Chapter 9 – The Test

It seems the easy thing to do is seldom the right thing. I wonder how that can possibly be the case. Surely the easy thing and the right thing must be the same at least some of the time. Is it some cosmic conspiracy that makes each choice before us a burden of conscience? At the moment, this is not a problem I have, as I have been guided by circumstance, reacting rather than deciding, and I’m getting tired of it. What I wouldn’t give for a decision that I had some agency over, even a difficult one. It seems better than being at the mercy of events.

Kalutu, The Book of Lost Wisdom

Seventeenth of Learning 1142

Alone in the royal chambers, Queen Treya sat staring at the fireplace. No fire currently burned and in that way it was, like her, cold and empty. She had believed, truly believed that in the years since the war, Terrence had purged the madness from his soul. But it looked like that rage might be back, as dark and dangerous as when he’d returned from Death’s Doorstep.

If it was, she would have to begin again, working with him, guiding him, maneuvering him to a calmer perspective. She had hated it fourteen years ago and would hate it again should it come to that. She glanced at the empty chair beside her, his chair, remembering the long nights sitting in front of the fire, reading together, chatting, as if all were right in the world, but it wasn’t the case. The Undead King still reigned on the Plains of Xarinos. He was so far away, and the war was so long ago, and yet still, the fallout continued to affect them, even after all this time.

She sensed rather than saw a presence, surprised, for she hadn’t heard him enter. She looked again at his chair and sat up straighter.

“An unexpected pleasure, but that’s my husband’s seat.”

“I’m sure he won’t mind if I sit in it.”

They both laughed, the Queen of Twyl and the goddess of honor. It felt strange to be laughing with a goddess, but no stranger than anything else that had happened.

“My sons are safe?”

“They are not. Nor are they in danger. They are probably safer than you imagine them to be.”

“Are they with Striker?”

“No more questions about your sons, there are other matters afoot.”

“More important than my boys?”

“Equally important. You are planning on telling Terrence about your stillbirth.”

Treya stiffened. “I was, though I don’t see how that is any of your concern. Hiding it was not the right thing to do. I would think you’d want me to make it right.”

“I do. But I don’t want you to do it yet. Your husband is being tested.”

“By?”

“Me. And it is important that you do not interfere.”

Treya chuckled. “Are you testing him, or me?”

“Perhaps both of you, but what I told you is no lie. The next few hours are critical and if you interfere, what needs to happen may not.”

“You want me to sit by while you test my husband and do nothing. As always, I will obey. But I will not like it.”

Sheba smiled softly. “How do you know, if you haven’t seen the result?”

“Terrence is fragile right now.”

“You say that as if I don’t know it already. It is the best time to test someone. The only time that makes sense. You can’t test the seaworthiness of a vessel in calm water.”

Treya looked sheepish. “I’m sorry, my goddess. I know you are aware of everything going on. If you say this test is important, I will yield, as always, to your wisdom.”

“I know, my child, I know. You may tell him after.”

“After what?”

“You’ll know.”

“How long can you stay here before I start feeling the effects of your presence?”

Sheba leaned back in the chair and studied the queen. The gesture so perfectly mimicked what a human might do, Treya found herself wondering if the goddess was intentionally trying to put her at ease. “You can endure my presence indefinitely due to a set of circumstances you have no knowledge of…yet. So can Terrence, for that matter. Eric as well.”

Treya leaned back also, unconsciously mimicking the goddess. “It runs in the family?”

“It does. And you’re too smart for my own good. So I’m going to leave.”

“Do you think Terrence will pass his test?”

“I honestly do not know. If I did, I wouldn’t have to test him. But I believe that he is worthy of being tested. And that has to count for something.”

“It does. Thank you my goddess.”

“No matter what happens, don’t get involved.”

And she was gone. Treya frowned at that last warning and wondered what else could happen on this day when her children had been taken from the palace. And why now? Frustrated, she stood and walked to the door. She would return to the throne room and see what had transpired in her absence.

If Terrence was going to be unavailable for whatever reason, she needed to be up to speed.

*

King Terrence paced the throne room, lost in thought. His sons were gone, one of whom he barely had a chance to get to know. Dahr had been at the palace for two years, and for all that time the king had all but ignored him. His son’s servant. Two years wasted. Two years he would never get back. He didn’t really know Dahr, and he might never see him again. The thought filled him with fear and fury. Fury at those who had taken him. Who had robbed the king of the opportunity to get to know his youngest son.

And then there was Eric. His boy. His pride and joy. The heir to the throne. The boy who would replace him one day as ruler of Twyl, if he survived the trials ahead of him. If he survived. Terrence was king in Twyl, but he was still powerless to help his sons. Powerless even to find out what had happened to them. Such were his thoughts when Captain Jericho entered the throne room. Terrence spoke before he even had time to kneel.

“What have you learned?”

“May we talk privately, Your Highness? Just the two of us?”

Terrence looked toward the throne where Treya sat, expression unreadable. There were guards present, and some nobles as well. She nodded, ever so slightly. Terrence walked to the throne room entrance, where Captain Jericho stood.

“With me.”

He left the throne room and Jericho fell into step slightly behind him. Neither spoke as they walked a short distance away to a little used palace chapel. A place where you could be alone with your thoughts. Well, alone except for the goddess of course.

He entered and Jericho followed, shutting the door behind him.

“Speak.”

“Your Highness, I need to tell you something which might be painful.”

“Painful? My sons are gone, Jericho. What could you possibly tell me that’s more painful than that, unless…”

“I have no news of your sons. But I do have information about your wife.”

“My wife?” King Terrence’s face darkened and he gritted his teeth, waiting for Jericho to continue.

“Your Highness, during the war, while you were fighting the undead, Queen Treya was not always alone at night.”

King Terrence scowled. Was he confessing? Was this the time for it?

“I know that.”

Jericho looked surprised, but pushed on anyway. “I was on the wall the whole time you were away, but I still had contacts in the palace. Late at night, Lord Ormund would visit Queen Treya in her rooms.”

It was the king’s turn to look surprised. “Ormund? And Treya? I don’t believe it.”

“It’s ludicrous I know, but it was more than once, Your Highness. I have never believed that Queen Treya would choose to be with Lord Ormund of her own free will, but I had no proof that anything untoward was happening. In truth, I’ve kept half an eye on him for all these years, never able to catch him at anything. Then, your sons were taken from the palace and Maynor, a high level warrior, was forced to aid in their abduction, something a lower level mage would not be able to pull off. But Lord Ormund, I believe, has sufficient levels to accomplish that.”

“This has all been said. Do you have anything else?”

“This afternoon, Queen Treya visited Lord Ormund in his quarters after the accusation.”

“She did what!”

“She went to his rooms and spoke with him, Your Highness.”

“I sent you to find a mage to interrogate him. How did you fare?”

“There is currently no mage in the city of a sufficient level to insure that we get the truth from Lord Ormund. However, there is one thing that we might be able to use.”

King Terrence studied the captain but didn’t say anything.

“Sarith’s Cloak. It is rumored that you have it.”

Terrence’s heart skipped a beat. “Where did you hear that? No one should know. That cloak is locked away for a reason. To use it on anyone, even Lord Ormund, whatever he did…it’s unthinkable.”

“Andeon Walsh had heard rumors that you had it. And he confirmed that it would get Lord Ormund to tell us the truth.”

“Yes, it would…by rending his soul. Do you understand what that means?”

“If I’m right, Lord Ormund didn’t just conspire to kidnap your sons, but he has used his magic to influence Queen Treya. How else can we get to the truth?”

Terrence didn’t speak, his rage building. Could this be true? He didn’t want to believe it, but his sons were gone, and Treya had visited Lord Ormund in his rooms. How could she, when she knew he was a suspect?

“I need to think.”

“Yes, Your Highness. But think fast. If we can get some clue as to what happened to the princes, we might be able to send a message spell to Maynor to give him some direction. It could be the difference between finding them or not.”

King Terrence didn’t answer. He walked out of the chapel like a man in a trance. Sarith’s Cloak? Never. He’d have destroyed it if there was some way to do so. With that thought, he picked up his pace, heading for the royal chambers. He didn’t stop, didn’t look around. He only had one thing on his mind.

He had had an affair. And Treya had hinted that she also had one. He could accept that. Of course he could. But with the mage? Was it possible? Was it possible the mage had used magic to make that happen? Could he believe there was any other way it could have happened?

If it had been Jericho, Terrence would have understood. He’d hate it. It would anger him, but he would be aware that his own affair had left him no moral high ground on which to stand. But Ormund? Why did this anger him so?

While he was gone, if Treya had an affair, that was her business. He wouldn’t pry. But if the mage really had used magic to influence her, that was a completely different story. Why would she choose him? What did she see in him that Terrence was apparently blind to.

Ormund was a skilled mage, that was true. And he was loyal to a fault, or so Terrence had thought. And now, here he was, not only questioning the man’s loyalty, but also his integrity. He tried to think about everything he knew about Ormund. He had some idea of his background, but his family was barely even nobility anymore. They’d never had a representative at court, during his reign at least. And now, there was question that Ormund may have influenced Maynor and Treya both? Did he have that kind of power?

It was Lord Ormund who had been vetting others as to whether or not they spoke the truth. But if he truly did have something to hide, what’s to say he performed that task honestly. And how could there be no mage in the city powerful enough to use a truth spell on Ormund. The situation, as it stood, was untenable.

The only thing Terrence could do was to talk to Treya and get her version of events. She’d be mad if he was wrong about this, but he could live with that. He simply had to know. And then, if she did have an affair, he’d forgive her. Of course he’d forgive her. She had, after all, forgiven him. It was only right. But how would he treat Lord Ormund after that?

He couldn’t imagine what that relationship would be like, but he would have to try to act as if nothing had happened. Would he be able to do that? It depended, of course, on what Treya actually told him.

He was saved from the merciless barrage of thoughts by reaching his quarters. He opened the door, closed it behind him and walked through the sitting room and into a door on the left, which led to his office. He looked around briefly, ignoring the cases full of books and the desk covered in stacks of papers that never seemed to shrink. He made his way instead to a blank section of wall between two book cases. He placed his hand on it and concentrated.

The wall faded until it was translucent, revealing a hidden room behind. The king’s personal armory. It contained a vast array of magical weapons, a single suit of magical armor and several other artifacts that he kept here, safely hidden away from the world.

He only considered a few of the items dangerous, but Sarith’s Cloak was undoubtedly the one he feared most. It was there were it always was, in a shielded display case. He placed a hand against the specially prepared glass. Even through it, he could feel the cloak’s power, dark, malicious and so tempting. A simple solution to a complex problem. An easy out. And absolutely the wrong thing to do.

It would be so easy to open the case, take it out, and use it. He was the king. No one would question him, at least not to his face. His sons were gone. Treya herself may have been compromised. Maynor was off with the Misfits of Karmenon. King Terrence felt lonely for the first time in a very long time. It hadn’t been since the Undead War that he’d felt even close to how he felt now. Alone. Hopeless. Angry.

But he was the king. As much as he needed it, as much as he wanted the information, it wasn’t the way. He knew that. He spoke aloud as if to reassure himself.

“As much as I need to know what is inside Lord Ormund’s head, I can not do this. It goes against everything I believe. If I get my sons back by using it, how will I ever look at them again? This abomination will remain locked away. May Sheba have mercy on me for even considering it.”

So you would let the enemy have this battle?

“Sarith?”

Of course.

“I have won and lost many battles in my time as king, and before that as well. But to use your wretched artifact would be losing the war.”

You know nothing of war.

“I know that there are some actions you can’t come back from. Sheba would never forgive this transgression. More so, I wouldn’t forgive myself.”

Even though the undead are building massive armies within the borders of Xarinos?

“Even so. Though the price be our defeat at the hands of the Undead King, I will not use your cloak.”

You disappoint me. I had assumed you’d be smarter.

“I never claimed to be smart. But I do know good from evil. And though you are the goddess of war, this is one battle I will not lose.”

So sure you are.

He heard a noise behind him and turned quickly. Someone had entered his office.

“Trey?”

Just as well, he had needed to talk to her anyway. But when he stepped out of the armory into his office, it wasn’t Treya who waited for him.

“Jericho? What are you…”

The only answer he received to his unfinished question was the pummel of Jericho’s sword smashing hard into his face. And as he crumpled to the ground, King Terrence had room for only one thought. The secret door to his personal armory was still open.

*

Captain Jericho looked down at the unconscious king and stepped over him, into the room beyond. The items around him were worth a king’s ransom, but he was only interested in one of them. It was there in a glass display case. There didn’t seem to be a way to open it.

Jericho reached out and touched the case. A jolt of electricity threw him backwards into the wall. Jericho struck hard, and had to take a few minutes to come to his senses before he could try again. He couldn’t touch the case. He didn’t have access to magic. Was it attuned so that only the king could open it? That seemed likely. It was also likely that the king needed to say some sort of word to dispel the enchantment protecting it, which meant the knowledge did Jericho little good.

He looked around him at the weapons mounted on the walls, filling the racks around him. He picked up a magical ax, the rune on its head glowing with power. Would it be enough?

He hefted it. It was much lighter than he thought it would be. With all his strength, he brought the ax down on the case, which shattered into a rain of glass in every direction. He could feel several sharp fragments cut his face, but it was done. The cloak was unprotected, or at least, he thought that was the case.

Carefully, he lifted it. He wasn’t about to walk through the palace with it. He looked around and found several packs. Each contained various magic items. Under other circumstances, he’d have been more curious, but he knew his time was limited. He dumped the contents of one of the packs on the floor. It contained various scroll cases that were undoubtedly used to store spells that anyone could use if they knew the proper trigger. A small fortune in spells. He could live the rest of his life on the gold he made from selling those scrolls, but he never stopped to consider it. Ormund had done something to the queen, and he had to find out what it was. It was all that mattered.

He stuffed Sarith’s cloak into the backpack and, grasping it in his left hand so he could draw his sword if he needed it, he stepped back over the motionless king.

“I’m sorry, My King. I knew you would never betray Sheba like that, and I can understand why you feel that way, but I know that I’m right. And when I prove Lord Ormund’s guilt, you will thank me for it.”

More importantly, once she was free of the mage’s will, Queen Treya would thank him. But he had little time. All that was left now was to place the cloak on Ormund and ask him questions. Sarith herself would insure that he answered truthfully. No matter how high a level he was, he would be no match for a goddess. He wondered how he would get the cloak to fit on Ormund’s massive body, but he’d find a way. And he’d finally get the truth he’d been waiting for for fifteen years.

He kept to passages that were mostly deserted, at least as much as he could, until he came to Ormund’s room. He knocked and the mage opened the door almost immediately.

“Captain Jericho!” he sounded surprised. No doubt he expected the queen to return. Jericho forced himself not to react outwardly, but inside he was seething.

“You’re to come with me.”

Ormund studied him, but made no move to follow. “Where are we going?”

“The queen requests your presence.”

“The queen! At once.”

Ormund closed the door, locked it behind him and took a moment to cast a spell, which Jericho assumed was a locking spell, or perhaps some sort of alarm. He wondered what was in there that was so important that it required that kind of security. He was going to find out.

Jericho led Ormund to the chapel in which he’d talked to the king. He knew the chapel was seldom used and had the added benefit of being in a side corridor that very few people ever entered. You came here to use the chapel or went a different way. This was probably why the king had taken him there earlier. In truth, Jericho had forgotten its existence, or perhaps never knew it.

Jericho motioned for Ormund to enter and followed him in. The mage looked quickly around, as Jericho closed the door. The chapel, of course, was empty. Ormund spun quickly, perhaps sensing danger, but before he could cast a spell, Jericho hit him hard in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him. Ormund doubled over and Jericho kicked him hard in the back of his knee. When he fell forward on his hands, Jericho grabbed the cloak from the pack and draped it over the mage’s shoulders as quickly as he could.

To Jericho’s surprise, the cloak, as if it were alive, flowed over Ormund, growing to fit, engulfing the mage within its folds. He was still now, coughing, gasping, obviously in pain. Jericho relished it. All these years and now, finally, the mage would pay.

“Hello, Ormund.”

“The queen,” he gasped, but he hadn’t the breath to finish the question.

“She’s not coming. You’ll be talking to me.”

Ormund tried to push himself up, but Jericho punched him hard, and then sat on the bench in front of him, looking down on him. Ormund vomited between his boots.

“We’re going to have a bit of a chat. I’m going to ask you questions, and you’re going to answer them.”

“Does the king know…”

Jericho slapped him so hard, it hurt his hand.

“What do you know about the disappearance of the princes?”

“Nothing more than I was told in the throne room. I had no idea about it until then.”

Jericho knew he would be in hideous pain if he lied with the cloak on, so he knew the mage was telling the truth.

“Who kidnapped the princes?”

“Striker? I have no idea.”

Again, no reaction.

“Did you visit the queen’s bed chambers during the Undead War.”

“No, I…”

Ormund clutched at his throat, retching. He looked like he was going to be sick again, but he wasn’t.

“Try again, Ormund. Did you visit the queen’s bed chambers…”

“Yes! Yes! I did.”

“And what did you and the queen do when you visited.”

“We talked. I examined her.”

“Was she ill?”

“No.”

“Then why did you examine her?”

“I can’t tell you that.”

“You will tell me. Why did you examine her?”

“I promised her I would keep her secret.”

“That’s okay. No one would blame you for succumbing to Sarith’s Cloak.”

“Sarith’s…no…it’s not possible. It can’t be.”

“It is, you pompous oaf. Now tell me the truth. Why did you examine her?”

“I can’t tell you.”

Ormund’s eyes bulged as a spasm of pain suffused him. The first time he had answered that question, he had been unaware he was wearing Sarith’s Cloak. He had believed that he couldn’t reveal what had happened between him and the queen. But once he understood the nature of this particular interrogation, he was no longer certain that that was the case. The very fact he was aware of the cloak’s power made a statement that had been an absolute truth in his mind less certain. Jericho realized that and would use it.

“Apparently you can.”

“I made a promise.”

Jericho leaned forward on the bench, all the way over, so that he was close enough to smell the bile on the mage’s breath. “And you will break that promise.”

“I will not.”

Pain swept through the mage, but he refused to speak.

“You will suffer until you tell me.”

“Then I will suffer forever. I will not betray the queen.”

No reaction. This surprised Jericho.

“Have it your own way then. Tell me why you examined the queen.”

“I can… not.”

The screaming this time went on longer, Ormund’s face contorted in a mask of pain that would have been unpleasant to look at had it been anyone else.

*

Queen Treya spent some time talking to people in the throne room. The news of the prince’s abduction was out now, which was inevitable. Too many servants and guards were looking for them for it to be otherwise. So she forced herself to sit through countless people coming to offer their sympathies, or even worse, their nonsensical theories about what might have happened. She had no idea why people made up things without facts, but she listened all the same and thanked them for their input.

Time passed slowly, and she began to wonder where Terrence had disappeared to. At first, it was just a niggle, but then she grew more concerned. Finally, she had a page summon Leata and asked her to track the king down. About a half an hour later, Leata returned to the throne room and motioned for the queen to join her away from those that had come to be with her. That was the first clue that something was amiss.

The queen made a hasty apology to the Lord she was speaking to, and hurried to the seneschal. Leata wasted no time.

“No one can find the king, Your Highness.”

“What do you mean no one can find him? Did he leave the palace? Has he too been abducted?”

Ridiculous of course. King Terrence wasn’t a Level 4 Warrior. He was Level 19, a battle-hardened veteran, not just from the Undead Wars, but a half a dozen other skirmishes as well. He wasn’t called the warrior king for no reason.

“We don’t know anything, except that no one has seen him or been able to track him down.”

“I last saw him with Captain Jericho, perhaps he knows something?”

“No one has seen the captain either.”

The two woman looked at each other, neither willing to voice the thoughts in their head. Finally, the queen asked.

“What of Lord Ormund?”

“There is no answer in his rooms and he is also not to be found.”

Treya had no way of knowing what conclusions Leata may have drawn from all this, but she had her own theories.

“I’ll be back. Please remain in the throne room in case the king returns.”

“Yes, Your Highness. Are you sure you should be going alone?”

“I’m perfectly safe, and if I don’t miss my guess, so is the king. Right now, it’s Lord Ormund you should be worried about.”

“Lord Ormund, Your Highness?”

“Just wait here, and talk to no one about this. We have enough problems with the boys missing. We don’t need to start rumors about the king.”

Before Leata could ask her anything else, Treya left the throne room, walking as fast as decorum would permit.

The trip through the palace corridors was familiar and alien at the same time. She had walked this way almost every day for over fifteen years. Her palace had always been a place of safety and security. Not today. Today she was on edge, barely believing what she was thinking, knowing that it was entirely possible.

Sheba had told her not to interfere, and she wouldn’t. But she wouldn’t sit by if her husband was in actual danger. Surely Sheba wouldn’t expect that of her.

Treya’s first stop was the royal chambers. The outer chamber was empty, but the door to Terrence’s office was open. She almost sagged with relief.

“Terrence? Am I interrupting?”

No answer. She slowly approached, stopping only to remove a sword from the wall, where it hung. Being armed with a saber gave her the confidence she needed to increase her pace. It was dark in the room, the light from the window not doing much to dispel the gloom. Perhaps the sun didn’t want to bear witness to what was happening here. Or perhaps it had, and now hid in fear.

The wall was open. The armory.

“Terrence?”

No answer. She moved closer, which is when she saw him, lying face down on the floor. She ran to him, falling to her knees. She placed a hand on his neck and his pulse was there. She breathed a sigh of relief. She turned him into his back and saw his face, covered in blood, jaw broken or at least dislocated. She shook him and it took him a long time to stir.

“Wait here, I’ll get a potion.”

She had one in the bed chambers, just in case. She fetched it now, wondering what could have possibly happened. She didn’t think there were many in the palace that could go toe to toe with Terrence. Surprise attack? More than one assailant? Maynor? He was possibly higher level than her husband. And he had been responsible, at least in part, for her son’s disappearance. And though he supposedly had left the palace with the Misfits of Karmenon, he could have doubled back.

Not the time to theorize. Act now, think later. She retrieved the potion from a table in the bedroom and ran back to apply it slowly to her husband’s swollen jaw.

She could see the healing slowly begin, but it wasn’t doing much. He was coming to his senses, trying to sit up but she held him down making reassuring sounds.

“Let me up, dammit!”

His words were slurred due to the damage, but he was himself, of that she was sure. She helped him into a sitting position.

“Who did this to you?”

She held her breath, waiting for the answer.

“Jericho.”

“Jericho? Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m bloody sure.” Terrence winced and lowered his voice. “He attacked me and stole Sarith’s Cloak. I told him I wouldn’t use it to interrogate Lord Ormund.”

Sheba’s test. He had passed, but Captain Jericho, apparently, did not. “I don’t believe Lord Ormund is a traitor, Terrence.”

“He visited you in your rooms, Trey. While I was fighting the war, he visited you, alone. Is there something you’d like to tell me?”

She shook her head, but spoke anyway. “I wouldn’t like to tell you, but it seems I have no choice. I was hoping to spare you the pain.”

“The good captain thought you were having an affair with him, but you weren’t, were you?”

“I was not.”

“What then? It’s okay. You can tell me.”

Queen Treya steeled herself. She realized she was still holding the saber and went to place it back on the wall mount. Then she came back into the room. Terrence hadn’t moved. He watched but didn’t rush her. He waited patiently as if he trusted her completely. That she didn’t deserve that trust filled her with shame. But there was nothing for it now but to reveal the truth. Sheba had been right. She knew that this was the time.

“When you left for the Undead War, I was pregnant.”

Whatever he thought he was going to hear, that wasn’t it. King Terrence drew a sharp breath and started coughing, then choking. She ran to him and held him until it stopped, but he wasn’t concerned about himself. Even through the pain and his coughing fit, he was trying to comfort her. It was so like him that she wanted to cry, but she wouldn’t. This was her burden to bear. Her failure. She would not put more on his plate than she absolutely had to.

“I went to Lord Ormund to find out if there was anything I could do to protect our unborn child, even though I knew there was nothing he could do. He assigned me a servant that had the knowledge to help with any of the more common complications that might arise but, as happened with so many noblewomen, the child was stillborn. I had the girl take the body away. She never returned, which was the plan. She’d only have been a reminder. I ordered Ormund to keep my secret. I did not wish to burden you.”

The king looked surprised, then betrayed. “Burden me? You kept this from me all these years. Carried this yourself. Did you think I would blame you? I want you to burden me, Trey. I beseech you to burden me. All these years and you carried this weight without a single word. The pain you must feel…why? Why would you keep this from me?”

“I was going to tell you, I really was. But I saw how you were when you returned from the Plains of Xarinos. A shadow of your former self. Not quite the man I married. You carried with you the rage of the war and the guilt of your affair. You were one tragedy away from tossing yourself off the palace roof. At what point should I have told you?”

The king started to reply, then stopped. “So it was my fault. I’m so sorry, Trey. I didn’t know. I was selfish.”

“No, my love. You were injured. Not physically, but soul hurt. You had experienced things that would have tasked anyone and compassion made you more vulnerable. You had given all you could and still men died. Sometimes, I wonder if we even won that war.”

“We didn’t lose it, that much I know. And for fifteen years, the Undead King has stayed behind his borders. Until today I had thought he’d learned his lesson.”

“Until today?”

“Sarith spoke to me. She told me the Undead King is building a huge army. He’s going to march again, Trey. I know it.”

“Slow down, tell me everything.”

And he did. What Jericho had told him about Ormund visiting her, the conclusions he drew, the attack, all of it. When he was done, Treya shook her head.

“How could he have gotten it so wrong? What happened to him? That’s not the Jericho I knew.”

Terrence looked thoughtful. “I wonder. Maynor was taken over, is it possible that Jericho is under some sort of spell. That would explain it, surely.”

“Maybe. We have to find them.”

Terrence nodded. “I’m heading to the throne room. Go ahead and get the search started.”

“You’re in no condition…”

“It doesn’t matter, Trey. The people need to see me up and about. I’ll take it easy…I promise.”

“Change first. Red is definitely not your color. Do you need help?”

Terrence looked down and for the first time realized that he was covered in blood.

“I can manage. Get back to the throne room, I’ll join you shortly.”

Treya didn’t believe for one second that Terrence was going to take it easy. Nor did she believe she could stop him from getting involved. She helped him to his feet, kissed him ever so gently on his forehead, where she was least likely to cause him pain, and left the room. She’d send a couple of guards back to check on him, just in case.

She ran now, all thoughts of decorum forgotten. If Jericho was using Sarith’s Cloak on Lord Ormund, they had to find them as soon as possible, because the injuries that cloak would cause were something no healing potion could fix.

This too was her fault. She should have told Terrence the truth ages ago. Then, when Jericho accused Ormund, Terrence could have set him straight. There were already too many casualties, and she couldn’t afford another on her conscience. Somehow, she had to figure out where they were and save him.

At the very least, she owed him that.