Chapters 1-12 are here:
Ambrose turned from the window in the King’s office and the view of Rianamar. “What was he doing in her rooms to begin with?”
Marc didn’t have an answer to that. “The guard said Liselle invited him in for a drink. He accepted. She gave him the fenoridan in the drink. You’ve heard the rest. Lt. Tor is trying to locate Liselle right now. I haven’t heard back from him, but I should soon. Alvuen was seen earlier than usual this morning, as were a few of her maids. She was careful enough that no one can directly attribute her with saying anything. A case of conversations overheard. Regardless, it’s all over the Palace and spreading. I spoke to Ildin Taldic a few moments ago.”
“I can’t believe he’s allowed this to happen, again, and with the same woman!” Ambrose turned back to the window, shaking his head. “What are you doing about it?”
“Trying to lessen the impact. Difficult at best when you couple it with past history, but doable, I think. First, Adel couldn’t have said what’s being attributed to her, and I’m making sure that’s known. Officially Dynan did spend the evening with Liselle, but Adel will attest in writing that they were only talking and lost track of the time.”
“But with Liselle gone, sent away, that story isn’t likely to be believed.”
“I intend to have her back here.”
“How, Marc, when you’re not sure if she went with Juleta.”
“I’ll get her back here.”
“It’s all connected now. The boundary weakens.”
“A chain reaction starts and we all play our parts,” Ambrose said, and looked down at his old desk, the black surface gleaming in the light. “He could lose the crown over this.”
“And we have you to take his place.”
Marc frowned then. The strong premonition that Alexia was responsible, or at least a participant in these events couldn’t be denied, but she would have known the possible consequences too. She didn’t want Ambrose returned to the Throne, but her daughter married to its King. It didn’t make sense that she should be involved, considering the possibility that Cobalt’s Governors could take the Throne from Dynan. Marc didn’t think she would risk that, but he was certain that she had. Her fury had been genuine though, and he questioned her involvement again. Of course, if none of the Telaerins were allowed to take the crown, Yomir stood to gain in that case as well. That thought led him to wonder if the Queen had given up expecting that Dynan would honor his agreement. It seemed she had. He frowned again, feeling like he was missing something.
Marc remained with Ambrose another hour, waiting for word from Avry Tor. Ralion came back as Ambrose finished his report of the daily business he was handling. “I just heard from Avry. He’s at the Gurrell’s home. Liselle is there. The family is gathered in the back parlor.”
“Tell him to proceed as planned. I want them back here by transport. Liselle should be sent to her rooms, and quietly put under guard. Bring Juleta to me. I’ll be in my quarters.”
Ambrose didn’t need him for anything else just then, so Marc made his way up to his rooms. Out in the hall and all the way up the main stairs, a brooding sense of disaster followed him, but he kept an easy smile and an unconcerned look the whole way. He managed the same for his family too. His mother greeted him at the door, and he smiled at the new gown she wore, a kind of metallic brown and tan with bits of blue sewn in. He didn’t feel the same sense of danger at being around her, maybe because of all the other problems he faced. “I’m sorry I missed breakfast.”
“Have you eaten at all?”
She looked at him doubtfully, then took him by the arm. “How is your day?”
“Crazy, but that’s nothing new.”
“You look tired,” she said, walking with him.
“And you look beautiful,” he said, surprising her. “Do you like it?”
“It’s different, but yes, except for the weight of it. I don’t like that. Your father and Trey are back here somewhere. This is quite a place you have.”
“I know. Too big for just one, but you all fit well enough.” The thought flashed through his mind that he wished they could stay. “I’m sorry you haven’t been able to see more of the Palace.”
“Compared to that ship we were on, this is huge. There’s so much to look at and books to read. Trey has been spending time on the balcony for the fresh air, and we’ve all been drinking a lot of water, but we’re fine, Marc. Don’t worry about us.”
He stopped short as they entered the less formal private parlor. Shalis was sitting with Trey. “Princess. No one told me you were here.” When she looked at him with a slightly guilty expression, Marc shook his head. “You just couldn’t wait, could you?”
“I think it was my father who couldn’t wait, my Lord Chancellor. He told on us.”
Marc glanced at his mother, and she nodded, smiling at his sudden discomfort. “I’ll have to thank him for that,” he said, but laughed.
“I’ve just been listening to Trey and a few stories about you and Matt when you were growing up,” Shalis said.
“Oh really? What stories?”
“The one when you and Matt snuck out of the house in the middle of the night to go out to Kegler’s Cove,” Trey supplied.
“And how much trouble you got into when you got caught,” Shalis said.
“You’re one to talk, little brother. As I remember it, there were a few instances where you—”
“All right. Never mind,” Trey said. “Really, I just made that whole thing up.”
“I bet you didn’t.” Shalis laughed at both of them as she stood. “I was just going to get ready for luncheon with the Queens.”
“Both of them?” Marc asked.
“Yes. Alexia will be joining us.”
“I didn’t know that. Is Loren going to be there?”
Shalis hesitated. “I doubt it, Marc.”
“Was she expected to be there before this morning?”
“Then she needs to be there. I know it won’t be easy for her, Shalis. I want her at dinner, too. We can’t afford to put on any other kind of face. We smile in the midst of chaos. Everyone sees that and hopefully believes that it couldn’t be as bad as they’re being told. We keep up the pretense, false as it is. We keep some semblance of control. Tell Loren to stop feeling sorry for herself, and get on with it.”
“I am not telling her that.” She leaned up and kissed him. “You can if you want, but I won’t. I’ll see you later.”
“Isn’t that a little harsh?” Farina asked after Shalis had gone.
Marc nodded. “Goes with the job. I need to go talk to Loren. I’ll be back when I can.”
He could tell that his mother wanted to object, but he left before she could. His first thought was to walk over to the guest wing, but he didn’t want to be seen. He wasn’t really sure about traveling through the mind of a non-telepath, but knew he had to in order to see Loren without anyone knowing about it. He concentrated and found her in her rooms resting.
“I need to talk to you,” he said in the way of forewarning before he appeared beside her. Loren straightened, but turned from him, not so much startled as unwilling to see him. The windows overlooked the courtyard and she moved to look out them. “You have to go to this luncheon.” He explained his reasons for the request while she remained with her back turned, not sure she listened or not. “He could lose the Throne over this, Loren. I know you’re angry. I know you’re upset. I wish I didn’t have to ask this of you. He made a stupid mistake, but I don’t think he deserves to have the crown taken away over it.”
“How could it?”
“All the Governors know about it. They all remember what happened with Liselle before. Their decision to give Kamien the Regency was influenced by that mess. Ildin Taldic is worried that it will happen again. I’m just trying to keep ahead of it.”
She nodded stiffly, and again he felt that fear for Dynan dominated her mind, as though she hadn’t considered that possibility. She seemed on the verge of panic. She turned from him, shaking visibly under the scrutiny. Without a word, she moved to her dressing room to change. Marc watched her a moment, suddenly doubtful that her appearance would do anything to lessen the talk going around. He wanted to ignore the voice in his head that insisted that she be there.
He grumbled under his breath, while he concentrated himself back to his rooms using Trey to do it. His brother glanced up from the book he held as Marc materialized right in front of him.
“That must be a handy trick,” he said, and went back to his reading.
Marc sat beside him. “Mostly.”
“Is it always this nuts around here?”
“And you’re in charge of the place. That explains why at any rate.”
“Thanks a lot.”
“Just calling it like I see it. You were only a Captain after all, on a boat. What makes anyone think you know what you’re doing?”
“Just lucky, I guess. I do know what I’m doing.”
“That’ll be a first.”
Marc pushed him and Trey pushed back. “Do me a favor and don’t tell anyone.”
Meril came in. “Marc, I thought you’d already gone.”
“He just popped back in.”
Marc laughed because their father didn’t know what Trey meant. “Just for a minute.”
“Can you stay for lunch?”
“I doubt it.”
“Well you’re mother is fixing it right now. Stay if you can. It’ll make her happy.”
He thought about it for a minute and realized he didn’t have anything else to do except wait for Avry to get back. “All right. I will.”
“Really? Well good.” Meril smiled, gesturing for them to follow.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been around.”
“No, we understand.” It didn’t sound to Marc like he did, but he nodded, unwilling to go into the other reasons why he kept away. His father put his arm around him. “We want to see you as much as we can, but we know why it’s difficult, especially with this morning to deal with. I’m very proud of you.”
“Thanks.” Marc smiled, but heard Trey laughing quietly behind them, confusing their father again.
“All right. You boys go get cleaned up. I’ll tell Farina.”
Marc spent the next several moments enjoying the company of his family, shutting out thoughts of the future, and it seemed for a while that time stood still.
When at last the call came that Liselle and Juleta were back, he felt better able to manage them. “The Queens are still at lunch, right?” he asked Ralion. “Good. Have them sent along. No escort. They aren’t going to try anything. Have a messenger sent to Shalis. Tell her that Lady Juleta has returned. She came back with Liselle and will await the Princess in her rooms. Shalis,” he said to her in thought, “I’m sending a messenger to you.”
“All right. Yes, I understand what you want me to say. Anything else?”
“Yes. Watch everyone’s reaction. That’s all. Thanks. I love you.”
Shalis bit back a smile. “I love you too, and you’re welcome.”
Marc was gone again, and she wondered why he wanted the people in this room to know about Juleta, especially connected to Liselle. It didn’t make sense to her, but then he knew what he was doing. On most days, she amended quickly, and sipped her tea.
They were in the Guest Wing again, in a room that was a small solarium, the roof opening to glass panels that let in sunlight in ample supply. The air was full of the pungent odor of green and growing foliage, the scent of mingled flowers moving with the draft. A fountain played a soothing rhythm of flowing water, along with a trio of musicians who sat off in a far corner, sending the lilting notes along corners and edges in a futile attempt to soften them. It would have been a pleasant gathering, but there wasn’t one person in this group who didn’t know what had happened. Tension prevailed. The music was there to cover the pauses and gaps in stilted conversation.
Shalis glanced at Loren, worried for her. Her face was pale, but otherwise composed. She smiled and conversed easily enough, but there was no mirth in her eyes. The happiness that usually shone so readily was replaced by a nearly vacant, emotionless stare. The turmoil she must be facing didn’t show. Shalis found that admirable, but chilling too.
The messenger appeared, searching for her, and Shalis hardly looked at him. She wasn’t supposed to expect him, after all. “Excuse me, Your Highness. Please forgive the interruption. I have a message from Lady Juleta.”
“Yes, what is it?” she asked, smiling pleasantly. In the periphery of vision, she saw Alvuen lean forward in her chair, and reach for her teacup. Shalis knew it was more so that she could hear what the messenger said.
“Lady Juleta sends word that she has returned to the Palace. She came back with Lady Liselle and will await you in your rooms.”
The man bowed to her and left. Alvuen stood in the wake of his departure and Shalis thought she seemed pale. Alexia smiled as she spoke with Marella, but a moment later, she looked to Alvuen, a nearly imperceptible question mirrored in her eyes.
“Shalis,” Marc said hardly a moment later.
“Yes, Marc,” she said, smiling at his impatience. She explained what she’d seen and he seemed satisfied.
“I’ll explain later. Juleta is here now. I need to talk to her.”