(Note: Click here to go to chapter one )
Turns out, it was that easy, Lord Ekal tells us, as we meet at the alcove that is turning into our war room. It is a good place to talk, a niche in the great outer wall of the keep, there originally to provide arrow slits. It opens to the Great Hall, with its vast expanse of bare floors, used now for formal balls and receptions and father’s weekly court. No one can get close enough to listen without being seen. We cannot hide the fact that we are talking (the palace staff are now stocking the alcove with wine and cheese), but we can keep what we say private.
“He agreed to accompany me when I took my donation,” Ekal tells us looking covetously at the wine bottle. “He even took a donation himself. For a moment I thought I had failed, when Alys came into the room, but she just laughed and told him to have a nice ride.”
“And you went into the chapel? Both of you?” Mynar interrupts.
“Yes. We both put our offerings on the altar itself.”
I pour Ekal a full glass of wine. He has earned it, embarrassing himself for no purpose. It hadn’t worked. Even as we speak, father is in the rose garden walking with Alys instead of tending to the business of being king.
“It gets worse,” Ekal tells us, staring at his glass but not drinking it yet. “On the ride back to the castle, he told me he was beginning to see that Afred had some true grievances with Mysk.”
I want, really want, to throw knives, but instead I leave Mynar and Ekal sharing the wine, and go to tell mother our plan has failed. Mynar has agreed mother should be told ‘all’, and has even told her our suspicions and plans himself. I believe he thought it would ease her mind to know father might be ensorcelled. Come to think of it, I find it comforting too; much better than thinking he has suddenly become a jerk because of some red hair and other well displayed assets.
Mother has finished the blue ribbons and is working on an icy-green scarf, stitching an abstract pattern in silver around its edges.
“I saw them in the garden,” she says as I join her.
“It didn’t work,” I tell her what she already knows. She listens intently as I describe what happened.
“We will not go to war for Halft’s purposes. This must be stopped.” Her tone is bleak, and I am afraid to ask what she is thinking of doing. “Tell me again, every word Ekal said.” I do as she asks, then she sends me away, saying she wants to think.
I go down to the stables, having no desire to help Ekal and Mynar drink wine—not that I think they need any help.
I lean on the paddock fence watching several of the great war horses being exercised by some of the younger knights. I covert them, wanting one of my own, but father and all of the Lord Advisors are firm that I am not strong enough to control the large, evil tempered beasts. For the moment, they have prevailed, so I only watch. Lord Taver joins me, leaning beside me as if we talk about horses.
“The king has been asking questions about provisions and battle strength needed if we were attacked by Mysk.”
I look at him in confusion, not believing I hear him correctly. “Father is concerned that the scattered tribes of Mysk are going to gather to mount an invasion?” My tone clearly says ‘this is crazy’.
“Yes.” I think Taver is agreeing with my tone more than my question. I turn back to the horses, trying to control my face, knowing we are being watched. Mynar and I are always watched.
“I would assume that such planning would take weeks, perhaps months.” I make it not a question.
“Weeks, without arousing suspicion.”
“Arouse anything you need to. We are not going to war. With Mysk.” I add. I’m not so sure about Halft. “Mother has said it.” Taver looks relived. Father is respected, but mother is venerated.
“Now walk with me back to the castle, arguing about horses,” I tell him. It is easy to convince everyone we go past that horses are the topic we have been talking about—they have heard the same arguments many times. Usually louder.
I finally go and throw knives.
The evening meal in the great hall is tense. Father has seated Ambassador Aker at the high table with Alys beside him. Mother’s place is empty between father and Mynar, but that is not unusual. Instead of pacifying people as he did at the ball, Mynar is glaring at father, at Alys, at his food. A servant drops a tray, and at the resulting crash I see men’s hands reach for swords they are not wearing.
I breathe a sigh of relief when the meal is finally done. I make sure that Mynar is not going in the same direction as father and Alys, before I go to my own rooms, to pretend to sleep, and wait for the dawn.
Breakfast is with mother, at her summoning. Mynar is with her also, still glaring at everyone in sight except mother.
“Stop that,” mother instructs him, “It’s not helping.”
“I have been considering,” she continues as Mynar tries without noticeable success to put a more pleasant look on his face. “This last week, Alys has been with Nayan constantly. I would have expected her to have wanted to go with Ekal and Nayan, instead of just wishing them an enjoyable ride. I believe Leum is right, and Nayan is enchanted. But does the spell that enchants him have to be cast on him? Wouldn’t it have been easier for Alys to have cast the spell on herself—making herself to be everything that Nayan desires?”
I am silent; I have no answers. Mynar stops glowering and looks as if he is trying to think.
“We can try and trick her into the shrine,” he finally suggests, “perhaps if she doesn’t know where she is going…”
“Or I can just drag her,” I suggest.
“If it doesn’t work,” Mynar objects, “Father will be angry at your manhandling her.”
“I don’t care.”
“Adava,” mother chides me, “It has been hard on Nayan, harder than on me, for I have at least the memory of love. He never had the chance.”
My mind wanders down a side path. He is always ‘father’ to Mynar and me, and ‘king’ to everyone else, only mother uses ‘Nayan’. And it is the same for mother; only father calls her ‘Mislei’. I force any feeling of sympathy away, to think about later.
“Things cannot continue as they are,” I finally remind her. “And if it doesn’t work,” I tell Mynar, “Then I will tie her to a horse and head north. You can light the beacon spires to signal me when father is freed.” I refused to say ‘if’.
“He will try to follow you.”
“And you will have to stop him.”
“I will demand your father’s attendance this afternoon, and I will keep him busy with recriminations and tears.” Mother uses her determined tone, so we do not suggest she leave it to us.
I go, leaving Mynar to finish planning with mother. I have things to do.