A Matter of Intelligence
Shel was fond of taking his evening meal in the prince’s famed pit gardens, where water flowed like music and the high stone walls were covered with flowering vines. Everything was green and rich and thick; it was like someone had scooped up a section of the Dhalbou Jungle in Theraine and carefully replanted it in a hole in Ra-Faal, in the middle of the prince’s fortress.
When supper was over and the musicians had departed, Nari smiled at Gray, and he remembered her description of these gardens and how much she expected he would like them. And she was right. The air was heavy with moisture, and the water spoke to him and seemed to tug at him, recognizing itself within him.
He took her hand. She stopped speaking as he touched her; it was like her healer gift needed a moment to adjust to the differences in his system.
“Did the boy seem quiet to you this evening?” he asked.
Nari still referred to Tell as Lost, the name the boy had claimed at the beginning. Until Tell told her differently, that was the name she would be forced to use. Gray, annoyed at the entire situation, wasn’t going to call him something he wasn’t, so the boy would have to do. But it was a pity.
They were walking near a small falls that toppled from a pipe cleverly concealed in ivy. The ornate iron sign in front of the pool read, With the Blessing of Animena, Princess of Ra-Faal. Gray recognized that name—she was Lukas’s great-grandmother.
“It’s difficult to say,” Nari replied. “He’s always quiet when Shel is nearby.”
That was true.
As they meandered through the gardens, Nari pointed out her favorite places and where she’d had long conversations with Shel about interesting topics: Lukas’s ancestors, why Ra-Faal was different than other provinces in Dasken, prophecies that had already come to pass and ones the province yet waited to see fulfilled.
Half an hour later, the path turned and they suddenly came upon Tell, sitting alone in a small clearing surrounded by pools filled with hedgewood water roses. The boy’s face was lined with such concentration that Gray tugged on Nari’s hand and drew her backward along the path.
“Wait,” he whispered to her as they took up position behind an ample bell tree, so named for the peculiar shape it grew in naturally. The leaves were pale green in early spring, as it was now, but they would yellow during the summer. It was a tree found only in a royal garden.
Nari turned more deeply into his embrace and set her hand on his chest. In silence, they watched the boy as he obviously tried to sort something in his head. His forehead would crease and then relax and then crease again.
Unease turned in Gray’s abdomen. What was the problem? He had no idea. Tell hadn’t been very open with him the last few days. After their arrival in the city, the boy had withdrawn, putting distance between them, and had given no explanation for his actions. As skilled as he was with his feeler gift, Tell would know the moment someone’s attitude toward him changed; such a thing would surely cause him to rebuild walls Gray had diligently worked to tear down. But as far as Gray was concerned, no change in attitude had occurred.
Just as he was thinking the polite thing to do would be to give the boy privacy, over the soft sounds of flowing water came a cheerful whistle. He knew that sound—Shel was coming.
Tell apparently knew it as well. Straightening up on the bench. He ran his hands over his clothes and adjusted his tunic on his thin frame. For a moment Gray thought the boy might run, but Tell lifted his chin stubbornly and stayed where he was.
On the other side of the clearing, Shel stepped into view. The whistling stopped at the same moment Tell jerked to his feet.
“Oh,” Shel said. “I didn’t mean to disturb you. I’m looking for Gray and Nari. Have you seen them?”
Behind the bell tree, Gray rolled his eyes. Gray and Nari, the objects of Shel’s supposed search, stood well within his view. At the bench Tell would have trouble seeing them, but Shel would not.
Tell took a deep breath. Gray watched the boy’s chest expand and then contract, and he felt his own chest begin to grow tight as he perceived the boy’s anxiety.
“Sir,” Tell began, “I would like to…to apologize for my disrespect over this past month. I have no excuse for it, other than I believed something about you that I have since realized is untrue. I will strive not to allow it to happen again. My name is Intelligence.”
When he said those last words, it was like the garden began to hold its breath. Tell must have noticed, because he glanced around and then turned his attention back to Shel.
Gray watched the tension seem to leak out of the boy’s body. Something happened—Gray wished he could hear exactly what Tell was thinking, for it was like the boy’s thoughts and emotions shifted from one place to another in the span of a heartbeat.
“My name is Intelligence,” the boy said again, with greater confidence. He smiled slightly. “But most people call me Tell.”
Only one person called him Tell. Gray was that one.
But with these words, the boy made certain that from this day forth, Tell would be his name.
LONG INTO THE NIGHT, Gray considered his options.
He thumbed through Shel’s words to him five or six times, weighing them carefully like a goldsmith. He thought about the vow he’d made the throne of King’s Barrow all those years ago, when that throne was only a few hundred years old. With the addition of the par’salthane, he would now have to lean on wisdom more than ever.
Finally, at last, he did as that wisdom directed.
When Tell woke up the next morning—early, just after the first lights of dawn—Gray was sitting on the table in the boy’s room, just as he’d sat on the table in Shel’s room one day earlier. But in this instance, he let the boy see him.
Gray knew Victor was sitting in a chair next to the door, a book in his hands. In his shifted state, Victor appeared in general form only; Gray couldn’t see details such as the man’s expression. But he could tell that Victor was staring at him, as he’d been doing since Gray had walked in half an hour ago.
A good twenty paces stretched between the door and the bed, where Tell lay. Victor had left himself enough room to keep the other feeler from sensing his presence.
Tell sat up slowly, looking at Gray with suspicion, like he expected bad news.
Gray took a deep breath. Here it began. The unpredictable movement of wisdom.
“Your mother,” he said after a long pause, “fell in love with the prince of Rak-Min when she was eighteen years old. After seeing her just one time, he began to write of her in his private journals. He became a poet at the sight of her face. If you wish to know exactly what he wrote, Shel could tell you. He is the one who told me about the journals. All I’ve read are a few letters that passed between them.”
Tell blinked. Something that looked like surprise glinted in his features.
Gray felt himself relax, just a bit. This wasn’t as difficult as he’d thought. “Your father loved your mother. When his wife learned of the affair, she secretly arranged to have your mother sold—far away in the province of Gol, where you were born. Your father knew you existed and searched for you. His men managed to track your mother to Gol, but by the time they arrived to collect you, you had been sold to Areth, the landowner in Ra-Faal. You know the rest. Your father never found you. I myself was able to find you only after a detailed search that landers could not have accomplished. You were the reason I was in Ar Pik. I was looking for a lost member of the king’s family.”
Tell said nothing.
Gray leaned back against the wall. “You had two brothers. One was a year older than you, and his name was Sidus. The other was four years younger, and he was called Petras. You are the only surviving son of a man who carried the blood of Morden Rayme, and I had every intention of introducing the two of you one day.”
Gray paused. “You were going to know your father. That was my desire for you. You were going to get to be a son in his house, as is fitting—finally. From what I know of Tallus Rayme, he would have fully accepted you as his own. Though not without his faults, he was a father who loved his children. I wanted you to be able to experience what was denied you.”
Something crossed the boy’s face, but Gray couldn’t read what it was. Reaching up and rubbing the back of his neck, he frowned at the boy across the room.
“Tallus Rayme was similar to Lukas Fao in certain ways. You will find that many men and women in the House of Rayme are not just noble in their birth; they possess nobility in their hearts, to a degree. It is stronger in some than in others. That is the nature of their blood—your blood. Shel could tell you a great many things about your house. He has a high opinion of your family for several reasons, one of which is that many years ago, Morden Rayme was his attachment. His closest friend. That means a great deal to a sage.”
Again, something flickered through Tell’s expression.
Gray studied the boy. “Here is what you need to know, son. That night in Ar Pik when I told you that you would need to learn how to eat at the king’s table, this was why. Because I intended that you would be at that table one day. It is your birthright. Unfortunately, the situation has changed and I…I won’t be able to do for you everything I wished. Whether you desire it or not, you are now the crown prince of Rak-Min. But you don’t need to be concerned about this. You will learn everything you need to know for this position; Shel and I will see to that. No one can teach the way Shel can teach.”
Tell still said nothing.
After waiting for as long as he dared, Gray prodded, “Do you have any questions for me? I know you are not exactly surprised by this news.” He grunted. “In truth, you barely let anyone keep secrets from you. Despite what the world has tried to do, you have proven stronger than they.”
Eventually the boy breathed and asked, “Why are you telling me all these things? Until now, you have refused to tell me anything.”
Gray gestured toward him. “After…consideration, I have realized you will need to know these things. Sooner than you think. There is no official record of you in Rak-Min, so it is possible there will be a contest for the throne. If a way exists to avoid bloodshed, we would be wise to take it.” He hesitated, feeling the weight of doubt. “I had to tell you. You are a member of the king’s family. How could I not tell you?”
Tell straightened. “But you learned of me from letters written by my parents. How can there not be any proof?”
“I did discover you in those letters. It took me two weeks to find them, buried as they were by a reader.” He grimaced. “Unfortunately, that reader is Drake Bains, a man who is more interested in his own pursuits than he is in the truth. Knowing Drake as I do, I think it very likely those letters have already been destroyed.”
“Because he doesn’t have the time. As far as he knows, you’re just a slave somewhere in Dasken, lost to the throne forever.” Gray blew out his breath. “Also, he doesn’t know if he can use you. Drake is an opportunist. Shel and I both think it likely that he will take advantage of this situation and try to put his own man on the throne. Using his reader gift in a way the gods did not intend, he will produce a descendent from the House of Rayme and ignore you altogether. He thinks he has nothing to fear from a slave.”
As those words spread through the room, Gray smiled slowly. “But never has a reader been more deceived.”
AN HOUR LATER when Gray stepped from Tell’s room, he found Shel waiting for him out in the hallway.
“I’ve been thinking about your assassin problem.” Shel paused to rub his nose with his thumb. “And I have an idea.”
“What’s the idea?”
Shel smiled and nodded up the hallway. “Walk with me and I will tell you.”
– 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.