• Rebekah Olson

Chapter 25

“A bit mouthy for a minor noble, aren’t you?” Tajor leaned against the table with a malicious look for Keniv. “Oh, wait. Not a minor noble. Just the son of one.” Keniv clenched his fists as tight at his jaw. “Getting appointed as the delegate on this mission would have made me a minor noble.” “True,” Tajor said. “Did you get the appointment?” “I would have!” Keniv opened one fist and gave Jerryck’s shoulder a shove. “If you hadn’t interfered!” “Keniv!” Lalven snapped. “Don’t touch him. He’s a minor noble, you’re not. Whether you deserve it more or not doesn’t change the situation. Treat him with respect.” “The way you treat the princess with respect?” Tajor asked. Lalven tipped his face up, looking down his nose disdainfully. “Heston, control your men.” “I don’t take orders from you,” Heston said. He finally moved, stepping forward, squeezing his large frame between Tajor and Lalven. “You, however, do answer to me. With the way Keniv just treated a member of the king’s core staff, why did you recommend him for this mission?” Lalven stepped back. “I gave my reasons to Terrance.” Heston grabbed Lalven’s shirt and jerked him close. “Give them to me again.” Jerryck inched closer to the door. The confrontations between Lalven and Heston were just as bad, if not worse, than the screaming matches between Lalven and Nita. Keniv glared at Jerryck and leaned on the door, keeping anyone from leaving. Jerryck glanced over at the door that went back out to the the large council chamber. He might have to leave through there. But it was all the way on the other side of the room, past Heston and Lalven. He didn’t want to get too near them, and risk them drawing him into their argument. “He knows the Shontese,” Lalven said, shaking off Heston’s grip. “He knows Andreno. He has some gifts he’d like to give Andreno’s friends.” “Does he have them here or elsewhere?” Heston asked. “Here, of course,” Lalven said. “Search his room.” Heston snapped his fingers at the elite guards. Two of them jumped for the door, roughly shoving Keniv out of the way. “You can’t do that!” Keniv shouted after them. They were gone too quickly. He rounded on Heston, fists clenched and held at the ready. “You can’t do that!” “Why not?” Tajor asked. “Those items are my private property!” Keniv thumped his chest. Tajor put one hand to the side of his mouth, leaned forward, and whispered loud enough for everyone to hear, “Are they legal?” Lalven slapped Tajor’s hand down, barely missing his face. “Watch who you’re throwing insinuations at.” “Tell me if they’re legal or not.” Heston rephrased it. “Of course!” Lalven said. “Or I wouldn’t have let him bring them here.” “If they weren’t,” Tajor said, “would you have let him take them somewhere else?” “They aren’t precisely illegal anywhere,” Keniv said. “Why are you evading?” Tajor stepped closer to him, leaving the table behind. “They’re frowned on by the Gathering of Seats,” Keniv said. He looked over at Jerryck. “In fact, if they were caught in the wrong hands, the Gathering would likely take actions against that person. None of you would want something like that to happen, now would you?” Tajor snickered. “Now who’s insinuating?” “What exactly are these items?” Jerryck asked. “You going to stay around long enough to find out?” Keniv pushed Jerryck’s shoulder again. Tajor and a couple of other guards stepped closer. Keniv ignored them and pushed a third time. “Or are you going to run like a coward?” Jerryck stepped back. Keniv closed in. “That’s right! Back off! I don’t care that you’re a magician. I’m not afraid of you. Figured that out, didn’t you. That’s why you keep trying to leave.” He reached out to push again. Jerryck raised his arms to fend him off. “Stop it!” “You just took everything from me!” Keniv shouted in Jerryck’s face. Tajor stuck his arm between the two of them and said to Keniv, “Step away.” “Because he’s a minor noble and I’m not?” Keniv asked as he took one step back. “I needed this! I invested everything in dealing with Andreno’s friends, and they won’t trade with me anymore. They think I stole from them.” “Did you?” Heston asked. “No!” Keniv emphatically shook his head. “I know who did. But they won’t listen to me. I needed to talk to Andreno, get him to make them to let me back in. And now I can’t!” “Did they reject you on suspicion of theft?” Tajor lowered his arm. “Or did they just use that as an excuse to get rid of you?” Keniv took a swing. Lalven shouted for him to stop. Tajor merely grinned, and leaned back, removing himself from contact. None of the other guards moved. Keniv pulled back with his other arm for another swing. Jerryck released some quick magic. It pulled at the insides of Keniv’s ears, throwing him off balance. He stumbled, breaking his swing. “Keniv? You all right?” Lalven strode to him. “What happnened?” “I happened,” Jerryck said. “Try and hit my friend again, and I’ll do worse.” Keniv launched. His hands lunged for Jerryck’s throat. His bulk threw Jerryck backward. He hit the chair behind him, stumbled past it, then bounced off the edge of the table onto the floor. Tajor grabbed Keniv’s collar, lifting him off Jerryck with one arm. Keniv turned and kicked at Tajor’s knees. Tajor grabbed one leg in mid-kick. Lalven swung a fist again. Tajor let go of the shirt and slapped him across the face with an open hand. His head snapped to the side and he dropped to the floor. He curled in on himself, moaning in pain. One of the guards said, “Wow, Tajor. You can actually hit. I was beginning to wonder. I’ve never seen you do it.” “I have,” Heston said. “Get a medic.” “He didn’t hit him all that hard,” the same guard said, while a couple of others ran out of the room at Heston’s order. That left only the guard who spoke, and Tajor’s cleft chin friend, who wore a grim expression for once instead of laughter. Tajor stared down at his hands. He sighed like he was either exasperated or annoyed with himself. Heston asked, “What broke?” “His jaw,” Tajor said. He dropped his hands. “From an open handed slap?” Lalven pushed Tajor out of the way to kneel beside Keniv. “Impossible.” Keniv moaned again when Lalven pulled him up to sit. A bruise already blossomed on his jaw. Lalven put his hands under Keniv’s arms, pulling him up. “Come. Let’s get you to your room.” “He just attacked a member of the king’s core staff.” Heston grabbed Lalven’s hands, removing them from Keniv. Lalven pulled away. “He was provoked!” “Doesn’t matter,” Heston said. “Don’t you dare practice your thuggery on him.” Lalven stood nose to nose with Heston. He shook a finger at Tajor. “And I insist he be incarcerated and punished!” Heston crossed his arms, not saying a thing. Lalven waited a couple of heartbeats. Then he turned to the door. “I’m taking this up with Terrance.” “Do that,” Heston said. “Be sure to mention how Keniv attacked Jerryck.” Lalven stopped short. He turned his head to glare over his shoulder at Heston. Keniv shuddered, hunkering in on himself, showing signs of shock. He wasn’t acting right for a mere slap on the face. Jerryck drew close, intending to use magic to check health and ailments. Keniv kicked at him halfheartedly. “Garret,” Heston said to Tajor’s friend. “Take Jerryck and help him get ready for his trip.” “I don’t need a guard’s help,” Jerryck said. “You have it anyway,” Garret said. He plucked at Jerryck’s arm, drawing him out of the room. They headed for the tower. Jerryck kept glancing behind himself, back to the small council chamber. “Stop worrying,” Garret said. “Kellos will take care of it.” Jerryck faced forward. “Or whatever medic he sends, I know.” “Usually Kellos comes when Heston calls.” “That’s a comfort,” Jerryck said. They entered the tower and started up the steps winding around inside the outer wall. “He’ll figure out exactly what’s wrong.” Garrett followed him up. “If Tajor says the man’s jaw broke, then the man’s jaw broke.” “You can’t break someone’s jaw by slapping their face.” “Tajor can.” Jerryck stopped. He turned to stare at the guard. Some of the humor returned to Garret’s eyes. “Haven’t you ever wondered why he never, ever, ever hits people, like the rest of us who wear this uniform?” “I guess I just assumed he did it when I wasn’t around.” “Not even then,” Garret said. “He’s stronger than he looks. Stronger than he lets people believe. Fast, too. We don’t spar with him anymore. We could never manage to get a hit on him, and we cracked a few too many bones when he blocked.” “Now I know you’re making things up.” Jerryck continued up the stairs. “No, I’m not.” Garrett followed again. “If you try and knock him to the ground, you might as well try and knock over a tree. What happens if you punch a tree with all your might? You break your hand. That’s what.” Jerryck stopped a second time. He rested his hand on the stone of the outside wall. He shook his head. “No, no. This is too much. Something else would have happened by now, before this.” “It has,” Garrett said. “You remember a few years ago, about the time Tajor came to the palace, there was that brouhaha in Kershet? A relative of some of the city officials went on trial as a serial rapist? He claimed it wasn’t rape because his victims were just whores. He had a broken arm.” “So?” Jerryck remembered. No one could figure out how the man’s upper left arm had snapped so cleanly in two. He wouldn’t admit how it happened. And none of the witnesses would say, Heston included. “So that was Tajor,” Garrett said. “He grabbed the man by the arm and yanked him off his newest intended victim. Snapped the bone. I was there. I saw it. Heard the break.” “I really don’t need to know all of this,” Jerryck said. “Sure you do.” Garrett grinned. “He’s going with you to Shontarra. It’s good to know who’s protecting you.” “Are you certain he’s going after this incident?” “Yes. Nita likes him. She relies on his advice a lot more than either of them will admit. And he reads people easier than an open book. Even if she wasn’t going, Terrance would probably still send Tajor with you.”

 

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