“Report.” Graham looked up as the guard entered.
“I found the Prelate, your highness.” The soldier glanced over his shoulder. “He —”
“Does not want to talk about it.” Graham shook his head. “Anabeth and Lucille are safe, Robert. The other guards are taking them to Tabitha now.”
“Thank the gods.” His hands shook slightly. “Margaret and Justin are with her now.” He swallowed. “Sarah is still unaccounted for. The rest of the guard is looking for her.”
“Robert…” Graham put a hand on his shoulder.
“The situation is bad.” He took a deep breath. “Samet was injured, badly. Healer Meghan is with him now, but she isn’t sure he’s going to survive.”
“How?” Graham blinked.
“Vadin had Margaret and Justin. He was going to kill them. Samet stepped between them, and his own father ran him through.” Robert glanced over his shoulder. “Ethan is with him now.”
“Blood of the gods.” Graham hesitated a moment, fear in his eyes. “Vincent?”
“I…” Robert sighed. “I don’t know. He wasn’t with Samet when he…” Robert leaned on the table. “There are reports of those…” He shook his head. “Things dragging people through the waygates.” He exhaled. “Vadin didn’t win this, but neither did we.”
“Can the waygates be reopened?” Graham frowned.
“The mages are looking into the matter. Samet likely could, but…” Robert shook his head. “Assuming he isn’t dead.”
“Assuming he isn’t responsible.” King Arda strode into the room.
“Samet didn’t —”
“The wardstone was deactivated. That cannot be done save with magic.” King Arda glared. “Waygates spewing forth demons? Who but a sorcerer could have done such a thing? Who but a sorcerer would have done such a thing?”
“We know Vadin has mages, your highness.” Graham shook his head. “Samet was never alone. Sir Vincent was with —”
“He was alone when he rejoined his father and kept my archers from finishing Vadin and this war.” King Arda glared. “Face facts, Prelate. Your bastard is a pile of ash somewhere.” He turned to look at Robert. “That sorcerer must be eliminated, immediately.”
Robert drew himself up to his full height. “You were standing three feet from me when ‘that sorcerer’ took a sword to save my children.” He narrowed his eyes. “Anyone seeking to do him harm had best be prepared to come through me.”
“You are a fool, Robert.” Arda stared back at him for several moments before turning and stalking back out.
“Blood of the gods.” Robert sighed. “Graham, what…” He turned toward his oldest friend.
“Your highness…” Graham took a deep breath. “I don’t know.”
“Dammit Graham, I need to know what…”
“I don’t know.” Graham actually raised his voice. His fists clenched as he shook his head. “A possibly dying sorcerer is the only hope we have. A sorcerer. We’ve been operating under the assumption that Vadin wouldn’t risk harm to his son and you just told me Vadin’s the one that may have killed him. I have just come from a tea party hosted by your daughter and attended by a murderous, bloodthirsty hag summoned by your little brother. Waygates have been opened for the first time in centuries. Someone in the Coalition has betrayed us.” He looked back and met Robert’s eyes. “And my son is missing. I have no advice for this situation and I…” He took a deep breath. “Please, Robert. Give me a moment.”
“I…” Robert sighed. “I’m sorry, my friend. I…” He blinked. “Ethan did what?”
“A hag, Robert. He summoned a hag. She ripped the spinal column out of a soldier and used it to beat demons to death. She cracked open a man’s skull and took a bite out of his brain, Robert.” Graham inhaled. “She threw a teaspoon into a man’s eye and it came out of the back of his head and stuck three inches deep into the wall. Then she patted Lucille on the head and told her it was a lovely party and that if Lucille invites her by name again she’d be happy to attend another one.” He gestured. “Blood was dripping out of her mouth, and she was wearing snakes.” He exhaled. “At least one ally has turned on us, but we can take comfort from knowing the fucking nightmares are on our side.” He shook his head. “I…”
“Graham, perhaps you should sit down.” Robert turned to the staring servant. “Patrick, would you be so kind as to fetch the Prelate a drink? A strong one.”
“Yes, your highness.” The servant fled the room.
Ethan paced, trying not to distract the healer. Samet was so pale, as if he’d been turned to driftwood. Vadin’s sword had gone through him. Samet’s blood had soaked through his clothes as he’d knelt beside the man. Samet had been gasping, his eyes unfocused until they’d closed. His eyes had closed. Ethan forced himself to take deep breaths. He should never have left Samet’s side.
The healer rose, and Ethan rushed toward her. “Is he…”
“He breathes. His heart is beating once more.” She turned toward him.
“What do you mean, once more?” His eyes widened, and he felt the panic try to close over him. He shook his head to chase it away.
“It stopped, your highness.” She looked down at the prone man. “And he has lost a great deal of blood. If he lives, then…”
“If?” Ethan shook his head. “He’s alive.”
“Your highness…” Her voice was gentle. “He was on the edge of death when I reached him. I do not know how much of him had slipped over. It takes time for the soul to fully exit the body, your highness, and thus I did what I could. But the truth is I may only have restored functionality to the shell, not the man.” She turned to the bed. “He may wake for us to find only a part of the soul remains. He may have enough for his body to survive, but never wake.” She sighed. “Until he wakes, I…” She met his eyes again. “I would not give false hope.”
He sat, his legs unable to hold him. His hand found Samet’s. Samet’s skin was cold. Ethan swallowed, then leaned down to Samet’s ear. He whispered a name, one Samet had once whispered to him, and then one simple command. “Live.”
“Well?” Tabitha caught Graham’s arm. “Sarah was spotted last near the north tower, by a waygate. Can they reopen them?”
He swallowed. “They can open the gates, but too much time has passed. The link back to the previous location has faded too much for them to be able to reopen to the same location. The only one who could is…”
“Samet.” She let out her breath.
“And with each hour that passes, the likelihood of his success also diminishes, as well as…” Graham trailed off.
“Makes it more likely that even if we could reopen them, we will be too late for that to matter.” She slowly nodded. “Any sign of…”
“He is not among the dead collected.” Graham closed his eyes before reopening them. “The only person that may know what befell him is Samet.”
Tabitha pulled him into a hug. “They’ll be alright, Graham. They’ll both be alright.”
“I can only pray you are right.” He returned her hug.
“We do have support. Alinor is with us. As is Henrik, and surprisingly enough Dorasha.” Graham read through the list.
“Dorasha?” Robert blinked.
“Is hot headed but pragmatic. She agrees that if Samet had wanted victory, all he had to do was nothing. Instead, he closed the archway and tried to protect Margaret and Justin.” Graham nodded. “And someone coated the munitions in enchanted ice so the fire couldn’t reach it. That was not done by any mage, leaving Samet himself. Her people would all have perished if the flames had reached the powder.”
“And what of our coalition?”
“Still in one piece, but barely. We all lose if it breaks, and they are all smart enough to realize Vadin is still a considerable threat. They will abide by the treaty, for now at least.” Graham clasped his hands behind his back. “Vadin will not hold himself responsible for harming Samet. It is likely that the majority of his rage will now be focused on you.”
“His son was harmed in the act of saving your children. And if Samet dies…”
Robert closed his eyes, and shook his head. “And we still don’t know if Vadin’s creatures have Sarah.”
“Has he woken?”
Ethan looked up to see Margaret. He swallowed. “He hasn’t moved.” He took a deep breath. “Have they found Sarah?”
She shook her head, then sat down on the other edge of the bed. She put her hand atop Samet’s. “No. And Sir Vincent among the missing too.” Her voice broke on the word. She shook slightly. “Vadin had his hand around my throat. He…” She shuddered. “Ran his hand down me and…”
He reached his free hand over and took hers, squeezing it tightly. “He’s not here.”
“How often do you have to remind yourself of that?” She looked up at him.
“I lose count.” He shook his head.
“He pulled me to him and whispered in my ear…” She swallowed. “Does your uncle still wake up screaming when he thinks of me, or does he moan?” A tear fell down her cheek. “Samet saved you from that. Then he saved me, and…” Her shoulders shook, and she let go of his hand to take Samet’s hand in both of hers. “Please be okay.”
They both looked up as the door opened.
Robert headed toward the room, pushing past the guards, with Graham only a pace behind him. There were two men on the floor, being tended to the healer, and a few others holding bleeding limbs. Ethan stood between the others and the prone man on the bed, a dagger in each of his hands. Next stood Margaret, her own face just as furious, holding a fireplace poker as though she had every intention of using it brain anyone that got near her. “What is going on here?”
“King Robert.” Prelate Sandra straightened, brushing her robes. He noted her arm was bleeding. “I fear your children have misunderstood our intentions.”
“She put a binding on Samet.” Ethan narrowed his eyes.
He blinked, then looked past them. Samet’s arm lay across his torso, and there was some sort of silver vambrace around it. He turned to face Prelate Sandra. “The young man is my prisoner, Prelate.”
“I did him no harm.” She shook her head. “This was a precaution only, in case he wakes. We cannot afford a repeat of these events.”
“Samet didn’t do it.” Margaret shifted her grip on the poker.
“The man is a sorcerer.” Prelate Sandra folded her arms. “And the fact remains he used his magic on Vadin’s behalf.”
“He did that to keep you assholes from killing me and my brother.” Margaret took a step forward.
“Prelate Sandra…” Robert stepped between his furious daughter and the Prelate. “That man is only laying in that bed because he saved the lives of two of my children.”
“That will be taken into account, your majesty.” She nodded. “The young man will be allowed to explain his actions. As I said, this is merely a precaution until the Archmage has a chance to decide his fate.”
“The Archmage has no standing to —” Robert began shaking his head.
“Prelate Graham…” She turned to look at him. “Perhaps you should explain the matter to your King. It appears his understanding of the Conventions is somewhat lacking in this matter.”
“His cooperation can be compelled, if that is your concern.” Prelate Sandra shook her head at Robert.
“We already had his cooperation.” Robert glared.
“Allowing him to be loose in the first place is how we got into this mess.” The Archmage shook his head. “He should have been dealt with when his powers first fully manifested.”
“When…” Robert turned to stared at him. “He was seven years old. A child.”
“A sorcerer.” The Archmage met his eyes levelly. “There are bindings and enchantments available.” He shrugged. “And if those fail, there is also the method Vadin used on your brother. It is unpleasant, but the boy’s loyalty to that sorcerer is a testament to its effectiveness.”
“I will not allow it.” Robert shook his head. His stomach rolled at the very notion.
“We are discussing a sorcerer. This is a matter for us to determine.” The Archmage narrowed his eyes. “You do not have a choice, unless you intend to break Covenant.”
He opened his mouth, but Prelate Sandra spoke first. “Perhaps, my lords, before anyone says anything that they will regret we should wait and see if the young man even wakes. This argument could be purely academic.”
“It is academic.” Graham shook his head. “But not for the reasons you think. If you are alleging that Samet acted on his father’s behalf then he is a prisoner of war, captured on Talidir soil, and thus judgment rests upon the will of Talidir’s king.”
“Talidir’s king is a member of the Coalition.” Sandra immediately shook her head. “Bound by the treaty to…” She trailed off, narrowing her eyes.
“To the will of a two-thirds majority on the subject.” Graham nodded. “The Archmage does not have the authority to act unilaterally on this matter and has himself violated the Conventions by ordering a binding placed on a man that has not been brought up on charges of sorcery.”
“He is a sorcerer.” The Archmage growled.
“The Conventions are clear on the matter, your grace.” Graham shook his head. “The charge of sorcery states distinctly that the crime is having traffic with demons, not merely having the capacity to do so. Until evidence can be brought that Samet has done this, he cannot be tried as a sorcerer.”
“Every man here saw those demons.” Prelate Sandra shook her head.
“But the Coalition has not yet found him guilty of responsibility for that act.” Graham arched an eyebrow.
“You are arguing technicalities.” Prelate Sandra pointed a finger at Graham.
“Happily.” Graham smiled.
“Well then…” Robert nodded. “It appears it is going to take considerable time to resolve this situation. Until then, Samet will be remaining in my custody.”
He hurt. He reached for his magic, and couldn’t find it. It was like clawing at walls of ice, fingers slipping on the cold. Someone was talking. He couldn’t make out the words, and then… “Samet?”
“Ethan?” He opened his eyes, and closed them again as light seared them. Samet tried to sit up, and pain shot through him. He grunted.
“Don’t try to move.” There was a hand on his shoulder, holding him down. Ethan’s voice. “I asked you not to do this. I told you no, that I didn’t like it.”
“I…” His father. There’d been… Memories began flooding back, rippling through his watery thoughts. His father, sword in hand. And… “Margaret?”
“I’m here.” Her voice came from the other side. “You saved me.”
The sword. His father’s sword… His hand started to move toward where it had gone through him, and another hand caught it. “Don’t move.”
“I…” He started trying to sit up again.
He froze, then laid still again. Pain throbbed, clouding his thoughts. “Someone was screaming…”
“Go to sleep, Samet.” Ethan pressed a kiss to his forehead. “You are safe here.”
“Yes, Ethan.” Samet let himself slip back into the darkness.