“Why are you listening to him?!” Perceval said. “You’re going to start a war!”
The King of Laien kept his head bowed. He did not open his eyes. “This is a holy place. You will keep your mouth shut.”
Theodore waited, and watched. A bell rang across the chapel and the whole cathedral vibrated with the lingering hum. This was how the prince managed to get Theodore face-to-face with King Stonewall. In the letter, Perceval explained that his father came to the Mother’s sanctuary to pray whenever vexed or in need of guidance. The attack on North Manor more than qualified. If Perceval came with his father, and Theodore happened to be waiting ahead of them, the prince was sure they could make his father listen.
The priest circled the balconies of the upper floor, shuffling to each of the eight bells in turn for what felt like an eternity. One would ring, and the congregation would murmur another verse of prayer. The prince seethed, waiting for it all to finish, glaring murder at his father until the last bell was struck. He did not wait for the ringing to fade.
“I trust what Theo is telling us,” Perceval said in a hiss. “If you do what Conrad proposes, you won’t be stopping a revolt, you’ll be creating one!”
King Stonewall bent down and reached with his thinning arms to turn his wheel chair to look at the two of them. He wore only a simple dressing robe and his crown. His face was drawn, unimpressed with his son’s bluster, and weary from a lifetime of weathering disaster. He took his time to respond.
“Knight Detective Whitechain is the first in line to become the next Hero Champion. He is one of the few members of my cabinet who have proven unfailingly reliable.” The king seemed smaller then when Theodore had seen him last. His skin was port marked, and he had lost all but the last of his hair. What had not changed was the certainty in his voice. “You could stand to learn something from him.”
“I agree, your majesty. Conrad is fastidious with all he does.” Theodore needed to be careful. He was standing here thanks only to the prince, and they were one wrong word away from losing this chance. “However, he does not understand the reality of what is happening in the Fairy Circle. This alliance is hanging on by a thread. If we seize control of their government, we will destroy what trust we have left.”
“So I ought to listen to you instead.” The King sighed. “Young man, the detective has many alarming things to say about you. I have allowed you to continue running around because I am grateful that you somehow convinced my son to return. Do not mistake that for trust.”
“Theo is innocent! Conrad is blaming him for my mistakes!” The prince said, drawing attention from the crowd. There were only a handful of others in the ring of worship, but they were transfixed.
“The Court will decide.” The King rolled his wrist towards the heavens. “If he is guiltless, you’ve nothing to worry about.”
Perceval clawed at his hair. “You aren’t listening! I know Theo can fix this situation, but you don’t believe me! You’d rather just let everything fall apart!! Why don’t you ever listen to me?!”
“Percy.” Theodore held his hands up to calm him. “Please don’t.”
“Because you are a spoiled child who assumes he already knows everything,” the King said, turning his wheelchair away. “We are done here.”
Royal knights moved in to escort them out. Theodore felt a rush of panic. Percy charged his father and wrenched the wheel chair back to face him.
“Why are you like this!?” He said. “Did you even look at the reports I sent to you?! Theo stopped the Red Caps! The creatures adore him! If anyone can help us right now, it’s him!”
“I said we are done. We will discuss this later.”
“Devil damn you, old man! I hate you!”
Theodore’s eyes darted. The bystanders witnessed the scene with shock and amusement.
“I won’t have you cause a scene here of all places.” The King glanced at the guards. “Return him to his room.”
The knights pulled both Perceval and Theodore from the chapel. They dumped Theodore at the foot of the cathedral steps, but before they could escort him away, Perceval yanked his shoulders free of their hold.
“I need to talk to him,” he said. “Two minutes.”
The commanding officer folded his arms. “Be quick about it.”
Perceval rejoined Theodore under the shadow of the royal knights.
“Stubborn old bastard,” the prince said, kicking a stray stone in the road. “Can you believe this?”
Theodore stared. His mind had been somewhere else, drifting back to the last time he had seen his father. He remembered the argument they had parted ways with. Perceval’s anger reminded him of his own, and it seemed so much more childish seen from outside.
“It’s not easy for you to talk to one another.”
“No.” He said, sneering. “What tipped you off?”
Sitting down on the steps, Theodore looked into space. “You’re both angry, and you’re both frustrated. So, it always ends up like this. With screaming.”
“It wouldn’t have to scream if he would just hear me out! If he cared at all!”
Theodore shook his head. “I think he cares. Maybe too much. He wants you to be the best you can be. He wants to make sure you’re ready. But he doesn’t understand, because you can’t talk.”
“So what the hell am I supposed to do? It’s always been like this! He never listens, and treats me like an idiot! There’s nothing I can do!”
Maybe there was something. Theodore wondered what he would do, if he had another chance to talk to his father. “Maybe… I don’t know. If you could show you hear him first. Let him know. Trust him when he says he’s trying to do the right thing. Forgive him.”
“Why should I?” The prince said. “He’s the one who’s in the wrong!”
“He doesn’t have to be right,” Theodore said. “You can forgive him anyway. Try to be the first to listen. See if you can make what you have work, even if it’s not much. Maybe there’s a chance.” He paused. “But it’s too late now. It’s too late.” Lance was gone.
The prince went quiet.
“I’m sorry,” Theodore said. He stood up, fixing himself in the present. “This is your affair, not mine. I have work to do.”
“Father won’t listen to us. Conrad is readying an army. What are you going to do?”
Theodore looked out across the city, out toward the Whirlwood. “Oboe has an idea.”