He tried questioning his brother, but Lammert refused to explain anything or answer any questions until they’d bathed. It made for an unprecedented experience. Bast, Rachel, and Maela were all naked in the basin with him, and he wasn’t inclined to luxuriate. Rien didn’t even object when Bast pulled on trousers instead of the loincloth. Bast must have also been distracted, because he didn’t protest when Maela handed him just a vest instead of a tunic.
They emerged into the living area to find Lammert had made tea. He held a cup out to Rien. Rien stared at it a moment. “You just poisoned a man.”
“Marinus, if I wanted you dead you’d never have made it to your first birthday.” Lammert lifted the cup.
“Right.” He took the cup. “I’m sorry we were too late, Lammert.”
“On the contrary, your arrival was just in time.” Lammert handed cups to Rachel, Maela, and Bast. Then he took one for himself. “Had you not been present, I imagine I’d not have been permitted to walk away from the arena.”
“Probably not.” Rien sniffed at the tea. It smelled pretty good. Then he sighed, and took a deep breath. “Rutger had Phillip kill Jurgen.”
“So you said.” Lammert sat down. “The only way the likes of Phillip could kill Jurgen would be through treachery.”
“We’ll bring charges against Rutger.” Rien drank from his cup.
“Don’t be a fool, Marinus.”
“Lammert…” Rien started shaking his head.
“What charge will you bring?” Lammert took a sip from his own cup. “That Rutger allied with the man responsible for our brother’s death?” He glanced at Bast. “Sir Bastien, would you be so kind as to remind Marinus who he was working with when he took you prisoner?”
“But he —” Rien cut himself off. He made himself take a couple breaths. He’d missed too much already. If he went charging in, he’d end up tripping and falling on his own axe. He sat down in the chair across from Lammert. Rachel sat beside him, and he put his arm around her. “I spoke to Jochem. He said you…” He frowned. “He said you gave your holdings away before…” He looked up at Lammert. “Why?”
“Because the next time I leave these lands, Marinus…” Lammert swirled his tea before taking another drink. “I’ll not be returning. One way or another, they were going to cease to be mine anyway. I’d rather Jurgen’s children have them than Thirza give them to Rutger.”
“They were supposed to…” Buy time. Whoever had left him the keystones had promised they would buy time. Perhaps they had, just not enough of it. He couldn’t blame Lammert for wanting to leave. He sighed. “Damn it.”
“What happened with the dragon?” Lammert raised an eyebrow.
“We found it and…” He hesitated. Then he glanced at Bast, and sighed. “And Bast killed it. The blade bonded to him.”
“That…” Lammert leaned back. “Makes everything more complicated than it should be.”
“No, it’s alright.” Maela spoke up. “It still fits the prophecy, because Rien wields Bast.”
“She’s got a point.” Bast’s voice was resigned. “I owe Rien fealty.”
“I brought the keystone, and led the expedition that got the blade and killed the dragon.” Rien nodded. “That makes me the future king.”
“No, Marinus.” Lammert shook his head. “That makes Sir Bastien there the kingmaker.”
“Bast belongs to me.” Rien frowned.
“For now.” Lammert exhaled. “Until someone finds means of taking him away from you.” He looked up at Bast. “I do not mean to impugn your honor, Sir Bastien. But the fact that you kneel to Marinus proves you have a price, and even if that were not true…” He sighed. “Every man has a breaking point.”
“Bast can’t be bought.” Rien glared.
“You bought him with warning drums, Marinus. Thirza won’t bother to find his price. She’ll have him shattered, smelted, and reforged into whatever manner of blade she feels best suits Rutger’s hand.” Lammert leaned forward. “You’re the heir apparent, Rien, for now. But you are not the king.”
““The blade is bound by honor, not by chain.” Maela spoke up. “The fate of oath and crown are sealed together.”