Interpretation

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Aton looked up at Bailen and Reedl, confused. “This…this Augfi is offering to help, and he’s not wrong that there could be enemies gathering their armies right now.”

Captain Bailen responded impatiently. “My prince, read it again if you must. It was delivered anonymously, via arrow. The coward who wrote this had no reason to hide himself from us, if he truly wished to help. He only need hide himself from the supposed foes he so helpfully assists us in dreaming up. Maybe they do exist, but his primary concern is greed, not the welfare of our people!”

Aton stared at him. “I guess you could be right. I mean, there’s a possi—”

“Yes, there’s technically a possibility that this poor, tortured soul is telling the truth all the way through, but I’m not buying it. This Augfi won’t even tell us where he’s from. He wants us on unequal footing. He knows where we are, we’ve never heard of him, and as the Captain of your Guard, I am advising you that this person is a scam artist.”

Aton looked at Reedl. “Prince, I agree with the Captain. Put yourself in this Augfi’s place. Consider that your parents were abducted and then he makes his play a week and a half later. He has let us stew, let us send out messengers, and in ten full days we have found nothing. Not a trace, on Tasala, on Harrval, or any other world we know of, in any country on those worlds within range of travel in this amount of time. Nothing. And Augfi knows it. Now he sends us a missive without meeting us, telling us that we need a new ruler, and we need it on his time frame. I suspect he is behind your parents’ abduction in the first place.”

Aton nodded, eyes wide. “But we can’t give in to him. Grendhill’s protection will fade…”

“Prince, we can discuss later the different theories behind your family’s peculiar gift. I assume it would no longer follow the family or the throne once that link is broken.” Reedl stepped closer, speaking more familiarly. “I, unlike Augfi as I believe, actually am concerned for the well being of your people. I believe you are right. We cannot give in to his demands, not for the sake of some silly magical weapons, but because your family has always taught its members the right path and the value of the common people. We all have a vested interest in your family’s retaining the Seat of Grendhill. At this point we do not know what we are up against. I suggest you and your siblings allow Captain Bailen to provide his advice to your father’s council on how to proceed in the immediate future. He and his Guard are the current subject matter experts in defense against unknown threats.”

Aton kept nodding the whole time Reedl spoke, then turned to Bailen. “What are you recommending?”

Bailen wore an expression as though he had a lot to say all at once. “The Guard has already enacted certain emergency protocols. For further action which involves various commercial guilds and daily procedures in the city, I’d like to request a council audience with you and your siblings in attendance.”

Aton felt put on the spot. He would rather go back to his sleepy reading in the library. Outside of invented training scenarios, nobody had ever acted like he was supposed to call the shots before, but this was the life he was born into, like it or not.

“Of course, Captain Bailen. Reedl, can you help me make that meeting happen? Of course I can’t travel to Hevvlar by myself, and…”

Reedl was already in motion. “Captain Bailen, if you will notify the appropriate counselors I will fetch Aton’s siblings. Well, three of them I assume, my prince?”

“Yes,” Aton replied. “We should not interrupt Valkyr’s training. She will certainly have a shock when she returns from her isolation, though.”

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