Title: The Fall of the Kings
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Gareth looked at me with such tenderness, I was almost undone. When he reached across the table and grasped my arm, only the iron discipline forged as Overseer prevented me from breaking down and giving my grief full reign. Never mind he was the longest serving of the twelve kings of Gaelladorn, and I the Conscience of the Kingdom. Because of my exalted position no one had as much as patted me on the shoulder since Alyssa died.
“I'm so sorry – it shouldn’t have happened.”
Although he hadn't known her, he knew me well enough to guess the depth of my suffering. I should have looked him in the eye and at least mouthed the familiar platitudes, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. In the privacy of his study, I let the cloak of office slip and dropped my head, fighting to regain my composure.
When I was sure I wouldn't betray myself, I let my gaze drift around the deceptively casual trappings of the King's personal bolt-hole, feigning an interest in the exquisite tapestries so I wouldn't have to make eye contact. I'm sure Gareth wasn't fooled, we'd known each other for decades, and I'd never had time for the trappings of wealth. But at least when I spoke my voice was steady.
“Are you really going to step down then?”
He gave me a hard look, then to my relief, relaxed back into his chair and started to laugh. A warm belly-deep rumble that gained momentum and lit up his craggy features.
“Why does everyone keep asking me that?”
I didn't quite have it in me to laugh with him, but I bestowed an indulgent smile.
“I think everyone is looking for the slightest sign you might actually hand over the reins.”
“I will. At the Dedication.”
My head snapped up, surely he was joking. But to my surprise he was staring out of the window at the Sanctuary; its spectacular honey-coloured silhouette dominating the skyline of Tamar.
“But that's only two weeks away.”
He spun around, eyes flashing. He wasn't used to being questioned, and I held up my hands as if to remind him who he was speaking to.
“It's not a problem, I just didn't expect this - so soon.”
Gareth ran his hands through his hair, and sighed heavily, the anger dissipating as quickly as it came.
“The building's magnificent by the way. How did you pull it together so quickly?”
I shrugged. Building the Sanctuary had been my great passion, another way to draw people to the One who laid the Heartstone. But now it was all but finished, I found no pleasure in it. When I didn't elaborate he let the matter drop.
“I don't know why everyone's so surprised I'm stepping down. I'm getting older -” He gave me another hard look, daring me to contradict him. But unlike many that surrounded the King, I wasn't in the business of flattery.