An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

The Search Begins Tiberius

“So the last time anyone saw Jayslen in Relen’ayar was six weeks ago?” asked Tiberius, doing a quick—and generally unhelpful—calculation in his head. In that time the prince could easily have reached all but the furthest reaches of the Realm.

“From the information we have gathered, yes,” replied Finnius, the aide that Tiberius had elected to help spearhead the search for the dead prince. “Though we may be missing something. Until her Majesty formally announces his death, it remains somewhat difficult to collect all of the available information without arousing suspicion.”

“Granted,” agreed Tiberius. Before starting their search, they had all received a command from the Queen, forbidding the revelation of Jayslen’s fate. It was a frustrating constraint, but a necessary one. The prince’s death left the Queen with no male heir and no husband. Her only surviving child was Princess Vahnna, who was very much cut from the same cloth as her mother, except with a greater penchant for madness.

“She’s paranoid,” grunted Nathaneal.

“And with good reason,” replied Tiberius. “The House of Lords is full of ambitious men who already have their eyes on the crown. When they learn of Jayslen’s death, it will only spur on their ambitions. The Queen is taking what time she can to strengthen her defences and extend her network of spies.”

“You make it sound like you approve,” accused Nathaneal, voice dripping with years of animosity. He had always hated the royal family—almost as much as he hated the powerful relic that robbed him of his sight—and was open about sharing his feelings. Thankfully, he was also tactful enough not let his words slip into blatant treason,  but Tibrerius always worried that his son’s venomous tongue would one day land him in stocks. He had been somewhat surprised when Nathaneal had agreed to help track down the Auratorch.

“It’s a simple and logical course of action,” the old sage replied. “The last thing we want is for Jayslen’s death to plunge the entire Realm into civil war. That would only hinder our efforts.”

“Which are not going very well anyhow,” Finnius reminded them.

“At least we have a starting point.”

“Not much of one. We know the last time he was seen in the city, but we have no indications of where he went from here. Not a direction.”

“No, but we can make some logical assumptions. We know that ever since the death of Princess Mayra, Lord Blackcroft has been telling anyone who will listen that it was Jayslen who killed his daughter. It’s a ridiculous claim—the poor girl died of the white fever—but Jayslen has never been welcome in Ellistar since.”

“Or in the Lowlands, where Lord Farrow rules,” added Finnius. “He was Mayra’s cousin through her mother’s family, and a close friend.”

“Precisely. So it seems unlikely that the prince would have gone south. Until further evidence becomes available, it would make sense to focus our efforts north of Relen’ayar. The prince was always friends with Gayven Renitheon, so the Twin Ports might be a good place to start.”

“And I’d heard a rumour that he had been friendly with Lady Mallory of Summerfield,” said Nathaneal. “Very friendly, as the story goes.”

“Only a rumour, more than likely. Ever since Mayra’s death, Jayslen’s appetites have been had a more…common bent to them. But it’s certainly worth following up. Even if it just a rumor, such a slight would only serve to rub salt in Blackcroft’s wounds. Jayslen always took great delight in that particular passtime.”

“How could you stand teaching him, father?”

“With a great deal of patience,” replied Tiberius, frustrated by his son’s inability to think beyond his own petty hatreds. “And the simple understanding that he really had no one else. His only brother is in exile and his father was killed. His wife died years ago and his relationship with his mother may very well be one of the most well-documented feuds in the history of the Realm. Jayslen was a strong-headed, arrogant ass at times, but he was not an evil man. He just needed some guidance. But that is not the issue at hand. We still need to find him—or at least his remains—and both the Twin Ports and Summerfield are probably our best options. At the very least, we can talk to Gayven and Lady Mallory. They may have some information that we do not.”

“I would also add the village of Ronnex to that list,” said a voice from the corner of the room, a voice that belonged to neither Finnius nor Nathaneal, but which Tiberius recognized all the same.

“Navarius,” he greeted the Master of Whispers. “A point to you. I did not hear you enter the room.”

“Your mind is distracted, old friend,” purred the Queen’s spymaster. His soft voice was as smooth as honey, and as poisonous as spider’s kiss.

“How long have you been here?”

“Only just a moment,” which likely meant for the better part of their entire conversation. It was of no importance. The spymaster was only interested in information—he could not have cared less about any of Nathaneal’s spiteful comments—and they had not shared anything that Navarius would not have already known. Still, the sage chided himself for not being more attentive.

“What’s this about Ronnex?” he asked.

“It is perhaps a rumour, but there is a woman, freshly arrived in our beautiful city, who has been telling stories about having seen the beloved prince in the village of Ronnex.”

“What kind of woman?”

“All women are the same. Give them something shinny and they’ll give you whatever you need.”

“Navarius,” Tiberius spat. The other man’s presence always left a foul taste in his mouth. “You know as well as I do that every second harlot in the Realm claims to have seen the prince.”

“Yes, but this one is not claiming to have bedded him. She says that she was entertaining a merchant at a local tavern, listening to a minstrel’s tale, when the prince announced himself to a young woman. The storyteller—a relative or lover perhaps—took offence and threw something in the prince’s face, distracting him just long enough to make their escape. She says the prince vanished shortly thereafter.”

“I see,” Tiberius replied thoughtfully. “That’s different. I think I would like to have a few words with this woman.”

“Of course, old friend, it has already been arranged. She awaits your arrival with eager anticipation.”

Stay Up to Date

There are all kinds of ways to keep up with the latest instalments of An Unfolding Tale. Subscribe to the newsletter for exclusive content, or follow the Tale through RSS or social media!