As requested, Gray told Lukas Fao only the pertinent parts of the story, what he felt the prince would find most important. Much of what happened between Tell and himself he did not share.
One thing in particular Gray did not tell the prince.
STEPPING OUT OF THE ROOM and closing the door behind him, Gray found Victor sitting on an ornate bench several doors away from theirs, giving them a measure of privacy. There was a book in the feeler’s hands, and his boots were propped on a nearby planter, which was the home of a short, sweet-smelling locust tree decorated with small gold bells. When Victor saw Gray, the book instantly closed and the man stood to his feet.
As had been his practice for years, Victor immediately began to give his report, using a quiet voice that didn’t carry more than a few paces. He spoke in Theranian, which was not a common language in Dasken; besides the two of them, it was likely that no one at the inn would be able to recognize more than three or four words in that tongue.
“The boy was accurately named.” Victor’s brows jumped up his forehead as he continued, “Indeed, I have never spoken with any child who frightened me more.”
So honest were the words that Gray started laughing, despite the heaviness that seemed to live now within him. “I imagine not.”
Victor opened his mouth as if he intended to say more, but he stopped before the words came. It was a question then. Victor and the others had learned early in the process that they could not ask about the mission. Gray’s business belonged to the king and—before the par’salthaine—his vow to the king’s throne had made it impossible to give his people many details of the king’s actions and concerns. Though Gray employed nearly forty individuals positioned throughout King’s Barrow and Dasken, they rarely knew more than one or two details of what Gray was doing.
But tonight was different. Gray could feel the difference within him side by side with the sorrow. Thinking of the par’salthaine, of Tell and the seer who tried to force other people’s steps, Gray stifled a groan and ran his hand down his face. “What is your question?”
If Victor were surprised that Gray asked, he didn’t show it. It was as if this request were something Gray had made numerous times in the past. “I was wondering where you found him. The boy is quite remarkable.”
That, Gray decided, would be one of the few details Victor would know. Though a part of the king’s business, it did not follow the throne closely and—if Victor said yes—it would be important to the king’s business overall. “In a slave market in Ar Pik,” he replied and watched the surprise jolt through the feeler’s expression.
“Then the child is even more remarkable. Indeed, how is it possible he came from a slave market?”
Gray paused. With any other gift, that question would be expected. But not with a skilled feeler. Victor looked like he was nineteen, but the actual number of his years measured closer to eighty. Feelers among the e’nethaine were exceptionally talented at using their gift simply because they had so much time to practice. “Surely you felt it.”
Victor frowned. “I have felt many things, but to what are you referring in this moment?”
Gray inclined his head toward the closed door he’d left Tell behind, several paces up the hall. “The boy has suffered greatly in his short life. Tormented by his master’s sons. Enduring the loss of his mother. Born a slave and suffering as a slave. You spent several hours with him—yet you suggest you cannot sense the trauma within him.”
Victor rocked back on his heels and peered around Gray at the door. A moment passed as the feeler seemed to consider his answer. “Yes,” he said at last. “I can feel the trauma. But it is not as I would expect it to be.”
Victor’s brows jumped up his forehead. “Any person but especially a child who has endured all the things you just mentioned—I should have known it right away. The loss of a parent feels a certain way, and yes, Tell carries that loss. Emotional and physical abuse feels a certain way, and yes, Tell carries those feelings, too. But they are not at the forefront. Interestingly enough, my strongest impression of him is that he reflects you. He feels like you. Indeed, if I did not know better, I would be led to believe that he grew up with you, in your house. That is how closely he matches you in his emotions. I would say that he is not given to fear, nor is he one who wrestles strongly with shame or disgrace.”
Gray didn’t know what to say, even though he searched for words. Eventually he offered, “He told me that he was going to pay attention to what I was feeling, in an effort to keep from being overwhelmed by his own emotions.”
Victor’s brows rose higher. “That is…quite wise of him. Certainly doable, but it takes practice.” And then: “How old is he?”
“Then he reveals his name all over again.”
“He feels like me?”
Victor’s lips bent in a slight smile. “I would expect there to be relation between the two of you, when there is none.”
Gray took a deep breath. In the quiet of the hall, he purposefully turned his thoughts away from everything the boy had lost this night. Tell might act like such a loss didn’t upset him, but that was only because he had never considered Tallus Rayme his father. With time that would change. “I have a request, but before I make it, I want you to know that I would choose you before anyone else for this venture but—second—I have others I can ask if you would prefer to do otherwise.”
“What is the request?”
Gray told him.
The man started smiling even before the request was complete. “Yes,” he said the moment Gray finished speaking. “I will do this.”
Gray had expected a positive response from this man; Victor was fairly easy to read in certain ways. Yet the relief still tugged at Gray and he could hear it in his voice as he said, “Good.”
FOR A LONG MOMENT, Lukas Fao was quiet.
On a bench on the other side of the room, Tell fiddled with the sleeve of his tunic and occasionally reached up to rub his eyes. The hour was late now, close to two in the morning, and Tell wore his desire to sleep like a cloak.
Gray waited for a response from the prince of Ra-Faal, and it came like wildfire crawling through dense trees. Lukas rose off the bench. His eyes snapped silver, though his voice sounded oddly calm as he said, “You are e’nethaine.”
Gray had already told him as much. Rising to his feet as well, he said, “Yes, your highness.”
“So answer me this. Why would a member of your race choose to place her allegiance with a seer who actively works to bend the whole of Dasken to his whims?”
Gray hesitated. That question had plagued him for days. Amie Avi, the right hand of a man who was not worthy of her, did not offer much of an explanation. “At this moment, I am not prepared to say. She must have a reason for it. Her gift would not allow her to give her allegiance lightly.”
“Is this why he titles himself the seer of seers? Because of her and the blood she possesses?”
Thankfully, that question Gray could answer with certainty. He shook his head. “We are many things, your highness, but we are not better or more skilled. The gifts of land and the gifts of sea are the same in their nature and conduct. I am a jeweler; I think like a jeweler and can do what other jewelers do. The gift is not different for me because of my blood alone.”
When Lukas didn’t answer, Gray continued, “Amie Avi is an archer. This, of course, does give her the ability to read situations and people and make informed judgments of what is about to happen. But she cannot predict the future any more than I can, so she doesn’t benefit the seer in that respect.”
He paused. “Also, the seer does not know she is e’nethaine.”
Lukas frowned and Gray hurriedly explained, “Because of the law that conceals the awareness of e’nethaine from land dwellers. He could not have broken such a thing on his own. In truth…” Feeling a little awkward, Gray knew a grimace was trying to flinch across his face. “He could not have broken the law without me to break it for him. So whatever her reason for dedicating herself to this man, it is likely her blood does not play a role.”
Lukas watched Gray in silence. He took his time before saying, “You have openly shared the secret of your blood with me. You broke what was inscribed by lawmakers, and I did not request that you do so. Indeed, I could not have made such a request because I didn’t know of the possibility. Why, then, did you choose to do so?”
Gray found he could smile. “I would think the answer obvious, your highness.”
Something flickered in the suspicious silver eyes, and Gray knew the answer was indeed obvious. But he spoke it anyway, out of respect.
“You are Shel Galen’s attachment. You are wisdom’s choice, and I would never purposefully overlook what wisdom has chosen.”
NEAR THREE O’CLOCK in the morning, Gray and Tell were finally released from the holding room. Accepting the prince’s late-coming invitation, they accompanied him and his guards to the fortress of Fao.
In the privacy of the shadowed carriage, Tell told Gray in a sleep-filled voice, “He didn’t say anything.”
Gray turned from the window to look at the boy’s silhouette on the other seat. “About?”
“Well, I would have thought that the death of Tallus and his sons meant more to him.” The boy rubbed his eyes. “That it would have meant something at least. But all he wanted to talk about was the woman.”
“I’m going to share a secret with you about our mutual friend Shel Galen, who has made Lukas Fao his attachment.” Gray turned on the bench so he could face Tell’s shadowy form head on. “Shel is a reader.”
“I know he’s a reader.”
“But he is also a sage. And a sage will always be able to do more than is expected, simply because he is wisdom. My friend Hamal has power, if you will, over the human body. As that is his realm, he can do many things other healers cannot. He can heal diseases that other healers find impossible—he can lift his hand and from a distance impact his enemies. Shel Galen, however, has power over what is written, for that is his realm. He is both a sage and a reader.”
“I don’t understand. What do you mean it is his ‘realm’?”
Gray glanced out the window as they reached the fortress gate. The carriage was quickly admitted, rolling after the prince’s carriage ahead of it.
“I mean that if it has been written, Shel has read it. He doesn’t have to possess the book or the letter or the private note; if it has been written, he has read it.”
“Wait,” Tell said.
Gray nodded. “Exactly. Think about those possibilities for a moment. Every single prophecy written down by his brother, the Prophet of Theraine, Shel has read and he remembers it because he’s a reader. He knows the contents of private letters and the secrets shared between thrones. His understanding of the earth and how it functions is so far beyond my understanding that, even with all my study and experience, I appear as a child beside him. Lukas Fao did not react to the report of the assassinations because he already knew it. Either he saw the deaths with his gift or—I believe this is more likely—Shel told him. In those few moments before Amie Avi’s seer wrote my name at the top of the page and sealed the words from all other eyes, Shel knew about the deaths and he reacted.”
Tell sucked in a breath that Gray heard even above the sound of soldiers, horses, and moving wheels. “Shel knew?”
As the carriage halted in the center court, Gray said, “Yes. And no doubt, we will find that he isn’t here. I anticipate that he left the fortress several days ago in an effort to save what could be saved. We know he did not make it in time, just as I did not make it in time—just as the seer predicted. I missed the assassin by moments only.”
Gray hesitated, the weight of grief fresh within him all over again. Taking a deep breath, he said, “But you should take this information to heart, my friend. Consider it wisely. Surely the man who purchased you at the slave market in Ar Pik is worth at least a portion of your trust.”
– 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.