What Grief Can Tell
With the exception of one, Gray knew every palace in Dasken well enough to get where he wanted to go, observe people of question, and uncover minuscule details of note. He’d had three centuries to build his library of experience and information.
The only palace he did not know as well as the others was the fortress of Fao, in Ra-Faal. A good deal of respect existed between the throne of King’s Barrow and the throne of Ra-Faal; King’s Barrow had never felt much need to spy on Lukas Fao or his predecessors.
Several guards stood alert outside the prince’s quarters. Gray counted eight men at various positions along the hallway as he slid past them and eased on his belly beneath the prince’s closed door, jumping to his feet on the other side.
The large room was quiet. A single pillar candle burned in the far corner by the window, and only one body lay in the bed. Anadusa, the princess, often visited her sister in Ser-Hina, and Gray assumed she was there again. He stepped up next to the massive four-post bed where Tallus seemed to be in deep sleep. For a moment, Gray allowed himself to think that was all this was—restful, peaceful sleep. Tell’s father. The man who had loved Tell’s mother and lost her. The man who had tried to find her, who would have accepted their son alongside his other children, if he had just been able to meet him. Gray knew this man, and as he reached forward to set his fingers against the side of the prince’s neck, under the jaw, his heart was already grieving.
The skin was still warm. But there was no heartbeat.
Gray squeezed his eyes shut, weight dropping heavily through his system. He felt tangible pain in his body, but it wasn’t for Tallus—it was for Tell, the son who had just become an orphan, who had suffered horrific injustice yet again.
Gray felt the pain, heartbeat by heartbeat; he let himself feel it. Then he filled his lungs, dropped his head back, and alerted the guards with a scream borne by every ounce of pressure and despair building in his chest. The room seemed almost to capsize, going from a place of peace to something shuddering and alarmed.
Even before he’d lost half his breath, the door was thrown open and the guards rushed in. Gray knew that one of them was a healer—there were always healers among guards, in case something like this happened. In case of an unexpected attack on the prince’s life. Perhaps. There was the slight possibility of hope, if the heart had stopped only a few seconds ago. Hamal would be able to save Tallus’s life. Hamal could work miracles.
The healer in the group—a younger man, tall and lanky—rushed the bed and set his hand on the prince’s shoulder. As he cried out to his companions, Gray sprinted for the son’s room just down the hall, where Tallus’s eldest child slept.
The moment he slid under the door, he knew. The boy—just fifteen years old—didn’t stir in the bed, despite the commotion out in the hall. Gray gripped the bedpost and stared before spinning on his heel and running to the next room, that of the youngest son. A boy only ten years old. This time Gray made certain with contact, as he had with the father. He pressed his fingers to the boy’s neck and waited for a long moment in which he hoped desperately that he was mistaken, but then he groaned and withdrew his hand.
All three of them. Killed by a shadow. The king’s cousins. The entire continent would mourn what had happened here. The House of Rayme was the backbone of King’s Barrow and Dasken both together. Not many would dare to touch it in malice. They would bring down on their heads the wrath of a continent, not a single throne by itself.
Gray took a breath, then another, trying to quell the anger catching fire in his bones. Tell’s heritage had been housed in this palace; it had been kept and protected for him here, and someone had stolen what rightfully belonged to him. Gray looked at the window on the other side of the boy’s bed. The hunter had succeeded in his quest tonight; he had killed innocent children here. But now Gray would have a hunt of his own.
He searched the entire palace—from the hidden passageways running under the roof and down through the walls, known only to the prince and a handful of elite palace servants, all the way to the dungeon cells buried four stories below the earth. Gray checked every one of them, and as the sun rose casting gold and shadows, he checked the sewers that extended from the dungeon out into the city. No hole, no exit, no nook or passage from the palace went untouched in his mad search.
But he found nothing. The thiever named Welk didn’t leave a single hint of his route.
NINETEEN HOURS LATER, Gray stepped into the Inn of the Green Spring. Though he had spent the last several hours submerged, his entire body ached to return to the water. A distance lay between the spring and the inn, and the spring here at its head was small, but those things didn’t matter in this moment; he could feel the gurgling water pulling on his senses, which worked to make everything worse.
He had traveled on foot from the garden, giving his clothing a chance to dry. Knowing his appearance would likely produce a gasping, negative reaction at an inn as fine as the Green Spring, he maintained his shifted state as he walked through the main entryway and up the stairs. No one here knew of the sudden changes coming to Dasken; no one here could fathom the weight Gray carried. He felt distant and separated, grossly set apart.
Outside the room he shared with Tell, he paused as the cadence of a familiar voice drifted through the door. He nearly shifted—that would have been the polite thing to do—but as exhausted as he was, he was still curious, and Tell knew him well enough by this point not to mind the occasional bout of bad manners.
Gray slid beneath the door to come upon a scene that immediately lifted just a little bit of the weight inside of him. Tell was sitting on the couch with an expression of wonder on his face as Victor, an e’nethaine in Gray’s employ, told a story with his arms raised, hands spread wide. This was how Victor always told stories—with his whole body. His arms were always up and waving, his face a painting of one emotion after another. It was impossible not to pay attention when Victor was telling a story.
There was a slight pause in the narrative as Victor noticed Gray’s presence, but he jumped back into his tale and Tell didn’t seem to notice that someone else had joined them.
“So there I was,” Victor was saying, arms extended. “It was close to three in the morning. The frigid air smelled of salt so rich and thick that it was almost like standing in the middle of the sea. It was the kind of cold that squeezes your nose and lungs and makes the act of breathing nearly impossible. But I was, of course, the only one shivering. I, the lone feeler in the group. Everybody else was a weathermaker, and then there was Gray, who never seems to notice the weather at all. Have you observed that about him yet? Thunder, downpour, lightning, snow—the jeweler just doesn’t care. Don’t distract the jeweler! Just leave him be, because you won’t win anyway.”
Tell rocked back on the couch in his laughter. Despite the way exhaustion clung to his bones, Gray smiled at the sight and sound of Tell’s pleasure. This was what he wanted for Tell—ease and merriment and laughter, all of these things unhindered.
“So,” Victor continued, “all the pirates were supposed to be dead. That was what Gray told us. They were dead and there was no reason for us to suspect otherwise. But, well, you know how it is.” Shaking his head, he set his hand on his chest and released a dramatic sigh. “You can never trust a jeweler.”
Tell chortled. It seemed the story had been going on for quite some time, based on the light in his eyes.
I am sorry about your father, Gray thought as he looked at the boy and felt the smooth, unstoppable blade of regret. I am sorry about your brothers. I was going to make certain you knew them, that you knew about the letters your mother wrote, that you knew you were always wanted. I was going to do these things for you. And I lost.
The laughter unexpectedly halted. Tell straightened on the couch and looked over at the door—right at Gray, almost like he could see him. “Gray?” he asked, brows rising like he was not quite certain.
Victor actually lowered his hands. “By the sea,” he exclaimed. “You can feel him from there? That’s remarkable. No wonder he’s so fond of you.”
Tell didn’t even have the grace to look surprised. He climbed to his feet slowly and looked at Gray, a somber shadow replacing the light that had been there just a few moments ago. “You were unsuccessful,” the boy said. It was not a question. He clearly could feel the answer the way other gifts would be able to feel wind or sunlight or a fire’s heat.
Gray sighed. “I was unsuccessful.” And then, because he couldn’t bear it, he bumbled his way into a change of subject. The transition was awkward and he knew it was awkward, but he couldn’t manage to focus and do anything of greater cleverness. “Now what lies has this man been telling you about me?”
Victor was gracious in his response. He pretended the change in topic was always the plan. Gasping with fervor, he brought an offended hand to his ribs and said, “I, sir? Tell lies? I am a feeler and thus bound by truth.” He snorted and nodded toward Tell. “Besides, if I told lies, I daresay this one would know it instantly. He is a feeler of feelers.”
But it was like Tell didn’t even hear him. Gray studied the boy’s expression, the way he held himself, and realized he should have known better than to try to dissuade a feeler named Intelligence.
Tell was quiet. Eventually he glanced at Victor and frowned slightly, as if trying to determine something, and he must have determined it well, for he soon shifted his gaze and attention back to Gray. He took a breath, released it as a sigh, and spoke in a voice filled with emotions that Gray could see written on the boy’s countenance.
“The only reason I would grieve was because you do,” Tell whispered.
Wait, Gray thought, staring at the boy. Wait. What had Tell managed to deduce, completely on his own? Gray hurriedly reviewed past conversations and what he might have said to give the situation away. But no—he knew he had said nothing that would alert Tell to how the seer’s letter last night would affect him personally.
Turning to Victor he said, “Thank you for your assistance, cousin.”
Victor bowed dramatically.
“If you would wait for me in the hallway, I want to speak to you in private. I will…join you shortly.”
Victor nodded and stepped out.
In the quiet, Gray folded his arms and looked at Tell closely. “What do you think you know?”
A slight smile moved across Tell’s mouth. Gray could read him the way Hamal could read bones: Tell didn’t think he knew something. He was confident in his knowledge. “It wasn’t very hard,” the boy murmured, pride mixing with his subdued tone.
“Did your mother tell you?” Gray asked.
Shadow slid across Tell’s face. The few times Gray had mentioned the boy’s mother, a similar reaction had occurred, but this time the shadow was not dark enough to put out the gleam in Tell’s eyes. “All she would tell me was that he was a powerful man in Rak-Min.” He made a noise deep in his throat. “I used to pretend he was the king. I would tell myself all these stories—you know, the workings of a little child’s imagination.” Tell’s lips twitched. “I was surprised to learn how close I was to the truth.”
Gray held up his hand. “I cannot confirm your thoughts in this matter, Tell. I can tell you nothing. I can’t even tell you why I can’t explain.”
“You don’t have to tell me anything,” Tell quickly assured him. The boy shifted his weight and glanced at the door. “I will speak, and you can listen and see how I do.”
A feeler named Intelligence.
Gray nearly groaned. And for a long moment, all he could think of was how proud the prince of Rak-Min would have been of his son.
– 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.