Graham saw Samet standing a few feet from the Archmage. Fire was trailing up his body, but there was no expression on his face. And then, to his horror, he started to turn toward them, his motions jerky as though he was being pulled by invisible strings. The Archmage was grinning broadly, his face positively gleeful as fire appeared in Samet’s hands.
And then Ethan spoke. There was a rush of what sounded like wind over leaves and then… “Go to sleep.” Whatever strings had been controlling Samet were cut. He collapsed to the ground and lay unmoving.
The Archmage stared at Ethan. “How…” He looked dumbfounded. “How did you —” He cut off with a gurgling sound when Ethan flung a dagger into his throat. The Archmage clutched at the bleeding wound as he fell to his knees. He clawed at the knife before collapsing.
Ethan immediately rushed to Samet’s side. “Master?”
The four soldiers still in the room started to move. Sikander and Sir Jakob turned toward them. Sikander drew himself to his full height, and his voice was firm and cold. “Stand. Down.” The men obeyed. Sir Jakob moved in to disarm them.
Sikandir was staring at Ethan. “What just happened?”
“Blood of the gods.” Graham shook his head. “You know his truename?”
“Yes.” Ethan caressed Samet’s face, cradling his head. There were bruises and welts all over Samet’s body. They’d hurt Samet.
“You call him master but you know his truename?” Graham shook his head as if trying to make the two pieces of information connect
“You mean that we have spent the past couple months attempting to determine how we could possibly contain a full-fledged sorcerer…” Sikander took a deep breath. “And you’ve been able to do it at will all along?” He shook his head. “The man given to him as a slave knows his truename.” He exhaled. “That’s…” He scratched his head. “Something.”
“But the only way you could know his truename is if he told it to you.” Graham shook his head. “He told you his truename.”
“Yes.” Ethan checked Samet’s pulse. It was strong beneath his fingers, and the wound on his side looked as though a healer had seen to him at least once since he’d been taken. “So that if something like this ever happened, I could call him back.” He bent his head to kiss Samet’s forehead. “We’ve got to get him out of here.”
“Which means Prince Samet could not have been behind the attack or…” Sikander slowly nodded. “And that he has been genuine in his offer to help all along. He safeguarded himself.” He laughed softly. “Graham, Sir Jakob, can you carry him?”
Ethan helped Graham lift Samet, then moved to drape the arm he was holding over Sir Jakob’s shoulders. Samet remained limp and unmoving. Then he walked over, grabbed the hilt of his dagger, and kicked the Archmage’s corpse to free the blade. “Let’s go.”
Ethan started to move, then there was a clanging sound. The soldier standing over King Sikander suddenly fell to the ground. Margaret stood behind him, holding a fireplace poker. Sikander rolled back to his feet and went to back up Ethan as Margaret shifted to stand between them and the attackers. “Is he alright?” She glanced at the men holding Samet between them.
“You were told to stay put no matter what.” Graham’s voice only narrowly missed being a growl.
“No, Mother told me to tell my sisters to stay put no matter what.” She smiled innocently
Ethan’s dragonbone blade pierced the armor of the last soldier, and the man fell. “Margaret, what are you doing here?” He stared at her.
“Arda’s men are moving on the castle. King Henrik attacked, and Arda’s captain is reinforcing his guard.” She gestured with the poker. “If you keep going that way, you’re going to run right into them.”
“That…” Graham glared. “It is not often I regret taking an oath of non-violence.”
“Do as Gul does: claim that it is a walking stick and you can’t help if people insist on thumping their heads against it.” Sikander turned to look at Margaret, and raised an eyebrow. “You got past them to come warn us?” He smiled.
She actually blushed a little, then tapped her belt pouch. “I raided Samet’s potions. He has one that makes you hard to see unless you do something to draw attention to yourself.”
“Such as strike someone over the head to save my life.” Sikander gave her a small bow. “Well done.” He turned to look at Graham. “We’ll never get to your people, not with an unconscious man to guard. We should retreat to my chambers. I still have men on guard there and Arda may not yet know of my involvement.”
“You wanted to try and execute Samet.” Ethan turned toward him.
“And I was wrong. I will apologize to him once we have dealt with Arda.” Sikander nodded to him. “I give you my word that I will see him to safety.”
It took a few moments, but Ethan nodded.
Someone said his name. He knew the voice and caught hold, letting it drag him back to consciousness. Samet blinked. “Ethan?”
“Master.” Ethan smiled at him. “Are you alright?” He brushed Samet’s hair back from his face. “I’m sorry we took so long to…”
“I thought I…” Samet raised his hand and touched Ethan’s face. “He nearly made me…” He shook his head and then pulled Ethan toward him, kissing him. Ethan’s mouth was hungry on his as he returned the kiss. Someone coughed politely. Samet blinked and released Ethan. He turned his head to see King Sikander, Prelate Graham, Sir Jakob, and Princess Margaret all staring at them. Margaret, at least, had a huge smile on her face. “Oh.”
There was a bit of awkward shifting before Sikander just shook his head. “Arda’s men control the castle. They are between us and anything else resembling safety. My guards can hold these doors, but we are effectively under siege. Our only advantage at the moment is that Arda does not know we are in here, as Queen Tabitha is keeping him and Val occupied with Coalition matters. Robert’s men cannot come to aid us, as they are currently occupied with keeping your father’s army at bay. The Archmage is dead. At the moment we are at a stalemate.”
“I do not mean to complain about rescues, but I assume there was a plan at some point?” Samet raised an eyebrow.
“There was, then Henrik’s men tried a frontal assault on Arda.” Sikander shook his head. “I do not know what he was thinking with that order.”
“Most likely of what my father will do to him.” Samet shook his head. “Henrik is the one responsible for bringing down the Wardstone.”
“How can you be certain?” Sikander folded his arms.
“The men guarding it were of Lales. If it was not Henrik himself, it was someone high enough to give commands to his soldiers.”
“Samet…” Margaret started at him. “Henrik’s men are guarding Justin and my sisters.”
A chill went through him. “Bloody fuck.”
“The Archmage is dead.” Graham clasped his hands behind his back. “I don’t suppose that means you can perhaps…” He blinked. “I never thought the day would come that I’d actually be asking a sorcerer to use magic.”
“At the very least we can get him a sword.” Sikander went toward where some weapons had been set on a chest.
“No.” Ethan immediately shook his head. “He doesn’t get a sword.”
“We can’t leave him —” Sikander frowned.
“Absolutely no sword.” Ethan folded his arms.
“Ethan’s right.” Samet sighed. “I’m more likely to end up stabbing one of you than being of any use with that thing.” He shook his head. “Let me see if I understand this. Robert cannot fight to us, because if he does he’ll expose his back to my father, who will promptly put a sword into it. If Robert withdraws his forces, then my father will attack the castle directly and since the Coalition is currently fighting themselves, he will most likely succeed in killing everyone. Arda’s men are between us and anyone who could remotely help us fix the situation. Henrik is taking commands from my father and the Kendall children are currently in Henrik’s safekeeping. Have I missed anything?”
“Our forces in the castle are not equipped to handle a siege situation, even if we rejoin our allies here Arda still has us outnumbered five to one in the castle and Robert’s men two to one in the valley. The Coalition’s armies will follow Robert against your father but not against the castle.” Sikander nodded. “Also we have no idea what your father’s forces currently look like but we do know he did not lose any significant number of mages in his last attack and Henrik could easily get to the wardstone again. The Covenant mages are currently undirected and in chaos, answering to their respective kings rather than to a unified cause. And half the castle still believes you were responsible for the initial attack.”
“Right.” Samet held up the wrist and stared at the bracer for a moment. “Alright, this is likely going to be extremely unpleasant.” He reached for his magic.
Margaret covered her hands with her mouth as Samet suddenly twitched and screamed. Ethan immediately caught hold of him. “Samet, Samet.”
It took Samet several seconds before he could respond. “No. It would appear as long as this is on me, magic is not an option.”
“Princess Margaret, I don’t suppose you happen to have a half dozen of those stealth potions?” Sikander turned toward her.
She shook her head. “I’ve got two of those, one of the protective one, one of the ones that makes a lot of smoke, and three of the healing ones.”
“The healing ones?” Samet lifted his head to look at her. “The ones I had Anabeth make?”
“Yes.” She nodded.
“I’m going to need two of those.” He gestured to her.
“I thought that healing potions didn’t work while that was on you?” Margaret blinked.
“I didn’t say this was a good plan. In fact, I am very, very open to suggestions at the moment.” Samet shook his head. He took the potions from Margaret, and opened one. “Anything?”
“I do not know what plan you have…” Sikander shrugged. “But I assure you it is the only one available to us at this time.”
“Right.” He downed the potion. “Ethan, your dragonbone knife.” He set the bracer-bound wrist on the desk.
Ethan started shaking his head. “No. Absolutely not.”
“Ethan.” Samet’s voice was sharp. “Do as master tells you.”
“Yes, master.” Ethan swallowed. He drew the dragonbone blade.
And brought it down to sever Samet’s wrist.
Samet shoved the cursed piece of metal off the bleeding stump of his arm, cursing as he did so. Even with dragonbone that had hurt like hell. He downed the second potion, letting the magic flow through him as the concoction began to do its work. “What the hell did you just—” Sir Jakob started to ask.
“Quiet.” He concentrated, focusing his magic around the spell to direct the healing. Then he lifted the hand and frowned at the formation starting to grow out of the stump. “Really hoping that is going to work.”
“You…” Margaret stared at him. “Planned for this?” She looked at the potions. “You said those were for eyebrows.”
“Eyebrows grow back on their own.” Samet moved his shoulders. The welts and other punishment he’d taken earlier had faded.
“Alright.” Sikander inclined his head towards Samet in a respectful gesture before adjusting his shield strap. “We may be able to get to our allies now, but there is still an army arrayed against us. And Vadin has a force on the way. With the Coalition currently in shambles, we will be —”
“It’s not a problem.” Samet smiled.
“And what exactly is that supposed to mean?” Sikander raised an eyebrow.
“It means, your majesty, that the reason Covenant mages practice meditative calm is because strong emotions can have a proportional effect on magical emanations related to said emotions. And I am not…” Samet rose. “In a particularly good mood.”
“You’re saying…” Sikander’s eyes widened.
Ethan grinned. “That hell just broke loose.”
“Ethan…” Samet’s eyes began to glow. “Let’s go get your family.”
“If Arda’s men don’t back us up…” Robert took a deep breath. “Holding does us no good. We can bring in backup, but so can Vadin, and he has considerably more available to him.”
“There is still no word from the Covenant mages, your highness.” Sikander’s general nodded. “Arda’s men have refused to let my messenger pass. I have had no word from my king.”
Robert sighed. After Arda and his own, Sikander’s forces represented the strongest in the valley. If they didn’t aid him, then… “Vadin is…”
“The clear and present threat, your highness. I have ordered our reinforcements to strengthen your lines. My men and I are at your command until I hear otherwise from my king.” He bowed before heading out of the tent.
“You know…” Sir Corbin chuckled. “That’s what I love about Adormen. Stubborn bastards the lot, but damned if they aren’t professionals.”
“Get your men into position.” Robert smiled. “We need to —”
They both turned as something inside the castle exploded.
“Did you see that?” Perdu stared.
Vadin nodded as he watched smoke rising from inside the castle. “Tell the men to hold.” He smiled. “I think it’s time the Coalition learned once and for all just why annoying my son is a bad idea.” He leaned back. “I do so love watching fireworks.”
Flames surrounded Samet as he entered the hall. The fighting inside ceased, the soldiers frozen as they caught sight of the sorcerer walking toward them. It lasted for only a few heartbeats, and then several of Arda’s men were turning toward them, swords in hand. He sent a wave of flame, sweeping the attackers aside and throwing them into the wall hard enough that two of them went all the way through it. He did not alter his stride as he walked toward the man at the other end of the hall. “Henrik.”
“Emir Samet.” The man smiled. “I am pleased to see you unharmed, I…”
“My father keeps his promises, Henrik. One of the few traits he and I share. I hope whatever he promised you was worthwhile.” He narrowed his eyes. “Because I promise that if you have harmed those children in any way I will drag you to the bottommost pit of hell and leave you within.”
“I…” Henrik stared to shake his head.
“We know, Henrik.” Sikander said. “Stand down.”
Slowly, the man seemed to wilt before them. “I…” Slowly he nodded. “Vadin’s men are collecting the children now.”
“What?” Several of the soldiers that had a moment ago been fighting next to Henrik started backing away.
“Sir Bren, take this man into custody.” Sikander nodded to one of his soldiers as Samet started moving again.
“Yes, my lord.” The knight bowed.
“Vadin’s men are holding position.” The messenger gave Robert a confused look.
Robert looked up at the castle, then slowly nodded. Because Vadin believed his son was free, and did not believe Samet had turned against him. Doubtless the man no longer saw need to throw his men against the castle. “Leave the front lines where they are, and assemble my honor guard. I’m heading to the castle.”
“Captain Niraj.” Samet’s voice rang out as he headed down the hall. “Stand down.”
“Sir Imran, stand down.” Sikander’s voice echoed.
The two groups of soldiers hesitantly began backing away from each other. The man wearing Atrios armor took a knee. “Emir Vadin. We were told you were a prisoner.”
“Do I look like a prisoner?” Samet raised an eyebrow.
“No, highness.” Captain Niraj shook his head. “My lord, we were ordered to…”
“Your majesty, King Henrik’s men left their posts shortly before these men arrived.” The knight nodded to Sikander.
“Ethan…” Samet turned toward him. “Do you recognize any of these men?”
He knew what Samet was asking. He shook his head. “I do not.”
“Captain Niraj, take your men and go. Your business here is concluded.”
“My prince, your father ordered us to…”
“Inform my father I do not need to be rescued, and I will speak to him in due time.” Samet narrowed his eyes. “I have killed enough of my countrymen of late. Do not make me kill you.”
“Your majesty?” The knight raised an eyebrow at King Sikander.
“Let them pass.” Sikander nodded.
Samet’s voice was quiet as he watched the men walk away. “Niraj used to whittle me toys.” He shook his head, then looked at Sikander. “Thank you.”
“If I could end every battle without bloodshed…” Sikander exhaled. “Let us ensure the children are unharmed.
Ethan touched Samet’s undamaged hand and squeezed it gently before heading toward the door.
“There was fighting outside the door.” Lucille climbed out of the wardrobe. “So the knights told us to hide.”
“Where did you go?” Anabeth shook her head at Margaret. She lifted Justin up onto her hip. “Mother is going to kill you.”
“Yes.” Margaret nodded. “Yes, she definitely is. Are you all okay?”
“Anabeth was scared.” Lucille shook her head. “I wasn’t.”
“You very brave.” Ethan grinned at her.
“Samet’s faery godmother said if the bad guys got too scary I could call her and she’d scare them right back, but I didn’t think that was a good idea because last time she was here she threatened to eat Prelate Graham.”
Sikander raised an eyebrow at Graham. “Varorgirin threatened to eat you?”
“She threatens to eat…” Samet blinked, then turned. “How did you know her name?”
“She has a soft spot for broken pretty things.” Sikander shrugged. “Our paths once crossed.”
“Lucille, please do not summon unholy monsters from the Beyond.” Margaret shook her head.
“But she said she’d come to my tea parties!” Lucille frowned.
“You know…” Ethan turned to look at Samet.
“That’s a terrible idea.” Samet immediately started shaking her head. “Do you have any idea how difficult it would be to find scones in a castle that is currently under attack?”
“Well…” Ethan shrugged. “Yes?”
“Please no.” Graham winced.
“I would prefer to avoid having to explain to King Robert that we sacrificed his Right Hand’s soul due to being unable to find fresh pastries.” Sikander shook his head.
“Thank you.” Graham narrowed his eyes. “I think.”
“We still need to rescue Mother.” Margaret frowned.
“We will.” Ethan smiled. “You and Graham are staying here, where it is safe.”
Samet put his hand on Graham’s shoulder. “If more trouble than the guards can handle does appear…” He shrugged. “Hide behind Margaret.” He turned toward her. “There is frostfire in the black case. Do be careful, my dear.”
“You did not kill Henrik.” Sikander’s voice sounded thoughtful.
“I am not the one he betrayed.” Samet shook his head. “That justice is yours to dispense.”
“Emir Samet…” Sikander nodded. “You remind me a great deal of your mother. I do not know where the boundaries of alliances will fall after tonight, nor what the future will hold for the Coalition and it’s treaty.” He smiled. “But I think that I would honored to call you a friend.”
“The feeling is mutual, your majesty.” Samet nodded.
“Not to break up the moment.” Ethan glanced over the ramparts. “But my brother has found himself some trouble.”
“Well.” Samet nodded. “Let’s fill him in on the situation.” He stepped off the ramparts. Ethan stepped off a heartbeat behind him.
Sikander blinked, and turned to Sir Jakob, whose eyes were wide. “Did you know he could fly?”
“If it’s all the same, your highness…” Sir Jakob shook his head. “Perhaps we could take the stairs?”
“Sir Darin.” Robert drew himself to his full height and stared at the man. “You have no business blocking my path.”
“Got you outnumbered.” The man sneered. “King Arda’s orders make it my business.”
There was a flash of light, and both of them looked up in time to see Samet step off the rampart. Great wings of fire appeared around him, bearing him to the ground. Ethan stepped off behind him, and fire rose from the ground, catching him and lowering him slowly while somehow managing not to so much as singe his clothes. They landed on either side of him.
“Your highness…” Samet raised an eyebrow. His eyes were glowing. “May I get the door?”
“I would appreciate it.” Robert nodded to him.
Flames trailed up Samet’s body as the portcullis tore free of the castle, taking part of the wall with it. The metal grate smashed against the men on one side before reversing direction and shoving aside the men on the other, clearing the path. A wall of fire appeared on either side of the recently cleared path, and the first man that tried crossing it came out ash on the other side. “After you.” Samet gestured.
Rather than incinerate the men, Samet simply lit the rug on fire, pulling the flames up high. Arda’s men had to flee or burn alive. He heated metal, forcing those wearing enemy colors to drop swords and fling searing pieces of armor off of them. Allied forces were quick to round up the prisoners. A good many of the Talidir soldiers were actually laughing.
“They’ve sealed the chamber door.” Sir Jakob shook his head.
“Samet, if you don’t mind?” Robert turned toward him.
The chamber’s wall cracked and shattered as flames traced around the masonry Broken pieces of rock and wood were ripped away to land in a pile in the hall. On the other side of the wall, the assembled kings and queens stared in shock at where the reinforced and warded wall had been only moments ago. Arda was standing on the dais next to Queen Tabitha, and he had his hand around her upper arm. Several seconds passed before anyone inside could find their voice. “What is going on?” King Alinor stood, his eyes wide. “Robert?”
“Queen Tabitha” Samet fixed his gaze on King Arda. The man visibly paled. “I trust that you are unharmed?”
“She had better be.” Robert glared. “What the hell is going on here?”
“The Archmage was murdered, we are under attack, and your wife wants to talk about harvest festivals.” Prelate Sandra glared. “Sikander, you’ve acted in direct violation of the Coalition’s treaty.”
“I disagree.” Sikander began shaking his head. “I feel that —”
“I am not a member of your Coalition.” Flames rose around Samet once more. His voice was soft. “I have signed no treaty. You have no authority over me. I did not come here to be your enemy, and yet some of you have persisted in making yourselves my enemies nonetheless. I have done no more tonight than act in defense of myself and my friends, and I have every intention of continuing that course. So I ask again…” He narrowed his eyes, calling fire to his hands. “Queen Tabitha, are you alright?”
She pulled her arm free of Arda, then nodded, walking to join her husband. “I am.”
“Then my participation in this summit is concluded.” Samet waved his hand, and the brick and wood suddenly flew back into place, reforming the wall.