"It was about two weeks ago," Jadri continued. "Paulos and I were in his office, looking at some proposals for reconnaissance missions into the west. For the past years we had seemed to be on top of things, and we were hoping to track down whatever evil that was left in these parts and eliminate it." He laughed. "We actually had hope in those days."

"I can still see us, sitting at his desk in front of the window. It was a beautiful day outside, and from his office we had a good view of the palace gardens. Then the knock on the door came. I got up and opened the door, and four Royal Guards were waiting outside. They were very, very polite. One of them took hold of me and shoved me aside, apologising all the time. As I lost my balance and fell to the floor I saw Paulos push back his chair and start to get up. They were very polite to him as well. One of them got behind him and pinned his arms to his back, while the other got out his knife and held it to his throat, asking him not to do anything rash. I think he even said please. Then he turned to me and told me that went for me as well, and I didn't want the old man to get hurt, did I? I told him I didn't. They helped me up, and then they marched us out." He shook his head. "I couldn't believe what was happening. The Royal Guards were a ceremonial force and besides, they were on our side. Nobody suspected anything until it was too late."

The room was getting dark, and I got up and lit a few candles. As I sat down again Jarvik nodded at me to thank me.

"When we came out the building was empty," the young man went on. "Until then I had just been stunned, but when I saw all those empty corridors I became very afraid. Paulos was walking ahead of me between two Guards, and I saw him looking about as well."

"They took us out through the gardens into the palace," he continued. "Maybe there were more Guards inside the palace than usual, I don't know. After all, I didn't come there that often. They took us to the throne room. My grandfather was there, and so were the members of his council. My grandfather seemed so calm, so in control, that for a moment I began to have hope. Maybe what had happened with the Royal Guards was a misunderstanding, and maybe he was just getting ready to take his rightful place as our King again."

Merran got up and poured the young man a cup of water. "Thanks," Jadri said as Merran sat down again. He took a few sips and continued. "My grandfather got up to greet us. I saw him close his eyes and smile as he embraced Paulos. Welcome, old friend, you've been away too long, I heard him say. When the King broke the embrace and stepped back Paulos nearly collapsed, and two Guards had to lead him to his seat. I wanted to go to him to see if he needed help but then my grandfather was there, his eyes looking into mine, his hands on my shoulders and his mouth curved in a smile. I tried to speak but couldn't. He drew me to him, and I returned the embrace. As I was resting against his chest all went black for a moment, the throne room was gone and I was falling into eternal darkness. When he released me my knees buckled, and I would have fallen if the Guards hadn't caught me."

He looked at us. "I realise how this must sound to you," he said.

"We've all gone through some strange experiences lately," Moire said. "Please continue."

He took another sip from the cup of water, and I noticed that his hands were shaking. "Though in many ways the horrors were just beginning, they paled in comparison to that embrace." He took a deep breath. "When we were all seated my grandfather started to talk about my father's disappearance. How he had been gone for far longer than usual, and how he had been receiving reports that indicated the possibility of foul play. How, over the past months, suspicion had grown into certainty. And then he started talking about my mother." For a moment he looked at the floor, unable to go on. "He discussed her background and her family's allegiance. It all seemed so rational and plausible, and yet I knew that it could only lead to one conclusion. Then he got out a letter, and he started reading it aloud. It was from my mother. In it, she confessed that she had been part of a conspiracy to have my father killed. She said she couldn't live with herself after that and she asked my grandfather and me to forgive her." He buried his face in his hands.

"I've seen her body," he continued. "She had slit her wrists. She was such a deeply religious woman, and I believe that she loved my father. She would never betray him, and her religious beliefs forbade suicide. And yet, my silly, muddle-headed mother was dead. As I grew up I tended to avoid her and she didn't seem to have very much use for me either, but what harm was she doing to anyone? Why did she have to die?" He turned away from us and began to cry.

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