We must look like a procession of freaks. Sarton is in the lead, in full costume as Court Magician. His robe has enough gold thread in it to bankroll an entire town for a year. Then there’s me: velvet and leather robe, squeaky black boots, and every inch of my skin rubbed raw by Mia removing soot from it. I look as if I got a bad sunburn. And just as I’m walking six feet behind Sarton, Mia is walking six feet behind me. Because she’s officially a slave, she has to appear at this audience in burlap, with an iron ring around her neck.
We proceed down the Grand Audience Chamber at the official slow pace, walking in-between mostly empty galleries on either side. This isn’t meant to be a public audience. No one seemed to want to make this public.
Their Majesties, the Glory and Pride of the Realm, sit in their twin thrones at the far end of the chamber. In theory, they are co-rulers, representing two rival families who decided to make an alliance through marriage to end a cycle of civil wars and succession struggles. In truth, she has most of the power, and he has most of the brains, an arrangement that does not work well.
“The Marvelous Master Magician of Court and Kingdom, Sarton of Serez,” the herald announces. (Sarton tells me he chose the specific form of his title because of the alliterations.)
Sarton bows. So do I. It’s required. I glance back and see Mia is not bowing. She’s a slave. She doesn’t count as an honorable person.
Sarton speaks in a formal voice. “Your Majesties, I present my apprentice, Tollon, Lord of Tyznar Heights.” I step forward to stand beside Sarton, and bow toward the thrones. Sarton continues, “Certain allegations were made alleging his behavior. He is here to answer them, with my pledge that he speaks truthfully.”
The king leans forward in his throne, and looks over to the gallery on his left. “Those allegations were made by Ronnard, Earl of Haulloran. If he is here, he should stand forth and make his complaint. If he is not here, he will be summoned with all due haste.”
The king’s wording is dictated by protocol. Haulloran is in the gallery. He steps down and forward until he reaches the central aisle, then he comes forward until he is standing on a level with Sarton and me, though as far away as he can be. He bows, and then says, “Your Majesties, I have since making those allegations investigated the matter more thoroughly. I wish to withdraw any accusations, explicit or implied, that were made by me or on my behalf concerning the individuals in question.”
The king replies, “There were allegations that four of your men had been assaulted, one had died, and it had been done by an apprentice and a slave. I see an apprentice and a slave here before me. Are these not the individuals you accused?”
The earl tries to keep up a dignified front as he says, “They are, Your Majesty. But a mistake was made in identifying them.”
The king does not bother to hide his amusement. “I would think so, Ronnard. Just look at them! A high wind would take them off! To think they could beat up four of your men! You need to hire better men than dancing masters to protect you, I think.” He turns his gaze to Sarton. “You’re not going to make matters difficult by making countercharges, are you Sarton?” And before Sarton can answer, the king turns to the queen. “I think it best that this whole matter be dismissed and cast into oblivion. What do you say, my lady?”
The queen feigns disinterest. “As you say, my husband,” she drawls in a low voice.
The king looks over toward the chancellor, who has been sitting off to the queen’s right. “Starguis, see that the matter is so recorded: settled and cast into oblivion.” And then he turns to us. Looking serious now, he says, “I think it best, Ronnard, if you’d shake hands with the boy, as a gesture of peace. Show the lad what true grace means.”
The earl turns and walks over to me, holding out his hand. He’s looking at me more with curiosity than anything else, as near as I can tell. The king has mentioned grace, so as the inferior party in this exchange, it is up to me as well to demonstrate it appropriately. I say to the earl, “I hope I am equal to the honor of grasping your hand, my lord,” before taking it.
Oddly enough, that pleases him. He not only shakes my hand, but reaches out with his other hand and clasps my hand between his and holds it before letting go. He then bows to me, to Sarton, and to Their Majesties before turning and walking back toward the far door at the end of the hall.
We do much the same immediately after, and depart the hall. As we head back to Sarton’s workroom, I heave a sigh of relief. “That went well,” I say.
Sarton shakes his head. “Not with the way Lady Gwella was looking daggers at you,” he replies.
“What are you taking about, master? She wasn’t there.”
Sarton turns to me. “Just because you didn’t see her, lad, doesn’t mean she wasn’t there. She didn’t want to be seen. And I’m sure she means you mischief.”