laze made no effort not to scowl as he listened to Winslow drone on. Why should he care if the trade in Saldi was plummeting? Why don't they fix it instead of wasting his time with complaints? Tracing his finger on the gilding of the throne arm, he tried to pay attention to what the old man was saying, but his voice fit his face exactly: Dull. You could fall asleep just looking at him. His long, wrinkly face remained placid as he gave his report, but his sunken eyes held the heat of annoyance. Winslow had been his father's adviser before he had been dethroned, and he had practically raised Blaze, but he hated the old buffoon and his boring reports. Blaze was supposed to be the King! Well, temporarily anyway. He really would be King when he got rid of Prince Stefan and the brat, just like he had their parents. Of course, they didn't know that. He had gone through great lengths to keep it that way. Now that they were dead, he would be filling in as King until Stefan returned. All the more reason to eliminate him sooner. The problem was where to find him.

            When the former King Carlon died, the new royalty couldn't just leave Blaze to die, so they took him in. Winslow had taught him the truth about his father. And now he could avenge him, he could continue his plot and show them that Blaze could be even better! His father had not been a Firesinger like Blaze, after all. He just had to get the throne first, which Prince Stefan is naturally the rightful heir to, being older. So Blaze had had to put up with the princess in order to secure his chance of being King. If he could just get her to marry him....but she'd proved to be no easy target.

            Loosing his hand he had not noticed was clenched, he faced his palm upward and created a ball of fire that hovered just above his skin and began to lift it, aiming at Winslow. If he could just get rid of him now....No. He had to put up with him a little longer. He ran all the Blackmasks, which Blaze needed in his siege. Without the secret order his father had made, he was hopeless. Letting the flame vanish, he contented himself with clenched teeth. He needed Winslow.

            "Shut up, Winslow!" Blaze snapped irritably. Winslow did just that.

            Running a hand through his black hair, Blaze glared at the decrepit oaf until he was sure he should have caught aflame. He was about to tell him to get out of his sight when a wild eyed palace guard burst through the throne room doors.

            "The Princess is missing!" he shouted, not even bothering with proper courtesies. Blaze cursed under his breath. This was just the sort of thing he needed.

            "What are you doing here twiddling your thumbs, then? Find her!" The soldier nodded nervously and scrambled to join the others, looking a little relieved. So he had thought Blaze would kill him? Maybe he should have, just to make him feel better. "What am I supposed to do now? You're my adviser," he growled at Winslow, "then advise me!"

            Taking his time, the fool took a deep breath and said, "If I may be so bold, your highness, I think there might be something you would like to hear." So. He wasn't even going to answer. Blaze was about to burn him to a crisp but thought the better of it and nodded instead. "The son of the ones who killed King Carlon has been located," he said. Only the dangerous flash in his eyes betrayed his hatred. "He lives on a farm near a small town in Adria."

            Blaze jumped out of his seat and the fireplace blazed, echoing his excitement. They had a son? "How can you be sure?" he tested as he tried to control his sudden urge to set the entire palace on fire. He didn't want to get too excited until he knew for sure.

            "A witness has been found—a Blackmask—who claims he was there when King Carlon was murdered. He claims the boy was the one who killed him, though I don't see how a seven year old boy could have accomplished such a feat." All this and he hadn't even flickered an eyelid. The Evers had a son! The Stormsingers who had worked to ruin all his father's plans had a descendent! If what this supposed witness said was true, then the boy would be about nineteen; the same age as him.

             "Bring this man to me," he said finally.

            The man that Winslow brought to him looked like any other street ruffian. He had dark hair that hung into eyes that darted anxiously from side to side as if he expected something to ambush him from behind a tapestry or under a rug. His hooked nose and lanky legs made him look gangly, but only a fool would assume he couldn't use the sword that hung from his hip. The guards practically shoved him to the center of marble floor in front of the throne. He bowed and gulped fretfully.

            "Name?" Blaze said simply, but the thug shifted nervously before answering.

            "William Bernard, your highness." William Bernard. And he apparently had served his father.

            "You claim to have been there the night King Carlon died?" Blaze asked. The answer was obvious, but Bernard hesitated.

            "I did."

            "And you say the Evers had a child?" He didn't wait for him to nod before continuing. "And the boy murdered King Carlon?" Blaze couldn't see how that was possible, but he needed the facts before he jumped to conclusions.

            "Yes, your majesty," he replied earnestly. "I don't know how, but when the King was about to kill him a....a gust of wind threw him back against the wall real hard. I saw it with my own eyes, I did." Wind? That was ridiculous. Unless....could the boy be a Windsinger? It was highly unlikely. Being any kind of Stormsinger was hardly a hereditary gift. Besides, how did he know Bernard was not lying? He could be just trying to earn a reward, but the facts fit together, if loosely. The Evers went into hiding about seven years before they had killed his father. Could it have been to protect their baby? All of the sudden it seemed much too likely.

            "What did this boy look like?"

             Bernard frowned and his eyes flickered towards the door, perhaps thinking of escape, but he answered. "Dark, intense brown eyes. Brown hair. Tall for his age, I suppose. It was hard to get a good look at the lad when he was all curled up in the corner like that." That sounded reasonable enough. Adrians generally had darker features. Blaze's own father had been Adrian....and the reason Saldi hated Adria.

            He realized Bernard was watching him uneasily and sighed. It took an effort to suppress the burning hatred that had welled up inside him. He must avenge his father!

            "Very well, Bernard." The fool actually looked relieved! "If what you claim is true, then you can organize his capture."

            Bernard rubbed a grimy hand over his furrowed brow. "Capture, your majesty?" he repeated doubtfully. Blaze wanted to be the one to kill him himself, but he didn't trust this man that far.        

            "Any problems, Bernard? Shall I call for the headsman? Or shall I save him the trouble?" Blaze let a flame flicker in his palm. The dolt's eyes locked on the flame Blaze had created and swallowed, murmuring that he had no problem. If he presented any riffraff Blaze would personally have him flogged. Then burn him to ashes.

            "See to it then!" he barked. This boy could be potentially problematic if he was what Blaze suspected. Not to mention it would make Blaze feel a whole lot better as soon as he was dead.

            Bernard didn't quite run to the door, but he got pretty close to it. Blaze watched him go and a sickly smile twisted his face. The Evers boy was going to pay.


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