The King of Attolia Page 1


The queen waited. Sitting at the window, she watched the lights of the town glow in the last of the long twilight. The sun had been down for hours and it was still not fully dark. True dark wouldn’t come, except in the odd unlit corners. The lanterns would burn all night as the people moved from celebration to celebration until they greeted the sun’s return and the new day and staggered home at last. They celebrated, with wine and music and dancing, a day they had thought would never come. The queen’s wedding day. She sat at the window, watching the lights, listening for the music, waiting for her husband.

In Attolia, a woman came to her husband on the wedding night. In Eddis, a man came to his bride. They had chosen to keep the custom of Eddis. The Eddisians could see this as the queen bowing to the Eddisian customs of her new husband, but the Attolians would see the queen still flouting the traditional duties of an Attolian woman. It was a careful dance of shadows and unsubstance, but under it all, there was a marriage of two people. Today she had yielded the sovereignty of her country to Eugenides, who had given up everything he had ever hoped for, to be her king.


In the palace’s great open court, filled with tables and the glowing lanterns in colored paper shades, Ornon, the Ambassador from Eddis, smothered a yawn and the smile that followed it as he considered the future of the former Thief of Eddis. He and Eugenides were old adversaries, and the happy vision of the Thief fettered by the responsibilities of sovereignty warmed his heart. It was far more satisfying than any petty revenge Ornon might have planned. The Queen of Eddis knew his thoughts from across the room and gave him a look that made him sit straighter, take another sip of wine, and turn his smile toward his dinner companion.


On the palace wall, a young guard on duty looked out over the town with much the same view as the Attolian queen had from her window. He was missing the celebrations, but he didn’t much care for drinking and brawling, and he didn’t mind. He liked being stationed high above the palace. The solitude, and the time away from the noise of the barracks and his companions, gave him space to think. These stints on the upper reaches of the palace walls were his favorite. There was no danger he needed to watch for: no ships of Sounis’s could reach their harbor, no armies would be dropping from the hills across the valley. Attolia’s most dangerous enemy was already within the palace and an enemy no more, he supposed. Costis could have been asleep for all his duty mattered, this night. Still, he straightened to attention and tried to look alert as his captain came up beside him.

“Costis,” said the captain, “you are missing the feasting.”

“So are you, sir.”

“I don’t mind.” No emotion colored the captain’s voice.


Deeper into the night, when the official banquets in the palace had ended, far from the still-noisy celebrations in the streets of the city, the Secretary of the Archives idly shifted the papers on his desk. More than anyone, he had cause to fear the new king. He had approached the queen privately and suggested they discuss means of limiting the king’s power. Eugenides was young; he was untrained, impetuous, and naive. He would be easy to control once the power of his Eddisian advisors waned, as it necessarily must. The queen had responded with a look that was all the warning Relius needed to know that he had overstepped his authority. He withdrew with apologies. He would leave the fate of the king to the queen, but would not pretend to himself that he was not afraid.



COSTIS sat in his room. On the table in front of him was a piece of paper meant to hold a report on the squad of men he directed. He’d scratched out the first few lines of the report and written underneath the beginnings of a letter to his father. It began, “Sir, I must explain my actions,” and then stopped. Costis couldn’t explain his actions. He rubbed his face with his hands and tried again to compose his anguished thoughts into cold words and orderly sentences.

He looked over the mess in his quarters. His small trunk of clothes was tipped out onto the floor. The tray that had sat in the top of it to hold his sleeve links and buttons and pins was thrown down by the bed. The links, the spare buttons, and the small image of his god were scattered everywhere. His books were gone. He’d had three. So, he assumed, was his wallet with what money he kept in his room. That was a pity. He would have given the money to his friend Aristogiton. His sword was gone from its rack on the wall. He would have given that to Aris as well.

The two soldiers who’d brought him back from the training ground, almost dragging him along by their grip at his elbows, had taken every sharp thing out of the room. They were veterans, who’d served in the Guard for most of their lives. They’d searched his small trunk and dragged the thin mattress, as well as the blanket, off the narrow bed frame. One had pulled down Costis’s sword and swept up his knife from the windowsill while the other had collected his papers, crumpling them together in his fist. Without looking at him again, they’d gone. Costis had turned the stool upright on its three legs. They had left his cloak pins, his plain everyday one and his fancy one with the amber bead. He had been a little surprised. His good pin was fibula-shaped with a shaft four inches long and as thick as a cornstalk. It would be as effective as a sword, if Costis chose to use it. Even the smaller pin would do; two inches in the right place was all it took.

As Costis had considered, without any real motivation, the possibilities of the cloak pins, the curtain across his doorway had swept back and one of the soldiers had returned to kick his feet briskly through the detritus on the floor, quickly locating the cloak pins. After scooping them up, he had checked the floor again to see if there were more. He had seen the sandal straps and taken those. He’d looked Costis over once and shaken his head in contempt as he left.


Costis looked back at the letter in front of him. It was almost the only paper they’d left him. He shouldn’t waste it, but he didn’t know how he could explain his actions to his father when he couldn’t explain them to himself. He’d broken a sacred oath, had destroyed his career, his life, and perhaps his family in one moment. It was unnatural to look back at events and be unable to believe that what you remembered could actually have happened.


It was afternoon. He’d made no progress on his letter since morning, when the sun had been slanting into the narrow window and filling the small room with light. The sun had climbed over the roof of the barracks and the room was grown dim, lit only indirectly by the sunlight falling into the narrow courtyard between barracks. Costis was waiting for the queen. She had left the palace for the first time since her marriage and had gone hunting. She was to eat at midday at one of the lodges and return sometime in the afternoon.

Costis got up from his stool and paced for the hundredth, the thousandth time across the room. He would be sentenced when she returned, almost certainly to death. Even worse than death would come if she thought that he had acted as part of a conspiracy or that even one member of his family had known of his actions in advance. If that happened, his family would have to leave the farm outside Pomea in the Gede Valley. Every single one of them, not just his father and his sister, but uncles, aunts, and cousins. Their property would be forfeit to the crown and they would be no longer members of the landowning class, but would be okloi—merchants if they were lucky, beggars if they were not.

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