~ Prologue ~

Blue blood. Helps one recognize true greatness, doesn't it? Each story is, in the end, sealed with it. Yet, few people know that there are places where blue blood is kept. Years and years, waiting to be used. In glass vials, cauldrons, bottles of all size, placed carefully over shelves or lying forgotten under dusty racks with all kind of other old stuff, it's there - dark blue, thick and glazed. Waiting patiently to be spilled. Because blue blood is, in fact, ink.

Words. History is all words. Our memories are words, clothed in images. We die. The words live. And while simple blood is to be forgotten, blue blood is sure to be remembered. Because when everything else is gone, words stay.

As to the story that will follow, all you need to know is someone, somewhere wrote those exact words...

~ There Is Always A Conspiracy ~

There were candles that lit the Queen's boudoirs every night. She liked the way their glow softened furniture outlines, the way each her movement caused a shift in the air.

Late at night, when everybody in the kingdom, including the guards under her window, were asleep, she cast the heavy bed covers away, braided her long hazel hair and headed towards the antique bookshelf in the distant part of the boudoir. And there, while flipping through the worn pages of another dog-eared book, she was finally home again.

Lazy afternoons by the river Earl with the sun setting pompously between the long reaching hands of the willows. Early mornings with the scent of oncoming summer. Life tasted a lot like a promise. This was a long, long time ago. The rays that used to cradle her girlish dreams seemed to be part of someone else's life now.

The Queen left the book in her lap and looked up at the tiny sleeping figure in the crib. The future king was sleeping. She reached one hand to stroke his hair and smiled.

Funny thing, she thought, most people were simply born... people, while her son was born a king.

'Your husband has gone completely nuts,' a low male voice commented behind her back.

The Queen's lips curved up into a wider smile. She stood up from her armchair and put the book down in the crib.

'Hey, Maverick,' she greeted before fully facing him.

The young man lazily bumped himself off the balcony doorframe he had been leaning against, and headed towards the inside of the boudoir without hurrying. The Queen followed.

Maverick had the ability to move without wasting too much energy on it. He didn't cross the rooms, he was simply strolling around. He was never in a hurry. He was wandering while things just happened to be in his way.

'He wants me to investigate the conspiracy against him,' Maverick declared and dropped into a pompously draped armchair, draping an arm over its cherubim-decorated back.

'Under the pretext you're collecting information for the Chronicle, Maverick,' he continued under his nose, scrunching his forehead and tapping his knuckles over the leather clad book in his lap.

Oh, right. The book. The Chronicle. The book of all books. Maverick brought it along everywhere he went. Probably he had grown physically attached to it. The Queen tilted her head to the side, her eyes following the rough stitches that kept the sheets together. That's just how filthy and unworthy the most valuable possession in this kingdom looked.

'After so many wars,' Maverick went on while his look scanned the candle lit room (the Queen liked candles) 'he finally managed to get a concussion.'

The Queen gave him a scornful look. He returned it openly. She rose an eyebrow and crossed her hands. He rose a finger,

'Oh, oh, oh,' he shook his head. 'No.'

She looked at him even more insistently.

'No way.'


'I said, forget it.'

'You know there is a conspiracy,' she pointed out innocently.

Change of tactics. She was gonna make this slowly, step by step. Lead him towards the answer blindly, so that it looked like the only logical thing to do, so that he would be a hundred percent sure how he came up with the solution all by himself.

Maverick waved his hand dismissively. He wasn't a man who could be easily blinded. His look scimmed the room restlessly. When it reached the crib, a muscle over his forehead twitched and he turned back towards the Queen.

'Of course there is a conspiracy. There is always a conspiracy.'

The Queen shook her head knowingly.

'It's different this time. Rober is smart. He wouldn't mention it if he didn't have something in mind. He's too smart for that.'

Maverick rolled his eyes.

'Didn't we just agree that the poor old man had a concussion?'

The Queen srunched her nose in disapproval.

'I think we agreed you wouldn't call him that.'

'You're right, he's hardly... huh, I'm not sure I can count that much.'

The Queen swatted his arm, making a futile attempt to keep her face straight.


'Hey,' he put his hands up in defense, 'it's not my fault that he decided to live forever. And I mean forever,' he stressed the word, giving a meaningful nod. 'Plus, have you ever heard me use the word demented? Never. Not once.'

Maverick was a royal chronicler. He wrote events down the way they were meant to be remembered. Every sane king was aware of the importance of writing history down correctly. And that hardly had anything to do with grammar mistakes. One day people would read the chronicles, they would shake their heads and say, 'Come to think of it, that's exactly how it happened,' the thought they weren't even born at the time never crossing their mind.

The chapel chime struck midnight.

The Queen approached the broad framed mirror, took a golden handled comb and started moving it through her hair.

'You have to stop appearing in my room out of thin air,' she changed topic, surprising him.

Maverick's brows flew up.

'Deal. Next time I'll bring troubadours. Might wake the guards under your window, though, raise questions.'

The Queen gave him a look in the mirror.

'Very funny.'

Maverick held her gaze.

'My stomach hurts with laughter.'

The Queen was one of those women who could make you do anything... anything, just so that you could make them happy. No pressure, no begging or bargaining, no cornering you until you caved in. Nah, it was just that you wanted to see such a woman smile, because a smile stood damn well on her.

The Queen narrowed her eyes.

'You're being impossible. What's with you tonight?'

A muscle across his jaw jumped.

'Nothing's with me tonight.'

In addition to being royal chronicler, Maverick was the most difficult man the Queen had ever known. Both bored and irritated by the rest of the world, he had a ready cynical answer for any situation. If he didn't speak, his look did enough to mock. When he wasn't being ironic, he didn't look at all, he ignored.

Strangely enough, this man was the best royal chronicler in a range of thousands of miles. Maverick had a talent. That was unquestionable. When he was writing, the world seemed to rearrange under his feather. It must be a matter of balance - all those words had to go somewhere, eventually.

The Queen finished combing her hair and put the comb down. Her blue eyes met the reflecion of Maverick's brown ones. They were dark, unsettled.

Whatever he wasn't telling her she wouldn't be able to get out of him. When Maverick refused to talk, there was no force that would make him.

'Maverick, will you help me undress?'

'Thought you'd never ask,' he cheered up, finding himself right beside her.

The Queen looked down, letting a small smile creep up her cheeks. When she blushed, she looked even younger than she was. When she looked back at him, her look bore honest concern.

'Mav... if you're in trouble, you're gonna tell me, right?'

He smirked and shrugged a shoulder.

'I'm a trouble-free man, madam.'

The Queen let out a sigh and reached up to touch his cheek. Two years in the castle had made him look older. A thought crossed her mind - that a man grew old not with his age, but with his heart.

The windows in the King's boudoirs were wide open. The warm June sun threw its last yellow-pinkish rays, the walls of the King's study catching their reflective glow. The air that filled the room smelled like grass, ground and blossom.

'Maverick, what do you think about the Queen?'

Maverick kept on writing in the Chronicle without looking up.

The King was slowly pacing around the massive oak desk where Maverick was sitting, studying the younger man carefully.

'Most members of the court find her pretty mature for her age,' King Rober continued, rubbing his white beard with thumb and middle finger.

Maverick kept writing, seemingly deaf to the King's monologue.

'Maverick' the King continued, 'I'd like to ask you something,' he stopped right before the desk. Then adjusted the belt where his sword hung.

Maverick's hand paused over the worn sheets as he looked up.

'Your Majesty?'

King Rober was a man of considerable age. What age exactly, no one could say, except for, maybe, the King himself. Young women said he looked like a noble person, their mothers remembered he was an attractive man at the time. Boys said he looked like a great warrior, and their fathers believed him to be one of their wisest rulers so far.

Interesting, what could the King possibly want to ask a man like Maverick?

'Do you think I'm too old for her?'

Maverick blinked apprehensively.

'Love has no age, Your Majesty,' he replied mechanically.

The King smiled. The answer seemed to satisfy him.

'Do you know that you and Celia lived in the same village?' he asked, continuing his pace around the room. It was getting dark and Maverick had to stare at the words in order to see them clearly.

'Pardon, Your Majesty?'

The King smiled even wider and his blue eyes fixed the young man behind the desk.

'The Queen,' he began, approaching the desk, 'before she became a queen, lived in he same village as you did - down by the river, by the river Earl.'

Maverick's eyebrows rose slightly.

'Interesting fact, Your Highness.'

The King nodded, seemingly satisfied with this answer, too. Maverick went back to his work, writing one tad faster than he normally would, leaning closer to the book so that he could make out the letters.

'When was the wedding planned?'

The feather froze over the Chronicle.

The King sighed.

'Must have been a couple of weeks away... and then we appeared. Tired and hungry after a battle, inexplicably grateful for the hospitality of the Lord of Dormei. Poor Voghan, how was he supposed to stand before the King and tell him that his daughter was already promised to another?'

Maverick's head was up and his eyes bore holes into the ones of the King. If it weren't for the growing pallor of his face, one would think that two men were just having some guy talk.

The King shook his head and approached the window, passing by the desk.

'You don't really think I would get a chronicler... that I would let someone in my home, without doing some research first?

Maverick breathed slowly. In. Out. Carefully, as if any sudden movement could make his world fall apart. Or maybe it already had.

'I have to admit that, when you came to apply for the job, I was impressed. It was obvious you were well educated, but so are hundreds of others sons of feodal lords. You have the mind of a chronicler. When I learned who you really were, I was even ready to presume there was some mistake. Yet, your part had its weak points, too.'

An unspoken witty comment flashed through Maverick's eyes, but he kept it to himself. Only the knuckles of his right hand were going white around the feather.

The King shook his head understandingly, although he wasn't facing Maverick directly. There was this thing about King Rober - he didn't need to watch people to know what their reaction would look like. He led the conversation in a way that evoked certain reactions. Never the opposite.

'When Celia was in labor,' he answered the unspoken question. 'The love for a woman is far more easily concealed than your concern about her, boy.'

Of course it showed. He must have been pacing the castle corridors blindly for days, clutching the Chronicle in his hand without even remembering to open it. Unshaven, disheveled, with a chalk taste in his mouth.

Complicated labor. What the hell was that supposed to mean? Complicated how? Until when? How long were they gonna keep the damn doors shut, with all those old women and doctors there?

Then, it was finally official - the throne had gotten its heir. The King had a son.

When Maverick heard the news, he felt sick. Terribly. He managed to hide into an old storage room and there, while sitting on the stone floor between two piles of potatoes, he decided to get away. As far as possible. Away from here. Away from the King's son, from the King's wife, from the King's shadow wherever he went.

'What now?' Maverick asked. His voice came out sore.

The King turned to face him, deep in thought, and walked back to the desk to sit in the richly decorated armchair that stood before it.

'It's up to you,' the King answered simply. 'It always is.'

Maverick stood up stiffly. His mouth felt like it was full of cotton.

'What will it be?' the words scratched his throat.

There was a hint of surprise in the King's eyes.

'What do you want me to do?' Maverick repeated.

The King gave him an approving look.

'You're smart, son. That's good.'

He thought for another second, then continued,

'I want you to kill me.'

The declaration caught Maverick off guard. When he came back to his senses, he let out a humorless laugh.

'Excuse me?'

'I want you to get among the conspirators and convince them to let you be the one to kill me.'

That would go well, Maverick thought. I greet them, we have a beer and then I say, 'By the way, I know about the conspiracy and I wanna be the one to kill the King.'

'Look, Maverick, you're a smart boy,' the King said calmly. 'Think about it. How can you stop a riot?'

Maverick chewed on the insides of his cheeks, trying to decide if he should answer. What the hell, if he was going to die anyway, he could as well die telling what was on his mind.

'You can't,' he answered.

'Exactly,' the King nodded. 'Sooner or later, one way or another, it will happen. But this time, it will happen exactly the way we have planned it.'

Maverick blinked.

'We,' he repeated, as if tasting the word.

However he tried to rephrase it, it sounded absurd, he decided. He, Maverick, the King's accomplice in faking his own royal murder.

The King gave him a nod.

'After everything you said, you would pick me for such a job,' Maverick repeated, his voice soaked with disbelief.

If that didn't scream demented, what did?.

'Because of everything I said, young man. Exactly because of it.'

Okay, it was official. The King was nuts.

Maverick smiled joylessly and stood up. The King stood up as well.

'Believe me, whether I'll die by your hand or by the hand of a conspirator, it won't make that much of a difference, Your Majesty. If you excuse me.'

He expected a shot any second now, or maybe a blade, or at least a melodramatic 'Guards, catch this man and chain him up!' behind his back. However, no such thing followed.

Maverick had already reached the door when the King spoke.

'Maverick, have you ever wondered why a man of my age never had an heir, up until now?

Maverick stopped, his forehead furrowing.

'The answer to most questions is beyond simple, my boy. You just have to ask the right questions.'

Maverick's fingers gripped at the golden door handle, his knuckles going white with the tension.

'There is no one in this kingdom who has as much to lose as you do, my boy,' the King sighed. There was no malice in his voice. He was simply laying out the facts. 'I wouldn't trust you with my own life if it weren't so.'

The Queen entered her boudoir, carrying her son in both hands, humming a quiet lullaby.

She stopped as she heard someone come behind her. She took a breath and turned back.

'Maverick, I swear next time you stalk me up like that, I'm gonna call the guards and I'll tell them to...'

She didn't finish. Something had happened. It was written all over his face.

'What happened?' she asked, but this time her voice didn't belong to a queen, but to a woman in love.

Maverick came closer and looked at the babyboy in her hands as if he were seeing him for the first time. Then he looked up at her. Surprise. Betrayal. Anger.

The Queen looked down.

'He told you.'

Maverick exhaled noisily. He had gotten the affirmation he had come for. Congrats, Maverick, it's a boy.

'Someone had to,' he said and made a step back, running both hands through his hair.

So, that's what it felt like. Once Celia told him she felt like she was cheating on a whole kingdom, and not only on her husband. Right now, he had a feeling that he had cheated with a whole kingdom. The King has a problem but - hey, Maverick is here to provide, what the hell...

The Queen held the baby tighter. The child let out a displeased sound and she started bouncing him lightly.

'Mav...' she made a step towards him, but he drew back.

When their eyes met, hers were wide and dark blue and for a moment he saw the reflection of long days spent by the river Earl, days when he would lay with his head in her lap while she read aloud another book she managed to sneak from her father's library. Those days seemed far, far away now.

'How am I supposed to convince them to pick me for such a job?' Maverick paced restlessly around the King's study.

King Rober was sitting in his armchair, watching the young man calmly.

'No one would buy this,' Maverick shook his head.

The King smiled.

'People are easily scared, Maverick,' he began. 'They would do anything to avoid taking responsibility. They like to play by the book, avoiding important decisions.'

Maverick scoffed dismissively. Great, that was just great. Now they were discussing common psychology.

'Think about it,' the King continued, 'why do you write the Chronicle? So that people can read what's happening. Eveyone knows that the most important truths can't be found in a book. Yet, people play by the book. What you write down today could have a powerful impact tomorrow. Not because it's the truth, but because people want to believe so, because that gives them something to hold on to. You'll be surprised how many truths are created by sheer fear. Think about the future king, Maverick.'

Maverick's shoulders tensed.

'How much blue blood does he have in his veins? Yet, one day, he will be King. His children will have blue blood, because they will be the children of the King.'

King Rober shook his head.

'It's all about the way you use the facts at hand, boy. Have the guts to choose what's happening.'

Maverick closed his eyes and rubbed his burning eyelids. His head was about to explode any moment now, creating a good occupation for the cleaning maids. His ears pounded with the King's words. Have the guts to choose what's happening. Again and again, until he started to feel nauseous.

And right there, he remembered those lazy afternoons by the river Earl. Two years, was that only how much time had passed? It all looked like a previous life now. Yet, this dark-haired boy by the river, it was him. And now he was expected to save a kingdom and choose what was happening.

When Maverick looked back at the King, his eyes flashed with determination.

History is... words. Words, written in blue blood.