Torn

“I think I can go down if we bind it tight,” Tehveor said, though his grip on the bed’s edge was tighter than Margaret could ever pull bandages and the queen had only cleaned the worst of the lacerations. There were others, healed and older, and Setta wondered who had wrapped those wounds so he could break the fast without anyone the wiser. Fury that he’d concealed the abuse from her and worry about what else he was hiding were overpowered by shame as she watched her son’s stomach tighten, heard the moan catch in his throat, and watched him breathe through pain with practiced skill.
How inept Terrant must think her, and he’d be right. She’d dreamed her entire life of being a mother, but when it came down to it, all of her children had lived through more pain and humiliation than she’d encountered in the total sum of her years. Especially Tehveor.
“It wouldn’t hurt you to stay in bed for a day,” Margaret said. “If we check it every few hours, it will be easier to avoid an infection setting in and running ramped. He did you no favors beating you in a prison cell.”
Tehveor flinched, but said, “I don’t want Kael to know.”
Likely, he didn’t want the Sentarrians to discover this abuse either, but they knew enough already. Gregorn had responded to the request for the stronger Sentarrian herbs, bringing far more than was required, but his questions could not go fully unanswered. Tehveor had gotten hurt, she’d explained, and it was only a precaution, not a true infection.
But it was close, and twice through the night, she’d heard someone shifting in the wall, locked within the tunnel that led to Tehveor’s room. Terrant’s presence, along with her other children, had kept her from confronting the intruder. But it kept her guessing as well, answering her husband’s inquiries about how often things like this happened with only the vaguest of answers.
He’d taken the other two children from the room to calm their temper and tears before breakfast, but his eyes gleamed with frustration, leaving her to resent Sentarra’s influence in her marriage.
Margaret sighed at the mention of Kael. “I think you’re safe there. Kael’s so caught up in his own terror, he can’t see past the king.” When Tehveor offered no more explanation, Margaret frowned. “We’ll wrap it, but if you begin feeling at all dizzy or weak, you come lay down. I think you’re going to change your mind within the hour.”
The boy swallowed as the woman picked up a long strip of cloth. Bruises showed on her wrists as she reached past his torso to pass the strip in front. Setta swallowed and lowered herself in front of her son to help with the winding, wondering if Margaret wasn’t pulling it a bit too tight. The queen never apologized, hardly winced, but at Tehveor’s third grunt, she said, “The king is in a better mood today. I did everything I could to make sure of it.”
Setta looked toward the ground, flinching at her own resentment of not spending the night in her husband’s arms. She’d slept on the bed next to her son, waking every time his breathing changed. Terrant had laid in front of the door. She released a slow breath before saying, “I’ve written to Lord Lesonna about coming for Silvah before the winter sets in.”
For the first time that day, Tehveor’s movements were quick as he lifted his head. “Why?”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Setta said. “I don’t want her to be pulled into our family’s dangers. If Galephy will use you to threaten Kael, what’s to stop him from harming Silvah to intimidate us?”
Besides, Tehveor was spending more and more time at Sentarra. Perhaps Gregorn was right. Perhaps it was time for Tehveor to live there, away from the king’s grip.
But they’d just all gotten back together. Terrant had never shown any sign of being drawn by Fate, and even had he, his Erish blood and rank set Sentarrian hearts against him. Yet he was the true father of Celestion, no matter who they thought the legend indicated, and if that wouldn’t earn him a place in the country, nothing would.
Tehveor jolted as someone knocked on the door and between his pants and her own defenses freezing her, it was Margaret who called, “Who’s there?”
Someone shifted outside, but Remarr’s voice answered, “It’s Remarr, My Queen.”
Margaret’s eyes dropped, but Setta strode to turn the key inside the lock. “Come in,” she said, before returning to Tehveor.
Remarr smiled only momentarily as he spied Tehveor. “You’re up.”
“Trying,” Tehveor said, though he suddenly seemed to second guess his heroics.
“Did Terrant send you?” Setta asked, turning so she couldn’t witness the lines that appeared in her son’s face every time Margaret made another pass with the material.
“No.” Remarr’s eyes dropped to the floor. She witnessed the tinge of red in his cheeks and worried Galephy had sent him instead. But the man took a breath as though confessing a failure. “I needed to speak to the queen.”
Setta glanced backward to share the surprised glance Margeret sent her. Remarr spent most of his time avoiding the queen, would scarcely acknowledge her presences beyond the customary bow.
Margaret frowned, turning her attention back to Tehveor’s back. “Why me?”
Remarr hesitated again. “I could send Kael or Terrant, but I thought you might rather address the matter yourself.”
Setta frowned. “What’s the matter?”
Remarr shut his mouth, then breathed through his nose. “It’s Darshon. He’s well enough,” he added quickly as the queen jolted. He glanced toward Tehveor, but Margaret waved him on.
“You can tell me here. This family has precious few secrets from each other,” Margaret said.
Remarr dropped his eyes again as he spoke. “I have asked Darshon to keep to the public rooms when he’s with the young ladies, but he has informed me that I am a servant and my place is near the wall.”
Margaret’s chin climbed and when it stopped her eyebrows continued the ascension. “Has he now?”
Remarr flinched, shaking his head. “I didn’t come because of that. But he has taken Lady Milan from the main rooms. I’ve checked every place I am allowed to go, but I don’t believe he’d comply with me even if I found him — and the lady is above my rank as well.”
Margaret knotted the wrap with a jerk that made Tehveor flinch, but Setta felt more concern for her nephew’s welfare than the wounded boy on the bed.
“Well, she’s not above mine,” Margaret said. “And if he plays the rank card with me, he’s very quickly going to beg my pardon. If he’s attempting to try a coax a girl into the madness of our family circles, he’s going to at least court her properly.”
“Well don’t go too hard on him,” Setta said. “He’s nearly twenty, and I dare say we did a fair share of sneaking at much younger ages.”
“And got a fair share of scolding from our parents if you’ll remember,” Margaret said. “Darshon’s a prince. He can’t have the same luxurious we did. He already has many people comparing him to his father.”
“But she is good for him,” Setta said.
Margaret winced, slacking her hand on the door as Remarr stepped aside. “I know,” she said. “But she can be good for him in the great hall.”
Remarr flinched as the door slammed. Setta pulled in a long breath, remembering when Margaret had been her closest friend, Terrant and Remarr were inseparable, and Galephy was only a distance face she’d never expected to turn her direction. How they had changed, all caught in the same battle, but fighting it alone.
She swallowed, reaching for the loosest shirt that Tehveor owned – a cranberry cloth she hoped would blend in better with the clothing around him. “Remarr, can you help me, please?”
There was no reason why she couldn’t maneuver the shirt on herself, but Remarr had experienced his own whippings, likely having insight on the most gentle way to proceed. The man nodded, stepping to Tehveor to work the garment over the bulk of the bandages.
“Who knows?” Tehveor asked.
Remarr’s eyes lifted calmly. “Not many. Not the princes’ or guests. But even if they had, there’s no shame in what happened.”
But there was. Setta saw the silver swim before Tehveor blinked to clear them. She reached to squeeze his hand. The scuffling noise came from the wall again. Tehveor stood suddenly, trying to cover it.
Remarr caught his arms, shaking his head. “Too fast. You must do things slowly if you do them at all. Come. I’ll walk with you.”
Fury flickered as she watched her son straighten, watched him shuffle toward the door. When the room was empty, she turned the lock in one door and switched the latch in the other, flinging the panel aside and demanded, “What are you doing here!”
Gregorn’s face was shrouded in the darkness but without remorse as he said, “What has happened to Tehveor? How long will it take to heal?”
She wondered if the man would keep any of the secrets if she told him the entire truth. It was likely not, but she must do something to appease their curiosity, or more Sentarrian men would be crawling through their walls. She lifted her eyes. “The king whipped him, because he’s suspicious. How many times did I warn you that Tehveor cannot sneak away in the daytime? You insisted, and now King Galephy has begun to suspect something is amiss.”
The man coached in a long, slow breath, just as frustrated. “Which is why Tehveor should never have lived here to begin with. The king will search for him if he comes now, but Fate and we will protect him within the caves.”
Setta shook her head. “He’s not leaving until it is his choice.”
“Have you asked him recently, if he stays because he wants to?” Gregorn asked.
Setta stepped into the passageway, shutting the door to envelop them in the blackness that would hide her tears. Even if they ran from the king, they couldn’t run from Fate. But she’d just gotten her family together. Tehveor couldn’t keep losing sleep, trying to lead two different lives. He couldn’t continue to allow the Erish king to harm him.
“Let us take him now,” Gregorn whispered. “We can heal him there. We can shelter him. He’s nearly king anyway.”
“When Fate tells me to send him,” Setta whispered, “I will send him. But not until then and not until it’s his choice. Do not return to this tunnel. It’s for Tehveor, not you. Next time you or anyone else comes into this wall looking for Celestion, they’re going to encounter Celestion’s father.”
“We do not fear Erish princes or kings,” Gregorn said. “Four days. If Tehveor does not return after four days, we’ll send someone to speak to him without going through you.”
Setta shoved the man’s chest, sending him backwards, before she stepped through the panel, slamming it back into place and turning the key. She pressed her fists against her head, stooping in frustration. She’d left, she’d left Sentarra so she could raise her family in Erilerre with Terrant. But she couldn’t lock her past out forever. She couldn’t lock Fate out at all.