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I breakfast early, awake because I cannot sleep. I expect to find only castle staff at such an hour, but Mynar is here also, looking as well rested as I feel.
We sit alone at the high table eating in silence.
Mynar finally speaks, “I have given orders that Alys isn’t to be allowed in Mother’s bower. Not even if the king orders it.”
“Why?” This was certain to start gossip. And certain to be obeyed; mother’s guards were fanatical about her safety. Likely Mynar had ordered them to do what they would have done without orders.
“I caught Alys’ expression when she first saw you last night. She was too pleased. I was told later by one of the town merchants that she asked if it meant mother was ill. The merchant was not happy.”
“Perhaps we should threaten her,” I suggest, but before Mynar answers, Miles, the senior sergeant of Mynar’s guards, approaches.
“Is something wrong, Miles—Ardus was on duty?”
“Lord, Lady,” Miles seems to have a problem deciding what to say. “I think,” he finally continues, “That you should hear what someone has to say, but in private.”
“My library,” Mynar suggests, and clearly not to the sergeant’s liking.
“The steward’s offices,” I suggest. “He confers with mother each morning.”
The sergeant nods his agreement and leaves. Mynar and I stare at each other for a moment, then finish our breakfasts; we will find out what is going on soon enough.
We wait for several minutes in the steward’s office before the others arrive: both of our senior sergeants, and father’s followed by another of father’s guards, a very young one. As the four of them walk in, I shudder at the thought of the gossip we would start if we had an audience.
Miles pokes at the young guard and says, “Tell them.”
“My grandmother, one of my grandmothers, was from Mysk.” He is nervous, barely speaking in a whisper.
“Take a deep breath Leum,” Mynar instructs. “there is nothing to be nervous about.” Of course Mynar knows his name; Mynar makes a point of knowing people, as I work at knowing the streets.
Leum takes a deep breath, and continues a little louder. “My grandmother told me stories of Enchanters, who roam the steppes and steal men’s wills.” He pauses a moment, as if expecting to be stopped. When we don’t laugh at him, he draws a little courage and continues. “She told me, more than one time, that the way to tell if someone is under an enchantments is to look at their eyes. Even in brightest day, their pupils are open wide as if seeing in the dark. I’ve seen this in the king’s eyes.” This time he does stop talking, as if he has terrified himself.
“You may leave now,” Miles tells him, “but do not speak to anyone else about Enchanters.”
Leum nods so enthusiastically, I fear for his neck. Relief covers his face for a brief moment before he remembers himself and adopts the blank face perfected by all flavors of the royal guards. He bows to both of us, and leaves.
“He came to me with this two days ago,” Andres explains once the door is closed again. “He’s right about the king’s eyes.” As father’s senior sergeant, he would have ample opportunity to observe father.
“Enchanter.” Mynar speaks the word as if savoring it. “I have read a few of the old tales. They were always on the steppes, and those who wrote them were only repeating what they had been told by others. Never a firsthand account.”
The three senior sergeants stand and look at us with trusting eyes. We are Heir and Wielder, we will know what to do.
“You were right to bring this to our attention,” I interrupt my brother before he can lose himself in the depths of lore remembered from his treasured books. Our sergeants don’t need academic lectures, they need to know that someone is in charge—and they are having doubts about father. I don’t insult them by telling them not to gossip; I know they won’t. They are more than eager to accept my dismissal, and leave with looks of relief on their faces at having successfully handed off the problem to us.
After several moments of looking at each other with identical ‘what do we do now’ looks on our faces we decide we need to do some research, Mynar in his library and me in the vault.
I search for Tamir’s journals, since he spent some of his youth roaming the steppes of Mysk, and even, according to family legend, Caeel. As third son, he was not expected to inherit, and was allowed to indulge his interest in traveling. At least until one brother died in battle with Outlanders and the second in an accident so stupid it must have been provoked by strong drink.
When I finish the journals, gaining only a meager two pages of notes, I debate consulting the sword. I have answered the sword, but never initiated a conversation. Somehow, this makes me feel as if I am retaining control, not giving in to insanity. After a few more moments of staring at the light grey stone walls, I realize that if I am contemplating talking to a sword, I’m probably way over the border of normal anyway.
“Sword?” I think very loudly. It doesn’t answer. After a moment I say it aloud, “Sword!” It still doesn’t answer. I leave the vault feeling like an idiot.
Three days later, and we are back in the same alcove, Mynar, myself and Lord Ekal, while Mynar tries to explain what we have learned to a hopeful Ekal.
“According to what we have been able to find,” Mynar just can’t help lecturing, “There are two ways of breaking an enchantment: the presence of good, a saint or holy shrine, or sheer distance, hundreds of miles, from the Enchanter. Killing the Enchanter, according to legend, also kills the enchanted.”
“I’m not sure I believe the last,” I interrupt. “It is exactly the sort of rumor an Enchanter would start, for protection.”
“That may be,” Mynar agrees, “but killing Alys would definitely have repercussions, even if father is freed.”
I wouldn’t mind repercussions, I would be delighted to rain repercussions all over Afred. I don’t say this out loud. Instead, I ask, “Given the shortage of saints in the realm, how do we get father to the shrine?” There was no need to debate which shrine, the convent-hospital of the Nursing Sisters was the holiest of grounds. Before the Dark Years, they had been a cloistered group, but during the plague they opened their doors to the sick, tending the ill even as they died themselves. In nearer times, fifty of their number had marched across the closed borders into the Duchy of Kaskl. They had tended my oldest siblings as they lay dying, and then mother, when she too fell ill. All fifty came to the home-convent again, but only twelve were living, the rest were well burned ashes brought back for their final interment.
“Why not just ask him to go?” Lord Ekal suggests.
“What reason would we give him?” This sounds too simple.
“None.” Ekal continues, “I will tell him I am taking a contribution, and ask if he will accompany me. He won’t ask me why. He will assume I am atoning for something—I usually am.”
“Something involving a woman that he shouldn’t have been involved with”, I think, but don’t say.
“It can’t be that easy, but it won’t hurt to try,” Mynar decides. So we have a plan.