Wow, I never expected to get this many replies
Thanks so much everyone, I'm glad you're enjoying it!
"Okay, fine. My real name is Roger Wilco, space janitor extraordinaire!"
I must have been having a slow day when I first read this, because it took a few seconds for it to sink in, at which point I promptly spat apple juice all over my screen
Anyway, without further ado, here's the next chapter!
"My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain." - Richard III, Shakespeare
For a long time, all Graham could do was stare at the young man. In spite of his newfound fear for Alexander's fate, he also felt a small kernel of pity for the wretched looking youth in front of him. No one could fake that level of distress.No wonder he was so nervous about the Archmage. He knew it would all be over for him the second he answered that question
Graham glanced at the Archmage in question, who seemed just as stunned by what had just happened as the rest of them.
"Will you leave us alone please?" he asked. He felt a strange sense of detachment, as though someone else were controlling his actions.
Cassima stared at the man who had been Alexander, then spun on her heel and rushed out the door. The Archmage cleared his throat.
"Please," Graham repeated. His tone was as courteous as ever, but there was an additional tone there that most people found very hard to defy.
The Archmage was no exception; he hesitated for a second or two, then turned with a swish of his robes and strode out.
Graham hunted among the chairs that had been blasted aside by the Archmage's spell until he found one that still had all four legs. Tilting it upright, he sat down on it and studied the stranger in front of him.
"Alright." He forced his voice to remain calm. "Who are you, and what have you done with my son?"
The young man looked up at Graham with a wretched expression and swallowed hard. "Zak, Your Majesty. Prince Zachary of Kristallia, and I haven't done anything with him."
Graham frowned. Kristallia was a long way from Daventry, but most royal families communicated with each other in some fashion.
"I don't remember seeing your name on the Kristallian royal lists," he said.
"You wouldn't have done. Only females may inherit the throne. Sons are of little interest, especially fourth sons like myself. If we want to become any kind of king, the only way is to marry. I swear
, I never thought things would go this far."
"And couldn't you find enough suitable brides as Prince of Kristallia, that you had to sneak into my family and masquerade as the Crown Prince of Daventry?" Admittedly in the game of rank, Crown Prince trumped Prince any day of the week, but still, most girls dreamed of marrying a prince.
Glancing at Graham for permission, Zachary retrieved his own chair from the wreckage and perched on the very edge of it, running his hands through his hair.
"Your Majesty, I know what this looks like. Believe me, I know. But I didn't mean to deceive anyone."
"Didn't mean to—!" Words failed Graham for a few seconds, which probably wasn't such a bad thing. "You took on my son's form, you stole his identity, and then you attempted to marry his fiancee! What did
you mean to do, if not to deceive anyone? And what of your own family? Your parents must be out of their minds with worry!"
"Um." Zachary fidgeted on the chair, drew one leg up, then put it back down again with the same wretched expression. "No disrespect, but I don't think they are, actually. Like I said, my mother's not really interested in her sons. I don't know who my father is; he could be anyone from Kristallia, and I do mean anyone
This was a very odd thing to imply about a queen in Graham's opinion, much less your own mother. Some of his feeling must have been obvious on his face because Zachary went on. "I'm not sure you quite understand how things are in Kristallia."
"Why don't you explain it to me then?" A lot of Graham's initial anger had dissipated. It was impossible to look at Zachary just then and feel anything for him except pity.
"My mother wanted as many potential heirs as possible, just in case something happened. You know?"
"And she decided right at the beginning that she wasn't going to have an arranged marriage or a political one; she was going to choose the perfect man for herself. So she took a knight and he gave her a daughter followed by a son, at which point she dissolved the union and took another man. He gave her another son, so she dissolved that
union. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Graham nodded again. "Yes. She takes a man she likes and keeps him as king until she gives birth to a son, at which point she throws him out in disgust and takes another partner."
"More or less. King is an honorary title in Kristallia; there's no power or responsibility associated with it. They're not even publicly acknowledged as such unless the queen chooses to make it so, and Mother doesn't share power. I was the only child she had with my father, so he was thrown out of the palace the moment I was born. If anyone noticed I was gone at any point, I'll be very surprised."
"That still doesn't tell me where Alexander is, nor why you were trying to marry his fiancee."
"I don't know where he is. Truly, I don't. And Cassima's not Alexander's fiancee; she's mine. I was part of your family when Mordack took them, so it was me Cassima met in his castle. I just...didn't look like me." Zachary stared at his thumbs. "I suppose the wedding's off now. It's a shame. You probably won't believe me, but I do love Cassima."
"So does—" Graham began, and stopped. He had been about to say so does Alexander
, but if Zachary was telling the truth, then Alexander had never met Cassima. Alexander had been elsewhere when Mordack had sucked up the Castle of Daventry.
Zachary gave him a wan smile. "You see? And I never put on any kind of act. I behaved the same as Alexander as I do as myself, if that makes any sense. It wasn't really
like I tricked you."
"Yes it was." Graham's tone, while not angry, brooked no further argument. "You came into my house – my family
– as Alexander, not Zachary, and you went to a lot of trouble to look like my son. What I still don't know is why."
The young man shook his head, his entire face taut. It was an expression that Graham had seen all too often on—no, he corrected himself brutally, he'd never
seen it on his son's face. He'd only ever seen it on Zachary's.
"Your Majesty, I swear I don't know. I think that must have been part of the enchantment, to make me forget everything about the spell. I don't know who did this or where your son is. I know I met him but I can't tell you where. It's like there's a gap in my mind. I know I went on some kind of journey – I remember leaving – but I don't remember where I went."
Graham was silent for a long time, mind working as he tried to put it all together. At last he said, "It was that voyage, wasn't it? When he went away for nine months. Alexander sailed away from Daventry and you
Zachary nodded. His misery and guilt were so palpable that Graham softened a little. Whoever was behind this, it wasn't this anguished young man.
"Alright. I give you my word you will not be harmed in any way, but you have to be honest with me now. What do you remember?"
"I remember seeing Alexander once, but I don't remember anything specific. Just...I have this memory of him in my mind."
"If you remember seeing him, you must remember something about the location. Even if you don't remember the name, you should know whether you saw him in a forest or in the mountains or somewhere completely different."
Zachary nodded again. "Yes, I do. We were in...I don't know how to describe it. Like a dungeon, but not."
"What do you mean?"
The young man bit his lip, not looking at Graham. "People usually think of dungeons as being dark and full of damp and moss. This one...the walls were white. Really white. I know it was definitely somewhere underground, but it didn't look like the kind of place you'd lock people up in. I don't know. I'm not being very helpful. I'm sorry."
"You're doing fine." There was no question that Zachary was telling the truth. Graham had spotted what the others hadn't; the Archmage's crystal had rolled under what was left of the table and was still glowing a steady green. Just as well; he didn't think the little anteroom could survive another explosion. "Do you remember leaving?"
"No. I mean, I remember that I did remember, but...I don't know. It's like breaking the spell destroyed my memory or something. I remember everything about my life and about the time I spent as...as your son, but nothing about how I got from one to the other." He swallowed. "What will happen to me?"
"You'll have to stay here for the time being, until I can find out who's behind this." Graham didn't think the royals of the Green Isles would object to that; after all, Zachary had done quite a lot for them regardless of what he'd looked like at the time.Or had he
? If you could enchant someone to forget, could you also plant false memories in their head? Suppose this had been done just after Alexander had defeated the vizier? The crystal would only react if the person lying knew
they were lying; so long as Zachary genuinely believed what he was saying, it would register as true.Alright
. Graham left the anteroom (it was clear Zachary had no intention of bolting) and started to walk, not going anywhere in particular. Walking had always helped him get his thoughts in order. So we have two possibilities. Either Alexander was taken when Zachary believes he was, or he was taken after the fight with the vizier.
Briefly Graham considered the third possibility – that Alexander had been taken at some other point during his stay on the Green Isles – then dismissed it. Put simply, there wouldn't have been enough time. Besides, what would be the point?
He shook his head. Hypothesizing like this was all very well, but he didn't have anywhere near enough information for those hypotheses to be even half accurate.
Graham drew to a halt outside the door to the guest bedroom he and Valanice had been given for the wedding. For a long time he stood there staring at it, not sure whether or not to go in.You're just putting off the inevitable
Yes, that was true. He knew what he had to do. That didn't mean he had to like it.
Decision made, Graham opened the door and stepped inside. A distressed looking Valanice was there, pacing the room in a manner quite unlike her normal stately bearing.
"Cassima told me everything," she said as soon as her husband had closed the door. "Who is that boy?"
Thank goodness for Valanice's down-to-earth manner, Graham thought. Other women might have waxed hysterical at losing their son for a second time, but not her.
"Prince Zachary of Kristallia," he answered. "Unfortunately he can't tell me who did this or where our son is. I think that part of his mind's been enchanted. He's as much of a victim as Alexander, wherever he is." Graham took a deep breath, held it for a few minutes, then expelled it with a sigh. There was only one option open to him, albeit an unwelcome one. "We know where Alexander went on his voyage. I'll go to Kristallia, find out where Zachary went on his. Their paths must have crossed at some point and when I know where, I'll be a lot closer to finding our son. And I'll see if there are any magic experts in Kristallia as well; they may be able to tell me more about this enchantment."
The enchantment. That was the biggest problem. Graham had very little personal knowledge of magic, but he'd picked up enough from Alexander/Zachary to know that whoever had cast an enchantment as complex as this one was powerful. Exceedingly
powerful. Even Mordack and Manannan had been fooled into thinking they had the real Alexander. Graham wasn't sure how much magic Manannan still possessed, if any, but Mordack had been one of the most powerful wizards alive. If he
hadn't realized he had the wrong person...Why would he
? a little voice inside Graham whispered. He could have found out easily enough, but Zachary looked like Alexander, he acted like Alexander, he sounded like Alexander and he was in Alexander's home with Alexander's family...why in the world would Mordack suspect that he might not be Alexander
Graham stared out the window. The view from this room was breathtaking, but he was too wrapped up in his own thoughts to notice it.
He had enemies, of course, but this kind of subterfuge wasn't really their style. It couldn't be espionage – his enemies were personal, not political – but that didn't leave many more motives.And if none of those enemies are behind this...then just who is?