A March of Kings

CHAPTER ONE

King MacGil stumbled into his chamber, having had way too much to drink, the room spinning and his head pounding from the night’s festivities. A woman whose name he did not know clung to his side, one arm draped around his waist, her shirt half-removed, leading him with a giggle towards his bed. Two attendants closed the door behind them and disappeared discreetly.

MacGil did not know where his queen was, and on this night he did not care. They rarely shared a bed anymore, she often retiring to her own chamber, especially on nights of feasts, when the meals went on too long. She knew of her husband’s indulgences, and she did not seem to care. After all, he was king, and MacGil kings had always ruled with entitlement.

But as MacGil aimed for bed the room spun too fiercely, and he suddenly threw this woman off. He was no longer in the mood for this.

“Leave me!” he commanded, and shoved her away.

The woman stood there, stunned and hurt, and the door opened and the attendants returned, each grabbing one arm and leading her out. She protested, but her cries were muffled as they closed the door behind her.

MacGil sat on the edge of his bed and rested his head in his hands, trying to get his headache to stop. It was unusual for him to have a headache this early, before the drink had time to wear off, but tonight was different. It had all changed so quickly. The feast had been going so well; he had been settling in with a fine choice of meat, a strong cask of wine, when that boy, Thor, had to surface and ruin everything. First it was his intrusion, with his silly dream; then his knocking his goblet out of his hands.

Then that dog had to appear and lap it up, and drop dead in front of everyone. MacGil had been shaken ever since. The realization had stuck him like a hammer: someone had tried to poison him. To assassinate him. He could hardly process it. Someone had snuck past his guards, past his wine and food tasters. He had been a breath away from being dead, and it still shook him.

He recalled Thor’s being taken away, to the dungeon, and he wondered again if it had been the right command. On the one hand, of course, there was no way the boy could have known that goblet was poisoned unless he himself had poisoned it, or was somehow complicit in the crime. On the other hand, he knew Thor had deep, mysterious powers, too mysterious, and perhaps he had been telling the truth: maybe he had indeed envisioned it in a dream. Maybe he had, in fact, saved his life, and maybe MacGil had sent to the dungeon the one person truly loyal.

MacGil’s head pounded at the thought, as he sat there rubbing his too-lined forehead, trying to work it all out. But he had drank too much on this night, his mind was too foggy, his thoughts swirled, and he could not get to the bottom of it all. It was too hot in here, a sultry summer night, his body overheated with hours of food and drink, and he felt himself sweating.

He reached over and threw off his mantle, then his outer shirt, dressed in nothing but his undershirt, and reached up and wiped the sweat off his brow, then his beard. He leaned back and pulled off his huge, heavy boots, one at a time, and curled his toes as they hit the air. He sat there and breathed