122. The Prince’s Oath

They rest on a hillside densely covered by alders, far above the road.

Though it seems unlikely that their campsite would be spotted from the plain below, Nevynne refuses to light a fire. Where less than an hour before it seemed as though morning was breaking, all looks like dark night again under the trees where they sit. A light rain has begun to fall, and distant thunder rolls through the hills. Now and then, lightning flickers behind the clouds. Its fleeting illumination serves only to make the pervasive murk seem thicker. The coats provided by the shadow keep Stellia from freezing, but she still bitterly misses the fur-lined bedrolls Garroth bought in Talvain.

“Tell your tale,” Nevynne says to Frithil. “Then, let us try and catch what sleep we can.”

The friar sits with his legs crossed, leaning against the trunk of a great alder tree that provides some shelter from the rain. Nevynne and Stellia try to get as comfortable as they can among the dead leaves that cover the ground.

“What I am about to tell you,” Frithil begins, “I heard from the Prince himself, when Garroth first sought me out after Ansil’s departure from Hestia. He related it to impress on me the importance of preserving his secrecy, and why it mattered so greatly that he should elude the hand of Hargis Dratha, or of whomever should in time come to hold her title.”

“But why?” Stellia asks. “What reason did the Prince have to fear the Guardian?”

“I don’t think he really knew,” Nevynne says. “Remember what Sedwin told us in Talvain, about how the Prince wanted to find out about the Guardian’s plans?”

“You are quite right,” Frithil says. “Prince Ansil knew nothing of the Guardian’s plans or secrets, and neither did Garroth. But the Prince nevertheless guessed that she posed some threat to him. You see, Ansil went into exile because he had to swear that he would flee Hestia, never to return to Fora Tanni, and above all, never again to come before the Guardian.”

“What do you mean, he had to swear?” Stellia exclaims. “Who could lay such an oath upon the Prince?”

“One man alone in the Four Realms,” Frithil says. “His father, Emperor Thedric.”

NEXT: The Three Lashes


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