King Christofer of Camelot crumpled the message in his hand and threw it against the wall. What was King Lot up to now?
Sir Vincent, Vin to his friends, spoke up from behind him. “Bad news?”
Chris whirled around, startled to see his friend there. The man was like a shadow, the way he blended in sometimes. “King Lot has allowed bandits to come from his country unimpeded to assault outlying villages here, even though he agreed to put a stop to it years ago in the treaty he made with King Uther. Now he sends me this message to let me know that ‘perhaps he hasn’t been as diligent as he could’ve been’ in honoring his part of the agreement. He’s promised no more bandits will be using his lands to hide or launch attacks from.”
“That’s a good thing, isn’t it?”
“The man’s a snake! We know good and well that he was using the bandits to weaken our kingdom. I know he’s been secretly backing them, even supplying them with ships, but I can’t prove it. I won’t challenge him without proof. Now all of a sudden he wants to turn over a new leaf? He’s scheming something, Vin. I just can’t figure out what. And he also wants to send us his foster son as a guarantor of the peace.”
“Sort of as a hostage? If he breaks his word, you get to imprison or execute his kin?”
“That’s how it’s supposed to work. It’s not all that uncommon for kings and lords to exchange or foster each other’s sons as a show of good faith.”
“Then maybe he’s sincere?”
“Not King Lot. The man doesn’t have a sincere bone in his body. There’s something else going on here. All I know is he’s sending us a Lord Ezra Standish. The man’s either a spoiled royal brat or a conniving weasel like Lot. I don’t want him, but I can’t refuse him. If I don’t accept him as one of my knights, I’ll be giving Lot a reason to start more trouble. He wouldn’t ignore such an insult. I can’t sacrifice the peace just because I personally don’t want his spy and lackey here. Politics!”
Vin smirked. “Maybe he won’t be so bad.”
“Who won’t be so bad?” Nathan stepped into the room, the others behind him.
“The new knight King Lot’s sending us.”
JD shook his head. Anything that came from that man had to be bad tidings.
Vin picked up the note and handed it to Nathan. The dark man was one of the few of them that could actually read. In his native land, all the children were taught to read—not just the wealthy or noble. Nathan stared at the parchment. “The King’s foster son? A real lord, born and bred? I know what he’s going to be like.” The disgust was plain in his voice.
Josiah wagged a finger at him. “Now, Brother. We have yet to meet the man. Perhaps he’ll surprise you.”
“Josiah. King Lot is one of the wealthiest, most powerful kings around. His foster son’s been raised in luxury his whole life, with people to wait on him hand and foot. What kind of person do you think he’ll be—especially being brought up by Lot and that conniving wife of his? And he won’t like it that he has to associate with us, either. A bunch of commoners. Chris is the only one of us who even has noble blood and some people still call him the bumpkin king behind his back. You know this man’s going to be looking down his nose at us.”
Josiah was disappointed in Nathan for his prejudice, but he understood. Nathan’s family had been captured and enslaved to the nobility until the day he’d saved Chris’s life. Chris had then bought him and the members of his family still living and set them free. Nathan chose to follow Chris as a knight and a healer, but the pain and indignities he’d suffered as a slave still burned near the surface. “Give him a chance. Let him earn your contempt, Nathan.”
Nathan was silent at that, but his opinion hadn’t changed. This new man was trouble.
Chris spoke up. “In any case, I’m counting on all of you to help keep an eye on him. I don’t trust anyone Lot would send me.”
“When’s he getting here?”
“The message said he should be arriving in about four weeks.”
“Too bad for him he’ll miss the big wedding and the tourney afterwards.”
Chris’s jaw tightened perceptibly at the mention of the wedding.
Buck’s voice was softer. “You know, Chris, you are the High King. Nobody can really make you do anything. If you don’t want to marry Princess Mary of Travis—don’t.”
Chris shook his head. “I’ve learned my lesson about duty, Buck. I don’t want to marry her, but it’s a good match. King Orrin is an honorable man and a staunch ally. His widowed daughter-in-law is an intelligent, decent woman. I’d be a fool not to make this alliance marriage. I was selfish before, with Sarah. I don’t regret any of our time together, but I chose her over duty and started a war because of it. I won’t do that again. Camelot is my primary concern now. This is what’s best for the country, for the people. And I need an heir, Buck. If something were to happen to me, the other lords would tear Camelot apart like hungry wolves. Everything we’ve worked so hard to build would’ve been for nothing. I’ll do my duty. In three weeks, Camelot will have her queen.” Chris stalked from the room.