The walk back to the palace felt longer and much more unpleasant barefoot than the chase out had been. I didn’t have urgency to drive me across cobble and refuse, and therefore had to drive myself. When I recognized the street where the Lute and the Bowl was located, I was genuinely tempted to divert and borrow shoes from my brother if he was in. I didn’t, however, but kept pace with Druskin. In the nicer parts of the city Quill and the other captain fell in with us, and we reshuffled without any discussion so the captains walked together ahead and Quill and I walked behind. We didn’t talk, but Quill arched his brow at my poor feet and I made a face. Back at the palace gates, the guard wordlessly handed me back my dressing gown, but I kept the cloak for the walk through the palace. It was probably less notable than the dressing gown at this hour.
My feet ached and were black with grime, but the four of us went to report to the King. It wasn’t the kind of bad news you waited to tell.
It was the same receiving room where I’d waited on the Countess last night. King Keleman and Queen Olyami sat on the thrones, still as stone, their faces closed. The only movement was the occasional shuffle from the retinues, and the gentle flicker of the lamps that betrayed the many hidden entrances.
When the Countess and Hadella arrived, the room shifted to face them and they both hesitated just a beat before crossing the room and curtsying to their aunt and uncle. There was an odd assortment of people in the room, and they both noted it. Domonkos’s guard captain, but not Domonkos, Druskin—stillin his clothes from the night before—myself—barefoot—and Quilleran. Besides a lord and lady each attending the King and Queen.
“What is it, Kiraly?” asked the Countess. “Has something happened?” She was dressed and had some light make up on, but it had clearly been thrown together hastily—at least by Angari standards. I wondered what phase of preparation she’d been summoned out of.
“Adelheid, Hadella,” the King nodded to his nieces. “I summoned you here to hear the latest in the investigation on the threats on your life.”
The Countess perked up, “Has there been news? Can we get an antidote for Galo?”
The King’s gaze shifted to Hadella as he said, “There is no antidote. There is no need. Galo is recovering well. It was a ruse.”
The sisters stared at him with nearly identical expressions of incomprehension.
“We sought to drive out the one who hired the assassin, believing that they were still decent enough to save an innocent, or try.”
Now Hadella’s eyes closed.
“My investigators followed this person directly to a man who she had clearly met previously, and overheard a conversation in which she asked to set up a meeting with the assassin she’d hired.” The King’s voice grew harder as he watched Hadella’s face. “Do you have anything to say for yourself, Hadella?”
The Countess’s mouth fell open and she looked at her sister.
Hadella lifted her chin. “Only that I acted to preserve Wuhnravinwel, Kiraly, as you should have. This marriage is an insult to our land, our blood, and to Tirien herself. My sister,” she spat the word, “Has betrayed us body and soul. You, my liege, should have prevented this.”
“Hadella.” The Countess covered her chest with her hands as if she’d been stabbed. “How could you?”
There were tears glittering in both sister’s eyes, but Hadella set her mouth. “You could have said no,” she said, “When he asked you to give up our land. The land our ancestors bled for. The land given to us by Tirien. When he asked you to give our blood away to those elves—you would bear a half-breed who would taint the land forever!”
“I’m not giving anything away,” said the Countess, her eyes wide.
“You’re a traitor.”
“No,” said the King, “It is you, Hadella. Tirien gave us the springs and the land around it, but she didn’t forbid us to share them. You will go to this meeting you’ve set up and you will withdraw your assassin.”
“I will not,” said Hadella.
“You will,” growled the King.
“You cannot make me.” Tears were running down her face now and her voice shook. I had no doubt she was thinking of the ways kings usually got what they wanted.
The King’s jaw worked. He was thinking of those things, too. And probably thinking about Hadella as a child in his sister’s arms. “Take her to the dungeon,” he said at last.
Hadella turned white, but didn’t struggle when the captain and one other guard took her arms and escorted her out of the little chamber.
The Countess stood alone before the King and Queen, her mouth open like a fish stranded at low tide, her hands clutched over the heart wound she’d been dealt. The Queen extended her hands and the Countess stepped forward and into her aunt’s embrace. The room was utterly silent.