“He has guards surrounding him,” Remarr said. “Even now, he has his men planted all over this castle to watch us. He’ll have someone listening at the doors before long.”
He sat on the floor, legs stretched straight, ankles crossed in a casual stance that belied the mood in Terrant’s bedchamber.
“He’s not stupid,” Terrant answered. “He did himself no favors with a blatant attempt on Kael’s life.”
“He didn’t shoot that arrow,” Kael said. “Demarra’s son did. Even had he not confessed, three of the servants saw him.” No one interrupted him, but Margaret pulled the bandage tight on one of his hands, preventing him from another attempt to shield his father’s blame.
“Even if they did and they’re telling the truth,” Darshon said, “It doesn’t mean that he didn’t order it done. You said he was up there with you just before!”
Kael winced though it was hard to tell if it was from the burns that marred his hands or being at odds with his younger brother.
And this time, his defense was interrupted by Darshon. “Why do you find it so impossible to believe that he would harm you, Kael? He’s hurt everyone else in this room!”
“Why are you so quick to lay the blame on him?” Kael snapped back. “I’m sorry he’s hurt everyone. He’s not incapable of harming me, I know, but it’s not like him. It’s inconsistent. He’s never hurt me.”
“You’ve never challenged him either!” Darshon spat. “Not the way you’ve been doing lately. He knows the people like you better, and he knows they’re not going to fight for me the way they will for you. Why wouldn’t he kill you?” Darshon planted himself knee to knee, towering over the prince, shouting, “He doesn’t love you. He’s not going to love you, ever.”
Hurt flared in Kael’s eyes, but he shook his head. “There is a vast difference between loving me, and murdering me. And if I turn around and murder him, how does that make me any better than him killing his own father for the throne!”
Because you’d be saving hundreds of lives, that’s why!” Darshon snapped.
“No one said you had to murder him, Kael,” Margaret said. “But you can’t go a moment longer believing that he won’t kill you. Because he will. He absolutely will. He will destroy everyone in this room without a second thought if he thinks they’re a threat to his throne.”
“We can’t kill him right now anyway,” Terrant broke in. “He said as much, and he gave no signs of bluffing. I don’t know what he’s done, but he’s built up his defense. If he dies, no one in this room will inherit the throne. It’s likely he’s written something into the century decree. And if he hasn’t sealed it already, he will by now.”
Darshon shrugged. “He can’t enforce it if he’s dead. We could burn it and pretend nothing happened.”
“Not with ten witnesses required to open it,” Kael said.
“I’m sure we could find ten who would agree to the modification,” Darshon said.
“If we got twenty-five lords on our side,” Terrant said. “We could dethrone him on charges of mental instability and legally pass it on to Kael.”
“How would we keep him from intimidating them?” Setta asked. “If he realizes he has nothing to lose, he’s going to cause havoc and kill a lot of people.”
“Some of the lords are already here,” Terrant said. “Most of the others will come for the winter’s start. If we kept the trial quiet until the moment it happened, any reaction Galephy gives may further our cause.”
“Or perhaps not,” Margaret said. “He’s shrewd. He’ll find what we’re trying to do, and he’ll fight it. He’s too calculating. We can’t beat him!”
“Yes, we can,” Remarr spoke softly. “We’ve all bought into his lie that he’s invincible for too long. Kael is old enough to rule now. We can’t allow it to show until the rest of the lords have gathered.”
“Remarr is right,” Margaret said. “We’re already in a war and the lines are drawn. No one can stay neutral.”
“We’re all on your side, Kael,” Darshon said more subdued than he’d been all night. “But we have to know that you’re on ours. And if you’re on ours, you can’t be on his.”
Tears welled in Kael’s eyes, but he slid from the bed to hug his brother on the floor.
“I’m not on his,” he whispered.
“We can’t meet like this again,” Terrant said. “If we congregate, we’re an easier target, and likely they’ll begin to listen. We’ll send for the lords we can count on and ensure they’re invited to the gathering. We won’t kill the king unless doing so is the only way to save Kael or Darshon.”
“How do we know he won’t burn us all in our beds tonight?” Darshon asked.
“I’ll be with him tonight,” Margaret said. “He won’t do anything that I don’t know about.”
“You don’t need to go anywhere near him!” Setta snapped. “My god, Margaret! I just buried my son! I can’t bury anyone else!”
Ceslaya covered her face and Tehveor pulled her into his side, swallowing as he searched for Setta’s eyes.
They could all go to Sentarra if Fate would allow it? Could he speak to the cloaked man and convince him to allow him to shelter them in Sentarra? And did the permission matter? Once he became king, the kingdom was under his rule, not Fate’s.
He snapped his eyes to Setta, who nodded slightly, then swallowed and glanced toward her husband who was pacing the room.
“He’s right,” she said. “We must act as normally as we can. The guest are waiting for dinner. They can’t see that we are afraid. We can’t risk them leaving us alone before the needed lords can join us. We must let Galephy think that he’s subdued us.”
“Dinner and dancing,” Darshon said. “Sounds like typical Castallion plotting.”
Kael rubbed his face, then stood. Terrant reached for Ceslaya’s arm, whispering, “Stay within sight tonight.”
With little feeling of resolution, they filed out, grim purpose morphing into relaxed stances and smiles for any they met in the hall.
Setta touched Tehveor’s arm. “You cannot stay here,” she whispered. “He knows something. That vial was Sentarrian.”
“What about Father?” Tehveor whispered. “He’s going to look for me. He’ll assume it was Galephy.”
Setta shook her head. “I will be with him.”
A shaky breath slowed his steps. They turned to face each other in the hallway. When would he see her again? Any of them?
“It could be a refuge,” he whispered. “Later, if any of you needed it.”
Setta nodded with a closed lipped smile. “I know, but you must ensure Fate’s approval before any of us can follow,” she whispered. She touched his face. “Until now I didn’t see what Fate was doing. But when you’re king, Fate will not guard the borders.” She stepped back abruptly, turning her face away. “Don’t tell me when you go. Just slip away.”
He surged forward, pulling her into a hug without speaking a farewell. He pushed for a smile, realizing how much shorter than him she’d become. “I’ll build you a house there,” he whispered. “A little cottage?”
She huffed a laugh, then pushed his chest. “Perhaps a bit bigger. We might be kidnapping a few princes.” She glanced down, letting out her breath. “Honestly, though. Your father won’t leave them. Not until Kael is secure.”
Kael wouldn’t be secure until the king was dead. It felt wrong to leave now, but what choice did he have? Another king could fight the king. He nodded and offered his arm, staying close until they reached the great hall.
Even the music sounded tense tonight, the bows scraping, strings taunt as the musicians’ eyes roved the crowd, focused more on the movement than the music. Darshon sat near the wall, without even the pretense of feeling energetic. There were herbs in Sentarra that could help him too. Would Fate allow any of them in if they were not standing in the way of his calling? Or would it kill them, like it had Joshah?
Silvah stood next to the general who had been assigned to watch over her for the last week. Her eyes were touched with sadness, but a smile pulled at her lips as she responded to the man. Tehveor wondered if she had realized yet that he was a bodyguard.
He caught her attention and she bobbed, excusing herself from the group before she wove through the crowd. He would have to leave her too, and he had less a chance of seeing her again than his own family. He felt his mother’s eyes turn toward him again, already dreading when she’d look and not find him.
Silvah barely stepped close enough to speak to before he took her hand, whispering, “Dance with me.”
Color flushed the fair cheeks, but she took his hand. “With pleasure,” she said.
He’d chosen the dance well and swept her into the circle, taking advantage of the ability to keep eye contact with his partner. No one ever looked into his eyes for long, and Silvah was no exception, dropping her focus to his chest.
He glimpsed Kael attempting to listen to a small cluster of guests, Remarr watching from his place by the door. Could he leave them? Could he simply walk away? What choice did he have?
“What’s the matter?” Silvah asked.
I have to go.
His grip tightened a bit on her waist as he spun her once. Her finger slipped further back on his shoulder, the tips pressing slightly against the scarred welt.He felt his face flush then tucked it downward away from her as horror melted the curiosity from her eyes.
“Tehveor,” she whispered.
But it was just as well. She’d have a reason why he’d left. “I have to leave,” he said. “But I couldn’t without telling you. No one but mother knows.”
Her head tipped to the side, already distressed, “Why?” she whispered.
“You know why,” he responded.
Her eyes misted as she looked past his shoulder, then whispered, “Where will you go?”
“I have a refuge. He won’t find me.”
“Will we?” she asked.
“No,” he answered. “But I’ll find you. And the others.”
Her mouth parted. She didn’t understand, but she searched his face with eyes that blended innocence with understanding. She blinked slowly, squeezing her eyes shut once but when she opened them the tears had retracted and she nodded.
They fell silent, dancing together, yet already retracting their emotions from each other. She was close enough to kiss. He thought of it, then thought of the third princess he would marry, if he didn’t marry the second who was currently hiding in an inn. He’d have to talk to her too, convince her not to resist Fate, but he pushed his thoughts from her.
No matter who he married, it wouldn’t be his to choose. And realizing it wouldn’t be Silvah only made it harder to leave her. But the music ended. She curtsied. He bowed. They walked together from the dance floor. She slowed, then stopped turning her face from him. He squeezed her hand, let go, and kept walking.
When he reached the streets of the village, he kept his hood up and his eyes down, though the horse gave away his status as an elite Erish. Eyes turned toward him, then away. Perhaps they realized he was a korvier but how many of them would one day see him as a king? His back pierced from the newly healed lashes where Joshah’s weight had torn the tender fibers of his skin.
What cruelty forced him to walk a path to save his people, yet denied his efforts to save his own brother? Yet, Fate wasn’t a human who could be reasoned with. It existed only to make him king. If he was to keep it from harming anyone who knowingly or unknowingly blocked his progress, he would have direct them away from Fate or draw them toward it.
He’d passed the gallows, feeling his face heat. Kael was often criticized for being too compassionate, too emotional. But no matter how he deceived himself about his father, Kael rose every morning with his own drive to salvage his family’s reputation and restore his people without Fate to either guide or protect him. For now, Tehveor must continue his own path, to become king, then ensure that Kael took his own throne. In the end, it didn’t matter which people on this street stayed in Erilerre and which followed the call to return to Sentarra. They would be safe beneath either boy’s rule. Just a little longer.
Kael must bide his time until Terrant overthrew Galephy. Tehveor must follow Fate to the steps of the throne, knowing when he descended, he would descend alone. No one else would be harmed, if they all just hung on a little longer.
He lifted his eyes to the familiar sign of the horse, to the blue scarf that draped the window of the inn in public tribute to his brother. Had Eslaveth hung it or someone else?
His throat tightened, but Karlyn provided a distraction when he carried a candle to place in the window.
“Karlyn,” Tehveor called softly.
The child’s face snapped toward him, then split in a grin before he disappeared, scampering to the door and down the steps.
“Hello!” he called. Then remembered to drop his voice before he looked conspiratorially around. “Is the prince with you?”
“Not today,” Tehveor said.
“Aww!” Karlyn stuck his thumbs into his pants.
Before he could speak again, Tehveor asked, “Do you like it here?”
The child nodded. “Magar said I could call him Papa. And there’s always food.”
Tehveor laughed softly. “I’m glad.” He glanced through the window again, then asked, “Could you tell Eslaveth I’d like to tell her something?”
“Very well.” Karlyn darted up the steps and Tehveor watched the boy’s progress through the inn. Eslaveth leaned down, listening, then swung her eyes toward the window. They flickered away again, but returned, and she made a small motion for him to circle round the back.
The alley made him think of Joshah again, and he kept his eyes on the boards of the step until she opened the door, closing it softly. Her curls were drawn back, tied with a ribbon at the base of her neck, but her hair flattened as she pressed against the door.
“What are you doing here?” she asked. “Why aren’t you with your family?”
He felt the tension, the distance, and he winced as he slid from the gelding’s back. Now she was above him on the top step, but it did little to alleviate the fear in her eyes.
“I didn’t mean to kill your father,” he whispered. “He was sick. The king gave me wine and said it help him get well. I didn’t know it was poisoned.”
Lines crinkled between her eyes as she listened. “And you believed him?” she asked.
Yes, though even now he wasn’t sure why.
“I didn’t know him very well,” he said. “I didn’t even know people put poison in wine.”
“Why did he kill him?” Eslaveth asked.
“I don’t know,” Tehveor whispered. “But he knows about our country. I think he fears it. He must have realized your father believed in it.”
She tucked her chin, fisting her skirt. “When I go there,” she said softly, “I don’t like the way I feel. It’s like a strange dream. I don’t know what’s supposed to happen or even who I can trust.”
“I don’t know what is supposed to happen either,” Tehveor said. “But I know it won’t unless you are there. Like it or not, we are the only ones who can raise the country again. We won’t be free from Fate until I am king, but we will be free of it.”
She let out a breath, then leaned forward pushing away from the door. “I don’t like Fate, Tehveor.”
“Fate controls Sentarra,” Tehveor said. “It’s working only for its good and ours in it. The only reason Joshah died was because I stayed too long. I wasn’t following hard enough. I was clinging to Erilerre when I should have been leading Sentarra.”
“Because you’re scared,” she said softly. “Ever since you were a child, you were expected to be a savior. But how can you save anyone, if you’re a slave yourself? What if Fate doesn’t let you go?”
It would. He felt the resolve, the fear, the desperation, all rising and sent it back down. “I can only fight one battle at a time,” he whispered. “Right now, I’m fighting for my family. And you must fight for yours. And after I become king, we will shelter those who need to be sheltered whether they are Sentarrian or no.”
She cocked her head toward the door as someone clattered a pile of dishes. Then she spoke softly. “A stranger in a cloak told me that after you became king, you will resist Fate and it will destroy you.” She kept her eyes on his horse as she shook her head. “I don’t want any part in destroying you.”
“Then help me,” Tehveor whispered. “Please.”
She held one arm, shifting through thoughts he couldn’t read, before she sighed. “I don’t like Fate,” she whispered. “But I’ll come.” Her eyes lifted to him. “For you. ”
“Thank you,” Tehveor whispered.
“I won’t leave here completely yet,” Eslaveth said. “Someone needs to be aware of what is happening in Erilerre. There are men who are going to approach the king, to force him to resign.”
“I know,” Tehveor said. “And when they do, we must have our country ready as an ally for Kael.”
“Are you sure you’re ready to go back?”
“I’m not,” he answered.
He eyed the ice crusting the river where he’d pulled Joshah from the rapids before he whispered, “But it’s better to be somewhere with one place where he died, than to live in hundreds where he lived.”-`
She lifted her face, dropped her eyes, then nodded once, offering a smile as she said, “It’s a long walk.”