Robert entered, and looked at the man on the bed. He was pale, his eyes somewhat sunken. He looked… Robert sighed. Like a man who had recently been at death’s door. “Samet.”
Samet held a finger to his lips, and then nodded at where Ethan was curled up next to him, eyes closed with his head resting on Samet’s shoulder. “Margaret says he hasn’t slept since…” Samet swallowed. He looked down at the bracer on his wrist, and then back up at Robert. “I am a prisoner.”
“Yes.” Robert nodded. “In truth, this time.” He sighed. “I’m sorry, Samet.”
“I doubt this is your fault.” He sighed.
“I know you…” He took a deep breath. “There are some questions I must ask you. First, where is Sir Vincent?”
Samet blinked, and frowned. “He has not yet returned?”
“Returned?” Robert raised an eyebrow.
“I…” Samet shifted a little to face Robert, and immediately grimaced. Robert moved closer, grabbing a chair and sitting across from him. “We heard Sarah scream.” He looked up, his pained eyes giving Robert an apologetic look. “We didn’t get there in time to stop them from dragging her through the waygate. We…” He swallowed again. “Couldn’t leave her to that, so I reopened the waygate and sent Vincent after her.” He met Robert’s eyes. “I’m sorry, Robert. I had to get the wards back up.”
“Or everyone would have died.” Robert nodded. There was hope, at least. “You did what you could, and I thank you for it.”
“I did not send him alone.” Samet nodded. “I can call her, find…” He made a frustrated sound, then sighed as he looked down at his wrist. “Ethan may be able to call to Enesuriel. She’s met and liked him; she may heed his voice. She’ll know where Vincent is, and if the gods are merciful, he will know where to find Sarah.”
“Thank you, Samet.” Robert smiled. “Hopefully we will get them back soon. Sir Vincent…” He sighed.
“Is the only one that can verify I was not the one that brought the wardstone down.” Samet nodded. “Robert, when I went to bring the wards up, the men down there were of Lales.”
“Henrik’s men?” Robert blinked, then shook his head. “Samet, outside of my own, Henrik has been the strongest voice on your behalf.”
“Of course.” Samet’s face twisted into a bitter smile. “Recent events notwithstanding, my father does not want me dead. If he is controlling Henrik…”
“Then we do not have enough voices in the Coalition to block you being handed over to the Archmage.” Robert shook his head.
“But if it is he that has betrayed you —”
“It is your fate concerning me at the moment. The Archmage intends to either bind or break you, and several members of the Coalition are demanding you be executed.” Robert sighed. “Are you alright, Samet?”
“No.” Samet closed his eyes for several seconds. “Demons can twist what you feel, pull the strings, feed your hate, your rage, your grief. I have felt this firsthand.” Samet looked down at the young man sleeping next to him. “I could see how they could influence him to…” He ran a soothing hand down Ethan’s hair. “It was unimaginably wrong of him, and yet Ethan had killed his firstborn. There was something for the demons to build upon, but…” He put his hand down. “Margaret and Justin are children. Innocent. They…” He shook his head. “He was going to kill them. I don’t understand.”
“He’s my father.” Samet looked up at Robert. “When I was a boy, I feared the monsters of the darkness. He’d come to my room and wave his sword about, stabbing the shadows and proclaiming victory. Then he’d hug me, tuck me into sleep next to him and say…” His voice broke slightly. “’Go to sleep, Samet. You are safe here.’” He met Robert’s eyes. “I am the man I am because of my father, not in spite of him.” He sighed. “I think something in him broke, when Mother…” He looked away, drawing in on himself. “He was not always this, Robert.”
“I…” Robert reached out and put his hand on Samet’s knee. “I know you want to save him, Samet. But that may not possible. You may have to choose between him and —”
“Ethan.” Samet said the name quietly, turning to look at the man laying beside him.
“Ethan?” Robert blinked.
Samet’s voice became fierce. “I will do whatever is necessary to protect Ethan.” He met Robert’s eyes. “And if I must choose, I will choose him.”
“You saved my brother. You saved my kingdom. You saved Margaret and Justin. And you’ve given me hope for Sarah and Vincent.” Robert stood. “Anyone wanting to get to you is going to have to come through me.”
Tabitha set the lit candle on the altar and sighed. She rose, and wiped at her eyes before reciting the final stanza of the prayer.
“My lady…” King Henrik bowed. “I am so sorry.”
She took a deep breath. “Hope is not lost.”
“This summit was a mistake.’ Henrik looked at the candles lighting the chapel. “All of us gathered together?” He shook his head. “Arda is a fool. He may as well have painted targets on us.”
“He is desperate.”
“Half the blame for this war can be laid at his feet.” Henrik clenched his fists. “We should have just let Vadin have him and perhaps the man would have let the rest of us be.”
“You cannot believe that, cousin. Arda is not responsible for the duke’s actions. He was not even king at the time.” She shook her head, and smile gently at Henrik. “We must stand together, now more than ever.”
“We should just let you have a few words with Vadin, Tabby.” Henrik shook his head. “You’d have him apologizing within minutes.” He smiled. “I will pray for your daughter.”
“If he is awake, he can start answering questions.” Sandra folded her arms.
“He has.” Graham clasped his hands behind his back. “He did not bring the wards down. He is, however, the one that restarted them.”
“He did no such…” Sandra started shaking her head.
“Then produce the ones that did.” Prelate Nicola raised an eyebrow. “I am told it takes no fewer than five mages to activate a wardstone. Where are they? Surely they wish to take credit for their heroic act.”
“We…” Sandra took a deep breath.
“We know that our bold heroes cannot lie among those killed by the demons, as the demons were banished when the ward stone came up. And all mages save two have been accounted for.” Nicola waved a hand.
“We know Vadin has mages in his employ…” Benoit started shaking his head.
“Of course.” Prelate Gul spread his hands. “Vadin’s mages must have brought the wards up. How did we not see that before?”
“Well?” Robert raised an eyebrow at Graham.
“The situation is ambiguous enough that some of them are starting to come around.” Graham sighed. “The Archmage cost himself Sikander’s support when he suggested the use of torture to gain Samet’s cooperation. Sikander was willing to execute him, but having him enslaved is another matter entirely. Arguing on the same side as Gul is a rather strange experience.” He shook his head. “However, there are those who do not care what is right and wrong in this matter. Vadin has cost them much, and they have the opportunity to turn Vadin’s own son into a weapon against him.”
“I won’t allow that.” Robert shook his head.
“I know. Benoit has moved that Samet be interrogated, and sadly he made a sound case. I am attempting to ensure that you or I be present for that event.” Graham looked up at Robert. “He has also moved that Ethan be detained. He claims his intention is Ethan’s own safety.”
“More likely it is because they know Ethan will stab anyone that attempts to harm Samet.” Robert shook his head.
“On the contrary, I believe it is the first move in an attempt to force your hand. Benoit is hinting that Ethan passed information to Vadin.” Graham shook his head. “Given Ethan’s state of mind, even a —”
“They are not interrogating my brother.” Robert narrowed his eyes.
“As I said, Robert. They wish to force your hand, make it so you must allow them Samet or Ethan.”
“How did…” Robert sighed, and turned toward the window. “I thought we were better than this.”
“In war, the difference between a hero and a villain is often simply a matter of perspective.” Graham started to turn away, then looked back to Robert. “Is there any…”
“Ethan called to whoever this ‘Enesuriel’ is. He said she did not reply, but also pointed out that since he is not a mage, she may not hear him unless she is actively listening.”
“Gods be with them.”
“I can’t believe you sent Enesuriel with Vincent.” Ethan shook his head. “You are going to have to apologize when they get back.”
“I intended to go after them as soon as I’d restored the wards.” Samet sighed. “I only sent her because I can track her.”
Ethan sat, taking his hand again. He lifted it, and pressed a kiss to the back. “I thought I’d lost you.”
“I’m alright, Ethan.”
“No you’re not.” Ethan shook his head. “They’re talking about…” He swallowed. “I won’t let them take you from me, master.” His voice was fierce.
“Ethan…” Samet touched Ethan’s cheek. “Have you eaten today?” Ethan blinked, then frowned. Then he shook his head and frowned some more. Samet sighed. “You don’t know, do you?”
“I’ve been distracted.” Ethan glared at him.
“Go get —”
“Not. Leaving. This. Room.”
“Ethan.” Samet’s voice became hard. “Who is your master?”
“I…” Ethan swallowed. “You are, master.”
“Go get something to eat, and put on fresh clothes.”
“Yes, master.” Ethan rose, and went to obey.
Samet followed him with his eyes, then turned to see Margaret staring at him. “I apologize, my lady.”
“He’s going to eat, and he was starting to get a bit ripe.” She smiled at him, then she chuckled. “I’ll go make sure he washes before putting on new clothes. Sir Matthew is on the door.”
He turned to see Margaret looking at him. “What?”
“You love him, don’t you?” She raised an eyebrow. “And I’m not talking about as a friend. And he loves you too.”
“Yes.” Ethan set his plate back down. He sighed. “I have no idea how to explain to Robert and Tabitha…”
“”Well, they still haven’t caught on to Vincent and Sarah yet so you may never have to.” She shrugged. “Then again, you two are technically sleeping together and they seem okay with that.”
“I think they think that’s something different.”
Margaret kissed his cheek. “Figures though.”
“What does?” He blinked.
“The one prince in the entire world that is handsome, nice, heroic, smart, and not related to me?” She shook her head. “I’m just going to go over there, get myself some tea, and hate you for a few minutes.”
“We have a situation…” Prelate Benoit wrung his hands as he entered.
“Another one?” King Alinor straightened. “Lovely.”
“Vadin wishes to speak, under a flag of truce.”
“Of course he does.” Arda smirked. “We are in possession of the one thing that bastard values.” He shook his head. “Where does he want to meet?”
“At Durgen’s Hollow.” Benoit shifted his weight. “And he wants to meet with King Robert.”
“King Robert does not speak for the entirety of the coalition.” Arda glared.
“He speaks for enough of us, and he’ll not give Vadin quarter.” Queen Dorasha shook her head. “Don’t be stupid, Arda.” She turned to look at him. “Well?”
“I will speak with him.” Robert slowly nodded.
“I’m leaving in the morning to meet with your father.” Robert waited a few moments, but Samet did not respond. “Samet?”
“He’s not conquering the world for him. He wants to create a legacy. The Vadin dynasty.” Samet shook his head. His smile was bitter. “For that, he needs me.” He turned to look at Robert. “I suggest you make it clear to him that I am, at this moment, a hostage.”
“Graham is of the opinion that I’d have to actually do you harm in order for Vadin to believe the threat.”
“The Prelate is not a stupid name.” Samet nodded. “I trust you, Robert. Do what you must, and know that I’ll not hold it against you.”
“Thank you, Samet.” He rose, and started to turn to walk away. “Are you in love with my brother?”
“Alright. I uh…” Robert nodded. “I’m going to need a bit of time to sort that out in my head, but uh…” He took a deep breath, then patted Samet’s shoulder before squeezing it gently. “Get better. We’ll talk.”
“Now the red valerian.” Samet watched as Anabeth added the carefully chopped roots. A small puff of purplish steam came from the concoction. “Stir slowly.” He turned a little as the door opened and Queen Tabitha entered, then winced as the motion sent pain down his side.
“What have we here?” Tabitha managed a smile.
“Samet is teaching Anabeth his recipe for healing potions.” Margaret smiled.
“It is unfortunately as helpful as I can be at the moment.” And the girls needed the distraction. With the binding around him, he couldn’t summon Enesuriel, and the tracking link had been broken when he’d lost consciousness. “Since Margaret and Ethan refuse to allow me to walk more than three feet.” He looked up at Tabitha. “I’m sorry, your majesty. I should have…”
“Had you gone after Sarah, I would have lost Margaret and Justin.” She put the back of her hand against his cheek as she sat down on the bed next to him. “No fever. Has the healer been by?”
“She keeps giving me this vile green concoction she claims wards off infection.”
“At least you’ll have some healing potions.” She smiled in Anabeth’s direction.
“They won’t help him.” Anabeth shook his head. “The binding interferes with even ambient magic.”
Tabitha narrowed her eyes. “You mean the healer hasn’t been able to actually do anything since that was put on?”
Samet sighed. “I can enhance my own healing, make it…” He swallowed. “Odd how one doesn’t realize how much they rely on something until it is taken from them. I feel as though I have lost a limb.” He coughed, and Ethan immediately leapt to his feet and started walking toward where a pitcher of water was sitting. “I can’t even turn anyone into a frog for unnecessarily fussing over me.”
She chuckled, and patted his head. “Shush dear, and let them fuss.” She looked over at Anabeth. “What is different about this potion?”
“It’s a regenerative.” Anabeth carefully measured out some powder. “Ethan said they used it when a potion burned off some of their hair and eyebrows, but they grew back purple. He’s hoping I can figure out what causes that so they won’t look stupid next time.”
“I will leave you to it.” She rose.
“Tabitha…” Samet caught her hand. “My father does not have Sarah.”
Her heart caught in her throat. “How can you be sure?”
“I sent Sir Vincent for her. The only way my father could have Sarah is if Sir Vincent were dead, and if he were, Enesuriel would have answered Ethan’s call.”
She bent down and pressed a kiss to Samet’s forehead. “Thank you.”
“Your son lives, Vadin.” Robert folded his arms. He didn’t miss the look of relief on Vadin’s face, though the man hid it quickly. He decided to twist the dagger a little. “And thanks to your actions, he lies bound and helpless.”
“If he is not returned to me, I will have every single prisoner in my cells burned alive.” Vadin straightened, eyes narrowing. “Save perhaps that sweet daughter of yours.” He must have flinched, because Vadin smiled. “Any harm visited upon my son will be brought upon her threefold.”
“You may have your son back when your armies have withdrawn.” Robert held his ground.
“That is not the way this is going to work, Robert.” Vadin shook his head. His lips twisted into a sneer. “Your daughter tastes somewhat sweeter than your brother.”
It was all he could do not to cross the room and smash Vadin’s face into an oozing mess. “Right now, Vadin, your son’s fate is in my hands. Touch my daughter, and I will hand him over to the Archmage. The next time you see your son he will be our weapon.”
Graham sighed, and shook his head. “All we are doing at the moment is buying time.”
Gul folded his arms. “That is what we set out to do, I believe.” He shook his head. “You cannot blame people for not quite being able to vote to free a sorcerer, let alone Vadin’s son and heir.”
“Whose side are you on, Gul?” Graham raised an eyebrow.
“Sikander’s.” Gul shrugged. “Who will still vote for a straight execution if any actual evidence is found of the sorcerer’s guilt.”
“Which would get us precisely nowhere.” Graham moved some papers. “Perhaps we…” He trailed off at the sound of noise outside.
“What the hell is that?” Nicola rose.
“That…” Deanna said from where she was looking out the window. “Is a lot of soldiers wearing King Arda’s sigil.”
“Shit.” Graham rose.
“You do have a way with words.” Gul sighed.
Ethan jumped awake and fumbled for his daggers as he heard the door crash open. “Well, isn’t that sweet. Dog curled up on his master’s bed.” Arda shook his head, and gestured to the soldiers he’d brought with him. “Get the sorcerer.”
“Not a chance.” Ethan rose, a dagger in each hand.
Arda looked past him to where Samet was laying. “Call off your dog, or he’s going to get hurt.”
“Hurt Ethan, and my father will —” Margaret stood up from where she’d been napping in a chair.
“Your father is twenty miles away, girl, and he’s not stupid enough to wage war on the Archmage.” Arda glanced at his guards. “If the sorcerer doesn’t come quietly, take Prince Ethan to the lower cells for interrogation, on charges of aiding the enemy. Take the princess too. I’m sure we can find appropriate charges.”
“Ethan, stand down.” Samet struggled to stand up.
“Samet.” Ethan glanced at him.
“Lower your weapons, and stand down.” Samet put his hand on Ethan’s shoulder. “Do as I say, Ethan.”
Ethan stared at him for several seconds, then lowered his hands.
A smirk came to Arda’s face. “Like I said. Sweet.” He gestured to the guard. “Get the hellspawn.”