The morning found him rested, his hands pain free, and his stomach rumbling as he washed up and set out his clothes for the day.
He’d be talking to the royal brats today.
When they said they were leaving, Trace put a spell across their room doors so that once they closed them, they couldn’t be open.
He also wanted to talk to Arrick; the boy had kept looking past his shoulder at Lydia, as if surprised to see her. He would have chalked it up to curiosity if Arrick hadn’t suddenly turned pale.
Lydia had to have given him a dirty look.
To his credit, the boy quickly took up the slack, but not before Trace noticed, and he figured if he noticed, then so did Lydia.
He wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt, especially, if he were to be honest, after she ‘helped’ him, so he hadn’t let on that anything was amiss, but she knew something.
He thought about confronting her, but it would be best to lure her in, so he decided to stick with his plans of questioning the heirs.
No doubt they’d be angry, but he’d make them see they almost made a big mistake, one that might have cost them their lives too.
The captain of the guard, with two others flanking him, was waiting for Trace.
“Good morning, Captain.”
“It won’t be for you, taint, if I have my way.”
Trace stopped walking.
“And why would that be, Captain.”
“If you’ve harmed them…”
“The only way they’d be harmed right now is if they did it themselves. I locked the doors, nothing else. I needed, and still do need, to ask them some questions, and they were going to leave.”
The captain’s brows arched in surprise.
He didn’t know, but he’ll want answers too. Good. I need all the allies I can get.
The captain turned to his guards. “Stand aside, then.”
They did, but they didn’t like it.
Of course, their jobs are at stake now, just like Lydia’s.
The sense of menace in their stare was almost palpable, but he would ignore them, so long as they made no move toward him.
The doors to the children’s rooms opened, and they came storming out, furious, a million commands spewing from their lips to arrest, behead, flog, draw and quarter, flay, whip, beat, and hang him.
“Your highnesses, please!” He put his hands up, pleading for them to be quiet a moment. “He only seeks the murderer of your parents. The kingdom belongs to you now, whether you want it to or not.”
“Leaving would have put you under suspicion,” Trace said. “And the captain, as much as it would have pained him, would have hunted you down as fugitives. Better if you answer my questions now, in his presence, so there’s no mistaking what’s being asked and answered.”
He looked at the captain.
He turned to the heirs. “He’s right; I would’ve come after you.”
“Well,” Kiharu said, taking a breath, “I’m hungry. I was unable to have anything brought in to me for a snack.”
He gave Trace a meaningful look, but there was a hint of amusement in his eyes.
He likes toughness.
“Are we feeding him too?” Anjallay asked.
“He’s our guest.”
“I’ll take my breakfast in my room then.”
“You will not. You will sit with us like a proper queen, and you will answer the mage’s questions, as will I.”
He is tough.
Trace felt the faintest hint of a smile on his lips.
The servants had laid the breakfast out, still hot, or at least, warm enough.
Trace glanced around to see if Lydia would come find him, but he stopped, realizing, Kihari was observant, and would pick up on it.
Trace gave him some attention, looked him over.
He was tall, but not large. His face was all angles, his brows thick, as well as his hair, which was well groomed, if a little long.
For now, he was clean-shaven, but custom here dictated that if he ascended the throne, he would have to grow a beard.
Trace guessed his age around late teens, with intelligence in his eyes beyond his years.
If he took the crown, he would be reckoning force.
The girl was another story: she was beautiful, and she knew it, and gave off an air of haughtiness just looking at Trace. If she wasn’t careful, it could be annoying and lead her down some paths that didn’t need traveling.
Civil enough for now, having listened to Kihari about sitting at the table, Trace had no doubt that she would find a way to make him pay.
Her eyes were a pale hazel, and her black hair framed her ivory face, hanging in rich, inky ringlets frosted by the morning sun across her shoulders.
He reached for the pitcher of pear juice the same time he did, and he pulled back.
He tried a smile, but she gave him one of her haughty looks as she poured the juice into her cup.
Power was crackling around her.
Trace’s eyes widened, surprised as the connection between them was established.
She has power.
Yes, and we can read your thoughts as well.
“All right, then. Let’s stop the formalities and pleasantries,” Trace said out loud. “It’s clear you don’t care for your parents, I got that, but don’t you at least want to find out who killed them?
“Have you considered, even once, that you might be, could be, next?
“That’s why we were leaving,” Anjallay said. “That is, until you interfered.”
“And Trace,” said Kiharu, “who called you here to investigate? We certainly didn’t.”
“Your doctor. He’d heard of me, and sent for me.”
“How did he know you were here?”
“He didn’t, and I wasn’t. I traveled.”
“Magic. I’m a mage.”
He let a little edge creep in; they were stalling, and he saw right through it, but he couldn’t figure out why. Still there was no harm in answering, but he learned that with royals, you had to bully them, sometimes at the risk of your own head, to get to the desired result, so he asked his next question.
“The night I met you, you were on your way out; where were you going?”
They didn’t answer.
“Did you have a place to go? Palace living tends toward softness, and your sister doesn’t seem like the woodsy type,” he smiled at her, and she gave him back a sarcastic one, but he thought she almost actually smiled, “So I’ll ask you again, where were you going?”
“We’d rather not say,” she said.
“I didn’t ask if you’d rather say. You were both prepared to leave; there was no surprise, no outcry other than the doctor calling me and controlling the panic. If you had a place that go, that means you were complicit in waiting for the murder to be carried out so you could leave.
“You do see how that looks suspicious, don’t you?”
The captain had gotten comfortable, sitting back with his arms folded, his eyes never leaving Kahiri, who was giving it some thought, but decided to evade the question.
“What would you have done if we left before you imprisoned us?”
“Like I said before: track you, find you, and do what we’re doing now, except I’d be a lot more forceful, a lot less nice. This is your chance to clear yourselves. You won’t get another.
“You need our help?”
“I’d like it. I have a lead, and I’d like your help in tracking it down. It will take longer if I don’t, but the result will be the same.”
She leaned forward, getting caught up in it, her curiosity piqued.
“You always get your quarry?”
“Most of the time, but not always.”
“What makes you think you can get this one?”
“I don’t know if I’ll catch them until I start pursuing them. There’ve been some close calls, but this is not the time for an interview. The longer we stay here, the further away they get.”
“You’re that confident you can find them?”
“If they’re not dead.”
“Tell us what you have,” Kihari said.
Since they revealed they had powers of their own, and the princess used hers to link them to Trace, things could go either way, but for now, it was a matter of expediency
“I’ll do better than that.”
Trace shared the vision, and for all that they said they hated their parents, their expressions grew tense with anger as they saw the murderer’s hands, almost lost in the folds of a bell-sleeved robe.
In them was a flask of something with a clear liquid which they poured into the wine cups, stirring it with a wooden spoon, the passing their right hand over it in an a pattern.
That’s new. I didn’t see that in the first vision, Trace thought.
A low light pulsed in the dark wine, flashing like lightning, brightening the burgundy to bright red, like blood fresh from the vein. As it darkened and blended into the wine, they could all see the tendrils fanning out slowly, twisting and curling like smoke, dying out, and the wine looking like wine once more.
I didn’t get this the first time.
Trace felt a surge of alarm, a suspicion forming, and the face beneath the hood looked up.
Before Trace could see it, her eyes flashed and blinded them all.
They all cried out as they reacted, pushing back chairs and stumbling from the table.
The sudden cries and movement caught the captain off guard, jumping quickly to his feet and scanning the room, but he saw nothing.
Their vision began to return.
“Find them,” Kihari rasped, looking at the captain.
“She’s not here,” Trace said. “This happened days ago; she just added the details to what she wanted me to see. She must have felt the link somehow, and entered it. She manipulated it.”
Damn! I’ve got a Light witch to fight.
Without hesitation, he flung himself back through the collapsing link, risking dissolution himself.
She was in the forest, far from human eyes.
She’d teased him into it, letting him almost see her, but she didn’t expect him to risk traveling the sub-link; it was collapsing too fast though, so she saw him begin to disappear out of it, still looking at her.
As she began to see through him, she did finally look up, and smile, her small fangs gleaming, her large eyes the blue of a late summer sky, her hair a dull gold in the fading sunlight that came through her window.
© Alfred W. Smith Jr. 2015