They could probe him, but he was stronger so their ceremony would have no meaning. Saar’s Bones, they could begin their ceremony tonight and him full to the brim with Frennin White, that potent favorite of Rash William, and the results would be the same — which was to say the new Skylls would come from those acolytes he’d already chosen.
Of course, none would pass into the Deep. None would earn the Third Stripe which denoted Axis. He’d push two of the physically stronger to the second level. In his experimentations, he’d found that those with a heftier builds could withstand the tension of being placed where they didn’t belong; of course, they’d die before their term was over, but what matter? As for the other vacancies, he was sure a couple of the weaker ones could manage to grasp first, earning them one stripe. Four replacements in all this Winnowing Year, and he’d declare the Journey Room closed for the next seven. The council of Skylls would be packed with fools.
Alone on the dais, Elymas shifted and sprawled in the High King’s oaken chair. He could almost be comfortable if it weren’t for the hardness of the damned wood. The chair was unyielding, causing his joints to ache. He’d tossed aside the pillows before sitting, having no desire for William’s disease to creep into his bones, but without the padding, the smooth surface was dangerous, as if he were astride a giant horse that would, at the slightest provocation, throw him off.
Everything was under his control.
He sighed and gave up trying to fit his spine to the hollowed chair.
The throne room stretched before him, a vast expanse of shadows, whose stillness was broken only by an occasional crackling from the wall sconces, whose torches had been replenished by a harried page. The flames shot upwards, creating various shadows which travelled the walls before pooling and mixing with the light at his feet.
The patterns created by this combination were intriguing. It was, he decided, like watching light play against leaded glass. Shadows in the shape of leaves spiraled slowly, as if stirred from a depth, while others, jewel-shaped or eye-shaped, drifted past. The smallest darted like fishes. He watched as they nipped the stone floor as if trying to feed.
The atmosphere in the room seemed magical as well, or perhaps, he thought as the smooth Frennin White slid down his throat, energized was a better choice of words. Something in the air, some tension perhaps, seemed to push at the edge of everything, threatening to break through the surface and cause events to spin out of control.
Bile shot up his throat.
Elymas swallowed and chortled at his own fancy. When had he ever projected designs on a darkened, empty room? Never. And nothing could enter without his bidding. He would, he decided, clap for a pitcher of water after he’d downed his wine.
Two hours ago, he’d poisoned the High King of Casoria, as well as the annoying councilor, Ondred, with the same efficiency normally he might have afforded an unwanted pup. It had been done in a moment of pique — he’d been infuriated with William’s reprimand — but now he felt satisfied, as if he’d planned it for months.
Elymas drained the last drops from the first bottle of Frennin White into his cup and smiled.
The murders had been simple. He’d added just ten more drops of Lud Sellum, that marvelous poison he’d used to alternately sicken and soothe his monarch over the years. Ten drops to the good and the Warrior King, invincible in battle, had passed on. Lud Sellum — he’d paid a small fortune, purchasing it from the fat eunuch, Suga, during his one and only clandestine trip to the Nevers.
The trip had been horrendous. He’d gone alone to ensure secrecy, but after the first night fervently wished he had brought along a boy, if only to care for his horse. It had begun to rain just after he crossed into Banescale, the small strip of land that separated the Nevers from the rest of the world, and didn’t stop until he reached Tuelscroft itself.
He’d stood before its black iron gates washed free of his disguise and with the beginnings of a chest cold. His disposition had improved slightly when no guard challenged him, but minutes into the city, he knew why.