Chapter 20

Ghaleon closed the heavy leather-bound history book and smiled.

He’d thought he recognised the Rune-bearing man who had entered his office. It came as little surprise to him that an enemy clever enough to have seen past his false Runes would have already made a mark for himself in the history of this barbaric world.

But he had not quite expected what he’d found.

Ghaleon’s smile turned to a frown.

Indeed, learning more of the former King of Highland had raised more questions than it had answered.

The first that leapt to mind was why this Atriedes had waited five years to make such an attempt. Surely he would have found more support for any vengeance or coup if he had attempted it immediately after his armies disbanded.

Of course, he might have some other motive. That could not be discounted. Whatever his intentions, his method seemed somewhat foolish to Ghaleon. And foolish was hardly something that was in character for the man described in the Jowston histories as not just the last ruler of Highland, but its most clever and dangerous.

That aside, why had Mr. Cole made an attempt on the Runes the night after Atriedes’ ill-fated own?

Or, more to the point, why had Mr. Cole not known of the false Runes, if he was working in conjunction with Atriedes, who certainly had?

Perhaps Atriedes alone could not be blamed for the recent thefts.

Ghaleon’s frown deepened.

This situation was altogether more complex than he cared for.

And he had little time left. His calculations had revealed to him the next available rift. He did not wish to delay until another such chance became available to him. He had been away from Lunar for too long already.

Unconsciously, his fingers rubbed his palm, and the True Rune emblazoned there, hidden by his illusions.

For such a prize as these Runes, a few complications could be ignored. Could and would.

It would not be simple. It would certainly not be easy. But he would, most definitely would, seize the twenty seven True Runes. And he would do it in time to leave with the Rift.

And, of course, the best way to solve a complicated problem was to simplify it.

Mr. Cole had proven remarkably resistant to all forms of interrogation, at least so far. Either that, or he had indeed acted on his own initiative. It was not impossible. His devotion to Celes, and his resentment of Ghaleon, were motive enough. But where, then, had he procured the interesting magical devices he’d carried. Certainly, the sword and the icon he’d had with him were not of his making, that was certain.

Ghaleon could continue his interrogation of Mr. Cole at leisure. As for Atriedes, he was a known quantity. One which, Ghaleon suspected, he could simplify, and quickly.

He reopened the Jowston historical text. He doubted that it was entirely fair to the former King of Highland - the writings of a victor in so close-fought a war were rarely, if ever, fair to the vanquished.

None the less, it had much to say of his actions. It was the events, and not the historian’s reflections upon those events, that Ghaleon now focused on.

Even the events themselves might not be all of the truth, or perhaps more than. But the dedication to Academic accuracy that characterized the Greenhill citizens might trump even their hatred of the last King of Highland, at least in regards to the facts themselves.

And so it seemed to be. Read without the commentary of the author, those events painted a far different picture of King Jowy Atriedes. Ghaleon raised an eyebrow. That picture was one of a dangerous enemy indeed. Clever, cunning, ruthless, powerful...

But not without weaknesses.

The smile returned to Ghaleon’s face. The weakness in question seemed to be quite epidemic amongst the Kingly set.

It would not do to be careless. Ghaleon’s long fingers flipped through the pages of the tome until he reached the section he’d sought.

Ah, yes.

Jillia Atriedes. Sister of the second to last King of Highland, and wife to the last. After the war, she had been taken in as an honoured guest by the Lord of Jowston. She had always been counted amongst the most enthusiastic defenders of her husband’s memory. Had the marriage been but a loveless sham, what chance was there of her rushing to his defence?

Ghaleon’s smile turned into an outright laugh when he saw the next line.

It was quite simply too perfect.

The former Queen of Highland, perfect bait for her Rune-bearing King, was all but in Ghaleon’s hands already. She was in Greenhill, a librarian at the very building from which the history he now read had come.

He closed the tome once more, and rose to his feet.

His problem had suddenly become a great deal simpler to solve.