“You’re looking rather better, soldier,” said Zam Caspian the Great. The king’s hair was lighter, like Ayglos’, and his well-trimmed beard was flecked with copper and silver. Even stooped in a swaying wagon, dressed in common clothes, he looked kingly. “It seems there is no point in disguise. In the doctor’s hospital all is discovered.” He pointed to the armor on the floor of the wagon. I hadn’t noticed it tucked at the head of the cot.
Quill looked chagrined. “I apologize if I have put your family at danger. It was not my intent.”
The king waved his hand, “My family is adept at putting itself in danger, and it has no need of assistance.” He glanced at Ayglos and me. I tried to look as if I agreed and considered this an excellent skill. “Do you know which royal family you have uncovered?” He motioned to my brothers, and the three men found places to sit around the cramped wagon. I was extremely grateful for Boitumelo’s status in the circus. Of all the wagons to fit five men and a girl into, this was one of the more comfortable ones. I found myself sitting at Quill’s knees, oddly feeling that I was on trial with him.
“Yes, your majesty. You are King Zam of Galhara, exiled, believed dead,” Quill bowed on his cot, “And these must be your children. They are much older than when I last saw your royal family.”
“When was that?” asked my father.
“When your family visited Dalyn, shortly before the war with Hirhel,” replied Quill. When my father arched a brow he continued, “My father was in the Royal Guard, I was a child and serving as a page in the king’s court.”
“And now?” the king pressed. “Burning buildings in neighboring cities?”
“We burned nothing belonging to Gillenwater, and harmed none of her citizens,” said Quill firmly. He paused, “Do not think me insolent, your majesty, but I must ask before proceeding; do you want to know what we were about? There is great danger in knowing.”
“For you or for us?” The king inclined his head. I watched breathlessly. I wanted to know. There was always danger with knowing, I guess, and my father had to weigh the safety of his entire household. But we were hidden, and going to Magadar…
The archer smiled, “I am already in great danger.”
“Why should you tell me?” replied the King, “I am a stranger on the road.”
“Your majesty was a strong ally to Dalyn in the wars. Also, your majesty’s daughter, I presume, has already shown willingness to oppose Hirhel when given the chance—a gesture I’m very grateful for. You have lost everything to the Nether Queen, even more than Dalyn. There may be much to gain in alliance. I would tell you the truth if you asked.”
“Continue,” said the king at last.
Quill obliged. “My name is Quilleran Rhydderick, I am one of King Kegan the Younger’s men. We were sent here on a mission to cripple the Nether Queen’s army building machine—or to start, anyway—last night we destroyed the Forges.”
He paused and the creaking of the wagon filled the break as we all took in this information.
“Our getaway was not quite as clean as we would have liked,” he grimaced at his bandages, “but all in all it went quite well. I must return to my unit as soon as possible. We have more work to do.”
My oldest brother, Namal spoke, “Is Dalyn preparing a rebellion?”
Quill nodded. “Would you join our cause?”
I bit my lip as feelings of doom, fear, and hope banged around inside me like a litter of puppies—but hope got bigger with every turn until it swallowed up fear and doom. The Champion of the Bay Cities was not defeated. She was again to fight the Nether Queen. Perhaps Narya of Hirhel could be stopped before she conquered the entire region. We had a cause and a leader.
My father’s hands were on his knees, and he gazed at them, thoughtfully considering the archer’s request. His hands were unadorned, when once they’d born the signet ring of Galhara. We all watched him, waiting for his pronouncement. “I will consider this alliance,” he said at last. “Namal will return with you to Dalyn to treat with your king concerning this matter.”
The King stood, “Boitumelo, make sure he is equipped to travel. He will have to leave us before the day’s end if he is returning south. Namal, let’s prepare.” He left the wagon with Namal a step behind him.
I scrambled to my feet and darted after them. Jumping down from the wagon, the canopy flapping behind me, I jogged to catch up with my father and older brother. “Father!” I caught his elbow and hooked my arm through his. “Let me go with them!”
My father squeezed my arm and looked down at me without slowing his pace. “Why do you want to go, little Zare?”
“I pulled him out of the river.” The answer popped out before I could determine if that was a valid factor or not. Other awkward answers like “I don’t really remember seeing Dalyn when I was small and want to see the Cathedral” and “It sounds like an adventure!” managed to stay inside while I sorted out a better response. “Two fighting men traveling together would appear suspicious if they are searching the countryside for the men who burned the Forges. I can help them blend in.”
Namal was smirking. If I had been between him and father I would have jabbed him with my free elbow. It was a valid point and he knew it. But he also knew how hard I’d worked to come up with it. I tossed him a dirty look.
“Very well,” conceded my father. “You shall go with Namal and Quilleran Rhydderick.”