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Steven and Alex conclude business. Rox and Diana join lunch. Things are settled.
         As the King turned back to face Steven he realized his mistake.
         Steven watched Alex strike and wondered whether the sword glowed for a moment as it struck home, coming a hand span out of the man’s chest. Steven stood with his sword ready, but was of no more interest to the King.
         He turned to face Alex who still held his sword and was pulled off his feet. The inertia of the spin carried Alex away from the King taking the sword with. The King never completed his turn as he collapsed. Alex and the sword parted as he crashed into the table, his sword clattered to the floor beside a chair.
         Steven looked around for a moment, and went around the body of the King to his son, who was coming back to himself.
         “Did I get him, Dad?”
         Steven hugged his son. “Yes. You got him.”
         Steven looked up at the guards while holding his sword at ready. They all stood around, unsure what to do. Steven looked at the dead King, then back to the guards. He decided to play a gamble.
         “My son killed him. So he is now your leader.” He said this as matter-of-factly as he could.
         The guards were unsure, so they stood their ground. The guard sergeant in the room was one of the men that had been with the company that captured and held them. He took charge of the others and told them to hold their distance. Some had arrows at ready, but were not sure whether to respond to the King’s death, or to the order to stand down. The bureaucrats and ministers were huddling and talking, as several of the guards turned to push them back out of the room.
         Steven knew one thing to be done. Taking Alex in his arm he stepped past the body then put Alex down. Steven went around the end of the tables and past some broken glass on the floor, picked up a napkin from the table and used it to wipe the spots of blood from his sword. Alex came to his father’s side having retrieved his own sword, and likewise wiped his sword clean. They then walked over to the scattered contents of the litter, being careful of the all the broken glass to do so.
         Steven and Alex picked through their stuff, and found their boots and a shirt for Alex. That done they located their scabbards, and sheathed their swords. Steven put on his girdle with his scabbard and holstered pistol. Alex wrapped the belt his scabbard hung from around him.
         Before long the guards had a cordon at the door but this did not stop others from looking in, or talking. The guards also removed their wounded comrades. They then moved to gather the body of the King.
         Steven desperately wanted to go find Rox and Diana, but was not sure that the guards would allow that. Then the Guard Captain showed up. He looked at the dead King, and at Steven and Alex picking through the King’s plate of food and the platter beside it, as the other platters had glass on them. The Sergeant who had been in the room filled the Captain in on events. Steven watched the indecision come to a resolution. The King’s body was taken away.
         The Chief of the Bodyguard of the King entered the room, and seeing his master dead, and Steven the lone stranger, charged him. Other guards tried to hold him back, but he threw them off. As he charged up the aisle sword ready to swing, Steven stood on old reflex, his right hand going to his belt but not to his sword. As the man got close enough to isolate the target from those behind him, Steven drew his pistol and shot three times. The man went down just short of the table. After struggling a moment more he collapsed, not to move on his own again as some blood began to pool around him.
         Steven waved the gun around a bit. “Anybody else want to argue about this?”
         The Captain then came over and stood across the table from Steven, as more guards came and removed the Chief Bodyguard’s body. Steven holstered the pistol, sat down, and picked up a piece of meat.
         “The usual custom, outlander, is that whoever wins the duel is the next leader. So the question is was this a duel, or a fight?”
         Steven swallowed. “Allow us time to recover our strength and regroup our family and we will leave under our own power. That should settle the issue as far as we are concerned, I think.”
         The Captain considered this. Then a party of guards came into the room, with Rox and Diana at their center. Upon seeing them Steven felt all his strength leave him for relief. Rox and Diana were brought around the room, and sat beside Steven and Alex. Steven and Rox embraced for a time as the kids turned to the food, more of which was brought out and the glass covered food taken away. Soon they were all eating to sate their ravenous appetites, starting with broth, bread, and light weight meat, followed by pickled vegetables.
         Stewards were busy cleaning up the mess from the fight and the shattered glass, putting the Caplan’s things aside. The Captain conferred with his guards and a few ministers then came back. “We have reached a consensus. You will stay as our guests, for now. The Advisors and Generals will want to see, and perhaps kill you, in trying to take over. The Guards are independent of them. We will protect you. My Lady, what would you have us do to the Arbor?”
         Roxanne stopped, flattered but unsure for a moment.
         “Those that can recover, care for them and allow them to. Those that will not, give them mercy. Those that are truly prisoners, treat as is just. Those who merely offended and are unjustly kept, return to their families.”
         The Captain considered this. “It shall be done. The Arbor itself?”
         Rox knew what to do immediately. “Everything dead and damaged, burn. The rest, find some good gardeners and turn then loose to make something pleasing to all.”
         “It shall be done.” He turned away, and gave orders to his guards, who dispersed in turn.
         Roxanne and Steven then began telling each other what had happened to them, and how their children had filled their rolls.
         Diana interjected as Rox got to the point where the Queen had impaled her. “Mom, where did the other body come from? The one I saw stabbed and torn apart.”
         Rox paused. “That was another woman from within the Arbor. The Queen did actually run me through, but I had enough magic going at that point it did not matter. I was able to join my position and body to that of another there, who was already nearly dead. She died in my place, and I was able to magically go elsewhere. That was when I pulled our things to me, then as soon as she let go of you, get you to where I was.”
         Diana did not quite comprehend. Alex was not fully listening. Steven was shocked. Rox was still a bit shaken herself, but evidently handling things. She continued with her narrative leading up to how Diana had actually been the main instigator of both the tree’s destruction, and the queen/s demise.
         Stewards came and went finishing with the mess, and closing curtains to hold in the heat. They also kept fresh food coming for as long as the Caplan’s cared to eat. Another set was scrubbing the blood from the floor, and anywhere else they found it. Some tailors came in and stood each one of the Caplan’s up and measured them for clothes, then left.
         Through all this a double cadre of guards stayed in the room, as did the Captain. Shortly more ministers and bureaucrats, or their lackeys, started filing through, mostly talking with each other, and the Captain, who treated them decently but with some apparent contempt for some of them. A few also talked to some of the guards.
         When the family was sated, and their things gathered, some stewards and a few guards escorted them to an apartment. The main room was two stories tall and wider than it was deep, with a wall splitting the room the long way. Fireplaces with fresh fires, and a double door divided that wall into quarters. Beyond the doors was a dressing room, with a washing room to the left and a bed room to the right. Two opposing flights of stairs went up to the areas above the wash room and bed room. Over the wash room was a sitting room, a second bed room was set up over the first below. The lower and upper rooms had gothic arched windows, with the upper rooms also having doors onto balconies. This all looked over into the middle of the small island the palace fortress occupied. A few pillars on the inner wall echoed the outer wall arches.
         The tailors set up in a corner of the main room, making the Caplan’s each a suit of clothes for local wear. The Caplan’s were shown the wash room, which Rox and Diana put to use. A set of guards stood inside the double doors of the exit the apartment. When the women were done, the Caplan men went into the wash room. The tailors finished the gowns for Rox and Diana. They then examined all their travel gear, and repaired the few places they could, and departed.
         Once the Caplan’s were fully washed and outfitted, one of the guards sent a runner to somewhere.
         Not long after a party arrived. The Guard Captain, two ministers, a secretary, and four other guards escorted an older man who carried dignity as a matter of course. The Caplan’s had been sitting around a fireplace in their new clothes, just resting. All stood as the party entered.
         “Hello. I am Viceroy Pemltryn.”
         Steven spoke for his family. “I am Steven Caplan. My wife Roxanne. Our daughter Diana, and son Alex.”
         Each Caplan bobbed in curtsey or bowed slightly as introduced.
         The Viceroy appraised the family briefly as he collected his thoughts. “On behalf of the people of Krogg, we apologize for you even having to be here.” He paused then continued. “I thank you for removing those who plagued us.”
         Steven and Rox had talked about this some, over the afternoon, and had sorted out most of the information that Karen had put in their head. They both realized that Karen had put triggers into their memories, to instruct them in what they might do, and to open to their conscious memories what she had put into their unconscious awareness. As they had talked about this the kids had joined in, particularly Diana. She reported that when it came time she knew about the arrow and silver line and casting the spells that she had, without ever really being taught them before then. Alex mentioned that he could almost hear Karen telling her how to stab the king effectively when he did. Now as they encountered the Viceroy, another trigger was tripped, and they knew that he had hired Karen, but that they were not to say anything about it.
         Steven continued as voice for his family. “You are welcome. How long do we need to stay here? We would like to be on our way home.”
         The Viceroy smiled slightly. “Long enough to let you rest, reprovision, and quietly get you out of the city.”
         Steven looked at Rox. They had also talked about this. He turned back to the Viceroy. “Return our cart with its load out and ponies. We will need to check that over for damage and anything conscripted. Not that we don’t trust your people, but I know troopers. Then aside from food and other consumables, we will need a couple of dutch ovens and a tent big enough for the four of us. You can keep these clothes.”
         The Viceroy nodded. He had expected this approximate reaction, but was pleased that the Caplan’s did not seem to be inclined to ridiculous demands. “All of that can be arranged. The next few days will see some minor consolidation of power, as I transition to the throne. To that end, for your own safety you will refrain from going anywhere reasonable without Palace Guard in accompaniment.”
         Steven and Rox nodded in acknowledgement. Steven answered. “We will do so. Just don’t forget to let us get on our way.”
         The Viceroy nodded, and put aside all the attitude of office, and looked at Steven as a man, and father. “I will not forget.”
         He turned to his secretary and the Guard Captain. “Arrange for them to see to their cart and things in the morning, and to go shopping. Without any other interference.”
         Both nodded. “It will be done, sir.”
         The Viceroy turned back to the Caplan’s. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
         Steven shook his head. “No, sir. Just let us rest and be on or way.”
         Dinner was had in the apartment. Come bed time, they all slept in the lower bedroom, with curtains separating the three beds.

         Journal of Steven Caplan: Day 162
         The Viceroy nee King appears to want us out of the city as quickly and quietly as possible. Neither Rox nor I have any problem with this.
         It is the local Saturday. Nice to get back on the calendar. The initial coronation is due for tomorrow, at or after or during a worship service that the whole city is invited to. I gather that the official one will take a week or so to set up, for all the nobility and gentry to get into town. I hope to have the family a good distance away by then.
         We have a bit of shopping to do then we will head out to the northeast, and the overland highway. Unless Rox can find someone to teach her the specifics of the teleport spell to get back to Shalaia quickly. She has done it before, but still needs instructions.
The walk will do us good. And the equinox is due next week, ending winter and bringing in spring in this hemisphere.

         The Caplan’s washed, dressed in their own clothes, and ate breakfast in the apartment at a reasonable pace. Steven took a moment to start working a honing stone over the edges of his sword to straighten and flatten out the fresh nicks. When everyone was packed and ready they went to the stables, through the service corridors of the palace.
         The cart was essentially how they had last dealt with it, save that most of the food had been used by the troopers that had brought them here, and the rest of the consumables had been removed. The ponies were rested and well cared for in a paddock with other ponies. All of Karen and Caspian’s personal things were absent. The tent that Caspian had used was there, as were the blankets used there in. The cooking and camping gear was all accounted for. The personal things that had been on the litter were brought by the family from the apartment they had spent the night in. A clerk brought a medium sized bag of money, added the coins to their existing bag, and departed.
         The locals helped to catch, harness, and rig the ponies. Provision for them was taken from the Palace Stores. A set of non-uniformed guards then escorted the Caplan’s out to a market. News of the succession of power had evidently spread. The local society-dames and gentry were apparently out in force. The markets did not seem to notice or care; for them it was the end of the week. The guards led the Caplan’s to a merchant where they were able to trade the two tents for a larger tent. They had enough blankets. Steven found two dutch ovens he could use. The other consumables were purchased, and twelve days of food stocked into the cart. One of the guards evidently held the bag, and paid for everything. They were then escorted across the city and out the northeast gate by lunch time.
         They picked up some lunch from a street vendor beyond the walls, and ate as they went. As they walked, the most remarkable feeling was the absence of Caspian, Cyrril, and Karen. The other three chattered about this. Diana was reticent to talk about this, still feeling betrayed by Karen.

         Journal of Steven Caplan: Day 164
         Two days out of Skarg. We unexpectedly met some familiar faces. Cyrril swooped in first and landed on Rox’s shoulders. Diana was particularly leery of Karen once she spotted her.
         It was an anticlimactic surprise to see Caspian. He briefly looked to be a bit under the weather, and almost grateful to have an excuse to stop. I think he might have been trying to show Karen how strong he is, but she didn’t seem to be buying it. Both were on foot. We all stopped and camped where we met up. Caspian and Karen then spent the rest of the afternoon telling us what had happened between them. Rox and I then began grilling Karen on all she had actually done.
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