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“Aunt Margaret, have you seen Mother?”
Tehveor stood in the hallway, peeking into the ladies’ sitting room where the queen sat writing letters.
She glanced up, and bit back a smile. “You may come in, Tehveor. No one else is here, and the room itself won’t kill you.”
Even with permission granted, the women’s room was too airy and clean to feel comfortable in, especially when his boots still held dust from the caves.
“She is out visiting Lady Bramel,” Margaret continued.
“Oh,” Tehveor said.
It was nearly time for the midday meal, and he’d counted on being able to tell his mother about the sword and seal. He could only speculate what sort of powder the jar contained, and they’d agreed to wait on the scroll, because Decharo needed to refill the wood box and the entire castle would be searched if Tehveor didn’t come to the table.
But his mother was visiting. Margaret seemed in no hurry; she must not know about Kael. The servants had smiled, moving with efficient, but not frantic steps.
The king must be gone.
“Where is the king?” Tehveor asked.
Margaret took a sip of cider before replying, “He’s out killing something. Hopefully an animal, although one never knows.”
Tehveor winced as the queen cocked her head toward him.
“Do you know what set him off?” she asked.
Tehveor shifted. “It’s not for me to say.”
“Say it anyway.”
Tehveor swallowed. “Kael pulled a little boy from the gallows today, finding him a home instead of allowing him to be killed for stealing a ring.”
Margaret’s mouth parted as she shifted in her seat to face him. “Did he hurt him?”
“No,” Tehveor answered. “But he locked him in his room.”
“Kael said his eyes were hurting, and he wanted to sleep,” Margaret said.
“That’s true, too,” Tehveor said.
The woman stood so quickly that her letters fluttered to the floor as she strode toward the window. “Did the king say when he was going to unlock him from his room?”
“No, My Queen,” Tehveor answered.
“May the earth open up and swallow that man,” Margaret hissed. She whirled. “Where’s Darshon?”
“I’m not sure,” Tehveor stuttered.
“Was he at lessons?”
“I wasn’t there,” Tehveor said.
She started to ask, then shook her head. “No. Of course you weren’t. And who can blame you?”
“Kael doesn’t have any water,” Tehveor said. “I know how to pick a lock.”
She swallowed. “What if the king finds out?”
Tehveor shrugged. “Doesn’t make much difference when he’s already angry, does it?”
She flinched, looking away. “No. I don’t suppose it does. With luck, he’ll burn most of it out before he returns.”
He hoped so, but he wasn’t counting on it. Margaret summoned Lavar to bring water as Tehveor worked on the lock.
“Kael?” he called.
He never heard Kael come to the door, but his cousin’s voice was close as he asked, “What are you doing?”
“Picking a lock,” Tehveor said. “Because I’m bored.” When he didn’t receive the laugh he was hoping for, he asked, “Are you well?”
“No,” Kael said. His voice cracked. “My eyes really hurt.”
Tehveor stalled. He’d expected humiliation. Irritation. Even some protests that going against the king’s orders would make everything worse. But all he heard was fear and heavy breaths that sounded close to crying.
He glanced at the queen, then gave the last twist that popped the lock. Margaret pushed through the doorway, kneeling beside Kael, who sat on the floor next to the door with his hands pressed to his eyes.
Margaret caught his arm, leading him to the small couch. “Look at me! Let me see.”
Kael squinted, then winced, cowering from the doorway. “Light,” he moaned.
“Tehveor, close those curtains,” Margaret snapped. “Lavar, tell Anae to bring my box and don’t either of you breathe a word of this.”
The servant bowed and strode from the room. Tehveor shut the door as Margaret guided Kael to his feet. “Keep them closed. How in the world did you strain them that badly?”
Kael winced, and Tehveor avoided looking at the books beneath the bed.
“I’ve been reading at night,” Kael said.
His mother jolted. “Kael, your eyes aren’t good enough to read during the day!”
“There’s no time in the day!” Kael snapped. “My eyes are fine at a distance. It’s only close things that make them blurry.”
“If you continue straining them,” Margaret said. “You’re going to make everything blurry.”
Anae’s feet pattered down the hall with the hurried steps of a servant startled out of her leisure hours. She ducked her face, offering the box with a curtsy. “Forgive me, My Queen, for making you wait. I was already in the dining hall.”
Margaret took the box, huffing as she dug through the vials and boxes. “I don’t know if I have anything left in here.”
“Mother?” Darshon called, coming in the doorway. “Why is everyone in here? I don’t want to dine with Remarr by myself. And why’s it so dark?”
“Kael’s eyes are strained,” Tehveor said.
The maid jumped as trumpets blared, lamenting the king’s arrival.
“Not now!” Margaret hissed. “Darshon, your father’s home, and this door is supposed to be locked.”
Darshon swayed, catching his balance on the door frame.
Tehveor swallowed. “Shall I go?”
“No!” Margaret said. “I need you to relock the door, so he doesn’t know.”
“Remarr can do that,” Darshon said. “If I’m the only one at the table, Father is going to know something is wrong.”
Margaret shook flakes of a dried herb into her hand. “Then both of you go. Try to send Remarr if you can.”
Tehveor nodded, following Darshon into the hallway. They walked, close and quiet, but he felt safer with Darshon along. The king knew he accompanied Kael, knew he’d seen the boy’s humiliation, and knew he was still anticipating his own possible punishment. It would be natural for him to be skittish around the king, but Darshon had no reason to show fear.
His cousin played his part well, even managing an ignorant grin as he met the man. “Father, you didn’t tell me you were hunting! I would have abandoned Remarr and gone along. Did you catch anything?”
“I caught a lot of things,” Galephy replied evenly. “Including a poacher.”
He lifted his eyes to Tehveor and it was natural to duck. Despite spending the morning finding a golden seal and sword that would aid him becoming king, Tehveor dropped his eyes like a well-trained pup.
Receiving no help, Darshon smiled. “Well, come eat, and you can tell me all about it.”
The servants had laid out the platters when the trumpet sounded, and the amount of food contrasted the empty chairs.
Galephy sat, raising a hand for the servants to begin serving, then flipped it to stall them.
“Where is everyone?”
“Mother is out visiting, My King,” Tehveor said, mustering as much respect as he could blend into his voice.
“And your mother?” Galaphy asked, turning toward Darshon. “Where is she?”
“She’s not feeling well,” Darshon answered. “She has a headache.”
“Is she in her room?” King Galephy’s eyes drilled into him, and the prince’s breathing grew a little harder.
Designs eyes roved, looking to Tehveor for help deciding whether to say “yes” to give his mother time to hide her herbs, risking the consequences on themselves or bailing them out with the truth.
“And I suppose Remarr’s slipped away to see a lover,” Galephy said.
Darshon snorted. “Hardly.”
Galephy did not wait for an answer before he rose, shoving back his chair and striding from the room.
Darshon uttered a few choice words, dropping his head into his hands.
Tehveor hesitated before pushing back his own chair. Margaret would be forced to explain how she got into Kael’s room, but if Galephy found her herbs, he’d likely throw the entire box into the fire.
By the time he reached the room, Remarr guarded Kael, and Margaret confronted Galephy.
“What’s the matter with him?” Galephy asked.
“His eyes are strained,” Margaret answered. “I have taken care of them for now, but he must rest them for a few days. If he doesn’t, he may destroy his sight.”
“You gave me one boy with a bad heart and one that’s half blind,” Galephy growled. “What’s the matter with you? Shall we try again and see if we can get a decent child?”
“Father!” Kael snapped.
Galephy snagged the glass vial from Margaret’s hand. “What’s this?”
“It’s a rinse,” she said. “His eyes are red. He can’t keep them open.”
“I don’t care if his eyes are falling out of his head,” Galephy barked. “I’ve told you over and over you are not to use these!”
“There’s nothing wrong with them,” Margaret protested. “They’re only plants!”
Drawing back his arm, Galephy began to throw the vial across the room, but stopped as the crystal caught the light. He lowered his arm and scrutinized the vial before setting it on the table and glaring at her. “You have one hour to dispose of this, and the gods help you if I find it again! And perhaps tonight, if you beg my mercy, I’ll forget this moment and won’t punish anyone involved, but the next person who defies me again is going to suffer for all of you.”
Tehveor stepped to the side as the king passed, then peered into the room where Margaret rubbed one arm, frowning at the crystal vial that had frightened the king’s anger into a compromise. Remarr turned his face in the opposite direction.
Margaret met Tehveor’s eyes, then whispered, “Go on.”
“I’m sorry,” he mouthed back.
He and Darshon hadn’t protected her. Even when he became king, he couldn’t offer her a safe place like he could his mother. He ground his teeth as he shut his door.
Light spilled into the room, which held few personal items, but offered a haven from the confusion of the caves and the tension of castle life. He spied another letter on his bed with easy, sloppy handwriting that identified its sender as Joshah.

Tehveor,
I am coming for a visit and should be there in a fortnight. I am bringing two friends with me. One is meeting his family at the Tevere Breotte, so we are stopping there around noon. I want to see you before I arrive at the castle. Try to meet us if you can.
Joshah

Joshah might turn around and head back to the army if he knew the events that currently marred homelife, but Tehveor smiled anyway. Joshah couldn’t be trusted to hold his temper, but his presence made Tehveor feel a little safer.
Remembering his other letter that had traveled to and from Sentarra, he fished it from his pocket and lay on his bed to read it. Well worth the wait, it was nearly three pages of a sweet but witty connection to a time when life was much simpler. Silvah’s letters held snippets of teasing conversations, descriptions of festivals with their laymen, picking berries and dancing. They made him laugh, even as his heart ached, but they were so difficult to answer.
Silvah was so open with her life–and he was so closed with his.