His hip hurt and his back ached. Maybe it was a mistake to ride the full distance from Irbet to Demor in one go but Foe wanted to get home to his wife as soon as he could.
The stable hands took hold of Vesper’s reins, allowing Foe to slide himself to the ground as carefully as he could. He hobbled towards the stone steps leading to the garden. By the time he reached the bottom, the kink in his hip had worked itself out, allowing for him to walk normally to the entrance leading into the fortress.
He wasn’t the young man he used to be. Long before he had married Marcia, he would ride for days straight, exhausting both himself and his gryphon. There had been no aches or pains then, but those were different times.
Pushing open the door with one hand, Foe spotted the blonde haired woman standing on the walkway speaking with one of the servants. Her long gold curls shimmered in the light from the stained glass windows of the atrium. Their son - who straddled his mother’s hip - pointed towards Foe. Marcia turned to look at him, her eyes wide after realizing why her son had become so excited.
“Da!” the boy yelled, “Da’s back! Da’s back!”
Her eyes crinkled as she smiled, excusing herself from the servant as she hurried to greet him.
“Where the hell were yah?” Marcia’s voice had a tinge of frustration. “Yah leave without tellin’ me and now yah’re back and without the wee master healer. Charn isn’t going to be happy with yah.”
“It’s nice to see yah too, me love,” Foe smirked, giving the woman a kiss on the cheek, smelling vanilla on her skin. Her cheeks flushed as she glanced down at their son.
“I shouldn’ve chewed into yah like that when yah just got back,” Marcia sighed, patting him on the shoulder before standing on her toes to return the kiss. “It’s nice yah’re back. Now answer my question.”
“I doubt yah missed the light in the west?” Foe noticed her violet-blue eyes widen, as he scratched his beard. “From what we gathered the Snakes ran a raid on the Westy folk. There was no one alive when we got there, though we may have discovered a survivor.”
“Oh, Foe. That isn’t our land, love, what possible reason compelled yah to take such a risk?” Marcia lifted her hand to her mouth.
They had seen the light. It had filled every hall with its brilliance. No one had figured out the cause, and honestly, they had other matters to concern themselves with. Charn had ordered the council to explore the possible causes, but they hadn’t informed anyone that it had been from Morza, or that the South was involved.
“Caldor was supposed to meet with the Westy healer, but that ain’t gonna happen now. We went there to see if anyone survived, see if we could help. It was somethin’ from a nightmare, love, and I won’ share it to keep yar dreams sweet,” Foe took a deep breath before continuing, “me wee friend found the Westy healer’s book, but at the moment he’s focused on findin’ this survivor. I thought I’d skip home for a day or so to see yah and inform Charn of our findin’s.”
“Makes sense,” Marcia nodded, “although, I’d bathe before seeing him. Yah smell like yah’ve rolled in pig poop.”
Druce giggled at hearing his mother say poop. Marcia narrowed her eyes at his reaction to the word. Foe pursed his lips, giving a short snort before receiving the same disapproving glance.
“I’m sure Charn won’ notice. Here,” Foe reached for his son, picking the child up under the arms before holding him sideways under his arm like a log, “I’ll take this wee monster off yar hands. Give yah some peace for a while.”
“And keep Charn from tearing yah a new hole,” Marcia crossed her arms, lifting one brow at knowing her husband’s plan.
“That too,” Foe chuckled, bouncing his son as the child laughed. He leaned down to give his wife a kiss on the cheek. Taking two paces, he turned back to see the woman shaking her head. “I’ll see yah later, me love.”
He smiled, bowing his head before he lumbered off towards the second hall. At the end of the hall and up the flight of stairs, he heard irate shouting coming from the left room. It wasn’t Charn’s voice, but a group of women who clamored together to try and get their point across.
The door was open just enough to allow Foe to overhear the conversation. The group of Sisters reminded him of a brood of unruly hens. Their hair escaped their navy cowls, while the poor King sat low in his chair outnumbered by outraged women. It was the tallest and oldest of the women that took charge.
“I say we remove that wee fink!” the Sister growled. “I warned yah an outsider wouldn’ care about the prince. I said that we should keep the care of the prince within Derm, but no, yah let that Eastern imp take charge, and here we’re without him. The prince abandoned.”
“He’s got no reason to care about the prince, my King. Those wee folk don’ think us smart with keepin’ with the way things are run. They got their councils, but a true nation is run by kings. I wouldn’ be surprised if that wee man is tryin’ to kill the prince so yah got no heirs,” another of the Sisters added, while the brood nodded their heads in agreement.
Their ideas were ridiculous. Caldor had done nothing but care for the prince since the day the boy was born. Every improvement in the boy’s health was due to Caldor’s dedicated care. For years the old sage had worked himself to the bone to try and find some way of making the boy healthier. Did the King seriously believe such bull?
“I say his recent actions speak loud enough,” the tall Sister spoke up, turning to look at the others of her group that stood behind her. “I say dismiss him and put us in charge of the prince’s care.”
Foe had heard enough, he needed to say something. These women were trained healers, yes. They had tended to the late queen, and when Caldor was in La’reen, they took care of the prince, but the fact remained - Caldor was a Master of Healing and they weren’t. It shouldn’t have mattered if he was an Easterner or not, he had more knowledge and skill than that hostile horde.
Knocking on the door, he didn’t wait to be welcomed in. This was his castle. Those within the room were his guests. The only reason the Sisters of Mercy still resided in Demor was because of his wife. If not for Marcia, Foe would have shipped them back to Derlin or King’s Port without a second thought.
“My King,” Foe bowed his head, before putting his son on the ground. The little boy clung to his pant leg. His soft blue eyes studied the women in their baggy dresses and poufy cowls. Druce didn’t talk much, but Foe could tell his son was observing and absorbing everything around them.
“I’ll take what yah said under consideration, Sisters,” Charn straightened himself up in his saude leather chair. “Now, give me time with the Steward will yah.”
The brood waddled out of the room, slamming the door behind them. Foe forced himself not to roll his eyes, since Charn’s brow was heavy and jaw clenched.
“Before yah tear into me, we didn’ abandon yar son,” Foe said, hoping he could lower the tension. “We went to Morza to see if we could get information that could fix him.”
“And?” Charn growled.
“Morza was ravaged beyond repair. All we could get was a book that Caldor feels confident may hold a cure,” Foe replied, placing his hand on top of his son’s head before tussling his curls. “I left him in Irbet and will be meetin’ him in Downrow in a couple of days. Let him work on the translations and work on findin’ the survivor.”
“Survivor? Yah mean those Snakes bloody missed one?” Charn laughed. “Bloody shame. No Westy is worth air in my opinion.”
“We’ll see,” Foe didn’t want to engage Charn over this. No one deserved what happened in Morza. Not even those who were born of their enemies. The West had good people; plenty of which were Dermite at one time. “Are yah seriously considerin’ what those Sisters were orderin’?”
“Yah think I shouldn’? Why am I not surprised? Yah always had a soft place for the wee ones. They practically scurry yar halls like rats,” Charn grumbled, pushing back his chair before standing.
“Caldor left, I won’ make excuses for that - but they’re wrong with sayin’ he doesn’ care for yar son,” Foe had seen the hours Caldor spent in the apothecary.
The old sage had read every book available and spoke to every expert. The wee man may not have expressed his desire to see the boy well verbally but his actions showed Caldor cared.
Foe listened to Charn tap his hand along the edge of the wooden desk. The King was looking to the floor, as if thinking through what Foe had just told him. Charn wasn’t a stupid man, but he let his emotions drive his choices, which didn’t always result in the best decisions.
There were echoing footsteps in the hall; most likely a servant. The smell of cedar danced through the open window, filling the room with a cool freshness that Foe had only found in Demor. The velvet curtain swayed with the breeze, brushing over the small table between a set of sitting chairs under the window to the left. A door to the right led to the king’s sleeping chambers: Charn’s sleeping chambers until he left to return to Derlin at least.
Foe enjoyed the king’s visits. They had grown up together and survived the frontline together, but Charn was hard to handle in large doses. Foe often had to clean up after the king, explaining why he had been granted the position of Steward those years ago.
Closing his eyes for a moment, Foe took another deep breath. The Steward wanted to hear the king’s answers but he also wanted to ignore them.
Charn didn’t trust outsiders. Those of the East were too smart or rude in his opinion. The King didn’t trust the West because they were once from Sydrin, making them relatives to the enemy. Those fears and mistrust had been created when the border was defined by the king’s late grandfather. The North had been so open to outsiders before that time. Now, unfortunately, their ideals had changed to an us versus them mentality. Foe couldn’t think like that. He was too close to the border to allow himself to think like that. There were good people. There were bad people. Everyone was unique, and should have been looked at in such a way.
“The Sisters have done a well enough job fillin’ in,” Charn finally stated, sitting on the edge of his desk.
“Yeah, but they weren’ the ones that noticed his sickness. They didn’ give Cáel his lute or get the carpenter to make his chair. They can talk all they want, but the proof’s there that Cáel wouldn’ve lived this long if not for the wee outsider,” Foe remarked, noticing the King’s emerald glare and heavy brow darken his face. “Me wife can tend to yar son with the Sisters until we get back, and I’m certain Caldor’ll have answers for yah then.”
“He better,” Charn continued tapping his hand along the edge of his desk before standing again. “If he don’, then he’s gone.”