BY SCHISM RENT ASUNDER – snippet 91:
"Cayleb!" Irys more than half-hissed the name. The eyes which had been filled with tears moments before glittered with fury now, and Hektor shrugged.
"Possibly. In fact, I'd have to say probably, under the circumstances. I'm reasonably confident it wasn't some spontaneous act of rebellion on the part of my subjects, at any rate. Beyond that, I'm not really sure of anything, though. For all I know, it could have been one of our own nobles. Someone who's afraid of what's going to happen and figures putting me out of the way might make it easier to placate Cayleb."
"My Prince, you don't really –" Coris began.
"No, I don't really think that's what happened," Hektor said, shaking his head. "I'm not quite that frightened of shadows yet, Phylyp! All I meant was that, as you yourself just said, we really don't know who it was."
"It was Cayleb," Irys said coldly. "Who else would want you dead badly enough to try an assassination in the middle of your own capital in the middle of the day?"
"My love," Hektor said, turning back to her with a crooked smile, "the list of people who would like to see me dead is a very lengthy one, I'm afraid. You know that. At this particular moment, Cayleb would be at the head of my own list of likely suspects. I'll admit that. But it could also have been Nahrmahn. Or Sharleyan — she's never made any secret of how she feels about me! For that matter, it could have been Zebediah or one of the Grand Duke's 'associates.' Or simply someone who hates me for a completely separate reason and figured suspicion would automatically focus on Cayleb instead of him. I've told you before. When something like this happens, you must never close your mind to any possibility until you have at least some firm pieces of evidence."
"Yes, Father." Irys inhaled again, then nodded once, sharply. "I still say Cayleb's the most likely, but you're right. Until we have something more than automatic suspicion to base our thinking on, I'll try to keep an open mind about other possible suspects."
"Good." Hektor reached out to cup the back of her head in his right palm for a moment, smiling at her. Then he turned back to Coris, Anvil Rock, and Tartarian, and his expression hardened.
"I want to know who was really behind it," he told him flatly. "Use as many men and as much gold as it takes, but find out who was behind it."
"My Prince, if mortal men can discover that, my investigators will. But, in all honesty, I have to warn you that the odds of success are problematical, at best. Generally, when something like this comes out of nowhere, the investigators either get a break in the first few hours or days, or else they never get one."
"That's not acceptable, Phylyp," Irys said in a cold, hard voice.
"I didn't say it was acceptable, Your Highness. I'm only warning you and your father that it's probably what's going to happen, despite the best efforts of everyone in this room. We know now that someone who wants the Prince dead is willing to try to bring that about. That's more than we knew this morning. I'm not saying it's enough, only that it's more. We'll keep trying to find out who was behind it, but in the meantime, all we can do is take precautions to make it harder for whoever it was. And, with all due respect, I think it might be wise to increase your own bodyguards, and your brothers', as well. I don't want to alarm either of you, but if it was Cayleb, then removing all of you might very well be what he has in mind."
"Earl Coris is right, Your Highness," Anvil Rock said quietly. "We'll all do all we can, but for now, that really amounts to little more than increasing the security around your father — and you and your brothers, of course."
"And what do we tell everyone else?" Irys' voice was still brisk, but it had lost that tang of old, cold iron. Coris' eyebrows rose, and she snorted. "Rumors must be all over the city, by now," she pointed out. "By this time tomorrow, they'll be across the Barcors and as far as Shreve or Noryst!"
That was an exaggeration, Hektor thought. It would take the Church's semaphore to carry any sort of message — or rumor — six hundred miles in barely twenty-six hours. Still, she had a point.
"There's enough uncertainty and anxiety swirling around without adding this to it," she continued. "Especially if all we can say is 'We don't know who it was' when someone asks."
"She's right about that," Hektor said. The others looked at him, and he snorted. "Of course she is! Trust me, the rumors ignorance can come up with will be worse than any possible accurate answer could have been!"
"So what should we do about it, My Prince?" Tartarian asked after a moment, and Irys laughed. It was not an especially pleasant sound.
"May I, Father?"
"Go ahead," Hektor invited, settling back on his heels, and she smiled grimly at the other three men.
"What matters most is that we put some sort of name or face on whoever it was," she told them. "That we kill any impression that it might have been some general act of defiance or rebellion from inside Corisande. And who have all of us just agreed is our most probable suspect?"
"Cayleb," Tartarian replied. Like most men, he had a tendency to forget Princess Irys wasn't yet twenty at moments like this. In fact, she was so much her father's daughter that it could be frightening at times.
"Exactly," she agreed. "Maybe it was Cayleb, and maybe it wasn't, but it obviously could have been him. And it's not as if we have any evidence that it wasn't him, either. Given the fact that we're at war with Charis, he'll strike most people as a reasonable suspect, and he's an outsider. The outsider, at the moment. Besides, assassination is exactly what you'd expect out of heretics. So announcing that we believe it was him will actually have a rallying effect."
"She's right," Hektor said again, smiling at her. Then he looked back at the other three. "It doesn't really matter if it actually was Cayleb. We certainly don't have any reason to worry about his reputation, at any rate, so I'm not likely to lie awake at night worrying about whether or not we're blaming it all on an innocent man! And it will have exactly the effect Irys has just described. In fact, aside from the fact that it got a loyal man killed, this could turn out to be very useful to us."
"As long as we don't close our own minds to the possibility that it wasn't Cayleb, My Prince," Coris said warningly.
Hektor arched an eyebrow, and the earl shrugged.
"Overall, I agree with you and Her Highness," he said. "Where the political consequences of this are concerned, especially. But even if this does turn out to be 'useful' in some ways, let's not forget that someone really did try to kill you this afternoon, My Prince. It's always possible they'll try again, and I don't want any of us — especially me and my investigators — to close our minds to any possible suspects or avenues of investigation until we know for certain who it was."
"Of course, Phylyp," Hektor agreed. "Of course. But in the meantime," he smiled unpleasantly, "let's turn our minds to how we can most suitably blacken Cayleb's reputation over this, shall we?"