Outer Flower, 18

Laveth Devises a Plan

Mirella nodded and began, haltingly at first, blushing at the use of Oren Whitehair’s name, her face a myriad of emotions as she described each participant’s reaction, ending with, “M’Lady, I have never seen the King so angry. He ordered everyone out in his old voice and threw his scepter. Only Ondred, Oren Whitehair, and the Skylls were allowed to remain.”

“Laveth, what are you plotting?” asked Nan sharply. “Only a moment ago you assured me you wouldn’t change your mind.”

“This confusion works to our benefit,” said Laveth slowly. “It gives us more time.”

“My resolve hasn’t changed, only the circumstances,” she said. Seeing Mara’s stricken face, she added. “I know Axel must go, now more than ever, but to a different destination.”

“What can you mean?”

“Glynnis Fen is out of the question. My son would not be safe there. Nor would you.”

“Then where do you propose to send us?” demanded Mara. “Taft is a deaf mute who knows only the western roads and I am old.”

‘My child will be sent to High North as the Shautu has asked.”

“Very well,” Nan Mara nodded, weighing Laveth’s decision. “Perhaps he will be safer there. But I must take more belongings. The mountains are cold.”

“You’re staying here.”

“I will not.”

“I command you.”

“And I will . . . I will . . . Laveth, you can’t mean this! The babe can’t be sent off into the wild with only a smelly hunter. You called him so yourself.”

Mirella, who had watched this exchange in fascination, finally spoke up.

“But the Shautu sent Oren here for that very purpose. And the passage to High North isn’t a wilderness at all, at least not the route I know. Oren will see him safely there. The Shautu called Oren his right arm and spoke of a special mark. Oren will protect him.”

Laveth studied Mirella for a long moment. “Mirella, however heroic you perceive this Oren Whitehair to be, he cannot stand against Elymas. We cannot just hand over the prince to this hunter and expect him to be safe.”

“But Oren is a great warrior. He is–“

“One man against many. Elymas has power, Mirella, perhaps more power than the King. Once he learns my son’s is his replacement, how long would he or Oren, for that matter, be allowed to live?”

‘I never understood why the prince’s foot had to be kept a secret, Highness,” said Mirella, slowly. “I thought it had to do with pride. Or timing. Perhaps you were waiting for the right time to tell the king. Maybe the babe would outgrow it. It never occurred to me that his life might be in danger. Why, he is the King’s son!”

“And the King grows closer to death every day. I have watched him. Some are big steps, some are small, but there is no doubt that the end is near. The tips of his fingers are black now, did you know that?”

Mutely, Mirella shook her head.

“Elymas is poisoning him. I knew he is, but I don’t know how. The physicians here have drunk the same tonics to no ill effects, except for the fat leech Cyril who slept for days. I have no grounds for accusations, but Elymas is killing William. I know it.” Laveth’s eyes were bleak. “The prince won’t be coming into his own for many years and unexpected things can happen during that time. Especially to a boy with the foot of an Earth Skyll and the title of a King. The situation is unnatural; my son is unnatural. If Axel died suddenly — or at great length like his sire— no one would turn a hair. I can hear the old heads clucking now; those like him aren’t meant to live.”

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