He looked around the room. It felt strange, standing in it once more. It was the same room. It was he that had changed. The kennel still stood in the corner, and still had a haphazard pile of maps stacked atop it. A haphazard pile of maps and an inch thick coat of dust. Ethan shook his head, and walked over to sit next to the man on the bed. He curled into a ball, laying his head in the man’s lap, and felt a hand gently caress his hair. “Are you alright, Samet?”
“No,” came the soft reply. There was silence for a moment. “He was going to kill you.”
“I am sorry he forced you to make that choice.” Ethan put his hand atop Samet’s knee. “It could not have been easy.”
“It was.” Samet’s fingers combed through his hair. “I made it a long time ago. I think that I made it…” He swallowed. “Do you remember that first night in the Beyond, Ethan?”
“You asked me why I hadn’t killed you while you slept. I lay awake, afraid to sleep and then…” Ethan shook his head. “I realized there was only one way I felt safe enough to close my eyes.”
“I made the choice then. You’re the first real friend I ever had, the first person I’ve ever truly trusted.” Samet patted his head. “I think…” He trailed off.
Ethan lifted his head, and followed Samet’s gaze to the painting of the woman on the wall. A year he’d spent in this room, and he realized this was the first time he’d ever actually looked at it. The woman within was dark and beautiful, with laughing eyes and a warm smile. “Your mother.”
“The first time Varorgirin came to me, I was preparing a ritual. I intended to summon forth Garachus, to…” Samet sat up. “Offer her anything she wanted if she could just help me bring my mother back. Varorgirin told me that Garachus would accept the offer, but it would be a trap. Death is a door that goes in only one direction, and all the power in the world cannot change that. Then she said…” He turned his eyes to Ethan. “That she would teach me how to make my mother proud of me.”
“She would be.” Ethan leaned forward and kissed him. “With all her heart.”
“I cannot ask you to stay in Rohil. We will move the court back to Castle Atrios. I think you’ll like it there, in the…” Samet suddenly blinked. “You will come with me?”
“Anywhere you go, my love.” He curled up again in Samet’s lap. “I am yours.”
He turned to look at Graham. “Yes?”
“With your permission, I would like to stay in Atrios a while longer.” Graham clasped his hands behind his back. “Between ending the war and taking the throne, King Samet will have a lot to handle. I would like to offer my assistance with the transition.”
“I thought you might.” Robert nodded. “There are going to be a lot of boundary disputes. Vadin conquered the entire south before turning his gaze east, and took six countries there. I am not certain some things can be restored.”
“Queen Brysala’s daughters are still here. Samet requested we take them back to Talidir with us.”
“Are they —” Robert started shaking his head.
“They are both fine, and it seems that Vadin treated his hostages somewhat better than his prisoners.” Graham gave him a reassuring nod.
“Good.” Robert was quiet for a moment, turning to look back out the window. “I am going to permit Margaret to marry King Sikander.”
“With the war done, the Coalition is dissolved. Adormen, Talidir, and Atrios together could make for a fine alliance. We can ensure things are settled peacefully and…” He shrugged. “Who knows, maybe we could finally build that university.” He took a deep breath. “There is a Sorcerer-King once more.”
“These are interesting times.” Graham nodded.
“Samet.” Graham nodded.
“Prelate Graham.” Samet smiled. “I was going to send someone to find you. There are some…” He glanced at the door as Sir Jakob opened it from the other side to allow someone to enter. “One moment, please. Ah, Lady Roshni.” Samet nodded at the woman. “Thank you for coming.”
“My lord, I…” She started to curtsy.
Ethan drew the dragonbone blade and with a smooth, backhanded motion, drove it into the woman’s throat. He twisted it before yanking it back out, then casually wiped the blood from it as the woman made a gurgling sound and fell to the ground. As soon as she stopped moving, her body suddenly caught fire and was reduced to a pile of ashes within the space of a few heartbeats.
Samet shrugged, then turned back toward Graham. “It seems the position of Right Hand has just opened up. Would you be so kind as to recommend a replacement?”
“I will…” Graham slowly nodded, noting that the woman had fallen upon a bare stone. Given that two servants immediately began sweeping up the ashes, he was beginning to suspect it had been intentional. “Provide a list of names for your consideration.”
“Thank you.” He glanced at the grinning Sir Jakob. “Was that the last of them?”
“Everyone on the list.” Sir Jakob nodded.
“Alright then.” Samet stood up from the desk. “When Robert has the chance, I would like to discuss with him keeping Sir Jakob in my service.”
“I am sure that can be arranged, my lord.” Graham clasped his hands behind is back. “My lord, may I inquire as to…”
“I promised Ethan I would do a bit of house cleaning.” Samet shrugged. “Thought it was a matter I should take care of immediately. I would appreciate it if Robert joined us for at least one dinner before you depart.”
“I was actually here because Robert and I discussed me…” Graham glanced at the servants. “How much house-cleaning have you done?”
“I am more or less starting this whole ‘court’ thing from scratch, actually.” Samet looked down at the parchment on his desk. “I do still have several generals, a steward, and…” He scanned a list. “A horsemaster. There are a dozen or so others my father sent away that I intend to re…” He looked up at Ethan. “We forgot Tatya.”
“She tried to make run for it, my lord.” Sir Jakob shrugged. “I, uh…” He smiled apologetically. “Attempted to apprehend her but she seems to have fallen from the ramparts.”
“How many times?” Ethan raised an eyebrow.
“Ah well, then we will also need a court healer.” Samet nodded. “As I was saying, there are some I can recall and a few acquaintances of my own that may be suitable for various roles.”
“King Robert has given his permission for me to stay a while, and assist you with the transition period.” Graham bowed.
“Thank you.” Samet started looking at the parchment again.
“Top right corner, under the inventory.” Ethan pointed.
“Right.” Samet retrieved the piece of parchment, then offered it to Graham. “The list of wards my father had his mages working on undermining. That should be passed on to whoever takes over as archmage.”
“What will become of your father’s mages?” Graham took the parchment.
“Well, some of them…” Samet waved a hand toward the bucket of ashes. “The rest will remain under my command. If the Covenant wishes them to join, they may ask, but I will not allow them to be forced.”
“Understood.” Graham tucked the parchment into his belt satchel.
“King Samet.” Margaret curtsied.
“Oddly enough, it’s still actually ‘Emir’.” Samet shrugged. “I hear congratulations are in order.”
She smiled, then blushed a little before turning toward Sikander. “It is going to be a much larger ceremony than we wanted. Symbolic of nations coming together, a new start and all.”
“And it is the first wedding Queen Tabitha has got her hands on.” Sikander smiled.
“That to.” Margaret chuckled. “Do you know if…” She hesitated. “Any word on Sarah?”
“Enesuriel assured me they are on their way. Something about acquiring a suitable mount.” He frowned. “The Beyond is an infinite realm. They must have gone quite far off the paths.”
“Sarah never really was good at maps.” Margaret shook her head. “Neither was Sir Vincent, actually.”
“You’ll need an heir.” Ethan swallowed. “You’ll have to find a queen.”
“Ethan?” Samet blinked and turned toward him.
“I don’t mind.” Ethan shook his head. “I mean, I’m not saying that we should —” He cut off as Samet caught him and kissed him, holding him close.
“Ethan.” Samet shook his head. “If there is to be a queen, then I leave finding her up to you. I am content with things the way they are.”
“But you need…” Ethan looked up at him.
“We can adopt an heir. Maybe we’ll also get a dog.” Samet caressed his cheek. “Who is your master, Ethan?”
“You are, master.” Ethan smiled.
“All I need, Ethan…” Samet kissed him again. “Is you.” Ethan started to pull Samet closer, and then there was a polite cough at the door. Samet’s eyes glowed faintly. “This had best be important.” He turned.
“It, uh…” Sir Jakob stood there, shifting his weight from foot to foot. “Well, you really need to come see this for yourselves.”
Robert watched Sir Vincent help Sarah down from the unicorn. A tiny woman that glowed with a warm light was flying in fast circles around them. Vincent stalked towards where Samet was standing. “I hate you so very much.”
“Unicorn.” Samet tilted his head and just stared.
“You’re back.” Ethan grinned.
“We’d have been back weeks ago except that little…” He made a growling sound before indicating where the pixie was flitting about them. “Insisted that we observe the protocols.”
“Enesuriel has protocols?” Ethan blinked.
“Unicorn?” Samet gave a small shake of his head.
Vincent shook his head in frustration. He took a few steps away, then turned to face Samet again. “She made me fight a dragon.”
“You…” Graham’s eyes nearly fell out of his head. “Fought a dragon.”
Vincent drew a sword out of the ornate sheath and held it up, revealing the blade glowed faintly with magic. “With an enchanted sword. That I had to pull out of a tree stump so old it had turned to stone.” He slammed it back into its sheath.
Sarah stepped back from where she was being hugged by her mother. “Sirens. I had to learn to play a magical harp to get him back.”
“Then there were goblins with riddles and…”
“We had to hold hands and jump down a waterfall.”
“And it took them a while…” Enesuriel flew in a spiral around them. “But they found the right reflection and got out of that part of the Beyond.”
“Then Vincent got cursed and I had to tame the unicorn so I could heal him.” Sarah threw up her hands.
“She turned me into a werewolf. A slavering beast.” Vincent pointed at Enesuriel. “I ate a bandit!”
“But first I had to find the unicorn, which involved having to dive into this pond which took us back in time eight thousand years.” Sarah ran her hand through her hair.
“Which apparently made me the very first werewolf and the origin of the curse in the first place.” Vincent shook his head.
“Then we were hungry so she took us to an apple tree and I ate one and got stuck in an enchanted sleep and then we were stuck because apparently for true love to work it needed to have been the first time we kissed.” Sarah exhaled.
“So I had to find a seraphim…” Vincent shook his head. “To do a blessing ritual.”
“And now they are married and can live happily ever after and make babies and I can be a faery godmother!” Enesuriel squealed. “Thank you, Samet. I made the best story ever!” She flew up, kissed Samet’s nose, then flew into the fountain and vanished.
“Wait…” Tabitha blinked.
“What?” Robert’s mouth hung open.
“Samet…” Ethan glanced at Samet.
“Oh bloody hell.” Samet ran his hand down his face. “You gave her chocolate, didn’t you?”