by Floyd Looney
“What be you goin' on about now, eh?” The old man with few teeth asked the hag of a woman whose hair poked out under a cloth cap like straw. Both dressed in dirty rags like everyone else in this fetid city.
“I seen it!” She insisted, with a hiss and wide eyes as if she had seen an apparition.
“You're making it up. Dreamin, I'd say,” the man told her. He looked back and forth to see if anyone else was out and about and saw hardly a soul, no one else paid them any mind. He almost made a start at seeing a dead horse farther up the block.
“No, I seen it. I saw a room with lights and buttons...” She was saying, the man grabbed her arms roughly and pulled her inside the shack.
“Now you listen, witch,” he told her, “Don't you be spreadin' these stories, you hear? They be the dragon people, you never talk about the dragon people. They know if you talk about them, they'll find you and make you disappear.”
The womans face bunched up into a hideous smile, “I not care if I dis-pear. Life ain't worth nothing no way. If'n you want me to not talk, you gives me food!”
Dorgan closed his eyes and sighed. Sure, he could give her some spuds and maybe a couple turnips but she'd only be back for more in a couple days. The old bat didn't know nothing about the Brotherhood, but she had seen something she shouldn't have. Eventually, she was going to have to be put out of action.
Just not today.
“I give you some food, you forget about the lights and the dragon people. If you be telling anyone, they take your life away,” Dorgan told her, she didn't care. She was just wanting the food, it was hard to come by these days.
He grabbed some spuds, turnips and an ear of corn from the cupboard. Dorgan watched her stuff everything in her pockets. She seemed happy as a clam. That night she would make a stew of it and eat her fill. Dorgan pitied her, times were hard for everyone, but it didn't make anything easier.
“Just don't be looking happy when you leave! You'd be robbed before you walk to corner,” he told her as he untied the rope and pulled the door open for her. After she left he tied it up again. Then he went back to the kitchen and opened another small door near the cupboard. It had a combination lock, he set in the numbers and pulled it open.
Inside there was a ladder that went down. He climbed down the forty rungs to the bottom and turned directly around toward the only door that wasn't impending death. It was barely lit, but there were eight doors all around the tiny chamber. Only one wouldn't kill you.
He pulled it open and found himself in the antechamber and needed a different code for the door he found there. After he punched it in, he opened it and entered the hive. There were six members of the Brotherhood at the display units, one of them looked up.
“Dorgan, you could have just slit her throat and been done with it,” The clean-shaven younger man said with a grin, “You might have to do it in a few days anyway.”
“We won't miss a few potatoes.”
The man laughed, “Of course not. Now get out of those stinking rags and get in uniform, we have a meeting soon about the situation in London. It seems one of the little princes is about to be killed in an attempted regicide by an uncle seeking the throne.”
Dorgan shook his head. “Can we fix it? If we save the boys life, does he grow up to kill his brother for the throne?”
The young man shrugged, “Not my call. Whatever makes more future profit, I guess.”
The conference room was full of blue short-sleeves and white name-tags. Dorgan was the oldest one present, his job as Topside Liaison brought him into contact with outsiders, where age brought a certain amount of respect.
“Prince Hubert, brother of the King who is about to kick the bucket, is going to make a play for the throne as soon as the death is confirmed. He has one of his loyal swords working in the royal dining room, this man is instructed to kill Prince James and Prince Charles at the signal,” The mid-30's Chief told those gathered, a large screen behind him had images of the people he named, or “players” as the Brotherhood called them.
“We know that he'll have time to kill only one and that he kills Charles in most of the time-lines that we have surveyed. Which normally leads to King James who almost always rules pretty wisely, but not always. This time we want to try something new. Instead of seeing James killed, which never worked well, we want to see both boys survive.”
The people around the room muttered to each other and some people were nodding their heads.
The man opened a folder, “I think it would be best to send Lester to work at the castle, we have an “in” of course. Lester is trained in sword fighting and since he knows what is about to happen, he can get the drop on Hubert's assassin and pin the blame on Hubert as well.”
Lester hadn't been topside before. Dorgan stood up, “Isn't he a bit green to be sent on such an assignment?”
The Chief nodded slightly, “Well, that is true, and we have recognized that. This is why we aren't sending him alone.”
Dorgan didn't like where that was going.
“Which is why you are going with him.”
And there it was. What rotten luck. Dorgan wished to spend as little time up top as necessary but now he would be away for an extended amount of time. This was not a good thing, the longer you were outside of the stasis, the harder it was to get back in.
The King was ill and the retinue and courtiers were waiting hand and foot for their ailing master, while gossiping about the future. Very few paid attention to the boys who were woken, dressed and escorted downstairs by their personal attendants.
“Good morning Charles,” A sunny James told his brother as they entered, seeing each other for the first time since the previous breakfast.
“Hello, James.” Charles answered. Both boys were worried about their father, the King, but Charles was having a harder time putting up a brave face. Dorgan could tell from all the way across the room as he started stirring the porridge again. Several other servants scuttled about, and there was Lester near the window in a ridiculous uniform with frills about the neck, Dorgan thought it looked clownish.
Suddenly there was a shout upstairs and the sound of a breaking vase. One of the guards moved away from the door and strode quickly toward the boys who were still surprised by the noises, thinking it had to do with their father. The guard pulled out his sword as he walked, then Lester did the same moving from the other direction.
“Get down!” Dorgan shouted and both boys suddenly became alert and climbed under the table just as Lester and the guard swung their swords at each other. It was Lester who took the brunt and lost his balance, then the other man took advantage and slashed Lester on his sword arm at the shoulder, causing him to drop his sword.
“Stop!” Dorgan shouted and threw a container of hot porridge at the swordsman, which hit him in the face as he looked for its source. The hot stew burned him too and he screamed as he dropped the sword to try and wipe it off of his skin. Dorgan swiftly moved and shoved a large knife into the mans gut, upward toward the vital organs.
The man collapsed and Dorgan helped him fall slowly and soon laid the body on the floor.
Young James and Charles, still preteens were out from under the table when many of the courtiers and servants ran into the dining hall.
“Oh, good heavens!” A school-marmish woman yelled and ran to the boys.
“What happened here?” An officer in the royal guards demanded.
“That man on the floor attacked us, these men saved our lives,” Young James told everyone. Lester! Dorgan moved to where he was lying against the wall cradling his bloody right arm.
“This man is injured, he needs help.”
Several servants swarmed over and carried Lester away.
“That assassin was working for Prince Hubert,” Dorgan told them, “I've seen them together.”
Then James and Charles got a good look at the dead man, “It's Taro! That's Prince Huberts right-hand man!”
The newly crowned King James declared Dorgan as “Savior-Protector” which came with a weighty medal around his neck and a pension of 20 pound a year. The King also asked Dorgan to stay, to act as a surrogate father. Prince Hubert, who should have fulfilled such a role, was set to be executed the next morning.
“You, as Regent, can help rule the kingdom until I'm old enough!” The boy told him.
“Me?” Dorgan asked. He was going to reject the offer, he had to really, but he saw a look swiftly cross Charles' face and vanish. Something about that fleeting face made him think about it.
“If I may be of service, your majesty, I will do as asked. I do not know how long I can remain in your service, but I shall obey.” He said, kneeling.
“Splendid!” The boy king said, cheerily.
Dorgan had sent Lester back to the Brotherhood. There had to be some way to fix this, he didn't want to spend too much time away from Stasis. He was too old for this stuff and what did he know about being Regent anyway?
“Parliament will approve, I think,” said one of the King's officers, then to Dorgan, “I'll have some documents for you to look at before the sun sets, Lord Regent. Do you wish to witness the execution of Prince Hubert?”
“Not particularly. No. Unless it's one of my new duties, of course.”
Lester had one message for the Brotherhood, “Get me out of this mess.”