Zachary’s cheeks were ashen, and no doubt the guilt of his part in Karigan’s injury would eat away at him for weeks. Good.
“Practicing with edged blades, were you?”
“Yep.” Drent again. “Teaches precision, adds to the reality of combat.” His smile was gruesome. “Helps teach not to make mistakes. It’s standard practice for swordmasters.”
A little gasp from the bed told Laren that Karigan hadn’t known that the king she served possessed this level of swordsmanship.
“Yes,” Laren said, “standard for swordmasters such as yourselves, but Karigan is not a swordmaster.”
Drent passed his hand over his spiky hair and cast a calculating look at Karigan. “Maybe with a little work . . .”
Oh yes, Drent was going to get throttled, with a black eye thrown into the bargain. This conversation wasn’t going at all the way she intended.
True, her ability told her.
Who asked you? she retorted. Her ability had been passing judgment of its own volition just a bit too freely of late. And now she was talking back to it? She’d have to clamp down on it.
“Not only did you endanger my Rider,” Laren said, “but now the messenger service is more short-handed than ever.”
“I can ride,” Karigan said weakly from her bed.
Laren forced herself not to laugh. The sword blow may have knocked out Karigan’s common sense, but it did nothing to extinguish her spirit. It was spirit that made Karigan such a good Rider, but it was her lapses of common sense that tended to get her in trouble. Maybe it wasn’t just lapses of common sense . . . The girl was a magnet for trouble. Whatever the case, for however long Karigan answered the Rider call, she sensed things would be quite interesting around here.
“Right,” she said. “I can see I won’t get any useful information with the three of you here together, so I shall speak with you individually. Excellency,” she said, then turned on her heel to leave. “Drent, you’re with me—to my office.”
The captain’s swift anger gave Karigan more of a headache than the sword blow. She winced as boots rapped down the corridor.
Drent rolled his eyes. “The five hells have no fury like Captain Laren Mapstone.”
“Drent!” The captain’s shout came like the crack of a whip.
The arms master groaned. “I hope she didn’t hear that.” He bowed stiffly to the king and started to leave. He paused in the doorway and peered back at them. “If no one hears from me in an hour or two, send reinforcements!”
He grimaced, and like a dog with his tail tucked between his legs, headed down the corridor.
The king whistled softly. “I know she’s really upset when she calls me ’excellency’ in private,” he said, “but I’ve never seen Drent intimidated before.”
“I’m sorry,” Karigan said.
“For getting you in trouble with the captain.”
The king raised his eyebrows in disbelief, then hooked his foot around the leg of a chair and dragged it over to the bed so he could sit beside her. The room, Karigan thought, was feeling rather close. It was too much—the swordplay, the king helping her back to barracks with soft words of encouragement, and she found herself, despite the pain and embarrassment, finding pleasure in his attention.
I did get whacked on the head, didn’t I?
The king leaned forward. “Karigan, Laren and I go back quite a few years. She’s like an older sister to me.” A smile flickered across his lips. “I’ve been in trouble with that formidable woman more times than I care to remember, and have managed to survive.”
“Rider, your captain happens to be correct. Drent and I should not have involved you in such advanced swordplay. You were doing so well we didn’t think much of it. As a result of our negligence, your captain is short one Rider for an undetermined time, and more importantly, you have been hurt.”
“Will be back to normal in a couple days.” He grinned and she liked the effect it had on his eyes. “I’ve received far worse from bouts with Arms Master Drent.”
He regarded her for many moments, his features now very solemn. “I want you to know that I’d never intend you harm.”
She wanted to reassure him she knew this, but the words caught in her throat when he reached over and touched the back of her hand, just very lightly, with his fingertips. Heat radiated from his touch, and her own heat flooded her cheeks. She wanted to push the compress over her whole face to hide the blush.
She closed her eyes. I am addled. The whack addled my brain.
This was her sovereign, her king. The same man she’d seen as mysterious and commanding a couple years ago before they had entered the tombs of Heroes Avenue. She had seen him cold and terrible as he presided over the executions of traitors. By his own hand he had executed the former lord-governor of Mirwell. Mirwell, at the block; King Zachary tall and his features as stony as the castle walls surrounding him, in his hand a shining blade arcing down . . .
Her sovereign was also a man. She had witnessed his humanity. Tears over the fallen at the Battle of the Lost Lake. Expressing his passion for the land of Sacoridia and its people, even when forced to kneel and submit before his traitorous brother. A walk in the gardens and a chaste kiss on her hand, the glimmer of humor in brown eyes, the warmth of his touch . . .