Varner sat with his legs crossed and an arm stretched out lazily on the fallen trunk. The fire crackled between them. Lucas narrowed his eyes. Varner grinned.
“I’ve come to offer you a deal,” said Varner.
“I don’t make deals with you,” seethed Lucas.
Varner raised his eyebrows and nodded, “Probably a good policy, but this one may be beneficial to you.”
“What if I just kill you instead?” said Lucas through gritted teeth, glaring across the clearing and through the flickering fire.
“Well,” said Varner with a calm look, as though considering this, “I suppose that would be difficult for you, because my soldiers have surrounded your camp site, and if they don’t hear back from me in…” Varner pulled a pocket watch from the breast pocket of his coat and glanced down at it, “…about ten minutes, they’re to attack immediately and take no prisoners.”
Lucas glared and the fire between them jumped, taking on new abstract forms, growing wider and burning hotter, “I can burn you in that time.”
Varner smiled, “You can certainly try.”
Lucas clenched his fists but remained standing still.
“Now,” said Varner in a calm voice, “As I was saying, I may have a solution to all of our problems that involves little to no bloodshed.”
“I highly doubt that,” replied Lucas, “You’re a deceiver and a fool. I won’t let you win.”
“It isn’t a matter of winning, Lucas,” said Varner with a collected smile, “It’s about surviving. And right now, your friend Hephaestion is being held in a cell beneath Baelfire Castle, and in two days he will be executed for your abduction, and then the crime syndicate he handed you over to will be hunted down and killed as well.”
“Except that none of that is true,” said Lucas, “Hephaestion didn’t abduct me, men you hired tried to abduct me, and they failed.”
“Well yes,” said Varner, “But only you and I really know that, and there’s no reason they have to know it.”
“King Baelfire will listen when I speak,” said Lucas, “I will find a way to talk to him.”
“You may yet,” replied Varner, “But it won’t be soon enough to save Hephaestion’s life. Look around you,” he gestured to the campsite, “You have no horses, no carriages, no way of getting to Baelfire within two days, and no matter what shortcuts you’re trying to use, getting there and preventing an execution are two entirely different matters. Do you know the process you must go through to speak to a King directly, even if you are a Prince yourself? They’ll think you an imposter and throw you into the cells along with Hephaestion before you get a word in.”
“It’s better than doing nothing,” said Lucas, “I will not let him die.”
“You may be able to do that in an easier way,” said Varner, and he leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, his hands pressed together, “I’ve come to offer you an arrangement.”
Lucas paused. “Spit it out,” he said.
Varner grinned, “So cordial. Alright, here it is: I contact the King, which I can do much faster and more effectively than you can, and call off the execution, saying that I’ve found you and the real culprit, and Hephaestion is released into my custody. I take him back to the castle and he remains there under house arrest for as long as I like.”
“So you can use him as a way to keep me in line, right?” said Lucas.
“Would that not be preferable to his death?” asked Varner.
Lucas remained silent.
“And either way, there’s more to it than that. You can be reunited with him. You come back to the castle with me, and there, you and Hephaestion will remain comfortably in the castle, under my close supervision. You can spend all the time you like reading books in the library or frolicking about the Royal Wing with your friend, I don’t care.”
“So you want to silence me,” said Lucas, “And you’re going to use Hephaestion to do it.”
“Sweet prince,” said Varner with a twinkle in his eyes, “Why do you ever think I allowed him to sneak into your caravan in the first place? Don’t you think I have enough watchful eyes that I saw him steal the paperwork and enter your retinue? But I allowed it, because I knew he would prove useful to me. You’re a stubborn boy, Lucas, but I do know how to play my cards, and we both know you have very few friends in this world. It isn’t hard to kill one, or to control you by threatening to kill one.”
The flames roared. They were burning the entirety of the logs now.
“I have friends now,” said Lucas, “And we are not going to let you, or the Church, take over this continent and turn it into your own personal dictatorship.”
Varner burst into laughter. “Dictatorship?” he said, “Lucas, you’ve got me all wrong! What I want is the best for everyone! Alexandria will flourish and I will claim my rightful place as King! You will be Prince, the Church will have it’s power restored, but they’ll be under my thumb! They can enforce their religious law as much as they like, so long as I allow it,” he laughed again, “Everyone benefits! Can’t you see that what I’m doing is genuinely best for everyone?”
“No,” said Lucas, “You’ve been killing people, blackmailing, manipulating every angle, so that you can put yourself in power. Why? Why is being King that important to you?”
Varner’s smile dropped from his face. “Because it is my rightful place, it is where I belong. It is what I have deserved from the moment I was born. It’s what your mother wanted-”
Lucas held out a hand and the fire shot forth to lick at Varner’s boots. He pulled his feet back hastily. “Don’t you dare speak about my mother,” Lucas whispered.
“But Lucas,” said Varner calmly, “She wanted the best for you. Don’t you think you would be better served with me as the rightful King?”
“So that you can return to expansionism?” asked Lucas, “So that you can claim every territory as part of Alexandria? Then what, move onto the Eastern Continent? The Islands? Will you then march the armies of Alexandria up to the Barrier itself and try to tear it down, so that you can claim the Other Realm for yourself to?”
Varner raised his eyebrows, “Now that is surprising. I honestly hadn’t expected you’d figure that part out on your own.”
Lucas was taken aback, “What?”
“The Barrier, yes,” said Varner, “That’s exactly what I want to do. It’s the reason I’m helping the Church. Their so-called Angel wants exactly the same thing I do: the removal of the Barrier.”
“The Barrier keeps our world from being sucked into an ocean of chaos!” shouted Lucas, do you want to unleash darkness upon the world and become some kind of demon king?”
Varner laughed again, “What an imagination you have! Demons? Darkness? No, sweet prince, the Barrier is simply that: a force that divides us from the world outside. There is an entire world outside of the Barrier, and all of us are trapped within it! When I bring it down, I will be the ambassador for this continent, and for all of it’s people. I will lead Alexandria into the next age, I will free all people from being caged within it’s magic.”
“You don’t know if anything you’re saying is true,” said Lucas, “The Church itself claims the Barrier keeps darkness at bay, and they’re allying with you to help destroy it?”
“The Church says what it thinks it knows, Lucas,” said Varner, “Their ‘Angel’ thinks differently. He has proof of a world outside, and I believe it. When the Barrier comes down, I want to be standing at the forefront with a hand outstretched to greet the rest of the world.”
“Or you want to unleash dark magic upon the entire world, and make yourself it’s ruler,” said Lucas.
Varner shook his head, “You oppose the Church, and yet you believe their doctrinal teachings? There is no evil in this world, Lucas, there is only courage and fear. I will not be afraid of old magic, I will not be afraid of the Barrier, and whether the world likes it or not, I will release it from it’s prison.”
“And how am I going to help you do that?” asked Lucas, “How does keeping me trapped inside the palace help?”
“Because no one outside of the palace will know you’re there, of course,” said Varner, “They’ll still believe you gone. Oh, the people have their doubts about me, but they rally around the Royal Family as they always have. If they believe someone has abducted you, they’ll support me in any decision I make to rescue you. They needn’t know that someone is pulling the strings, they just need to give me the power to take action.”
“And what will you use me for?” asked Lucas, “Conquering every neighboring country and territory, accusing all of them of abducting me, until you’ve finished the entire continent?”
“Now that isn’t a very reasonable course of action, Lucas. I have my own designs on how to go about it, but all that matters now is that you’re going to take my offer, return to Alexandria with me, and your friend will be saved.”
“And as for my other friends?” asked Lucas, gesturing toward the tents.
“Yes,” said Varner, “I’ve given some thought about what to do with them. As of now they really aren’t any threat to me, but I don’t doubt they’d try and rescue you. I suppose exiling them to the Islands will have to do. I could kill them, of course, but I’m letting all of your allies live to show you that I truly mean well. They can carve out a life for themselves on the Islands, don’t worry, and you and Hephaestion will go back to Alexandria. Everything will go back to the way it should be.”
Lucas took a deep breath.
Varner stared at him.
There was a silence punctuated by the crackling of the fire. It wasn’t burning so hot or so strong anymore. In fact it had returned to it’s original state and seemed to be dwindling. Lucas felt a sinking feeling.
“There’s nothing else I can do, is there?” he asked himself quietly, aloud.
“No,” answered Varner, “There really isn’t. Either you accept my offer, or I have my soldiers kill all of you, and that includes you, Lucas. I can pin your murder on agents working within Baelfire just as easily as I can your abduction. A crowd rallies around a murdered monarch far easier than an endangered one.”
“I…” Lucas felt lost for words, “I don’t understand… why not just kill us all?”
“Because,” said Varner, “I want what is best for you, and for all of Alexandria. I may seem malevolent to you, but believe me when I say that you are young and naive. It’s easy to believe my hand is always working toward a dark purpose, because it gives you a reason to keep hating me. But even if we don’t like one another, I still will do what is best for you.”
“Wait…” said Lucas, “If you’re going to make yourself King, what about me?”
“You’ll remain the Prince, and my heir,” said Varner.
“But they don’t know-”
“They will, eventually,” said Varner, “When the time comes.”
Two men, one very young, one aged, staring at one another from across a clearing, a dwindling fire between them. The young man’s scarf blew in a light breeze behind him, the older man sat still on a fallen tree.
“You had better make your decision quickly, Lucas,” said Varner, “Because our ten minutes will be up very soon.”
“You won’t really let them kill me, will you?”
“Oh, I will,” said Varner, “I want what’s best for you, but if you’re going to be defiant until the end, so be it. My heart is cold enough not to lose any more sleep over your death.”
Lucas narrowed his eyes. The fire jumped back to life. “That’s why I’ll never follow you,” the fire leaped skyward and sparks flew, “That’s why I’ll always oppose you. You are a heartless, thieving, capricious liar!”
There was a rumbling sound.
Varner grinned. “There’s a small army approaching, Lucas.”
Lucas looked around in panic. The trees were shaking.
From the tents, Bronwen and Dexter shot out to Lucas’s side, each holding swords. Imogen and Eric stepped out tentatively from one of the tents, Imogen clasping the Green Book close to her chest.
“Told you,” said Dexter to Bronwen with a smile as they each joined Lucas on either side of him, “I knew he wouldn’t comply with the Chancellor.”
“I suppose I really was wrong about you, Lucas,” Bronwen said quietly, taking up position next to Lucas with her sword ready, “You are braver than I thought.”
Varner narrowed his eyes and stood, drawing his sword. “You will all die as fools.”
The rumbling came closer.
Lucas glared at Varner. “Bring your armies, I don’t care, I will save Hephaestion, and I will stop you.”
Varner drew his sword with a shink! And held it out toward Lucas, “You can try and stop progress all you like, Lucas, but it will happen, whether it’s I who leads the charge or not.”
The rumbling stopped as they stepped out of the forest and into the clearing.
Not soldiers. Wolves. Bears. Stags. Foxes. Wildcats. All of them growling, all of them posed in expressions of hunger.
Varner’s eyes widened as he looked around the clearing.
Sanrin stepped forward from the trees, his white catlike ears pricked up tall, his tail swishing cheerily behind him. He smiled. He spoke.
“Your army is dead, Chancellor Varner.”
“You know,” said Dexter cheerily, “I like him much better this way. He isn’t nearly as threatening.”
The sky was lightening as the daylight approached. Eric yawned sleepily as he propped himself up against one of the tents. Imogen sat by the fallen tree, studying the Green Book. Lucas stood with his arms crossed next to the warmth of the fire. Sanrin sat in the clearing, petting a lynx that lay purring happily next to him. Dexter and Bronwen were both towering over Chancellor Elliot Varner, who was bound with ropes and gagged, sitting propped against a tree, his eyes open but issuing no sound, his face betraying no expression of shock or outrage.
“The question remains as to what we do with him now,” said Bronwen, “More soldiers will be on their way when they learn of what happened.”
“How exactly did they die?” Dexter asked, turning to Sanrin.
Sanrin’s ears pricked up and he glanced up at Dexter, a careless and easy expression on his face, “Well, the animals, naturally. These soldiers have been hunting the wildlife for months, often for sport, and destroying habitats to build strongholds. All the creatures who attempted to protect their homes were ruthlessly murdered. It wasn’t hard to ask them to rally together to stop the soldiers.”
“How did you convince animals that prey on one another to work in collusion?” Bronwen asked.
“Well I suppose it’s a part of what we do,” said Sanrin, “My people communicate with the land itself, as well as it’s creatures. On their own, the inhabitants of the forest wouldn’t have attacked head-on and together, but I was able to convince them to put aside their differences momentarily, and when the fighting was done, I brought them here, and as you saw, they all went home without much fuss.”
“You people really are remarkable,” said Dexter, awestruck.
“I’d like to think so,” Sanrin replied coolly, “It’s a pity the predecessors of people like Chancellor Varner decided to inflict genocide upon us.” Varner shifted in his place but said nothing. The lynx looked up curiously at the sound, then closed it’s eyes and resumed napping.
“Still,” said Bronwen, “You may have stopped his retinue of soldiers, and those already stationed nearby, but more will come, and we need to decide what it is we do with him.”
“We could bring him with us,” said Dexter, “Have him confess to Baelfire his involvement in his crimes, then we could free Hephaestion and depose Varner as ruler of Alexandria.”
“I doubt it would be that simple,” said Bronwen, “It’s still a long journey to Baelfire, and when the Church learns of this they won’t be keen on losing him. We will have two factions, the Alexandrian army and the forces of the Church, looking for us, while we travel with a prisoner in tow. Even if we made it to Baelfire, he could still deny his involvement in his crimes, we have no proof, and we can’t count on his testimony. Showing up with both Lucas and the Alexandrian Chancellor bound and gagged just makes us look the more guilty.”
“Right,” said Dexter, and he drew his sword, placing it against Varner’s neck with an absent and unconcerned expression. He glanced over at Lucas, “Do we kill him then?”
Lucas looked away from the fire, “Go ahead, just don’t make a mess.”
Dexter shrugged. “Well,” he said to Varner, “Looks like you’re going out the same way those who got in your way did.”
“Wait!” shouted Eric, “We can’t just kill him! What does that say about us?”
“That we are men of action?” suggested Dexter with a lighthearted smile.
“Or that we’re no better than he is,” offered Imogen, looking up from the Book, “Murderers.”
“It isn’t as though he doesn’t deserve it,” said Dexter in the same carefree tone, “We would be avenging those who he’s murdered.”
Bronwen folded her arms and said nothing.
“Sanrin?” asked Dexter.
Sanrin shrugged, “You can do it, I can do it, I can ask a tiger to do it, however you like, really.”
“We’re being awfully flippant about murdering someone, don’t you think?” asked Eric.
“Let him die,” said Lucas coldly, “He’d kill us all himself if he had the chance. In fact, he did have the chance very recently and if not for Sanrin we’d all be dead.”
“Right,” said Dexter, “Then I’m counting three votes for killing him, two against, and one undecided.” He smiled at Varner, “Majority rules, I’m afraid.”
Varner glared silently at Dexter.
Dexter drew his sword back.
“Don’t,” said Bronwen.
Dexter sighed and rolled his eyes, “Bronwen, I was just about to kill him. Can’t I do anything fun around you?”
“He’s protected by the Church,” said Bronwen. “We kill him, and the Angel comes after us.”
“The Angel isn’t any more interested in his safety,” said Dexter, gesturing to Varner with his free hand, “Than he is in ours. To the Angel, Varner is a tool, just as the Church is a tool to the Chancellor.”
“Inevra will no doubt be here soon,” said Bronwen, “It may best to simply leave him here. If he’s found murdered, it may not help our case.”
“Actually,” offered Sanrin, “His entire squad of soldiers will be found mauled to death by wildlife. I can have him killed in just the same way and no humans will be suspected at all. The animals are still hungry.”
“He isn’t our concern,” said Bronwen, “Speaking with Baelfire is. Killing him doesn’t change a thing. If we kill him, Alexandria will be thrown into chaos, with no Chancellor to lead them, the Senate will be furiously debating who should take control.”
“What about their prince?” offered Eric.
Lucas turned to Eric, “I’m not ruling Alexandria. And besides, it’s against the law.”
“If there were ever a time to amend the law, it would be now,” said Eric.
“May I offer a suggestion?” said a voice.
Everyone in the clearing, including Varner, turned to look toward the shadow where the voice had come.
He stepped forward.
A tall man, wearing a tightly-fitted black coat, with long and straight dark hair, and eyes the color of charcoal. He wore a gentle expression, and his eyes seemed to convey innocence, peacefulness. His hands were in his pockets as he smiled toward the assembled.
“Good God,” whispered Bronwen.
“Well, not exactly,” said the man.
Bronwen lunged forward from her position and stood by the campfire, drawing her blade and holding it ready, an expression of caution on her face. “Everyone, run.”
Sanrin stood up, “Who is this?” The lynx by him stood and stretched, seemingly unconcerned.
“I am so unused to introducing myself,” said the man in a calm and soothing voice, “But I will do it,” He bowed low, humbly, with a smile, “I am Drosselmeyer, representative of the Unknown God, Angel of the Heavens, arbiter of all mankind, and bringer of miracles as well as destruction to the unfaithful.” He stood straight. “A pleasure to meet all of you. I’ve heard so much from Inevra.”
There was a communal intake of breath. Dexter came and joined Bronwen by her side, his sword ready. Lucas stared, dumbfounded. Eric stepped back in shock. Imogen stood instantly, closing her book and holding it close to her. Varner looked on wordlessly.
This was a scene that I came up with at work, and took care to write down some of the dialogue into my phone and email it to myself. As it happened, when it came time to write this scene, I had absolutely none of that dialogue available to me, as it was still lost somewhere in my email and unavailable to me due to lack of internet connectivity. Still, I thought this scene had a lot of potential, and I really enjoyed the idea of Chancellor Varner and Lucas sitting down and having a real conversation in the midst of all the drama and turmoil. It’s worth noting that this scene contains an experimental character I named Sanrin, as I have an affinity for elf-life or otherwise non-human people with connection to the flora and fauna of nature. A cautionary note, this scene ends somewhat abruptly.