I paced the length of the grime-covered cell while Ethan lay on the thin, lumpy pallet in the back corner. Tallis, who the soldiers threw in a few minutes after us, sat on the other pallet. He looked intently at the floor as if it were a map with an escape route. Rachael and Faiza were in the cell next to ours, and while we’d talked at first, we soon grew tired of discussing what might happen to us.
Ryker wouldn’t let anyone who knew that he wasn’t King Radon live. If I hadn’t revealed that I knew Ryker wasn’t the real king, maybe we could have gotten lighter sentences. Then again, stealing the Hashna Stone was no light crime. We would have been sentenced to death anyway.
Still, it was my plan that got us into this mess. If I wouldn’t have had the great idea to let Ryker see the grimulin, then Ryker wouldn’t have commanded Bayvlad to use the grimulin to get the stone from Radon. Then Bayvlad wouldn’t have been desperate enough to get the stone in spite of the risk that he may be seen.
If my father were here, he would have come up with a plan that wouldn’t end with us in a prison cell.
I told myself death wasn’t so bad. I would see my father. But it wasn’t my father’s face I saw as I slumped against the wall and closed my eyes. It was Rachael’s. It was Ethan’s and Faiza’s and Samel’s.
They should live. Rachael finally found her father. Faiza and Ethan had to go back to the Foxes. And Samel. Was he still alive? If anyone found him, they wouldn’t waste time brining him to the dungeon. With his ability to turn invisible, the guards would suspect him of being a great wizard and be afraid he would call down a bunch of grimulin or fire or some other harmful magic. He would be killed the moment anyone found him.
“I’m sorry,” I mumbled into my hands.
Someone sat next to me. I only realized it was Tallis when he spoke. “I was going to wait for a better time to tell you this, but…” There was such a long pause that I didn’t think he would continue. It was the first time I’d heard Tallis, the diplomatic ambassador, out of words. “I knew your father.”
I lifted my head from my hands and looked at Tallis. He’d known who my father was a few days ago when I’d asked him if there was any way I could get the sword that hung from Commander Serun’s belt. Tallis asked me why I wanted it, and I told him it was my father’s. I took the look of recognition that crossed his face to mean that he knew of the sword, not that he knew my father personally.
“What were you told about his death?”
I shrugged and looked away from Tallis. “He was on some mission. I guess it was a secret. I didn’t know about it.”
“There’s some truth to that,” Tallis said. “Your father knew that it was Ryker wearing the crown and was loyal to King Radon.”
I studied Tallis’s face. Was he telling me this to make me feel better? Father never mentioned that he knew. But of course, he would have to keep quiet about something like that. Telling me would put me in danger. Not that it helped much in the end. Somehow I managed to get myself into this mess anyway.
“Your father and some others decided to free Radon. Since your father was a high ranking officer in the army, he simply told the guards at the dungeon that he was ordered to take one of the prisoners out and they didn’t question him. It would have gone well, except Bayvlad was down there also.”
“Bayvlad?” I said. “But my father died a full year ago. The stone went missing only six months ago.”
“Bayvlad wasn’t able to get the grimulin to take the stone at first. He made quite a few attempts that didn’t work before the one that made the Hashna Stone send itself away.”
“Did Bayvlad send the grimulin after them?” The image of my father being torn apart by claws and teeth was gruesome.
“He used his magic.” Tallis’s voice was so low, it was almost a whisper. “It was quick, painless.”
I thought of when Rachael had zapped me when rescuing those kids on our way to the castle and imagined someone doing that with enough power to kill. No death was painless, but at least he wasn’t clawed to death by grimulin.
Tallis cleared his throat. “Rather than let everyone know that the men were killed trying to break a prisoner out, they told their families that they were killed on a secret mission. Your father was well-liked and respected. If anyone knew how he really died, they would be suspicious. They would wonder what prisoner was so important that he would risk his life for them.”
Tallis paused. I guess he was giving me the opportunity to ask any questions, but I didn’t have any. My mind was numb. My father was a hero. He died trying to put the rightful king back on Minaria’s throne. But the information left me feeling hollow. He still died. Radon was still locked up. Bayvlad was still free. And we were still in this prison cell.
An echo of footsteps in the hall pulled me out of my morbid thoughts. Tallis stiffened beside me, and Ethan bolted up from the tattered mat. This was the moment we’d all dreaded. The moment our sentence was given.
It sounded wrong though. The footsteps were a clamber of echoes—too many to belong to just one person. Why would they send more than one guard to tell us that we were going to die?
I stepped up to the small square window in the door and peered through the bars. Three shadows advanced on the stone floor, then I saw their owners. Two were guards, but the one in the middle was the last person I expected to see.
Ryker came strolling past, in his spotless clothes and neat reddish-blond mustache. Did a king usually read sentences to criminals?
When he strode past our cell without a glance, I realized who he was going to see.
The only cell past ours was Radon’s. Of course, he probably came to gloat to his brother before he killed him. With a sickening churning in my stomach, I wondered if Ryker was going to have him killed now. In the cell beside ours where we could hear.
“What’s going on?” Tallis was by my side.
“It’s Ryker. He’s going to see Radon.”
I shifted so I could see Ryker approach Radon’s cell. One of the guards opened the door and Ryker entered the cell with the second guard trailing behind him. The first guard locked the door and I could no longer see Ryker, but I could hear him.
“It seems I will finally be able to use this cell again,” Ryker said. There was no response from Radon. He must have been eyeing the stone around Ryker’s neck, because Ryker said, “You didn’t think I’d ever wear this, did you? Just as I didn’t think I’d get to live my life without your shadow. Both of us have had our expectations blown away.” He chuckled.
There was silence for a moment.
“Has your time of captivity stolen your voice?”
“Are you going to kill me yourself or have your soldier do it?” Radon’s every word sounded as if he were hurling spittle on Radon. “You never did fight your own battles.”
“I never started any battles. Unlike you, I didn’t stick my sword into other’s battles.”
“Helping in another’s battle was what got me that stone you’ve coveted.”
“A lot of good it did you.” Ryker’s voice was smug. “And just how was your coveted stone slipped from your neck?”
“That snake of a sorcerer. He came in here with a grimulin. But even he with all his wisdom of magic didn’t know that the Hashna Stone could move itself.”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“I know who I saw.” Radon’s voice was low with anger. “He’s come here many times since to see if the stone had somehow returned to me.”
It was Ryker’s turn to be silent.
“What was his plan? Why did he want it?”
Radon harrumphed. “He didn’t explain his plan to me anymore than you did when you poisoned me. Or ordered someone else to poison me. You couldn’t even do that for yourself, could you?”
“Insult me all you want. You still die in the morning.”
Ryker had the guard open the door and he strode down the dudgeon passageway.
“I guess Bayvlad will be joining us,” said Ethan. He was standing behind Tallis and me.
“At least one of them will be punished,” I said. It wasn’t much comfort. The Hashna stone was still on Ryker’s neck. The rightful king of Minaria was still in a dungeon. We would still be sentenced to death.
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