Royal Assassin


Page 122


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"Shall I come back this afternoon, sire?" I asked quickly.
He lifted a hand and waved it in a vaguely denying gesture. "Tomorrow. Or the next day." His eyes closed and he sighed out as heavily as if he would never breathe in again.
"As you wish, my lord," I concurred. I bowed deeply, formally. As I straightened I carefully returned the pin to my jerkin lapel. I let them all spend a moment or two watching me do that. Then: "If you will excuse me, my prince?" I requested formally.
"Get out of here," Regal growled.
I bowed less formally to him, turned carefully, and left. His guards' eyes watched me go. I was outside the room before I recalled that I had never brought up the subject of me marrying Molly. Now it seemed unlikely I would have an opportunity to for some time. I knew that afternoons would now find Regal or Wallace or some spy of theirs always at King Shrewd's side. I had no wish to broach that topic before anyone save my king.
Fitz?
I'd like to be alone for a while just now, my prince. If you do not mind?
He vanished from my mind like a bursting soap bubble. Slowly I made my way down the stairs.
15
Secrets
PRINCE VERITY CHOSE to unveil his fleet of warships on the midday of Winterfest that decisive year. Tradition would have had him wait until the coming of better weather, to launch them on the first day of Springfest. That is considered a more auspicious time to launch a new ship. But Verity had pushed his shipwrights and their crews hard to have all four vessels ready for a midwinter launch. By choosing the midday of Winterfest, he ensured himself a large audience, both for the launch and for his words. Traditionally, a hunt is held that day, with the meat brought in seen as a harbinger of days to come. When he had the ships pushed out of the sheds on their rollers, he announced to the gathered folk that these were his hunters, and that the only prey that would slake them would be Red-Ships. The reaction to his announcement was muted, and clearly not what he had hoped for. It is my belief that the people wanted to put all thoughts of the Red-Ships from their minds, to hide themselves in winter and pretend that the spring would never come. But Verity refused to let them. The ships were launched that day, and the training of the crews begun.
Nighteyes and I spent the early afternoon hunting. He grumbled about it, saying it was a ridiculous time of day to hunt, and why had I wasted the early dawn hours tussling with my litter mate? I told him that that was simply a thing that had to be, and would continue to be for several days, and possibly longer . He was not pleased. But neither was I. It rattled me not a little that he could be so clearly aware of how I spent my hours even if I had no conscious sense of being in touch with him. Had Verity been able to sense him?
He laughed at me. Hard enough to make you hear me sometimes. Should I batter through to you and then shout for him as well?
Our hunting success was small. Two rabbits, neither with much fat. I promised to bring him kitchen scraps on the morrow. I had even less success at conveying to him my demand for privacy at certain times. He could not grasp why I set mating apart from other pack activities such as hunting or howling. Mating suggested offspring in the near future, and offspring were the care of the pack. Words cannot convey the difficulties of that discussion. We conversed in images, in shared thoughts, and such do not allow for much discretion. His candor horrified me. He assured me he shared my delight in my mate and my mating. I begged him not to. Confusion. I finally left him eating his rabbits. He seemed piqued that I would not accept a share of the meat. The best I had been able to get from him was his understanding that I did not want to be aware of him sharing my awareness of Molly. That was scarcely what I wanted, but it was the best I could convey it to him. The idea that at times I would want to sever my bond to him completely was not a thought he could comprehend. It made no sense, he argued. It was not pack. I left him wondering if I would ever again really and truly have a moment to myself.
I returned to the Keep and sought the solitude of my own room. If only for a moment, I had to be where I could close the door behind me and be alone. Physically, anyway. As if to fuel my quest for quiet, the halls and stairways were full of hurrying folk. Servants were cleaning away old rushes and spreading new ones, fresh candles were being placed in holders, and boughs of evergreen were hung in festoons and swags everywhere. Winterfest. I didn't much feel like it.
I finally reached my own door and slipped inside. I shut it firmly behind me.
"Back so soon?" The Fool looked up from the hearth, where he crouched in a semicircle of scrolls. He seemed to be sorting them into groups.

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