"Honey, it's time to get up."
Vileam rolled over in his bed and mumbled something incoherent in an attempt to shoo his mother away. Naturally, that didn't work very well and his mother simply shook his shoulder again until he finally gave in and sat up.
"Get dressed. Breakfast is on the table. You need to be at Master Gylein's in an hour."
Vileam nodded, but still said, "He won't mind if I'm late."
His mother gave him one of her looks. "Vileam Warven, I cannot believe you just said that to me."
He grinned sheepishly. "Well, it's true."
She tossed him a hairbrush. "Get ready," she repeated before leaving the room. Vileam sighed and dragged the brush through his hair obediently and stood up to go find some clothes. His mom was right. Even if Master Gylein did like him, that was no reason to push his luck.
His dad and younger sister, Esabele, were already sitting at the table when Vileam dragged himself out of bed. His sister? Why was she already up?
The teenager took a seat between the two of them and started piling strips of bacon onto his plate.
"Vileam! Use your hands!" his mother admonished, setting down a pitcher of juice and sitting down.
His father laughed. "Calm down, Reisa. He's a hungry boy. At least he's not doing it in public."
She scowled at her husband. "You're supposed to be helping me bat manners into the boy, not excusing him!" She turned to her son. "No wonder you haven't convinced that Arile girl to marry you yet."
Vileam picked up his fork. His sister giggled and he shot her a glare. "That doesn't have anything to do with it," he insisted. "I just haven't asked her yet. I want to finish my apprenticeship first."
"You always use that excuse, 'Leam."
"Oh, be quiet, Esabele."
When he showed up at the workshop before the Master Printer did, Vileam decided he could have slept in a bit, after all. Instead of doing so, he unlocked the door to the shop and started setting things up for the day. Ink needed to be poured out for the rollers, and the letters tended to get more mixed up then they should. Sorting the little metal stems was tedious, but at least it was easy.
He was still organizing them when Master Gylein arrived.
"Good morning," he said, not looking up from the metal pieces. He mentor wouldn't have had it any other way. He preferred hard workers to ones that merely wanted to observe formality.
The older man grunted in response and looked at the ink pooling in their pans. "Did you check the orders for today?"
"Someone wants an octavo book," Vileam answered. "It'll take most of the day, I think."
Master Gylein grumbled. "Only one?"
Vileam nodded, and the Master Printer cursed. The apprentice didn't blame him—they would probably have to make more eventually, and then they wouldn't have the frames already laid out.
"We're printing at least two anyway," he said decisively.
"Okay," Vileam agreed, setting the 'z's into their proper compartment. He glanced up and out the window.
He grinned and waved when he saw a brown-haired girl across the street in the bakery. She smiled back. Master Gylein smacked the back of his head. "Stop making eyes at the girl, boy. You're supposed to be working."
Vileam rubbed the back of his skull and glanced across the street again to see Arile laughing. She gave him another smile and set back to her own work, so he returned to his. Master Gylein was right.
Unsurprisingly, no one came to bother them while they were working. The printing had a fair amount of business, as it was the only one within a two-day walk, but books hadn't really become widespread enough yet to warrant many assignments. Not enough people could read yet, but Vileam was already watching that change.
Vileam didn't mind the slow day. He preferred it when he got to do the work uninterrupted—it was more peaceful that way.
He was scrubbing ink off of a batch of the metal letter plates when someone finally did come. His hands were covered with ink stains, like always. He figured he'd just have to get used to them. Even Maser Gylein's hands were always stained black.
He looked up, though, when one of the shopkeepers in town burst in, gasping for breath. "Mr. Elzan?" Vileam asked. "Is something wrong?"
Master Gylein looked up from the metal frame and frowned, actually stopping his work entirely. "What is going on?" he asked.
The shopkeeper took a moment to catch his breath, then said, "It's Duke Requirz. They've arrested him."
"What?" Vileam gasped, dropping the heavy metal type pieces. They clinked to the bottom of the wash bucket he was using. "For what?"
The only sound in the room for several long moments was the clinking of metal as Master Gylein stepped away from the metal frame and the letter plates jostled around in the bucket.
"Tr-treason?" Vileam finally managed.
"Shut up, boy," Master Gylein told him curtly. "Who did?" he asked, addressing Elzan.
"I don't know. The Royal Guard, I assume."
Master Gylein started wiping his hands off, getting ready to follow him out. Vileam stood up as well and reached for a towel, but his mentor glared at him. "You're staying here, boy."
"What?" Vileam protested. "Why do I have to stay here?"
"You take too much after your father," the older man said, shaking his head. "You'll get yourself in trouble. After you've sorted everything back out, you can go home."
Vileam scowled, but sat back down. There wasn't any point in arguing with his mentor. He wouldn't win, and he'd likely just get himself in trouble. But he didn't take after his father, and his father didn't get himself into trouble.
Not needlessly, anyway.
That wasn't to say he wasn't surprised when he made his way home and discovered his father gone. He was probably arguing with everyone who would talk to him.
"Hi, Mom," he said.
She jumped from looking over the stove. "Oh! Vileam. I thought you'd be your father."
He shook his head. "Didn't you hear, Mom? He won't be back for dinner."
She sighed. "Oh, I know. I just wish he would. Will you take him something to eat later?"
He shrugged and sat down at the table. "Where is he?"
"Oh, probably at the manor house. You'll do it?"
"Sure," he agreed. He did want to see what was going on, and his father would need something to eat. Most of the town was pretty empty, so Vileam assumed most people were down at the manor house, trying to piece things together.
His mother served dinner for him and his sister, and Vileam took a bite of potato. He didn't really understand what was going on, himself. The duke had never done anything against the royal family—in fact; he'd always seemed pretty loyal. What had he done to deserve being charged with treason?
Especially as the sentence was death.
Vileam nearly choked on his food. Duke Requirz didn't have any children yet. Who was going to inherit his title if he was hanged? Was that why he was being tried?
He gulped down the rest of his meal as quickly as he could. Surely, once he made it down there, someone would tell him what was going on. It couldn't possibly be as bad as anything he was imagining.
His mother sighed at him, but Vileam wasn't really worried about manner right now. He grabbed the bundle his mother had made up for his father and waved goodbye as he ran out the door and down the deserted streets.
As he'd expected, there was a good-sized crowd of townspeople at milling about outside, chattering endlessly. Now all he had to do was find his father in the middle of all of it.
Definitely toward the front. His father would certainly be near the front, the closest to everything. He didn't have too much trouble pushing through people until he felt a sharp tug at his collar.
"What are you doing down here, boy? I thought I told you to go home!"
He grinned up sheepishly at his mentor. "Hello, Master Gylein. My mother sent me to give this to my father," he said, holding up the bundle of foodstuffs.
The Master Printer snorted and pointed to the left of where Vileam had been headed and led him off, probably not wanting to let the teenager out of his sight. Vileam didn't mind, as long as his mentor didn't try to keep him in the dark anymore. He knew Vileam well enough to know that he should be able to handle the information properly.
"What's going on?" Vileam asked.
Master Gylein frowned. "Oddly enough, they're arguing that he committed treason by being loyal."
Vileam blinked. "Wait, what?"
"They're accusing him of insisting that the king isn't legitimate."
"I don't get it," Vileam admitted.
Master Gylein shrugged. "I don't know all of the details, Vileam. That damned magistrate says that Duke Requirz accused the king of taking the throne under suspicious circumstances. No one can find the bodies of his brother or nephews."
"Oh," Vileam breathed. "Did he actually say that?"
"I don't know," Master Gylein answered tensely. "No one does. It's his word against the king's."
Vileam winced. "He won't win."
"So, who are they replacing him with, then?" Vileam asked, trying to remember if the duke had any brother or sisters.
"Hell if I know, boy."
Vileam shrugged. In a lot of ways, it didn't even matter. Duke Requirz was much kinder to his people than much of the nobility. They were lucky to have him, and likely wouldn't be so lucky this time.
They found his father near the front of the crowd, as Vileam had predicted, but not as angry as his son had thought.
"Dad!" he called, waving the food bundle over his head.
His father spun around to face him and managed a tense smile. "Your mother sent you all the way down here just so I would eat?"
His father managed a small laugh at that, at least. "You just wanted to come, didn't you?"
Vileam flushed. "I'm curious."
Vileam's father shook his head. "Nothing much to say, son. They're hanging him tomorrow afternoon."
Vileam felt his face fall. "Are you sure?"
His father's face hardened at that. "Not if I have anything to say about it."
Master Gylein made a disapproving clucking sound. "Reivan de Warven, you have a wife and children to think about. Don't you dare do anything rash."
His father scowled back at the Master Printer. "Don't use that ridiculous title. I didn't do anything to deserve it. And don't remind me of my duties to my family. I am quite aware of them, thank you."
Master Gylein snorted. "I wouldn't say helping to defend the duke against a dozen men was nothing, Warven."
Vileam's father ignored him and bent down to look his son in the eyes. "Vil, tell your mother I'm not coming home tonight. I'll see her tomorrow evening."
"But…Dad…" Vileam protested. "What if something does happen?" Wouldn't he want to spend his time with his family?
"I need to be here, Vil."
His father finally sighed. "I'll try to come by later for a little bit, all right? But don't worry, Vileam. Everything will be fine."
Master Gylein shook his head. "No. Something bad is going to happen. I can feel it."
Vileam couldn't help but agree with his mentor.
There wasn't a soul in town that wasn't gathered near the gallows in the town square by noon the next day. Even the children, although why their parents allowed them to come was simply unfathomable to him.
They were being inspected carefully by soldiers in royal red and gold, probably to make sure they were still in working order. They hadn't been used in living memory of anyone in the town. There was a fair amount of jeering, but the soldiers didn't even seem to hear it.
Vileam couldn't figure out why they were making a spectacle out of the execution. Surely the prosecutors realized how the town felt about their duke. His own father was likely planning some sort of interference. Didn't they expect that?
Maybe that was why there were so many soldiers. Vileam wasn't sure how many were normally present at such an event.
He couldn't find his father, but he didn't want to go looking for him, either. Surely he was still camped out near the front, and the last thing Vileam wanted was a front row seat. He found Master Gylein instead, standing about halfway back, near the edge of the crowd.
"This is taking forever," he muttered.
Master Gylein shook his head. "What did you expect?"
"I don't know," Vileam admitted. "I didn't picture it much. I still can't believe they're going through with this."
"Those nobles rarely care what we want, Vileam," the older man said. "They've already made their decision and see no reason to delay. Might cause them trouble."
"Do you think he actually did it?" Vileam asked.
"I don't know, boy, and you'd best not question it, either. You could get in just as much trouble for questioning the king's judgment."
"You think my father's actually going to do anything?"
"There is not a doubt in my mind, boy. I just hope he thought it through."
"Sure he did," Vileam offered, not sounding any more confident than he felt. "Dad's not stupid."
"No, but he is reckless."
There wasn't any arguing with that.
The execution time nearly came and went before an official finally emerged onto the gallows and said, "Today, on the tenth day of the sixth month of the 569th year of the Shevan country, Duke Orlon ne Requirz is hereby sentenced to death by hanging for treason against His Majesty, King Jezaz kal Sheiva."
Vileam rather thought most of those details were unnecessary.
No other words were spoken as a pair of guards hauled the duke himself on to the platform and forced his neck into the noose. The duke said nothing, looking out over his people with a quiet sort of dignity, even moments from death.
Vileam flinched. He didn't think he could actually watch this, but he was nearly a man now. Some things he needed to face whether he wanted to or not.
The soldiers kicked out the platform from under the duke's feet and the noble fell. Vileam felt his stomach twist.
But in the instant before the noose had a chance to tighten, the rope severed and the duke dropped to the ground below, staggering slowly to his feet.
Vileam glanced up and saw his own father, sword drawn and expression unreadable, standing next to the duke. "Run!" The man pushed his liege forward, into the protective crowd of townspeople, who absorbed him into their midst, hiding his escape quite effectively.
The teenager couldn't help but grin. His father knew what he was doing after all.
The grin melted off his face when he saw his father surrounded by soldiers and his heart tightened in fear instead. Ridiculous, he admonished himself. His father could handle that. He'd done it before.
He's done it before with allies, a little creeping voice reminded him. Vileam wished he could figure out how to silence it.
It didn't matter. His father was outnumbered seven to one. He'd only defeated one opponent before one of the royal guardsmen's blade thrust into his back and poked out his chest. The man collapsed to his knees and slumped further to lie on the ground completely.
"No!" Vileam didn't realize he was screaming until he realized that was his voice piercing the air. "Dad!"
He forced his way through the crowd. His dad couldn't be dead. It wasn't possible. He'd made it out of worse situations. He was just injured. That couldn't be a killing blow. He just needed to get there, to his father, and then drag him back out of danger. Get him medical attention. He would be fine.
Vileam didn't get a chance. He'd only made it a few yards before a sharp tug halted him, nearly choking him.
"Boy, what do you think you're doing?" Master Gylein growled at him, dragging him in front of his mentor. "You want to end up like your father?"
"No buts, boy. When they find out you're related to him, you'll be next on their list. Go find your mother and sister. They need to safe, too."
"Vileam!" Master Gylein repeated. "Silence! You go find them and bring them to my shop. Hurry."
Vileam stared up at him for a quiet moment, then took off in the other direction, away from the gallows, where he'd last seen his mother and Esabele. Master Gylein was right. He needed to worry about the rest of his family now.
It didn't take him very long to find them, but Vileam wasn't sure if he simply didn't notice because of the panic.
His mother was frozen, still staring ahead of her in shock.
"Mom! Esabele!" Master Gylein wants us to meet him at his shop!" he called.
His little sister looked up at him and nodded, tugging on her mother's arm, calling something to her that the teenager couldn't hear. He didn't care. They would meet him. They knew where the shop was. He ran to it himself.
Master Gylein looked up from the bag he was packing and shoved it into Vileam's arms. "You need to get out of here," he said.
Before his mentor could explain, his mother and Esabele finally showed up.
"You need to go," Master Gylein repeated. "Ertis is closest, you should be safe there."
"What? Why won't I be safe here?" Vileam asked dumbly.
Master Gylein shook his head and didn't bother to explain, hooking the pack's strap around the teenager's shoulders. "Go. Find the forest, the trees will hide you."
He glanced back at his mother and sister. "I don't—"
Master Gylein sighed. "They'll be fine here, boy. They won't be looking for women to hang. I'll take care of them for you and your father, I promise."
"Why can't I stay—"
"They'll look for you here, boy. After what your father did, I don't expect you'll be allowed to stay, either. Treason is getting to be an easy charge to throw around these days. Our duke was not the first to be accused. Now go!"
It took him at least an hour to make it to the forest, running as he was. The pack was heavy. The forest wasn't near. Every second he ran, he expected a soldier to catch up to him and throw him to the ground. Until he got to the forest, there was no cover. How hard would it be to notice one fleeing boy? How hard could it be to catch up with horses to a teenager on foot?
Somehow, though, he made it. He would never know how he did it, how his lungs didn't simply burst from gasping for air, how his legs didn't simply collapse out from under him.
But they didn't, and that was what mattered. He could be safe now.
He leaned against a tree, trying to catch his breath. He would have to be.
He couldn't go home again.