Outer Flower, 32

Matters Settled

“Refusing a direct order from the King is usually called treason,” said William dryly. “I tell you the Journey Room will receive the first acolyte in the morning and that’s a command. And if, by chance, you haven’t reconsidered your outburst by the time I’ve finished speaking, there are others who can serve as the Anchor while you are led to the dungeon. Vue, I believe, is qualified.”

Vue nodded his head.

Red splotches mottled Elymas’s cheeks and throat, but he controlled his breathing. “Forgive my outburst, Majesty. Of course, I will do as the Throne directs. There is, however, one obstacle which you no doubt in your wisdom have foreseen while I, lacking your acumen, have not.”

“Pray proceed.”

“If I’m willing to serve as the Anchor, which I’ve done countless times before, I must have time to prepare myself. The ritual cleansing and probing takes three days. So you see, as willing as I am to follow your directions in the morning, some things are out of my control.”

“Hmm, I see,” said William, stroking his beard. “Well, three days . . .”

“Your Majesty,” said A’Sing. “The cleansing and probing can be completed in a day and half. Elymas is strong enough to reflect and rid himself of impurities in one day. He is no novice; he has said so himself. He knows the things the Elyon insists must be dismissed: lust for power, lust for bodies, and lust for gold. The others and I can probe him the next day; it will take the better part of the morning and the first acolyte will be ready to enter the Journey Room by early afternoon.”

“You are asking too much!” protested Elymas.

“Perhaps,” shrugged A’Sing. “But I’m not asking the impossible.”

“Will you be ready, Elymas? Yes or no,” asked William.

Elymas nodded.

“Very well,” said William. “It is settled.” He began making the ritualistic motion — hand over heart, palm to the people, circle making them one — when the Earth Skyll interrupted.

“Highness, there is one more point I would like to make, just the briefest suggestion. Should not Oren Hunter be placed under guard?”

Elymas!” cried Vue. “Your suspicions shame us!”

“It is fair,’ insisted Elymas. “If no acolyte passes the test and no earth child is found, it is only common sense to detain the Hunter for questioning.”

“And wisdom to ask where you would detain him,” Ondred spoke, his expression indecipherable. “It has become my ambition, Earth Skill, to plunge the castle into a thorough housecleaning after the activities of Open Court. The Queen has given full support to my suggestion. Certain rooms might need to be explored, their contents emptied and examined, and some doors sealed. Perhaps we can discuss this privately.”

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