We sat in silence until a young apprentice came with Mereditt and half the Captain’s desk. “Sorry, sir. I didn’t know which one you were wanting for…”
The Captain pulled out several documents from the stack, set the rest aside, and sent Mereditt out with a muffin for his trouble.
He passed the drawing to Master Thorne.
His eyes darted to my face for a second and then focused on the picture. “She is very pretty.”
“I can already see that you recognize her.”
Master Thorne’s expression was one I remembered well.
Mother had visited only once, unluckily just after I had destroyed the barn, again. We stood in the smoking ruins and saw her purposefully striding towards us. “What happened here? When she asks, we are going to tell her, very confidently, that you were trying to cook when a teigan came flying through the window…”
The expression was the same: full of confidence and the willingness to agree to any lie, no matter how outrageous it sounded.
“It feels strange to say it when you already know, but the girl in the picture was not his student. I was his student.”
“Your student’s name was Avery.” The Captain did not even acknowledge me, watching Master Thorne.
I looked at Master Thorne and willed him to recognize the story we were telling.
Master Thorne didn’t look at me. “I fail to see your confusion.”
“I am not confused; I am annoyed. Avery is a common name. There must have been three in my class, all boys.”
“I remember them,” Master Thorne grinned.
The Captain spoke tersely. “Had I known that the Royal Family lived near that city…” He stopped himself with a deep breath. “I told you of my assistant, and you said it was a different Avery.”
“I assumed it would be.”
“You used your real name. Named your real city, and your real occupation.”
“You never do trust the right people, Winter.”
“Miss Avery.” The captain still watched Master Thorne, who looked over at me.
“It is common name, and I thought I was going to die.”
Master Thorne choked on air.
I glared at the Captain, unable look at Thorne, “I assumed your interrogator would have a Truth-Seeing Talent. What, a looking-tough Charm? What use is that?” To think, I could have made something up.
He ignored me. “You did not worry to hide the connection.”
“You say that, but you did not think twice when I gave my student’s name.” Master Thorne forgot himself to gloat.
“You admit to lying.”
“I—” Master Thorne considered that. “Didn’t we already speak of that? Out of loyalty to the Royal Family, I chose not to mention certain details.”
The captain pointed to the portrait. “This girl is also from Essel. Remember where your loyalty lies. She is believed to be in the city, and participating in a plot against the throne. If she is royal, I need to know.”
“Look at him. He’s so confident that it isn’t you.”
But it wasn’t me, in the picture.
Master Thorne hardly glanced at the perfect rendition of Kivalya in all her sparkling beauty. “Those children are no danger to your throne. Pretty Avery plays with flowers, not swords. Boy Avery is a bit of a layabout, and always a few steps behind the world. My Avery is the fun one, as you know, and Little Avery was just learning to talk last I saw her.”
It was hard to tell who was more shocked: the Captain or me.
Master Thorne was trying not to look too pleased with himself. “Callily called them all Avery.”
Avery died laughing, wheezing against my legs. “He—he really—”
“She called them all Avery,” the Captain was not convinced.
“Amazing,” Avery clapped, wiping tears from her eyes.
Master Thorne gazed into his empty pipe. “Callily called them all Avery to outsiders. ‘Did my Avery cause you trouble?’ ‘These vegetables were grown by my Avery.’.” He looked like a schoolboy having a laugh.
It was true, in a way. Mother always blamed everything on me. On her troublesome Aevlin. I sighed. “We each had a name, and she used them when no one else was around. But if a neighbor came over, we would hear her saying, ‘my child did that? I am so sorry, it will never happen again.’ She never used our names.” Except mine.
The Captain looked indecisively between us.
“Most that met her believed she had one child. Some knew it to be a daughter, others a son. Occasionally people argued in passing about which it was, but for the most part no one paid any attention at all.” Thorne’s voice had dropped to apathetic, and I was amazed to see that the Captain appeared to be accepting the explanation. Perhaps he simply wanted to believe it.
“What skillful execution, what beautiful expression. He should really join the theatre. All clean and orderly, he would be perfect for it.” Avery clapped again.
It was not entirely untrue. She avoided letting strangers see us, and she had pretended to only have one child on several occasions.
“It was not always like that. Before…” Before Father died. Before assassins came. Before having our names registered became a real danger.
Captain Winter frowned and focused on Master Thorne. “I suppose you know all their names and locations.”
“There was some small difficulty, and it seemed best if they took an extended vacation. They were assisted to quietly leave the country nearly half a year ago.”
I bit my lip, worried for Willow Falls and my family. Somehow, it had never occurred to me that they were in any danger. They always lived so quietly, so far from everything.
“I put them in the care of a good friend in a small country town where they would not be noticed.”
“I had hoped for as much, when I learned that they were not on the farm any longer.” The Captain leaned forward to pick up the picture and hold it out. “Then I was sent this. I am not asking; I already know she is one of them.” His gaze was steel.
“Pretty Avery.” Master Thorne shook his head. “Too pretty for her own good, that one.” Looking past it at the Captain, he smiled cheerfully. “Has she gotten herself into trouble, truly?”
“For the care you gave in hiding them, it makes no sense to choose a name that was one of theirs.”
“It is a common name.” Master Thorne did not look at me.
"One common name and four uncommon ones."
The Captain’s expression was unblinking, unimpressed.
“She believed Avery could handle anything. Said she was her untouchable child.”
"Untouchable…" Avery hugged herself.
The Captain held out the picture again. “The girl in this picture is a child bride, wife of one Count Tergin.” He sounded like he had lost several years in a few short minutes. “That selfsame Count Tergin is now strutting around my city like he owns it, in the name of his wife Avery.”
The paper rustled in Thorne’s hand.
“He is looking at you.” Avery sat up straight to tap my knee.
Master Thorne held the drawing of Kivalya so that it hid his face from the Captain. His head still faced forward, but his eyes, full of questions, watched me.
Did he not know?
"It was the event of the season. He can't not know. He pretends, he lies. As always, as everyone."
Master Thorne replaced it on the table with a slight frown. “This likeness, as any with eyes can see, is not of the woman here before you. It is Kivalya, the eldest. I was aware of the count of Essel’s interest in her—the trouble I spoke of? Callily had no way of protecting her daughter from such a man—”
“The law." The Captain was unmoved.
Master Thorne shook his head. “No. Kivalya was nineteen, eighteen at the start? But she is twenty now. Her head was turned by his flattery, and his finery. I removed them from Essel to avoid this very situation, though I learned later that Kivalya left on her birthday; she had that right.”
The Captain leaned forward. “Not a moment ago—”
“One child is still there.”
“You may recall that I wrote to you and said that I thought the boy may attempt something foolish, if he thought he could save his sister.”
I wanted to believe that Jaiden would try to rescue me, but he had never shown heroic tendencies.
“I would remember such a report.”
“I am certain I gave it. It was only a few phases ago, when I returned. Upon discovering that three Royals had gone missing, I traveled around in search of them.”
“You said you were settling a guild dispute in Atelis.”
“Did I? Strange. Perhaps my other report went astray.”
I felt like I had been transported into some strange dreamland, watching the two of them.
“You are unbelievable.”
Master Thorne reclined in his chair, unconcerned.
My fears had alleviated enough that I could breathe while they had their staring contest. Both uncommonly good at not blinking and making scary faces with just their eyes, we would be there forever if I left it to them. “Captain?”
“Where does that leave us?” Master Thorne asked politely.
“Where we’ve always been.”
“Too-Pretty Avery has left home. As best I understand it, she left with a young man.”
Where was Kiva? Had the Count really married her? Was he looking for her?
"He wouldn’t have used the old papers if he had married her. He wouldn’t have used the name Avery. He actually knew her name—she gave it easily enough." Avery touched the cold wood. If she started a fire...
“Boy Avery disappeared from—where he was. It has been long enough to assume that he is in the city, as it is where he believes his missing sisters are.”
Jaiden had come to the city?
Master Thorne leaned forward and almost resembled the Captain, creating a strange mirror effect. “Then there’s Interesting Avery, and we know where she is. And Little Avery is safe and far away, with her mother,” he finished.
“I don’t believe you.”
Master Thorne and I looked at each other.
Clearing my throat for courage, I said quietly, “I did not take notes, but I believe two royals are accounted for and safe—one abroad and myself. Two are missing, but presumably here in Saliz.”
They both looked at me. “That report was worse than his,” the Captain disapproved. “Four children are registered under Prince Alaric and his wife Callily in the Royal Family book.”
For a moment we all silently looked at each other as everyone tried to figure out what everyone else was thinking.
"Four living children." Avery sighed and tried to fix a knot in my hair.
Master Thorne looked at me. “You were listening. Did I not list four? Winter, I met all Callily’s children.”
“Kivalya, Jaiden, Avery and Aevlin.”
Avery’s hand froze in place. “Avery?” I whispered.
The Captain watched Master Thorne. “Avery is here, and Kivalya has run off with a lover. Jaiden you think came to the city. Where is Aevlin?”
Master Thorne looked at me. “Aevlin?” He recovered. “Did I not say? The youngest—”
“Is abroad, I heard you. You are forgetting that I was acquainted with Prince Alaric. I am well aware that his youngest child is not in the Royal Family Book.”
Father had died before Teigan was born.
“Master Thorne, there is a chaotic mage hiding in Saliz. Look in my eyes and tell me it’s not one of those four.” He glanced at me, and I tried not to think about anything. “Master Mages of the Guild have sensed her, or him, but none have seen her, or him.”
I tried not to, but I looked at Master Thorne.
He stayed focused on the Captain, and I could see him trying not to think about it, too. “A mage?” he said skeptically. “Surely if any of them had been that powerful, it would have attracted attention.”
“Callily’s untouchable child, Thorne, you said it yourself. Think of the implications.”
King Horatio had been a powerful mage, and he had gone mad. Not only that, his had been fire magic, like ours. People would not have liked knowing.
And I had used her name, thinking it safe. Did the records not list her as deceased? But the Captain had known I was one of the missing royal children. He had kept me hidden in his office, keeping me close and quiet. Had he also been keeping an eye on my movements, thinking to find my siblings?
But I did not know where any of them were.
Except Avery. But she was no threat to his precious king.
Master Thorne only said, “Callily would never have let such a child be seen even by the neighbors.” He had seen me blow up too many chairs to not know where the mage was, even if he did not know of Avery.
"He knows Mother well. She let us go to the market, what, once? And once to Essel. He never allowed either."
“No magic ability, except the Sight. It must have been hard for her to watch them grow up and know she couldn’t do anything to protect them.” Master Thorne sighed. “She kept them hidden for years, and now…” He looked at me and shook his head with an even deeper sigh.
"I cannot tell if his performances improve, or worsen."
The Sight? Mother could see magic?
“Thorne. If I find out that you are hiding a mage from me…”
“We all had something,” I spoke quickly, unable to look at my old woodmaster. “A Talent or Charm or minor ability. Mother hated it.”
Master Thorne nodded. “It was uncommon in the north, and it worried Callily.”
“But none of us had anything strong.”
Master Thorne nodded again. “As I am sure you are most busy being captain of the guard, far too busy for other concerns that some might consider more important, you will also not have time to search. I know what Callily’s children looked like. I will find this Avery.”
The Captain raised his eyebrows. “You are looking at her.”
Avery and I stopped breathing.
He pointed to the picture. “Sixteen years—no one ever listens properly—she married this count last year and disappeared, but not without leaving a lot of damage in her wake. And the trail leads straight to Saliz. Only imagine what she must have gone through, committing so many crimes. This could even be a case of chaos taint.”
"Chaos taint?" Avery sat up. "I think I have heard of that…"
Master Thorne turned to me. “Aevlin—did one of you marry the count?” His eyes were open to negotiate.
“She will notice anything that is obviously untrue. We can only change small details, understand? The teigan jumped in through the window, and you were startled. Wild animals come in from outside, that’s normal. Teigan live in these mountains, that’s also normal. My beautiful, priceless rug did not grow legs and jump out, because that is impossible.”
“But I saw it!”
“I risked my life for that rug…”
“It really did get up and roar!”
“In your terror and confusion at seeing a live teigan you dropped a jar of oil into a large fire. Aevlin, pity this poor old man. I do not want to be murdered by your mother.”
“She’s going to kill me anyway!”
“But with an easy conscience…don’t cry, child, she won’t kill you. You’re her blood. However angry she is, she will always find a way to forgive you. And me, if we tell our story well. Which way did the teigan jump? It’s such a small detail…”
The Captain’s conscience and sense of duty would oblige him to follow the law. According to the law, I…
I would not go back.
And his loyalty to the king would probably see me killed first, in any case.
"Did we not already say it was Kivalya?"
“I was not there the first time he came. The Count of Essel. I only heard about it later. He had seen my sister—my beautiful sister, the one in the picture—and he wanted her. He seemed nice, but Jaiden said he had never done a single thing for anyone but himself. Mother did not trust him.
But how do you say no to a count? She told him her daughter was too young. He waited. He left guards, ‘to keep her safe’. And we had a year…a year to plan, to escape.”
“So that was why she changed her mind,” Master Thorne sighed. “She should have told me.”
“Mother doesn’t know how to ask for help. We made a plan. I was—I was the distraction. I was to distract for...as long as possible.”
“What happened to your sister?” Master Thorne touched my arm gently. “Did she escape before…”
“I thought everyone left. In any case, I know the guards were following us.”
"Two moons, they followed. All the way to Sorya."
Unitl the fire. Did they live?
“The certificate was signed,” the Captain sounded wearied. “Count Tergin would not be so confident if it was not.”
"I am Avery. I married the Count, ran away, committed the crimes. And then I died. I lived such a full life. And you will live on my sacrifice, again."
“Avery.” It felt weird to say it. “Avery had real magic. Not like Kiva’s Talent with plants, not like Jaiden’s Gift with words, not like Charm for wood. She was different.”
“Avery?” Master Thorne’s hand lifted to reach for me and closed into a fist. “Did Avery marry the count?”
“You admit at last that there are five,” the Captain directed his attention to Master Thorne.
Master Thorne still waited. “Aevlin?” His voice was soft.
He didn’t know.
“She is my twin.”
Master Thorne’s eyes closed, his hand and head falling with the force of the earth.
He did know. He had to now, if not before.
The Captain waited with an intent expression.
“We are identical.”
"If I were not transparent."
The picture was Kiva, but the name was Avery. Did it matter? A name was a small loss.
“Every king before now was a mage.” Master Thorne picked up the picture. “Perhaps he thought it a bonus.”
“If you arrived together, you must know where she is.”
“They did not arrive together. There was a fire in Sorya, and they were separated.” Master Thorne spoke with authority. “If she were in the city, you would know.”
"Does he know, or does he play along?"
The Captain’s steely gaze turned on Master Thorne. “How easily you change your words.”
“I am here on official business, sent by the king.”
“You know where my loyalty lies.”
The Captain turned to me. “And yours?”
"Master! To have prepared...how much of this conversation was a waste of breath?"
“They are going to attempt an uprising.”
“But we’re not!” I protested. Avery nodded vigorously. "The throne was not our goal. I only wanted to know…"
“I did not say you. But we need to locate the other three royals.”
“You need to find the girl in the picture.” Master Thorne crossed his arms.
“It does not matter which it is. By finding all the missing members of House Saliz, the throne will be protected. Having a royal on their side, even if it is a lie, gives them power. Against a royal and the northern Families, the southern Families would be hesitant to support the king.”
“He’s right,” Master Thorne said gently, eyes warning me not to speak. “I will find the mage. Trust me in this, Eliot.”
“The quickest, the safest way to prevent the plot is to remove the royals.”
"Remove? I say we run now. We can steal his carriage."
“I will trust you when you are honest. I cannot prevent this chaos blindly. Do not imagine that you are protecting her by lying to me.”
All my careful storytelling didn’t even help this time, though it had saved Thorne and I from Mother. Everything had worked out so well, then. We had convinced her, rebuilt the barn, and continued our lives. We even found the teigan fur a moon later.
"The king’s horse may remember us. We could borrow him again."
“The girl with a talent for woodcraft does not possess magic. That was your true intent in bringing my student here, was it not? To know that.”
“I believed you when you said that your student had no connection to the royal family.”
"Bigfoot could be persuaded to lend food for the journey…"
“I never said that. But I will say this: she’s just a minor Talent. Nothing for you to worry about.”
“May I never expect truth from you again.” The Captain stood. “Miss Avery.”
"Are you ignoring me plotting, at a time like this?"
Master Thorne clapped his hands together, “All settled then. I believe I’m halfway to finishing my goals for today. Shall we discuss the other matter? While you are here. Contessa Annalize is the best choice, everyone agrees. But what do you think, Captain of the Guard?”
“I suspect you already know, seeing as you wish for me to find the girl in the picture.” The Captain smiled coolly from the door.
“Thank you for seeing us, Master Thorne. I hope is has not taken up too much of your valuable time. Come, Miss Avery. No need to rise, Master Thorne.” He held the door, waiting for me. “We know the way out.”
Unable to resist the Captain’s pull, I nodded to my old master and passed under his arm. Avery stopped to bow to him before catching up to me.
“You are a sun looking for a ghost, Eliot. You know it is a waste of time, she will never shine near you.”
The Captain firmly closed the door behind him, shutting out Master Thorne’s cryptic cheer.
He knows. But he must think the bride was Kivalya, and thus the picture.
Even Avery sounded unsure. I wanted to question the Captain about everything and I wanted to sit with Thorne and catch up, and I wanted to run away, and I could not decide which I wanted to do more.
For his part, the Captain was distracted. He did not speak on the ride back, and he did not even wait for me when we arrived at the palace, heading straight for locations unknown, or the king’s wing of the palace.
As only the woodcrafter Royal, I no longer required the concern he had shown on Mage’s Night.