The first: What kind of name is Dagger? I did not know why I had never realized its absurdity. Surely Dagger’s mother had not chosen such a title for her son and that left only one possibility: Dagger had changed it himself. What procession of events in a man’s life would lead him to do such a thing? Having lived only five years—less to be frank; what kind of autonomy of experience can one grant to a child of one, or even two?—I was eminently unqualified to answer such a question. And so, I sought a simpler one: what was his birthname? But again, I found myself again at a loss. The only alternatives I could conjure—‘Scimitar’, ‘Sabre’, and the few other sword genera within my knowledge at the time—served only to further evoke the same ludicrous connection. Even when I attempted to imagine Dagger’s family (hoping to trace the origin of his choice as if it was a matter of lineal descent), his name corrupted all images my mind could conceive of their likeness. They had bodies like you and I, yes, but atop their necks sat not blood-filled heads but boxes of metal, from which extruded physiognomy of bizarre form. One of these monstrosities, an old man from the wrinkles on his hands and the hump on his back, possessed ears fashioned from cruel-curved sickles. Another, a little girl, wore a bronze speartip for a nose and the chained ends of miniature maces for hair. It became clear to me the mystery’s solution lay with its subject and I had decided to question Dagger when I remember my father’s summons.
The laughter stolen from my lips, I ran up the remainder of the stairs, this time ignoring any protestation from my weary body. Just when it appeared that the tower rose interminable, a great door of oak rose in front of me.
No soldiers manned the entrance to my father’s study; perhaps he thought such precaution unnecessary. I think it more likely he enjoyed the message of strength it delivered to anyone at the threshold. I moved to knock when a voice answered from within.
“Come in, Kadon. It is open,” it said.
I pushed and the door gave way with surprising ease. My first impression of the room within was one of warmth. Against the back wall roared a massive fire and in front of it, at the space’s center, sat my father at his desk. Half-opened letters, far-flung correspondences laid scattered in front of him in disarray.
“Close the door. The heat will escape,” he said, never taking his eyes off the parchment he held in his hand. With a soft tut he crumpled the paper and threw it behind him, picking up another off the desk before the first had landed in the fireplace. The hiss of molten wax filled the silence that hung between us.
“Sit down,” he said.
I looked for a chair but saw none. The room had no other furniture but series of thickwooded bookcases, which stretched across the left and right walls from ceiling to floor.
“W-where?” I asked.
At that he looked up from his work and fixed me with a blank stare. As the fire was at his back, his body, which lay cloaked in shadow, appeared to have doubled in size (and like all rulers, my father was not a small man to begin with). “On the floor if you must, Kadon. A king never stands at attention. Do you understand?” His eyes always had a curious habit of widening and narrowing when he spoke to me, as if he sought to unravel my thoughts but was unsuccessful in doing so.
Hearing none of the anger I had expected in his voice, I could only nod in relief and sat down on the floor.
“Good. Why are you here?”
“L-luthor said you wanted to t-talk to me.”
“Yes, but tell me…do you crawl at the beck and call of another man? Are you commanded so easily?”
I could see the birth of a smile on his face. He so enjoyed these moments. I said the first thought that came to my mind. “If the k-king is the one doing the c-commanding.”
I knew I had surprised him with the answer, not because of any expression upon his face but because he paused before giving answer. The patterns of our conversations followed a rigid convention: a breathless back-and-forth, at the end of which I found myself in tears. To break free of this design, if only for an instant, was a rare victory—and one I allowed myself to enjoy (in silence, of course; I’m not so foolish as a gloating child).
“Luthor tells me you were excited to meet Xavier’s son. Did you two speak?”
I could not help but smile at the mention of Arden—an answer in of itself to my father. For whatever despicable qualities I may assign to the man (and I would assign an almost infinite number), I readily admit he was a keen observer of people. One did not have speak in his presence to converse with him.
He nodded before continuing, a profound gesture of approval in of itself when considering our relationship. “What did you think of him?”
“In what w-way?”
“His bearing of character. His intelligence. The manner in which he conducts himself. For all your faults, stupidity does not rank among them. Speak.”
I had no desire to tell this man the extent of my thoughts about Arden, which I felt prepossessed our future companionship, if only they could be hidden from his greedy eyes. It was thus I chose a path of brevity. “He is brave and honest,” I said.
Disbelief contorted my father’s face, and its cruel bent removed all vestige of kingly bearing upon his features. “So he is an idiot like his father! And here I thought him an obstacle. This proves too easy,” he spoke the last sentence under his breath—is there a more certain indicator of wrongdoing than a lowered voice?—and smote his desk after with triumphal fists.
It should be mentioned here, that as I did not yet grasp the intricacies of political machination or the loathsome actions they so often require, my father’s words instilled in me only a dull foreboding. Had I numbered greater in years or wisdom, perhaps their meaning would have revealed itself to me before it was too late and I was driven to the course of action which finds me now at the executioner’s noose.
For his part, doubtless too absorbed in his plans, he noticed none of the anger writ plain upon my face. “You shall become friends with him. He is of the same age, is he not?” He continued before I could say no. “Yes, that makes things plain. I shall have to think of another reason for Xavier to visit again, and bring the boy.”
The fateful words escaped my mouth before I realized I had spoken. “Arden invited me to attend the Dubois’ midsummer hunt.”