Samet looked up when the door opened and a man entered. “Prelate.”
“Prince Vadin.” Prelate Graham folded his arms.
“My title is Emir, if you feel one must be used.” Samet leaned back in the chair. There were still Covenant mages on the door, and he kept his hands visible so as not to panic them.
“Very well, Emir Vadin.” The Prelate narrowed his eyes. “I have some questions for you.” He moved to sit across from Samet. “Prince Ethan claims you are opposing your father.”
“Let us be honest with each other, Prelate.” Samet met his eyes. “I have no difficulty with my father’s goal of conquering the world. It is his methodology and reasoning to which I object. Strenuously.” He shook his head. “And the part in them he wishes me to play.”
“Prince Ethan claims you have been kind to him.”
“The worst thing I have ever done to Ethan was make him read a tome of Estrecian poetry and note down all the mentioned landmarks.” He twitched a shoulder. “And I apologized.”
“Have you enchanted Ethan?”
“If you are asking if I control his mind, the answer is no, though I doubt you will accept my word on the matter.” Samet glanced back at the mages on the door. It appears it was too much to hope someone had taken the time to explain to the Prelate how magic actually worked. Then again, it was possible the Covenant mages didn’t know themselves. “If you are asking me if I have used magic upon him, the answer is yes.”
The Prelate’s voice hardened. “And the nature of this magic?”
“You know what my father did to Ethan.” Samet met the Prelate’s eyes, and saw the man flinch. “Ethan’s nightmares are particularly severe. I have used magic to help him deal with the matter, a spell that causes a dreamless sleep.” He smiled. “Thankfully, that spell is now rarely required. There have been other occasions. Protective wards, healing, an occasional battle enhancement, and I once had to use magic to catch him when a harpy flung him from a cliff.”
The Prelate asked him more questions before eventually settling back and giving him an appraising look. “The king has found himself in a difficult predicament. He has offered a substantial reward to the person who brings his brother back to him, alive. He has also offered a similar reward to the person who brought him you, as you were quite possibly the only bargaining chip Lord Vadin would heed in this matter.” The Prelate unfolded his arms, and clasped them behind his back. “Then we find you and Ethan deep inside our lines, engaged in disrupting a danger that could easily have destroyed us. You. The son of our greatest enemy and biggest threat.”
“I…” Samet looked down at the floor for a long moment. “My father has become a monster. What he has begun could easily destroy the world. It must be stopped. He must be stopped. And I will use every bit of power I have to see this threat eliminated.” He looked up and met the Prelate’s eyes. “But he is still my father. Once he retreats from this course, my part is done. I will help you stop him, but I will not help you kill him.”
“Well?” Robert looked up when Graham entered. He snapped the word a bit more harshly than he’d intended. Ethan had been arguing to be allowed to see the sorcerer, and was even now pacing the room.
“To be honest I am not certain what to make of that man.” Graham frowned. “If I did not know what he was, I think perhaps I would be impressed.”
“He’s not a demon.” Ethan shook his head.
“He’s a sorcerer, Ethan.” Graham sighed. “The Covenant is…”
“Covenant lore also says that all it takes to be turned into a werewolf is a slash from its claws.” Ethan gestured at himself, then pointed out the window at the full moon. “Not rampaging around the countryside.”
“Ethan, please…” Robert ran a hand through his hair. “You have made your feelings clear.” He turned back to Graham. “And?”
“I think that may be the most dangerous man I have ever met.” Graham clasped his hands behind his back. “I also think the only reason we were able to put him in a cell in the first place is that he allowed it. It is quite likely our opportunity to execute him passed the moment he woke up.” Graham held up a hand before Robert or Ethan could respond. “I was not suggesting he be executed, merely making a point. That young man sealed the archway, which every single ranking member of the Covenant assured me absolutely cannot be done.” Ethan smirked at Graham’s words. “And whatever his motives may have been, his actions did help. He saved countless lives by sealing that archway. You must take that into account.”
“So where does that leave us?” Robert exhaled. “He is Lord Vadin’s son and heir.”
“And he has offered to his considerable abilities to our cause.” Graham took a deep breath. “But he drew the line quite clearly. He will do all he can to stop his father’s course, but he will not help us end his father’s life.”
“For the love of…” Robert growled.
“Patricide is considered one of the greatest sins for a reason, Robert.”
“Yes, and it’s one Vadin committed.” Robert shook his head. “Not to mention…” He shot a glance at Ethan and cut himself off.
“Graham knows what Vadin did to me, brother.” Ethan’s voice was soft. “Vadin made him watch. Threatened to hurt me more if Graham turned away.”
Robert closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. “You did not tell me that.”
“It is a memory I would rather not have, Robert. Let alone share. Ethan…” He turned to the younger man. “I am so sorry.”
“That guard.” Ethan nodded to Graham. “He tried to hurt me again. Samet used magic to throw him face first into a stone wall. Four times.” His smile was fierce. “That is a memory I treasure.”
Robert entered the room to see the sorcerer sitting in the chair, leafing through one of the books. The Covenant mages standing to either side of the door bowed. “Your majesty.” The sorcerer set the book aside and stood.
“Prince Vadin.” Robert narrowed his eyes.
“My title is Emir.” He inclined his head. “Or you could simply call me Samet.”
He folded his arms. “You told Graham you want to help.”
“I’m supposed to believe that?”
“You may believe what you like.” Samet shrugged. “That is your prerogative as a king, after all.”
“Graham tells me he thinks you are dangerous.”
“The Prelate is an insightful man.” Samet nodded
“How dangerous are you?”
“I suppose that depends on how threatened I am feeling at a given moment.” He tilted his head and looked up at Robert. “How threatened am I?”
“You are Lord Vadin’s son.” Robert clenched his fists. “It’s tempting to offer you the warlord’s brand of…” He glared. “Hospitality.”
“And if you were the kind of man who would give in to that temptation, I would have to say that I am extremely dangerous.” Samet met his eyes. “We both know you are not.”
“You brought my brother to me, alive.” Robert nodded. “For that, you’ll be allowed to keep your life.”
“But not my freedom?” Samet raised an eyebrow, and then nodded. “That suits me well enough at the moment. When you wish the real questions answered…” He spread his hands. “You know where to find me.”
“A servant will be bringing your things.” Robert glared before turning to walk out of the room. “Tabitha has requested you join us for dinner.”
“Samet.” Ethan smiled. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine, Ethan.” Samet smiled back. “Thank the gods, someone competent finally cut your hair.”
He rolled his eyes. “You weren’t properly introduced earlier.” He turned to the woman standing a few feet behind him. “This is Queen Tabitha Kendall.” He nodded. “Queen Tabitha, this is Samet.”
Samet’s own bow was low. “Ethan has spoken most highly of you, my lady. It is an honor to get the chance to meet you.”
“Thank you, Lord Samet.” She smiled, and gave him a small curtsy before introducing his nieces. Sarah had a glare for Samet, Margaret was staring wide-eyed, Anabeth actually remembered to curtsy, and Lucille bit her lip and glanced at her father. Robert had repeatedly stated she was not to interrupt the conversation. Ethan didn’t give that restriction until the completion of the first course. “I am glad you agreed to join us for supper.”
From the glance Samet gave Ethan, he was pretty sure Samet didn’t actually want to be there. But at least this way, he could be sure Samet got something to eat. He ignored Robert’s earlier instruction and seated himself next to Samet, earning a glare from his brother. Graham ended up taking the chair initially intended for him.
And then it was time for awkward silence, soup, and angry looks. Sir Vincent was one of the men on guard, and he didn’t take his eyes off Samet for a moment. Samet had clearly recognized the man, and was doing his best not to pay attention to Sir Vincent glaring holes in the back of his head. Tabitha buttered her roll, and looked down the table. “Samet, is this your first visit to Silverhall?”
“No, your majesty.”
“Really?” Robert raised an eyebrow. “And when were you here last?”
“Robert,” Tabitha said her husband’s name softly.
“Three years ago, your highness. I came to see the steam engine. A marvelous piece of engineering.”
“Isn’t it?” Margaret immediately smiled. “He’s building a boat now.”
“Our Margaret recently attended a lecture given by Professor Ayanz.” Tabitha smiled. “I was unaware you had been in attendance at that event.”
“Yes, well…” Samet nodded to her. “I didn’t exactly announce my presence.”
“You didn’t want the Covenant to know you were there.” Sarah glanced across the table at him.
“There is that.” Samet nodded.
“Because you’re hellspawn.” Sarah took a bite of her soup.
“Don’t.” Ethan glared at her.
“It’s the truth.” Sarah shook her head.
“It is.” Samet took a bite of his own soup.
Silence descended upon the table again. Anabeth swallowed. “So how did you learn you were…” She gave Samet an awkward shrug. “A sorcerer?”
“Some people tried to kill me.” Samet’s voice was quiet. “I killed them first.”
“So how many people have you killed?” Sarah raised an eyebrow.
“Sarah Kendall.” Tabitha narrowed her eyes at her eldest daughter. “Lord Samet is my guest and you will treat him accordingly.”
“Yes, Mother.” Sarah looked down at her food, and set the spoon aside.
Then it was time for the next course and more silence. Robert finally took a deep breath and looked over at Samet. “You said you are here to help. What, exactly, do you mean by that?”
“To begin with my father has mages and healers not bound by Covenant oaths. They have been pulling what you refer to as ghosts across to harry your strongholds.”
“That wasn’t you?” Robert blinked.
“That crude maneuvering?” Samet shook his head. “You saw my work at Kendlemoor. Were I actively taking on your strongholds, you would have none remaining.”
“Now see here…” Robert sat up straighter.
“Brother, he has a point.” Ethan met his brother’s eyes.
Robert glared at him, but nodded. “And that black fog was you?”
“An alchemical effect. I will provide you with a counterspell.” Samet nodded. “As for the ghosts, there are wards that can both counter the weakness the mages found, as well as alert you to their attempts and provide the opportunity for you to triangulate their location.”
“And would this involve you using your magic?” Robert narrowed his eyes.
“Yes.” Samet’s voice was blunt. “So, will most of the aid I can offer.”
“We will discuss your offer.” Robert nodded. “In the meantime, you will remain under guard. My lovely wife’s dinner invitation notwithstanding, you are a prisoner, not a guest. Unless permitted by myself or Prelate Graham, you will not leave your quarters.”
“I understand, your majesty.”
“What can you tell us about these illegal mages?” Graham raised an eyebrow. “Where did your father acquire them?”
Samet looked back at Tabitha before looking back to Graham. “Forgive me, Prelate, but I am not certain the Queen would consider the answer to that question to be polite dinner conversation.”
“I see.” Graham nodded.
The awkward silence fell once more. Ethan felt like he say something, but he came up blank. The last two years were a wide gulf to swim, and the staring guards and Covenant mages really weren’t conductive to relaxing.
“This is boring.” Lucille shook her head. “Can Uncle Ethan tell me about the giant snake monster now?”
“Which one?” Samet raised an eyebrow as he turned to look at Ethan.
“What do you mean, which one?” Robert blinked.
“It’s been an interesting last couple months.” Ethan chuckled.
King Robert, Prelate Graham, and Ethan followed him and his honor guard back to his much cozier prison cell. The door had barely closed when King Robert turned to look at him. “So where does your father get his illegal mages?”
“Whorehouses, mostly. It’s not uncommon for Covenant mages to frequent such establishments, and when outside of direct Covenant supervision it is not uncommon for them to neglect precautions. The child of a whore often becomes a whore. Untrained, of course, a mage is harmless, but there are ways to detect the spark of magic. My father offered the desperate a better life.” Samet shook his head. “And kept his end of the bargain. His mages swore their oaths to him willingly.”
“I’ll reiterate.” King Robert folded his arms. “You are not to leave this room without the permission of myself or Prelate Graham. Sir Vincent assured me you do bleed. Try anything, and we’ll find the upper limit on the number of arrows you can stop.”
“Understood, your majesty.” Maybe he should take Enesuriel up on her offer to rescue him.
Ethan sighed, then turned to Samet. “Give him a few days. He’s a reasonable man.”
“I will take your word for that.” Samet smiled at Ethan. Escape was possible. Escaping and bringing Ethan with him was not. And so, it looked as though he were remaining.
“Still can’t sleep?”
He turned to see Anabeth looking in from the garden door. He hadn’t expected anyone else to be up this time of night. The quarters were the same as when he’d occupied them two years ago. He was what had changed. “It’s strange being back here.”
“And he’s all the way on the other side of the palace.” Anabeth nodded.
Ethan blinked and turned to look at her. “What?”
“I’m not dumb, Ethan. You’re home, you’re safe, you’re surrounded by people that would die to protect you.” She started to put her hand on his arm, and decided against it. “And you were more relaxed at that fiasco of a dinner than you’ve been any other time.” She slowly nodded. “And it’s because Samet was there with you.”
“For the past year, he’s been…” Ethan swallowed.
“The only person you had.” She smiled up at him. “I liked him.”
“You did?” Ethan smiled back at her.
“My stomach ties in knots if I miss a lesson and have to sit at that table, to the point I can’t even make myself eat.” Anabeth chuckled. “And he, a sorcerer and the son of Lord Vadin, came. Because it would give him a chance to spend a few minutes with you.”
“He did, didn’t he?” Ethan nodded.
“Why don’t you come to my room? You can sleep on the sofa and…” She touched his hand then. “I’ll wake you if it gets bad.”
“Thank you, Anabeth.”
“I’m glad you’re home, Uncle Ethan.”
Tabitha frowned as she entered the room. Both Robert and Graham looked up at her. “I am not certain Ethan is sleeping.”
“Hmmm?” Robert blinked. “Why wouldn’t he be? He’s home.”
“Except he spent last night on Anabeth’s couch because while she was in the garden, she noted him pacing rather than in his bed. She was able to get him to lie down, but she is fairly certain he never actually fell asleep.” Graham frowned, and Tabitha turned to look at him. “Do you know something?”
“When I was speaking to the sorcerer, I asked him if he had ever used magic on Ethan.” Graham nodded. “He said that Ethan is prone to nightmares and he’d sometimes have to resort to using magic to get him to sleep.”
“I’ll speak to a healer, see if I can get him something.” Tabitha sighed. “Perhaps I should speak to Samet regarding —”
“I am not comfortable with the idea of you being near him at all.” Robert straightened.
“He was very polite at dinner.” Tabitha met her husband’s eyes. “And he is under guard.” She turned to Graham. “What do you think?”
He shifted, his face suggesting that he’d rather be anywhere else at the moment. “The situation regarding the young man is complicated. He is a sorcerer, yet he has offered his aid freely. Had he not tripped the ward, he could have rendered his aid and been gone again without us even knowing he was present. I believe that was his initial intention.” Graham looked from Tabitha to Robert and then back. “Yet we cannot forget who or what he is. A sorcerer. The son and heir of Warlord Vadin, the man bent on conquering this kingdom and enslaving us all.”
“Ethan says he can be trusted.” Tabitha folded her arms.
He took a deep breath and gave her an apologetic look before continuing. “Vadin tortured and raped Ethan repeatedly for over a year, then handed him over to Samet. For the past year, Samet has been his only human contact, his sole provider of food, shelter, companionship, and protection.” Graham sighed. “Your majesty, have you ever fed a stray dog?”
She had. “You…” Reluctantly, she shook her head. “May have a point.”
“Additionally…” Graham this time turned to Robert. “As Warlord Vadin’s son and heir, Samet is the only bargaining chip for which Vadin actually cares. His value as a hostage is beyond price, and the Coalition will point that out if I do not. With his son’s life at stake, Vadin may withdraw from the field.” Graham clasped his hands behind his back. “Yet to use him so may force you to stoop to Vadin’s level, for Vadin will not heed an empty threat.”
“You’re saying I’ll have to hurt him or Vadin won’t believe I will?” Robert shook his head. “Whatever else he…” He leaned on the table. “He brought Ethan home.” He met Graham’s eyes. “Should I accept his offer of aid?”
“I cannot answer that question for you, Robert.” Graham sighed.
Robert entered his brother’s room thorough the garden entrance, and found Ethan sitting on the bench, staring at the door that led into the hall. “Ethan?” He frowned. “What’s wrong?”
Ethan looked away, and Robert noted his face turning slightly red. “It’s stupid.”
“Ethan.” Robert walked over to him.
“I can’t open the door.” Ethan hung his head.
“Is it stuck?” He started to reach for the handle.
“The problem isn’t the door.” Ethan leaned back, his head touching the wall. “It’s…” He sighed. “I’m not allowed to leave the room without permission.”
“What?” Robert turned back toward him.
“I said it was stupid, didn’t I?” Ethan hunched his shoulders and shook his head before looking down again. “If I so much as looked at the door without Vadin’s permission, he’d whip me or worse. And Samet was worried what Vadin’s retainers would do if they ever caught me out of his room so if I went anywhere other than to the kitchen he was with me.” Ethan clenched his fists. “And I know it’s safe and no one here will…” He wiped at his eyes. “But I still can’t open the door.”
“I…” Robert stood there, staring, searching desperately for something to say. “I’m sorry.”
“I helped kill a dragon.” Ethan looked down at his feet. “And I can’t open a fucking door.”
He reached out to put a hand on his brother’s shoulder, only for Ethan to respond by jerking violently away and nearly falling off the bench in his scramble away from the touch. “Ethan I…”
“I’m sorry.” Ethan started shaking his head. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright, Ethan.” Robert pulled his hand back, waiting for Ethan to stop repeating the words. “Ethan, it’s alright.” He had to repeat himself a couple more times before Ethan finally looked up at him. “I, uh…” He searched for something to say. “Look, why don’t we go for a walk? I’ll show you some of the changes we made and you can see the new drawbridge.”
“Okay.” Ethan nodded.
“Okay.” He smiled reassuringly at Ethan before reaching out to open the door.
Ethan turned his face toward the sun, enjoying the warmth against his skin. “I can smell the ocean.” He laughed softly. “Didn’t realize I’d missed it until just now.”
“Can we talk?” Robert raised an eyebrow at him.
“Aren’t we?” He knew questions were going to be asked. He just wasn’t sure how ready he was to talk about any of it.
“Sir Vincent said…” Robert lead Ethan up the ramparts. “That you called the sorcerer ‘master’.”
“His name is Samet.” Ethan nodded. “And yes. And he did have me on a leash then. As soon as we were beyond his father’s eyes, he took it off and threw it away.” He sighed. “Please don’t be angry if you do hear me call Samet master. It’s a hard habit to break and…” He trailed off, knowing Robert wasn’t ready to hear all of it. He wasn’t even sure he could explain it in any way Robert could understand.
“And?” Robert frowned.
“And sometimes I do it to annoy him.” He smiled.
“You were his servant.” Robert leaned on the wall. “A prince of Talidir, and he made you his servant.”
“What should he have done, Robert?” Ethan leaned next to him, looking out over the land. He was silent for a moment, and then he nodded more to himself than anything else. “Vadin used to rape or torture me every night. Drove me to the point I would beg for the former to escape the latter. Turned me into…” Ethan didn’t look at where his brother was standing, frozen in place. “I wasn’t even a person anymore when he gave me to Samet. I was…”
“A couple days after Vadin gave me to Samet, Samet was getting frustrated at a scroll. When Vadin would get like that, he’d take it out on me but I’d learned by then I could…” He continued staring out over the land, his eyes empty. “Offer him something before he got too angry and then he wouldn’t hurt me as badly. So I…” Ethan swallowed. “I crawled to Samet and offered to…” He saw Robert’s knuckles go white as he clenched his fists. “He got mad and shoved me away. I started asking to be punished because that’s what Vadin had trained me to do and Samet…” He relaxed his own fists then. “Fed me his dinner and sent me to bed.”
Robert was silent for a long time. “You think he can be trusted.”
“The Covenant says the true measure of a man can be determined by who he is in the darkness, with none to call him to account for his deeds.” Ethan turned, and met Robert’s eyes. “I’ve seen who Samet is when the darkness surrounds on all sides. And Robert…” He smiled. “I followed that man into hell. Literally.”