evil demon that plagued this world,” his eyebrows beetled in anger.
Morteus listened silently, accepting the insight into his parents’ world.
“There were four major kingdoms then. Von Wreal, Cardiza, Andasern, and Terasia. King Alistair was in control of Teresia, Periphral of Andasern. Then the king of Von Wreal, driven by greed and rage that the two friends had not included him in trade, attacked them. They teamed together to defeat the king of Von Wreal,” Marlin said, his face black. “That’s an awful lot to comprehend.”
Morteus digested the information, then nodded for Marlin to continue.
“Afterwards, they argued about who would receive what part of the land. Then, one fine day, King Periphral’s daughter went missing, and he accused Alistair of kidnapping her,” Marlin heaved a sigh.
“Did my parents really kidnap the daughter of King Periphral?” The silence was ghastly.
“Not that I know of,” Marlin answered after a slight pause.
“So King Periphral led an attack on him, and killed my- my father? Just like that?” Morteus was bewildered.
“He did,” Marlin frowned. “Now Andasern, this kingdom we’re living in, is comprised of Von Wreal and Teresia as well… That’s why Cardiza is afraid, afraid of King Periphral. But there was another reason why King Periphral tried conquering our land.”
“What is it?” Morteus’ lower lip quivered.
“Greed. Power,” Marlin answered.
“Isn’t that always the reason?” Morteus asked. “Greed for more power, more land?”
“Not only for land,” Marlin shook his head. “But for one more significant thing.”