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  • Rebekah Olson

Chapter 30

None of the guards challenged Jerryck when he entered Nita’s room. She paced back and forth across the floor, fists and teeth clenched. Deek and the head of her bodyguards stood over by the far wall. “Is this why most of her guards are out in the corridor?” Garret whispered to Deek. “I heard that!” Nita whirled around to glare at him. She put her fists in her hair on either side of her head, bent over at the waist, and screamed. “I hate this place! I hate it. Hate it. Hate it.” “You were happy earlier.” Jerryck backed up. “What happened?” “The only thing anyone here cares about is their own social status.” She went back to pacing. “They mistreat anyone they think they can get away with abusing. I thought maybe I could escape it for a while by reading a popular novel, and I can’t even do that!” “You love reading,” Jerryck said. “The only thing they gave me to read is stupid and tasteless…” Nita pointed to a book lying on the floor on the other side on the room. With the way the pages were skewed, some of them halfway folded under, she had to have thrown it. “It started off with some stupid, vapid daughter of a nobleman out in a field picking flowers. She didn’t even have any guards around. Very unrealistic. Then these noblemen kept coming up and singing to her, each of them trying to convince her to let him become her suitor. As if all that matters is how well someone sings. I tell you, if some stranger walked up to me in the middle of a field, I’d throw rocks at him. Especially if he broke out in spontaneous song!” “I could see you doing that.” Her bodyguard chuckled. “You’re more and more like your mother every day.” “I kept skipping chunks, flipping through the pages, thinking it had to get better,” Nita continued, shaking her fist at the book. “Most of the entire plot is this stupid woman agonizing over which of her suitors will make the best heir for her father, because she’s his only child, so whoever she marries will take her father’s place.” “And there’s the heart of the matter,” her bodyguard said. She narrowed her eyes at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?” “You don’t like the subject matter,” he said. “Too many people have told you that your future husband is also the future king. Personally, I agree with you. Those people are stupid. I know plenty of women who would make better rulers than most of the men in positions of authority.” “Now you’re just trying to mollify me.”A lot of the tension on her face melted away, a sign that her rant was winding down. Jerryck sighed with relief, and inched toward the book. Nita flopped into an overstuffed chair. “Is Tajor back yet?” “Not yet,” Deek answered. “Where’d he go?” Jerryck picked up the book. No book should be left to lie that way, not even if it really was as bad as Nita claimed. “Cade wanted his help checking out a few people,” Nita said. “Did you find anything yet?” “No.” Jerryck smoothed out the pages and closed the book properly. Garret snickered. “You didn’t find out you dislike Masorno?” “I already knew that,” Jerryck said. “How about that Andreno is connected with foreigners?” Jerryck set the book on the nearest table. “I didn’t hear that.” “I did,” Garret said. “Several times.” “So did I,” Deek said. The door opened. Cade and Tajor entered. Nita gestured them closer with the same hand wave her father used. She still partook in the ongoing conversation at the same time. “Andreno is high nobility. Of course he’s connected to foreigners. Which ones are people referring to? And how specific is the information? Is it through correspondence? Is there a representative here in Shontarra? And for what purpose?” “The only answers we have for that are rumors,” Cade jumped in, getting nothing out of context, despite having missed the beginning of it. “The two things most people agree on is that they’re fair featured, like the Chemwanee, and Andreno’s getting gold from them. We talked to a couple of merchants who swear he’s been scouring the country and beyond for leather, textiles, grains, and preserved foodstuffs to trade for gold.” Nita frowned. “The Chemwanee don’t use gold as a monetary system.” “No,” Cade said. “They barter.” “So they’re probably not from the Chemwanitz Mountains.” Nita stood from her seat. “Besides, Andreno doesn’t like any Chemwanee. I think he’d have as little to do with them as possible. How reliable are the rumors that they’re fair featured?” “I saw one,” Jerryck said. “He had blond hair.” “Dark blond,” Garret corrected. “And Masorno only claimed the man was foreign. He didn’t offer any proof.” “I’ll keep digging,” Cade said. “Having our regular source of information would help,” Deek grumbled. “Something I should know?” Nita asked. “We’re currently undergoing a shift in our regular information correspondent here,” Cade said. “They were a father/son team, both of whom had been initiated into the elite. More the father than the son. Unfortunately, there was a recent incident that resulted in the father’s death. The son is off the grounds right now, sent on leave of absence by his commanding officer for a mourning period.” Nita put her hands on her hips. “Well, you can’t really blame him for that.” “It’ll be harder in the future,” Cade said with glower. “The son was always more tight lipped than the father. He’s more likely to send information south to Ahnjwat than to us. So, as I said, I’ll have to keep digging to try and turn up information on this mysterious group of foreigners Andreno’s been working with.” “Can anyone think of anywhere else they may be from?” Nita walked around the room slowly and leisurely, burning off restless energy, unlike the hot pacing she did earlier. “How about farther south than Kemetullah? Across the Ahnjwat Sea?” “Their skin is so dark it’s almost black,” Jerryck said. “What about the desert east of the mountains?” Nita fiddled with a bouquet of red roses in an etched gold vase. “Reddish-brown skin,” Cade said. “What people live on the other side of the desert?” Nita flicked the tassels and fringe decorating the back of the chair she’d used. “They have olive colored skin, almost yellow,” Jerryck said. “If the one person I met in Kemetullah was a typical example. They have flat faces. And slanted eyes—even more slanted than the people on the northern tundra.” “Opposite direction then.” As if for emphasis, Nita turned left and walked over to pick up the book Jerryck had rescued. “How about west? I know that they have light brown skin in the archipelago, not pale, and black hair usually. But what’s west of them? What’s west of the Makanakai Ocean?” “I don’t know,” Jerryck said. “The islanders claim they’ve never sailed that far,” Cade added. “What about using magic instead of sailing?” Nita asked. “Almost everyone who uses travel magic will first scry out their ending location,” Jerryck said. “And I don’t know of any scryer gifted enough to see across the entire ocean.” “What if someone you didn’t know did it?” Nita walked a slow circle around furniture in the sitting area of the room. “What if someone over there scryed us over here? Then they wanted to trade with us, and sent over a representative to establish a foothold? Is there even the slightest possibility that these foreigners could be from that far away?” “I don’t have enough information to support or deny that theory,” Cade said. “Keep searching,” she told him. Then she folded her hands in front of her and planted her feet, much like her father when he was about to make an announcement. “On another subject, you all should know, I had lunch today with Charllass, Prince Sanbralio’s granddaughter. I learned several things, one of which is that I should name someone as an advisor. That’s the one servant that people here think it’s acceptable to talk to.” “You want recommendations?” Tajor asked. “I’ve already decided to appoint you to the position.” “No,” Tajor said. “This isn’t a request.” Nita’s cheeks flushed. “I’m telling you to fill the position.” “No.” Tajor shuddered. His aura vibrated, sending an irritating buzz across Jerryck’s skin. Jerryck reached out with his own aura, brushing against Tajor’s, studying it, trying to figure it out. Once contact was made, the buzzing intensified, saturating Jerryck’s skin, latching on, integrating. He tried to pull away, only to find the vibration had melded, holding him like glue. “What is that!” Jerryck rubbed at his arms, which only made it worse. “It’s a refusal,” Tajor said. “Not that.” Jerryck shuddered too. The buzzing from Tajor got worse. “That!” “What are you talking about?” Nita asked him. “Are you all right? You don’t look very good. Maybe you should sit down.” “I should go,” Tajor said. The vibration increased again, upsetting the equilibrium inside Jerryck’s ears, throwing waves of dizziness over him. Tajor kept talking as if nothing was wrong. “Cade and I were only checking in. There are several more people we could talk to.” “Be back here before I have to go back out in public,” Nita told him. “Absolutely.” Tajor smiled. Some of the vibrating eased off. “As my advisor,” Nita amended. “No,” Tajor said. The vibrating increased again. Jerryck sat. Tajor shot him an irritated look. “Are you really that sensitive now? Or are you just being a hypochondriac?” “Make it stop!” Jerryck grit his teeth, not that it helped. It provided no stability, no calm, no relief. Tajor let out a long, slow breath. “Nita, if I do this for you, please make it only temporary, ending the moment we leave this palace.” She nodded once. “Granted.” “Then I’ll do it,” Tajor acquiesced. The buzzing ceased. Jerryck gasped from the abrupt change back to normalcy. He said, “That didn’t feel like your curse.” Nita’s bodyguard frowned at Tajor. “Curse?” “Excuse me.” Tajor spared just enough of a moment to glare at Jerryck before he turned and walked out of the room. Cade hurried to follow. “Curse?” the bodyguard repeated. “I’ll explain,” Nita said. “First, Garret, Jerryck looks a bit ill. Take him back to his room, and don’t let anyone bother him for the rest of the day.” # Jerryck let Garret guide him from the room, back to his. He didn’t really need rest. The short walk up the corridor got rid of the residual reactions to the vibrating, and curiosity put a different buzz in his head. Though it did make for a nice excuse to keep Masorno away. The next few days were spent vacillating between irritation and boredom. He got up in the mornings and spent a boring breakfast with Nita. Then he went with her to attend Prince Sanbralio’s court. The necessary socializing during and afterward reinforced his aversion to ever attending court back at home. Most irritating was Masorno. He insisted on lunch every day. After that, he would parade boys with the potential for magic in the hope that Jerryck would slate one as a future apprentice. “None of these kids are old enough to be an apprentice,” Jerryck said. “Of course not.” Masorno gave Jerryck a patronizing pat on the head. “I told you they were young enough to give you time to get your credentials. Whenever you’re ready to officially finish your apprenticeship so you can do that, let me know.” “Aren’t there any new magicians that are already adults?” Jerryck asked. “Maybe someone who hasn’t been officially trained, or hasn’t gotten their license yet? Like whoever that friend is that Andreno mentioned.” “Andreno has no friends!” Masorno surged to his feet. “Are you questioning what I’ve already told you? I allowed you in my home. I accepted your apology. And you act as if my patience and leniency means nothing to you! Disrespectful!” Masorno stormed from the room, leaving Jerryck with his jaw hanging open at the sudden, unprovoked anger. The next time they met, he half expected a demand for another apology. Instead, Masorno acted as if nothing had happened at all, and paraded the next set of potential apprentices. Jerryck didn’t bring it up again. On the fifth day, while nobles socialized outside the throne room after court, Deek snarled and grumbled death threats under his breath. He stared up at a balcony. The man that Masorno claimed was a Chemwanee stood there watching them, focused on the princess. He wore the same expression too many young men had when they were enamored with a pretty, young woman. Tajor excused himself and left. A few moments later, he appeared on the balcony and leaned on the railing next to the young man. The two of them exchanged a few words. The young man paled and backed away. Tajor smirked, then came down to rejoin them on the floor of the room. “Have fun?” Deek growled at him. “You really want to know?” Tajor still wore the smirk. “Though, if he really was a foreigner, I think I may have chosen wrong by chasing him off.” “Probably better than letting Deek spill his blood for eyeing the princess too much,” Garret said with a giggle. Nita finished with whatever noble she was talking to. She asked Tajor, “Was he really a foreigner? Did he have any kind of accent of anything?” Tajor gave her one of his infuriating half answers. “Not really.” “You’re supposed to give me more information than that.” She clucked her tongue at him. “It’s not like I can talk to the other guards about it while I’m here.” “Are you going to reconsider my position?” Tajor plastered on an exaggerated, exuberant smile. “No,” she said flatly. “Just tell me your impression of him.” “He spoke with an absolutely pristine and perfect Shontese accent.” So did Tajor, like he was giving an example. “Every syllable of every word was exactly precise, if simplistic. He used no idiom, turn of phrase, or contraction.” “So he’s perhaps a foreigner who’s studied the language well enough to erase his accent,” Nita said. “Whether he is or isn’t—” Tajor dropped the stupid smile— “He’s one of the people Cade’s been trying to get more information on.” “And you chased him off anyway?” Garret asked. “Actually, someone called him away,” Tajor said. “Or I’d have stayed longer and talked to him more before scaring him off.” At that moment, someone else called for Nita’s attention, and she was swept a few feet away, most of her bodyguards following. Garret stayed right by Jerryck, still looking up at the balcony where the blond man had disappeared. “Jerryck,” Garret said. “Didn’t Magician Alysses say something about him?” “Who?” Jerryck asked. Garret looked away from the balcony, back at Jerryck. “That first day after we got here. The magician that took on the apprentice from Kershet, but wanted you to meet his nephew.” “Oh, yes, him,” Jerryck said. “He’s not a very skilled magician. He keeps having to travel to find new work.” “And he complains now about a foreigner as much as he complains about you, according to his apprentice.” Garret glanced back up at the balcony one more time. “That was when Masorno pointed out that blond man. You should call him for a visit.” “The blonde?” “We’ve tried that. We get blocked. Call for Alysses. Talk to him without Masorno. Maybe we can get more information out of him.” “I’ll see if I can arrange it,” Jerryck said. He scanned the people at the edges of the crowd. That’s where the most important servants of the nobles tended to congregate. Garret steered him over by Nita and told him, “Stay with her. I’ll take care of this.” He whispered to one of the other elite guards, then left. Every time Jerryck tried to leave after that, the other guard stopped him. People began drifting off, talking about getting ready for lunch. Nita wound down her last conversation. As they were leaving the large room, Garret finally rejoined them. He said to Jerryck, “Arrangements are in process for you have lunch with Alysses tomorrow.” “Why not today?” Jerryck asked. “Today you already have other plans for lunch,” Nita told him. “I asked Prince Sanbralio if I could eat with him, and he invited the both of us.” Jerryck pouted. “Dining with him every evening isn’t enough?”

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