Chapter Seven

They walked in a small circle, clapped, and then spun and twisted past each other as the music thrummed into the ground. Yet the noise seemed strangely blocked out as Maki moved, the scabbard of his sword knocking slightly against his leg as he spun again, then clapped, his gaze fixed on the bowed head of the tall woman before him.

For a peasant, she danced remarkably well. There was fluidness about her movements, a carefree confidence of spirit and fire as she turned and clapped in time with him. Her presence alone suddenly seemed to make the fires in the night burn brighter around them, larger, the flames leaping higher. Something about her caught his eye though. Her right arm was injured. He wondered briefly about it.

And then the inner court erupted.


The arrow, loosened, whistled through the air just as the prince moved forward to place his drink down on the table. Silent speed caught the new king in the shoulder and pinned him forcefully to the wall as he turned back. Screams and shouts rose to a tumultuous crescendo as the mob began to shove, push and force their way out.

The prince disappeared from view, but from where he stood he could see the soldiers coming in, all the members of the elite Prince’s Guard. He would have to leave before the captain discovered them. With a silent snarl, Kogure leapt off the sill and retreated.


It’s him, I know it’s him, Rukawa’s heart was pounding furiously as the world seemed to swoop and dive before his eyes. The crimson that was pooling around him, the shouts that surrounded him, the deafening noise as the shrieks increased in intensity, seemed distant and muffled. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a shadow detach itself from the ceiling window at the far end of the room, before disappearing into the night.


As the mob stampeded thoughtlessly into the garden, Maki whirled around, his hand flying to the hilt of his sword. Something’s happened! I knew it! I should never have left the king alone!

He fought against the rush of people as they swarmed past him, his heart constricting as he was pushed further, back, away from his goal. With a last determined growl, he swept past the thinning crowd and crossed the high threshold of the inner court.

The king lay on the ground, where a tableau of blood and riches framed him. The crown sparkled coldly in the candlelight, and the face beneath it was waxen pale. Maki forced his way past the rest of the guards and knelt on the ground.

"My liege," he choked out. Relief sang through him as sharply as a blade when the monarch blinked, then reached out. He caught the hand in a respectful bow, all the while his heart screaming at his own ineptitude.

"Get…me…a healer…will you…Maki? These…these people…" a soft laugh, bubbling with fresh blood over pale lips, "…are too…busy…staring…at…me… thinking…I’m going…to…die…"

Was he trying to crack a joke? It wasn’t funny!

"Get a healer!" he shouted, his arms going around the slim body of the young king and lifting him up whole like a baby. "Now!"