The coronation was going well, if you liked that sort of thing. Marcus didn’t. He was fidgeting enough that the High Priest glanced at him several times, his old features set in disapproval.
Marcus couldn’t help it. The day was sunny and warm, and while the vaulted ceiling of the Cathedral of Coranon was impressive with its myriad stained glass windows, those windows let in the sun but not the cooling ocean breeze. In his heavy velvet ‘dress’ tabard over his brightly polished armor, Marcus felt as if he were melting on the spot. A little puddle of Marcus for the staff to have to clean up. The image in his mind drew a snicker, which in turn caused the High Priest to glare at him again.
“Warm enough for you?” whispered Malcolm with a faint grin. Marcus turned his head to glance briefly at his friend, and grinned back.
If I’m hot, he must be about to burst into flames. Malcolm’s own armor was covered, not with a velvet tabard, but with a heavy velvet and fur robe with a high collar. The rich carmine of the robe with it’s sable fur lining weighed around 25 pounds and would keep a man warm during an Arrandarran ice-storm. What it was doing to poor Malcolm there in the balmy south of Krythe was something Marcus didn’t care to think about.
“If this goes much longer, we won’t need an assassin,” Marcus whispered in reply. “The heat’ll kill you as dead as any Regentist blade.”
Malcolm grimaced at this reminder that his enemies might make one last run at him before he took the crown. He opened his mouth to speak, but closed it with a snap when the High Priest directed his most potent Withering Glare to date on him. Malcolm waited until the Priest turned his attention back to the choir who were finally entering into the final dozen stanzas of the Song of the Heavenly King before whispering, “Later.”
Marcus frowned, turning to scan the crowd. Malcolm liked to believe the best of people, and firmly trusted that when the former Regent, Dennis Delarian, would honor the promises he made when confronted with the proof of Malcolm’s legitimacy. Despite several heated arguments on the subject, Malcolm refused to perform the coronation in secret, or to surround himself with so many of his own loyalist soldiers that no attempt on his life would be feasible.
So no. Instead, the coronation would take place in the traditional spot for Krythan Emperors, at the Cathedral of Coranon, the King of the Gods, in the center of Andurin. Despite the heat, the cathedral was packed with people to see the crowning of the first Emperor in three hundred years. Not all of those people were happy to see the throne occupied once more, and Marcus’ back itched as he imagined every face in the crowd belonging to an assassin.
He glanced up into the murky depths of the rafters above the choir balcony, trying to spot a glimpse of Dylan. The elven mage was nowhere to be seen. Typical.
At last, the Song finally came to it’s exuberant conclusion, and the High Priest began to speak. Marcus tuned him out, for the most part. The ritual was an old one, and he had heard enough of it during the practice runs of this event that he was almost certain that he could step in and finish the words should the old Priest drop dead of the heart-attack he always seemed to be on the verge of having.
Malcolm stepped forward on command and knelt before the High Priest, symbolizing that while he may be the ultimate authority in the world, he still acknowledged the supremacy of the divine and intended for his rule to follow the laws set down from on high. The High Priest lifted the Imperial Crown in his hands and his eyes towards the heavens as he called for a blessing upon Malcolm and his reign.
Marcus tensed. If anything were to happen, this would be the moment. Malcolm’s back was turned to the crowd, the High Priest was looking away, and at least in theory, all eyes were on the Emperor-to-be.
There was a movement in the crowd, and Marcus was stepping forward before he even realized it. Three men burst into the clear space surrounding the High Priest and Malcolm, naked blades clutched in sweaty hands. Marcus’ own sword rang from its sheath.
Pandemonium broke out.
Marcus sprang forward, swinging his sword at the assassin closest to his friend. The knife hit the stone floor, along with the hand that wielded it, and the man clutched his bleeding stump and screamed in pain. Marcus was already turning towards the next man. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that Malcolm was struggling to turn around, hampered by his heavy robes and his kneeling posture. A general brawl was breaking out around them. Marcus supposed that the three men weren’t the only assassins, just the closest, and that some of Malcolm’s loyalists were fending off others in the crowd.
The remaining two men of immediate concern realized their peril and moved towards Marcus together. As one, they darted towards him, trying to get inside the arc of his sword where their smaller blades would be of more use. Marcus quickly moved back a step, swinging wildly to keep them at bay, and almost tripped over Malcolm. He stumbled, and the assassin on his left took the opportunity.
The man feinted towards Marcus, then slid away from him, towards Malcolm. His knife glinted gold and blue as it flashed through a beam of light from the stained-glass windows above. Malcolm grunted.
A sudden gust of gale-force wind knocked everyone within several paces, including the High Priest, to the ground. There, standing above Malcolm, were Dylan and Melissa. Mel crouched beside Malcolm, taking his hand and Dylans at the same time. Marcus rolled closer to them and grabbed Malcolm’s other hand. One of the assassins got to his knees, and two more burst forth from the crowd. Dylan said a word both familiar and utterly alien to Marcus’ ears, and the world went away.
Marcus could never remember, after the fact, what it was like in that in-between place they went when Dylan did that trick. All he could ever remember was darkness, cold, and a sense of some sort of presence beyond his ability to comprehend. The results were undeniably beneficial, however, as they emerged elsewhere, in a forest somewhere. No assassins presented themselves immediately.
“Are we clear?” Marcus asked as he struggled to his feet, sword still in hand.
Melissa crouched over Malcolm, chanting prayers to Coranan for the safety and healing of their fallen friend. Dylan merely stood there, watching his human friends with that look of perpetual amusement he always wore. “We are clear,” he nodded.
Marcus spent a moment struggling out of his tabard, kicking the hated garment to the side before really examining the group’s whereabouts. He raised an eyebrow at Dylan, “The place we camped between Summer Rock and Green River Bend?”
The elf’s smile broadened and he inclined his head in agreement. “Indeed.”
Marcus nodded and turned to Melissa. “How is he?”
The blonde priestess bared her teeth in what would have been, in another person, a smile. “Freaking amateurs. They didn’t even use poison, they were so sure they’d nail him. I’ve stopped the bleeding, he’ll be fine in a day or two.”
“I’m fine now,” Malcolm sat up, then swayed slightly as a wave of vertigo crashed over him. “Or… maybe in an hour. Yeah, I’ll fine in an hour.”
“So what now?” Marcus crouched beside his friend to help remove the robe.
Malcolm though about it for all of a second. “Now?” his handsome face creased with anger, “They attacked their rightful liege. They are in rebellion. Now? Now we go to war.”