The Affiliate - K.A. Linde

“Let them in.” King Maltrier pulled in a shuddering breath and then coughed raggedly for a minute.

“Your Majesty, are you sure?” his longtime servant asked. He had the same relentless attitude that he always had, but he sounded more earnest than ever, as if he could will the King not to die.

“Get them, Solmis. Now.”

Solmis walked wearily across the darkened room. He heaved open the weathered door to the King’s bedchamber and spoke to the pair of guards standing watch, “Get the boys. The King wishes to speak with them.”

One guard punched his right fist to the left side of his chest in a formal Byern salute and then walked into the outer chamber. A moment later, he returned with two young boys with the same dark hair and blue-gray eyes that marked them as Dremylon heirs.

“This way, boys,” Solmis said. He was one of the few people who could get away with calling the Princes boys.

“Thank you, Solmis,” Edric, the crown prince, said with a smile and the confidence of someone who never wanted for anything.

The second son, Kael, pushed past them both, mimicking his brother’s stride. His face was set in a scowl. Some of his youthful exuberance had already drained out of him, and in its place was cynicism from losing a mother too young and from having a sick father, but mostly, it was from being second.

“Father,” he called out.

“Come here, Kael,” the King said. He patted the side of the bed. “You, too, Edric.”

Edric walked to his side and settled into a chair while Kael hoisted himself up onto the bed.

With Edric being fifteen and Kael at thirteen, both were much too young for this kind of loss.

The King had seen his youngest, Jesalyn, earlier that day. She had cried the entire time, understanding what was coming and knowing she could do nothing to stop it. In tears, she had run out of the room and straight into Consort Shamira’s arms. She had all but raised the child after his wife, Queen Adelaida’s unceremonious death.

But he couldn’t waste thoughts on that now. He was tiring with every passing moment. The boys…they had to know.

“Solmis,” the King said, regaining a shred of strength.

His servant, his old friend, left the room, giving them the privacy they needed.

“Father,” Kael repeated impatiently.

“I’m dying,” King Maltrier said.

Silence followed the declaration. Kael looked aghast. Edric tried to hide the shock of what he knew would be coming next.

“Edric will succeed me.”

“I’m too young to be king,” Edric whispered.

“Fifteen is not too young.” The King thought that was questionable, but he would not dispute it with his son. Edric had to be strong. He had to rule. “You have the Consort and my High Order to help and guide you.”

Edric swallowed and nodded. “Yes, Father.”

“Trust in yourself, and all will go as planned. I have formed an alliance with Aurum for Jesalyn to be queen and another with Tiek, who has offered you their young Princess Kaliana. Honor these matches to keep our people safe. A strong king is one with an heir.”

The King leaned over and coughed into a handkerchief for several minutes. His throat was raw, and his lungs ached. He didn’t know how much more he could take, but he had to pass on their legacy.

But could he put that burden on them?

He had to decide now.

No. He would tell only one. He would pass it on to the boy most like himself—the one who could handle the knowledge, the one destined to rule.

The King turned to one of his sons and said, “I need to speak with your brother