“Will he survive?” Prince Dennis asked the question without moving his eyes from the yellowed face of his father, the king.
Feet scuffled as weight was shifted from one to the other, but no one responded. Pammy, Elder Conradin and Begrenzen, Lady Kaelah, and two Citadel guards flanking the door stayed silent. Lady Kaelah braved to rest a hand on the prince for comfort. Still, he did not move his gaze from the head of the bed.
“Lady Kaelah, would you please stay? The rest of you may take their leave.” With Edward and Benjamin in the line of succession before him, there had been little need for his upbringing to be weighed down with matters of state or political lessons, things commonly studied and debated by his brothers. In the past month, all of this had changed for the young prince and the command of his voice gave weight to the heavy burden that was now his to bear. During his time away from Lady Kaelah’s books and study, he had practiced hard and often with the soldiers, readying himself for the civil unrest they often spoke of in the barracks, but none had ever seen. The other trainees had accepted him well enough, but not without hushed whispers around corners and odd maneuvers that he knew were to protect his wellness during training. The small time away from the maternal nurturing of Pammy and the sisterly affection of Lady Kaelah had allowed him to feel more steadfast on his feet, more sure of himself, and less questioning of his duty. He no longer felt the need to reassure himself with other’s opinions, or to be taken aback by a differing one.
The others shuffled out the door with Begrenzen being the only one to cast a glance in Lady Kaelah’s direction. In one look, she could feel him reminding her that her time was growing short with the princess. The kingdom would suffer, and possibly fall under the loss of her life to the evil that awaits her, if she were to follow in Aoife’s footsteps. In contrast to the other’s obedience, Elder Conradin stepped forward to protest. “I’m afraid I must resist, young prince. The proper precautions with the king’s life have not yet been taken.”
“I’m afraid you will not, Elder Conradin.” Dennis spoke slowly, but purposefully. He did not turn around to address the elder to his face. “Seeing as my sister has taken ill with no help from your self-proclaimed knowledge, my elder brothers have not been heard of since their departure to find her cure, and now my father lay ill for no other reason than stress and old age, I’m sure you will agree that any precautions that should have been taken are far too removed from us to be of any use. You may leave with the others.”
Lady Kaelah did not move from the foot of the king’s bed. Though Dennis had his back to Conradin, she did not. The sun cascading through the window fell onto Conradin’s figure, fully exposing his clenched jaw. He would not let this go lightly.
“You do not have the right, Prince of Mirias, to defy the treaty and age-old traditions. I am the Elder assigned to Mirias. I will see to it that protocol is adhered to.”
Prince Dennis threw back the stool he was sitting on as he stood. Lady Kaelah jumped at his abrupt movement. Dennis’ time in training had seemed to coincide with the bulk that had been added to his stature. He was no longer the sweet, youngest child of the king. Conradin seemed undaunted.
“And you do not have the right to inspect my father as if he were cattle. Where is R’Pha Gavund? He is the R’Pha overseeing Mirias, is he not? Why have you not called him? What of this precaution?” His voice, deeper than before, echoed off the stone walls.
Conradin straightened his back, defiance in his eyes. Prince Dennis did not remove his stare until Conradin submitted, bowed and stepped backwards toward the door. “I will send for him.”
When the door had shut behind him, Prince Dennis turned to Lady Kaelah. “Tell me you know what is ailing him.”
“Indeed, I do not. Though, R’Pha Gavund should be able to tell us better than I.”
“I don’t trust Gavund, nor do you, I know. I’ve heard you whisper to Edward when you thought I was not around. I know your distrust of the Order and the Elders. Tell me why I should trust them now.” His eyes, red from stress and despair, pleaded with her.
Lady Kaelah lowered her head. “You should not.”
“Why? What is my father in danger of?”
Prince Dennis grabbed the stool and gestured for her to sit. She did, thankful to rest her feet that seemed to never stop walking from one study table to the next. Even now, she felt a pang of guilt for taking a break from her search but knowing Maurlee was with ReAnne eased her.
“You can do it,” Dennis whispered, “You can search him. You have the gift, Kaelah. Tell me what ails my father. Then, we will know if Gavund speaks truth to us.”
Lady Kaelah rested a hand on the king’s arm. Infirmity had a way of making mice out of all men. He had always been larger than life as he walked the halls of the Citadel, his fur-lined robe flowing behind. For so many years, she lived in fear that she would say or do the wrong thing and invoke the streak of anger some attested to in circles of gossip. But his kindness had won her hurting heart over and now, she served in loyal devotion to him. To see him so frail was heartbreaking.
“I’m afraid it is not that simple. I may be able to see that which is harming him, but I cannot diagnose a broken heart and I fear that is what leaves him in this state.”
“What tradition was Conradin speaking of?”
Lady Kaelah took a deep breath. Surely the king had not done what she feared, and still she resisted telling Dennis, unsure of what the truth might make him think of his own father.
“Deet…” She grabbed both his hands in hers and looked up at him. “Please don’t ask this of me.”
“I must. I can no longer stand in the crowd. I am now a fellow contender against the shadow that pervades us.” His back straightened, chest puffed out, “I will also accept Foresight in Shadow, Lady Kaelah. When my time comes.”
She took in a sharp breath, the pain of the confession shooting deep within her soul and piercing a place she was determined to keep walled off.
“You should not need to…Deet…your brother…the prophecies-“
“Were written by Elders that were untrusted in their time, as well. It never changes, Lady Kaelah, and I have no reason to believe that Edward is the one to defeat them any more than I believe you are the one who will. We all have the chance to make an impact. I will not sit back any longer and pretend I am of littler worth than that of my brothers simply because I am younger.”
“But, surely you will accept the gift the king wishes to give you? You will not simply discredit his wisdom?”
Dennis shook his head slowly. “I may not get the chance to hear the wisdom of my father’s wishes. I am not sure I would be able to accept my brother’s in his stead. He would never wish for me the solitude Foresight brings. He has always felt the need to protect me from harm. Remember how he threatened those village children when they insisted on teasing me about the beet incident un-mercilessly? He would be king, yes. But I would be his brother. So, what can I make of the reliability of his choice for me, then?”
“Where have you been that such wisdom has graced your mind? Can it be that your short time among soldiers had taught you to think so surely of yourself and the path you must take? Truly, you are becoming a man.”
Dennis beamed from ear to ear, face reddened, but smiling nonetheless at the obvious compliment. “You have always been kind to me, Lady Kaelah. Be kind to me now. Will you at least try?”
Not only could she no longer argue with him, she no longer wanted to. “I can try, but I cannot promise you anything.” She glanced at Dennis who was watching her intently. “You understand?”
Resigned, she turned her attention to the king and rested her hands on each side of his face. His lips were cracked and chapped, his eyelids thin and blue. No color adorned his cheeks and his hair was thin and receding. She closed her eyes, afraid if she kept her eyes on his deteriorating body, she would lose her nerve and cave in to her heartache. She searched for the source of his ailment with her gift of Somatic Mending.
Small rushes, flashes of light, cold and hot were brought to her attention. As quickly as they flashed in her mind, they were gone until one moved through alone. Large and round, orange-red, fire hot like the sun, yellow flames rose from its surface in a melodic rhythm. It slugged its way to her. When it sat in the forefront of her mind, it began to turn towards her eyes, as if to desire showing its face to her.
It turned slow, but as it did, the hot of its surface ceased and it turned into a mirrored ball. In its reflection was the image of Maurlee.
And then it was gone.
“What? What did you see?” Dennis knelt down in front of Kaelah, grabbing her by the shoulders. “I know you saw something…”
Her face was flush and she was having a hard time finding her voice to explain. Her gift had never gone to such depths before and she found herself unsure and unable to put it to words. It was a form of mastery, she knew…but to what extent, she did not know.
“He is sick, Dennis. I don’t know if I can help him with this illness. I’m sorry…” She stood up to make her leave. “You cannot let Gavund examine him.”
“What? Why?” Dennis looked to his father. “What happened to him?”
“I can’t tell you…I mean, not yet. Dennis,” she grabbed his face in her hands and made him look into her eyes. “Gavund cannot be permitted in here. I don’t care what you have to do to keep him out, but you must believe me. I will let you know when I know for sure, but for now, I need you to trust me.”
He blinked, not moving his stare from hers. “I trust you.” His voice cracked, betraying his newfound manhood and reverting him back to the child she remembered so well. Her heart hurt for what he was feeling; for all the things he did not yet know.
“I’m so sorry, I must go. Stall Gavund…I will return as soon as I can.”
She made her way down the hall, only turning to look behind her as she turned the corner towards her room. He had not followed her. There was a book that she was certain spoke of mind mirrors, but she had only glanced over it in her hurried attempt to find a cure for ReAnne. She had to be sure before she spoke of it with anyone.
And then she had to figure out a way to save the king from being accused of treason.