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A Request Fic- Chapter Two

                Everything had to be just right for the king of Sounis’s arrival. To ensure this, practically everyone in Attolia was hustling about to prepare for his coming. Attolis, of course, made it clear that he thought these little niceties were all a waste of the time and attention that could be spent making sure there was no sand in his food. Of course, it wasn’t as if he wasn’t making his own preparations. The king took special care to review guard assignments in the palace and make sure that those assigned to the visiting king would be competent enough to keep Sounis safe during his stay. There had been whispered rumors of threats against Sophos’s life and Eugenides was not willing to risk a thing.
                Which is why Costis was still assigned to monitor the newcomer. Honestly, he couldn’t see why it was still necessary. He had been with Janus for most of their free time, as Aris and the newest member of his squad were fast becoming inseparable, and there had been no repeats of the glaring incident at the courtyard. Costis had convinced himself, for the most part, that he had imagined it all because there was no way the friendly and charismatic Janus could have a single bone of hatred in his body. If anything, he was too friendly. But that observation was of a personal nature and something he was too embarrassed to confess especially to the king.
                Costis never imagined that he was the jealous sort of friend, but the suddenness of Aris’s strong bond with Janus rattled him. Perhaps, that wasn’t completely fair. After all, he himself was too busy to accept all of Aris’s invitations to taverns or to go out hunting on their days off. But why did it have to be with the newcomer, who Costis couldn’t relate to at all? It seemed that as soon as he tried to join in with their discussions, he was quickly shut out by a change of subject or a concluding comment.
                Their conversation the other day about Sounisian politics over lunch, for example:
                “The king of Sounis is doing pretty well for his first year,” Aris had commented, as they discussed duty rosters for the coming visit.
                Costis had nodded an agreement, but Janus had something else to say.
                “Didn’t really expect him to be king,” the newest guard commented, almost sullenly in Costis’s ears. It was almost as if Janus had a personal grudge against the Sounisian king.
                “He didn’t really look the part when I saw him last,” Aris said, “but appearances can be deceiving. Just look at our king. You don’t expect him to be the type that could beat a whole squad silly with a sword. But he is, and thank goodness for it.”
                Janus frowned. “It’s not really what he looks like, sir. It’s just, I’ve always thought the chances of him being king were slim considering his…his roots.” ‘Roots’ being a nice way of insinuating that Sounis’s father was illegitimate— which was true but not exactly something a guard would discuss in a regular conversation.
                “Well, the late king of Sounis had the odds against him as well, didn’t he?” Costis said, contributing to the conversation out of curiosity. “Wasn’t he the youngest son? But then, after the Eu—”
                He had been about to mention Eumen conspiracy but, suddenly, Janus’s wine cup had slammed down violently on the table. Before he knew it, Costis’s uniform was drenched and stained red. Janus had apologized prettily and insisted it was an accident, but Costis wondered whether it was a coincidence that the wine had splattered on only him— and that he had no time to change before his next shift.
                It was understandable that Costis was happy when he and Aris managed to go out on their own. At the tavern, it was almost as if they could forget the stressful preparations taking place and the drastic rearrangements taking place within the Guard. Costis could finally ask Aris a couple of questions he had wanted answers to.
                “So…how’s the newest member of your squad holding up with all the chaos?” he asked, taking a sip of his watered wine.
                Aris smiled. “You tell me. It’s not like you haven’t been watching him for the last two weeks.”
                Costis had been about to defend himself but Aris continued. “He’s caught on pretty quickly, actually. His swordsmanship could use some work but he’s uncanny with people. Janus can get a stranger talking to him in a snap. Maybe that’s why Teleus wanted him so bad, eh?”
                “Yeah,” Costis said, “I’ve wondered about that. Why do you suppose Teleus wanted him so bad?”
                Aris shrugged. “Story is he caught Teleus’s eye during an inspection of troops.” Often, the Captain of the Guard looked over the soldiers in the main army to pick out those who deserved promotion to the Guard. It was strange, though, that he even thought of recruiting someone. He was supposed to be cutting down the Guard, not adding to it. “Though, it that’s true,” Aris continued, “it was probably not his swordsmanship that impressed. He’s good, but not that good. You could beat him easy. Rumor is, he has some connections in Sounis. Knows about the going-ons of their court somehow. Teleus probably thought that would be important.”
                “Surely it can’t be that. Sounis is an ally now,” Costis reasoned.
                “I wouldn’t know. Why don’t you ask Teleus? If it’s for the king, he’d tell you.”
                “The king probably already knows.” He knew everything, after all. He probably only sent Costis to watch Janus for complicated reasons of his own. “But I don’t and it’s nagging at me.”
                “Are you sure that’s all?” Aris asked.
                Costis crossed his arms. “What is that supposed to mean?”
                “Well,” Aris said slowly, “you don’t exactly like him, do you? Though I don’t see why.”
                “I don’t know where you got that, Aris,” he said defensively. “I think he’s a good soldier and a nice enough person.”
                Aris shrugged. “It’s just the way you look at him sometimes. I don’t know. It’s like you’re waiting for him to proclaim his Medean origins and declare war on Attolia.”
                “That,” Costis said, taking a sip of wine, “is an exaggeration. He’s just…I just feel something strange about him. Doesn’t it seem strange that he popped up just out of the blue? No family, no background before serving in the army.”
                “I don’t see why that should make you suspicious. It’s not like you talk about coming from a farm on a daily basis. Janus probably just doesn’t feel like mentioning his origins in every conversation,” Aris replied.
                “No, Aris. I checked. He told Teleus some story about having a Sounisian mother and his father owning land near Ortia.  He’s never mentioned to you that he’s patronoi to you?”
Aris frowned. “I’m starting to think it isn’t him you should be worried about. Have you been sleeping properly?”
Costis groaned. “Aris…this isn’t just me being paranoid.”
“I think it is. Costis, we don’t you request a day off from Teleus. He probably won’t let you with all these preparations going on but you really need it.”
“I’m serious, Aris. There is something off abou—”
                “There is nothing to worry about,” Aris interrupted.
                Just then, someone burst loudly into the tavern. It was a guard from Aris’s squad. Upon spotting the two friends at a table, this guard (who they recognized as Legarus) quickly approached.
                “Something’s happened,” Legarus said hurriedly, in hushed tones lest any curious listeners could hear.
                Costis feared for the worst. “What is it? Are the king and queen in danger?” Perhaps he was being paranoid. If there had been an assassination attempt, they wouldn’t be in this tavern, whispering like gossiping housewives.
                Legarus should his head. “No, but they could’ve been. I mean, there’s no danger but it is a matter of great concern and Teleus says you should come immediately.”
                “And you can’t explain what’s happened yourself?” Aris asked, already standing up and leading the way to the door.
                “Well,” Legarus said hesitantly, “it’s the king’s lunch.”

                A few minutes later, Aris and Costis found themselves staring at a dead hunting dog-- the poor recipient of the king's uneaten lunch.
                “Thank the gods someone in the kitchen put sand in his food,” Costis commented.
                Teleus, who stood nearby, nodded solemnly. “It shouldn’t have come close enough to relying on that. What I’d like to understand is how someone could poison the king’s lunch in a crowded kitchen without anyone so much as glancing the perpetrator.”
                “Well, whoever it was, it wasn’t the person who put the sand,” Aris said. “Why put in poison if they knew the king wouldn’t eat enough of it to kill him?”   
                Costis shrugged. “Maybe they thought the sand would make it less obvious,” he suggested, aware how stupid his sounded. “Does the king know?” he asked Teleus.
                “Of course.”
                “And the queen?”
                The answer came from someone else, much farther away. “Not yet. But she’ll be furious when she does.”
                They all turned around. It was the king.
                “I suggest,” the king said, before anyone could say anything, “that you make further investigations on the source of the poison before the queen has the whole kitchen staff flayed. Any poison that inconspicuous wouldn’t have been acquired cheaply.”
                And he left them to digest what he said and returned wordlessly to the palace.

                That poison had cost a substantial amount of money. Substantial enough that Janus hadn’t been pleased to lose it all for nothing. Then again, that attempt had been sloppily planned. He would have to wait when Sophos came to make the next one.
                It would all be for the best, he thought to himself. He could take both of them out at once.