Villain, 26

Like Anything Else, Conspiracies Are Sometimes Unraveled with Sudden Breakthroughs

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“I have to say,” Jocelyn said, as Sam led her to the dining room. “It’s a nice change to have the king always come up and get me in person. Your father never did that.”

“Maybe he was just afraid of heights,” Sam said, though he was pretty sure that wasn’t why. It was because Solomon had had Sam and his siblings to send up—other sorcerers who Jocelyn couldn’t overpower and who were replaceable if she did. Sam only had Henry.

Jocelyn laughed. “Then what was he thinking building his castle on the side of a mountain?”

“Maybe he was an idiot,” Sam muttered. Henry moved ahead of them and pulled a door open, letting them into the dining room, where supper had been set out for them. Henry had been very good about doing what Sam wanted—quietly—in the last little while. “Have a seat, eat.”

“Why, thank you,” Jocelyn said. The two of them sat, and she clinked some dishes. Sam let Henry get his food for him, then Henry sat with them. “I do hope it’s not poisoned.”

“Poison is a coward’s weapon,” Sam told her. “If I wanted to kill you I’d use magic or something sharp.”

“Duly noted.” With a pouring of wine, Jocelyn prepared to eat. Sam picked up his fork as well, not waiting for her. “So what brings you to summon me today, your Majesty?” Jocelyn asked, in that almost mocking tone she always used.

Sam didn’t answer immediately, collecting his thoughts. He’d brought her all the way here. He’d seem like an idiot if he didn’t say it. “I went to see your son a while ago.”

The movement of Jocelyn’s dishes stopped, her end of the table going quiet for a moment. “Did you now?” she asked after that moment, fork moving on her plate. “How is he doing?”

“He seemed fine to me,” Sam said, putting some meat into his mouth and chewing. “He wants to kill you.”

“No doubt.”

“He doesn’t seem very smart,” Sam continued, swallowing. “I tricked him into thinking I was some poor soul trapped in my father’s evil legacy and that I need help escaping it.”

“Hm…” Jocelyn thought about that for a moment, then she let out a laugh. “Did you? That sounds like the sort of tripe he’d fall for.”

“He told me he’d help me if I brought him you and your family.”

The silence returned. Sam reached for his cup, sipped some wine, tried not to make a face. Why did people like wine? “Of course,” he added, after a moment. “I have no reason to actually do that. I was just telling him what he wanted to hear.”

“Well, I’m pleased to hear you don’t plan to sell me to him.” Jocelyn’s voice was even.

“Not at all. I intend to kill him as soon as I can.”

“Oh, that’s reassuring,” Jocelyn said. “Someone has to and I can’t.”

“You can’t?”

“Well, if you’ve met him, I’m sure you’ve noticed he’s somewhat more powerful than I am,” Jocelyn said. “In fact, you’re the only person I can think of who might be able to overpower him.”

Fuck. If their plan was going to involve Sam overpowering James, that was going to be a problem. He tried to keep himself under control, clearing his throat. “Why’d you piss him off so much if he was so powerful? Keeping him on your side would have been smarter.”

“No kidding,” Jocelyn drawled. “I assumed he’d do as I told him. I was wrong. Much like your father was wrong about you. The difference being that James was too much of a coward to kill me when he had the chance.”

Sam sighed, leaned forward on the table. “Well, we’ll make him regret that, won’t we?”

“Yes. If I may make a suggestion?”

“Go ahead,” Sam said, wondering what on the table smelled like that. It wasn’t strong, but it had a nice smell. He bet it tasted good. Hopefully Henry had put some of it on his plate.

“Lure him here when you want to attack him.”

And let James destroy Sam’s castle? That seemed like a terrible idea. “Why?”

“Because he’s a witch. His power is drawn from the forest he lives in, and especially from his own home. If you went to my house and met him there, you were where he’s at his strongest.”

Sam straightened, feeling lighter all of the sudden. “Bringing him here will weaken him.”

“Yes. Why do you think your father always insisted that I come here? He wasn’t averse to leaving his castle for meetings from what I understand, but he never came to my island. Obviously you’re a much braver king than he was.”

“Obviously,” Sam said, not really listening anymore. Henry brushed his leg under the table, but nothing else. He was remarkably docile the last little while, since Sam had punished him. Sam had expected it, but not to that degree. “Thank you for the advice. It will make my job a little easier.” And if James came here, Sam could set up spells in advance, shields and wards and magic to dampen James’s power before he could even touch it.

“Will you pay me back by letting me be here when you kill him?”

Sam only hesitated for a second. “Of course. I’ll let you know when I intend to have him here. I’m in the process of trying to track down Solomon’s other allies.”

“Any luck?”

“No. He didn’t keep an itinerary,” Sam said. “I’ve been waiting for one of them to contact me, but nothing so far.”

“You got a letter yesterday,” Henry said quietly.

Sam blinked, turning a little, a scowl on his face. “And you’re telling me now?”

“They only told me this morning.” Henry’s tone was oddly accusatory, and Sam wondered how in the world that could be his fault. “And I tried to tell you this morning. You told me not to bother you.”

Sam remembered that. He’d been working on the stupid magic-blocking collar, which was a lot more difficult to finish than he’d hoped it would be. “Tell me now.”

“It’s not signed. I have it here if you want me to read it to you.”

“Read it,” Sam said, scooping up some more food.

Henry shifted, and there was a crinkling of paper. “I shouldn’t have had to hear your father died second-hand. The Grand Coven is planning to move against you, but slowly. We should meet, your Majesty.”

Sam waited for the rest, but Henry was done. “That’s it?”

“That’s all it says. It was delivered magically. It appeared on a metal plate in the tower.”

“It was sent by a witch, which I suppose the mention of the Coven makes clear,” Jocelyn said, voice a little dangerous. “So Solomon was working behind my back after all.”

“I don’t care what Solomon was doing. I want to send a message back to this person, tell them I want them to come here and meet me.” So James had met with all his witch friends, by the sound of it.

“I’ll write it, but I don’t know how to send it,” Henry said.

“I can help you with that.” Jocelyn paused. “It might, perhaps, behoove you to take a look around your castle, see if you have any other magical communication devices that might lead you to other people your father was friends with. I can help with that too.”

She was right, and she was more qualified to point those out than either Sam or Henry. But that meant trusting her. Sam hesitated again, swallowing. “I can take you to his study, to the tower, to the library.”

“If I see anything interesting, I’ll let you know.”

“If you lie to Sam,” Henry said, voice quiet. “I’ll cut your throat.”

Sam could almost taste Jocelyn’s smile. Maybe it matched his own. He really liked that tone of voice from Henry. “My, aren’t you charming?”

“I try my best.”

A laugh. “It doesn’t benefit me to lie. I need to know who Solomon’s secret allies were just as much as you two do.”

“Good.” Sam picked up his wine cup again. “Let’s eat, then we can conspire. Once we know who these people are, maybe we can find out what the fuck my father was doing and if it’s worth keeping up.”

“God willing.”

“Someone willing, anyway,” Sam grumbled, taking a drink. This was going to be a long evening.

He brushed Henry’s leg under the table as he did.

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