Chapter LX – Desperate Expedients

[Link to previous chapter]

I’m banging on a door in the palace to be let in. Where is the damn porter? He finally opens up, carrying a pike. I push him aside and go running down the corridor, yelling Lady Gwella’s name.

Yeah, Lady Gwella’s. This is the Haulloran suite.

Why here, and not the royal suite? Because the first priority has to be protecting the reincarnation of my sister Jallia, which Lady Gwella is carrying. I’m not sure where the king is and what he’s decided. I can’t take the chance that I’ll reach him too late, or be unable to convince him not to order the execution of the Earl and Lady Haulloran.

Trust the earl to have some hunting trophies in his great hall.

As with most noble suites, the main reception hall is at the far end of the entry corridor. I pull open the doors and dash in, shouting Lady Gwella’s name as loudly as I can.

Just my luck. There is no one here. Where could the lady be? Where is her husband? Have they already been taken? I can feel the panic rising. I need to go find them, which means I need to force some answers out of the porter. Looks like I’ll need to do some magic.

I turn around. I’m immediately brought up short by both the earl and lady stepping into the reception hall from the corridor. A corner of my mind registers that they are both still in their night clothes: a shift and a robe. But the earl iscarrying his sword. I don’t think he sleeps with it. Maybe he does. He takes a step forward, raising his sword, threatening to attack me.

I’m debating how to stop the earl with magic when his lady intervenes. She grabs him by his other arm and holds him back. “Wait, Ronnard. This is Sarton’s boy, Tollon. I was just talking to him yesterday. Let’s hear what he has to say.”

The earl doesn’t look entirely convinced. But he’s still in love with his lady, so he stops and lowers his sword.

Seconds are ticking by. I have to be brief. “You two have to leave the palace, now. The king is going to order your death or imprisonment. Go back to Haulloran.” I get this out in one breath.

Neither one of them actually looks all that startled. I guess their own sources of information have warned them that something is in the air. Still, the earl is not convinced. “Why should we trust you?”

Before I can answer, Lady Gwella speaks up. Unlike her husband, she is convinced. She raises her voice to make sure her husband pays attention. “Because Tollon has every reason not to warn us. He has no reason to love either of us.” She turns to give me a thoughtful look. “So I’m wondering just what reason he has for doing so.”

No one ever accused Lady Gwella of being stupid. Me, on the other hand? I should have expected this question. I do not want to tell her the real reason. She almost certainly will use the knowledge to my disadvantage. So I lie, with the most convenient lie I have to hand. “I don’t want to be swept up in a purge of the earl’s family.” It was true, once, months ago.

Now their roles reverse. The earl nods. He thinks I’m making sense. But not Lady Gwella. Judging by her look, she suspects that I’m lying.

But she doesn’t get time to probe further. Just at that moment, there is a loud rapping at the other end of the hall. Someone else wants entry to this suite, and they don’t sound like they are going to accept a refusal. And then there is shouting. “Open up in the name of the king!”

“I hope there’s a back way out of this place,” I say.

Her husband says, “My apologies for doubting you, sir. And now if you will excuse us, we must be going.” He starts to turn.

Lady Gwella restrains him. To me, she says, “If they find you here, Tollon, you’ll be charged with treason. So, no matter why you came here, you’re going to have to throw in your lot with us. Come. We’ve a way out.” There is a crashing at the main door. “And not much time to use it.”

I have no choice. I follow them as they head through a side door. And just like that, I become a traitor and a wanted criminal.

[Link to next chapter]