Read All The King's-Men (The Yellow Hoods, #3) Online

Authors: Adam Dreece

Tags: #Emergent Steampunk

All The King's-Men (The Yellow Hoods, #3) (5 page)

Nikolas studied the interior of the carriage once again. It was a remarkable piece of engineering. Twice the length of a regular carriage, yet the ride was smoother than anything he’d experienced before. They were sitting in the back half of the carriage, the two sections separated by a wall. The back compartment allowed them to sit beside each other; a table with food was in front of them and a wall of caged books was behind them. 

The front compartment was Marcus’ mobile office. It was lined with books and slots for managing letters from the field and orders to go out, and had a map and instruments on mechanical arms dangling from the ceiling.

Marcus reached forward and sliced the remaining piece of cake in half. He offered the final piece to Nikolas, who smiled in polite refusal. 

Nikolas unbuckled the secured teapot, and refilled both of their cups. He paused, examining the iron ring in the center of the table that the teapot sat on, keeping it hot. He paused as he thought through how it likely worked.

Marcus noticed Nikolas, teapot in one hand and a cup in the other, frozen in midair.

“The heating ring?” he asked, smiling.

Nikolas nodded.

“Have you improved it yet?” joked Marcus, thinking back to the old days.

Nikolas shook his head gently. “No. I’m just contemplating the ways in which you have done this. Was it you or was it Simon?”

“Oh, it’s mine. I wouldn’t allow Simon to touch much of this,” Marcus said, gesturing to the carriage. “As always, I took my vision and had select inventors help me achieve it. Richelle did some pieces as well.”

Nikolas nodded, barely hearing Marcus. Suddenly, his face lit up and he laughed. “Friction. Conducted from the shock-absorbing system, yes?”

Marcus laughed. “Yes! Now, before you accidentally burn us, please put the pot back.”

Nodding happily, Nikolas complied. After securing the teapot, they sat drinking their tea, lost in thought once again.

As the landscape changed from forest to grassy plains at the outskirts of a town, Marcus turned to Nikolas. “Do you know why Falson did it? The real reason behind it all? I only learned it a couple of years ago.”

Nikolas shook his head. “No. This, I don’t know,” he said in his classical, awkward fashion. He smiled to himself. It was rare that he stumbled on his words with Marcus, for some reason. Maybe it had to do with them switching in and out of languages, using whatever words came to mind, rather than sticking to one language throughout.

“It wasn’t actually the Fare’s grand failing,” said Marcus. “That was a convenient excuse for Falson, having happened only a month before and killing hundreds of people in a neighboring kingdom. No, Falson had a very simple reason—a deeply personal one.

“When he was fifteen, he applied to the Institute for Unconventional Minds without the knowledge of his father or anyone else.”

Nikolas’ eyes went wide as he remembered the tales of that special school. “That was the highest of the age, of many things.”

Marcus nodded. “Falson used a cousin’s name to create a sense of distance from the royal family, and to give his application more legitimacy. 

“He fancied himself an inventor, though what he had was a good mind for planning and execution. Genuine creation? No. As well as being gifted, the institution required you to demonstrate that you were humble, thoughtful, and interested in the greater good.” Marcus paused for a moment. “What fantastic, old-world ideals those were.

“When Falson was declined for the third time, he burst into the chancellor’s office surrounded by his personal guards and demanded to be accepted. The chancellor died on the spot of a heart attack. When the king learned of all of this, he banned his son from the school, preserving the sanctity of that venerable institution. The prince unleashed a tantrum that was only quelled by his father giving him the designation of First Conventioneer. It was a made-up title; just something to make his son quiet down. Even before being crowned, Falson burned the institute to the ground.”

Nikolas absorbed the story and stroked his salt-and-pepper beard. “Your father and grandfather suffered similar fates, then?” he said, trying to remember the details.

Marcus tapped the window absentmindedly. “I think of it almost like history was re-staging a moment, and each time the actor had their chance. My grandfather died as a King’s-Men because he missed the signs that things were changing. My father was a better King’s-Men, aware of the changes needed, but he was horrible at politics and seizing the opportunities before him.”

“But you—you didn’t die a King’s-Men,” said Nikolas.

 “No, no, I didn’t,” said Marcus, turning to his old friend. “I’m changing history entirely.”

CHAPTER FOUR

Making Cracks

 

Five hooded figures quickly entered a small, octagonal room below the grand theater of the capital city of Relna. Each one identified the symbol on the edge of the round table that told them where to stand.

Taking their places, they put their lanterns on the table and pulled down their beige hoods. Once they were all ready, a red-hooded figure entered and stood opposite the door.

“Do you all understand what is expected of you?” asked the Red Hood. He turned to the man immediately to his left, and looked from man to man as they each nodded.

The Red Hood waited until music from upstairs could be heard. He knocked on the table, and the thick, wooden door was sealed from the outside. He pulled out a pocket watch and notebook, and marked down the time. “We have ten minutes. Report on the proxy war,” he said in a gravelly voice.

The old man to his left glanced about nervously. Unbeknownst to him, none of the others had been to any such meetings before either. Like him, they’d only been recruited several weeks ago to serve as cryptic messengers. 

He scratched his very short, blond-gray hair and straightened up. His voice had a deep rural Frelish accent. “I was told to say: the armies are marching on Palais in six days. They have left ruin in every city so far, and have been sending as many citizens as they can to the Kaban coast for the slave trade.” He glanced around. “Does this have anything to do with—” The man stopped as he noted the panicked expression spreading among the others, and then he remembered the rules. To get paid the handsome sum they’d been promised, they were all to report and ask no questions. Asking a single question could forfeit their reward.

“Next,” said the Red Hood. “Are we certain they will be defeated by our new forces before they march on Palais?” 

“Yes,” replied the next man over. He was young and short, with long, shaggy hair. “I’m told the royal family and the King’s-Men will seize power back from the parliament once attacked, and then our forces will arrive from the northern coast to provide them assistance. We have the numbers and the equipment needed.”

“Excellent.” The Red Hood thought for a moment. “What of the south?”

The third man, sounding much like a professor, continued the report. “The southern kingdoms are squabbling as expected, and allowed us to make deeper inroads thanks to their insecurity. We’ve solidified our hold in almost all of them.”

“Almost?” said the Red Hood, tensing.

The professor swallowed hard, glancing at his unnamed colleagues. “There are some issues in Karupto. We are addressing them. There are two King’s-Men who protect Queen Sarah from our influence.”

“So kill them,” quipped the Red Hood. “I mean, I do not see the problem.” He rolled his eyes, realizing there was no point in giving such an order to the messenger, as his role was to communicate one way.

“I’m told we’ve tried. These two were apparently part of something called the Pieman’s Trust.” Despite his years of experience working for other nefarious people, his hands shook as he stood, waiting for the Red Hood’s reaction.

“I’ll need to report this,” the Red Hood said ominously. He jotted down a couple of encrypted words in his well-worn notebook. 

There was a knock at the door.

“We’re almost out of time,” he said, confirming with his pocket watch. “Where are we with the Skyfallers?”

“Why don’t you take your hood off?” asked the man due to report. He was a thuggish, bald man with several small scars on his face and hands. “And why are we all new? I can see it in all of them. What’s going on?”

All of the others dropped their gazes, trying to hide from the Red Hood’s attention.

The sinister expression that spread across the Red Hood’s face immediately chilled the room. “What is your name?”

The thug glanced at the others. “Randy.”

“I’ll answer your questions in a moment, but first I ask that we close out this last piece of business. We must strictly adhere to process at meetings like this.”

Randy quickly moved his gaze to everyone and then back to the host. No one else was willing to say a thing. Straightening up, he nodded in acceptance. “They’re preparing a demonstration for the stubborn royals of Myke and some place called Bodear. I was told that the Pieman has a secret thing in Bodear.”

“My mistress will be pleased to hear that.”

The door opened and a man stared squarely at the Red Hood. He wore a red jacket with two black leather straps crisscrossing over it, and two pistols attached to it on the front and on the back. He had a long moustache and shoulder-length, dark hair that gave him a dashing, enforcer look. “Are we done? The music will end in two minutes,” he said insistently.

“Yes, Mister Jenny,” said the hooded figure, putting his notebook away under his cloak, “we have concluded.”

Randy was annoyed. “I thought you said—”

In a blinding flash, the enforcer gunned down all the men except the Red Hood. He made sure that each of the messengers were no longer among the living before putting his pistols away and asking, “Lord Silskin?”

“I’m fine, as always, Mister Jenny,” said the old man as he took off his blood-splattered hood and cloak, and dropped it on the floor. “No matter how many times we do this, my nerves always get rattled by the noise.”

As Mister Jenny’s men entered the room to start cleaning up, one handed him a neatly folded red-hooded cloak with gold embroidery on it. Then Mister Jenny, with head bowed, presented it to Silskin.

“Thank you,” Silskin said, putting it on. “That feels better. I hate those common things, but there’s no point in ruining the real thing.”

“So what now?” asked Mister Jenny, concerned that he might be about to face the fate he’d dished out.

Lord Silskin smiled and put a hand on Mister Jenny’s shoulder. “This meeting was the last one of its kind, and you need not worry. Your assistance has been instrumental in the past few years, helping the Fare move in the Pieman’s shadow while we’ve started to strike at him. Now, that phase will conclude and the aftermath will come. We’ll need to root out pockets of resistance, the remnants of the Pieman’s forces, and whatever factions of the Tub dare to raise a hand to us. You will be key then, Mister Jenny, once again. You can trust the Fare. We know who our enemies are.”

CHAPTER FIVE

A Great Fall

 

The frigid night air roused Abeland with a coughing fit. He blinked, rubbing his eyes with the back of his manacled, dirty hands. He tried to get comfortable. His thoughts drifted to how different things had been a year and a half ago.

On the walk up to the towering gates of the Great Palace of Karupto, Abeland took his time, enjoying the wildflower-covered rolling hills. He always made a point of trying to find some element of nature to clear his mind and settle his soul before taking on a regime. 

As the gates opened, revealing soldiers lining both sides of the street, he accepted that it was time to get down to business. The soldiers formed a corridor all the way to the throne room, where Abeland and his party would be officially received.

Abeland studied the body language of the mix of soldiers as he walked past them. It was clear they’d been told to take the slightest excuse as a sign of hostility and attack. Several times, he stopped and observed the crowd peeking out from behind the soldiers. The soldiers in his line of sight would start getting anxious, and each time, just before things boiled over, Abeland moved his gaze and started walking again. At no point did he or his entourage seem to be the least bit concerned.

He’d had similar treatment recently in the neighboring kingdoms of Genouia, Perguntia, and Beleza. His arrival had become almost mythical, like a great demon descending upon a regime and asking a hefty ransom or else the land would face its own apocalypse. 

The glowing ring of Abeland’s monocle was usually the first sign of things to come. He’d often stand outside a city’s gates in the wee hours of the morning and activate his monocle’s glow. He’d stand there for hours, allowing for rumors and panic to spread throughout the capital city, as he waited for them to finally open the gates and allow him entrance.

He was flanked by five members of his personal guard, the Order of the Pieman’s Trust. They were well-trained, ruthless, and permanently at the ready. Each was armed with an array of weapons, from firearms to blades.

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