“Why did you do that?” Fen demanded of her husband as Layna disappeared from sight.
“Why were you trying to exclude Lappet from the meeting? Of any of us, he did the most when it came to fighting the Nox-i.”
Exendrik laughed, “Lappet hardly did a thing. Bartel’s the one…”
He stopped midsentence at the look on Fen’s face. Her eyes were wide with pain. But there was something else, some other emotion. Her gaze was hard and accusatory.
“Fen, I’m sorry. I…”
But she was already walking away from them. She didn’t respond when Exendrik tried to call her back. Nor did she turn around. He was about to go after her when Lappet spoke.
“What?” he snapped. “You haven’t done enough damage already?”
Exendrik cursed but the trader did not back down. He took a step forward, bringing his face close to the king’s. Exendrik wasn’t intimidated. On the contrary, Lappet noticed that he had lifted his cane slightly off the ground. It was the cane that contained the Anzoniran blade Queen Aleandre had gifted him before they knew just how much of a hold Exendrik’s madness had on him.
“So you want to fight?” Lappet demanded as he took a step back and drew his own sword. “Then let’s fight.”
Exendrik laughed humorlessly, “I would kill you before you could deal a single blow.”
“Let’s find out, shall we?”
The king said nothing as he lowered his cane back to the ground. He just watched his old friend with an icy stare.
“Coward,” Lappet spat. “Come on now. What’s one more murder? You kill hundreds of your own people, put everyone else at risk, and are responsible for the death of your own wife’s brother. What is one more to add to your already impressive body count?”
Exendrik smiled, this time with great amusement. Then, without warning, he swung his cane into Lappet’s sword hand with a sickening crack. The blade went spinning to the ground as Lappet yelled and stumbled back in surprise. Taking advantage, Exendrik sprang forward. He spun behind the trader and whipped the shaft of his cane around Lappet. The king pulled back hard against the man’s throat, yanking Lappet roughly against his chest.
The trader flailed against the unexpected attack. Not a sound escaped as Exendrik cut off Lappet’s air. He reached back, trying to claw at the king but Exendrik only took a calm step back. Lappet stumbled and would have fallen to his knees had he not been held up by the cane which was driven with even more force into his throat.
Dispassionate and indifferent to Lappet’s struggle, Exendrik leaned forward and whispered into his ear. “Listen here old friend. When I come after you, and I will, you won’t see it coming.”
He removed the cane from Lappet’s neck. The trader collapsed to the ground in a fit of coughs and gasps. Exendrik watched as Lappet rubbed his throat and looked up at the king with what bordered on fear. The look satisfied Exendrik as he turned his back and walked away.
Lappet attempted to catch his breath as he watched the king leave. For the first time, he was actually afraid of Exendrik. He no longer seemed to be at the mercy of random fits of madness. Now it seemed that it had taken complete control. And as Lappet weakly got to his feet, he wondered if perhaps Exendrik had at last lost all command of his mind.