The King opened the file marked “Tenkreille” and spread the contents across his desk.
Maps. Drawings. Genealogies. Reports.
He picked up one and looked at it, a report with a detailed sketch of a Garagran attached, then slid it across the desk to Danya.
No. Not Danya, Ean thought. Ember.
She picked it up and stared at the picture.
“It seems obvious,” the King said, “now that we know. The sketch captures your likeness well, don’t you think?”
She nodded and handed the report back to him without meeting his eyes.
“Of course, this report lists you as deceased. I suppose the Empire lied about that to forestall any rebellions.”
He set the report back in the folder then looked at her and waited until she met his gaze.
When she did, it was with her eyes only, her head still half-bowed.
“I imagine you are wondering what happens to you now.” He tapped his fingers on the desk. “That is up to my son.”
Ean saw a shudder pass through her frame. For a moment it looked like she was relaxing, but then her shoulders slumped lower.
“If it were up to me…” Ean’s father glanced at him, then leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling for a moment. “If it were up to me I still would not send you away. Not at this point. Though I am certain that you only care about yourself.” He looked at her and waited for a response that didn’t come. He nodded to himself. “Though I am certain of that, I also believe that you are peaceful and will remain so. Even useful. So unless my son decides to throw you out of this country himself, you will be able to remain under our protection.”
“What…” She glanced up then down again. “What about the contract?”
“Even if I wanted to challenge it, it holds unless he challenges it himself. You lied about your name, but your thumbprint is still valid and binding in this country.”
She twitched and glanced at her hands. She slumped lower.
“Is there anything else?” he asked.
She shook her head.
“Good. You may go. Both of you. I will see you at dinner tonight.”
He began sorting all the documents back into the folder.
Ean bowed, rose from his chair, and left.
Out in the hall he waited for the woman to catch up. He studied her as she closed the door, watched as she jumped when she accidentally slammed it. She glanced at him, blushing on her cheeks and flickering green along her scales. She started to hurry past him.
Oh no. Not this.
Ean barred her way.
She refused to look up at him.
He felt a coil of frustration twist up his spine and into one side of his jaw.
This was not the place to have out whatever needed to be had out.
“Come with me,” he said and started down the hall.
She didn’t follow.
He turned back. “What?”
“What are you going to do with me?”
“What do you mean?”
Yes he was. Of course he was. She’d lied to him.
“The anger of man does not bring…”
I don’t care.
Yes I do.
He took a deep breath and let it out slow.
Then he looked at the woman in front of him and saw her.
Lying, deceiving, arrogant…
Vulnerable, lonely, afraid. She shivered as he met her wide, gold eyes.
She recoiled as he said her name.
Yahsaw, I don’t want to be like you. I don’t want to let this woman stab me and then just let it go.
“Ember,” he said again, softer. She looked back up at him. “I am angry at you for lying to me. But I will not send you away.”
She shivered again, and her eyes got even wider for a moment as she searched his face. Like she was… even more afraid?
Then she looked down.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I should have told you.”
Ean felt the bizarre urge to shout at her.
She just waited, eyes down.
“I forgive you,” he said.
“Do you?” she asked.
He almost said, “No.” He felt like, “No.”
Why was he so angry? He’d known she was lying about something. Was it not being trusted? And now, here, she was apologizing and he wanted to scream at her.
He realized she was looking at him again.
“I forgive you… Ember.”
Looking in her eyes and saying it felt like breaking some spell. He remembered the clearing. Holy Kai! What was he thinking? The clearing.
“Thank you for saving my life,” he added.
She blushed and glanced around the hall, unwilling to meet his gaze, again.
She stopped with her eyes on his feet.
“I don’t… know why I did it. Your father is…”
She hunched her shoulders and moved to push past him.
He caught her arm.
She grabbed his hand and pressed her fingernails into the back of it.
It didn’t, quite, hurt.
The signal was clear.
Ean let go of her arm.
Ember didn’t let let go of his hand.
“Kol sstakka zani, Ean,” she whispered. “Kol threkol zani.”
Ember looked at him and her eyes were burning with something that wasn’t anger.
He backed up a step.
She let go of his hand and strode down the hall, vanishing at the first turn.
Ean stared after her for a solid kella, his heart pounding.
What was that?
Thoughts, comments, and critique greatly appreciated. If you can’t think of anything, then I would especially love to hear your answers to these questions: Is there anything you don’t understand? Anything that threw you out of the story? Places where it moved too fast? Too slow? What do you think of the characters?