Marques snuffed the lantern on his desk just as he heard the footsteps pass his den. Sharp clatter of hard heels on the marble floor, long steady stride and another quicker, shorter pair of boots. Military boots. Father was not alone. The men stopped in the hall near his door. He held his breath to listen. It would be inappropriate for him to interrupt the King during a discussion with his officers. Considering the hour of the night Marque’s curiosity was peaked.
“And where do you suppose the troops are?”
“Your Highness they rode off from the city a few minutes ago.”
“And who led them?”
“Valerio, your highness with Bernardo at his side. There were a good ten others tonight. It’s not the first time.”
A silence followed, save for his father’s footsteps. Marques knew where in the great hall the King was. He was pacing the alcove by the parlor. There was a window there that looked out over the garden and though the hour was late, moonlight would be shining on the fountain. Marques could see his father in his mind’s eye, clasping his hands behind his back and resting his gaze on the stream of water that cascaded from the bronze maiden’s basket.
His father told him once that when he gave nature his utmost attention, anxiety would ease and be replaced with solutions.
“He is leading a coup is he not?”
Marques’ eyes burst open wide. He stood, fearful to open his door and be discovered eavesdropping. Yet how could the Prince Royale let a matter as grave as a rebellion pass?
“Your highness I can’t tell you for sure, but…” The young lieutenant was afraid. Even through the walls Marques heard the tremble in his voice.
“Go on Lieutenant. This is your home, the country wherein you were born and raised. If there are traitors in our midst, you’ll be called on to defend the Crown. I would hope you’d inform your King.”
“I have heard rumors. Talk that more than two thirds of the men will ride with Valerio. That he is leading an army against you.”
“Have you heard it from Valerio’s lips?”
There was a long silence. Marques held his breath. For a moment he felt the lieutenant’s angst, the man was not much older than he and had been in Valerio’s charge ever since he joined the service. The soldiers are loyal to their commanders, even more so than to their king, but tonight this man was making a choice.
“Yes, your highness.”
The last silence ended with a quiet “Dismissed.”
Footsteps tapered into the distance.
Marques’ heart raced. If indeed Valerio was leading a coup, all of the palace was in danger. Father would want to call the guard, rally his troops, be prepared for battle.
Marques pushed the door open,
His father stood in the alcove, moonlight casting a glow across his face, his hands clasped behind his back. His shoulders were not broad and proud tonight. Tonight they bowed in defeat. He didn’t move.
“Son,” the King said without turning to face him. “There is a time when no matter how hard you listen to the voice of nature, you will not hear an answer.”
Marques stepped closer to his father. He would have run up and hugged him if he were younger. “Don’t give up, sire.”
As soon as those words parted from his lips, he knew he was too late.