Standing before the visiting monarch of Y’Nor, Lord High Councilor Derkus Glinholt tried to maintain a careful inflection of respect in his voice. “You wished to speak to me, your highness?” The nasal, high-pitched sound barely broke the silence of Padreg’s chambers.
The bear-like man took in the features of the man who had given life to the woman who had haunted his thoughts for nearly two weeks. The Y’Noran’s pale green eyes flicked from dull gray eyes to thinning pepper and salt hair. Derkus might have once been a decent looking sort, but rich living had added much girth and many lines to a face and body not designed for the stresses of ruling a kingdom.
“My Lord, I have an,” Padreg inhaled sharply then let out the breath and finished softly, “offer I would like you to consider.”
Derkus’ eyes shot around the room, seeking out the tiny spy holes he knew were carefully drilled into the walls of the guest quarters. Was it his imagination, or did he spot a pair of eyes peering at him from the tiny spot next to that torch rack, over there, near the tapestry of Ysradaran the Founder? The councilor felt a trickle of fear chase up his back and he had to forcibly restrain himself, to keep from rushing from the Y’Noran king’s quarters in abject fear.
Lord High Councilor Glinholt was a bought and paid for man. His life belonged, body and soul, to King Arris Theodan. For this man, this barbarian who called himself a king, to be propositioning him for any reason... well, it was surely something that would lead to trouble.
“I, well, all right, go ahead,” Derkus babbled, deciding that he would hear the man out then rush off to King Arris’ chambers and spill his guts. Or maybe he would wait until morning, since he knew that his daughter, the troublesome wench Elisira, was again sharing an evening with his king. The councilor nearly smiled at that. If luck and fate were with him, and he had been assured of this many times by that weasely little scholar, Porthyros, then the product of this night’s dalliance between his daughter and the king would be a royal wedding. Besides, hadn’t his wife always said that Eli would marry a king?
“A drink, M’lord? Perhaps a bit of this wonderful Y’Tolan wine?” Padreg nodded to a shadowy corner and one of his servants silently appeared, lifting the ewer of dark purple wine and pouring two glasses.
A chair was brought for the councilor and the two men drank in silence for a few heartbeats while King Padreg collected his thoughts.
“Your daughter is a beautiful woman,” the Y’Noran king finally said, setting his goblet aside.
Derkus’ eyebrows rose. My daughter? What does she have to do with anything? Aren’t we supposed to be talking about how close I am to the king? “I like to think she takes after her mother,” the councilor said calmly, injecting a curious tone to his statement.
Padreg nodded sagely. “She must be a great beauty, then.” A frown briefly darkened the Y’Noran’s brow and then he shrugged. “I am a simple man, Councilor Glinholt, and I am not used to politicking and bush beating. Forgive my plain speech, my lord, for my heart demands that I act quickly. I am prepared to offer a large dowry in exchange for the hand of your daughter, Elisira, in marriage.”
Derkus gasped, his brain going into overdrive. This was not supposed to happen! Elisira was supposed to catch the eye of Arris, not Padreg! This was a disaster! “Your Highness,” the councilor spluttered, taking a large draught of his wine. “I am, of course, honored, but-“
“But of course you must speak to your daughter and discover whether she would be amenable to my courtship?” Padreg guessed shrewdly. Inside, the tall king was trembling. He had never felt such a desire for any person or thing; it was as if his very soul burned to be near her. The thought of being turned down, of being told that he must spend the rest of his life yearning for the spark that ignited his soul was too much to bear. He was a man deep in the grip of korethka for sure. Open, green eyes fixed on Councilor Derkus. “Please speak to her about my request, my lord. That will be all.”
Derkus fled the room. He needed to find Porthyros and speak with him immediately.
“You flatter me shamelessly, Your Highness,” Elisira murmured, looking up at King Arris through fluttering eyelashes.
The king and the lady were comfortably ensconced in the king’s sitting room, sharing a tray of finger foods and a bottle of chilled Y’Tolan wine. In an effort to create a romantic mood, the young king had tried to feed the lady with his own hands. Demurely, Elisira had avoided his attempts, feigning a lack of appetite.
Instead, she delicately sipped her wine and let Arris carry the conversation. Switching tactics, he tried to get her drunk, but even that had no effect because the lady barely touched her drink, making it hard to keep refilling her goblet.
Arris was terribly frustrated. Why can’t the bitch just get in my bed and be done with it? I’ve never had this much trouble with a woman. Even Lady Allison went willingly. Recalling the night with the older woman made Arris even more determined to have Elisira, tonight.
For two weeks, it had been a constant battle between Arris and Elisira. He would invite her to dinner, she would come and he would regale her with grand tales of his plans for the kingdom. Yet however much he tried to insinuate that she could be a part of those plans, Elisira would always laugh giddily and tell him that his future wife would be a truly lucky woman.
Arris didn’t want a wife; he wanted a woman in his bed, every night. At first, the sparring was fun, but now it was just frustrating. Vapid, brainless cow or not, Elisira Glinholt would be his, for as long as he wanted her. Tonight, she would be his, or he would throw the bitch into the dungeon. There was a cell he was especially fond of; one that he was certain would give the recalcitrant noblewoman every reason to accede to his wishes.
If she didn’t, she would die. At this point, Arris really didn’t care.
What had started as an easy conquest, a sweet offering to take the taste of Azhani Rhu’len’s betrayal off his tongue was fast becoming a serious sting to his fragile pride. He would try once more to get Elisira to bend to his will and if she turned him down, however politely, he would be more forceful about his desires.
“My lady,” he said smoothly, lifting up a bit of bread that was covered in a delightful pate. “Please, try this. Poor Pyetro must be beside himself thinking you do not enjoy his cooking.” Luring King Naral of Y’Tol’s top chef away from the eastern kingdom had been one of Arris’ earliest conquests. As a boy, he had visited the kingdoms with his father and when they stopped in the far away land known for its fine wines and foods, he had been so taken with his dinner that he had gone in search of the cook.
Arris had toddled into the kitchen, at the tender age of five, and had climbed up on a stool to watch, fascinated, as Pyetro sculpted beautiful candies in marzipan. The boy’s attention had so delighted the chef that he had resigned his job with Naral to follow Theodan’s heir home.
Now the man labored long into the night, creating delicacies to delight the palate of his young master. Arris amply rewarded him, paying him more than even the High King’s cook made. He looked down at the pate in his hand. Wonderful stuff, spiced to perfection and light enough to melt as soon as it hit the tongue. If he could just get the lady to try it...
“Your Highness! Councilor Derkus has sent me with an urgent message!” A page, full of the exuberance of youth, burst into the chamber. He bowed deeply to the king and then turned to Elisira, and said, “Your pardon, my lady.”
Hiding a smile at the timely interruption, the lady covered her relief by taking a larger sip of her wine than she had previously allowed.
Arris was ready to chew horseshoe nails. With pained delicacy, he accepted the councilor’s missive, unrolling the scroll and quickly scanning its contents. When he was done, he nodded gravely to the eagerly waiting boy and said, “You did well, lad. Go tell Pyetro to allot you an extra ration of cocoa in the morning.”
Smiling happily, the page raced off.
Teeth gritted against what he must do, Arris smiled beatifically and said, “My lady, as much as it pains me to end our dalliance, I’m afraid the pressing matters of the kingdom must intrude upon our evening. I beg leave of you, and ask that you join me on the morrow.”
Elisira lowered her eyes and nodded her acquiescence. Inwardly, she sighed, hoping that Arris would weary of the game and turn his attentions elsewhere. She really was tired of being the subject of every hushed giggle, every polite glare and every secret whisper of the court. Ever since her friend, Warleader Rhu’len had been banished from Y’dan, she had been the object of intense fascination for the king. The man made her skin crawl and she was certain that the accusations laid against Azhani’s door were untrue, though she couldn’t prove it.
Ylera Kelani had not died by Azhani’s hand, of that Elisira was certain. She had seen the king’s guard enter the ambassador’s quarters, rooms that were stationed not far from her own, late at night and carry the struggling woman off. Hurrying to follow, Elisira ducked into a rarely used passageway and dogged the steps of Arris’ men.
What she had seen when they had reached their destination would haunt her nightmares until the day she died. Pushing the terrifying memories aside grimly, Elisira answered her king.
“No need for apologies, Your Highness. I understand that there are,” she injected a brainless giggle, “important things you must attend to.” She managed to add a vapid stare and a carefully innocent blush as she stood and allowed the king to escort her to the door.
Once there, he turned to one of his guards. “Make sure the lady returns home safely, guard.”
“At once, my liege,” the guard said promptly, snapping to attention. His loyalty to the king was so solid that he wore it like armor. Solicitously offering a mail-clad arm to Elisira, he escorted her to the suite of rooms that had been assigned to the Glinholt family.
As they walked, Elisira stared at the drab stone walls of the castle, wishing they would magically turn into the warm wooden walls of her coastal home. With her mother dead, and her father now holding an important position on Arris’ council, there was no way a marriageable asset like herself would be allowed any freedom to choose where she lived.
The guard kept his eye on the lady by his side. She was dangerous, though not many would agree. However, he remembered that Elisira Glinholt had been one of Azhani Rhu’len’s few friends. He also knew that the lady had never publicly denounced the warleader for her actions, and that made him wary. His hatred for Azhani Rhu’len was scored deep, carved into his bones by the memory of his brother, dying in his arms on the field at Banner Lake.
It was easy to believe that the woman by his side might also carry the same seed of treachery that had infected the warleader. She would bear watching.
They reached the door to Elisira’s chambers and the guard bowed, leaving her to enter alone. The lady paused, considering. Should she head to bed, or should she sneak off to Padreg’s chamber and enjoy a candlemark or two of enchanting conversation with the Y’Noran man?
Since their ride in the forest, they had stolen every moment together they could. It was wrong, and possibly dangerous for Padreg, but the heart had a way of supplanting the mind, causing her to do the most ridiculous things. Elisira closed her eyes and shook her head. No. Not this night. Feeling tired, and slightly tarnished by Arris’ barely hidden desires, she decided that all she wanted was to get lost in her dreams. A wistful sigh ruffled her hair as she opened her door.
“All right, Derkus, what’s so important that you had to interrupt my evening?” asked Arris as he breezed into the council chamber.
Pacing the empty room, circling around the oratory stage like a caged animal was the Lord High Councilor Glinholt. Hair in disarray, and muttering to himself, he looked up as the king entered. For a moment, his eyes bugged out and he fearfully peeked behind Arris, as if looking for guardsmen. When he didn’t see them, he threw himself at the young man’s feet and began babbling.
“I swear, my lord, it was not my idea! I am always loyal to you, always!” wailed the older man pathetically.
Arris’ lips twitched into a nasty grin before he shoved the groveling man off his boot and snarled, “What are you prattling about, old man?”
Still on the ground, Derkus fearfully replied, “King Padreg asked to speak with me, sire.”
“And? I still don’t see the problem here, Glinholt,” Arris said, disengaging himself from the man’s grip and sauntering over to his throne.
Crawling over to kneel at the foot of the carved granite monstrosity, the councilor whispered, “He asked about Elisira.”
Intrigued, Arris wondered, What would a barbarian from Y’Nor want with a useless slip of a girl like Elisira? A lascivious smile brightened his face. Other than the obvious, that is. His mind drifted off to pleasant thoughts of ravishing the nobleman’s daughter.
“He wishes to marry her, my lord!” Derkus whined, bashing his head against the stone floor. “I have not given him my answer; he believes it is in deference to the girl.”
Both of Arris’ eyebrows shot up. Y’Norans don’t buy nags. He must see something in Elisira that no one else does. The king stroked his chin thoughtfully. Interesting, and how can I use that to my advantage? Arris briefly considered trumping the barbarian and asking for Elisira’s hand. As her king, his claim would outweigh the Y’Noran’s.
Marrying now would be a terrible mistake, though. Three of the other kingdoms currently had marriageable daughters – girls who were the only living heirs of their kingly fathers. Expanding Y’dan’s borders could be accomplished in many ways, not all of them via the battlefield. A tractable princess would do the job nicely. Porthyros might be surprised to hear him say such things, but he had listened when the scholar had lectured about the laws. Oh yes, Elisira would be a fine diversion, but Arris wanted more than just to rule Y’dan, he wanted all of the kingdoms.
“We must talk, my friend. Please, come and sit. I will send for wine.” Speaking quietly to the page, he sent the boy off in search of a bottle of the councilor’s favorite wine. He also ordered him to find Porthyros. His mentor would surely have some enlightening insights to add to the situation.
I must be a damn fool, Padreg thought to himself as he stared into the fire. Yet, what else could he do? The Y’Noran was a man of action and sitting around waiting for the gods to dump a solution on his lap was not the answer to his predicament.
In the two weeks since they had met, he was as certain as he would ever be that the Lady Elisira’s feelings for him were as intense as his were for her. Padreg Keelan was an honorable man, and there was no other course but to barge ahead and seek the noblewoman’s hand in marriage.
Aden Varice, his most trusted companion since childhood, had discovered that King Arris also had a desire for the lady, and this had caused Padreg’s heart to plummet to the floor. Surely she would choose the man who was in her homeland over a man who would take her away from all she had known. The crackling fire offered no answers to his questions.
A light tap at the door tore his mind away from its musings. Rising, he opened the door to reveal one of the many pages that served the Y’dani court. The boy bore no message, but rather seemed to be trying to decide whether or not he should flee.
“Yes, what is it lad?” he asked gently, purposefully keeping his voice low and even so as not to startle the coltish youth.
Devon Imry looked up at King Padreg’s six and a half foot frame and gulped audibly.
“M-my lord,” he stuttered softly, darting his eyes from side to side. He was terrified. At only fourteen winters, he knew that his words carried less weight than even the lowest soldier, but his father had raised him to know right from wrong.
Polis Imry had served the old king for many years before succumbing to the coughing sickness the previous winter. Always, he had encouraged Devon to do the right thing, even if it meant facing that which frightened him. Not even his first attempt at conjuring fire scared him as much as facing the bear-like Y’Noran king. Except for what they were talking about in the council room... Horrific, bloody visions stole his voice. He could still remember Banner Lake, and the awful, sickening smell that covered the city for weeks afterward.
“Well, come on lad, don’t be standing there letting out all the heat, come in or speak, but be quick about it!” Padreg said, standing aside to let the boy enter.
The boy looked familiar. He had seen the sandy brown hair and narrow featured face many times. All the servants of Y’dannoch castle wore green and black tabards, so the boy’s livery was no clue to his origins. Devon bit his lip, and in that gesture, Padreg recognized him.
Elisira had called him one of her father’s shadows, explaining that each of the councilors had special pages that served them exclusively. Looking the boy over with more interest, the Y’Noran waited for him to make his decision. The king’s heart started to pound as he imagined, Perhaps he is here with an answer to my proposal. Perhaps she has said yes!
Heart sinking rapidly, he realized that if that was the case, it was likely a denial, rather than the joyful acceptance his heart prayed for. Padreg couldn’t imagine sending a page to deliver anything but sad news.
Devon looked around once more and then slipped inside the king’s chambers. “My lord,” he whispered softly and then swallowed again. Screwing up his face tightly, he gathered his courage. “My lord, you’re in danger!” he finally blurted, and then looked around the room as if he expected demons to leap from the corners to rend his flesh from his bones.
One dark eyebrow lifted as Padreg regarded the boy curiously. The plainsman wasn’t given to seeing shadows in full sunlight, but in this kingdom, shadows had a way of appearing in odd places. He still couldn’t understand why, only a few months ago, the honorable and heroic warleader had staged a near successful coup.
“I am? And are you here to rescue me?” he scoffed teasingly. Then winced as the memory of his mother’s voice needled him sharply.
“What do you think you’re about, Paddy-lad, tauntin’ the poor lad so? Isn’t it enough that he’s suffered your beastly great shape to bring you news? Be kind, boy, or I’ll horsewhip you!” A sudden grin flashed across his face. Even from hundreds of miles away, his mother could still make him feel ten seasons old.
“My apologies, lad. Speak, and fear me not,” he said, returning to the gentle tones of his greeting.
Devon stared at him for a moment and then, the words came tumbling out of his mouth. “I was in the council chambers, preparing for the session in the morning – I like to make sure there’s a fresh supply of pens and ink and that there’s enough paper because sometimes the scribes don’t always replace what they use and I’m not so good at remembering stuff and when it comes to midday meal, boy, those councilors sure can eat!” He took a breath and went on, “Anyway, so I was in the scribe’s box when I heard Councilor Derkus come in and he was pacing and walking and mumbling something about having his,” the boy blushed, “privates in a crushed codpiece and then King Arris came in and they started talking and, my lord, did you really ask for Lady Elisira’s hand in marriage?”
Chuckling, Padreg said, “Yes, I did.” He studied the boy, whose face had gone white at his confirmation. “Did I ruffle a few feathers? Was she already promised to someone else?” he asked weakly. “To Arris?” he added, almost too softly for Devon to hear him.
“No, Your Highness,” the boy squeaked out. Since Padreg had not made a move to hurt him, nor had he called out for the guards to come haul him away, he bravely continued. “They talked about you and the lady – they said some very bad things that my father would have switched them for – and then they decided that you must be trying to make a fool of King Arris because everyone knows he’s interested in Elisira, except that he isn’t, not really, I mean.” The page’s young face hardened in a very adult defiance. “Then Porthyros,” Devon sneered the name, “I hate him. He smells funny and he’s always touching the chambermaids. Anyway, he shows up and they talk.” The page’s hands had wound and wrung his tabard into crumpled knots as he spoke. “My lord,” he whispered now, “You must flee. They plan to use the lady against you – to hurt you.”
The fire popped loudly, startling them.
“Lad, you’ve made a very serious accusation,” Padreg said carefully, searching the boy’s face for any sign of trickery. None existed, and the Y’Noran shook his head sadly. His mother would tan his hide if she knew he had forsaken the opportunity to learn more about the kingdom. Instead of spending time speaking to the people, he had rushed to confirm Arris’ inheritance.
Padreg stroked his chin thoughtfully and then gestured to the two men who had served him faithfully for years. “What think you? Do the boy’s words match what you know of the men he claims spoke them?”
Aden Varice spoke first. “I do believe the lad’s a fair speaker, Paddy. There be a scent hereabouts that reeks of rot and it is not the kitchen middens.”
Thomas Gould was next. “Aye. Aden speaks it well, m’lord. The servants are all a’feared of their masters and the people are tighter lipped than a trout pullin’ bait.”
“What say the others? The same?” Padreg asked, knowing that the men and women who served him would have done their homework, even if he had not.
Two slow nods.
“All right, then this is what we will do,” he said, and slowly began to devise a plan of escape.
Eyes widening, Devon listened in rapt awe, realizing that he was the cornerstone to the success of Padreg’s plan. There was no question that he would help the Y’Norans. Not only was it the right thing to do, it was the good thing to do.
Still, if it succeeded, he would be taken far away from the only home he had ever known. Papa, he prayed silently, Let me make you proud!
“I’m not sure if I want to kill him or not, Thyro,” Arris mumbled sleepily as Porthyros helped him undress and slide into his linen bedding.
“But your majesty, no one should to touch that which belongs to you. The lady Elisira is yours, is she not?” the scholar suavely explained as he tucked the silky sheets around his monarch, fondly brushing a strand of limp black hair out of the king’s eyes.
“Yes, she is mine. You gave her to me,” Arris said, his face losing the cruel edge it always held when he was in public, becoming that of a very young man.
“That’s right, I did. And I never take my gifts back,” Porthyros crooned gently. Arris’ eyes fluttered and he yawned. So trusting, so easy to control... that’s my boy, the scholar smiled as he reached over to a tray and removed a steaming cup.
“Is zat m’tea?” Arris asked thickly, sleepiness slurring his speech.
“Yes, my king. I made it for you, just like always,” Porthyros said, handing over the cup and watching as the king greedily sucked the liquid down.
“Mm. No one else makes tea like you, Thyro. You gon’ teach m’wife t’make it, too?” he asked drowsily.
I doubt she’ll add the “special” ingredients I do, boy. “Of course, my king,” he said reassuringly.
Arris smiled sweetly. “Good ol’ Thyro. You’re the best, always were.” Arris yawned again and closed his eyes, surrendering to sleep.
“Sweet dreams, my king,” Porthyros whispered, stroking the young man’s face once more before tearing his hand away and exiting the king’s chambers. He had to see his master quickly, before word of tonight’s revelations reached him.
Elisira Glinholt woke up in shock at the feeling of a heavy hand on her mouth.
“Shh, my lady, do not be troubled, you are in no danger,” a low, lightly accented voice she had come to recognize as belonging to Padreg said quietly.
Calmly, Elisira nodded. It was still dark, yet she could see by a flickering candlelight that she was not alone. Padreg, a page and two manservants dressed in Y’Noran livery were in the room with her. The Y’Noran took his hand away from Elisira’s mouth and she inhaled deeply.
“Well, my lord, what brings you to visit?” she asked with as much aplomb as she could muster, swaddled as she was in silks, velvets and bedclothes.
Padreg smiled approvingly at the young woman’s spirit. “There is trouble, my lady. This lad here has brought me a tale of treachery and deceit. I fear I must depart your fair city, but before I go, I have one question of you.”
“Ask it,” Elisira said, fear clutching her heart. Leaving? No, please, Astariu no, he can’t go...
“My lady, in you I have found a woman without equal, and now I find myself having to ask, do you feel anything for me?” The plainsman’s face was filled with hope.
Elisira looked around the room, anywhere but into the sweet green eyes of the man to whom she felt so drawn. Though their interaction had been limited, Elisira could not deny the tangible attraction she felt for this man. Finally, she met his eyes and saw only gentleness and patience there.
Swallowing, Elisira said, “If my life were my own, your highness, it would belong to you.” The words felt incredibly strange, even foreign on her tongue. The young woman had never given herself to fantasies of love before, always knowing that as the daughter of one of the king’s councilors, she was far more likely to be the tie binding a lucrative deal for her father. Yet when she looked at Padreg, or listened to him speak longingly of the plains and grasslands of his kingdom, she felt her mind slipping off to dream of a life where she was free to fall in love as she chose.
An amazingly vulnerable look passed over Padreg’s face as he accepted her words in silence. The plainsman and the noblewoman spent precious moments lingering in each other’s eyes. “You should hear what sends me off. I would take you with me, my lady, if you will go.” He turned to the page and said, “Speak, lad.”
The boy, who Elisira recognized as Devon Imry, one of her father’s “shadows”, hurriedly began to tell a horrific tale of murder plots, intrigue and regicide. Listening patiently, Elisira only interrupted once, when the page related how her father had thrown himself at Arris’ mercy, offering up his daughter’s virtue as a guarantor of his own life.
“That slimy, bilge-sucking snake!” she cursed, and then laughed at the stunned look on Devon’s face. “My apologies, Dev. Go on.”
The use of his nickname stirred a memory in the young boy and he blurted, “You’re the lady that warleader Azhani always talked about with papa, aren’t you?”
Elisira smiled sadly at the mention of her old friend. One of the few people in Y’dannyv to pierce her painstakingly constructed act of brainlessness, Azhani Rhu’len quickly become dear to the noblewoman’s heart. The death of Ambassador Kelani, Azhani’s beloved, caused the noblewoman a great deal of grief.
Though the elven princess had not been free to love the Y’dani warleader openly, their union had been a good match. Elisira had enjoyed many candlemarks in their company, free from the tedious rigmarole of courtly life. It was an arrangement that was mutually beneficial, giving the lovers a chance to escape from the long candlemarks spent arguing with the council. Memory stirred and lifted gossamer wings, quelling the rising sadness thickening in her throat.
“Mm, I love you so much, Ylera,” Azhani whispered as they sat, curled up in the parlor of Elisira’s chambers. The young woman had invited them over for dinner and afterward, the three had settled down to play a game of cards.
Elisira had risen to summon a page for more wine when she overheard the warleader speak her heart to the elven ambassador.
A gentle, loving smile brightened the ambassador’s face. Tenderly, she reached out and ran her fingers through the warrior’s unruly braids of hair. “I love you too, my Azhi. In the moments when my heart rules my mind, it is your face that I see.”
Watching the two lovers, Elisira knew all too well the source of Ylera’s inability to love freely. Like twins, they were, their noble birth acting as a shield against self-determination. Ylera was ruled by the prejudices of the elven nobles and Elisira’s life was in the hands of her father, Lord High Councilor Derkus Glinholt.
A fleeting moment of pain flickered in Azhani’s eyes and Elisira felt herself ache for the older woman. The warleader was deeply taken by Ylera, and had more than once expressed the desire to seal their bond with vows of marriage. Yet, viewing the couple as they snuggled on the couch, Elisira was reluctant to label what passed between them as “true love”.
However, since both women were content to be together, that was all that mattered.
The melancholy passed and Elisira smiled warmly. “Yes, Dev, I am.”
Devon’s smile matched hers and then he let out a contented sigh. The page continued his story, telling Elisira of Arris’ plans to use her to lure Padreg into a trap, and kill him.
“Just how did he think to do that, I wonder?” the lady wondered softly.
Padreg’s cheeks flushed slightly. “It would be an easily done job, my lady. He has but to hold you ransom and I would sell my soul to the Lord of Hell himself, to have you returned safely.”
Elisira blinked and then burst out laughing. “Oh, you dear, dear man!” She shook her head ruefully. “I am not worth anyone’s soul, especially not as a ransom to that slimy excuse for a king!” Seeing the dejected look on Padreg’s face, Elisira snuck a hand out of her blankets and stroked his cheek lightly. “I thank you, though, for your chivalry.”
Capturing her hand and holding it against his cheek, Padreg stared into Elisira’s eyes and said, “My lady, you are worth more than my soul, but it and all else I have are yours.”
The Y’Noran’s men coughed at the display of excessively fanciful words coming from the mouth of their usually blunt spoken king. Even Devon had the grace to blush.
Touched by Padreg’s attempt at poetry, Elisira smiled sweetly.
“It seems, my lord, that there is trouble brewing in Y’dan,” the lady said, retrieving her hand from Padreg’s grasp and sitting up in the bed. “What are we going to do to stop it?”
Padreg grabbed a chair and sat, smiling widely. “Now that’s exactly the spirit I knew you had!” he exclaimed excitedly. “We’ve reasoned out that there are two courses of action. Of course, we will leave, and take Devon and now you, with us. It is once we have escaped the castle that we have not decided which road to take. Should we head south, to Y’mar and the High King’s justice, or east, to Y’Nor, and prepare for war? Either course will have its dangers.”
Swinging her legs free of the quilts, Elisira reached for her dressing gown. “Your plans are sound, my lord. I wonder, though, how you plan on exiting Y’dannoch without notice? Have you not noticed Arris’ personal guards roaming the halls?
Privately, Elisira began planning to search out Y’dan’s former warleader. If Azhani still lived, then she would be the one who would know how best to handle the villainous king. First, they must escape the castle, and for that, she also had a plan.
The lady quickly rummaged in her wardrobe, producing a rather worn pair of breeches, an old tunic and a heavy black leather jerkin. Dutifully turning their heads, the men carefully studied the artwork adorning the walls and tables of the noblewoman’s room while she went behind a privacy screen to change.
A few moments spent at the dressing table gave Elisira the appearance of a beardless boy. A dark gray wool cloak helped to complete the image. Regretfully, she left her heavy velvet and fur wrap behind, knowing that its very richness would mark her as unusual.
Devon grinned at her transformation. “Da told me how you used to sneak off with Azhani and practice your sword work. He said you were the prettiest boy he’d ever crossed a blade with.”
“Your father was quite the scamp and I believe you shall follow in his footsteps, young man,” Elisira said, laughing fondly and reaching out to tousle Devon’s hair. The lady turned her attention to Padreg. “My lord, if I may offer a suggestion?”
“Of course. I welcome it,” Padreg replied.
Elisira looked around her room, taking in the sumptuous, overdone décor and nodded slightly. “This castle has a wealth of secret passageways. Some are in frequent use; others have not seen the passage of feet for many years. Most are well known to the pages,” she fastened an eye on Devon, who smirked and looked at his shoes. “They are known to me, as well. In fact, I would hazard that I know of a few that young Devon here, has not yet discovered.”
Devon’s head came up as he shot her a surprised look.
“How do you think I snuck away those many times, youngling? ‘Twas not through the front gate, I’ll grant you that,” Elisira said wryly as she gathered a few things into a rucksack. She stared at her jewels, thinking to leave them, but then decided that they could come in handy should they need easy cash. Scooping them up, she wrapped them in a large square of silk and then stowed them at the bottom of her pack. Finally, she turned to her bed, lifting the mattress to reveal a curved saber hidden under the ticking. “My lord, if you would have your men go to the kitchens and ask for provisioning for a picnic – no one will think it odd that you wish to spend a day by the lake. They can meet up with us by the eastern gate.” The noblewoman belted the sword on, giving the men a look that dared them to say otherwise.
Padreg nodded and waved his men off to do as she instructed. Quietly, they exited, leaving the others to carefully slip through a hidden door in Elisira’s wardrobe and make their way down a cramped, darkened passageway.
Elisira held one candle out, careful to brush away any cobwebs before taking a step. Devon practically clung to the lady’s back, worrying silently that they would be caught and punished. He knew what his punishment would be – he would be caned and then thrown out of the castle to find his own way, but he worried about the nobles. What they were doing could be considered eloping – or it could be treason. Either way, the king would take a dim view of everyone involved.
With a dagger clenched tightly in his fist, Padreg brought up the rear, his gaze constantly flicking over his shoulder to the empty corridor behind them. If it came down to a battle to get away, he had no compunctions about maiming or killing anyone who stood in his way, but he wondered if his retinue would be as inclined to precipitate an inter-kingdom incident. He knew they would stand by their king, but whether they would agree with his reasoning gave him a moment’s pause. Rushing headlong into a situation because of his heart was not something a clan leader was known to do, and here he was, the chief of all the clan leaders, allowing his heart to rule his head.
I could always tell them it was korethka, he mused, halting his steps just before running into the young page’s back. No one would argue with a man who has been snared by spirit love.
Elisira paused and ran delicate fingers over a joint of stone and mortar, feeling the cracks until she came to a slight depression. A gentle push and another passageway opened up, leading the group right past the main hall. Eyeholes set at regular intervals caused Padreg to stop and stare. Devon leaned forward, putting his eye up to one of the holes and then giggled.
“They spy on the court?” Padreg spluttered, unable to comprehend such a thing as spying upon your own people.
Devon nodded. “All the time, my lord. I have often brought food and drink to the official court spies as they recorded the various goings on there in the hall.”
“Official spies?” Padreg choked out, while Elisira covered up a laugh, continuing to lead the way.
“Oh yes. It’s quite a wonderful position, especially for a page who is small and has good ears.” Something about the way Devon spoke the words made Padreg think that the boy had probably served as a spy a time or two in the past.
Closing his eyes briefly, the Y’Noran king sent up a prayer to the gods asking that he be allowed to escape this kingdom and their strange ways. All he wanted was to return to his lands with his life, and the lives of his friends, intact.
The small party broke away from the castle and sprinted across the darkened common, making it to the shadowed wall of the stables before anyone had noticed them. The day was approaching, and everyone was eager to be free of Y’dannoch and its murderous king.
Skulking through the hidden passageways, there had been one too many close calls. Other pages scurrying to and fro had nearly discovered them several times. Only Devon’s quick thinking had allowed the tiny group to duck into unused rooms, and once, into a storage closet.
Padreg, as tall and broad shouldered as he was, was doubly relieved to be walking in the open, unencumbered by narrow walls forcing him to walk in a back wrenching crouch. The passages had been designed for secrecy and not comfort, and the Y’Noran had fought down a severe sense of claustrophobia several times before Elisira’s knowing fingers found the exit.
Inside the stables, Padreg’s men were waiting, their horses already saddled. False dawn was beginning to paint the horizon in hazy blues and grays and the horses were restless, and eager to be off.
As quietly as a group of thirty could, they mounted, moving toward the front gate of the castle. The guards, sleepy-eyed and surly from a long night’s watch, let them through without a word.
Y’dannyv was cloaked in a thick gray mist, obscuring the harbor from view as the party slowly moved through the city, heading for the eastern gate. They passed a few early risers, but traveled in near silence, speaking only in hushed tones. The sky grew lighter as they rode, and the sound of lake birds calling heralded the dawn.
The scent of rain was heavy in the air, warning the riders that their trip would not be a pleasant one. Fishermen, on their way to the docks, passed them, calling out good-natured hellos. As the sky lightened to a misty gray, the eastern gate came into view.
Aden and Thomas met them there, and their faces were grim. Stealing away from the city by ship would not be possible, as Arris had ordered an “honor guard” of his own choosing to stand watch upon the Y’Noran vessels.
The two men had quickly revised the plan and were now distributing several days’ worth of food to the riders. Elisira tucked the package away, mentally vowing to ration what she had, so that they could travel faster.
Easily, the group exited Y’dannyv, heading in the direction of the lake. So far, no one had tried to stop them, but everyone understood that it was only a matter of time before their absence was noted. Passing farmers, bringing fresh eggs and other goods in for the market, bade them good day and warned of the rain to come.
There was a definite chill in the air. The fog was cold, seeping into the traveler’s clothes and settling into their bones. Breath frosted in front of horses and riders as they carefully picked their way along the lake’s edge. Elisira drew her cloak about her tighter, wishing she had been able to find a warmer tunic.
Padreg fell back from the lead and drew even with the lady. “Are you chilled, my lady?” he asked softly.
A brief nod answered him.
“I can send someone back to the city to purchase you a heavier cloak, if you would like?” he offered. They had left Arris’ castle without much in the way of extras.
She was just about to answer when a shrill whistle silenced her. Both she and Padreg turned to look behind them, spotting a swiftly moving rider. It was one of Padreg’s men – a rear scout.
Her panting mount drew even with the group and the rider quietly said, “We’re being followed,” before she slipped from her horse’s back and began to carefully walk the animal until it calmed down.
Padreg issued a few low voiced orders and the group vanished into the thickets at the side of the road. Shortly, a small group of green and black liveried guardsmen galloped up, led by Porthyros Omal.
“Quickly, now, men! We can’t let these scoundrels escape! Arris wants them all alive! They have taken his chosen lady hostage and her life may be in mortal danger if we let them get away!” He exhorted the guards, who dismounted to search the area for clues.
One of the men was very close to discovering Devon’s hiding place, and Elisira tensed, ready to stand up and reveal her position to save her friends. A jauntily whistled tune stopped her though. From around a bend in the road, a green-robed man appeared, leading a well-laden donkey behind him. He stopped at the sight of the king’s men beating at the bushes with their swords.
Catching Porthyros’ eye, he called out, “Good morrow, citizen. Have you lost something?”
The scholar’s features darkened, but he returned the priest’s greeting courteously. “Good morrow, Brother Jalen. We are seeking the Lady Elisira Glinholt. Our good king has cause to fear that she has been kidnapped by that foul Y’Noran dog, Padreg Keelan.”
The priest nodded sagely. “Well then, citizen, you should by all means do your duty to your king. How can I be of assistance?”
Elisira bit her lip, tasting blood. If the priest used magic, they would surely be found. She moved to get away from Padreg and save him from Arris’ men.
“Nay my lady, bide a while,” a ghostly whisper made her look up into Padreg’s calm green eyes.
Reluctantly, Elisira settled back against the large man, sparing only a moment’s thought to how comfortable a backrest Padreg was. Generously, the plainsman pulled his cloak about the both of them, sharing his warmth.
The priest had closed his eyes and was chanting softly. A tiny blue glow formed in the air in front of his face, circled the clearing once and then shot off in the direction of the castle. The priest’s eyes opened and he looked at Porthyros, who sat on his horse and stared sourly at the streaking ball of light.
“Well don’t just sit there, man! Follow it! It’s a trail finder! Surely you have heard of the magic that seeks what is lost?” the priest scoffed lightly.
Porthyros glared at Brother Jalen and then called to the guards, “Mount up and follow the priest’s guide!”
The men did as ordered, thundering off back toward the castle. Porthyros said, “I hope this trick of yours works, Brother Jalen, or it is your head the king will mount on a pike!” With that, he wheeled his horse around and galloped off to catch up to the guards.
Jalen waited until the searchers were out of sight and then calmly said, “You may continue on your way, my friends. Goddess bless your journey.” He then turned and walked away, leaving the roadway to the Y’Norans and the Y’dani noblewoman.
“I have friends in many places,” Padreg said calmly.
“But he wasn’t a starseeker. How did he create that spell?” Elisira asked questioningly.
“It wasn’t a spell,” Devon said as he approached their hiding place. “I don’t know what he did, but it wasn’t magic. I would have heard it.”
Both Padreg and Elisira turned surprised faces toward the page.
Shrugging bashfully, Devon said, “I kind of found this book one day, and well... it was really interesting and I tried one of the exercises and it worked...” babbling, he eagerly told his rapt audience about his limited success with magic. “So, anyway,” he finished up as the group gathered their mounts and started up the road, “I can sort of hear this sound whenever something magical happens.”
Padreg clapped the boy on the shoulder approvingly. “Aye lad, you’re proving to have some good paces in you. I’m pleased, surprised, but pleased. Now, is there anything you think we should know?”
Grinning proudly, Devon shook his head. “Nope. Well, I sort of brought that book with me... I thought it might be useful?” He looked up at Padreg hopefully.
“Good lad, study well. When we get to Y’Nor, I know someone that will be very interested to meet you.”
lord, I truly believe this is the best course of action,” argued Stefan
Payle, Padreg’s second in command, as they stood facing the fork that
would either lead them north or further east.
“King Arris’ men have not given up their search and I have
not seen your friendly priest since that day in the forest.”
It had been three long, hard days of travel. Traveling by night after the first day of their escape, they had so far managed to avoid the king’s patrols. The group had managed to acquire a few meager provisions from a traveling tinker’s wagon and now Elisira was properly cloaked against the inclement weather.
Padreg fumed in frustration. “Stef, it seems fruitless to go miles out of our way to evade some green soldier running seek and find on my dust trail.”
Stefan looked as though he were about to marshal yet another argument when Elisira stepped forward.
“My lord, it seems as though good Stefan is right. If we go north, will we not confuse the scoundrel’s men? Stefan can go east into Y’Syr, taking with him the main part of your entourage. Surely the diversion will send Arris and his bullies off to create a defense against the accusations of the elven queen?” The lady crossed her fingers under her cloak. North would take them near the old DaCoure homestead, one of the few places that Azhani would run to for sanctuary.
“But it is winter, and snowing!” Padreg blustered, though he knew his argument was feeble, at best. He had survived winters on the plains, summers in the desert and even a storm at sea. A narrowed glance from Stefan told the plainsman that his second knew that his words were bluff and bluster. Padreg blew out a long breath. “Blast you both! All right, we ride north!” He looked at Stefan, who would be responsible for leading Arris’ men away from their trail. “Go with the gods, my old friend. I want to see you hale and hearty at the spring foaling.”
Solemnly, they clasped arms, and then embraced. Padreg then touched or embraced every one of his people that had been chosen to go with Stefan. Sharing a word, or a memory, or just a genial hug. Elisira knew that this was what made the plainsman’s people love him.
When he turned away from the group, his green eyes were dark and clouded with emotion. “May the Twins preserve them.”
Elisira reached out and put a chilled hand on his arm, favoring him with a brief smile. “They will be fine, my lord. The gods will see to that.”
“I hope so, my lady, I truly hope so.” He covered her hand with his larger, warmer hand and they bent their heads together in a near embrace.
“My lord, they have gone. We must hurry before Arris’ guards find this spot,” Aden said quietly.
Padreg nodded. “So be it. Let us ride.”
Scholar Porthyros Omal scurried down the dark streets, praying for his life. Three days the lady had been gone, and no one had found her. Curse that damned priest to the lowest hells! He thought harshly, wishing nothing but ill toward the all too helpful Brother Jalen.
Even the priest had vanished, though many had claimed to see him enter the city. When the scholar had sent guards out to arrest the Astariun brother, he was gone, though none had heard him speak of leaving. Arris was furious, tearing into his scholar and refusing to calm down. Only large amounts of his favorite tea had finally reduced the king to a tractable surliness.
Lord Kesryn Oswyne, hearing of the “abduction” had summoned his servant, seeking to find the truth behind the rumors flying about the city. Putting a little more fire into his step, Porthyros continued to hurry through the darkness. They couldn’t even arrest the Y’Noran entourage, for those that had not escaped with their king had lifted sail and floated out of the harbor before Arris’ men could stop them. Not wishing to bring the wrath of the High King down on his head for warmongering, Arris had held his black and green-sailed ships in port and allowed the Y’Norans to escape.
There was nothing, not one item to hold as a ransom against the plainsmen’s people. Councilor Glinholt was beside himself. The older man had locked himself into his rooms and refused to come out, fearing for his life. Porthyros knew it would take some serious negotiating on his part to get the merchant to emerge, providing of course, that he lived out the night.
If his master were in a charitable mood, he might escape with a beating. The scholar had placed his hope in the fact that the town was abuzz with the news of Oswyne Shipping Inc.’s new partnership with the House of Argent. Lord Kesryn would be very pleased that the silversmith’s guild had finally acceded to his wishes and joined their coffers to his.
He rounded a final corner and stepped into a shadowed doorway. Looking out at the docks, he sent one final prayer off, and then rang the bell.
Thick globs of snow flew up as Padreg’s party rode into Brenton. The farming community was blanketed, hidden beneath a layer of snow and ice. Warmly wrapped villagers looked up at the newly arrived group and then ignored them, hurrying home to their cozy fires. Even the green and black clad soldiers turned away, uninterested in what looked to be a minor noble’s hunting party.
Padreg surveyed the town, seeking the inn. Originally, he had decided to pass through the small town, but both Elisira and Aden had persuaded him to stop. The travelers all needed warm meals and a change of clothes.
Knowing that Arris’ men were snapping at their heels, Padreg had only agreed to stay in the town if they could do so without notice. It was Devon who came up with the plan to cast a minor illusion on the party. Padreg gave the boy the chance to attempt the spell and was pleasantly surprised to see that it worked.
Devon’s spell was not a true change, rather the illusion worked on the basis that the townsfolk were used to seeing the nobility hunting for sport at all times of the year. When the Y’Noran party rode up, the locals hardly gave them a second glance.
Brenton’s cheerfully lit inn was a welcome sight to the frozen travelers. As Padreg’s new page, Devon raced inside to inquire about the rooms. As she waited, Elisira looked around the town, considering her actions.
Have I made a mistake? Am I risking my life for nothing? She watched Padreg as he paced back and forth next to his horse. He spotted her, and flashed her a quick grin. The plainsman’s stony, worry-lined face became something beautiful when he smiled, and Elisira knew that his smile was for her alone.
Memories of sitting in the garden, sharing wine and dreams, made her return that smile. Maybe I’m living a dream, she decided, forgetting her questions in favor of observing Padreg.
Restlessly, he scanned the village, seeking any sign that their group had drawn more than cursory notice, but so far, they were safe.
Devon returned and spoke to the king in low, hurried tones. Padreg nodded and passed the boy some coins, which he quickly covered and carried back into the inn. He returned quickly, carrying four wooden chits.
Padreg took them gravely and patted Devon’s shoulder warmly. Then he turned to Elisira and spoke.
“My lady, we have rooms. Shall we go in and get out of the weather?” He reached out a hand to help her down from her horse and then escorted her into the inn.
Inside, there was a warm fire burning. Only a few patrons dotted the common room, each more concerned with consuming their bowls of stew than with the new arrivals. One man looked up at their entry, but quickly returned to his meal, unconcerned with the party.
Padreg led the lady to a table at the back of the room, waiting until she had sat down, to sit near her, with his back to the wall and his eyes on the door. Two of his men bracketed them while the rest of the group took up another table nearby.
A serving girl quietly took their orders, returning promptly with their meals. The group ate in silence, absorbing the heat of the food and the warmth of the inn like sea sponges.
It had been a cold journey, with no fires and few nights without the constant fall of rain or snow. When they had done with their meal, Padreg escorted Elisira to her room.
“My lady, I know that this rude place is most likely not what you are used to –“
“As I am so accustomed to the royal hospitality of abandoned barns and rocky hollows?” the lady tartly interjected.
Padreg had the grace to look abashed. “You are right. My apologies. If I could, I would keep you in rooms of silk and lace, my lady.”
“I’d prefer fur and a warm fire, my lord,” she said, and then added with an impish smile, “And you.” Greatly daring, she allowed a bit of the chaotic emotion roiling inside her heart to show in her eyes.
A large finger tremblingly reached out to trace her cheekbone and she leaned into it, cupping his hand against her face.
“You must allow young Devon to share your room, my lady. It would not do for a lady of your stature to be without a manservant,” Padreg said huskily.
“Then I shall suffer his presence,” Elisira said lightly, a smile gracing her lips to reassure the Y’Noran that she was not at all put off by the suggestion. Sharing the room with the boy would be like sharing a room with her cousin, back at home. If she could handle little Dirk’s childish imperiousness, surely Devon would be no trouble. After all, the boy had been near ghost-like on the trip so far, yet he had wormed his way into service to the Y’Noran king in enough ways that he seemed nearly indispensable. He bears the mark of his upbringing well, Elisira thought, remembering fondly the old guardsman who had been Devon’s father. And he’s just as full of surprises as Polis was. Fondly, she recalled the old guard’s last gift to her – the saber she now wore on her belt.
Padreg gestured and the boy took the key to the room, entering and lighting a fire while the two nobles stood outside. By the time Devon had brought up the few things that Elisira carried as baggage, the fireplace was crackling merrily and all the unspoken words between the Y’Noran and the Y’dani filled the hall with a heavy silence. As Padreg turned to go, Elisira was moved to act. Quickly, she turned and placed a single, chaste kiss into the palm of his hand.
“Keep that against the day when what is felt can be spoken, my lord,” she said quietly then entered her room and shut the door.
Padreg carefully closed his fist and brought it up to his heart, closing his eyes and bending his head in silent prayer.
“I am a broken fool,” he whispered, a broad smile washing over his face.
“Ran off, you say? Into the winter snows? Interesting.” Lord Oswyne stroked his rank tattoo slowly, looking down at the back of Porthyros’ head. There was a mole that throbbed in time with the scholar’s pulse peeking out above the collar of his tunic. Kesryn’s fingers twitched restlessly. The dagger secreted up his left sleeve could be so easy dropped, so quickly shoved into the throbbing tag of flesh.
Rich, crimson blood would flow, staining the carpet and floor. The sorcerer’s nostrils flared. Agony tainted power would rise, filling the room and charging through his bloodstream. But no, replacing the scholar now would mean more work, more time spent in gaining access to Y’dan’s king. Porthyros would live, for now.
“Yes, my lord. I take full responsibility, my lord.” The scholar’s voice wavered, but was loud enough to reach Kesryn’s ears.
The sorcerer rose and began pacing the room. “Perhaps this is best. If that cow Elisira is so easily strayed by that brute of a king Padreg, it is best we are rid of her. We need a woman we can ride easily. So be it. Let them go for now, Porthyros. If they return to the city, alert me at once, but for now, stay by the king and keep your eyes open for any of the women who might be more amenable, shall we say, to our patronage. That will be all,” he said dismissively, waving his hand.
Leaping up and backing out, the scholar tried hard not to shake, unable to believe his good fortune. The deal with the silversmiths must have been wonderfully lucrative after all!
“Oh, and Porthyros?”
“Yes, my lord?”
The lord’s eyes hardened to ice chips. “If you fail me again, I will have you drawn and quartered, slowly.” Without looking, Kesryn tossed his man a pouch – filled only with silver and not the usual gold, but enough to keep up Porthyros’ private pharmacy until they met again. There would be nothing left for the scholar to enjoy, but that was not important. He would have to be satisfied with his life.
King Arris Theodan sat staring at his empty throne room. The carved granite chair under his backside was harder than he ever thought it would be to sit upon. The gold leafed curly-cues and decorations poked and pinched him in uncomfortable spots all day, and the solid gold crown weighed down on his brow like a band of lead. He lifted the crown off and rubbed at the red spot that had formed where the edge had rubbed his skin off, leaving a thin but painful line of sores across his forehead.
“I hate this thing,” he groaned wearily.
“The weight of the crown is a burden only those chosen by gods can bear, my liege,” Porthyros said as he entered the room from behind the throne.
Arris turned his gaze on his old mentor and winced. “But why must I wear this old thing? Why can’t I make a new crown? This was my father’s crown! I want to make my own, just like King Ysradaran did when he founded the kingdom!”
Porthyros opened his mouth to argue with the grumpy monarch only to close it when the idea struck him as a good one.
“Perhaps you should, indeed, do that, your highness. What a wonderful way to celebrate Winterfest! You can display your new crown to the court then!” Porthyros said eagerly.
Arris was nodding. “Yes, and this time, the crown will be light, and comfortable. Perhaps a thinner band and maybe less decoration, what do you say, old friend?”
The professor cocked his head and pretended to study Arris’ brow. “I think it would be magnificent, your highness.”
“Excellent. Now, with regards to those pesky Y’Norans and that bitch, Elisira – I think I would like to have them declared outlaws. Let someone else hunt them down. Enough of the crown’s resources have been wasted on them.”
Since that was what Porthyros was going to suggest, the professor only nodded in agreement and said, “A wise decision, my liege. A good king knows how to delegate. Once again, you have proven yourself worthy to bear the burden of royalty.”
Arris flushed under the praise and then rubbed his eyes. “I am tired, Porthyros. Would you escort me to my chambers and then make some of your wonderful tea?”
“Of course, my liege,” Porthyros said, reaching out to take the king’s arm and lead the now tired monarch to the royal bedrooms.
Arris patted Porthyros’ arm gently. “What would I do without you, old friend?”
Porthyros did not reply.
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