Polished and back on the track, SeekingStarlight Productions introduce….

A Fool's Game

Of saints and traitors, those who are neither and those who are both

The man's goat like face was bright red with anger, and so close Nikken could smell the wine in his breath while counting the burst veins in his long, crooked (very eye-catching) nose. As the ghastly, alcohol scented air wrapped itself around Nikken with an admirable determination to make his empty stomach twist and turn in agony, the wine master took yet another deep breath and continued with his shouting.

Nikken took another wobbly step back and found himself cornered (quite literally) between a wall of wine barrels and the stall of a fellow merchant, snickering behind his counter. As the wine master approached, still verbally merging parts of Nikken's anatomy with a large variety of diseases, sharp objects and a few divinities, Nikken heard a distinct sound of horse hooves coming his way. And since the echoes of the midday bell were already dying down in this village called Caern, he sighed with relief.

Cutting the wine master off in the middle of his seemingly endless rant, Nikken grabbed his pouch, threw a fistful of fake coppers in the air and ran as fast as he could. His legs soon hurt, his back ached, the breath in his lungs seemed like fire burning its way up and down his throat, but he managed to slow the carriage down in time. The door opened and two pairs of hands pulled him in the welcome darkness of Duke Savough's lavish (and still moving, still moving!) carriage.

"I believe the agreement was we were to meet precisely at noon. You know, when the big shiny marble up there is in the middle of the sky. " He gladly sank in the comfortable cushions and allowed himself a slight glare at the Duke and his second born son. "You are late."

One of the two men frowned, the other one smiled.

Duke Savough was a tall, thin man with a long, noble face and hair as flawlessly white as his gloves. There were a few straight lines of eternal disapproval around that thin mouth and between those still dark eyebrows, but not a single crease of laughter or good will surrounded the steely, heartless eyes that brought princes and beggars alike on their knees. There were rumours he drank blood of virgins while listening to the breaking of ice in his cold, dark cellars, which were just as cold and dark as his soul.

The blood part had nothing to do with truth, but Nikken could recall it was quite chilly down in the dungeons.

Then, there was Demeire. Demeire, sweet, feather-brained Demeire. That one could not have been more different even if he tried. Always smiling to this or that stupidity that occasionally crossed his utterly blank mind, covered with an angelic halo of golden hair, with eyes that were a bright blue of a cloudless summer sky... The only way to their prey was through the Queen, and while the Duke was the one with the ambition, it was Demeire who did the seduction.

No wonder, considering Savough had the face (and the charms) of a dead horse.

Duke Savough frowned as if he heard Nikken's thoughts, while Demeire laughed as if the carnival was in town.

"You are such a jester, brother!"

"We are all glad the wine did not eat away your humour, Nikkenai," Duke Savough always spoke so quietly the most of those he graced with a word or two had to lean in to hear him. "I am sure there was plenty of it to make your waiting bearable." Nikken defied that rule since his father and he first met.

"It tasted more like vinegar, mind you, " Nikken shot back with a sour grin, which faded in a mask of seriousness as the three men leant forward. "Is everything set?"

Demeire and Nikken had the same father, but while Demeire inherited his noble mother's willowy appearance, Nikken was stuck with the big mouth and quick wits of a tavern wench that died a few years after giving birth to him and was buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in the south. Their father had the ambition, Demeire: the looks, but it was Nikken who did pretty much all the thinking in the trio. The trio he never wanted to join in the first place, he thought bitterly, cursing that first (and may gods bear witness, the last) time he got drunk while his insane father was near.

"Well, you will get the money," Savough said with disgust, as the noose tightened around his bastard son's neck, down in the cold dungeons. What else was there to do?

Duke Savough nodded solemnly and reached down into one of the many pockets of his fine garment. What he held out was an item of legend, an item they could get their eyes gouged out for looking at it, their ears filled with melt iron for hearing about it and their heads chopped off with a dull axe for thinking about it. (Apparently, creativity was not among the numerous privileges of the royals.) Every single one of these terrible humiliations was very probable to happen to the men in Duke Savough's carriage if anyone knew they met.

The coachman was to die at midnight.

The Royal Seal revolved slowly in the air above the Duke's gloved hand, casting a warm glow on the dark interior of the carriage. Several golden rings rotated one around the other, never colliding or breaking the delicate construction that was the very source of royal power. The rings slid soundlessly and with perfect precision around their pulsating heart, in a dance that claimed many lives already.

"Demeire, you idiot, you finally did something right."

The said idiot beamed at the questionable compliment, and even Savough managed a slight twitch of his mouth in response. He then wrapped it back in the silken handkerchief and Nikken sighed heavily, slouching back in his seat. As the carriage rolled on, the monotonous sound of wheels grinding the cobblestones into rubble and rubble into dirt lulled him to sleep. Maybe we even manage to get out of this only moderately mutilated...

Many hours later, Nikken opened an eye to find Demeire sleeping with his mouth open and Savough staring greedily at the Seal. Observing the golden rings, he lazily contemplated the consequences of their deed. Money, lands, privileges... That little piece of magic could buy them the whole world. Them, for Nikken had a plan of his own.

"Why are you awake?"

"Should I be asleep?" Nikken yawned and opened his other eye. "You always taught me not to trust noblemen. Have your morals deteriorated even further, so you are harmless now?"

Duke Savough snorted and pulled out a flask, offering it to Nikken. "I am hardly harmless, Nikkenai. But if you are tired, you could get us all killed for nothing. I will not allow you to slow me down." Nikken accepted the flask (he never rejected a free drink) and nodded in the direction of his father. The flask contained wine, at the same time sweet and bitter on his tongue. His eyes were already closing when he realised.

"You bastard!" he managed, but his father smiled his thin smile and raised his eyebrows.

"How amusing. I thought it was you who held that title."

But Nikken was already asleep.