A wise man, it was said, knows that he knows very little. He does not claim wisdom for himself, rather others believe him to be wise. Well, Lock couldn’t say that he was wise, he didn’t even know if anyone else would grant him that title. He did, however, know a few things. The first one was that he didn’t know the first thing about being King. He had never intended to rule, had never even wanted to rule, and if someone else had volunteered for the job, he would have given it up without a word of complaint.
But the few survivors of the great plague had joyfully dropped being king in his lap and it was his duty to stumble along best as he could. Maybe because they didn’t know anything about being King either. Lock had never ruled anything more than a small house, did it even count when your kingdom had three people in it, and two of them only listened to you when it suited them to do so?
“Lock?” Wesley asked, interrupting what was not Lock’s first reflection upon his unsuitability for the crown. “I suppose I should learn to call you King Lachlan?”
“No.” It came automatically.
“You are the king, though.” Wesley mused, chewing on the inside of his lip, it was a nervous habit.
“Aye, I am the king.” Lock agreed with no particular joy in the statement. “But, as king I can order you to suspend the formality. Unless there’s a crown on my head, I don’t need to be called anything other than Lock, not by you.”
Wesley paused for a moment, kicking at the remnants of paving stone under his feet. “Do we even have a crown anymore?”
“I think it’s locked in the vault up at the palace.” Lock said after a thoughtful pause of his own.
“Are you ever going to go get it?”
“Um, no, probably not.” Lock admitted.
“Why?” Wesley asked.
“If I’m gonna wear a hat, I want one that keeps the weather off.” Lock smirked. “Besides, I haven’t been up at the palace since… since mother’s funeral.” Wesley nodded in understanding at all that was left unsaid behind that comment. “So, I assume you had a question beyond whether or not I should be referred to as King?”
“Oh, aye, what are we doing here?” Wesley gestured at the abandoned farmstead, or rather at the barn that was all that remained of it, besides a weed choked pond and some dead grass.
“I told you I thought I had a solution to our problem.” Lock said.
“Which problem?” Lock scowled at his friend. “Sorry, your majesty, but we have a lot of problems.” And they did, damn it.
“Well, aye, we do, but I was referring to the biggest one. Most of the rest of them are incidental.” Lock sighed. “Anyway, this is part of my solution.” He jerked his chin at the barn.
“An old barn that nobody’s been in since before the-um…”
“Plague.” Wesley made a sign to ward off evil. “Wesley, just saying the word is not going to bring it back onto our heads.”
“How can you know, though, Lock! We don’t know what brought it in the first place!” Wesley protested.
“We can start with because it’s silly and linger there for a while.” Lock retorted. Wesley shook his head.
“You are the great and powerful wizard, Lock, I’m just the sidekick. It can’t hurt to be cautious.” Lock shook his head and looked over his shoulder at the barn. “Still, nobody’s been here for years.”
“Which is why the barn is still here. If anyone had been here when the plague came it would have gotten burned down with all the other buildings.” Lock said.
“Aye…” Wesley trailed off and looked expectantly at his king.
“We’re going to need some place to put these people after they’re brought here.” Lock said. Wesley looked past him at the barn then back at Lock.
“Aye, a barn. It’s a solid structure with four walls and a roof that survived the purge. It’s better than expecting them to set up camp in a pavilion! And with only the few of us and building as fast as we can, we’ve not even got cottages built for those who are already here!” Lock said. “It’s the best I’ve got to offer. Unless you’d rather we set up in the pavilions and let them take my house?”
Wesley made a sour face but didn’t counter. “So why are we here?”
“I believe this is the best day to begin with the summoning.” Lock said.
“You’re going to…” Wesley let it hang again.
“Aye.” And no time like the present, Lock thought to himself. He stepped away from Wesley, who was watching him with the vague curiosity brought on by having seen Lock cast spells for most of his life. Although this one was very different than the ones he usually cast.
It started in the sky as a few beams of soft, shimmering white light. A painful pressure built up behind his ears and the smell of grass and dirt was replaced by a welter of confusing smells.
*thump* Lock staggered as the energy seemed to drain out of him like water out of a pierced barrel. But when he turned to his right, a third person had joined them. He went to his knee by the side of the woman, partially because it made it easier to speak with her, and partially because his legs weren’t too certain that they wanted to continue to function.
“My lady, are you all right?” Lock asked in concern as the woman folded her hands onto her stomach.
“No, and I don’t plan on being ‘all right’ for quite some time.” The woman snapped. Wesley stepped up beside Lock, which caused the woman to mewl in pain and distress. “Where am I?”
“Ri~ight.” The woman said drawing out the word with intense sarcasm. “And where, exactly, would Shadowhaven be?”
“The capital, or at least it once was, of Shadowcrest, m’lady.” Wesley said.
“O-kay.” Lock stood and offered the woman his hand. She looked at it with some skepticism but took it and got to her feet. “I think an explanation might be in order?” She arched a brow at him and then at Wesley.
Lock explained, the woman watching him with slightly narrowed blue eyes and her hands planted on her hips, though her face gave no real inclination of what she thought.
“Okay, so you want me to believe that a plague killed your whole country basically, and now you need people to repopulate it, and I am the very first of your chosen ones.” Lock offered his most sincere face as the woman was quite obviously laughing at him.
“Oh, brother.” The woman said. “And I don’t suppose I can say no and have you send me back?”
“What would you go back to?” Lock asked.
“Oh, I dunno, a career, a life, friends?” She retorted.
“Such as those are.” Lock said. The woman looked at him sharply. “You’re locked into a deadlock at your job, others are getting promoted and you’re just ending up with their work, I do not know what you refer to as having a life, but I know that you do very little outside of work. And for friends, well, my lady, is it truly a friend who would…” The woman seemed to know what he was getting at as she held up a hand and looked defeated.
“My lady, we have need of you here.” Lock said. The woman swore then, staring down at her feet. “My lady?”
“My name is Kennedy. The whole my lady thing is getting on my nerves.” Kennedy said shortly. “And you just had to do that didn’t you, poke apart my arguments and then tell me you need me and leave me to either be a hard-hearted bitch or accept that as crazy as all of this is you might actually need me.”
There didn’t seem to be a lot that Lock could say to that, though she was being very sensible about the whole thing. Very unlike how his brothers had usually referred to the ladies in their life. Lock had limited experience with women, in the days of King Philip, he had only been the fourth son of a second son, and while the king’s nephew by a second marriage, he hadn’t stood to inherit much other than the small estate his father had granted him. Also it was no secret amongst the nobility that he was a wizard, and that kept even the most ardently husband hunting women away.
But still, Kennedy didn’t look at him like most of the women that he had known looked at a man, leaving him vaguely unsettled. If the others were like Kennedy, Shadowcrest would be in for a pretty great upheaval.
“Lachlan.” He offered as she extended her hand, her brow furrowing as he bowed over it. She twisted it in his grip as he straightened and shook it briskly.
“King Lachlan.” Wesley interjected.
“Aye, King.” Lock rolled his eyes. “This is Sir Wesley.” Kennedy extended her hand to Wesley who shook it. “I wish that I had better quarters for you.” Lock admitted as he gestured at the barn behind him. Kennedy walked through the newly installed gate and off down the path toward the building, leaving Lock and Wesley to follow.
“Oh, I don’t know, it’s a rather cute barn. Needs yard work, though.” Kennedy mused. Wesley turned to Lock and offered a tight, uncertain smile. He could practically hear his friend thinking “Are you certain about this?” The truth was Lock wasn’t certain, not at all, but it was the best solution that he had.
Kennedy was ignoring them, more or less, more interested in the barn than the king, apparently.
“It definitely has possibilities.” He heard her say from inside the building. “The furniture leaves something to be desired, a little too rustic, but all in all it could work.”
“Furniture?” Wesley asked as they followed her in.
“There are some barrels and buckets. I did have Master Blake put together a bed, but…” Lock shrugged.
“Sorta looks like the medieval equivalent of my first apartment.” Kennedy laughed. “Now all we need is my cousin storing a keg in the closet and a downstairs neighbor who pounds the ceiling with a broom.”
“Lock?” Wesley said, his voice quiet but more than vaguely disturbed. “I’m not so sure about this. In fact I’m not sure about it at all.”
“I know how you feel,” Lock admitted. “But what choice do we have? I doubt I could even convince criminals to come here, even they fear the plague.”
“Well, it’s probably wise not to fuck with a plague after all.” Kennedy commented from where she was examining a bucket in the corner.
Wesley winced at the profanity. “What about you? He countered. “Aren’t you worried about ‘fucking‘ with a plague?” It was obvious by the emphasis he put on the word he was trying to shock her with it’s use. Kennedy didn’t however react to that challenge.
“I’m a doctor. It’s my job to fuck with diseases that send other people running.” She countered. “I’d have a cushy job with some HMO if I were scared of getting my hands dirty.” She stood up. “What’s upstairs?” She asked, brushing past the two men.
“A bed?” Lock said though he wasn’t sure she heard him, Kennedy was already half up the stairs.
She was standing with her back to them, by the foot of the bed, at the window, staring out at the small sliver of sky that was visible between the shutters. “You weren’t kidding on the ‘a bed’.” She patted the footboard by her hand. “So, let’s get to work.” Kennedy turned away from the window.
“Work?” Wesley asked. Lock shrugged.
Work, apparently to Kennedy, was telling them what it was she was going to need. Kennedy overturned a couple of buckets and made a makeshift table out of one of the barrels.
“I want to see all of your survivors. Here, today.”
“Why?” Lock asked.
“I want to give them a once over, make sure they’re healthy. I don’t half-ass stuff, King Lachlan, certainly not with my patients.” Kennedy told him. “Whatever this plague is-or was-it’s not slipping by my watch, and the only way I can do that is by checking to make sure they’re all healthy now. It won’t take long. Especially if I spare the long lectures about your various bad habits and not eating enough vegetables for some later point.”
“Oh.” Lock said. Kennedy looked confused.
“That… well… that wasn’t quite what I had intended for you to be doing.” Lock offered weakly.
“Even the best laid plans don’t survive the first encounter with the enemy.” Kennedy shrugged.
“And you’re my enemy?”
“Not if you don’t piss me off.” Kennedy smiled faintly. Wesley looked about ready to climb under the table. When a few minutes later Kennedy left to, of all things, boil some water, Wesley motioned Lock closer and spoke in a low voice.
“Please tell me that I’m not supposed to marry that woman.” Wesley’s tone was pleading, Wesley wasn’t quite like Gray. He couldn’t have salamanders surge out of the cooking fire and not bat a lash, but Lock didn’t know that he had ever seen Wesley quite so unnerved.
“I don’t think so.”
“You don’t think so?” Wesley’s voice jumped.
“I’m not certain who’ll be marrying whom.” Lock admitted. “Let’s just say it’s early days for that yet.” Wesley nodded but he still watched Kennedy when she came back into the room like a mouse would watch a cat.
“I am sorry, your majesty, it took… well, Emanuel’s been feeling a bit under the weather,” Fox told Lock, as the weaver finally delivered the last of Lock’s survivors to Kennedy for examination a full hour after the sun had set. The apothecary rocked slowly from side to side and seemed to stumble even though he was standing still. On the night air, the smell of wine lingered like a cloud.
“Of course, I don’t blame you in the slightest, Master Fox.” Lock said with what he hoped was a reassuring smile.
“Some things never change.” Kennedy muttered.
“Your pardon, lady Kennedy?” Fox asked, ringing his hands, it was almost amusing to see the normally surefooted and confident man unnerved.
“Under the weather, apparently it’s always been a euphemism for drunk out of your skull.” Kennedy smirked.
“I’m not drunk!” Emanuel protested. For all of his unsteadiness on his feet, his voice didn’t slur when he spoke.
“Right, you smell like the inside of a wine box.” Kennedy shook her head. a few more tendrils of hair falling loose around her face. “But you haven’t touched a drop.”
“I’ll admit to having a drink or two, but I’m told a drink is good for your health.” Emanuel told her.
“A drink or two, yes, a bottle or two, no.” Kennedy told him sharply. “Go inside and sit down.”
“Sit on what?” He asked, looking around the screen that Kennedy had requested be put up to separate the little nook she’d set a make shift table up in.
“You want me to sit on the table? Didn’t your ma teach you manners?”Emanuel asked.
“No. My mother died when I was still an infant.” Kennedy told him. “My aunt made the attempt, I guess she didn’t succeed to your standards. On the table, Master Apothecary.” Kennedy insisted.
“You’re in rather good health, for a heavy drinker.” She told him after a cursory examination.
“I told you…” Emanuel slumped against the wall.
“Yes, and your body is telling me otherwise. I don’t care what lies you tell your friends, Emanuel, you don’t lie to me. If you don’t start drinking less, your liver will fail and then your mind. Do you want to spend the rest of your life peeing blood and screaming at the phantoms in your head?”
“Then cut it back. However many drinks you had today, have one less tomorrow.”
“You’re not going to tell me to stop drinking entirely?”
“No, I try not to waste my breath and telling you to stop would be a waste of time and breath.”
Emanuel muttered something that apparently neither the physician nor the king and knight standing behind her could hear.
“Him.” Wesley murmured.
“What?” Lock asked, eyebrow going skyward.
“Marry her to him. That’s more concession than any of us have gotten out of him in almost a quarter of a year.” Wesley said.
“You just don’t want me marrying her to you.” Lock said.
“Well, in part.”
“You can get off the table now, Master Emanuel.” Kennedy told him.
“Well, if that’s everyone, King Lachlan, than I can give your country a relatively clean bill of health.” Kennedy said. “There’s room for improvement of course, but I suppose that can wait til tomorrow.” She stretched and Lock saw a look of interest pass over Emanuel’s face behind her. Noticing the king’s eyes on him, Emanuel stared ahead at the wall.
After Fox had lead Emanuel back home, Lock and Wesley said their goodbyes to the physician and also made their way out into the night.
Kennedy sighed as she stood in the doorway watching the king’s bright ponytail disappear into the darkness. This had to be the most vivid fever dream she’d ever had. Her rational mind refused to believe that she had somehow been sucked into the distant past. There had to be an explanation and she just couldn’t buy this one.
But nothing else was offering any solutions and so she carried the candle from the table up the stairs to the barrel she’d had Wesley lug up for her to serve as a nightstand. After changing into her pajamas she sat on the edge of the bed, then bounced on it a couple of times.
It felt very real and that wasn’t comforting. Real implied that maybe she was wrong and Kennedy was truthful enough with her self to admit she really hated being wrong. She didn’t have to know everything, just always be right.
But sitting on the edge of the bed and staring off into the darkness beyond the edge of her candle wasn’t going to help anything. She slid her feet down the rough linen of the bedding and laid back. After a long moment, she leaned over and blew out the candle.
Her last thought, before exhaustion took her down, was a plea, to whatever was listening, up there, to please let everything make sense in the morning.