Lysander had made several rounds of the new camp, talking to every single one of his guards and soldiers, making certain they were settled, comfortable, and prepared for any possible conflict ahead. While he was doing that, Varajas organized dinner, making sure the prince had food waiting for him when he finally retired to his tent.

“I don’t want to get all superstitious on you,” Lysander said as he came inside, “but I’ve got just the worst feeling about this place.”

“Not superstition.” Varajas poured hot tea for the both of them while Lysander worked free of his armor. “Everyone’s nerves are still frayed from the war. A bunch of entitled pricks all convinced they should become the new rulers of the kingdom. Too many bored soldiers packed too close. And then there’s the bad news.”

Lysander stopped with his fingers on a buckle, looked over at Varajas. “Oh god. Do I even want to hear this?”

“As if any of us get what we want these days.” He set the drinks on the table, then went to help Lysander tug off his shoulder-plates. “There’s some magic at the castle. I don’t know what it is, or even it it belongs to—” He stumbled over the word us. There wasn’t an us anymore, not really. “If it was created by a knight. It might be tied to something that happened at the end, before you came back to Triome. Some incident?”

Lysander shrugged free his last bits of armor. “Sure, there was something. Some magic. I don’t know.”

He could have been discussing a strange bit of weather for all he seemed concerned. Varajas put a hand on his shoulder, summoned the focus that had come with practiced ease when he’d been a priest. “Listen to yourself.”

“V, what—”

Varajas shook his head. “No, I want you to think. To concentrate. There was a night—a burst of power that disturbed all the wizards and drove all the survivors out of the castle. Do you remember that?”

At first, Lysander’s face was a mask of confusion. Varajas pushed harder, trying to center his power in Lysander to drive away any magic that might be affecting him. Lysander’s eyes went wide, and his mouth fell open as confusion was replaced with shock, and then a dawning anger. “What the ever-living fuck?”

“Yes. And I don’t know if you’ll even remember once I stop helping you remember.”

Lysander put a hand on Varajas’s forearm, holding it in place. “Why isn’t it affecting you?”

“Samir did something. So far it seems to be working for us. But he’s just guessing, and so am I. Whatever magic is coming out of the castle, it’s strong. It may be tied to the knife. I don’t know.”

Lysander cut right to the important question. “Are you going to find out?”

“Yeah.” Varajas sighed. “Sadly, this sounds like it may be my problem to clean up.”

“You don’t know what the problem is. And you’re certainly not responsible for everything anyone has ever done just because they happened to be a knight.” Lysander spoke with absolute certainty.

“Still. I’m starting to wonder if it wasn’t naive to think that just because we took the knife away, that would be the end of its influence here.”

“What’s done is done. Will I forget all this if you let go of me? Because I’m starving, and no one should be expected to save the world on an empty stomach.”

Varajas wasn’t sure. “I’m way over my head here. I was never that great at the theory.” He’d never been interested in it. Not like Ruan.

“Better find out, then. We can’t stand like this forever.”

Theory had never been Varajas’s strength, but the things he did understand, he could do well. It was easy to keep focus in one side of his mind, holding pressure, his power anchored in Lysander, as he pulled his hand away.

“Still worried about the castle,” Lysander announced as he sat down at the table.

“I’m still holding you. The real test comes when we’re not in the same place anymore.”

“Which will be soon enough. After I eat, I need to track down Erique, Nomi, and Tarik. They can catch me up on any important politics I’ve missed.”

Varajas wasn’t embedded in Lysander’s social circle the way Ádan was, but he recognized the names of Lysander’s friends. “Politics. Is that what you’re going to be doing?”

Lysander’s grin was answer enough. “Let’s say you shouldn’t wait up.” The smile faded, and Lysander was back to serious. “Since I may or may not remember, let me say now that I trust you’ll get this castle business sorted.”

Varajas was less confident. At the very least, he was going to need help. He’d already started composing a carefully worded message to Ádan in his head. But all he said to Lysander was, “We’ll see.”

A note from Barbara J Webb

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About the author

Barbara J Webb


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