Second leaned his cane against the edge of the chair and sat down with a relieved groan.
“You’re getting old.” His companion said, closing the door to the hidden room.
“I don’t want to hear that from you,” Second playfully snapped back, stretching out his bad leg. It had been giving him more problems as of late.
“It’s a good thing no one is around to hear you talk to me like that.” The king chuckled and sat across from him, a small table filled with official documents separating them.
Second grunted and filled a couple of tumblers with an amber liquor. “How’s Caroline been doing lately?”
The king accepted the glass gratefully and swirled it around before answering. “She’s worried, and you know how she tends to obsess over the details. She keeps reading the reports and trying to understand them. Nothing makes sense anymore, and it’s been difficult for her.” He took a sip, rolling the liquid around on his tongue before swallowing. “Tell me about the boy and his sister.”
“What specifically would you like to know about them?”
The king picked up a handwritten report and shook it at him. “A ruler approached them! Did it say anything? What do they know?” He took a much larger swallow from the glass.
“He didn’t say, and I couldn’t ask without giving too much away to the others.” Second answered readily, staring down at the amber depths of his glass. “Anna knows the truth, of course. The Major probably does as well. The issue was with specialist McCleary, and the siblings. I don’t know, I had to make a call in the moment.”
The king stood and began pacing around the small room, rubbing furiously at his glabella the entire time. “No, you did the right thing.”
“Orlo, sit down and quit doing that!” Second, reprimanded the man he had watched over for going on forty years. “Caroline hates it when you do that, and I had to listen to her nag at me for an hour the last time you rubbed it raw. So, stop it.”
He sat down and began looking through the papers, anything to keep his hands busy. “We won’t be able to hide the truth from people for much longer, in any case. It’s practically a miracle that we’ve managed it for as long as we have already. It’s been getting harder to hide it anyway.” He sighed and leaned back, looking up at the ceiling, suddenly more tired than he could remember being.
“Maybe it’s time people knew the truth about what’s coming, what’s going to happen, or at least as much as we know.” Orlo continued with a chuckle, mostly speaking to himself. “And maybe it’s time we stopped hiding the existence of intelligent beings, beasts, and monsters living inside the portals and other worlds. It would free up nearly a tenth of the country’s defense budget alone if we did that.”
Second waited silently for his king to finish his musings. He may be close to the man, but it was not his place to offer unsolicited advice on topics he knew little about. Information was his specialty, not running a country.
Orlo shook his head and looked back at the papers, rearranging them carefully. “Where are the kids now? Since the girl is a special scholarship holder, that practically makes her family, for now at least. It makes sense that I should meet them both at least once, preferably before the announcement.”
Second, laughed. “You’ll be able to ask them some rather pointed questions in private that way. Good. I was going to pick up the boy for a meeting later today, anyway. The Major arranged to have them escorted back to their dorm.”
The king frowned, his hand unconsciously reaching for the spot between his eyes. “How exactly is the Major involved with?” He lifted a report and read off the names. “Zack and Zara? Why don’t they have a last name listed? Whatever, why is the military involved with these two kids?”
Second, raised his tumbler and swallowed the contents in a single go, pausing to refill the glass before answering. “Well, that’s quite the story, and it took me a bit of digging myself to find what I have. It all began when-”
End Book 1