Magnus sat in his office, pouring over papers received that morning. The work of the King’s Official Advisor was never done, he reflected as a servant brought him his morning coffee. King Ingmar was a fair man, though rigid by tradition and obsessed by the welfare of the nation, rather than the people. Sighing, he wondered which threats he would have to stave off this month – a rebellious lord here, a political upheaval there. The kingdom of Krova would never be utopian, but Magnus already knew that. He found the game of power to often be about making the least worst decision.
He had taken only a single sip of coffee and dipped his quill in ink when a guard from outside the door interrupted.
“Begging your pardon, m’lord, but there’s a child here to see you,” said the guard, a young woman who he think had started next week.
“Most likely Petra. Can you check?” asked Magnus. Assassins came in all shapes, sizes and ages these days.
“Yes, m’lord,” said the guard, and returned moments later to confirm that yes, the child was named Petra.
“Send her in, then,” said Magnus.
Petra entered the room, seemingly annoyed that guards had stopped her. She was Magnus’s bastard daughter, fathered on some kitchen maid he had taken a liking to twelve years ago. Though the girl’s mother had since passed, Magnus kept his daughter around, for she was his only child (that he knew of), and he loved her unconditionally. He found her work as a palace servant, and she would report whisperings and gossip from around the palace, so that he might keep abreast of the local mood. He had taught her to read, and one day hoped to train her in the art of politics, so that she might take his place as Hjalmar’s advisor when he inherited the Krovan throne.
“Why do the guards keep stopping me from seeing you?” she demanded of her father.
Magnus shook his head. “That guard is new. She was right to clarify your identity and business before you were allowed access to me. Keep that in mind, child; it might save your life one day.”
Petra shrugged. “I guess. It’s just annoying. Anyway, I have something to tell you, Papa.”
She regaled him of how she had followed Prince Hjalmar through the palace grounds, curious as to what he was up to on a cold winter’s morning outside.
He had ducked under a bush, and there, talked with a young woman about running away together that evening. They had kissed ‘the adult way’ as Petra referred to it, and were clearly in love.
“Who was she? Did you catch her name?” asked Magnus, leaning forward, feeling his stomach fall.
“No, sorry Papa,” said Petra. “But I don’t think she was from the palace. She sounded common.”
Shocked, Magnus paused to take all that in. Prince Hjalmar, heir to the throne of Krova, planning to elope with a peasant? It was inconceivable. He knew that the prince liked to frequent taverns to drink and party, but he thought he would one day grow out of that. Never did he think Prince Hjalmar could do something like this – jeopardise the future of Krova and stain the name of House Stenvarg.
He had to inform the king.
“Thank you for telling me this, Petra,” said Magnus, trying not to tense as he gave his daughter a hug. “Return to your duties, and I will see you for lunch.”
When Petra was gone, he set down his quill, left his coffee to go cold, and headed to the royal chambers with anxiety in his heart.
King Ingmar was penning a letter at his own desk, which was twice the size of Magnus’s, and had images of wolves carved into its side. The stone wolf was the emblem of House Stenvarg, as legend had it that the first Stenvarg king of Krova, Absalon the First, rode a giant wolf into battle. Magnus never believed it himself, as Ulvaeun wolves were wild beasts that submitted to no human. Still, legends had certain uses, and if not, they were at least entertaining.
“Ah, Magnus,” the king said, looking up from his letter. “Good morning to you.”
“Good morning, Your Highness,” said Magnus, bowing. “Sorry to disturb your corresponding.”
“It matters not,” said Ingmar, setting his quill in its pot. “I was merely writing an expression of good wishes to Prince Gideon Fyedragon of Cantaria, for his upcoming birthday.”
Magnus had to stop himself from snorting. Half a year ago, the kingdom of Cantaria, far away on the southern continent of Lennon, was gripped by a brief civil war. King Ingmar had sent letters offering military support to the side opposing the crown, led by Lord Wallace Harper, who the Stenvargs had dined with over seven years ago, at the coronation of King Erik Björnssen of Skjælvarden. House Harper lost, and the Fyedragons continued to be the ruling power in Cantaria. Still, that was the game of politics. Enemies one day, friends the next.
The king noticed Magnus’s look. “I still wish Wallace Harper had ascended the Cantarian throne. He was foolish to reject my support. His daughter would have made a fine match for Hjalmar. I hope he is rueing his mistake in whatever hell he landed himself in.”
Magnus swallowed nervously – his heartbeat had increased rapidly the moment he entered the king’s study. Whatever mood Ingmar was in, it was bound to worsen significantly momentarily. “Your Highness, on the topic of Hjalmar… I bring you disturbing news.”
The king gave him a sharp look. “What is it? Has something befallen him?”
“Not yet, though perhaps the madness of love has seized him…” said Magnus, and relayed to him what Petra had told him.
Ingmar was silent for an uncomfortably long time, giving the minister a strange look. “You are sure of this, Magnus? Such faith you must have in a bastard girl.”
“She’s my daughter, Your Highness,” Magnus reminded him in a careful yet strong tone. “And she has no reason to lie to me. Yes, I believe what Petra told me. Hjalmar wants to run away, tonight.”
The king shook his head. “My son would not be so foolish to defy me. The kingdom’s stability could be at risk.”
“Begging your pardon, Your Highness, but this is Hjalmar we are talking about…” said Magnus gently. “He has always been quite reckless. Drinking in taverns, fraternising with commoners, and the amount of women he has brought to the castle…”
“He knows he must marry nobility,” said Ingmar. “Your bastard daughter is sure she witnessed my son, with a peasant?”
“Petra saw what she saw, Your Highness,” said Magnus. “You know I would not bring you this information unless I thought it serious.”
The king let out a long sigh. “I know, Magnus. I am just… shocked. This is disturbing news.” He stood up, overshadowing the minister by over a foot.
“What would you advise?”
Magnus pursed his lips. “Do not let him leave the castle. The moment he steps outside, I imagine he will be gone. That cannot happen.”
“A week in the dungeons should set him straight. Teach him never to betray his House again,” said Ingmar.
“Your Highness, I fear that might be a shade too drastic,” said Magnus. “Castle servants would speak, and it would soon become the talk of the town. Why not keep him in his chambers until tomorrow morning?”
“And this girl must be found as well,” said the king, appearing to not hear him. “Did your bastard hear her name?”
“No,” said Magnus, annoyed that the king would never use his daughter’s name. Krova had always been traditional, and children born out of wedlock tended to be looked down upon; it was one element of the kingdom Magnus wished would change. “Only that she intended to meet Hjalmar by the King Absalon statue tonight.”
King Ingmar stroked his chin. “Very well. I would like you to summon Captain Ragnar. That peasant who thinks she can steal away my heir is going to get an unpleasant surprise.”