King Althace thought his lord of the hunt, the man at the foot of the table, to be simultaneously both the most bone-idle and troublesome member of the small council, but Jorfrur of Jauntkeep held a great sway over the other men and women between them, and thus his word carried weight that even the king could seldom overlook.
“I’m afraid this matter is a might more serious than simple horseplay, my liege”. The words curdled as they fell upon the king’s ears. It wasn’t so much a deferment or term of address as it was a reminder.
Every reference to his station seemed to be a reminder lately; with the spectre of mortality quickly approaching, inestimably fast according to the finest doctors in the land, he was forced to consider matters of succession that he’d long pushed aside. His child, the prince-errant, was barely in his twenties but already possessed of a decisive reputation as a troublemaker, and a scion notable exclusively for his ill-considered exploits. It was popular jest amongst the court to comment, well out of ear of the king of course - though these things usually reached him regardless - that the heir would make an equally ill-considered monarch.
“Oh”. He took in and held a deep breath, if only to give the appearance that he was actually considering to the news. The simplest thing would be to ignore it, as he had countless times before. The prince would do what he did, boys would be boys, young men needed space to grow, and every other tired excuse he’d peddled over the years whilst avoiding the truth; it was simply too late for him to start exerting any kind of influence over his son's life. He’d given up that opportunity, chased different pursuits, and though it was a regret, on the eve of his end it was his sole regret.
His life - from learning at his mother’s knee to a long and illustrious unification campaign in his adulthood - was spent in the pursuit of a happy and stable kingdom; one which commanded both respect and admiration from its neighbours, loyalty from its people, and remained a strong military and economic force. It had not been without sacrifice. Choosing to devote the lion’s share of his time to his vassals and his people had left little time for his own family. It was the path of the greater good he had chosen to travel, at least, that was what he liked to whisper to himself whilst he tried to sleep. Whether he’d actually made good on that goal, that was a matter for the gods to decide.
He sighed, and as he did he placed a hand to his temple, worrying at a line already so worried that it might be half on its way to becoming a permanently deep-set groove in his forehead. A deluge of complaints against the prince-errant followed, each from a different council member, rehearsed and quite obviously prepared long before the meeting; it was an ambush, but not the kind, of steel and blood, that he felt equipped to deal with - this was a private ambush, so confident in its execution that the attackers came directly at him.
Various men and women were still whispering, some amongst themselves, and some still offering up yet more charges and accusations against the prince.
“You must realise our concerns as well, my king?” The high bishop, religious leader of the Schism, had stood from his seat at the right hand of the table's head. It was quite unlike the timid old man to be so bold, but the dour expression on his face was uncharacteristic as well; as the king glanced around the room he realised the council's choice of speaker had been just as calculated. The bishop was the least threatening of the group.
“And you would have me, what? Disinherit the sole heir? Leave the kingdom without succession?” The room went silent.
A nest of snakes stands before me. That was exactly the outcome they intended; who knew what machinations the lords of the council were plotting in the face of a monarch-less nation. No doubt the seizure of a great deal more power and wealth than they already possessed.
“The prince is unsuitable,” Jorfrur breathed, daring to break the quiet. “He is a philanderer, a lout, uneven in his temper and responsibilities, and, I beg your patience - there are yet worse things whispered about his son behind closed doors. He would not make a half the ruler you have, my liege”. The unexpected sincerity behind the lord of Jauntkeep’s words shook Althace, as did the allusion to the young prince's lowest proclivities. He knew what the whispers named the boy. Deviant. Rapist. Murderer. Perhaps irredeemable.
“There will be time for this,” Althace wheezed, feeling his chest cramping under the weight of new stresses.
“I don’t know that there will be, my king-” an apologetic smile by the high bishop. Maybe the smile was meant as comforting but it fell ineffectually against his eye.
Gods. How had he let himself grow old? This year, the last year, a decade ago, or even two - there’d always been next year to correct the ever-present blight on his honour. Perhaps Elsea, the boy’s mother, could’ve helped set him straight but she, along with countless other wives and ‘loves’, was now long buried.
No, the boy was on his own, as was he, and, as king, it was his duty to make the difficult decision; it occurred to him that maybe the best thing he could do for his dynasty’s legacy would be to make sure it ended with him. It pained him, wrenched his already-yielding soul from the gentle illusion of a life well-lived, and tortured him with the image of a kingdom fallen only at the very last decision he made. Could he trust in his errant-prince, or not?
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