“Are we certain about this?” Tell asked.
“No, we are not,” Nari replied.
Shel made a noise that, to Gray, sounded like laughter at the beginning but ended as a groan. On the other side of the room, Lukas Fao began shaking his head as if that was a noise he’d heard several times through the years. He was Shel’s attachment—so that was likely true.
The sage gestured widely as he declared, “Of course we are certain about this. Where is your faith? The worst possible outcome is that you, Nari, will need to remove poison from Tell’s bloodstream. As an Islander, you are an expert in poisons, so this will not be difficult for you.”
“I am unfamiliar with poisons from the mainland.”
“That means nothing. Even if you don’t recognize the specific type of poison, you know what a person’s blood is supposed to look like, so you will still be able to remove what shouldn’t be there.” Shel paused. “Granted, some poisons are harder to chase down in the blood than others—there are several books available on this topic. Very interesting reading. But anyway, you’ve had more experience with difficult poisons than nearly any healer on the continent. Other than my grandson, of course.” Laughter bubbled out of him. “What an image that would be, eh? You and Hamal should work on a case together sometime. I can picture the two of you crouched over a body, both of you trying to determine the type of poison that was used.”
Tell lifted his hand. When Shel looked over at him, he said, “I would prefer it if we did not use the word body.”
“Oh, very well. But I must say, the two of you are incredibly squeamish. It is just poison. Not anything serious.”
Nari looked at him with wide eyes. “By the gods, what would you consider to be serious?”
Shel had obviously given the matter some thought, for he answered without hesitation. “A dragon. Dragons are serious because they actually remove parts of the body. Then not only do you have to heal the person, but if you want him to be fully restored, you have to do the messy task of actually finding all the body parts and putting them back together.” He shuddered. “A messy business. I do not approve of dragons. They are the symbol of gods whose names cause pain upon the earth. So no matter what anyone says, I just cannot be brought to fear a poison.”
“The assassin has killed three people so far and intends to kill a fourth with this poison,” Gray stated.
Nari huffed. “And Shel wishes to sit down to supper with him!”
Shel turned to her, both arms lifted above his head. “Where is the risk, my dear? We are going to have not one, not two, but three e’nethaine standing guard over us tomorrow. That’s more than the throne of King’s Barrow has at any given time, and after seven hundred years, I would say they’re doing an excellent job.”
Gray groaned and rubbed his face with both hands.
“The throne of King’s Barrow has e’nethaine guards?” Tell asked.
“Cedrick employs e’nethaine?” Lukas asked at the same time.
Shel looked back and forth between them and pretended to be surprised. He set his hand on his chest. “Oh. Did I say that—out loud?”
Gray just shook his head. This was the kind of situation Shel Galen ate for breakfast. He loved this sort of thing, where he could step in and surprise everyone with statements that seemed outlandish but were actually quite realistic, thank you. Shel could be dramatic in ways his grandson was not. And every time, it was difficult for Gray not to laugh. A sage given to drama was quite different than any other person who was just as dramatic. When a sage was dramatic, it wasn’t because there was no hope—it was because there was great hope.
“Listen to me well, people,” Shel said more seriously, but not that seriously. “The throne of King’s Barrow has been carefully guarded by e’nethaine since King’s Barrow was founded. That was a decision made by Gray’s kin several years ago, when Morden was just the heir of Dasken. Knowing what the gods intended to do with the House of Rayme—specifically, with the throne of King’s Barrow—they chose to protect the king, out of reverence. The throne of King’s Barrow does not know about its guards, of course. In fact, there are some who would consider this a great secret.”
“A secret you joyfully exposed,” Gray chided.
“Well, if they did not wish me to speak of it, they should not have told me.”
The words were ridiculous, just as Shel intended. He was a library of secrets, and what he chose to keep hidden and what he chose to tell—all of this was done with wisdom. He did not speak a single word that had no purpose.
Not even now, when he gave away secrets and unsubtly pushed Gray to do the same. Gray knew what this was and—more important—Shel knew he knew what it was.
Gray sighed and glanced through the room. Six of them had gathered here, in a little house three hours away from the fortress of Fao, where Lukas presided. Nari and Tell. Shel and Lukas. Victor, leaning up against the wall. The feeler had made his presence known last night, when Gray had brought him in to discuss Shel’s plan. Victor was more sociable than some men; he didn’t actually enjoy his shifted form as much as he enjoyed this—being a known and accepted part of the action around him.
Assigning him to Tell was a good idea. For Victor and Tell both.
Victor met his gaze across the room and a corner of the feeler’s mouth lifted, a sign he sensed exactly what Gray was feeling.
The smell of salt hit the air, faint and drifting. Victor glanced over at the door, and Gray knew he sensed it, too—someone was coming.
In the few seconds they had before the guard alerted them, Gray took a breath and finally did what Shel was pushing him to do. It was the work of wisdom after all, and wisdom should always have its work. “It is actually not uncommon to find e’nethaine employed by oblivious landers on the continent.”
Lukas’s silver eyes narrowed. “Go on.”
Gray shrugged with his hands. “In many ways, there is very little difference between a healer, for example, who is lander and a healer who is e’nethaine. The main difference is that the e’nethaine isn’t planning on eighty or a hundred years; he is planning for a full lifetime. He is thinking in terms of his children and grandchildren and how he can improve their futures. Given wisdom and enough time to think about it, a person will always begin to plan for his life on a much larger plain. So if an e’nethaine is going to work for a lander, he will choose a house that will somehow benefit his later generations. Something solid and firm, one that possesses wisdom.”
Lukas’s head tilted as he studied Gray. “Are you and Shel attempting to tell me I have e’nethaine on my staff as well?”
Gray hesitated. “Perhaps.”
“Of course we are!” Shel replied. “You employ more e’nethaine than any man in Dasken! And every single one of them would be honored if you knew, because they respect you. They like you. But until this moment, they’ve never had the opportunity to present themselves to you.”
There was a knock on the door.
A few moments later the door opened, courtesy of one of the guards sitting watch outside. In the middle of a small town like this, he was dressed like a poor fisherman and carried a book in his hand.
“Entrance request from Eban Salmas,” the guard said.
“Let him in!” Shel called grandly.
After exchanging brief words with the guard, a man stepped into the house. He was young—landers would judge him to be about twenty—and he had a pleasant face. Not overly handsome, but engaging all the same. In the few days he had spent at the fortress, Gray had spoken with Salmas and discovered he was seeing one of the kitchen maids. They were hoping to be married later this year, in the fall.
The maid was a weathermaker. Salmas, however, was an artist who showed remarkable talent for one so…young.
Salmas paused as his gaze fell upon the prince. Gray knew something much stronger than surprise slowed the younger man’s steps.
When the door was closed once more and the room hidden from the street’s gaze, the artist bowed to the prince. “Your highness.”
“Thank you for your participation, Salmas,” Gray said.
“Of course, sir.”
Lukas was looking at Salmas with clear suspicion in his silver eyes. He knew; he had to know, given the circumstances, but he waited for the situation to be explained to him before he responded.
Gray began, “Your highness, you already know a good deal about our intentions here. With your permission, I would like to explain what has not been shared with you. Our assassin has an employer, a man he met with face to face. We know he met with him face to face because no letters were exchanged between them; nothing was written down.”
Lukas glanced at Shel, who nodded.
“We don’t care about the assassin—after tomorrow he will no longer be a threat. What we do care about is the employer.”
Gray gestured toward Salmas. “Eban Salmas is the most talented artist in Fao. Not because of his skill with glass, for which he made a name for himself early on. But because he does not have to touch a person to know the working of that person’s mind. As you know, your highness, the artist gift requires proximity in order to mind read. That is true no matter the level of the artist’s experience; however, with time—a good deal of time—an experienced artist can eventually produce the same result just by spending time in a person’s presence. Salmas here is going to sketch the assassin’s employer for us, and the assassin won’t know he is freely giving away secrets until it is too late.”
Gray heard himself say those last words and frowned. Until it is too late? He was starting to sound as dramatic as Shel.
Lukas grunted as he stared at the seemingly young artist in his employ. At last he asked, “How old are you really?”
“One hundred ninety-five this summer, your highness.”
“Now that we are all acquainted,” Shel said and rubbed his hands gleefully. “This is what we are going to do.”
– H –
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Copyright notice: © 2019 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.