A Ceremony Remembered
It was an overwhelming experience for Isaac. The Pearl King officially coronating him as the Prince of Hearts. That was so many years ago though, the memory comes with mixed feelings in this present. It was the first and last time he met the kind king, soon after his coronation the king died of a sudden illness. Isaac has some doubts that it was merely an illness, yet he kept such suspicions to himself.
For now, he had the task of dealing with the magistrate of the Land of Pearls.
Just because the king died from an apparent sudden illness does not mean that foul play was not suspected. In addition, this magistrate has been after Isaac once a year after the incident. He conveniently picks the anniversary of the coronation to do his follow up questions.
Isaac waits within the stratagem room, looking at the globe set in the middle. Pins implant the surface, mostly records of gang movements, possible trafficking locations, and the like. Near a few cities, they are completely covered in a sea of blues and reds. Very few greens are within the borders of his lands, marking safe areas. He was not alone, the Knave keeps vigil at his usual location. He has on pitch red armor with a few sigils implanted at certain locations to protect against magic.
“I thought investigations stopped after a couple decades.” the Knave finally says.
The Knave offers sound advice at times, but Isaac never knew what to make of him. His mysterious age makes this harder on Isaac to determine if he was wise for his years or knew more because of how long he has been alive. Mostly this is due to the Knave not having any sort of hair. No facial hair, none on his head, and he does not even have eyebrows. Isaac usually thinks the Knave is around thirty or so, given he has been in the position since the previous Queen ruled.
“This is a King’s death.” Isaac replies, “Given our long lives, a sudden death is nothing to be trifled with. Just think, he is the most loved King in existence, arguably.”
“There would be a man named Joker who would contest with that. In his own right, he is a King.” the Knave comments.
“A dead man…” Isaac says.
Isaac shakes his head, looking over his older journal, right around when he was being coronated. Some parts of his memory are hazy, and given how thorough the magistrate is, Isaac did not want to risk any sort of problems.
“You never know, Your Royal Highness.” the Knave says, “There never was a funeral.”
There is a knock on the doors, the Knave moving away from the wall he leans against and goes to it. He opens up a slot on it to peer through it, soon sighing when he opens the door.
“Good evening Your Grace, the Duke of the Land of Pearls.” the Knave says.
“Your Grace shall suffice, Sir Knave of Hearts.” the Duke says.
Isaac closes the journal, keeping it at the table and watches the Knave go back to his spot. He continues to give the Duke a critical look, mostly because he can at this point. The Duke will push things, due to believing he can get away with it. However, this time, Isaac has a slight advantage. He is no longer just Prince sovereign, he is Grand Prince, or Crown Prince depending on the term preference. He outranks the Duke for once, and all the tricks he has pulled will now prove useless.
“Good evening, Your Royal Highness, Prince Isaac.” the Duke says, “I received word that you have been promoted from sovereign to Grand Prince. What a feat that is, you are on your way to becoming a King!”
“Thank you ever so much, Your Grace.” Isaac says, sounding polite enough to mean it.
“You are aware that while you have heightened responsibilities, I am sure.” the Duke starts, “The Pearl Queen is technically the vicereine in any case.”
“Your Grace, how could I forget such an important task of Her Majesty’s?” Isaac asks rhetorically.
The smile he etched on his face feels fake; thankfully, the Duke must have ignored it completely. He watches the Duke sit down, bringing out all sorts of forms and papers. He has ink pens that have silver stained tips, typical for the Land of Pearls.
“Now then, I do have to record any sort of changes. Just in case.” the Duke says, “You remember why?”
“In case I delve into corrupted magics, Your Grace.” Isaac replies.
“Good.” the Duke says, “First thing’s first, how would you describe your hair?”
“Golden.” Isaac replies.
A similar tirade goes along. Red eyes. Yes, they were always red. No, Isaac did not have them dyed or used magic to make them red. Yes, all the royals of the Land of Hearts had red eyes. Yes, he indeed was the child of the Late Queen of Hearts Josephine Juisan, thus making himself the proper heir. On the questions go, and Isaac had to answer them. Questions asking for known and visible facts are not off limits. Even a description of his clothing, while Isaac found that simply odd, was not completely unreasonable. Usually Isaac takes that as a chance to see how styles change. From before, Isaac wore planer clothing, without extra design or with decorative items. Now, more because at a certain tailor’s urging, Isaac wore a mixture of the castle’s colorings. Mainly red, with black to balance, and white to detract from the darker colors. Isaac also wore layers for once, no longer just a button up shirt, dress pants, and boots. This was in part because of the weather. Even then, Isaac had to admit, he felt comfortable.
“From the last time, you certainly changed your style.” The Duke notes, “Care to say why?”
Isaac usually hated these typed questions because whenever something was at another person’s urging, he had to explain why he went through with it.
“The tailor, Count Pierre Maisonneuve, urged that I appeared more… princely.” Isaac says.
“… Count?” the Duke asks.
“I gave him the rank.” Isaac says, pausing over the thought and ponders for a moment, “Hm, now that I think of it, it was before he made that suggestion. Maybe it was his way of thanking me, he refused payment.”
The rank came as a surprise to many people, especially within his lands. It was a political move, to benefit him. The Duke shuffles his papers, going to move on, and then he remains silent for a while instead. Eventually, he takes in a breath, looking at Isaac critically.
“Why did you give him the rank Count?” the Duke asks, “He’s already the Royal tailor…”
“A respected position.” Isaac says, “But not a royal one. I looked through a few documents, found that he has in control enough territory to be considered a count and I granted him the rank. Many of the lands he has are within Hearts territory, yet the rank has some weight in other lands.”
“Politically invoked?” the Duke asks.
Technically, Isaac was supposed to answer that question. Everyone knew it was political, even Pierre and he agreed that it was. At the same time, it was a personal agreement. Isaac did ask Pierre if he wanted the rank in the first place.
“I do not have to answer questions dealing with personal matters.” Isaac says.
The Duke raises a brow, looking through some of his notes. He does not argue the matter, instead setting aside the sheets of paper he wrote on in a neat pile and moves onto the next batch. They used to give Isaac great contention; he smiles slightly and waits for the Duke to ask the first question.
“Are you sleeping with anyone?” the Duke asks.
Questions like that, thankfully, are off limits as well.
“I no longer have to answer that.” Isaac says.
Before the Duke has the chance to argue, the Knave gives an ahem to get the Duke’s attention.
“His Royal Highness is correct, personal questions dealing with private encounters between friends, family, and other significant persons are off limits. You cannot ask them and His Royal Highness has no obligation to answer them if you decide to ask, Your Grace.” the Knave says.
The Duke’s face becomes a shade of red, highly unusual for a man dressed in whites and silver colors. He takes in a breath, looking through the list of questions. Isaac watches him start crossing out a few, others he seems to make aside notes. The handwriting is quick and brief.
“I see you have a journal.” the Duke says, “Same one with the exact same information about the coronation?”
“Yes.” Isaac replies.
“Since you explained some of the details, let us make sure everything connects.” The Duke says, pulling out older sheets.
Isaac knows they all say the exact same thing, especially since all the figures are the same. He opens up his journal, which is presented in the same style as the Duke’s writing but with different characters. It is technically a code, since Isaac has characters in unusual places. He looks over some of the bits, narrowing his eyes over a section. If there is one thing he learned to eye, it was when sabotage played a role. He says nothing, waiting for the Duke to ask his questions. Isaac instead twists the ring on his left hand, giving a signal to the Knave. He stops when he hears the Knave adjust his position, walking over to be at his side.
“Sir Knave?” the Duke asks, noticing this.
“Glare of the light.” the Knave explains, “I must always have my eyes on His Royal Highness.”
The Duke looks over to the Knave’s former position, indeed seeing that the lines of light were encroaching in his area. The Duke shuffles some papers, having his pen ready for more writing.
“The coronation was your first and last time meeting the King.” the Duke says.
“Yes.” Isaac confirms.
“You noticed that he looked like his images, you know, some paintings?” the Duke says.
Isaac never said anything about images in past meetings, but he knows he did see some. But he looked older when Isaac met him. Isaac ponders, flipping through some of ‘his’ writing. Whoever was trying to set him up was clever, he will give them that.
“I never mentioned paintings.” Isaac states.
“What?” the Duke says, “But they are right here, in my notes. Are you changing your statement?”
“Not at all.” Isaac says, “I said I never mentioned paintings. I am very certain that the last meeting still has an audio recording. Care to listen?”
The Duke drops his pen, scrambling to get it. Isaac remains quiet, adjusting his position so that one leg crosses over the other. The Knave crouches down, whispering a few things in his ear. He says that he did listen to the audio, saying that if the Duke tries contesting it that he would come to Isaac’s defense. Isaac gives a gesture of thanks to him, watching the Duke carefully.
“You said there were white flowers abound, even one that would be described as the poisonous if ingested Krithem.” the Duke says.
“I did not know it was a Krithem at the time, though yes, I did say that.” Isaac says.
“Do you know what the Krithem poison does?” the Duke asks.
“I did not know it at that time.” Isaac says, “But as of now, I do after toxicology studies. Nothing like most poisons, this one is slow. Organs fail bit by bit, harder to breathe, does some damage to muscles too. If it affects the throat, a rasp may be noticeable. This poison takes up to a year to work.”
“And…” the Duke starts, “You said he was healthy when you met him?”
Isaac then figured out what the Duke was trying to do. There were record manipulations and someone went in and changed his journals. They must have cracked his code. Isaac gives a light smile, closing ‘his’ journal. He had enough of playing the Duke’s game.
“I never said that either.” Isaac says, “I said he looked sick and his voice had a peculiar rasp, like he was a smoker.”
“Your Royal Highness…” the Duke starts.
“I think we require the audio recording.” Isaac announces, “I am not changing my statements to fit this pretty narrative that is to implement me in a crime I never committed.”
“E-Excuse me?” the Duke starts, rising up out of his seat, “turn over your items! Especially that journal! You cannot do this to me!”
Isaac keeps his smile, watching the Knave walk over to the Duke and shoves him aside. He gives a slight chuckle, watching all the papers slip to the floor and create a mess. The Knave takes some of the papers, looking them over and soon simply tosses them in the fireplace. The Duke panics, trying to stop the Knave. He turns his attention to Isaac, outraged and libel to do rash things.
“Your Royal Highness…” he says strained, “What is the meaning of this?”
“Hm.” Isaac utters, picking up the journal and staring at it.
The Knave looks over, coming to Isaac and taking the journal. He tosses that into the fire as well, prompting the Duke to give out a scream in anguish.
“I am done playing around.” Isaac says, “I dislike having to be so polite to you, when you have caused so much pain and torment towards my staff and I. And now someone meddles, trying to have me slip up in a web of lies. At the rank I am in, I have no such obligations to deal with this.”
“You…” the Duke starts, “Damn the Caterpillar! He made these arrangements, didn’t he?”
“Actually, it was not just him.” Isaac says, smiling even more, “Now, you are no longer welcome here. If you require more statements about the coronation in question, they need to be filed through the Caterpillar first, which you should know how to submit a formal inquiry. I have already turned over all the audio recordings and I will for this one too. You are pushing in the wrong directions, Your Grace.”
The Duke’s face goes the brightest shade of red Isaac has seen after he says this. He reaches inside his coat, the Knave quickly grabbing a hold of his arm and yanks it away. Within the coat is a gun, single shot and expertly designed as Isaac expected. However, what matters the most was the Duke was going to shoot him. The Knave quickly restrains the Duke, looking to Isaac for a command.
“Hm.” Isaac says, “Tricky situation you put yourself in. What do I do about you?”
“You cannot just execute me…” the Duke says, “I deserve a full trial.”
“Actually, you do not.” Isaac says, smirking when he sees the Duke cringe, “This is high treason, Your Grace. Had you have done this when I was still lowly prince sovereign, you could get away with it. But I exceed you in rank, and I have enough proof to have you executed right now, if I so desired.”
The Knave raises a brow, wondering what Isaac’s next move will be. As much as Isaac wants to, he has to hold off on getting a small bit of justice. He knew something worse either way.
“But I will not.” Isaac says at last, watching the Duke have a confused look, “Instead, you will have an hour to get out of my lands. If you are not and the guards catch you, they will be instructed to kill on sight and bring back your head. You will return to Her Majesty, the Pearl Queen, and she will receive word that you attempted to assassinate me… from the Caterpillar. My terms will be simple: I will want you executed in your own lands and your head sent to me.”
The Duke’s face drains of all blood, becoming a pasty white. The Knave holds him up, given that the Duke starts shaking. Isaac chuckles once more, slowly getting out of his seat and walking to the Duke. He lowers to his level slightly, looking into the Duke’s eyes. He waited for this moment for a long time.
“I hardly care what you do.” Isaac says, “As far as I am concerned, I am getting your head anyway. But I am merciful. Go home, write a will and testament for your wife and children. Hug them. Kiss them. Say your goodbyes. On the other hand, you could run off with them and try to hide. It matters not to me; I know it will end badly for you no matter what you do.”
Isaac backs away, seeing how the Duke appears frightened. He turns away, looking up at a painting of the former Queen of Hearts, Josephine. He holds a contempt look at it, all while he hears the Knave drag out the Duke and tosses him outside. There is silence for a couple minutes.
“… The Land of Pearls has a cruel form of execution, don’t they?” the Knave asks.
“Oh they have many.” Isaac says, “But their form of decapitation is entertaining. Slow, painful, never works the first time.”
“Your Highness, you neglected to sedate your thirst, didn’t you?” the Knave asks.
Isaac pauses over that thought, glancing behind him to the Knave. He has a serious and stoic look, one common for him. He knew Isaac the best, and oftentimes treated Isaac like a young son.
“Is that why you didn’t just have him executed here?” the Knave asks.
“Part of it, I will admit.” Isaac says, “The other part is that I wanted to cover my bases. Just in case I have to pay for his death.”
“You have enough proof…” the Knave says, reaching down and picking up the gun, “He could have this on him, but he did not turn it into me as he was supposed to. I would have given it to another guard, just to remove the weapon from the room.”
Isaac sighs, looking away from him and to the fireplace. There were still more papers to burn, and they had to be quick about it. The Caterpillar was due to visit soon.