Guardians Watch excerpt (Devastation Wars III)

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When Rome had finished his food a silent servant led him down hallways and up stairs, through anterooms and across galleries, until he was thoroughly turned around. “I’ll never be able to find this place again,” Rome growled. “I don’t think I’ve even been in this part of the palace before. Why is this Bereth-cursed place so big?”

The servant shot him a frightened look over his shoulder and scurried on.

Opus appeared suddenly at the top of a short flight of stairs. Behind him were open double doors. “Right this way, Your Majesty.”

Rome fixed him with a glare. “What did I say about that ‘Your Majesty’ clatter?”

Opus lowered his head in recognition of the rebuke, but the faint smile did not leave his face and Rome had to stifle the all-too-familiar urge to throttle him. Rome clumped up the stairs and into the open doors, where he stopped and stood with his mouth open. “You could stable horses in here,” he said at last.

That got to Opus. A stricken look appeared on his face. “But you won’t, right? You’ll leave the horses outside? I don’t think you could get them up the stairs.”

“Oh, I can take a horse anywhere,” Rome assured him with a huge smile. It felt good to have the balance shift back to him. “I can show you right now if you want.”

“No, Macht,” Opus said weakly. “I have never doubted your abilities. I only meant that I thought the horses would prefer to remain with their own kind.”

“Sure you did.”

The room Rome found himself in was massive. On the far side were more double doors, opening to a long balcony with potted trees and flowers on it. On one side of the room was a giant bed, buried under a mound of silken pillows and tassels. There were four large wardrobes and thick rugs on the floors. But what drew Rome’s attention first was the mirror. He walked over to stand in front of it. It was very large, taking up a great deal of the wall, and enclosed in an ornate, gilt frame. Below it was a long table with drawers. On the table was an impressive array of combs, brushes, bottles of scented hair oil, powders, scissors and a few things Rome didn’t recognize but might have slipped up here from the torture room in the dungeon.

“Look at that mirror,” he said with a low whistle.

“It is impressive, is it not?” Opus said with pride. He actually caressed the frame.

“That’s not what I was thinking. What’s it for?”

“Well, I…” Opus stumbled, at a loss for words. “It is for looking at yourself, Sire.”

“Waste of time,” Rome announced. “I already know what I look like. I’m not likely to forget, am I?”

Opus looked around, saw that the servant had fled and realized he was on his own. “Of course not.”

“No wonder Rix was such a miserable king,” Rome continued. “If he spent all day in here staring at himself.” He began pawing through the implements laid out in neat rows on the table. “I won’t be needing any of these. Useless, useless.” He came on a large brush with a silver handle and picked it up. “I could brush Niko with this.” Niko was his favorite horse.

With a small cry Opus plucked the brush from his hand. “Please don’t jest so, Macht. This is very old. It was a gift from the king of Karthije over a hundred years ago.”

But Rome was already moving on, surveying the four wardrobes. “All my clothes put together won’t fill one of those,” he said. “I guess I could use one for my armor and weapons. That still leaves two. Even if I brought my saddle and all my tack in I’d still have one left over.”

“Oh no, Macht,” Opus assured him, moving swiftly to the first one and throwing the doors wide. “These are already full. You can leave your saddle in the stable, I assure you.”

Rome pushed past him and leaned into the wardrobe. “What’s this? Clothes? Who has this many clothes?”

“They are yours, Macht.”

“Mine? When did I order all these?” Rome asked suspiciously. He pulled out a bright red shirt with two rows of ornate buttons, wrinkled his nose and tossed it on the floor. “I can’t believe I’d ever get drunk enough to order this.”

“They belonged to the late king, Sire. Of course, I have had them all cleaned and altered so that they will fit you.”

“Why would I want that old tyrant’s clothes?” Rome pulled out a yellow shirt with ruffles on the sleeves and let it drop as well.

Opus struggled to find firmer ground. Like any general, he could tell when he had lost the initiative and was on the defensive. “You never ordered anything else so I didn’t know what to have made for you. And attire such as this is extremely expensive. I know you are a thrifty man so I thought it wiser to refit than repurchase.”

Rome paused and grunted. “That makes sense.” Opus straightened. “But I still don’t want all this. Here, let’s make some room for my stuff.” So saying, he took a big armload of clothes out. Looking around, he saw no good place to put them so he simply dropped them on the floor.

He went to the next wardrobe and opened it. The first thing he saw was the shoes. Dozens of them on little shelves filling the bottom half of the cabinet. They were in all colors. Some had buckles, some had stripes, and some seemed to have small stones set in them. “God,” Rome breathed. “These are awful.”

“The latest fashions, Sire.”

“Not to me. What’s in here?” The top half of the wardrobe had little doors covering its contents. Rome opened them and nearly staggered backwards. “What in Gorim’s blackest nightmares are those?”

“Wigs, sire. Made from the finest maidenhair.” Opus said it wearily, clearly knowing what reception he would get.

“Wigs, eh? I thought something crawled in here and died.” Rome took one gingerly between his thumb and forefinger, and pulled it out. It was blond and curly. Rome gave it a little shake, as if expecting it to come to life and bite him. Then he tossed it back and turned around.

“Well, I will stay in here, if that will make you happy, Opus,” he announced. “But you’ll have to get rid of this stuff. Give it to some orphans or toss it out to let the dogs chew on. I don’t care. Now, I have things to do.”

“But you haven’t seen the other rooms,” Opus protested.

Rome stopped and swung around. “Other rooms, you say?” His eyes fell on closed doors on either side of the room. He shook his head. “Another time, maybe.”

Guardians Watch

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