Chapter 3

Ghaleon’s eyes raced across the page of the heavy tome. Nothing. Nothing!

Once again, there was nothing in these illuminated pages that even hinted at an answer. Or perhaps the answer was there, if he only knew the question.

But the question, much less the answer, eluded him yet.

Was it “how”? How exactly had he journeyed from his world to a place he never even knew existed? Or was it “what”? What actually was the void he had crossed? Who? When? Where? The only question he knew to ask with certainty, and to which he was confident of the answer, was “why”.

Because his godhood was meant to be.

He had just enough knowledge to be disgusted by his inability to acquire more. Not enough to tell him what it was he was looking for, and certainly not enough to let him find it.

But somewhere in this library, there would be an answer. Of that he was certain. He’d spent weeks, more than a month, perhaps, tearing through every library in Jidoor to no profit. His employers in that wealthy city apparently had much appreciation for art, but little for knowledge.

And so, Ghaleon had accelerated his plans to make certain his travels brought him to Figaro. Initially, he had thought only to establish himself at what appeared to be the seat of power once he had acquired adequate familiarity with this pathetic world. When he’d learned that the largest library in the world was contained within this castle, he‘d set off almost immediately. Because it was here, if anywhere, that he would find what he sought.

At the least, he would be able to define what exactly it was that he sought.

But he would need more time, much more. The texts in Figaro Castle were nearly as numerous as those in every library he had previously visited put together. This was not some private collection of a wealthy eccentric, but the accumulated wisdom of a centuries-old nation.

And Ghaleon could find nothing.

He closed the book. His thoughts drifted to Celes Chere. By all accounts, in addition to having been a general of the former regime, she had been a skilled practitioner of the thaumaturgical arts before this world had lost its magic. A formidable woman. But a woman nonetheless.

Perhaps she would be useful. Certainly, she was not unappealing.

But he had no time for such petty considerations.

Ghaleon set the book aside. He reached into the stacks and pulled another, lighter tome down.

This book was clearly of unusual age, and the title was in a script Ghaleon did not immediately recognize.

But he had seen it somewhere before, he was certain.

“Ghaleon of Albrook, your presence is requested in His Majesty’s dining chamber.”

Not now! Not when he had finally found something of real interest. If he only had a chance to examine this book more closely, it might supply a missing piece of the puzzle. Ghaleon fixed the guard with a piercing stare. “Tell His Majesty that I will arrive as soon as I am prepared.”

“I was instructed to take you directly there. His Majesty was most insistent.”

Was the game up? But no, he had done nothing that could have aroused Edgar’s ire or suspicions. He had played the part to perfection. Not too fawning. Not too arrogant. Just right. Petty monarchs, particularly those as frivolous as Edgar Roni Figaro appeared to be, were so easily manipulated. “Then I can hardly refuse,” he said, making a show of shelving the book.

“Yes, sir.”

Ghaleon stood and turned to the guard. “But first, I must retrieve my lute from my quarters.” He deftly reached behind his back, and his long fingers closed around the spine of the book.

“No need, sir. Your instrument has already been brought to the dining chamber. His Majesty is most impatient.”

“Very well.” Ghaleon bit his lip and released the book. He could afford no risks, regardless of how desperate he was for answers. He followed the guard down the castle halls.

Figaro Castle was quite a large building by the standards of Ghaleon’s native land. Aside from his own construct, the Grindery, and Althena’s Fortress, he could not think of any man-made location quite as large. The stone walls were formidable, as befitted a fortress. The interior, however, was warm and rich, with soft, dark stones and thick carpeting. Masterful portraits, presumably of Figaroan royalty down the centuries, lined the walls.

The guard maintained a brisk pace, and Ghaleon soon stood before the door to the king’s private dining chamber.

“You may enter, sir,” the guard said with a bow.

Ghaleon pushed open the door.

Edgar Roni Figaro’s private dining chamber was as richly appointed as any Ghaleon had encountered in Jidoor, and, much to his surprise, more tastefully furnished. Given the king’s reputation, at the very least Ghaleon had expected a large, gaudy painting of a nude, or nearly so, female. Instead, the walls were hung with small masterpieces which Ghaleon recognized as the work of some of this world’s most renowned painters. The furniture was very old and very beautiful, and the table at which Edgar was seated was, though by no means plain, the least impressive object in the room, hardly as large or ornate as Ghaleon would have expected.

“Ah, you’ve arrived,” Edgar said. He turned to the man seated across the table from him, a great muscular oaf who was rapidly tearing through the delicacies set before him. “This is the new musician I was telling you about, Sabin.”

Ghaleon would not have needed to hear the name to know that this was the king’s brother. In spite of the difference in their physiques and style, there was no mistaking the blue eyes, blond hair, and aristocratic profile.

“Mmmf,” Sabin said, never pausing in his eating.

Ghaleon inclined his head slightly, then walked over to where his lute was set. He picked it up and closed his eyes. Such melodrama seemed to enhance the musical experience for most, though Ghaleon himself despised its necessity.

His fingers played across the lute’s strings. He would give the king and his brother a performance to remember... and to convince them to let him be on his way.

It had been many years ago when Ghaleon had first observed the effect of this song. He had initially believed it was Althena’s voice that gave it its power. Later he had learned that he, too, could access its unique properties. A suggestion carried greater weight when given, a request was granted readily to one who played this simple tune. He knew it was not magic - it worked its potent effect equally well in this world as it had in his own. And although he did not know the source of its power, he’d made use of it in both.

“Come now,” the king said suddenly, interrupting both Ghaleon’s performance and his thoughts, “I have heard this piece already. Although it is undoubtedly lovely, I would prefer to sample other selections from the repertoire of such a noted musician, particularly on such an occasion as my brother’s return.”

Ghaleon met Edgar’s eyes. Perhaps he had underestimated His Majesty.

The vacuous pretty-boy blue had been replaced by blue steel.

Indeed, he had.

The king might even prove to be an amusing, if unwelcome, diversion.

“Of course, Your Majesty,“ Ghaleon said, immediately launching into another melody. He knew very well that he played it exquisitely, and, from the satisfied expression on Edgar’s face, the king knew it as well.

But this was a mere song. It did not have the power to persuade anyone, unless it was by its beauty. Now he would not be able to cut short this performance, and who knew how long it would be before he could get back to his real work?

Ghaleon silently cursed Edgar’s intelligence, but his face gave no indication that he was doing so.

He played several other tunes, then bowed deeply.

“Bravo,” said Edgar, applauding. Ghaleon raised his eyes to see the king watching him closely with a smug little smile that indicated he‘d solved one mystery. “Althena’s Melody” would, most likely, not be heard in the king’s presence again.

Smile all you like, King of Figaro, Ghaleon thought. I shall be the one laughing, soon enough.

“Not bad at all,” Sabin said, his meal, comprising of several courses, now finished. “I rather liked the bit where you did the whatsit... oh, I can’t explain it. Still, not bad at all.”

Ghaleon bowed lower to make certain that his eyes were hidden. Not bad at all? Despise me if you like, distrust me and I shall commend you for your perception, but such indifference! He had to fight to contain his anger.

“Do you have any particular song you would like played, Your Highness?” Ghaleon asked the fool of a brother through clenched teeth.

“Oh, I’m off for the night, so don’t bother about that.” Sabin rose to his full, rather imposing height. “It’s late, and I’ve got to keep the old body in shape, so it’s sleep for me. As Master Duncan always said, ‘Early to bed and early to...”

“Goodnight, Sabin,” Edgar said laughing as he clapped his brother on the back.

“Rest well, Your Highness,” Ghaleon said. Rest in peace, preferably.

“Always do.”

Sabin let the door shut behind him with a loud bang.

“You played beautifully, Ghaleon,“ Edgar said, raising his wineglass in a toast. “I am quite pleased.“ He took a sip of his wine and turned away. “That will be all for this evening.”

“Your Majesty is most gracious indeed,” Ghaleon replied, smiling at the king’s back.