Garachus. The demonness that had come upon them in hell, one Samet had been acquainted with. He’d killed her with the ashen dagger. Ethan glanced at Samet, unsure of why Vadin knowing the name was significant.
Vadin made a growling sound. “This is irrelevant and getting us nowhere. Samet, I have mages that can undo whatever binding has been placed upon you.” He turned to his guards. “Take them into custody.”
“She came before you found…” Samet’s voice was soft, eerily calm. His eyes glowed, and the men that had been approaching Robert and his soldiers were abruptly shoved back across the room. “How do you know that name?”
“Samet, all I have ever done has been for you.” Vadin shook his head. “I need you to listen to me now, son. I will not let these fools turn you against me.”
“Garachus whispered her poison two years before the dragoncrown came into your hand.” Flames began flickering around Samet. “It began the day Mother died.”
Ethan’s head came up, and he stared at Vadin. Samet had claimed Vadin had loved his mother, that they had… He’d seen Vadin’s affection for his son, and despite all the man had done to him, he’d hoped Samet was right. For Samet’s sake. His stomach rolled.
“Samet…” Vadin took a few steps towards him. “You need to come with me now.”
“What was the price of power, Father?”
“Samet, I have only done what was necessary for you to —”
“A fire must be kindled.” Samet tilted his head. “It was no accident you were away from the palace the one time your spies missed…”
“Power must be —” Vadin sighed.
He wanted to reach out, to take Samet’s hand. To provide what comfort he could. Despite his calm, being this close to Samet felt like standing next to a smelting furnace. Garachus has gotten inside Samet’s head, nearly turned him into a demon. It had been the only time he’d ever seen Samet lose control. And he realized that despite Samet’s face and voice appearing tranquil, Samet was perilously close to that point right now.
“Garachus couldn’t have sought you out, Father. You aren’t a mage. The only way she could have found you before the dragoncrown was if you…” Samet’s voice remained calm. “Called to her.”
“Samet, listen to…” Vadin stopped a couple feet from Samet. He started to reach his hand toward him, then pulled back as the fire swirled.
“It was never the dark powers, was it, Father?” Samet squared his shoulders. “It was you. It has always been you.”
“For you, Samet.” Vadin shook his head. “All I have done has been —”
“I never wanted this. Any of it. All these wasted lives, all these…” Samet swallowed. “All I wanted was to save you.”
This time Ethan did reach out. He touched Samet’s hand, and Samet clutched his fingers, squeezing them almost tightly enough to hurt. Fire danced around their hands as it did around Samet’s body. The flames merely felt warm. The fire did not touch him, just as it had not touched him when they’d walked through hell together.
“I am your Father, and you will heed me.” Vadin drew himself up.
“I love you, Father.” Samet shook his head. “But this has gone on long enough. I will seal the archways and end this war, even if I must go through you.”
He took a step back, staring at his son. Samet’s eyes glowed, with only the fire to indicate his anger. He started to shake his head again, and caught sight of the young man standing a foot to Samet’s left. Samet was holding onto the prince’s hand, and fire was half trailing up the prince’s arm as well. His agent had said… “Does the dog truly know your name? Is that how…?” Vadin shook his head, then turned toward his guards. “Kill them all.”
Arrows flew at his command. All that struck Robert’s men was ashes. The dagger flung at Robert himself was caught in midair. It’s form twisted and distorted, glowing red hot before flinging itself back at the man who had thrown it. The hot metal splattered Lieutenant Brelith, sending the man writhing to the ground, screaming and clawing at his face. The carpet beneath Samet turned to charcoal, burning away in a spreading circle from his son. Beneath Samet’s feet, the stone floor was taking on a sheen as it began melting into glass. “Stand.” Samet’s voice remained perfectly calm. “Down.”
His men stood there a moment, staring at Samet. And then, one by one, they began backing away, lowering their weapons. Behind Samet, the pathetic little prince actually smiled. Vadin snarled. “Does he know your name? Did he trick you into…” He shook his head. “I should have slit that dog’s throat.”
“It is not…” Samet’s eyes met his, and Vadin actually felt a twinge of fear. “In your best interest to threaten what is mine.”
“Was it the hag bitch who gave him your name?” Vadin waved a hand. “She was trying to turn your mother against me. Tried to convince Usha to take you and leave with her.” He squared his shoulders. “I should have had Garachus deal with her.”
“That’s why Varorgirin couldn’t tell me, is it not?” Samet shook his head. “Why she could not keep Garachus at bay. You provided a sacrifice, empowering Garachus enough that she could bind her. Who was it, Father? Do you even remember the…” Samet closed his eyes, then nodded before reopening them a heartbeat later. “A soul of perfect innocence. You knew Mother was with child.”
“Of course I…” Vadin realized a heartbeat too late the words were a mistake. Fire blazed up around Samet, taking the shape of wings at his back. “Samet.”
“It was you. All this time. Your…” Samet nodded. “Choice.”
“No.” Vadin shook his head.
“Go to hell, Father.” Samet started to turn away once more.
Fury filled him, and his eyes went again to where Ethan held Samet’s hand. “I will not let some dog take you from me.” Vadin went for his sword.
Graham started to shout as Vadin lunged for Ethan. Samet’s eyes flashed, and a pillar of fire erupted from the area in which all three men were standing. He turned his head, shielding his face from the conflagration.
A heartbeat later, the fire vanished. Samet and Ethan stood there, untouched. Ashes floated down around them. Silence descended on the room, followed by a creak of metal and leather as soldiers on both sides began wondering what was about to happen. Vadin had broken the truce, attacked. And Vadin…
Making Samet the ruler of Atrios.
He stared for a moment at the blackened section of the floor, then ruthlessly pushed all emotion away. There were other matters to attend. And Ethan was beside him, safe. That was all that truly mattered. Samet turned toward where the soldiers were standing. “General Mukesh.”
One of the soldiers stepped forward, and took a knee. “Yes, my lord?”
“Send word. I want all Atrios soldiers withdrawn into our borders before the week is out. The war is over.”
“Yes, my lord.” The man stood, bowing.
“Prabhat, Rohit, I want a list of all prisoners in our custody. Once the members of the Coalition have allowed our forces, including those currently prisoners of war, to withdraw from our lands all prisoners are to be released.”
The two men exchanged a look, but nodded. “Yes, my lord.”
“King Robert…” Samet turned to face him. “Once the prisoner release is completed, all Coalition forces on Atrios soil without my express invitation will be considered hostile.”
“Understood.” Robert nodded.
Samet turned back toward his soldiers. “Dismissed.”
Robert ordered his men out of the chamber. There were messages to send, preparations to make. He shook his head, and then followed them. He turned as he got to the door only to realize Ethan had not followed. His brother still stood next to Samet. Slowly, Ethan extended a hand to touch Samet’s hand.
The moment the contact was made, it was as if strings had been cut. Samet fell to his knees, his head bowed as his shoulders began to shake. Ethan knelt next to him, putting his arms around Samet and the sorcerer clung to him as though he were a drowning child.
He swallowed, and closed the door behind him.
On an altar, deep in the woods, a crystal suddenly glowed red. A wizened, taloned hand ran a fingernail down it, causing a thin scrapping sound. “The debt is paid, granddaughter.” The crystal was removed from the altar, and tossed casually into a nearby chest. Runes on the chest glowed into life as the lid was closed. “And your son is free.”