A March of Kings - By Morgan Rice Page 0,1

the light of morning to summon his advisers, to launch an investigation. The question in his mind was not who wanted him dead—but who did not want him dead. His court, he knew, was filled with people who craved his throne. Ambitious generals; maneuvering councilmembers; power-hungry nobles and lords; spies; old rivals; assassins from the McClouds— and maybe even from the Wilds. Perhaps, even closer than that.

MacGil’s eyes fluttered as he began to fall into sleep; but something caught his attention which kept them open. He detected movement, and looked over to see that his attendants were not there. He blinked, confused. His attendants never left him alone. In fact, he could not remember the last time he had been alone in this room, by himself. He did not remember ordering them to leave. Even stranger: his door was wide open.

At the same moment MacGil heard a noise from the far side of the room, and turned and looked. There, creeping along the wall, coming out of the shadows, into the torchlight, was a tall, thin man, wearing a black cloak and hood, pulled over his face. MacGil blinked several times, wondering if he were seeing things. At first he was sure it was just shadows, flickering torchlight playing tricks on his eyes.

But a moment later the figure was several paces closer and approaching his bed quickly. MacGil tried to focus in the dim light, to see who it was; he began instinctively to sit up, and being the old warrior he was, he reached for his waist, for a sword, or at least a dagger. But he had undressed long ago, and there were no weapons to be had. He sat, unarmed, on his bed.

The figure moved quickly now, like a snake in the night, getting ever closer, and as MacGil sat up, he got a look at his face. The room still spun, and his drinking prevented him from seeing clearly, but for a moment, he could have sworn it was the face of his son.

Gareth.

MacGil’s heart flooded with sudden panic, as he wondered what he could possibly be doing here, unannounced, so late into the night.

“My son?” he called out.

MacGil saw the deadly intent in his eyes, and it was all he needed to see—he started to jump out of bed.

But the figure moved too quickly. He leapt into action, and before MacGil could raise his hand in defense, there was the gleaming of metal in the torchlight, and fast, too fast, there was a blade puncturing the air—and plunging into his heart.

MacGil shrieked, a deep dark cry of anguish, and was surprised by the sound of his own scream. It was a battle scream, one he had heard too many times. It was the scream of a warrior mortally wounded.

MacGil felt the cold metal breaking through his ribs, pushing through muscle, mixing with his blood, then pushing deeper, ever deeper, the pain more intense than he had ever imagined, as it seemed to never stop plunging. With a great gasp, he felt hot, salty blood fill his mouth, felt his breathing grow hard. He forced himself to look up, at the face behind the hood. He was surprised: he had been wrong. It was not the face of his son. It was someone else. Someone he recognized. He could not remember who, but he knew it was someone close to him. Someone who looked like his son.

His brain wracked with confusion, as he tried to put a name to the face.

As the figure stood over him, holding the knife, MacGil somehow managed to raise a hand and push it into the man’s shoulder, trying to get him to stop. He felt a burst of the old warrior’s strength rise up within him, felt the strength of his ancestors, felt some deep part of him that made him king, that would not give up. With one giant shove, he managed to push back the assassin with all his might.

The man was thinner, more frail, than MacGil thought, and he went stumbling back with a cry, tripping across the room. MacGil managed to stand, and with a supreme effort, he reached down and yanked the knife from his chest. He threw it across the room and it hit the stone floor with a clang, skidding across it, and slammed into the far wall.

The man, whose hood had fallen back around his shoulders, scrambled to his feet and stared back, wide-eyed with terror, as MacGil began to bear down

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