“Do you want to jump?”
Tehveor shook his head, offering a handful of hay to his horse. “Shaton doesn’t jump well.”
Darshon turned back to his pony with a smug smile. “I forgot.”
Tehveor ignored him. Mauran’s face had haunted his dreams, leaving him in no mood to cater to his cousin’s taunts.
“I’m going to take Reyvon to graze with Grafon.” Darshon glanced toward the warhorse in the back pasture. “He’s tethered, so Father must be coming to ride soon.”
Tehveor swallowed. The massive horse was nearly as intimidating as his rider. “We could ride out and watch Kael training with Master Remarr.”
“That’s boring. Kael never tries anything daring. He only does what they say to do.”
Darshon screamed and jumped back as Ceslaya jumped from behind an empty stable.
“That’s not funny, Ceslaya! You didn’t scare me.” Darshon spat as the girl swung around the stall. Then he brightened. “Do you want to ride?”
“Well, say it,” Darshon pushed.
Her eyes darkened and slit toward him.
Darshon shrugged, tying a rope to his pony’s halter. “Well, then, you cannot ride.”
Ceslaya glared at the two boys, saving her smile for Shaton as she reached up to pet him.
“He might bite you,” Tehveor warned. “He doesn’t always like strangers.”
She glanced back at him, still distrustful. Then she turned toward Darshon and pointed to herself.
“I cannot understand your hand language,” Darshon replied breezily. “If you want to say something, you’ll have to talk like a civilized person.”
Ceslaya’s face clouded, looking anything except civilized, and Tehveor tried to think of some way to stop the argument. Ceslaya clapped toward Darshon, making his horse prance. Then, with a sigh, she turned toward Tehveor to point to herself, then at Shaton.
“You have to ask, Ceslaya,” Darshon argued.
“Aunt Setta said you couldn’t use your hands anymore. You must say it.”
Tehveor reached for the reins. “Come, Ceslaya. I’ll help you up.”
Darshon grabbed Ceslaya’s arm, holding her back. “Your mother said. She has to ask with words before the servants are allowed to do anything for her.”
Tehveor hesitated, glancing at his sister. “Can’t you ask, Ceslaya? For Mother?”
He sighed. He wanted to befriend her, and this might be the only chance she gave him, but he didn’t want to disobey.
“Go on. Say it!” Darshon grinned.
She glared at him before taking a breath. The noise that came from her mouth didn’t sound like words. It didn’t even sound human. Even her pitch wobbled between low and high with no apparent pattern.
Darshon laughed so hard that he threw himself onto the stable floor and kicked his legs. “You sound like a drunk bird!”
Ceslaya stamped the ground next to his head.
“Leave her alone,” Tehveor chided. He led Shaton out of the stable. “Here, Ceslaya. You may ride him.”
Darshon recovered enough to sit up. “May I?”
Darshon folded his arms and muttered all the nasty names he had ever heard his father say. Tehveor ignored him as Ceslaya wiped her tears on her sleeve.
“How are you going to saddle it?” Darshon asked. “You can’t lift a saddle that high.”
Ceslaya’s chin rose and she snatched a bucket to set it near the horse’s side, then wriggled onto the his back, tossing her hair defiantly behind her shoulder.
Impressed, Tehveor reached for the reins to lead Shaton out of the stable. She looked pretty up there. For a moment, Tehveor worried that she might turn out to be a better rider than he was.
Darshon set his jaw, swatting his pony’s nose when it reached over to nuzzle his shoulder. Then he ran to catch up with them, walking on the other side of Shaton.
Ceslaya bounced in excitement. Shaton stepped sideways, but Tehveor put his hand on the horse’s nose and the animal fell back into a straight walk.
Ceslaya grinned down at Darshon. “See?”
The word was clear and triumphant.
Darshon glared. “See?” he echoed, smacking Shaton across the flanks.
Shaton jumped sideways and lurched forward. Tehveor planted his feet, clinging to the lead rope. “Easy, Shaton!”
Ceslaya screamed as Shaton bolted. Tehveor braced, but the rope slid through his hands, burning until he dropped it.
“Stop, Shaton!” he called.
Excited by the movement, Grafon fought his tether until it tore from the ground and trailed behind him as he raced alongside Shaton. Both horses urged the other on, pounding far ahead of a servant, who scrambled onto a horse in pursuit.
Ceslaya’s body began to wobble and then to flop toward the side as her grip loosened. Tehveor never saw Master Remarr until the man’s horse was closing in on the runaways. Kael fought his own mount near the gate to keep from joining in the race.
Remarr grasped for the flapping reins of the animal, but Shaton shied away, pressing into Grafon. Ceslaya slipped down between the two animals before Remarr grabbed her arm and hauled her onto his own horse, but Ceslaya’s foot caught in the far stirrup. She kicked, trying to free herself of the restraint. Remarr launched himself off his own horse onto Shaton’s back behind her, reaching down to untangle her foot.
Beside them, Grafon’s head snapped down as the horse stepped on his tether, somersaulting over himself. Shaton slammed into him, stumbling onto his knees and flipping both riders from his back.
Shaton stumbled to limp free, but Grafon and the two riders stayed down. By the time Tehveor reached them, Kael had swung off his animal and knelt next to Ceslaya. The girl wailed as a groom gingerly felt for anything broken before rushing her into the castle.
Remarr sank back down, waving Kael off and cradling his head. “I’m fine,” he said. “Just—waiting for the world to hold still.”
Shaton limped to Tehveor, nudging his hand. His knee was torn, trickling blood down his leg.
Tehveor stumbled beside his Shanton, keeping one hand on his flank. Tears blurred Darshon’s figure until he got close. Tehveor stomped over to stand in front of the boy. “Look what you did!”
But Darshon was not watching Shaton or Kael, who was helping Remarr back to the castle. He stood motionless, his eyes riveted on something else. Without heeding Tehveor, he sprang forward, gasping for the air he had forgotten to breathe. An unsteady sprint took him to where Grafon still lay.
Darshon yanked the horse’s rope. “Get up! Get up!”
“Stop it!” Tehveor cried, trying to pry Darshon’s hands away. “You’re hurting him!”
“Stepped—on the—rope.” Darshon fell near the horse’s head. “Stupid.” His voice cracked as he wrapped his fingers around the halter. “Get up! Come along.”
Grafon moaned, refusing to move.
Darshon’s voice turned into a sob. “You must. You… have… to! Father…”
His face grew white, making him look much older than his nine years. He jumped up, drawing his foot back to kick the horse. “Get up!”
“Darshon!” Galephy’s hand seized Darshon’s shoulders, jerking him away before his foot met its mark. He shook Darshon until the boy’s head flopped. “Don’t ever beat a horse!”
Darshon covered his face with his arms as King Galephy drew back his hand to slap him. “It wasn’t me, Father! It was Tehveor’s horse!”
“Stand up, Darshon, like a man!”
“Let me go!” Darshon wailed. “It wasn’t my fault! It was Tehveor’s–”
His explanation was cut short when Galaphy slapped his mouth. Tehveor glanced around for help, but the servants ducked their heads and disappeared into the stable.
Darshon’s wailed as his pants grew dark and wet.
Face contorting in disgust, Galephy shoved him onto the grass. “You’re no son of mine.”
Then he turned onto Tehveor. “Did you do this?”
Tehveor shook his head, taking a step back. “It—it was the horse. The horse ran off and—and he ran with it.”
“Your horse?” Galephy asked.
He tried to answer, but his mouth was too dry.
The king’s hand clamped onto his arm, steering him toward the castle. Tehveor’s stomach churned, thinking of the dungeon. His feet slid across the grass in a vain attempt to brace against the king’s strength.
“What—what are you doing?” Tehveor squeaked, looking desperately for his mother or Remarr or even Darshon. Darshon would go for help.
He threw a frantic look back to his cousin who lay on his elbows staring after them. Darshon’s face was pale, but he made no move to rise.
One servant took a step toward them, then ducked his head as Galephy pushed past. Tehveor’s face warmed, horrified at his helpless attempts to pull away. Face after face turned toward the wall until the king shoved him into a room with a gleaming wooden desk, bright red tapestries and books with hand-crafted covers.
Tehveor’s fingers caught in the door as the gap shrank between himself and freedom. He yelped as they were smashed, and the king shoved him onto the floor’s tapestry. Galephy locked the door, then hauled Tehveor to his feet, striking him on his arms and legs and back—anywhere that Tehveor’s clothes would hide the effects. When Tehveor cried out, the blows came harder, stinging one moment and thudding the next.
His body shook, losing strength until he hung from the king’s hand like a broken marionette. When Galephy finally dropped him, the carpet cushioned his fall. All he could see were the king’s boots—and the boots were enough. He did not dare look at anything else and held his breath, feeling that perhaps if he were still, the man wouldn’t touch him again. The boots finally shifted, then turned and walked toward the door. Tehveor waited until the king’s footsteps faded in the hall before he let out his breath in a half-strangled whimper.
His heart throbbed almost as badly as his body as he pressed his palms into his eyes, understanding the terror he had seen in Darshon’s face. Darshon had known what would happen—but he had lied and let it happen to Tehveor.
When he heard footprints, Tehveor scooted into a corner. But it was not the king who crept inside. It was Thyman. Tehveor whimpered as his servant knelt beside him.
“Poor little one,” he muttered, gently patting Tehveor’s shoulders. “Poor lad.”
Tears sprang again, and he whimpered as Thyman pulled him to his feet. The man’s eyes melted before he gently reached under Tehveor’s legs to lift him. “We will take the back way up the stairs, so we don’t run into anyone, aye my lad?”
Tehveor didn’t care which way they went as long as the king didn’t find him again. He hid his face into the man’s shoulder, angry that now the servants they passed turned toward him instead of away.
The jarring of the cramped staircase brought more pain and tears leaked by the time the servant lowered him onto the bed.
“You lay there for a bit. It will stop aching so much after a while.” Thyman sat beside him, rubbing his shoulder in a clumsy effort to comfort him.
“It wasn’t my fault,” Tehveor choked after several minutes. “Darshon scared the horse and made it run.”
“I have no doubt that it wasn’t you.” Thyman shifted. “His Majesty needs no reason to hurt someone.”
“I hate him,” Tehveor spat.
“Now, now. No use going on like that. It’s not wise to speak against the powers that be.” Thyman’s voice lightened. “I know what will make you feel better. You stay here. I’ll be back.”
As he left, Tehveor closed his eyes, trying to imagine that he was back at Lord Lesonna’s house, where life was uncomplicated and adults who beat children didn’t exist. After a time, the door rattled, and he opened his eyes as Thyman stepped back into the room.
“I fetched some wafers from the kitchen,” Thyman said. “They always make me feel better, and Clearra makes the sweetest ones you can imagine. Oh!” He pulled a piece of paper from underneath the plate of pastries. “Prince Darshon asked me to give this to you.”
Tehveor unfolded the note.
It was not my fault. Do not be angry.
He wadded it into a ball and tossed it toward the fire.
“You know,” Thyman said, as he took his own bite of the treat, “I think he really is sorry.”
“It was his fault,” Tehveor grumbled. “He hit my horse. He hurt Ceslaya and Master Remarr, and then he lied about it.”
Thyman sat in silence until a scuffling noise announced the arrival of another note slid underneath the door. The servant retrieved it before Tehveor had a chance to tell him to ignore it.
I did not lie! I said it was your horse. But I didn’t mean to get you hurt. You cannot stay mad at me forever. Please?
“Perhaps we should ask him to come in?”
Tehveor shook his head.
“Well, I suppose it’s your choice.” Thyman got to his feet. “I’m off to see how your sister is faring. I will leave you two to sort this out.”
The man nearly tripped over Darshon when he opened the door, but he shut it before Tehveor saw the boy.
“Did he reply?” Darshon’s voice muffled though the door.
“No. I’m sorry.”
“But I…” Darshon’s voice sounded bewildered. “I asked nicely. I even said ‘please.’”
“Perhaps an apology would be more effective, My Prince.”
Only one pair of footsteps left.
A few moments passed. Another paper slipped through the crack, taunting him from the dark stone floor. He struggled to his feet to walk over and shoved it back through the crack with his foot.
He heard a small gasp and the paper being unfolded. Then silence. Then the scratch of a pen before the paper slipped back underneath, smearing the ink as it dragged the door.
You did not write anything.
Tehveor snatched up the paper and stormed to the desk until throbbing muscles forced him to slow down.
That is because I did not read it! He scribbled, before opening the letter to see what it did say.
I said “please.” And you were being mean to me. You ignored me and would not let me ride. And Ceslaya is such a priss. So you have no right to be angry. Darshon
Tehveor flipped the paper over again.
You were being mean to Ceslaya. You could have killed her and Master Remarr. It was your fault and you will not even admitt it. Now go away and leave me alone!
And he underlined it for emphasis. He slid the note back beneath the door, pressing his lips together to keep from moaning. Struggling back, he collapsed onto the bed and wished he had not moved and made everything hurt again. A moment later, the paper skidded several inches into the room before Darshon’s bedchamber door slammed.
This note bothered Tehveor almost as much as the first, but he was too tired to go after it. It lay until Thyman returned to say that Ceslaya would be fine and Master Remarr hadn’t broken anything.
“It’s a miracle he didn’t,” Thyman continued, “but he’s always seemed to have a sort of shield around him.” He casually set Darshon’s reply on the bed next to Tehveor. “Did you know he was a soldier? You wouldn’t think it from seeing him with all his books, but he’s a good soldier. He and your father made quite a pair. He rode through the enemy camp once without a scratch. Not that he wasn’t ever hurt. He was, in the battle of Magdosh. Nearly died. Should have died.”
As the man prattled, Tehveor slipped his finger through the flap to peek inside.
Fine. And you spelled admit wrong.
It wasn’t even signed.
The moment he heard his mother’s voice, he cried again. Thymon backed toward the wall, wringing his hands together as Setta rushed to cradle Tehveor.
“No one told me!” She cried. “Thymon, why didn’t you tell me what the king was doing?”
“I just found out myself, Princess,” Thymon said. “By the time I got there, it was all over.”
“I’m so sorry, darling,” Setta said. She rocked with him, pressing a wet face into his hair.
“Perhaps, he could go live with his brother,” Thymon suggested.
Setta shook her head, glancing toward the man. “They know.”
“I see,” he said.
“Can we go?” Tehveor asked. “Back to Lord Lesonna’s?”
Setta shook her head. “He won’t let us leave. Even if we fled, he would find us.”
Tehveor squeezed his eyes, feeling terror swell through his body.
“Stay near me,” Setta said. “We’ll stay out of his way. And someday, you, and I, and some of the others like Thymon, will all go to Sentarra. And the king cannot follow us there.”
“Can we go now?” Tehveor asked.
Setta shook her head. “No, darling. Not to live. Sentarra will not be a safe place for you until you are ready to be king.”
Tehveor shuddered, feeling his bruises throb, and wondered how Sentarra could possibly be more dangerous than the domain of King Galephy.