“What is going on here?” My father’s voice boomed across the water to me. I spun around, the water swirling into eddies about my body.
“Ender Magma thinks to pull Larkspur from her testing to be tried at the Pit.” Douglas’s voice held more than a hint of condescension.
“She needs to be properly tried, Basileus. You convincing the ambassador she did nothing wrong is not enough for Queen Fiametta. She wants Larkspur properly tried, and punished. As is the queen’s right.”
Someone, I assumed Douglas, sucked in a breath so hard I heard it all the way across the water. I knew why.
Magma had called my father by name, and not used “your highness” or even “king.” It was a slap in the face. Below us, the earth growled, and even from where I hid, I saw the subtle glow of green on my father’s hands. The rocks under me rumbled, and the water rippled with the vibrations. Magma treaded very dangerous ground.
I let go of the rocks so I could float free in the water.
“Magma. You forget yourself. I will bring Larkspur to Fiametta myself.” His words were laced with granite and power. I shivered and was pleased to see that not only did Magma leave, but Douglas, too. I waited until their figures disappeared up the stairs cut into the earth before I swam across the water, keeping my movements as stealthy as possible. But he still heard me.
“Larkspur. Get dressed.”
“Are you going to hand me over to them?” I reached the shore and stood, the water lapping around my thighs. My feet sunk into the sand, putting me eye level with my father.
Everything about him reminded me that he was the king. The flecks of gray through his dark brown hair were a mark of age most of our people didn’t see, the deep green of his eyes were filled with knowledge of the past, present, and future, and the power I could see dancing along his fingertips like green flames made the earth hum under my feet.
He flicked his fingers at me, a move that would have the sand push me forward. This was a gift I had—the ability to see when another elemental would use their power. It had saved me more than once already.
I sidestepped the push and stepped fully onto the shoreline. “I’ll take that as a yes.”
He shook his head. “Lark, I would not hand over any of my children to Fiametta. She is a friend of Cassava. They are very close, in fact.” His eyes softened and he got a faraway look that scared me more than if he’d been angry and yelling.
I swallowed hard as I watched the emotions play across his face. “You still love her?”
His eyes narrowed. “She is the mother of most of my children. I cannot hate her.”
“Yet, she tried to kill you, me, and did kill a number of our family. She killed my mother and Bram. So while you might not hate her, I do.” I strode past him to where my clothes were piled. There were flecks of sand over them and I shook out the leather vest and snug fitting cotton pants quickly before putting them back on.
“She . . . is still in my head, Lark.” He spoke softly and I spun, startled.
“What do you mean?”
“Years, years of damage and manipulation. I cannot always tell what is a real memory and what is fabricated.” He wiped a hand over his face. “Be patient with me. I am trying to change things.” The mother goddess had said much the same. But it was hard. He was my father, the king, and I wanted him to be strong enough to just be . . . okay.
The mother goddess’s words reverberated through me. The power of Spirit, like the ring Cassava had worn and used, destroyed not only those the power touched, but those who controlled it as well. Losing their ability to trust.
Though I had the ability to use Spirit, the more I learned about it, the more I didn’t want anything to do with it.
I didn’t want to become Cassava.
“I will try to be patient, but then you have to trust me to see things you don’t,” I said.
My father grunted. “Something in particular?”
“You know Cassava won’t stop until she has your throne and those who stand in her way are dead. You said she is friendly with Fiametta. How do you know this isn’t Cassava pushing her friend to call me in to trial only to kill me?”
“Fiametta wants your head, regardless. You broke into her home, Lark. You showed up all her Enders, and stole away using one of their Traveling armbands. You made her look like a fool and the other leaders know it.”
With my fingers on the buckles of my vest, I tightened each one slowly. “So she wants to make herself look better?”
He nodded. “In essence, yes.”
“And Cassava? You do remember she tried to kill you, only a few weeks ago.” I wasn’t sure I could handle the thought of him not remembering. My whole life had been a mishmash of broken and stolen memories. I didn’t want that for my father, and now that Cassava was gone, he could maybe finally have his mind back.
At the sound of footsteps, I knew our conversation would shift. Around others, my father treated me like the bastard child I was; like I was less than everyone else. Alone together, as rare as it was, was the only time I saw the father I remembered from my childhood. The one who loved me despite my bastard status.
He arched an eyebrow and stood a little straighter. “You make it sound like you are important enough to be bothered with. You forget that while you may have saved our family from the old queen, that was a fluke. Don’t ever forget your place, Larkspur. You are an Ender now. You are replaceable.” He turned and strode up the shoreline, a flick of his hand indicating that I should follow him.