“I can’t see the Wastelands,” Chantal whispered.
Maya looked back at the girl who had fallen still, staring out over Rieont’s southern lands. The emotions she sensed in Chantal were conflicted: joy and sadness, hope and loss, with fear covering it all. Maya remembered feeling much the same way when she first came to Rieont sixteen years earlier. She placed a reassuring hand on Chantal’s shoulder.
“It’s so strange,” said Chantal. “I could always see the Wastelands from my window.” She laughed. “I used to think it the world’s edge as if nothing existed beyond.”
“It’s an easy thing for those who live in castles,” Maya answered, “forgetting a world lies beyond the horizon.”
“I am happy to be here,” Chantal said, looking over at Maya. “Everything’s just so different.”
“I understand,” Maya answered. “Believe me.” She squeezed the girl’s shoulder. “You get used to it after a while.”
“Well, the forest is beautiful.”
“That it is,” Maya agreed. “Come now. I want to see your grandfather before his meeting with Elder Conciliate Caprie.”
Chantal nodded, gulping, and followed. A very large man stood guard outside the throne room. He looked straight ahead, and his expression was hard. Any who didn’t know the man behind the scowl would think twice before approaching him, but Maya had known him from her childhood.
“Good morning, Raman,” she said as they approached. “Would you tell the king I’m here with a guest he’ll wish to meet?”
His eyes raked over Chantal; assessing her as they did any new visitor to the king. Maya glanced back at the girl, noticing her gaze had fallen to the long sword Raman wore at his side. She turned back to the guard as he bowed before entering the room beyond.
“No need to be nervous,” Maya said. “He’s a good man with a kind heart.”
“King Aligh or the guard?” Chantal asked.
“Both,” Maya answered.
One heavy wooden door swung open, and Raman waved the girls inside.
“The king will see you now, ladies.”
“Thank you, Raman,” Maya said and moved through the door he held open with Chantal following close behind. The room was immense and decorated with tapestries illustrating monumental events in Tekaran history. Across the room, King Aligh sat dwarfed by his throne.
Maya curtsied before the dais. Following Maya’s example, Chantal curtsied as well. It was a clumsy attempt.
Aligh nodded his recognition, a motion noticeable only by the change of light shining off his silvered hair. His appearance grew more unkempt by the day; he refused to have his beard trimmed or his tunics taken in. The tunic’s light material hung from his thinning frame, his skin had grown sallow and dull. However, his dark grayish green eyes remained unchanged, shining out from under heavy brows.
“Your majesty,” Maya began. “I’ve come about a matter of some importance.” The older man straightened and raised his brows. “It seems Count Ralic had a child he neglected to mention. This young woman is his daughter, Chantal.”
“Are you certain, Maya?” Aligh asked. “I seem to remember a boy child and him dieing at the same time as Valera. Am I wrong?”
“No, sire,” she answered. “They both passed…”
“If you please, your majesty,” Chantal broke in and curtsied again. “My mother’s name was Annadel Richards. She and Count Ralic were married in a private ceremony at Tembar Castle.”
The king seemed to notice Chantal for the first time. His brow knit as he scrutinized her, searching for any hint of relationship.
“She does look like Hitrata, doesn’t she?” he asked.
“Yes, she has her eyes,” Maya answered.
“Come here child,” Aligh called with his arms outstretched. She walked forward and kneeled at his feet. He shook his head and reached out to her with trembling hands. “Stand up, darling, and give your old grandfather a hug.”
Chantal stood, beaming, and threw her arms about the elderly man. She clung to him fiercely, tears of relieved joy streaming down her face. Then, as if remembering the king’s age and frail appearance, she loosened her grip and stepped back.
“I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I didn’t hurt you did I?”
The room’s heavy wooden doors swooshed open and banged into the wall as a tall gentleman rushed through them. He stopped almost immediately, his head snapping around to glare at Maya. She gulped, knowing she’d been caught as she watched him stalk toward her.
“Good day, my lord,” she thought at him as contritely as possible and dropped into an exaggerated curtsey.
“Where have you been?” he snapped through their mental link. Maya’s eyes fell to the floor as she tried to think of how to respond. “The Wastelands! Tembar Castle! You spoke to Ralic!”he shouted in her mind.
“Yes,” Maya thought, a sheepish expression spreading across her features as she realized too late she’d let her shield slip. “Don’t worry, Lanre.”
“Why exactly shouldn’t I worry? Someone attacked my mother, and we don’t know who is guilty. Yet, somehow you think it’s okay to sneak out of the castle without a guard!”
“He won’t do anything.”
“How do you know?” Lanre asked. His silent mouth curled into a mischievous grin. “I’m the telepath after all.”
“Women’s intuition.” Maya nodded toward Chantal and Aligh. Neither seemed to have noticed Lanre’s loud entrance. “Have you noticed what I brought home?”
“The girl?” he asked. “What of her?”
“She’s Ralic’s daughter.”
“But I thought...”
“So did I,” Maya answered, “but something happened when I tried to read her. Something clicked, and I saw images of a younger Ralic as if I was a child sitting on his knee.”
“Her memories?” Lanre asked. His shocked expression matched his mental tone. “How’s that possible. Empaths can’t go that far.”
“I know,” Maya answered, “but it happened. Maybe it’s something like our connection,” she mused. “She could have some level of telepathy. Tembar Flats does have a high utronumite concentration.”
“Perhaps,” Lanre agreed. “Still, I’d feel better if I could see for myself.”
Maya raised her right hand and touched the tips of her fingers to her forehead. She bowed and extended her hand toward Lanre as if giving him her thoughts. She felt the familiar buzzing warmth of Lanre’s mental probe, and she opened her mind to him, closing her eyes to keep from going cross-eyed.
The crushing rush of information was the fastest and easiest way to give Lanre the entire story, but it was disorienting for her to watch the memories flash over her field of vision. Seconds later the buzzing stopped as Lanre retreated. Maya opened her eyes again and began rebuilding her mental walls.
“Borcon?” he asked. There was pain and hope in his expression making it clear he still clung to the belief Kalie was alive and feared he would be proven wrong.
“I’m not sure,” Maya answered. “That image is all I got, and I was afraid to ask before. She’s already half terrified. I wanted to bring her to Rieont, not frighten her away from it.”
“I see. We’ll have to take it easy with her then and not push. But, we can’t wait too long. Not if what she said is true.”
“I’ll speak with her,” Maya answered. “She’s beginning to trust me, and meeting Aligh has made her relax a bit. She came to testify against Ralic. It won’t be long before she opens up.”
“Alright,” he agreed. “I’ll leave her in your hands then. Now, if you don’t mind, I think I’ll go meet my long lost cousin.”
“Don’t call her by name,” Maya answered as a thought occurred to her. “Our ability to talk like this isn’t widely known. It may be best to let Aligh introduce you.”
“Oh, thanks for reminding me,” Lanre blushed. “It does disturb people when I respond to things they haven’t said yet, but they all think so loudly.”
“That’s why you have me, dear.”
Lanre smiled, laughing mentally as he agreed, and turned back toward the throne. Maya followed as he walked to the head of the room where Chantal and the king were engrossed in a conversation about her mother and the late Queen Hitrata.
“Good morning, Grandfather,” Lanre said before turning to Chantal. “And to you madam…”
“Chantal Virchow,” Aligh answered for her, “of Tembar.”
“Of Tembar?” Lanre asked making a good show of innocent curiosity. “Isn’t she rather young for Ralic?”
“Don’t be daft,” Aligh chided. “She’s Ralic’s daughter, not his wife.”
“Ah, much more appropriate,” Lanre answered. He bowed and kissed the back of her hand.
“Thank you,” Chantal answered.
“What brings you to Rieont?”
“I’ve come to report unlawful activity in Tembar,” Chantal answered. She looked to Aligh as if to apologize for not saying so before.
“Shouldn’t you report this to your father?” Lanre asked. “It’s his jurisdiction.”
“I-I know,” she said as her gaze fell to the floor. “But, my father’s the criminal to be reported.”
“Ralic?” Aligh asked growing serious and leaning forward. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, Sire,” answered Chantal. “I saw him with my own eyes and found records of other suspicious activities.” She pulled a collection of folded papers from one of her deep pockets and handed them to the king. Maya breathed a sigh of relief at the sight. She’d forgotten about the papers until Chantal mentioned them and feared they’d been thrown into the fire along with the girl’s peasant disguise.
“Oh my.” Aligh sighed as he read through the documents. “I must ask you to stay here, Chantal,” he continued after a moment, “at least until an investigation has been completed.”
“I hoped you’d say that,” Chantal answered. “Father knows I left, and I suspect he knows why. He’s had his guards hunting for me.”
Aligh nodded and handed the papers over to Lanre. “Take those to Judge Marx, Lanre. Ask him to review them and prepare a hearing. Then, see a vacant set of rooms is prepared for Chantal.”
“Of course,” the prince answered. “I’ll see you at dinner.”
“Didn’t you have a matter of some urgency to discuss?” Maya asked as Lanre turned to leave.
“It can wait,” he answered with a mischievous grin and hurried out the door.
“That boy has more mood swings than ten pregnant women,” Aligh said shaking his head before returning his attention to Chantal. “Has your Yekaran companion been settled?” he asked.
“I don’t have one,” she answered. “I’ve only seen two Yekarans in my life.”
“How sad,” he commented. “Wonderful creatures, Yekarans.” His eyes brightened as he turned to Maya. “You should take Chantal to meet the orphans while her rooms are being prepared. Perhaps she’ll find a companion after all.”
“Excellent idea,” Maya agreed.
“I wish I’d more time to speak with you, child,” Aligh said as he took Chantal’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “But I am expecting an ambassador from the Yekaran Council.”
“I don’t want to distract you,” Chantal answered.
“Never a chance,” he reassured her. “I look forward to seeing you this evening.”
Maya’s stomach ached, reminding her she’d skipped the morning meal and it was midday. Then, it occurred to her Chantal mentioned she’d run out of supplies the day before. How thoughtless she’d been in her haste! If she was hungry after several hours’ fast, how much more would the girl be after a full day.
“If you please,” Maya interrupted. “Perhaps Chantal and I could take our midday meal along the coast.”
“Yes, of course,” Aligh agreed. “Fair journey to you, and don’t be late for the evening meal. The discovery of my only granddaughter is cause enough for feasting.”
Continue to Chapter 4.