Tylvanor’s face turns a shade redder than it already is from anger and tears.
“I will do no such thing! Who are you to make such demands of me? I am the blood of Ellyan of Combray! I’ll not strip before two vagabonds, just because they have the gall to doubt my word and hold my property hostage.”
“Hear, hear!” Garroth snorts. “If haughtiness alone were the proof of noble blood, I’d be satisfied a hundred times over. But come now, where’s the harm? I’d be more ashamed to be seen wearing the rag you wear for a shirt, than bare-chested.”
“I won’t be inspected like a horse at market,” Tylvanor says. “You’ve no right.”
“It’s not a question of rights, you insufferable brat,” Garroth growls. “By the Shaper’s fettling knives, it’s only your chest we need to see, nothing more.”
“Indeed,” Sedwin says. “Do you wish us to believe you, or not? It’s as simple as that. Nevertheless, I understand. If you are indeed who you say you are, you’ve no doubt suffered more than enough indignities already. But what if we left the examination of the evidence, as it were, to a neutral party?”
Tylvanor makes a face as though he caught a whiff of some unpleasant odor. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Since you rightfully take offense at being scrutinized by a pair of coarse travelers such as ourselves, perhaps the innocent gaze of a gentle maiden would pose less of an insult to your dignity?”
“What?” Now it’s Stellia’s turn to make a face. “You cannot possibly ask me to do such a—such an unchaste thing!”
“There’ll be nothing unchaste about it, I assure you.” Sedwin turns to Tylvanor with a strange little smile. “Would you agree to showing her what needs to be shown, Tylvanor?”
Tylvanor’s jaws work. Stellia braces herself for an insulting remark about how it is even more of an affront to expect him to submit to scrutiny by a peasant girl. To her surprise, Tylvanor merely sighs, and nods. “It would be acceptable, I suppose.”
“Good. Stellia?” Sedwin dips a torch into the flames and hands it to her.
Reluctantly, she takes it.
“The birthmark should be about the size of an ear of rye,” Sedwin tells her. “Dark red in color, like rich wine, and shaped like a barbed arrowhead, pointing downwards and to the left as an onlooker would see it.”
Stellia goes with Tylvanor toward the back of the cave. They stand awkwardly before each other in the twitching torchlight.
“Let’s be done with it.” Tylvanor removes his leather jerkin and drops it to the cave floor, then he unlaces the shirt underneath. Taking one hem in each hand, he parts the spotty cloth. “I trust a glance will suffice?”
Stellia lifts her hands to her mouth to stifle a gasp. She turns on her heels and runs back to the front of the cave. Once there, she doesn’t know what to tell the men. What should she—how can she say what she saw?
Sedwin looks at her as though nothing remarkable had occurred. “The birthmark is there?”
She can only nod.
Sedwin smiles the sly smile again. “But it’s not all you discovered, is it?”
Stellia feels such heat rise into her cheekbones that she wants to stick her head into the driving rain to cool it off. “You knew!”
Tylvanor emerges from behind the rock, shirt laced up again, the leather jerkin slung over one shoulder.
“So you are indeed Ellyan’s child,” Sedwin says. “You chose your name with care, but not with caution. Or did you think if it reached Ingharad’s ear, she would not realize that in ancient Baramondine, Tylvanor means Golden Owl, and must refer to the symbol of your House?”
“Ingharad might have realized it,” Tylvanor says. “But not her bloodhounds.”
“Don’t be so sure.” Garroth wags a finger. “Clever hunters keep clever hounds.”
“What then is your real name?” Stellia asks. She is getting the impression that she is the only one who does not know, and has not suspected for some time, who—and what—Tylvanor really is.
“Nevynne,” Tylvanor tells her.
“Nevynne,” Sedwin repeats. “Last of the line of Combray, and rightful owner of this heirloom.” Holding it by the tip of the blade, he extends the dagger to Nevynne across the dying fire. “Ellyan’s daughter.”
NEXT: A Crossing by Moonlight