Solomon Fitzroy peers down at his father’s subordinates from the seat of his throne. They kneel. They say, “We have a lead on the Halloran.” As interesting as it may sound, Solomon is no fool. This is the tenth man today—and the hundredth one of the month—that has come marching in Aglia’s castle with news that will surely prove to be worthless yet again.
“Proof?” Solomon’s tone is calm, collected and almost lifeless as he holds out an open palm, then motions for them to hand over whatever they have.
But nothing comes. Again.
He sends them home with a warning, merciful ruler that he is, and prepares to give the order to close the castle’s doors for the day, when a cloaked figure marches inside, past chandeliers and white banners that hang from the ceiling, whose borders are embroidered with gold.
At first, the guards try to stop the figure. But the man holds up his hands and asks Solomon, “Is this how guests are treated around here?”
“I don’t recall inviting anyone,” Solomon says. Allowing the help of amateurs in this search has proven to be nothing but a waste of time. His father was too hopeful. “We’re closing the gates, you should leave.”
“I have a lead.”
Here we go again, are the only words the young Prince can think of as he rolls his eyes and scoffs. “Of course, you do,” he mutters. “…You all do.” He sighs. Although he’s long stopped believing in the King’s methods, Solomon has no doubt his father wouldn’t approve of him turning away anyone who could potentially be of help in their fight against the Halloran people. So, he holds up his palm, and tells the man, “All right then.” It is miserable that Solomon has repeated these gestures and words so many times, that he’s lost count of the numbers. “Show me what you have.”
The guards let the man pass. What comes next leaves Solomon speechless. To his surprise, the man actually delivers on his promise. “It is said to be part of a bigger artefact, whose glow begins with rebirth and brightens when the new Halloran slave is near.” The man taps at the stone; it looks more like a mere piece of melted glass than something of value. “Three days ago, after hundreds of years, it finally came to life.”
“Oh?” Solomon pinches the stone between the tip of his fingers and holds it up before his eyes. He raises a brow. As he turns around, the light within it pulses like a very slow, almost nonexistent heartbeat. “And how do I know you are telling the truth? Let’s not lie to ourselves here, we both know the reward for finding the slave before they do is high. Many have tried before you. Many have failed.”
The man starts to cackle.
Solomon tilts his head. “Money is funny to you?” he asks.
“No, of course not, my Prince. It is just—” The man regains bearings. He takes a breath, then two. “You are very straightforward. I am not used to it. Your father isn’t often as… transparent.”
“Yes, well—” Heat rises to Solomon’s face. He averts his gaze and brings a fist to his lips, before clearing his throat again. “Both the King and Queen are busy preparing for the war; I will be ruling in their stead for a while. You should get used to it.” Solomon thinks this man should be grateful he isn’t in the King’s presence. His father would have already ordered him executed for his insolence. “So?” The young Prince shakes the stone between them. “How can I know this is real?”
“Try it,” the man states, simply, as if it were obvious. “If nothing comes of this lead, then forget about me, and throw it out. I don’t care about money, I’m only doing what I can to help my country.”
Solomon frowns. This is by far the first time that someone has claimed the reward is of no interest to them. “All right then,” he tells the man. “You have yourself a deal.” Solomon pockets the stone. His suspicions about the stranger still stand. He will have to look into it later.
He glances up once more to ask the cloaked figure his name, but the castle’s hall is empty, and the man has disappeared.