Lanre felt Maya’s approach as she reached the landing down the hall. He tried to regain his composure, but Aligh’s jovial mood fed into his own. It was going to be difficult for him to stop laughing before his grandfather did.
“Now there’s a sight worth seeing,” Maya said, smiling as she entered the room. “I was afraid the two of you had forgotten how to laugh.”
“You’d be laughing too,” Aligh answered, “if you’d heard the stories Lanre’s told me this afternoon.” He wiped a tear from his eyes with a trembling hand and gestured for Maya to come closer. “Apparently Baroness Nelain believes Chantal is a mass hallucination brought on by anxiety.”
Aligh began giggling again as Maya clicked her tongue. Lanre found her mind and used it to anchor himself, feeling the order like a balm to his nerves.
“It looks like the gossips have had a fine time today.” Maya shook her head. “They ought to be ashamed of themselves.”
“I suppose they will be when they hear the truth this evening,” Lanre answered.
“I’m sure they will,” Aligh agreed. His mood was sobering, and the king returned to business. “Did you discover anything else about the dragon, Maya?”
“Yes,” Maya answered as Lanre felt her mental shields fall. Although his grandfather could only hear her words, Larne saw the scene she described play out through her memories.
The girls were sitting at the beach eating lunch with Tricon looming in the background. Chantal ate without talking, watching as the waves broke against the shore.
“When I was at Tembar this morning, I heard something familiar,” Maya said. “I thought it sounded a lot like a Yekaran keening, but there hasn’t been a Yekaran living in Tembar for years.”
“No, there’s one there,” Chantal answered. “A big black Yekaran with a cream underbelly was brought in with two women about a month ago.”
Lanre felt Maya stiffen in her memory and heard Tricon’s gasp.
“Can you tell me anything about the women?” Maya asked.
“Not much,” Chantal answered. “I saw them once from a distance.” The girl paused, concentration creasing her brow.
“I heard something outside during my lesson. Gresha and I went to the window and looked out into the courtyard. The soldiers were chaining the dragon down.
“I thought it was strange because the dragon wasn’t moving. It was looking at the two women. One was tall with blond hair, and she was being held by Falcon, another of father’s creations like Brance. A smaller, dark haired woman stood behind them.
“Gresha pulled me away from the window. She said we were wasting time, and I needed to get back to my lessons. Then the howling started, and we didn’t get much done anyway.”
Maya’s shields returned as shock and grief struck him and his grandfather. Lanre felt his knees buckle and the sharp sting as he hit the floor, floundering in the torrent of his own emotions and those of his grandfather. Maya knelt by his side. She wrapped her arms around him, and he clung to her.
Her hands smoothed through his hair as she whispered to him. What she said, he couldn’t understand, but her presence was soothing. He sobbed.
After what seemed like an eternity, his heart eased enough for thought to return. His uncle had used her! Used his mother to force Borcon to surrender and then killed her in front of him. Why?
Grief gave way to anger, and it gave him the strength to compose himself. Ralic would pay, but for that to happen, they needed more evidence.
“Any word on Borcon’s condition now,” he asked.
“He’s lost his mind,” Maya answered. “He lashes out at anyone who tries to tend him and howls for hours.”
“Tricon’s reaction?” Aligh asked.
“As well as can be expected.” Maya sighed. “He didn’t show much emotion while we were out, but he’s preparing to meet with the council regarding a course of action. Thankfully Borcon hasn’t drawn blood in his madness, so there is some hope.”
“What of the papers Chantal brought?” she asked. “Was there anything to them?”
“They contained details regarding mining operations mostly,” Aligh answered. “There isn’t enough there to be certain, but enough to suspect my dear son is enslaving his citizens and experimenting with explosives.”
Lanre shuddered. He knew Aligh was angry, but he’d never heard the sarcastic lilt to his voice he’d used just now.
“Speak with Chantal, Maya,” said Aligh. “Find out if any new men arrived with the dragon. I want name and rank, but a description will do if nothing else.”
“As you wish, my lord,” Maya said as she curtsied.
“I’ll join you,” Lanre thought at her and nodded to Aligh. “If you will excuse me, Grandfather, I have some minor affairs to attend to.”
“Very well, Lanre,” Aligh agreed. “Tell Raman I am not to be disturbed. I need to rest for a while.”
“Do you need a hand to your quarters, Grandfather?”
“I am not yet so feeble I cannot walk to the next room myself,” Aligh snapped.
“My apologies,” Lanre offered with a bow. He turned toward the door and left with Maya. “He’s becoming unpredictable lately. I was only trying to help.”
“Do you blame him?” Maya asked. “You’ve been treating him like a child lately. True, he’s getting older. His health is beginning to fail, but he’s not helpless.”
“I just don’t know how to act around him sometimes. Whether he admits it or not, he does need help from time to time.” Maya nodded but remained silent. “You shouldn’t be so hard on the gossips, you know.”
“What do you mean?” Maya asked, turning her dark eyes to him for the first time since they left the thrown room.
“It’s not fair to be so harsh when you provided the fuel for several of the stories.” He bit his cheek to keep from laughing at how quickly her brow creased and redoubled his mental shields. Her mind was a whirlwind when she was confused, and he wanted no part of that storm just now. He pressed his hand to the small of her back as he led her up the stairs.
“Baroness Nelain asked the guards if a young woman had arrived today. They told her no one but Caprie entered the castle.”
“I thought I’d forgotten something.”
He watched a flush spread across her cheeks and down her neck. The physical manifestations of what he felt so easily from others never ceased to amaze him.
“If they persist, you can always say she entered through the catacombs. It is the truth, after all.”
“Yes,” he agreed, “but how would she know about them unless she was shown?”
They reached the third floor landing, and Lanre paused. “Chantal’s quarters? Or would you prefer to freshen up after your trip to the bluff?”
“My quarters, please,” Maya answered. “I understand Aligh has planned something of a banquet to welcome Chantal. It wouldn’t do to attend still windblown and gritty.”
“Certainly not,” he answered, chuckling mentally, and led her down the hall toward her rooms.
“In answer to your previous question,” Maya said. “Ralic was raised as a prince in Rieont. Do you really expect me to believe he doesn’t know about the catacombs? They haven’t changed since Rieont was built.”
“You have a point.” Lanre paused for a moment. “And you’ve found a major flaw in our defenses. I’ll have to speak with Grandfather about correcting it.”
“It’s a pity we’re always so concerned with defense these days.”
“Some of us more than others.”
Maya’s turned to him so quick he winced, half expecting to hear her neck creak. He hadn’t meant to allow the fear he’d felt earlier let anger seep into his voice, but mental tone was difficult to control. Seeing her eyes wide with fear, he wished he’d spoken aloud, but this wasn’t a conversation he wanted to have openly in a hallway.
They walked in silence until they reached Maya’s room, and he led her inside. She waited until he closed the door before letting her expression slip.
“Lanre,” she said. How could she make one word mean so much?
He pulled her into his arms, trying to comfort her and make her understand at the same time.
“I spent the better part of the morning looking for you,” he said. “I was going to ask if you could spare the time for a picnic in the garden.” He leaned down to whisper in her ear, pouring the terror he’d felt into his voice. “No one knew where you were!”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. Maya trembled in his arms, and she pulled back, looking up at him with wide, tear rimmed eyes. “I was so sure, and I couldn’t trust he’d keep to Tembar. I couldn’t bare the pain not knowing was causing you and Aligh.”
A tear fell, and he wiped it away.
“Why couldn’t you tell me?”
“I knew you couldn’t confront him,” Maya answered, “not without some sort of proof. I don’t know what I thought I could find, going to him as I did, but I was certain I’d find something.” She sobbed, and he pulled her to him again. “That I found anything was pure chance. I was so naive!”
Maya clung to him, and he stroked her back. Time slipped away as he let her cry herself out.
“I didn’t want to worry you,” she whispered.
Lanre lifted her chin, and she watched him with those big, dark eyes he loved so much. He took her face in his hands and wiped her tears away with his thumbs.
“We’ve been friends for most of our lives,” he said. “In a few days, we will be married. Your concerns are mine, as mine are yours. We’re meant to share them.”
Maya nodded and lowered her gaze to the floor. Lanre leaned his forehead against hers.
“Please, don’t leave me again,” he pleaded. He kissed her then, showing her the love he held for her and his fear to loose her the only way he knew how without bombarding her mind.
That's the end of the preview. For more information regarding the 2013 release of Right of Succession as well as various other articles, tutorials, and recipes, make sure to join me over at Diary of a Work-at-Home-Mom.