Taver, Conners and Gregor decide to ignore the grimoires—or maybe decide to let Alan and the priests deal with the grimoires—and go back to planning whatever martial thing is on the top of Taver’s list. Alan and two of the priests head back to the workroom, all three looking serious enough to draw attention. While everyone is looking at them, I slide back to my favorite seat at the side table to talk to my Sword.
“Have you ever see anything like this?”
“No Wielder, never. But it may explain why Destroyer thought he could defeat us.”
“He was wrong.” I stare at the wall trying to think of something I should do, mostly failing. I wonder what Taver is working on, but not enough to go ask. I just sit and try very hard to think about nothing; I believe I would have succeeded if one of my Guards hadn’t demanded attention.
“Dame Lassa would like to talk to you, but if you are to busy I will tell her to come back later.”
I look at him in surprise I am so obviously not busy; clearly he doesn’t want me to talk to this woman. So, of course, considering how happy I am with my guards right now, I decide to talk to her.
“Princess Adava,” she greets me.
“Is Zale well?” Now that I see her, I realize that Dame Lassa is Zale’s wife.
“Fair. He still gets tired, but he sleeps well, better than he has for a long time. I’m guessing your Sergeant Bevin didn’t mention talking to me this morning.”
“No.” I expect my tone and expression told her more than I wanted to. What were my guards up to now.
“He asked me for help, as a mature woman of good repute. He wanted my advice about your attraction to Sorcerer Alan. How to dissuade you, how to tactfully remind you of your duty.”
“Alan isn’t a Sorcerer, he’s a Mage.”
“Oh.” Lassa looks interested instead of disbelieving. “I thought they were just fables. I bet no one believes you. Anyway, that’s a discussion for another day.” She smiles a very smirky, evil smile. “Your Sergeant didn’t like my advice. I told him you didn’t have to marry a man with Stormborne blood, you only had to have a child by one.”
My budding anger is disrupted; I can’t keep from laughing. “Did he turn red?”
I don’t even try to deny her belief that Stormborne blood is necessary for the next generation. This has to be the most poorly kept secret in the kingdom.
“They are worried about you. They don’t want you to end up broken-hearted.”
“When I have to agree to an arranged marriage like my parents did?”
She just nods. My parents have never pretended their marriage started as a love match. It will do no good to just tell the truth; we have lied, by our silence, for too many generations, not admitting the ties between the Sword and Stormborne blood. Now, telling the truth, we will not be believed.
“It would be so much easier if my annoying guards would just accept I know what I’m doing?”
I stare at her for a moment, and then decide it really is her business. It is everyone’s business because my decisions will impact the safety of the realm. Even my irritating guards.
“Yes, I know what I am doing. Alan is staying. And the Sword will always have a Wielder.”
“Always?” She stares at me blankly.
“Always,” I emphasize. She doesn’t believe me; I can see she wants to believe me, needs to believe me, but still, she can’t believe. Father is right, we are going to have a convincing reason, and a Sword only I can hear isn’t going to be enough.
We exchange polite platitudes and end the discussion because she won’t call me a liar, and I have nothing that will satisfy her.
I am leaning against the wall, chair tipped back, brooding when Alan joins me. Looks as if he could work up a good ‘brood’ too.
“We are dismembering the books and sorting the pages. Eventually all the ones we keep will be rewritten, but this is faster. The sooner Destroyer’s filth is burned the better.”
“Do you really have to read them?”
“Yes. We need to know—there may be things needing to be dealt with.” I can’t tell if Alan is exhausted or disgusted. Maybe both. “Otherwise, we could just burn all the pages in his handwriting.”
No matter how dire the topic of conversation, I still can’t keep from smiling when I see Alan is wearing my rose again, clumsily tied, but tied on his arm nonetheless. I don’t try to comfort him; I don’t know how. I just retie the ribbon.
Bevin joins us, uninvited. “Does your finger hurt?” I ask in a sugar sweet tone.
He looks at me as if I might bite, but I am his Princess, so he answers me, “A little.”
“Good.” He winces, but says nothing.
“Who do you think embroidered Alan’s ribbon, specifically for me to give to him?”
“One of your Ladies?” He does know better than to think I embroidered anything. My youth was spent learning about swords and knives, not needles.
“Mother.” That one word leaves him more addled than a blow to the head would have. “If you persist, you are thwarting her will as much as mine. Clear?”
He wanders off without answering and I let him.
“Did she really?” Alan has come out of his stupor far enough to hear what I just said.
He smiles for the first time. And looks relieved. He explains without my asking, “If your mother approves, I don’t have to worry about what your father thinks.”
“True, but you should pretend that you do.” Out of the corner of my eye I can see Bevin talking to Taver—wonder if he will tell Taver about Dame Lassa’s suggestion. I hope so, but if he doesn’t, I definitely will.
But not now, right now I need to give Alan something to think about instead of what he has been reading.
Well, that wasn’t what I was thinking. We both look at the young out-of-breath apprentice standing in the open door. “Riot!” he yells again, pointing down the street. Gregor and Taver beat me out the door because I delay to convince Alan to guard the grimoires. They must be dire indeed, because he agrees with me.
Taver barks swift orders, and Gregor pulls to the side, calling out men to stay with him to secure the Keep. For once I’m glad to have my guards behind me—behind because I can run faster than any of them, otherwise they would be in front, to the side, and behind.
“I do not sense any sorcery, Wielder,” the Sword assures me.
I hear the Keep’s doors slamming shut behind us. Taver slows slightly to let me catch up. “It should have been one of our men, not an apprentice, bringing warning.”
Now I understand why Gregor has stayed behind to seal the keep. “But,” I point out, “an excited apprentice could easily outrun an armored man.”
“Which is why…” Taver cuts off abruptly. A man from his battalion is loping down the street toward us. He slows, and walks over. Nothing in his demeanor suggests fighting and urgency.
“You’ve heard about the riot, sir?” He is smiling; if he weren’t reporting to his general, I think he would be laughing.
“Apparently not enough.” Taver keeps moving in the direction his warrior came from, but slows down slightly.
“They are all drunk. Extremely drunk.”
He understates the matter. We arrive at the gatehouse which has been turned into a prison just in time to see four men attempt to use a wooden bench, likely liberated from some tavern, as a battering ram against the tower doors. Except they are so drunk they miss the door, hit the stone wall, and batter the bench into splinters before falling over each other in a heap.
Several of their friends try to pick them up as our warriors laugh at them from the tops of both towers. We are joined by one of the battalion’s sergeants and about a dozen men.
“Lord Taver, Princess,” he comes over to report.
“They are only attacking the tower where we are holding the mercenaries so we came over from the other tower to help.” He pauses, clearly searching for words.
“And then you stopped to enjoy the show,” Taver finishes for him. “Catch one of them for me to talk to.”
I’m distracted by watching one of the men in the front of the mob run toward the tower to throw a flaming torch. Apparently he is drunk enough to have forgotten stone doesn’t burn.
The specimen the sergeant brings back is just drunk, instead of being very drunk. He tries to stand to attention and salute Taver, but the salute unbalances him and he would have fallen on his face if two of the sergeant’s men hadn’t held him upright.
“What are you doing?” Taver asks in a mild tone.
“We were celebrating Lord Conners. He’s a good man, is Captain Conners.” He keep swaying as he talks, and I expect him to fall over any moment. “Good man.” He repeats. “So we decided we should hang the mercenaries for him.” This time he does fall over.
Taver just shakes his head an walks over to the edge of the square that faces the gates. I follow him. “Princess, may I suggest you return to the keep and let Gregor know what is happening. We will herd this group over to the archery range for the night. Which will give us plenty of time to devise some suitable punishment for them.”
Yes, he certainly can suggest that. I clearly am not needed. From the looks of things, the biggest danger his men will face will be having some drunk throw up on them. I quickly agree and move toward the keep, the image of what might happen if one of the spewing drunks got too close to me spurring me on. My guards would kill him, which was way too much punishment for getting stupid drunk—or maybe being stupid and then getting drunk.