Villain, 38

Travelling Takes You to All Kinds of Fascinating Places

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Sam was sore all over, but at least this time was just from riding in the carriage all day. The wooden bench and walls weren’t comfortable to sit on, to lean against. He was tired and nodding off, but the jolting of the carriage kept waking him up again. “Please kill the carriage driver,” Sam grumbled after the fifteenth time it had happened.

Henry snorted, pulling Sam closer to him. Sam refused to rest his head on Henry’s shoulder, no matter what. “It’s not his fault the roads are shit.”

“Then kill whoever’s fault it is that the roads are shit,” Sam snapped, annoyed.

Henry was quiet. Sam was quiet too. The cart bounced again.

“It’s my fault, isn’t it?”

“Solomon didn’t use enough of his tax money to keep up infrastructure,” Henry said. “You maintained his spending habits with the size of your armed force. Every time I’ve tried to bring it up you’ve just brushed me off or ignored me entirely.”

Sam snorted. “As if I’m to believe you haven’t taken over my treasury too? Don’t fucking use me as an excuse, Henry. You forgot that the roads needed to be fixed and you know it.”

Henry was quiet again, a different, dangerous quiet this time. Sam didn’t say anything. The cart hit another hole in the road. “I should hit you for that.”

“Fucking go ahead,” Sam muttered, too tired for self-preservation. Henry would hit him if he wanted to, there wasn’t anything he could do about it. “You hit me all the time anyway. At least this time I’d deserve it.”

Henry laughed, taking Sam’s hand in his. “True. You should try to sleep. You didn’t last night like I told you.”

“I’m not tired,” Sam said, willing himself not to yawn as he said it. It worked, but only for a few seconds, and he eventually did, trying to hide it as just a regular inhalation.

“Sure,” Henry said. “Fine. We’re almost there anyway, you can sleep when we arrive.”

“You want me to sleep through putting down a rebellion?” Sam sneered. “Am I that unnecessary?”

“We won’t be putting down any rebellions today,” Henry said. “It’s late. We’re going to stop in Jdinrma-Hash.”

“That’s…” Sam tried to remember. He knew this, he did. “The centre of the plateau.”

“More or less,” Henry agreed. “It’s the biggest settlement in Ech’kent.”

“I know that.” It was the closest thing the region had to a capital. It was positioned across the Dragon River, which had a different name in Chez’n, but Sam couldn’t remember it. It controlled access to the biggest freshwater basin in the plateau, and the gem mines just to the southwest. “The rebellion is here?”

“No,” Henry said, sighing. “It’s a little farther east. Sounds like it’s headquartered in Endlyn. We can get there in about three hours tomorrow. Hopefully it won’t be too hard to put a stop to.”

Sam didn’t know Endlyn, it was probably one of the many small villages that made up the Plateau. “We should just go there now. Put a stop to it and turn around.”

“We could,” Henry said, squeezing Sam’s hand. “But someone’s too tired because he didn’t sleep last night.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Henry, treat me like a prisoner, but I’m not a fucking child!”

The carriage stopped, and Sam tensed a little. Henry opened the door. “We’re here,” he said, hopping out. “Come on.”

Sam sat for a minute more, calming down. He could hear people out there. But eventually he stood, reaching out for Henry’s hand, and letting Henry pull him out of the carriage.

He nearly stumbled when his feet hit the unpaved road, but Henry steadied him. He could hear people murmuring. “There’s a crowd,” Sam said.

“They wanted to see the king,”

Sam snorted, trying to walk tall. “Wanted to see him trip.”

“No. They wanted to see if he was real.”

“And you wanted them to see that he was just a boy with a collar on.” Sam wasn’t stupid. He knew Henry was doing this to humiliate him. He could hear them murmuring.

“That’s not what they see, Sam, trust me. Let’s go.”

“Go where?” Sam demanded, as they started walking.

“Up the road just a bit. It’s not far.” Henry sounded like he wasn’t nearly as calm as he was pretending.

Sam was suspicious. “Why didn’t we just stop in front of the inn?”

“Because.” Henry put a hand on Sam’s shoulder. “The people want to see the king.”

Sam just sighed. “Fine. Let’s go.”

They walked through the crowd, to some muttering, some cheering, some other sounds. Flanked by Sam’s guards on all sides, their path was clear. He did his best to ignore the people. The road seemed to go on for a good while, but eventually the sounds of the crowd, the oppressive push of people, faded, and they were walking down a quieter stretch of road.

They transitioned to walking on gravel. “Where are we?”

“Where I thought we could stay,” Henry said quietly.

“Sir,” one of the guards said. “We haven’t canvassed this building. We don’t know if it’s empty, or if it’s safe.”

“It’s fine,” Henry said, guiding Sam forward. “Set up a perimeter, will you?”

“Yes, sir.”

The guard moved off, boots crunching the gravel. The other moved to secure the area, leaving Sam and Henry alone. “This isn’t an inn,” Sam accused.

“No,” Henry said. “I didn’t think you’d like an inn. Too many people. This is more private.”

Henry was right about that, but Sam also didn’t like being taken away to parts unknown without his knowledge. “What is it, then, a gravel pit?” He caught a whiff of something on the air, ashes, maybe. “Or a fire pit, maybe.”

“It is pretty burned,” Henry admitted. He said nothing else until they’d passed through a doorway, wood brushing Sam’s hand as he went in. “But it’s mostly still standing. It should be fine as long as we avoid the worst parts.”

“Henry, answer my fucking question,” Sam growled.

“Yeah. This is home,” Henry said, putting his arm around Sam’s middle, holding him. “This is Arkhewer Manor.”

“What…” Arkhewer Manor had been destroyed when the family had been. Or so Sam had assumed. He should have known it wouldn’t be that easy. After all, House Arkhewer wasn’t as destroyed as it should be either.

“We’ve been in your house for a long time. Figured we could visit mine while we were in the area.” Sam didn’t know what to say. He felt…weird here. Like he shouldn’t be here. Henry stood there quietly for a minute, then let go of Sam’s body, taking his hand instead. “Come on. My bedroom is this way. You can sleep there.”

Sam had no choice but to let Henry drag him through the ruins of his family home, and all the while Sam felt like an intruder.

Or maybe, he realized much later, a trophy.

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