“So, you haven’t aged a day?” I asked. “You didn’t have an enormous beard when you got up?”
Trinh looked at me strangely. “I…did not. No one has asked that before.”
“And your horses didn’t wander off?”
“I told you, we were knocked to the ground, then we got up. Most of us never even lost our grip on the reins.”
“Shyr Valla was—is it really gone?”
“Do you think I didn’t look thoroughly?” growled Trinh, a bitter edge to his voice.
“I’m sorry,” I recoiled a little at his tone, “Many of the rumors I’ve heard about Galhara’s fall are so far from the truth that it’s hard not to believe the same is true for other cities.”
Turning his hard look to his brother, Trinh said, “I don’t like to tell my story because it doesn’t make sense. I would not believe it myself if I wasn’t looking at twenty-year-old version of my baby brother.”
“Sometimes not even then,” commented Tarr.
“My brother, Namal, should be here,” I said firmly. When they hesitated, I leaned forward, “He does not believe the Nether Queen is a sorceress because you will not provide him with evidence. You cannot expect us to follow your plans if you will not tell us the truth. Namal has met you in the past, Trinh, he would recognize you.”
Trinh scoffed. “Skipping six years in your twenties isn’t quite so visible as fourteen to twenty.”
“But why would you lie?”
“I don’t know, maybe I’m one of the Nether Queen’s agents.”
“If you were, you would have already captured my family.”
Tarr cut in, “I agree with Princess Zare.”
Trinh’s eyes flicked down to where Tarr still held my hand and my cheeks heated.
“Jemin,” continued Tarr, unmoved, “Please go invite Prince Namal to this counsel.”
Jemin bowed and left by way of the secret door. The room was silent except for the crackling fire for several long moments after he left. Trinh was angry, and I got the feeling he was only quiet because I was present. He stood and began to pace in front of the fireplace.
Tarr began tracing circles on the back of my hand, agitated by his brother’s pacing. “This is long overdue, brother.”
“We are wasting time,” replied Trinh with a growl.
“I am not a child and we need their help,” replied Tarr. This was an old disagreement, and Tarr had just forced his brother’s hand. I could appreciate such tactics. This room was going to be all kinds of fun when Namal arrived.
“You should not have brought her into this,” Trinh gestured to me without breaking stride.
He said it as if I had corrupted his brother and that was so entirely ridiculous that I scoffed and all the men turned to look at me. I lifted my chin, “I am Zare Caspian, daughter of Zam the Great of Galhara, I should have been brought in the moment I arrived.”
Trinh stopped and crossed his arms. “How old are you?”
Was that his problem? “Diplomacy isn’t your best skill, is it?” I retorted.
Trinh waited, unmoved.
Against my better judgement, I answered him, “I am seventeen.”
“You should not be involved in a war, much less leading one.”
Trinh apparently had a variety of objections to this meeting, and my impulse to kick his legs out from under him would very likely not help matters. “Tell that to the war, maybe next time it will skirt around me out of deference for my tender years.” Much better.
Tarr jumped in, “The Galhirim have already been thrust into the war, and they have stirred hope in the doing. She,” he tipped his head toward me, “has stirred hope in the doing.” Standing, Tarr released my hand and moved back to lean on the fireplace. “Narya Magnifique is more now than the feuding queen you faced. Her latest command is most grievous. I can’t refuse her yet, and I can’t very well expect the city to rally around me while I’m giving orders to sift through my subjects to execute whomever the Queen wills.”
Trinh had no answer. He stood like stone with his arms crossed and his eyes fixed on his younger brother. Pain seeped into his face like it was overflowing from somewhere deep, then he sucked it back in again.
“How long ago did you…arrive back?” I ventured.
“Three months ago.” He said the words as if he’d be back an eternity and was chafing that nothing had changed yet.
I looked at Tarr, who was again watching the fire with an alarming fascination. Quill was watching him, too, I noticed. I wondered suddenly if Trinh was the hope that Quill had mentioned so many weeks ago. I wasn’t so sure about pinning hopes on him. He seemed more like just another sign that we were up against someone with more and darker power than we could possibly imagine.
It felt like an eternity before the knocking pattern sounded and the hidden door slid open to admit Jemin and my brother—who had taken the time to dress. That left only myself and Tarr in less than public outfits, and that made my cheeks heat again. It didn’t matter, though, because Namal recognized Trinh immediately.
“Prince Trinh!” he exclaimed, striding forward and extending his hand in friendship. “You are alive! This is glad news.”
Turning, Trinh clasped my brother’s hand. “Prince Namal. I am sorry to hear of the loss of Galhara.”
Namal inclined his head, “We yet live.” No small thing. “I am eager to hear how you survived, and what you know of Narya’s plans.” He glanced around the room, noticing now who all was present. His eyes narrowed when he spotted me in my robe. I lifted a shoulder in a slight shrug. He looked back to the Kegan brothers. “May I ask why we have been gathered, so quickly and so late?”
Tarr supplied wearily, “The Nether Queen has ordered all the nymphs in the city to be rounded up for questioning and execution. I cannot refuse. I have also decided it is high time that my brother meet with the Galhirim himself.”
Namal looked as I had felt at the news: Stunned and sick.
“I have a plan!” I said quickly, feeling the need to stand since everyone else was. “But we don’t have a lot of time.” I faced Tarr. “What if you…got drunk…and slept in tomorrow? How suspicious would that be?”
Tarr’s brows furrowed and he turned his head to evaluate me suspiciously. “Not terribly.”
I didn’t need to look to feel the burning skepticism of Trinh and Namal. “Good, and do you have any ravens?”