“I don’t think you should come tonight or tomorrow.”
Tehveor frowned at Gregorn’s low tone, glancing toward the library doorway where the rest of the boys were gathered. It was difficult to talk of Sentarra while they were at the castle, but Gregorn had risked coming here. His guise of bringing Margaret the forbidden herbs may give him the excuse to step into the castle halls, but that errand in itself was risky.
“Why not?” Tehveor asked.
“We received a rumor that the king has appointed someone to follow you if you leave. I fear he’s becoming suspicious.”
Tehveor swallowed, covering the tensing of his body with a nod. The king knew he left, expected him to be skittish and weak, but the idea of staying inside the castle, constantly in Galephy’s sight made him tremble. Having no idea what was happening in Sentarra, only increased the trapped feeling.
“Am I intruding?”
Joshah’s smile didn’t quite cover the warning gleam in his eye as he scanned Gregorn with a suspicious eye.
Gregorn glanced toward Tehveor, waiting for him to address his brother as an equal.
“Not at all,” Tehveor said. “Gregorn brought supplies for Darshon.”
“Good,” Joshah answered. “He does look worse than the last I saw him.”
Gregorn bowed with only slight resentment. “I only wish there were more that I could do.”
“Well, we won’t keep you,” Joshah said. “We’d hate for your kindness to be discovered.”
“Very good,” Gregorn answered, bowing once more toward both before he strode down the hallway.
Tehveor resisted gritting his teeth as they watched the man disappear. “You didn’t have to come,” he said.
“You looked upset,” Joshah said. “You always look upset when he speaks to you.”
“I’m just afraid of what will happen if the king finds out the queen is disobeying. Gregorn’s visits may increase his suspicion.”
“I think he knows,” Joshah said. “And even so, you agree that Gregorn should be on his way as quickly as possible. There’s no reason he should talk to you about it.”
Tehveor turned, feeling his throat close. Joshah had been here less than a week, providing both a welcomed diversion and a host of new difficulties covering the intricacies of his life.
“I spoke to him first,” Tehveor said, before he moved back to the library.
“Wait.” Joshah caught his arm. “Are you alright? Really?”
“I’m as well as anyone else here,” Tehveor answered.
Joshah frowned, but Tehveor stepped into the library before he could ask further questions. At least here, Tehveor would be freed from his scrutiny.
The curtains were still pulled, letting in slivers of light that joined the fire in providing a soft glow that lit the faces in the makeshift sitting area.
Kael’s still squinted toward them. “There you are, Tehveor,” he said. “You were gone so long, we sent the soldier after you.”
“He found me,” Tehveor answered.
“I drank some of your wine,” Kael teased. “The cups looked too much alike.”
Darshon reached for the challis, holding it up. “This,” he said, pointing to the carving around the cup, “is a horse. Yours,” he continued, pointing to the one in Kael’s hand, “is a stag. How can you not see that?”
“All I see is a cup,” Kael said.
“You can have it,” Tehveor said.
Kael shook his head. “I don’t need two glasses of wine in the middle of the day.”
“I’ll drink two glasses of wine in the middle of any day,” Joshah said.
Darshon set Tehveor’s cup back beside Kael’s. “Spare us, please. You’ll never stop talking if you do.” He offered it to Ceslaya. “You?”
She smiled, shaking her head, and he set it back onto the table next to Kael’s with a sigh. “Well, if the prince ends up as a drunkard, let it not be said that I didn’t try.”
His teasing didn’t quite cover the hint of worry in his voice. The king had brooded for days now, setting them all on edge. Galephy’s anger never dissipated on its own, but there was safety when they were together. Even Ceslaya had joined them in the room she normally stayed away from.
Joshah shouldered the burden of trying to maintain normalcy, launching into another story. Tehveor sat through one, keeping his hands out of sight so no one saw them tremble. How long would it be until he could return to Sentarra?
Anxiety surged around him, carrying him to his feet and to the desk. He lit a candle, pulling one of the heavy papers from the drawer. He still owned Silvah a letter.
Her last paragraph haunted him, echoing his brother’s words.
How are you, Tehveor? How are you really? Sometimes your letters sound like they were written by you, and sometimes they sound like they came from someone else. Are you well? You must forgive my questions, although I do not mean to intrude. I still worry about you.
There were far too many people worrying about him lately. He needed to do a better job of covering his nerves. The inability to leave would provide him with a chance to catch up on sleep, but there was nothing he could do about the constant fear of being summoned.
Perhaps that’s what the king intended. To punish them all by keeping them in suspense. It would be him. He knew it. Galephy knew it. He wasn’t sure if his family knew or not, but he’d gone to great lengths to keep them from discovering the bruises in the past.
He rested his pen as he eyed the wall, searching for something that he could tell her. She couldn’t know of Sentarra, shouldn’t know half the things that went on behind the castle walls. He penned the story of the little boy that Kael had saved, wondering what Eslaveth thought now that her curiosity was satisfied. It was strange that Silvah knew as little about the royal family as the inn girl did.
He lingered over the last paragraph, trying to find a way to indicate how important her letters were, the safety they recreated for a few moments, reminding him that somewhere in the world families didn’t creep around and keep secrets.
He waited for the ink to dry and folded the paper, pouring wax and stamping it with a plain seal. He needed to write his father as well, but that was a harder task. Terrant hadn’t been home in years, but he was well aware that his brother was a monster. He could read between the lines of the most cheerful letter.
“We should ride later,” Joshah suggested. “Put some color in Darshon’s cheeks.”
“Because rosy cheeks are my highest aspiration,” Darshon said.
“Mother won’t let me see sunlight yet,” Kael replied.
“He doesn’t want to ride against you.” Darshon eyes glinted with amusement for the first time that day. “If I can beat him, he’ll have no chance against you.”
“I would’ve won if my horse hadn’t stumbled!” Kael threw back.
“I’ll go,” Ceslaya said.
“Well, I’m going if she’s going,” Darshon said. He shrugged at Ceslaya when she looked over. “Someone’s has to catch you when you fall.”
Tehveor chuckled as he turned to slip the letter into the pile awaiting delivery. Ceslaya slapped Darshon’s leg as Kael hunched forward, but it was a raspy cough, not a laugh that shook his shoulders.
“Kael?” Tehveor asked.
Panicked eyes lifted as the prince fought to draw in short sips of breath.
Darshon stood, staring. “Kael?”
Mauran. The memory of the pale face rooted Tehveor. “He’s poisoned,” he sputtered.
Panic swelled as his eyes swung toward the wine in the cup that Kael had mistaken.
Joshah leapt to grab Kael’s shoulders, forcing him to straighten. The soldier barked orders to Darshon. “Go get your mother.”
Darshon swayed, then bolted for the door as Ceslaya reached for Kael’s free arm.
“What do we do?” she asked, so frantically that her words garbled.
Tehveor reached for the cord around his neck on instinct, but he left his dagger upstairs and the vial of antidote was in Sentarra.
“You can still breathe,” Joshah said, as Kael clutched his arms. “Breathe slowly. Don’t panic. Your heartbeat will spread it faster.”
Kael gagged as Tehveor backed toward the door. A servant bolted past him toward the room as Tehveor broke into a run. No one would follow him, not with the prince poisoned. He rushed to his room, grabbing his sword as he ducked into the passageway, and stumbled through the familiar turns until he reached the woods. Detouring to find Shaton in the pasture was maddening. There wasn’t time to let the animal warm up before he kicked him into a gallop, and Tehveor worried about the sudden and harsh run, but Shaton sensed his urgency and put his head down, stretching himself into a gallop.
There wasn’t time to greet Daton or explain to Gregorn why he was here. The lookouts may have seen him coming, but he was in his room before anyone managed to catch him.
Idiot, idiot. Why had he left it here? If someone had tried to poison him, he wouldn’t be able to retrieve the antidote and save his own life. His hand paused, hovering over the chest where he kept his things to protect them from the cave’s dampness. Someone had tried to poison him.
Tehveor snatched the vial, waving Shannondant away from the door. “Don’t stop me. I can’t explain now.”
He slid past her, darting from the darkness to the patches of light that showed the path back to the mouth of the caves.
Shaton stood trembling, heaving sides dark with sweat.
“Sorry, boy. One more time,” Tehveor whispered, swinging back onto the saddle.
Shaton responded, pushing into a lope along the familiar path. The sunlight lit the split in the path and the horse shied to the side as the beams glinted off the golden hair of a young girl who stood, blocking both trails.
Her sleeves dragged the ground, tracing her pale blue skirt as she raised both hands for him to stop. She wasn’t lost or frightened – only in the way – but she stood motionless, except for the wisp of hair that blew across her face.
Tehveor shifted his weight to the back of the animal to command him into a sharp stop.
“Let me pass,” he said. “I cannot stay.”
The child’s blue eyes locked with his. She reached into a leather bag nested near the dark sash draping down the front of her dress, pulling out a letter and tiptoeing to hold it toward him.
Tehveor reached for it with a frown. “What is this?”
“It is from the Lady of the Crystals.” The child’s voice was soft and bell-like, forcing Tehveor to lean toward her to hear. “To the one who has been chosen alone.”
Tehveor glanced behind her, trying to guess where she had come from. “Who is this lady?”
“She is truth,” the child answered. “She has sent the answer you seek.”
The only thing he was seeking at the moment was the fastest way back to the castle. The girl stepped to the side, blinking slowly before she turned to walk into the thickest part of the woods toward the ocean.
Tehveor folded the letter, urging Shaton onward. Galephy kept poisons on hand, so it was likely he had something to counteract them. Margaret knew remedies. And Kael could breathe. Not enough and not well, but enough to potentially stay alive until he could reach the castle again.
He repeated the evidence with every trio of Shaton’s hooves. The antidote would neutralize any poison on contact, but he wasn’t sure what such a lengthy delay would affect its abilities. Nor was he sure what using a Sentarrian vial would do to an Erish prince. Would Fate resent the decision?
It didn’t matter. The vial’s properties were drawn from nature, impartial to whom they were administered. Kael must not die. He made no secret of his return, panic creating recklessness as he swung off of Shaton and ordered a servant to rub him down.
Several befuddled lords stood in the entryway, waiting admittance to the king, no doubt wondering why he was delayed. Tehveor ran up the stairs, offering no explanations, passing servants who ran the halls or huddled in groups. As he reached the level of the family’s bed chambers, every maidservant he passed worked with red eyes. But Kael wasn’t dead.
The bell hadn’t rung. The flag still flew. The few commands that rang carried an underlying panic. Lavar stepped into the middle of the hallway, holding his hands up.
“Please, Sire. The queen said no one must…”
“Let me pass.” Tehveor shoved the poor servant aside, turning into Kael’s room.
He saw Darshon first, gripping his hair by the bedside and shifting in frantic steps that took him nowhere. Margaret sat on the mattress, turned toward Kael in a futile attempt to trickle a tincture into his mouth between his gasps. Kael’s eyes rolled, glazed and only half responding to his mother’s pleading. His shoulders arched beneath him, his head rolled away from the cup in a search for air.
“This! This!” Tehveor rushed to the bed, holding out the crystal vial. “It’s Serrentrice.”
Margaret’s face blanked, as her eyes snapped to the brown liquid showing through the hollowed quarts. Her breath froze before she snatched it with shaking hands. “Tehveor, wherever did you find Serrentrice?”
Tehveor closed his mouth as Margaret twisted the cork from the vial. She smelled it before she grabbed Kael’s head, tipping the tincture into his mouth. “Kael, drink it. Swallow it. Try.”
“What is that?” Darshon asked, but no one answered.
Kael’s throat pumped once, then softer before his eyes closed. Margaret sat back, holding the empty vial still poised, but there was nothing left to do except watch his chest rise and fall in a battle for breath.
“Kael!” Darshon called.
“No, let him sleep,” Margaret said. “It will slow the spreading, and if Serrentrice doesn’t save him, nothing will.”
“Ayth,” Darshon breathed. “I nearly poisoned everyone in there.”
Margaret’s eyes lifted to Tehveor as she shifted the pillow behind Kael to raise his torso. “You didn’t drink anything?”
Tehveor shook his head. “No.”
“But they were after you,” Darshon said. “Whoever it was was after you. They put it in your cup.”
“I think he’s aware of that, Darshon,” Margaret said.
“But it doesn’t make any sense,” Darshon sputtered. “Why would someone want to kill Tehveor and not the rest of us? Tehveor’s the very last in line for the throne. He has no influence anywhere.”
Tehveor stuffed the folded paper deeper into his pocket as Margaret handed the crystal back. Their fingers brushed as the king rushed into the door. Tehveor closed his fingers around the crystal, dropping his hand as Galaphy reached the foot of the bed.
Galephy’s eyes landed on Kael, flickering closer to panic than Tehveor had ever seen it.
“Someone poisoned Kael,” Margaret replied. She searched his face a little accusingly, but Galaphy shoved Darshon aside as he neared the bed. Kael’s breathing picked up a bit.
“Well, did you do anything?” Galephy demanded. “Where’s the physician?”
“You took my herbs,” Margaret answered. “What do you expect me to do?”
Tehveor slipped the vial into his shirt as Galephy tucked his brows. He turned, bringing a heavy hand across Margaret’s cheeks. “You have them! Do not lie to me!”
“Father!” Darshon yanked against the man’s shoulders. “Leave her alone! She’s the only reason he even has a chance!”
“If he dies,” Galephy growled, flickering his eyes over Margaret, “I will take a sword to your neck.”
“If he dies, I’ll take a sword to my own neck,” Margaret replied.
“So will I,” Darshon snapped. “And then what will you do?”
Kael stirred, shifting his head and drawing in a deeper breath. All attention shifted toward his chest, which lay still for several seconds before he drew in a second breath.
Margaret’s eyes filled. “It’s working,” she whispered.
Darshon sagged toward the bed, missing it and ending up sitting on the floor.
Galephy swayed, jutting his jaw before he strode from the room barking, “I want the servant who brought that drink.”
“You’re too late,” Margaret muttered. “You won’t find him.”
Darshon set his face into his knees as Tehveor lowered himself onto the stone floor.
“Are you alright?” he whispered.
Darshon nodded, but his face scrunched before he answered, “Too much excitement.” He moaned. “I hate Father.”
Margaret slid from the bed, rounding it to kneel in front of Darshon. “You need to go lay down,” she said.
“I’m fine,” Darshon whispered.
“Not you’re not,” she said. “Kael will live. There is nothing you can do, but it won’t do anyone any good if your heart overworks.”
“I want to stay,” Darshon growled. “Father might return.”
“Tehveor, help him to his room,” Margaret said. “And Darshon, don’t you dare disobey me.”
“But…” Darshon protested.
His mother turned a lifted eyebrow toward him. “Would you like me call Joshah instead? I could post him at your door.”
Darshon growled, but his legs shifted as his eyes closed.
“Go,” Margaret repeated. “Tehveor, ask your mother to make him some tea.”
Tehveor stood, pulling Darshon to his feet. His cousin didn’t resist but as they reached the door, Darshon mumbled, “My brother is dying, and I’m drinking tea.”
“Your brother would be forcing it down your throat if he thought you needed it,” Tehveor said, then added, “She wants to be alone. Don’t cause her more worry.”
He wasn’t sure if it was true or not, but Darshon was more likely to comply for his mother’s sake than his own.
The prince’s protests weakened as they turned into his room, and he reached shakily for the bed frame. “Tehveor, what if he does die? I can’t be king. They’d assassinate me.”
“I think you could be king,” Tehveor said. “If you cared about the people enough.”
“I don’t,” Darshon answered.
Tehveor winced at the blunt answer. “You should probably work on that.”
He left, knowing Darshon would lay down on his own when he was alone.
“Tehveor!” Setta met him in the hallway, pulling him into a crushing hug before she held his face. “Who? Do you know?”
“No,” Tehveor whispered. “But Gregorn warned me. I gave Margaret the Serrentrice, and she said he’ll live. There’s no harm done.”
“Do not drink or eat anything,” Setta warned, “until we find out who did this.”
Tehveor’s eyes fell, worrying that he already knew. But he only nodded, and said, “Darshon’s heart is struggling. The queen asked that you bring him some of the tea.”
Setta nodded, lingering only long enough to stroke his face and whisper, “Be careful” before she moved down the hallway.
Tehveor swallowed, shoving all worry from his mind before it grew too overwhelming. Kael would live. The legend had predicted that attempt on his life, and he had successfully navigated it. He wouldn’t die. He couldn’t become king if he died, and Fate promised that he would become king.
As he stepped into his room, hands grabbed his arm and clamped over his mouth. His feet left the floor, his shoulder connected with the stone wall as Galephy swung him from the doorway. The king yanked the cord from his neck, snapping the knot and dangling the crystal in front of him.
“Where did Margaret get this?” he whispered.
Tehveor’s mind flashed back to the moment he’d taken it from the queen. He hadn’t thought Galephy had seen him slip the cord back into his shirt.
“It’s mine,” he said.
The king grabbed the back of his neck, steering him into the room before he turned to shut the door, turning the key in the lock. He pocketed it as he spun back to Tehveor, pulling out the vial Margaret had used to bathe Kael’s eyes. He held them together, showing the same cloudy crystal. “One of you is going to talk. You got it from her, didn’t you?”
Tehveor shook his head quickly. “No. I don’t know where the queen got hers, but she knew nothing of mine.”
“I’m not talking about Margaret!” Galephy snapped. “The woman who gave you the crystal. Who is she?”
Tehveor stared a moment, wondering where Gregorn had gotten the Serrentrice and the knife. “I never talked to a woman about this. I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“You will tell me where you got this,” Galephy said.
Tehveor’s eyes flickered toward the locked door, wondering if he could say Gregorn and tell the man to hide forever. Galephy was not flaunting his authority, torturing for his own appeasement. He was angry. He wanted answers.
“I don’t know what lady you’re talking about,” he whispered.
Galephy’s hand stung his entire cheek when it made contact, sounding so loud that Tehveor wondered if Darshon heard it.
“Why are you punishing me for saving your son?” he cried.
“I’ll punish you for a lot more than that.” Galephy growled. He slapped the other cheek, bringing tears to Tehveor’s eyes.
“I found it,” Tehveor gasped.
“You’re lying,” Galephy said. “I want a name.”
He pressed the crystal into Tehveor’s hand, then squeezed his fingers until Tehveor hunched forward as they popped and the rock dug into his palm. A name. A name. Someone he didn’t know.
“I don’t know her name,” he choked. “A little girl brought it. She said it was from the Lady of the Crystals.”
A lie. Or the truth. It didn’t matter, it information he didn’t understand himself. But panic crept into his chest as Galephy released his hand, taking a step back, and he realized he was speaking of Sentarra to the Erish king.
“What?” the man asked.
“I don’t know,” Tehveor choked. “She didn’t make any sense. I just knew it would help him.”
He wasn’t sure what answer he’d given to the king, but it had worked.
Galephy’s face paled. “She gave you something to give to Kael and told you it would save him?”
No. But he’d lied and had to commit to it now. Tehveor nodded.
“And you gave it to him?”
Technically, it was Margaret but Tehveor winced and nodded again, already anticipating more pain.
But Galephy pulled the key from his pocket, shoving it into the lock and moving back toward Kael’s room.
Tehveor stepped toward the hall, then sank onto a shaking leg. Lock the door. He turned the key and fell backward.
Galephy would be back. He’d be back, and Tehveor would be forced to open that door and accept whatever the man doled out. He had to protect the queen. And his family. And Sentarra.
He lay back on the floor, bringing his hands to his forehead. He’d tried Fate’s patience, misusing part of the legend on an Erish prince. But worse, he’d told one of the secrets. Of course, he would be punished. He breathed into his fingers for several moments.
He couldn’t change the past. He could only pay his penalty and move forward. He swallowed and tugged the letter from his pocket. The ink was smeared, freshly written in the ancient Sentarrian language. Next to it, translated into T’erish of all things, were words just as damp.
Flash of fire, Sound of steel
Steed of white on untrod ways
Ring of bronze, Seal of gold
Life for Honor, Silver Gaze
“What?” he whispered.
There was nothing that made sense, much less answered questions he was seeking, but the pattern of the T’erish words matched the unknown alphabet on the opposite side. He read it once in T’erish, then translated it to Sentarrish. The pain in his cheeks faded as the room swayed. It was the code for the language. His mind began to form patterns, and the patterns, words that softened from the guttural T’erish words into a softer version that took out the harsh sounds, eventually fading into something close to the Sentarrian words.
Every letter of the ancient Sentarrian alphabet was present, yielding its sound and secrets. Relief and excitement flooded his mind, crowding out the fear. Fate wasn’t angry. Fate had just given him the key to every secret penned by every Sentarrian who foresaw his reign. He lifted his eyes to glare at the door.
Poison. Beatings. Pain.
None of it could conquer him. Perhaps his uncle sensed it. Perhaps that was what he feared.