“Under no circumstances are you to get more than three feet from his side.” Robert nodded to Sir Vincent.
“Yes, your majesty.” Sir Vincent saluted.
Tabitha looked at the men. “The summit is not going well?”
“They attempted to imprison him the moment we walked in.” Robert shook his head. “Insisted he be confined to a warded chamber for the duration.”
“It is not an unreasonable request.” Graham sighed.
“Save for two things.” Samet shook his head. “King Robert being Ethan’s brother is the only reason I allowed him to take me into custody. I am not inclined to entrust my personal safety to anyone else.” He clasped his hands behind his back. “And those wards are well decayed. My breaking them would cause structural damage to this building that could result in casualties.”
“Worried about killing people while breaking out of jail.” Anabeth snickered. “You make a lousy evil sorcerer.”
“So I keep telling people.” Samet shrugged. “If it was purely a matter of humoring them I might allow it.”
She shook her head, and reached out to pat Samet’s arm before glancing over her shoulder. “King Alinor mentioned he would like to discuss arranging an engagement between Sarah and his eldest son, Oriol.”
“That would cement the ties we’ve built over the past few years.” Robert nodded. “Perhaps we could arrange an introduction while we are here.” He turned to look at Margaret before turning back to Tabitha. “Mihail’s eldest, Petros, is also in attendance.”
“Petros cannot find his own kingdom on the map.” Samet chuckled. “I’ll be shocked if the man could find his own arse with both hands and four attendants.”
“You’re familiar with him?” Robert raised an eyebrow at Samet.
“Enough to know the only reason Mihail brought him is because he’s afraid of what would happen if he isn’t there to keep Petros from signing things.”
Robert shook his head. “Everyone get some sleep. Tomorrow is going to be another long day.”
For a moment, Tabitha lingered. She saw Margaret shoot a glance at Samet as the man walked back toward his quarters. A small smile came to her face.
Ethan grinned as he saw Margaret carrying Justin on her hip. He ruffled the toddler’s hair affectionately. “Escaping the talks?” She raised an eyebrow at him.
“Samet caught me twitching for my knives and told me to go for a walk.” He shook his head, and sighed. “Too many people. You?”
“Too many people repeating themselves over and over as though saying it louder will somehow make them right.” She shifted Justin’s weight a little. “I think the fact that Samet hasn’t just incinerated all of them is proof he’s not evil.”
“Or proof that he is even more evil than we imagined.” Ethan tilted his head.
“Ouch, good point.” Margaret chuckled.
“Thoughts?” Graham leaned in to whisper to Samet.
“I could incinerate everyone on the left with one spell, but the layout means it would take me at least three to get everyone on the right.” Samet frowned.
“That’s all I have at the moment.”
Graham glared at him before going back to watching Robert argue with Arda.
“Three days.” Robert paced. “Things are beginning to fray at the seams.” He took a deep breath. “Tomorrow I’m going to move that the summit be tabled. We can discuss it again after Wintersmoot, with potentially more information.”
“A trial before my trial?” Samet raised an eyebrow, then shrugged. “Fair enough. I’ll just have to figure out how to seal the archways, end the war, stabilize Atrios, and make my escape before then.”
“You’ll have better luck with that then resolving this mess.” Robert shook his head, and then frowned. “How?”
“How do you intend to stabilize Atrios?” He turned to face Samet.
“Well, to be honest…” Samet shrugged. “I was going to kill everyone in my father’s inner circle and then ask your opinion on what to do from there.” He sighed. “Sir Vincent, if you don’t mind I’d like to walk the ramparts. If I don’t get some fresh air soon, I am going to blow a hole in the side of the building.” He gave Robert a small bow before following Vincent out of the room.
Tabitha kissed the nape of her husband’s neck, then leaned on him, wrapping her arms around him. “Sarah does not seem happy about the prospect of wedding Oriol.” She sighed. “She’ll accept it if you insist, but…”
“I’ll tell Alinor we need more time to discuss the arrangement.” Robert put his hands atop hers. “And Margaret?”
“I would like you to consider engaging her to Samet.”
Robert turned around and gave her a startled look. “What?”
She chuckled. “As was pointed out earlier, once this is done he will still need to stabilize Atrios. Even stretched by war, Atrios is a powerful nation, and it will be ruled by a sorcerer. You could do a lot worse than ensuring an alliance remains.” She smiled. “Margaret likes him. She could make him an extraordinary queen.” Tabitha met his eyes. “And he seemed rather put off by the notion of her wedding Petros.”
“Worse plans have certainly been tossed about today.” Robert slowly nodded. “I think perhaps —” He cut himself off as somewhere in the distance, someone screamed.
Ethan looked up from where he was telling Lucille about the fight with the manticores. Lucille was pouring him another cup of tea. “Did you hear that?” He got to his feet.
“Perhaps it…” Graham frowned. He rose as well, then shook his head as a crashing sound reached them. “We should…”
The door opened and four men came thorough, swords in hand. To Ethan’s horror, they had Vadin’s sigil on their shields. He flung the steel dagger, catching the first in the face before drawing a dragonbone blade. He brought it up as the sword came at him, and the dragonbone sheared blade from hilt. Sir Jakob’s sword cut the man low across the side, spilling his guts out onto the floor. Ethan permitted himself a smirk at the startled look on the third soldier’s face before ramming the steel dagger in his other hand up under the man’s chin and twisting as Jakob finished off the last one. He retrieved his blade, then looked at Graham. “Get Anabeth and Lucille.” He kicked one of the shields up and caught it, holding its handle but not fastening it to his arm. “We need to the others.”
“Bloody fuck.” Samet stared as the camp outside the castle began exploding in flames. Demonlings were tearing the soldiers to shreds, and guiding them were…
“Those are Atrios soldiers.” Vincent turned to look at him.
“For the…” Samet called his magic to him and sent a blast of ice to coat the munition barrels that were perilously close to the flames.
“How did they get here?” Vincent glared.
“Waygates. They came through…” He let out a string of curses. “I thought the Covenant could at least fucking manage to ward those!” He shook his head. “We’ve got to get to the king.”
“Right, I…” Vincent started to draw his sword, and then they both whirled at the sound of a woman’s scream.
“After we rescue the princess.” Samet hurled a handful of fire at the demonling walking toward Sarah, then followed Vincent in that direction.
Graham stared in shock at the creatures coming toward them. They were led by a man wearing the sigil of Atrios. Ethan assumed a combat position, but panic was starting to show on the young man’s face, and Graham couldn’t blame him. He knew better than they did what being in Vadin’s hands could mean. Sir Jakob stepped between them and the oncoming forces, and for the first time in years Graham found himself wishing for a weapon of his own. “Ethan, get the girls and the Prelate out of here.” Sir Jakob set his shield.
“Graham…” Ethan took a deep breath. “I want you to know that I’m very, very sorry, and I really was listening to all your lectures.”
He blinked. “What?”
The edge of Ethan’s blade cut into his arm. “Varorgirin.”
Robert joined the combatants, his blade carving a gash across the skull of a warrior that over extended himself. The man fell to the ground, his body seizing as he died. And then across the field, he saw… “Vadin.”
“What?” Tabitha turned to look at him. She’d picked up a shield, and bent to help herself to a sword.
“The Warlord has come personally.”
“Of course he has.” Arda spat. “His son opened the way for him. Summoned these things.”
“Robert, the children.” Tabitha stared up at him. “Ethan.”
Vincent smashed his fist into the wall where the waygate had just vanished. “Reopen it.” He whirled to look at Samet. “We have to go through, we have to get her back.”
“Vincent if I…” He shook his head. “If I go after Sarah, then…” He turned to look at the castle. The sounds of battle were everywhere now, and they could see people fighting in the street.
“I know.” Vincent choked the words out. He took a deep breath, then nodded. “I have to get you to Robert.”
“Vincent…” Samet met his eyes, and then concentrated. The waygate reopened. “Get to Sarah.”
“I…” Vincent swallowed.
“No, you’re right.” Samet shook his head. “Even you will never manage that on your own.” He reached out with his power, his eyes flashing briefly. “Enesuriel.”
A heartbeat later she was glowed in front of him. “Oh, am I rescuing you?” She spun in place and held up her fists in a fighting stance as she glared at Vincent.
“Enesuriel, this is my friend, Sir Vincent.” He gestured. “He is a knight in shining armor about to embark upon a heroic quest to rescue his beloved, a fair and beautiful damsel in distress by the name of Princess Sarah, from a threat most monstrous. He could use the assistance of a —”
“Faery godmother!” She suddenly glowed bright enough to nearly blind them. She flitted through several spirals before planting a kiss on his nose. “You found me a story!”
“What?” Vincent stared.
“Princess Sarah is in there.” He pointed to the waygate
Enesuriel flew to Vincent, grabbed the front of his armor, and dragged him through the waygate. “To the rescue!”
Samet shook his head as he let the portal collapse. “I am going to owe him an apology later.” He headed toward the fighting.
The shadows in the hallway shuddered, and then she was there. Varorgirin drew herself up to her full height, the serpents on her body hissing and writhing as she cackled. Blood poured from her mouth. “You called, hound?”
“Will that to be enough blood?” He gestured at the soldier, who was staring at the hag. Graham looked as though he was going to need fresh robes.
Varorgirin drew her withered lips back from her jagged teeth. A keening howl came from her throat as she charged.
Margaret smashed the candlebra into the soldier’s face. The man fell, howling as the hot wax seared his face. She grabbed Justin and started running as the demonlings gave chase.
The door at the end of the hall opened, and more soldiers came through. They were led by a man who vaguely resembled Samet, and terror filled her as she realized who he must be. “Well well…” Lord Vadin smiled. “What have we here?”
“Dammit.” Robert growled. “Our soldiers are dying, and reinforcements can’t make it across the drawbridge…”
Arda glared angrily at Robert. “If you’d let us bind the sorcerer…”
“This wasn’t Samet.” Tabitha shook her head. “He wouldn’t do this.”
“Of course he…”
“Samet wouldn’t have needed to summon demons to destroy this castle and everyone in it.” Tabitha stared at Arda.
“You summoned me for that, hound?” Varorgirin shook her head. She held the soldier’s spinal column in her hand, having simply torn it from the man and used it to as a weapon to kill the demonlings. She took a bite of a hunk of flesh hanging off the macabre trophy, and began chewing it. “You whine too much.” She spat out a bit of gristle.
He was about to respond when Lucille spoke up. “Don’t call my Uncle Ethan a dog.” She glared up at the hag. “And if you’re going to spit on the floor you can’t come to the tea party.”
Varorgirin blinked down at the girl. Then she cackled. “Well now, that’s more like it.”
“Will you stay with Graham and my nieces and keep them safe?” Ethan raised an eyebrow at her. “I have to find Samet.”
“And what’s in that bargain for me, hound?”
“Um…” Ethan frowned, then shrugged. “Scones?”
“Blueberry.” She nodded. “And don’t forget the cream.”
“Right.” He glanced at the still starring Graham. Anabeth was cowering behind him. “Sorry.” He began rushing off. Sir Jakob shot Graham an apologetic look before following.
The mage tried to grab a wand, and he sent the man flying into the wall hard enough that there was splatter. The soldiers immediately turned toward him, blades in hand. Samet’s eyes went to the sigil on their armor, and he blinked. “Lales?”
“Kill him.” The soldiers moved, and Samet just rolled his eyes before calling up the fire.
Samet moved to the inert ward stone, and began focusing, tying together the knots of the severed wards. As long as the demonlings were coming through the waygates, the soldiers didn’t stand a chance.
His father was here. He’d hoped to avoid direct conflict with the man until he’d discovered the true nature of his father’s dark bargain. Yet it was starting to look like he didn’t have a choice.
As soon as the wardstone was glowing again, he turned and went to look for Ethan. With any luck, his father would retreat as soon as his mages realized the castles defenses had been restored.
Ethan stumbled to a halt as the demonlings suddenly began to twist and writhe, screaming. Faint lines glowed on the castle walls. He laughed. “What’s happening?” Sir Jakob turned to look at him.
“My guess is Samet got the castle’s defenses back up.” Ethan nodded. “Let’s get to him and my brother.”
“Yes, my lord.” Sir Jakob shifted his grip on his blade before striding toward two Atrios soldiers who looked like they were reconsidering their life choices.
Robert stopped short. Margaret was holding Justin to her, shaking. And Vadin had his hand around his daughter’s throat. “King Robert.” Vadin chuckled. “Just the man I was looking for. You can just go ahead and surrender now, if you like.” He narrowed his eyes. “Where is my son?”
“He’s here, unless your own forces have harmed him.” Robert started to take a step forward, and heard Margaret gasp as Vadin yanked her closer to him.
“Pretty girl.” Vadin smirked. “A bit softer than your brother, isn’t she?” He shook his head. “I’ll ask again. Where is my son?”
“Here.” Samet entered from another door. His eyes were glowing. “Let her go, Father.” He began walking toward Vadin.
“Samet.” Vadin actually smiled, but he didn’t release Margaret. “Sorry to interrupt your business here, but I need you back in Rohil.”
“There are far better ways to get my attention.” Samet shook his head. “Let her go.”
On the wall, someone gave the order to fire. For a moment, Robert thought he was about to watch his son and daughter die. Then arrows turned to ash still several feet from Vadin. The dust on the ground began to swirl as wind formed a barrier between the archers and the people on the ground.
“Your attack has failed, Vadin.” Robert shook his head. “Your forces have fallen, and the Coalition remains.”
“A small victory.” Vadin shook his head. “And one you shall pay for dearly.”
“There is no escape for you, Vadin.” Robert drew his sword. He saw Ethan and Sir Jakob come through one of the doors, weapons in hand. Samet’s barrier was both blessing and curse. There was no chance of Margaret and Justin being killed by friendly fire, but there was also no chance of anyone getting to Vadin.
“Father, listen to me –” Samet continued walking toward the man
“Your cities will burn.” Lord Vadin shoved Margaret and Justin behind him, and drew his sword. “Your people will be crushed. And before they die they will curse your name.”
“Father –” Samet shook his head.
“Remember, Robert.” Vadin sneered. “I gave you the chance to surrender.” He whirled, blade in hand. And then he cried out.
Margaret and Justin lay on the ground a couple feet away, staring wide-eyed at the man who’d placed himself between the children and the ranting warlord. Samet looked down at where the sword had pierced his torso. He blinked, and his mouth worked as though he was trying to say something. And then he started to fall.
“No.” Lord Vadin caught his son, cradling him as he lowered the young man to the ground. “No, no, no, no.”
The barrier vanished. A chill went through Robert as he realized it was because Samet could no longer hold it in place. Vadin’s guards grabbed the man, pulling him away from the fallen body of his son as Vadin continued calling his son’s name. The mages managed to open a waygate, and pulled the screaming warlord through it.
Robert ran to Margaret’s side, holding her. Tabitha moved to them. He looked at his guards. “Meghan. You, get Healer Meghan. Now. Now.”
Ethan rushed to Samet’s side, kneeling in the spreading pool of blood. “Samet. Samet.” He put pressure on the wound. “Samet. Stay here. Stay.”