The King's Physician

an excerpt



Prologue

Devlin brushed some dirt off his new suit coat as he walked toward the guard station near the main gate. As much as he liked how he looked in powder blue, he wished the standards, banners, and flags could have remained the deep navy of King Karl. He curled his lip as he thought of Filvane, the king's adviser-turned-poisoner. Proving Filvane's guilt had been a dirty business. King Korgon would forgive Devlin for a little smudge on his suit when he learned the truth.

King Karl had been Devlin's benefactor, summoning him from the dungeon. He'd been caught grifting at fourteen years old and caught again when he manipulated the guards to play cards with him. The trick: he could exchange the cards at will, making them disappear and reappear from a pocket dimension only he could access. He had won at Dashalin Drop eight times in a row before one of the guards had noticed two Aces of Clubs on the table. The guards had not been amused, and Devlin's skill had attracted the king's attention.

"You have a gift," King Karl had said. He'd motioned Devlin to rise after the guards forced him to kneel before the steps in the throne room. "If your gift can also be used to heal, I want you to be the court physician."

Court physician. A real job, not the false apprenticeship his father had sold him into. Not the Dovington Underground, the thieves who had saved him from a lifetime of abuse. The Dashalin elves among had them taught him to use his gift to create the pocket dimension. The elves had also told him to get out of the Underground the first chance he got, and this sounded like a chance.

He had opened his mouth to reply, but King Karl had held up his hand. "Before you answer, I want you to meet my son. I am an old man, and he will be your primary patient. He will be the deciding factor."

Prince Korgon's suite of rooms were twice the size of any hovel Devlin had called home. Korgon had a play castle, a miniature of the fortress around them, lined with army men. At seven, he was half Devlin's age, but already almost as tall as he was. Korgon had bent over one of the parapets, the velvet-robed wooden king clutched in his hand.

"We're leading an army against the Dashalin!" he'd said.

"Why?" Devlin had asked. "What did they do to you?"

"They're attacking the city!"

"Why?" he'd asked again. The elves he knew did everything they could to avoid humans. Humans mostly believed they were creatures of legend: elves with magical powers of healing, foresight, and mind control.

Korgon had stared at him for a minute. "I…they're evil!"

Devlin had shaken his head. "They're not evil." He'd remembered Faraki, the skinny red-haired elf who had stumbled in from his farm during the ten-year famine. "They're hungry. They need food."

Korgon had brought the little king up to his face, the little wooden crown poking dimples into his cheek. "Hungry? We should feed them!"

Devlin had agreed and helped Korgon move the lines of liveried soldiers down to the castle gates.

"But we have no food to give them," Korgon had said, his voice a distressed whine.

"Yes, we do." Devlin had a hard loaf of bread stored in his pocket dimension. He'd won it off the guards in their final game of cards. He'd brought it forth and broke it into tiny pieces the way the elves had taught him. Rending items using his mind made him break out in a sweat. He had then given each of the guards a portion, sticking the morsels on the tips of their little wooden swords.

Korgon had squealed when the bread seemed to appear out of nowhere, and all at once.

"What did you do?"

"You can feed the elves now."

"Yay!" Korgon, who had always positioned the large castle between them, now rushed Devlin, hugging him. "You saved Dovington!"

"And the elves," Devlin had said. "They're not the enemy."

"Who is our enemy?" Korgon had asked, perplexed.

King Karl had cleared his throat, behind them. Devlin had immersed himself in the game, so he'd forgotten the king was there, judging him. What if he'd done something wrong?

"We don't need enemies to be good rulers," King Karl had said. "Interesting trick, young Devlin. That looks like prison bread."

Devlin had nodded.

"Did you keep it where you keep your second deck of cards?"

Devlin had nodded again.

"I'll send to Abilwyn for one of the mage guild at once. If you can build a pocket dimension at your age, what else can you do?"

Devlin had shrugged, and King Karl had laughed. "Don't worry, my boy. I'd keep you as Korgon's companion, even if you had no magic."

"Really?" Korgon had asked, pulling back from where he was still gripped tight to Devlin. "I can keep him?"

"Son, we don't keep people."

"But he's my friend!"

"Yes," Devlin had said. "I'm your friend, and you can keep me as a friend, if you're a good friend, too."

Korgon had stepped back, his eyes round. "Like how?"

"Like we don't kill elves, for starters," Devlin had said.

King Karl had chuckled as he approached them. "He likes to play on the floor during council meetings. I thought his head was a sieve, but he remembers things. More like a little pitcher, aren't you?" He had ruffled Korgon's hair, and Devlin's new friend smiled up at his father with true affection. Devlin wanted a family like that.

He remembered the first time King Karl had ruffled his hair. He'd been frustrated with his lessons for the day and ready to quit magic entirely. "Don't give up. Korgon needs you to be the best magician you can be."

"It's so hard!" His Surgical Master had assigned an ancient scroll in High Farbonni, the ancient language of the Dashalin. It had been a dead language for centuries by the time humans had sailed the Middle Sea to Farbonnur. From what Devlin could tell, the scroll explained non-magical surgeries to repair torn arteries. The elves had little need of magical healing, since they healed so quickly themselves. The word vexing Devlin for an hour, one he had to cross reference in three other sources, was bukari. "This whole scroll is about keeping deer from bleeding to death!" He shook it out with a flourish, and the roll fell to the floor and flopped to King Karl's feet.

"It sounds difficult," King Karl had admitted as he scooped it up and piled it on the desk. "So is ruling Farbonnur. What if I gave up tomorrow, abdicated the throne and left Korgon in charge? How would you protect him?"

"But you can't!" Devlin had said. "You can't leave! We're not ready!"

King Karl had sighed. "I wasn't ready when my father died. I told him no man in his eighties should be riding off on a hunt. Did he listen? Of course not. He probably didn't even see the branch that knocked him off his horse."

"What did you do?" Devlin had asked, noting the sadness in the king's voice. Devlin wouldn't care one way or the other if he discovered his father had died. His father had sold him into an apprenticeship when he was eight, saying his new bride wouldn't accept a son. Devlin's mother, like Korgon's, had died in childbirth.

"I did my best," King Karl had replied. "Some days, it was terrible, I'll admit. As time went on, I got better." He had ruffled Devlin's hair again. "You will, too, as long as you never give up."

Devlin had redoubled his efforts. Now, High Farbonni came as easily to him as breathing. It hadn't been enough. All the training and all the magic in Farbonnur hadn't been enough to save King Karl. Remorse and guilt mingled with Devlin's loss of the man he'd respected more than his own father.

When King Karl had taken sick a month before Korgon's eighteenth birthday, Devlin had missed the signs of poison. King Karl had had headaches off and on for the past five years. The timing had never occurred to Devlin before. Today, on Korgon's eighteenth birthday and coronation day, Devlin remembered. Filvane had shown up unannounced a full month after King Karl's first migraine. He'd offered herbal supplements to enhance Devlin's magic. Worse, they had helped, and Devlin had felt like a failure. Now, he knew Filvane had poisoned King Karl. He'd found a vial still tucked in a secret cubbyhole in Filvane's room. He also suspected Filvane of causing the headaches. He intended to question Filvane when the guards brought him into the throne room. Then, he'd leave the man's fate in Korgon's capable hands. It would be his first ruling as King of Farbonnur.

When Devlin reached the guard station, he withdrew the vial from his pocket dimension. He flourished it before the captain of the guard and the five men on duty. Devlin had carnal knowledge of two of them, but he couldn't remember their names. It hadn't seemed important when they'd had their lips around his cock.

He handed a letter to Filvane from the head of the Church of Light in Abilwyn to the captain. "Filvane and a Prior of Light conspired to kill King Karl with this poison."

The captain's lips thinned to a line. "How do we know you didn't forge this letter and poison him yourself?"

Devlin sighed. He'd broken protocol and risked high treason by pulling a sample of the poison out of Karl's blood. Then, he'd cast a location spell to find the rest. The spell had led him to Filvane's rooms, and the cubbyhole.

"You don't," he said to the captain. "That's why you need to arrest him and question him."

"After the ceremony," the captain said. "We won't ruin Korgon's coronation with one of your shows."

"You'll arrest him now," Devlin said, stopping short of using magic to make his voice stronger. "Korgon needs to show his strength as a ruler. What better way than to try his father's murderer as his first action as king?"

"It wouldn't hurt to question him," one of Devlin's former lovers said. Jorge, maybe? Josue?

Devlin followed the guards as they approached the king's dressing room. King Korgon stood on a footstool while his tailor put the finishing touches on his wardrobe. Filvane stood in the corner, a slight sneer for Devlin as they approached.

"I sensed when you found the vial," Filvane said. "All that magic, and you didn't bother to disarm my spell to detect intruders."

Devlin wiped his sweaty palms on his new trousers. Filvane knew he'd found the poison, and that he was coming, yet he stayed by King Korgon's side.

"So, you admit it?" the captain asked, flummoxed.

"I poisoned King Karl." Filvane's grin widened as Korgon turned toward him. Korgon's face, already pale from mourning, was livid with anger.

Korgon pushed the tailor to the side and rushed Filvane. He took three steps before uttering a strangled cry, grabbing his head and falling to his knees.

Devlin heard a roar, like a thousand bells ringing at once. The sound crushed him from all angles. He bowed to it, then knelt on the floor, pressing his forehead to the stone. He twisted to see the guards all in the same state of agony. Some writhed on the floor, while some were unmoving, as though they had passed out. He felt a hand on his ankle. He bent his head to see Korgon on his hands and knees, pulling himself forward with horrible effort.

"Devlin?" Korgon cried.

He had magic, for gods' sake. He reached for it instinctively. Instead of the steady force of fire he summoned, a tiny puff of smoke bolted toward Filvane's head. It dissipated as it met an invisible barrier around Filvane.

"Magic," he croaked. Filvane had never shown any signs of his own magic. Usually, other magic users had an aura, some so bright Devlin could pick them out of a crowded marketplace. Filvane had seemed so innocuous in his brown robes with close-cropped salt-and pepper beard, and his eyes a brown so dark his pupils got lost in them.

Devlin reached down and grasped Korgon's hand. He had no idea how to protect the young king from Filvane. His magic seemed worthless in comparison.

Filvane, who had been focusing on the door, now turned his attention to Devlin.

Sleep.