The humming woke Tehveor.
Setta perched on the stool in front of the vanity, looking like a wingless fairy as the sun haloed her hair, melting brown into gold. He thought he remembered her voice—her song—even though Lady Lesonna had told him many times of the young peasant girl who had showed up on their doorstep, asking for shelter for “Princess Setta’s wee babe.”
He slid off the bed and walked his fingers along the vanity to pick up the silver hand mirror. Turning the reflection to the sunlight, he bounced the beam across her wall.
Setta chuckled as the ray danced across her dress and jumped inside of the large mirror to light up her eyes.
Tehveor set the mirror down and spun to peer into her face.
“Your eyes are brown.”
“Yes, they are,” she answered.
“What color are Father’s?”
Tehveor looked back into the mirror with a frown.
“Why are mine silver?”
The hairbrush stopped. Setta grew rigid, only sipping in breathes. Her face appeared in the mirror next to his.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Silver eyes are rare, but they’re not entirely unheard of.”
“Do you know anyone else who has them?”
She hesitated, then shook her head. “No.”
“I hate them.”
Setta flinched. “Why, Tehveor?”
“They frighten people.” He turned the mirror face down. “They always forget what they were saying.”
“That’s only because they’re startled. They’ve never seen them. It doesn’t mean they’re frightened.”
Tehveor glanced at his reflection. “They frighten me.”
“Why, Tehveor?” she whispered.
Tehveor frowned, searching for words. His eyes looked as though someone had carved ridges into a silver marble, creating two different shades of light and dark that picked up the light in a silvery shine.
“They shined in the candlelight when I was little and glowed like a cat. Only cat eyes are yellow. I suppose it would be worse to have yellow eyes.”
A sympathetic smile formed on Setta’s face. “They are different. But they’re not bad. I think they’re very handsome eyes.” She squeezed his hand. “You must learn to like them, too.”
“They said you weren’t coming back,” a voice said.
The boy in the doorway was nearly Tehveor’s size, with a small, straight mouth that contrasted the wispy curls of his short hair. His eyes glinted like pools of wet ink, so dark that there was little difference between pupil and iris. They flickered toward Tehveor’s face before settling reproachfully on Setta.
Setta stood. “I’m back, Darshon.” Her hand slipped onto Tehveor’s shoulder. “This is my son, Tehveor. I think the two of you could be good friends if you tried.”
Darshon sent a curt nod toward Tehveor before he stepped close to Setta. Despite an obvious attempt at displeasure, his eyes sparkled with suppressed excitement.
“Father gave me the pony,” he whispered.
Setta smiled. “Darshon, how lovely!”
The boy bit his lip to hold back a grin. “I’m going to Kellel with him.”
“He said you could go?”
“Well.” Darshon squirmed. “Not yet. But why else would he give me a pony? It’s not even close to my birthday.”
He grabbed Setta’s hand as her face clouded. “Do you want to see it?”
She pushed a smile. “I’d love to see it. And Tehveor would, too, I think.”
“Princess?” Agath curtsied timidly from the doorway. “The king has requested your presence.”
Setta glanced apologetically toward her nephew. “I’ll have to see him after dinner.”
Darshon’s face twisted into something ugly before it settled into a pout.
“May I go?” Tehveor asked. “I like ponies.”
Darshon shrugged, glancing first skeptically, then warily. His eyes snapped back to Setta while his face remained pointed toward Tehveor. “What’s wrong with his eyes?”
“They are a different color, that’s all,” Setta said. “Nothing’s wrong with them.”
Darshon stepped so close to Tehveor that they could nearly touch noses.
“Can you see? Do they work?”
“Yes,” Tehveor replied, moving his head away from the inspection.
Darshon stepped back with a shrug. “I suppose you can see him. If you want.” The young prince spun on his heels, without waiting for a response.
Tehveor glanced toward his mother who nodded with an encouraging smile. She was leaving, so he may as well go with the prince. Tehveor followed Darshon down a hallway, finding the boy waiting as he turned the corner.
Darshon grinned. “If you can keep up!”
The boy bolted like a startled horse, charging past a servant who danced around him to avoid a collision.
Tehveor jogged, but when the prince turned a second corner, he broke into a run, crying, “Wait! I don’t know where you’re going.”
Darshon laughed, dancing ahead. “Then run!”
Their shoes slapped against the stone floors as they dodged servants and pushed against walls to aid their turns. Darshon darted through the long hallway, down several flights of spiral stairs to the servants’ quarters. They dashed through a room, draped with material, interrupting the chatter of several women who were working to sew garments.
When they reached the kitchen, Darshon stopped so quickly that Tehveor plowed into his back. The prince let his head fall back, gasping for air. “Too much running.”
Herbs hung in bouquets from the ceiling, retaining faded colors of their former glory and adding the scent of earth to the smell of baking bread. The servants made awkward bows toward Darshon, holding their hands away from their bodies to avoid ruining their clothing with the juices and flour that coated their hands.
Ignoring the homage, the boy poked around the tables, thumping golden loaves to hear their dull, thudding answers. He stopped by a circle of puffy dough to peer at it and then at the white-haired cook. “Is it ready?”
“Nearly so, My Prince.”
A grin rose on Darshon’s face. “Is it ready to be poked?”
“Flour your hands first, if you please.”
Darshon ran his fingers through a mound on the table and jabbed two fingers into the bowl. The dough rose slightly to fill the two holes. His eyes sparkled as he brought a fist down right in the middle, yanking it out and watching in interest as the loaf collapsed.
“No, wait!” He flung his hand out to stop the servant as she reached for it. He pressed his lips together, inspecting the loaf until all movement in the lump had ceased. Then he smirked in a way that reminded Tehveor of the king. “Very well. You may have it now.”
The kitchen maid giggled as Darshon ran to a small basin carved into the wall where he pulled a small lever, letting a trickle of water run through his fingers. Wiping his hands on his pants, he turned to nose about the cheeses and fruit, taking a large wedge of white cheese.
“Come along, Tehveor!” he commanded, flipping a hand toward the servants. “Back to your work!”
Walking side by side and knocking shoulders, Darshon broke the cheese and offered Tehveor the smaller half. They jostled through a storage room to step out of a side door, darting away from a servant stooped under a sack of freshly ground wheat. A young man repaired the fence while a goose girl chatted to him and her geese ran wild.
Darshon sprinted through the middle of the flock, scattering them and forcing the maid to herd the birds until her dress was dirty, her face red, and her friend had run out of things to do nearby. Darshon only grinned at the wistful glance the boy threw over his shoulder as he tucked his hammer beneath his arm and walked away.
Tehveor tried to help gather the birds, but one turned and chased him until he bolted toward the stable, leaving the servant girl laughing. Darshon caught up with him and led him across the courtyard to a stone building that was nearly the size of Lord Lesonna’s entire house. Bright-eyed, muscular horses peeked over rows of roomy stalls that lined both walls.
The blowing and nickering of the horses, the whistling of a servant, and the scrapings of shovels combined to make a natural sort of music that made Tehveor homesick. He peered into each stall, past the mahogany wood that had been rubbed smooth and coated so that no rough edges harmed the horses. Along the opposite wall were thick blankets and gleaming saddles, all meticulously scrubbed and polished.
“How many are there?” Tehveor asked.
“How many whats?” Darshon grabbed a handful of hay to shake out the dust.
“Horses,” Tehveor replied, wondering where they had taken Shaton, and if they would know the horse belonged to him.
“Fifty-seven in this stable.” Darshon shrugged. “These are Father’s best horses. They all belong to our family. There are more at the barracks for the soldiers.”
“What does he do with them all?”
“We ride them, idiot.” Darshon cocked his head toward Tehveor. “What else would we do with them?” His chest rose as he continued without waiting for an answer. “Father’s a superb rider. I’ve even seen him fight on his horse. Not real fighting, of course, though he is a warlord. I’m not old enough to go to battle yet, but I will be.” Darshon brushed past him as he walked toward a dark brown pony. “I named him Reyvon.”
Tehveor laughed as Reyvon nudged his hand. “I like him.”
Darshon turned to Tehveor. “We can ride if you want. You may ride Kael’s pony. He has a real horse now, so he never uses her.”
Darshon motioned to a servant, who quickly set down the handles to his pushcart and stepped toward them.
“Would you like me to saddle it, My Prince? And one for the lad?”
“The ‘lad’ is my cousin,” Darshon informed. “That makes him a korvier, which means he outranks you, and you ought to address him as ‘sire.’”
A rush of blood discolored the stableman’s face as he bowed. “Forgive me, sire.”
He’d never had anyone bow directly to him and heat crept into his own cheeks as Tehveor sputtered, “My name is Tehveor. You don’t have to call me anything else.”
“Yes, he does,” Darshon said. “He’ll be punished if he doesn’t.”
“Oh.” Tehveor chewed his lip, shocked that any man could be punished over speaking to him. The servant squirmed, keeping his eyes downcast. Tehveor glanced around the stable, searching for Shaton. “May I ride my own horse? He’s a buckskin, but I’m not sure where they put him.”
“I know where he is, Sire. There’s only one new horse.” The servant offered the slightest of smiles before he strode down the corridor to the farthest stalls.
Darshon turned back to his pony, rubbing the white blaze on his face. “He’s handsome, isn’t he? Father gave him to me because he is the best jumper in the land. He belonged to Lord Madyth. I saw him there last month and wanted him then, but Father said I couldn’t have him. Then he told me if I was good, he might give him to me. So I was good for ever so long, and it was horrid. But I must have done all right. And Father didn’t find out I broke his halter, because I told him it was a servant. So he told Lord Madyth that he must give him to me. And here he is.”
The stable master’s face clouded as he returned with Shaton. The man made no eye contact, but the horse’s ears perked forward as he spotted his master.
“You have a horse?” Darshon wailed.
“Lord Aindriu gave him to me right before we left,” Tehveor explained, as Shaton nudged his shoulder. “I liked to ride Shaton on our outings.”
“Oh.” Darshon frowned at his pony.
Tehveor bit his lip and turned to the stable hand, suddenly worried that Darshon might demand his father take Shaton as well. “I rode him a lot last night. Maybe I should ride the pony.”
“Very good, sir.” The servant bowed and led Shaton away.
“How old are you?” Darshon asked.
“Nine,” Tehveor answered.
“So am I. Why didn’t we know about you? Your mother talks about Joshah, but she never said anything about you.”
Tehveor shrugged, though he wondered the same thing. Darshon swung onto his pony as the stable hand returned with a black mare.
“You may jump her,” Darshon said. “She isn’t as good as Reyvon, but she can jump well enough. Kael doesn’t like to jump. He can’t keep his balance.”
“I have never said I don’t like to jump,” a new voice answered cheerfully.
Darshon slid off his horse to be level with the boy who had stepped through the doorway, lightly swinging a stick at his side. His hair was dark and straight, combed carefully into place and his chin squared off like the king’s. Everyone within sight bowed, except for Darshon who only folded his arms.
“But you don’t,” Darshon said. “And you’re not very good at it either.”
Kael cocked one eyebrow, then gave up and laughed. “Well, we can’t all be as good as you. And my horse will never jump as well as your pony, but I could beat you in a race any day.”
Eyes, the color of warmed honey, sparkled as Kael turned to acknowledge Tehveor. “You must be Tehveor.”
“How did you know?” Tehveor asked.
“Your eyes. Father said that Setta’s son had silver eyes.”
“He told you?”
“No. He told Mother, and they argued. Now Father’s upset, and he wants to ride out to the barracks.” He scrunched his nose. “He says I must go with him, but I don’t…”
Kael trailed off as the boys swung their heads toward two voices outside of the stable. The stablemaster turned, waving his hands to shoo the workers from the building. The servants scattered, except for the few who lined against the wall until they blended in with the saddles and pitchforks.
“Why must you take Kael?” A woman’s voice grew louder just outside the stable door. “You won’t be back before he should begin his schooling.”
“He needs to learn to run the kingdom, Margaret.”
“He needs to learn his lessons. You’ve taken so much of his time that he’s fallen behind in his studies. You can spare him for a day.”
Kael’s flinched, scuffing his boot across the floor.
“History and philosophy are not as important as overlooking armies and creating laws. He doesn’t need Remarr’s useless teaching for that,” Galephy answered.
“He’s nearly twelve winters! He must learn these things now before he’s required to rule a kingdom.”
“I will teach him what he needs to know,” Galephy barked. “Remarr can’t teach him to run a kingdom. Kael can read. That is enough.”
“You are exhausting him,” the woman said. “You’re dragging him halfway around the country, pushing him past his strength. Please, please let him stay!”
“Margaret!” Galephy’s voice carried through the stable, causing every person to flinch. “I’m tired of talking to you! I am going to the barracks. I am taking Kael with me. And I swear, if that boy is hiding again, I’ll…”
Kael shook his head before he stumbled to the doorway. Darshon scrunched his eyes, clenching his entire body as Kael stepped into the patch of sunlight.
“I didn’t run off, Father.” Kael spoke softly. “I came out to wait for you.”
“I did not give you permission to speak,” Galephy snapped.
Darshon darted past Tehveor into an empty stall. Tehveor willed his feet to follow his cousin, but only managed to sway in place as Kael stepped aside to allow the king to pass.
A woman followed, heedless of her gown’s hem that dragged through the dirt. Her red hair swept across her scalp into a braided bun. Her skin was blotchy, showing darker on one cheek beneath the powder that smoothed it out. Green eyes swept toward Kael, spotted Darshon cowering in the stall, and returned to the king in a plea.
“You’re going to make Kael sick by keeping him out all day, My King. It will be cold and damp and it may rain.”
Kael chewed his lip, moving his eyes from father to mother as though he wasn’t sure if he ought to volunteer to go or beg to stay.
“I’m not coming back today.” King Galephy snagged a horse’s reins from a nervous servant.
“When are you coming back?” Alarm spread through Margaret’s voice.
“I’ll return when it suits me.”
The queen’s voice dropped to a desperate plea, scarcely above a whisper, “But, Sire…”
“Enough!” Galephy shouted. He clamped the back of the woman’s neck, yanking her into his side like a paralyzed kitten and forcing her head toward the rafters. “When I return…” He dropped his voice too low to hear, but the woman pulled in shaky breaths as he hissed into her ear.
Tehveor wished he had hidden with Darshon, and even Kael swayed disjointedly, like he was trying to command himself forward but couldn’t bring himself to obey. Galephy moved his mouth from Margaret’s ear to her lips, and she scrunched her eyes as she returned his kiss.
The king released his wife, turning to walk past his son. “Come, Kael.”
Kael jogged to the horse a servant offered.
Darshon peeked from the stall. “May I go with you?”
King Galephy surveyed him as the boy straightened, trying to make himself look taller.
“You’re not well enough, Darshon.” Margaret spoke quietly as she moved to pull the boy toward her.
“I am well!” Darshon rolled his shoulder from her hand.
“No, you’re not,” she snapped. “You are staying here.”
“Do as your mother says.” Galephy swung into his saddle, taking up the reins.
“We won’t have any excitement, Darshon,” Kael said.
Galephy held a finger toward the boy. “Not one more word crosses your lips, do you understand?”
Kael nodded, but Darshon spoke up. “I’ll go, Father, if he doesn’t want to. I’ll go in his place.”
“Perhaps I should take you.” Galephy shifted to study Darshon. “You think you could run this country better than your brother?”
“Um…” Darshon sputtered, eyeing first his father, then Kael, who flushed and kept his face forward.
“We don’t need two princes.” Galephy continued, fingering the hilt of his sword. “One will do.”
Darshon’s stepped back, sputtering, “I… I don’t…”
Kael closed his eyes. “Father, please, let’s go now.”
“I don’t have time for both of you,” Galephy said. “Perhaps I would, if you were as quick to learn as Darshon.” He swung his gaze back to the younger boy. “Not to worry, my son. If Kael continues to prove himself as an imbecile, you shall go with me every time. We cannot have an idiot on the throne.”
Galephy shortened his reins and spurred his horse forward with only a side glance at Kael’s stony face.
Margaret let out a breath and stepped toward the boy on the horse. She squeezed Kael’s leg as she spoke. “There is an idiot on the throne. But it’s not you.”
Kael’s eyelids rimmed with tears as he closed them, then drew in a shaky breath. He nodded stiffly, then nudged his horse forward to follow the king.
Darshon chewed the inside of his lip, blinking quickly as Margaret turned toward him. “Kael’s right. With your father’s temper, you wouldn’t have had a nice time anyway.”
Darshon glowered at her before sprinting from the stable.
Margaret lifted her fingers to her temples, coaching her own breathing and whispering, “Monster.” She folded her arms, looking dully toward Tehveor. “And here you finally are. Just a few years too late.”
Tehveor waited for her to explain, but the queen touched the back of her neck, then walked away. When the servants stayed near the walls, casting subtle glances toward each other, Tehveor chewed his lip, wondering if they were waiting for him to command them back to work. He shrugged and sputtered, “I don’t guess we’re riding anymore.”
Now that the king was gone, the castle seemed the safest refuge and he returned, wondering how he would ever find his mother’s room. One hall led into another, and he felt hopelessly lost before he heard heavy breaths that sounded like Darshon. He found the prince behind a tapestry, muffling his cries with the thick weave.
“Darshon?” Tehveor whispered as he knelt beside the boy.
“Leave me alone!” Darshon hurled the material at Tehveor and shoved to his feet to stomp down the hallway.
“Wait, please. He won’t really hurt the prince, will he?”
Darshon spun, but his retort was cut short as he knocked a porcelain vase off a small table. They both jumped as it shattered, and Darshon’s face tinged into a chalky gray.
Worried about both princes now, Tehveor hurried over to pick up the largest pieces. “We’ll clean it. Maybe the king won’t notice. Maybe he won’t be angry.”
Darshon’s hands trembled. “I don’t care if he does. I hope he is angry!” He snatched the matching vase and hurled it at the wall.
Tehveor covered his head as the shards rained around him.
Tehveor’s heart seized as a bearded man stepped from a side room. The prince blazed toward the stranger, slamming a fist into his chest as he yelled, “Where were you, Remarr! You’re supposed to protect him!”
Remarr caught Darshon’s hands, holding them just enough to restrain the violence. “Darshon, calm down.”
“I hate you!” Darshon kicked him, wresting himself away to dart into the room.
When the stranger followed Darshon, Tehveor crept to the doorway, peering into the library as Darshon yanked books from the shelf. Fumbling with a smaller volume, he glared at Remarr as he tore gold leafed sheets from their binders, letting the handwritten pages float to the floor.
“What are you doing?” Tehveor gasped.
“Darshon,” the man spoke like the prince was a spooked horse. “You’re going to hurt yourself.”
Darshon hurled the book into the fire.
“I’m going to hurt you!” Darshon screamed as the fire flared to engulf the book. He grabbed a second volume and flung it in, stumbling backward as ashes flew out.
The man’s second attempt mingled with Setta’s cry. Tehveor jumped as his mother rushed past him to wrap her arms around Darshon. “Be still.”
Darshon wiggled against her hold. “Let me go!”
“Let me go, Aunt Setta! Let me go or I’ll…” Instead of carrying out his threat, Darshon threw his arms around the woman and growled through tears. “I wanted to go with Father. He gave me the pony.”
“I know.” Setta stroked the boy’s hair, and glanced toward Remarr. “You’ll travel with your father someday. Now, you must stay here with me and your mother.”
“I don’t want to stay with Mother,” Darshon whined. “She won’t let me do anything.”
Setta squeezed him as she lifted her eyes toward the man. “Remarr, will you fetch a drink, please?”
Remarr nodded but, as he turned, Darshon screamed like a wounded animal. The boy’s knees buckled as he rocked, clutching his shirt over the left side of his chest. Remarr spun, scooping the boy up and carrying him to the couch.
“Find the queen,” he said.
Setta rushed from the room, leaving Tehveor clutching the doorway watching Darshon’s face contort. The prince growled and cried at the same time, clinging to the man he’d just hit.
Margaret rushed into the room, dropping to the floor next to him. “Darshon! Be still.”
Darshon transferred himself to his mother, wailing, “It hurts!”
“Be still. You’re making it worse.”
Darshon buried his head into his mother’s shoulder.
Margaret lowered herself onto the couch, rocking the boy gently. “I told you that you weren’t well enough to go. Why didn’t you listen?”
Margaret began to sing softly, stroking Darshon’s hair.
Remarr bowed and backed through the doorway to lean on the opposite side. He glanced at Tehveor, then whispered, “He’ll be alright.”
“How do you know?” Tehveor asked.
Before the man answered, the queen called, “Carry him upstairs, Remarr.”
Darshon clung to Margaret’s neck, screaming when Remarr lifted him. Margaret gently pried his arms away and followed the pair, leaving the room quiet except the crackle of the fire.
Tehveor trembled until Setta’s arms slipped around him. He leaned into her, asking, “What happened?”
“Darshon’s heart is bad.” Setta tugged him toward the couch. “He was born that way. When he becomes upset or excited, it stops working properly. He’ll be alright when he calms down.”
“Why does it hurt him?” Tehveor asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Can anyone make it better?”
“No.” Setta shook her head. She rubbed his arms as she spoke, “They are able to help the pain, but no one can cure it.”
“But why was he burning the books?” Tehveor peered toward the fireplace where the second volume lay inches from the flames. “Why does he want his father to be mad at him?”
Setta rubbed one of her arms, then rose to retrieve the volume. “He doesn’t really. He’s only lonely. He is not allowed to play with the servant children, and Ceslaya is gone. He really just needs a friend. Do you think you could be his friend?”
Tehveor nodded, but he was not sure he wanted to befriend someone who hit grown men. Setta kept him close, taking him for a walk in the garden until his own heart returned to a normal pace. He trailed her after dinner, sitting at her feet to flip through a book and half wishing he was back home playing with Silvah and Martyn.
“He’s asleep.” Margaret shut the door softly behind her as she spoke. Her hair hung in a long, loose braid that covered the back of her neck as she lowered herself onto the couch. She let out her breath. “I had to summon Master Gregorn to bring fresh herbs. Galephy found my last tincture.”
Setta’s head snapped up. “Gregorn is here? Margaret, what were you…”
A servant knocked on the door and Margaret stood as the woman curtsied. “What do you want?”
“Lady Hynneth requested an audience, My Lady.”
“Perfect,” Setta muttered.
“She may come,” Margaret answered quickly, but she sighed when the servant’s footsteps faded.
Setta bent to whisper into Tehveor’s ear. “Why don’t you run along now?”
“Do I have to?” Tehveor glanced up, but before Setta could answer, the door opened again.
The woman wore black from her shoes to the onyx headpiece that settled across her gray hair. “I know that it’s late, My Queen, so I won’t stay long. I heard that your son was ill, and I know that you are not pleased with your own physician, so I thought I would offer mine.”
Margaret and Setta glanced toward each other before Setta rose, stepping in front to Tehveor to block him from view. He sat still as the queen replied, “That was very thoughtful of you. Darshon has been seen to.”
“Oh.” The woman glanced around the room. “And he is well?”
“I’m glad to hear that.” Madam Hynneth folded her hands, but neither woman offered her a seat. “Perhaps,” she said lightly, “if I could advise you, My Queen. I have raised five children into adulthood. When a child is prone to such panic, they must not be encouraged. I realize that it is your motherly instinct to run the minute he whimpers, but if he was my child, I’d lock him in a room and let him panic and be done with it. Once he realizes no one is going to respond, he will learn to handle his emotions.”
Margaret glared. “I’m not going to cage him like an animal. Darshon is a brave child. He’ll be fine when he is grown.”
Madam Hynneth melted with exaggerated pity. “My Queen, those herbal concoctions you give him won’t keep him alive. Without proper help, he’ll be dead before three years pass.”
“Madam Hynneth!” Setta scolded. “I’m sure you mean well, but Queen Margaret has a vast knowledge of herbs. She’s done well with Darshon, and he is much better than he was last summer.”
“Folk medicine is not proper for a prince. She ought to leave his care to Master Dyranne.”
“Master Dyranne’s remedies couldn’t cure a sick horse,” Margaret growled. “He believes the only way to calm Darshon is to bleed him, and I’ll not allow him to do that again.”
“Don’t you think that he would know what is best for your son? You gamble with his life with these peasant remedies.”
A polite cough came from the door, and the queen turned toward the man. “Would you agree, Master Gregorn, that peasant remedies are nothing but heathen lore?”
“They are herbs. Plants,” the man answered. “There are no special words or charms spoken. They’ve been used for hundreds of years and have worked well enough.”
Madam Hynneth sniffed. “They work well enough for peasants, but surely they are no more proper to use on a prince than they are to be used by a queen.”
“Forgive me,” Margaret replied dryly. “When I learned them, I wasn’t intending to become queen. You’ve said quite enough. Please go.”
Madam Hynneth bobbed stiffly. “I meant only well, My Queen.”
The woman backed out of the door, sweeping past the man whose features were so sharply cut that he reminded Tehveor of the statue of an ancient warrior that belonged to Lord Lesonna.
“How’s Darshon?” Margaret asked.
“Still asleep. He’s not likely to wake tonight, but Remarr is with him now. Do you wish me to stay?”
Margaret shook her head. “He’ll be fine. Thank you. You may go.”
Gregorn swallowed. “Of course. Before I do, though, I wonder if I might request an audience with Princess Setta.”
“I’ll walk you to the door,” Setta said.
“Don’t bother,” Margaret spoke as she rose. “I was going up anyway.”
Gregorn bowed, and Setta curtsied as the queen existed. Setta remained standing in front of Tehveor and he stayed quiet, tired of introductions and questions.
“What is it?” Setta asked.
“I wondered if you were aware, My Princess, that Mauran was captured today by the king’s men.”
Setta drew in a sharp breath, looking toward the window before she asked, “What do they want with him?”
“I was hoping that you knew. Things have become restless, and I’m no longer sure of his…”
The man trailed off, and Tehveor’s neck pricked the way it always did when he felt eyes on him. He glanced toward his mother, then the man who peered around her.
Their eyes met and the man gasped, “By Fate…”
“This is my son, Tehveor,” Setta said quickly. “Mine and Terrant’s. He isn’t who you think.”
“Setta,” the man whispered.
“His bloodline is wrong.” She shut her eyes and shook her head. “Celestion won’t come from the Erish monarchs. Please go now. Quietly.”
The man stood, deafened by shock. “He will come from the line of leaders,” Gregorn whispered suddenly. “How could we have missed that? What other line is there, but that of the king?”
“Hush!” Setta snapped.
“When was he born?” Gregorn sputtered. “Why would you hide him from us?”
Setta stepped in front of the man. “His eyes are silver. That means nothing.”
Gregorn softened. “Setta, if Fate has given you Celestion, you cannot keep him hidden.”
“He’s too young!” Tears flooded Setta’s eyes as she gripped Gregorn’s arm. “Please, please, help me protect him.”
“You have no need to protect him, not from Fate. Fate will protect him on its own.” Gregorn huffed a breath. “Setta, this…this is our salvation. This is your way to return.”
“I don’t want to return!” Setta snapped. “I made my choice. I have a husband and three children, and they have nothing to do with my past.”
“We’re not talking about your past,” Gregorn said. He pointed at Tehveor. “We’re talking about his future.”
“His future is here with me,” Setta said. “Until and unless he chooses otherwise.”
Master Gregorn persisted. “Let me take him to Master Skafar. If he doesn’t think Tehveor is the chosen one, then I’ll say no more about it. You cannot keep him hidden forever. Even if you tried, Fate will bring him there anyway.”
“I need time to think,” Setta said.
“To think about what? Fate will have its way and destroy any who try to fool it,” Gregorn answered.
The logs in the fireplace shifted, spitting embers into the room and both adults jumped.
Setta glanced toward Tehveor, then back at Gregorn. “King Galephy mustn’t find out,” she whispered. “And you will return him within an hour. But you tell Master Skafar that he lives at the castle until he is grown.”
Master Gregorn nodded, casting another glance at the fireplace. He caught Tehveor’s hand before the boy could back away.
“Come with me, Tehveor. I won’t hurt you.”
“Why?” Tehveor asked.
Setta ran her hand through his hair, eyeing the fire again. “Go with him. I will come as soon as I can. But don’t let anyone see you leave.”
Gregorn led Tehveor back to the paneled wall, where he pushed a knob hidden within the carved wood. Tehveor clung to his hand as the man slid back a piece of the wall, exposing a small door that he stooped to step through.
Unnerved by the dark, Tehveor tugged against his hand. “Where are we going?”
“Shh. We are leaving. Come with me. We’ll return.”
Tehveor peeked at his mother who peered back toward the fireplace as the door slid silently shut behind them.
“Why? Why are we leaving Mother?”
“She’ll come later.”
“I don’t want to go!”
“You don’t have a choice. Please.” Gregorn’s voice shook with suppressed excitement. “You have nothing to fear, Celestion.”
“My name is Tehveor,” Tehveor replied as he stumbled in the dark.
Gregorn moved through the tunnel, warning of the stairs that led down and promising that the end was not far. By now, they should be beneath the castle walls, and as the man promised, they emerged in the woods. The moon lit a dappled horse. Swinging Tehveor onto the animal, Gregorn slid into the saddle behind him.
Another ride. Tehveor’s eyes filled. “Why are we running away again?”
“We are going to see Master Skafar,” Gregorn said. “He’s been waiting all his life to see you.”
“Why?” Tehveor asked.
Gregorn kicked it into a gallop without answering. Tehveor clung to the horse’s mane as they darted through the trees lit only by the moon. Lord Aindriu would punish him if he ever rode a horse so recklessly, but Gregorn did not slow as he turned toward a massive mouth of a gaping cave at the bottom of a cliff. Gregorn turned the horse into the cavern, following a faint glow into a smaller tunnel to their left. The horse’s hooves clattered against the stone ground as they followed a passage that grew brighter until Tehveor spied torches lighting the walls.
“Who’s there?” a gruff voice rang out.
“It is I,” Gregorn’s voice boomed confidently.
“Who’s with you?”
Tehveor looked up at Master Gregorn as the man called out, “Stand aside, Travat. I carry your king.”