Otelius sighed as the door to the king’s chamber slammed open and hit the adjacent wall. He placed a finger to his lips, and the prince of Haiathiel gave an apologetic bow before dragging the taste-tester to Aliasse’s side.
“Where have you been?” Aliasse asked him.
“Remove your amulet and look at me,” Cal demanded. Behind him, Otelius raised an eyebrow at his tone.
Aliasse straightened her spine and asked, “What’s going on, Cal?”
At Avi’s discreet nod, Aliasse reached into the front of her tunic for the cord of the amulet that Fitch had given to her. Again, Avi flinched away from its power though the prince seemed unaffected. She pulled it over her head, dropped it on the night-table and then turned her eyes to Cal.
“Look at me.” He leaned towards the woman seated beside his father’s bed. With one hand, he cupped her face.
In response, Aliasse moved his arm away. “Why are you acting like this? Oh…Even without my amulet, the aura you had is gone.”
Cal stumbled back and to the astonishment of all, began to laugh with delight. Otelius was certain the prince had gone mad when the young man began to shake his father awake. Despite protests from the steward and the two dearest to him, Cal finally got the attention of a rather drowsy Aelius.
“What is it, my dear boy? Did something happen?”
“Look at me. What do you see?”
“My dear beloved son. My eyesight is fine, you know,” Aelius murmured. “Otelius says it’s my hearing that’s going.”
Avi made a sound akin to a “tsk” as Otelius cleared his throat. Pointing out such was improper for a royal servant. Aliasse laughed at the both of them and then hushed as Cal placed his golden head against his father’s chest.
“Your heart still beats strongly, Father.”
“It beats for you, Cal. I will not leave you until you are king.” The promise brought tears to his son’s eyes.
Following Otelius’ cue, the others exited the room.
Outside, in a spare parlor, I explained to Otelius and Aliasse about Cal’s desire to have his father see him without his glamour. The fact that Cal had a glamour at all did not ruffle Otelius in the least; the steward was observant and likely had guessed.
Then, I broke the news about Forthwright’s death. Otelius seemed satisfied that the man who had threatened the kingdom had come to such a terrible end, but Aliasse was harder to read. Her neutral expression had not altered as I explained how the force of the crystal vase I lobbed pushed Forthwright out the window to his end.
The only opinion she gave was that I had been brave. Not that I had been foolish or reckless, but brave. She hugged me, but only to comfort me, rather than herself. Her eyes were dry for the man who had employed her as an assassin.
As Otelius was called away by various duties, Aliasse and I were left alone. Finally, her face contorted in anger. “Aliasse, did you want to punish Forthwright yourself?”
“He tormented Gale so much!” She pressed the edge of the red scarf to her mouth. “I wanted to make him suffer. Not only just for Gale but for fooling me.”
“He thought I could fix everything by killing Cal, and I believed him. That man never cared for the kingdom.”
“No,” I said, “Forthwright definitely believed his plans were for the sake of the kingdom. Maybe his methods were wrong, but you’re not a terrible person for wanting to help him. After all, you adjusted your view after coming to know Cal. That’s the most important thing.”
Aliasse shook her head. “Avi, you really are an angel.”
“Ah, I don’t think so, even if I did fall from the sky….”
She smiled though without her usual enthusiasm. “I’m going to dispose of that poison Fitch gave me. There’s no use for it now. Well, I was going to find Fitch and slip some of it into his food, but Cal’s guardian angel spared me the trouble.”
She sashayed towards the other end of the room and only lifted an arm in response as I warned her, “Make sure you throw it away in a place no one will find it!”
As the day slipped by, Aliasse ended up joining me, Callie and Lianne in the library. We spoke of anything but of the events of the day. Cal remained with his father while Jim darted between his patients. Otelius ran the daily activities of the castle with his quiet efficiency.
As midnight tolled, I decided to fit in one last visit to Gale. After all, he still was unaware that his cousin—or rather half-brother by blood—was dead. It was only when I stepped into the chamber that memory kicked me in the shin. I had forgotten the sweets.
He spared a measuring look for me, just a moment, before he returned to perusing the papers in his lap. Somehow, he had convinced Jim to allow him to sit up. A flat gray slate served as a writing surface, upon which papers lay at the mercy of the senator’s scribbling ink pen.
“You should be resting. Not working.”
“Where are my treats?” Perhaps reading my expression, Gale added, “Ah, never mind that. This is easy work, but if you wish, I’ll put it aside for you.”
When the only reply I could give him was a shy smile, he replaced his papers into a folder and tucked it under the pillow. The slate returned to a hidden drawer in the wooden bedstead. The pen ended up in the pocket of the tunic that Jim must have given to him earlier in the day. He beckoned with his crimped sleeves, which were a more common style for servant’s clothing.
“Jim’s?” I tiptoed over to sit on the edge of the bed and plucked at the maroon cloth of his tunic.
“Yes, he loaned it to me. Why aren’t you in bed?”
I made a show of peering around us. “I am in one.”
He looked down his nose at me. “That, Miss Avi, has to be the first innuendo out of your mouth.”
“Just an observation.” Another observation, one I didn’t dare make out loud, was of the stubble taking over his face. At that moment, I knew my mind was lost. Perhaps the murder of Forthwright had unhinged me. How could I be sitting in the bed of a man I was not yet married to and be thinking of kissing his stubble?
In a motion that almost dislodged me from the bed, Gale threw back his covers to stare at his stump. The corresponding pant-leg had been bunched up and knotted. “I feel like there should be something there. At first, I didn’t care, but now…it’s starting to feel odd.”
“I suppose you got used to it – maybe it’s like losing an irritating friend.” I reached over to touch his knobby knee; it was warm, not feverish though. “Of course, I couldn’t even begin to understand how it feels to lose a physical part of myself.”
He nuzzled my cheek like an affectionate puppy, and a giggle almost escaped my mouth. “You tried to understand. That’s enough. How was your day?”
Where to start? “I killed a man. Forthwright, actually. He…fell out my window. After I threw the crystal vase that contained the Aelia at him. I removed the flower, but it’s probably dead. I’m sorry!” To have thrown away and killed Gale’s gift like that…
“That’s terrible.” He gripped my hand. The safety and warmth of it made me huddle closer to him.
“He found a way into the castle, into my rooms…” I shuddered to remember Forthwright’s deathgrip on Cal. He had come so close...
He listened as I relayed the conversation between Forthwright and our prince. Then, I explained about the amulet that counteracted Cal’s glamour and his desire to find it that led to the prince’s presence in my rooms. “I’ll go back tomorrow for your sweets, but tonight, I can’t go back. I can’t return to the Aelia and what I did!” I finished.
“Never mind the sweets, Avi. Also, the Aelia will survive without water for some time; once it thrives, it’s a very durable flower,” Gale assured me. “As for killing Forthwright, it’s terrible that you had to deal with him. The man deserved a humiliating trial and a public execution for certain.”
“I know!” Gale shook his head. “That man didn’t deserve a quick death by your hands. Even so, you saved your prince once again.”
Trying my best to repress a smile, I reminded him, “This isn’t over. Mativ is waiting out there too.”
Gale sighed and then lay back with a luxurious stretch. His arm reached up to ease me to lie beside him. “True, but Mativ lost his chance to take the throne by running away. Letris has consolidated his hold. We only have to protect him. We have to make up for the years of knowledge he neglected to learn. However, I no longer doubt that he can be king.”
“Go and tell him that,” I said.
“Pah!” Gale huffed. “That would inflate his ego.”
I kissed his cheek. How disappointing! The stubble made his skin too prickly, not soft like his new hair-cut. “I should go to bed. Maybe I’ll sleep in Aliasse’s room…”
Before I continued the vague thought, he said, “Sleep here.” So, I fell into slumber in his embrace: too tired and traumatized to care about the scandal. In the end, we were both too exhausted for anything but sleep.