Fantasy. Tyrannical Henry Highridge of the Fief of Clayborne, whose ambition is awakened by the death of High King Adams, is rebuked and then humbled by the Undying Singer. With fellow Triond author Jack Shepherd.

“What do you want?” Henry said gruffly at last.

“To give a warning,” Alain Harper said sternly. “Nets have a way of trapping those who lay them on the ground. You’re not going to do any good at that meeting by trying to be subtle; you don’t have it in you. Nor will you do any good simply by bullying everyone as you’re used to doing. If you really care about anybody besides yourself – which I doubt at the moment – then you’ll have to learn to work with your brothers and the other dukes. Believe me, I’ll be watching that meeting closely – and watching you and those of like mind in particular. Sept-Ternia needs a high king like you like it needs a hole in the head, and I’d just as soon do away with you first if I’m allowed to do so.”

Enough was enough. Henry could go into berserker mode at the drop of a hat, and he did so then with a blood-curdling yell. It did him no good.

Within seconds, he was on his hands and knees on the floor, trying desperately to recover from a high-speed blow to his solar plexus. The leather and chain mail he was still wearing hadn’t deflected that blow meaningfully; it had been left-handed and backed by an inversion of Alain’s Gift of Healing, an inversion that all by itself could just as easily have killed the Duke where he stood.

“I don’t like bullies, as you might’ve heard,” Alain chided. “Remember that should you get too tempted to push your own agenda at that meeting, or afterward. You just never know what my Lord might allow me to do about that agenda.”

Gaah,” was all Henry could say in response.

A moment or two after Alain vanished into thin air, Henry’s illegitimate brothers came into the room. Despite Henry’s usual mistreatment of them, they couldn’t help but rush forward and try to help him.

“Henry, what happened? Are you all right?” asked young Jordan.

“Just a case of the dry heaves,” Henry lied. “Something I ate while on the road, I guess.”

Two down, three to go, Alain thought in satisfaction elsewhere. What I’m doing won’t stop the five dukes from doing their own wills, but hopefully it’ll slow them down considerably.

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