The Appearance of Water
For a long moment, Lukas Fao, prince of Ra-Faal, was quiet. He studied Gray with silver eyes that narrowed, then relaxed, then narrowed again.
“You,” the prince said at last, “have told me much more than I expected to hear.”
Gray half expected Tell, sitting on a bench on the other side of the room, to snort his agreement. The entire time Gray was speaking, the boy had been staring at him with an incredulous expression.
Gray nodded. “As I am certain you are aware, your highness, I did not tell you everything. There are a few pieces I kept in private. However, I didn’t see much reason to conceal any details that you likely already knew. You are Shel Galen’s attachment—and he likes to talk.”
Lukas just looked at him. A moment passed in awkward silence, and then the prince laughed under his breath and Tell started smiling. It was a relieved smile, or so Gray thought, and he took it to be an adequate judge of the situation. Feelers, as Tell was, would always be able to judge the “mood” of a room with accuracy.
“Perhaps it is so,” the prince replied and nodded at his guards, who turned and departed, closing the door behind them.
Gray let his breath out slowly, accepting the small sign of cordiality while it existed. He found he could not predict the prince. There were certain things he could guess about the man and other things he assumed were true because both of them knew Shel Galen, but overall Lukas Fao was a mystery. A seer who knew much more than he was told, and a mystery.
Lukas sank down onto the bench beside the door and stretched his long legs out before him. “I will tell you, Gray H’Adorin, the part of the story you have not asked me: why I requested this conference with you.” He frowned and shifted his weight, like what he was about to say bothered him. “First I will tell you that this man claims to be a seer of seers—those are his words—and given his record, I unfortunately find myself in agreement. To a point. As talented as he is, I have seen that he is insane. Completely mad. He does whatever he feels is necessary to ensure that the outcome he desires will occur.”
Lukas lifted one hand in a half shrug. “Granted, the outcome he desires seems to be positive, but he is behind more than one attack on my border patrol in the name of his positive outcome. He has sent me multiple letters in an attempt to explain his actions, and it is obvious that he does not perceive that he is causing harm. The outcome may be positive, but he is taking a negative road to reach it.”
Lukas’s gaze focused on Gray. “Now, what I wish to hear from you is your best judgment of this matter. Knowing my interactions with this seer, as well as my association with Shel Galen, what do you discern to be the most important element of your story? That is what I want to hear—the important point.” Leaning back against the wall, he added, “That is how I prefer all information to come to me: primary facts followed by secondary facts. Does Shel follow my preferences? Hardly.” He smiled. “But I find he is worth the effort anyway. And so.” He waved his hand. “Please continue.”
THE NIGHT FOLLOWING their adventures in Black Rock, Gray and Tell took a room at the Inn of the Green Spring in Devan, one of the largest cities on the border of Ser-Hina and Ar Pik. The inn was the most expensive in the city, and Tell’s feet began to drag the moment he and Gray stepped through the door. He reached out and grabbed Gray’s arm.
“Are you certain about this?” the boy whispered, looking around at all the elegant furnishings, the gold and silver that covered everyday items like lamps and dishes. Servants wore garments that would be considered finery in other regions of Ar Pik. Soft music wafted from musicians hidden behind a screen on the other side of the room.
“Every other inn we’ve stayed in has been…quaint. This is not quaint, Gray.”
“No, it isn’t.”
Gray had stayed here forty years ago and enjoyed the experience, but he had a better, more practical reason in mind for choosing this place tonight. Tell was a prince of Rak-Min—he needed to become familiar with finery such as this. If he did not find a home with his father, he would certainly find one with King Cedrick of King’s Barrow. No matter which direction the road turned for him, palace life was Tell’s future.
“Come along, Tell,” Gray said. “The change will be of benefit for you.”
“I don’t think I approve of this change,” Tell replied but allowed himself to be pulled along.
“Nonsense. At the very least, you’ll approve of the food. This inn hires jewelers to run the kitchen. Only the best. You’ll be impressed.”
They paid for a room, and a servant who wore nicer clothes than Tell did took them upstairs. The “room” was actually five rooms, with a private water closet, a separate room just for the bath, a dressing room, and two bedchambers, plus the common room in the center.
“I shouldn’t be here,” Tell said the moment the servant departed.
Gray laughed. “Remember the food. Just think of the food.”
“Can we eat right now? I think I need to eat right now.”
“Yes, we can.”
A few minutes later, they entered the elegant dining area, which was individual rooms separated by marble pillars and thick draperies strung with small lights called house stars—the makings of alchemists. Tell, clearly, had never seen house stars before. He stared at them, his mouth slightly open.
The food at the Green Spring was not something you ordered; it was brought to you soon after you sat down, as it would be at a king’s table. Tell’s eyes widened as the servants loaded their table with dish after dish, more food than two men could possibly eat. Everything elegant. Certain items delicate, some rich.
“You can’t be serious,” the boy whispered as the servants disappeared.
Gray grinned. “I told you that you would like it.”
Over the course of their extravagant meal, Gray showed Tell which utensils to use and when, as well as how to hold them; he also showed Tell which dishes were meant to be eaten right away and which were meant to come secondary.
“There are so many rules,” Tell murmured.
Again thinking of the future, Gray replied, “You’ll get used to it.”
The boy pointed with his spoon at something green and sticky looking in a shallow dish. “What is this green horror that tastes like mud?”
“It isn’t mud.”
“Well, it tastes terrible.”
“It’s made from cinnamon and saltwater crabs and is considered a delicacy.”
Tell sniffed. “Mud that is fancy. Don’t tell me I shall have to like this, Gray. That I will get used to it, because I won’t get used to it. It’s awful.”
Gray winked at him. “Give it time.”
TWO HOURS PASSED before they returned to their rooms upstairs.
Gray opened the door with the key and paused as he caught the faint scent of saltwater. He grabbed Tell’s shoulder before the boy could walk into the room ahead of him.
Tell looked up quickly. “What is it?”
From where Gray was standing, nothing in the room seemed out of order. What little he could see appeared to be empty. But the smell of the sea was unmistakable now, and as he and Tell waited in the hall, Gray heard the distinct sound of a page turning. Someone was reading a book.
Shaking his head at Tell, Gray leaned through the doorway and saw a woman sitting on the couch.
Her boots were propped up on the embroidered-silver stool in a manner that suggested laziness and leisure, though Gray instantly doubted either one was true. She was wearing boots, first of all, which meant she had a goal. A reason to wear boots in the desert. Her clothes were rough and sturdy, and she wore trousers as a man would. He saw two knives strapped to her left thigh and, as he focused on her face, he realized he knew who she was. She matched the description he’d received of her exactly. Lovely. Around forty years old. Swirling black lines extending from beneath the collar of her tunic. A tattoo of some kind.
This was the woman who worked for the seer. The one who delivered letters.
And she was e’nethaine.
This would be interesting.
It wasn’t uncommon to find an e’nethaine who worked for a lander in Dasken or King’s Barrow. Gray, indeed, was such a person—he had an employer, just as she did. But he had chosen his employer because he had looked at the king and seen the man’s wisdom. Based on his interactions with the seer so far, he could not believe that this woman had made her decision for the same reason. It wasn’t because she thought the seer wise. Neither was it because she was afraid for, as Tell had recently pointed out, the e’nethaine didn’t have much reason to be afraid. So she had a different reason, some other motive, for serving this man.
Gray stepped into the room. “Cousin,” he said in Theranian, giving the old greeting that the earth had heard many, many times. Though the blood was somewhat diluted by this point, somewhere in the past he shared a common ancestor with this woman. Every person in Theraine could trace his or her roots to the same handful of people.
She looked at him over the top of her book and then, with a sigh, set the volume aside as she climbed to her feet. She was older than he was; he guessed that in the years of soil, as landers would count them, she was somewhere between five and six hundred. His father’s age. But she appeared to be no more than forty.
“Cousin,” she greeted in reply, in the same tongue. “My name is Amie Avi. I have been instructed to deliver something to you.”
Reaching into one of her many pockets, she withdrew an envelope and held it out to him.
He recognized the emblem pressed into the red wax seal and folded his arms. “I have no association with your employer whatsoever,” he said, forcing his voice to sound casual as if this were nothing more than a business deal he did not desire to pursue.
She shook the letter once. A sign of impatience, though her expression remained the same. “I think you will want to read this.”
A moment slid by in silence.
Gray thought a few words that would make Shel Galen frown at him and took the envelope.
– H –
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Copyright notice: © 2018 by Lauren Stinton. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.