No one gave heed to Sarris’ sneer. The night had grown so extraordinary that it seemed only natural that a young girl, unknown and unannounced, should rise in the presence of the High King of Casoria and validate the claim of a once deadly enemy bringing word of an event prophesied thousands of years before. On the contrary, the crowd strained forward to listen.
“I know the way up the mountains to the Pentacacas Caves. It is not far from our settlement.” Her reply grew steadier; Sarris’s challenge seemed to have given her strength.
The girl looked at Oren briefly, then looked back at the King.
“I have witnessed the Rite of Spring Callings. I have seen Shautu the Seer command the sky and the Whitehairs wrestling spirits, catching them before they fall to earth. And I have seen this man standing guard,” she pointed her voice strong, “standing guard on what is known as the Jutting Rock many times.”
A surprised grunt escaped Oren. Although she’d identified him, he was not entirely pleased. How had a slip of a girl slipped by him?
“Many times?” asked the King, with a hint of a smile.
“Since my twelfth summer,” she answered.
“What is your name, child?” asked William.
“And you are from the Shivelite camp?”
The slight memory that had prodded William, now became whole. “Your father, Tallis Taylor, is known to the Shivelites as the First Man.”
It was not a question. Mirella bobbed her head. Yes, she was the blood of Tallis Taylor, the First Man; the man who had cast her from her home.
Without being told to, Mirella sat down. The King drew a hand over his forehead, rubbing his aching eyes. The pain didn’t lessen and he needed a moment to focus. He looked at his elder councilor.
“Her testimony is enough for now,” he told Ondred. “Enough to keep Oren Hunter in our presence. Enough to warrant his stay as our guest. The mark will be shown in good time.”
Vue and A’Sing had been conferring quietly to the side of the throne. Now, Vue stepped forbad. “Majesty, the matter is unsettled among us, and it is unseemly that the Skylls should squabble like children in front of a crowd,” he said. “For that reason, I ask for a closed session wherein the mystery of the Shautu’s message may be pondered and perhaps solved. In the morning, with clearer heads, we can–“
“Tonight,” interrupted William. “We will continue in this very room tonight.”
William knew he would pay for this decision with pain in ways he couldn’t imagine yet, but as long as he lived through the night, it was worth the call.
“This matter cannot hang in the air even until morning. Nor has it pleased me to see my court marred by discourtesy and strife. Perhaps we can repair the evening by acting like rational men, if not for our guest’s sake, then for our own. He waved his scepter before the crowd as one might wave off a horde of gnats. “The feast waits down the hall. Hie to it.”
The crowd began to move like prodded cattle in slow, reluctant pockets toward the side exits. The King watched until he could stand no more and then rose, his face spasmed in pain and fury, and hurled his scepter as one might throw a javelin in the direction of the double doors. It didn’t go far, but fell just past the rushes and onto the flagstones where it met the hard surface. Diamonds, rubies and other precious gems flew loose but none dared retrieve them.
“I said get out! All of you!”
He sank back into the arms of the throne. “We will get to the bottom of this if it takes until the next session of Open Court!”
His voice echoed in the now empty room.