The Temple of Forgotten Secrets – C.J. Archer

The man I’d known as King Leon was buried on a rise at the edge of the royal estate. The site offered a view of the palace, and the grave was marked with a hastily carved headstone. Theodore suggested a mausoleum be built to honor him, but no one else had championed the idea. Balthazar went so far as to suggest the headstone shouldn’t acknowledge Leon as king at all. But that would be a sign to the world that Leon had gained the throne through trickery. While it was the truth, it wasn’t the official stance of the ministers and noblemen. They didn’t believe magic was involved, despite hearing his dying confession. Those of us who knew about the memory loss that plagued the palace’s inhabitants did. I was still in shock, some four days later. It was one thing to use the sorcerer’s magic to become king, but it was another to lie about it to those affected. It wasn’t just the palace staff who’d suffered from Leon’s actions; residents of The Thumb had lost their livelihoods when the magical event known as The Rift cut off their peninsula from the mainland to make Glancia a richer nation. The people of Mull had also suffered as the Vytillian refugees from The Thumb swarmed into our village looking for work, shelter, food and basic necessities. Months later, there still wasn’t enough accommodation, employment or basic necessities to support the newcomers pouring into the village, and the locals were angry at the rising costs. Unrest simmered, occasionally boiling over onto the streets, particularly in the village’s underbelly, The Row. The one good thing to come of Leon’s death had been the hush that had blanketed Mull ever since the crier announced his demise.

Troubles were set aside to discuss what his death meant to Glancia in general and Mull in particular. The whisper of war was on everyone’s lips. Without an heir, Glancia had no king. The two highest ranked nobles, the Dukes of Gladstow and Buxton, were rumored to be gathering support from among the other nobles to claim the throne for themselves. Both refused to allow the other to become ruler, and neither was prepared to hand the country over to a foreigner. The only legitimate claimant to the throne was King Philip of Vytill, a distant cousin to King Alain, Leon’s purported father and the previous ruler of Glancia. To be swallowed up by Vytill went against every nobleman’s sense of honor and pride. They’d rather die than see him sit on the throne. The Glancian townsfolk weren’t too enthused by the notion either, but it didn’t matter what we wanted. We would bend with the wind, no matter which way it blew.

We would be become Vytillian citizens if it was deemed the best course, or our men would become soldiers if the nation descended into a war over the succession. I felt hopeless as I waited, along with everyone else in Mull, for the dukes or King Philip to make the first move. Gladstow and Buxton had remained at the palace, each of them occupying a different wing from which they schemed. Neither was prepared to give up the seat of power, even though the palace hadn’t existed mere months ago and the official Glancian capital was still Tilting. The glorious building had become a symbol of Glancia’s newfound status as a rival to Vytill, and symbols of wealth and power would become important in the coming weeks and months. I saw little of Dane and the other servants in the four days since Leon’s burial. Four days of frustration as I waited for him to come to the village or send me a message. Four whole days wondering what he would do now that the truth was out. Too long wondering if he would leave and go in search of his past. If he did decide to leave, what would become of me? My days stretched on into nothingness in Mull.

With my apothecary work taken from me by Doctor Ashmole’s wife, I had little to do. The few pregnancies in the village weren’t enough to keep me busy, and there was only so much cooking and cleaning at Meg’s house that I could stomach. Besides, I couldn’t impose on her family forever. On the fifth day after the burial, I decided to visit the palace. Meg came with me. She claimed she merely wanted to go for a walk, but I suspected she was as keen to see Sergeant Max as I was to see Dane. The palace looked exactly the same. There was no sign that the king had recently died and the country was now facing uncertainty. The gilding still glinted in the sunshine, the northern and southern wings still dwarfed the twin pavilions, and two guards still stood at the front gate. “The captain didn’t tell us to expect you, Josie,” the one named Ray said with an apologetic shrug.

“Are you here to meet him?” “Not specifically,” I said. “I came to see how everyone is faring after…” I glanced at Meg. “After the king’s death.” Ray shifted his stance. “I don’t know how I feel. Numb, I suppose.” “I know how I feel,” the other guard spat. “Angry. That prick lied to us for months. He stole our lives from us.

And now he’s gone and we can’t get answers.” “It’s frustrating,” I said heavily. “You don’t know. You can’t know.” Ray thumped the other guard’s arm. “Don’t get mad at her. It ain’t her fault.” “Sorry, Josie,” the guard muttered. He stepped aside. “Go on through.

” “We shouldn’t let her in without an appointment or the captain’s instruction,” Ray said. “It’s just Josie, you idiot.” I gave them both grim smiles and hurried through the gate before they changed their minds. As we crossed the large forecourt, I braced myself for Meg’s questions. They came as soon as we were out of earshot. “Were they talking about the king? What did the guard mean by stealing their lives?” It was time to tell her. Both the large outer and small inner forecourts were relatively quiet. Sedan chairs traversed from the palace door to the gate and back again, ferrying noblewomen. Nobody walked past us. Most of the men would be inside discussing the succession, and the women were either with them or walking in the formal gardens on the other side of the palace.

I stopped Meg at the fountain. We were far enough from all buildings that no one could be lurking nearby and listening. It was easy to spot anyone who came close. “I should have told you this days ago, but I wasn’t sure it was my place to do so,” I said. “It’s time you knew.” “Let me guess your next sentence. You don’t want me to tell anyone, not even my family.” “You’re smart.” “I know you too well,” she countered. “Go on then, Josie.

Out with it. What’s the big secret the guards have all been hiding?” “It’s not just the guards, it’s everyone at the palace, including the king.” I told her everything I knew about the memory loss and magic, and I finished with the king’s dying confession. Her jaw dropped a little more with each sentence. When I finished, she simply stared at me. “Have you got nothing to say?” I prompted. “You must have questions, although I doubt I can answer them. We all still have questions, perhaps more than ever. The king died without giving any answers.” “I’m trying to fathom it all,” she murmured.

I squeezed her arm. “It’s a lot to take in.” “How do the poor servants feel, knowing the only person who could give them answers is dead?” I gazed back at the two guards at the gate. “It’s no wonder they’re angry.” We walked off in the direction of the garrison at the tip of the northern wing, each of us lost in thought. Considering this was Meg’s first time at the palace, I’d expected her to be more awed by its grandeur. My news must have overwhelmed her. “Why do they remain?” she asked. “Why not go in search of their families?” “They don’t know where to begin their search. At least here, they’re together.

They’re among friends in the same predicament.” I indicated the palace. “This is the only home they know.” There were more guards in the garrison than usual. They lounged about, resting their booted feet on the table, napped in chairs, or picked at the bread and cheese. I was greeted amiably upon entry. Some nodded, and others smiled or greeted me by name, while Max ushered us inside. “Come. Sit.” He pulled out a chair for Meg but not for me.

She sat, tilting her head to the side in an attempt to obscure her birthmark. No one was fooled. Some of the men stared at the plum colored patch on her jaw and neck for a few brief moments before returning to their conversations and ale. Meg was the only one who seemed to care. At least she’d come today. Mere weeks ago, she would never have dared. Max sat beside her, while Erik pulled up a chair. “Two pretty ladies in our garrison today.” The Marginer beamed. “We are lucky.

” “You have many pretty ladies in the service commons,” I chided him. “Aye, but they are not here now. You are.” He took my hand and kissed the back then did the same with Meg. Max rolled his eyes. “Go and find something to do, Erik.” “There is nothing to do. All is quiet at the palace.” “Then go and polish your sword.” One of the men snickered.

“And not talk to Josie and Meg?” Erik crossed his arms and shook his head. “You cannot have them both to yourself, Max. I will stay. Hammer would want me to.” He winked at me. I couldn’t help laughing. Erik always had a way of cheering me up with his open exuberance. Meg, however, eyed him carefully. I suspected she wasn’t quite sure what to make of the big guard with his thick accent, tattooed forehead, and long blond hair. We’d always been told that folk from The Margin were a squabbling, disorganized horde of barbarians, who luckily had no interest in crossing Hawk River into Glancia.

Erik was the first one we’d ever seen. If all Marginers were like him, it might not be so terrible to let them come. “Did you come to see Hammer?” Max asked me. “Not particularly,” I lied. “I brought tea.” I pulled out a jar of mildwood leaves that Meg and I had gathered from the slopes of Lookout Hill and dried in her mother’s kitchen. “Tea?” the guard named Tom scoffed. “What do we want tea for?” He picked up his cup. “We have ale.” The guard sitting next to him shifted suddenly, and Tom hissed under his breath at him.

He set down his cup and turned to me with a hard smile. “Although tea will be nice in the mornings,” he said. “Thank you, Josie.” “I’ll deliver it to the kitchen on my way out,” I said. “Would you like me to look at your leg or did he not kick you that hard?” “Er…” “Forgive them, Josie,” Max said quickly. “We’re glad to see you, whether or not you bring tea.” “Also, they are fools,” Erik added. “Especially Tom.” “Oi!” Tom cried. “He kicked me.

Where’s the sympathy?” Max cleared his throat. “My apologies, Meg. They’re not usually this irritating.” “They are,” one of the other guards shot back. “They’ll get worse after a few ales. If I were you, Miss Meg, I’d be long gone before then.” Meg smiled weakly. “Duly noted, thank you.” The guard smiled back at her. Max scowled.

“There are more guards than usual in the garrison,” I pointed out. “Why aren’t you all on duty?” “There’s not much to do without the king,” Max said. “We used to have a minimum of six men escorting him at all times, and others stationed outside his rooms or along the path if he went for a walk.” “The dukes don’t want you to do that for them?” “Doesn’t matter if they do,” Tom said. “We work for the monarchy, not the nobles.” I didn’t think his reasoning very sound. After all, if they were seen to do nothing, they were in danger of being dismissed to save money. At this perilous time, the treasury shouldn’t be spending more than necessary. Hopefully the ministers were too caught up with political machinations to notice idle servants. “It is strange without the king,” Erik said quietly.

Max arched a brow at me and nodded at Meg. “She knows about the magic,” I told him. “I’m still coming to terms with it all,” she said. “So are we,” he added. “Everyone feels restless since Leon admitted it. No one knows what to do next.” “Has anyone left?” I asked. “Not yet, but I think some will.” “Where’s the captain?” “Meeting the sheriff in Mull to discuss security.” “I thought there was little for the guards to do in the village now.

It seems quiet.” “We thought so too, but the mood is shifting again,” Max said. “The shock of the king’s death is wearing off, and the old troubles are resurfacing. There’s talk among some of protesting about rising costs and the influx of Vytillians from The Thumb.” “Let me guess,” Meg said wryly. “Is Ned Perkin the instigator?” “That’s what Hammer’s gone to find out.” “Ned needs to be put in his place, once and for all. He and Ivor Morgrain. Do you know, he tried telling me he was no longer a friend of Ned’s? I didn’t believe him.” “Why not?” I asked.

“Because he made a particular point of asking me to tell you. He’s simply trying to win you over, Josie. Thank goodness you’re smart enough not to fall for him and his lies.” “Aye,” Erik said with a decisive nod. “She is Hammer’s woman.” “She is no one’s anything.” Meg swallowed her next words and sank into her chair, her face reddening. She’d retreated into her shell again after briefly emerging. I wished she wouldn’t. She had worthy opinions that ought to be heard.

Erik grinned. “She is Hammer’s woman. This man Ivor will learn it the hard way.” “Ignore him,” Max said to Meg. “He’s as subtle as a hammer picking flowers.” The door opened and Balthazar entered. He paused upon seeing Meg and me, then resumed his plodding pace toward a spare chair. Theodore entered behind him. “Josie!” He threw his arms around me. “It’s good to see you.

” I introduced them to Meg, and just as I finished, Dane and Quentin arrived. Like Balthazar, Dane paused upon seeing me, and like Theodore, Quentin threw his arms around me. “I hope these lugs haven’t been boring you to death,” Quentin said. “You’re the boring one,” a guard muttered. Theodore poured two cups of wine from the jug on the sideboard and handed one to Balthazar. “We’ve missed you, Josie. What brings you here today?” “A lack of work,” I said. At his frown, I added, “We’re bored.” Balthazar waved his cup to take in the other guards. “And you hoped to find entertainment here?” “Your company is always a delight, Balthazar.

” He grunted but a small smile ghosted his lips as he sipped. “Max was just telling us the village is growing restless again.” I addressed myself to Dane, who’d yet to say a single word. I couldn’t fathom what he thought of my presence in his garrison. “The sheriff has his concerns,” he said. “After meeting with him today, I now share them.” “Why?” Balthazar asked. “What did he say?” “The two factions in The Row are fighting again. But that’s not the biggest threat. Ned Perkin conducts meetings in The Anchor every night, and his followers are growing.

” “Apparently his speeches are rousing,” Quentin added. “Sheriff Neerim says Perkin is a born leader and the people listen to him.” Meg clicked her tongue but didn’t say anything. I suspected she had strong opinions but was keeping them to herself out of shyness. “What does Ned want?” I asked. “The issues are beyond simple resolutions. The population explosion can’t be easily resolved, nor can prices simply be lowered. Not until supplies increase. The ships can’t bring in more supplies until the harbor is dredged to allow for bigger ships, and homes can’t be built without land and materials, or the money to purchase them.” Dane eased himself onto a chair with the softest of sighs.

It was the only sign that the wounds caused by the animal trap still troubled him. “Perkin is focusing on the housing shortage,” he said. “He’s reminding everyone that The Row is taking up a significant parcel of land.” “By keeping the poorest of the poor off the street,” I pointed out. “We already know he doesn’t want to rehouse the poor,” Meg said. “He made that clear at the last village meeting. Ned is shortsighted. He can’t see that the consequences of removing The Row will be devastating for the people living there.” “And lead to even more unrest,” Balthazar added. “There’ll be unrest before that happens,” Dane said.

“Perkin is planning protests. The sheriff is worried and has sent for reinforcements.” My village was becoming less and less like the home I knew. Sometimes I longed for the days when the annual fair brought the most excitement. Other times, I remembered that I would never have met Dane if The Rift never happened. “Let me know if I can be of assistance,” Balthazar said to Dane. “Life is quiet here at the palace lately. Too quiet. There are no revels to plan, no grand dinners to organize, and more and more nobles are leaving every day.” “You should put your feet up and relax,” Quentin told him.

Balthazar tapped his leg with his walking stick. “These feet can’t go up. I have to do something. If not, I might as well be dead.” “At least you still have some work to keep you occupied,” Theodore said with a sigh. “I am a valet without a master. In the last few days, I have rearranged the clothes in the royal wardrobe five times and taken stock of all jewels and personal effects four times.” “Become a guard,” said one of the guards. “You can’t be any worse than Quentin.” Quentin rolled his eyes.

“At least his company will be more interesting than yours.” Theodore chuckled. “I’d rather rearrange the wardrobe again. I’ve also been running errands for Balthazar. While we still have staff here at the palace, he has work to do, if significantly less.” “Once the dukes leave, the rest of the nobles will follow,” Dane said. “When that happens, the palace really will feel empty.” Balthazar lifted his gaze to Dane’s, and a worried look passed between them. “And the number of staff we currently have will become unnecessary,” Balthazar said. “If the dukes want to decrease costs, that’s where they’ll start.

” “Is it their decision to make?” I asked. “Or the finance minister’s?” “The finance minister died two days ago,” Dane said. “He succumbed to his illness.” “And Dr. Clegg?” I asked, referring to the finance minister’s private doctor. Dr. Clegg and I had clashed on numerous occasions, even though I had the king’s support. It didn’t concern Leon that I was a woman. He only saw me as a doctor. It had been his one good trait.

“He left,” Dane said. That meant Doctor Ashmole was the only qualified medic within miles. “Lord Claypool is the new finance minister,” Dane said. “But he is still coming to terms with the position.” “Miranda’s father? I’m glad. He seems sensible. Which duke does he support?” “A good question,” Balthazar said. “Publicly, he’s not saying. His lack of allegiance was why he was appointed finance minister so swiftly. Neither duke opposed him.

Besides, they’ve been busy these last few days. Very busy. They were appointed co-regents, giving them complete authority over decisions affecting the realm. But they must agree. Financial savings will be an area they agree on.” “One of few,” Max added. “I heard they argued throughout most of that meeting. And to think, they were allies when Leon was alive.” “Their aims aligned then. They don’t anymore.

” “They claim they won’t fight each other for the crown,” Quentin piped up. “They promised they wouldn’t ruin the country with a war of succession.” Ray snorted. “If you believe them, you’re a fool.” “Which one has the strongest support?” I asked. “Hard to say,” Dane said. “Few noblemen have publicly acknowledged their allegiance. We suspect many will do so once they leave the palace and return to the relative safety of their own estates. Until then, only the dukes know.” “Perhaps not even they,” Balthazar said.

“Some lords will play both sides until they can see what the outcome will be.” “You know quite a lot about the nature of powerful men and politics,” I said. “Perhaps you were an advisor before you lost your memory.” “I would have been recognized by one of the noblemen,” he pointed out. “And I like to think I’m more of an observer of human nature than of power and politics.” “Are they not the same thing?” Theodore quipped. Balthazar lifted his cup in salute. “So it would seem.” “Do you think the dukes will depart soon?” I asked. Dane nodded.

“And what of Lord Barborough? Has he returned to Vytill?” “Not yet,” Dane said. “He has been ordered to leave, but he remains here, like a stain that can’t be removed. The moment he’s caught spying, however, he’ll be escorted out of the country. So far, he has stayed out of the way and not been seen speaking to any of the nobles.” Theodore p


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