“I can’t—” she began.
He cut her off. “I simply ask you to reconsider. Go spend time with your family and think about it. If you return to Selium to finish your schooling, all the better.”
“I’m not going back there,” she said. “That’s how I got into this mess in the first place.”
The king’s brown eyes danced with amusement. “A Green Rider should soon be handing Dean Geyer a message sealed with the royal mark, explaining how erroneously he judged you. You are free to return there.”
Karigan wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or annoyed that she no longer had an excuse to stay away from Selium. It would not do to appear ungrateful, however. “Thank you,” she murmured.
He grinned with a lightness she did not expect, and he took her hand into his. “Your deeds will not be forgotten, brave lady.” He kissed her hand and bowed.
With that, he turned away, his cloak rustling behind him as he strode off.
Karigan returned to her room at Rider barracks feeling rather giddy and blushing madly. Her saddlebags were packed and there was little to do but await her father. She sighed and leaned against the window frame. The wind bent the grasses of the pasture and horses grazed in the distance.
The king. He stirred up feelings in her that she would rather not think about. She was leaving Sacor City to be a merchant. Or, was she simply running away again?
She would miss Sacor City, but she would miss the people even more: King Zachary, Mel, Captain Mapstone, Fastion, and Alton D’Yer. Alton had left the city two days ago for his ancestral home. He was supposed to help figure out how to mend the breach in the D’Yer Wall. He was sorry she had decided not to stay on, and he made her promise to visit frequently. After the Battle of the Lost Lake and the discovery of his shielding talent, he finally felt like a proper Green Rider.
The door creaked open, and her father strode in looking resplendent in a cloak of sky blue. He placed his hands on his hips and smiled broadly at her. “Ready?” he asked.
She grinned and crossed the floor to embrace him. He felt as he always had with his arms around her: strong and safe and warm. “I’m glad you’re here,” she said.
Her father laughed aloud. “I am glad we both are.”
Karigan pulled away and looked up at him. “What has you in such good spirits?”
“I’ve had some meetings with Captain Mapstone. She has told me many things about your journey—things you had not told me. It took seeing it through the captain’s eyes for me to realize how much you’ve grown.”
Karigan made a face. “I am Karigan G’ladheon, merchant.”
“I told the captain that. She is short on messengers and thought I could talk you into joining up. I told her you were returning to Corsa with me. Even so, she insisted upon riding out of the city with us.”
Karigan threw her saddlebags over her shoulder. She was pleased the captain was joining them, and she could tell by the sparkle in her father’s eye that he, too, was pleased.
They found Captain Mapstone by the stable holding the reins to Bluebird. She looked well and rested. Only a small bandage on her forehead and a slight limp hinted at the battle she had endured. According to Mel, it had been no easy task keeping the captain quiet while she recuperated. The menders had their hands full with her, and many had simply thrown their hands up in exasperation when she stubbornly disobeyed their instructions.
Mel and Sevano led the other horses out of the stable. Karigan hugged Mel soundly. The girl was as cheerful as ever, but Karigan wondered if the night of the takeover ever plagued her dreams. She would not talk about it, but preoccupied herself with chores around the stables, or running about the castle with messages.
“It seems like we keep saying good-bye,” Karigan said.
“You’ll be back,” Mel said.
“I’m not too sure about that.”
Mel grinned and handed over Condor’s reins. “The captain is thinking about sending me to Selium for school.”
Karigan patted her friend on the shoulder. In a low voice she said, “A little advice if you go: don’t ever think about running away.”
Mel chuckled and hurried off into the stable.
The foursome mounted and rode in silence across the castle grounds and through the gates. Captain Able and his guardsmen who had swung from nooses at the gate had been removed and buried with honor. Still, Karigan couldn’t help but feel a certain dread when she passed beneath the portcullis.
In the city, the added security was evident everywhere. Soldiers in silver and black patrolled the streets in pairs and questioned travelers, particularly Mirwellians, at the gates. However, the hawking of merchandise from streetside booths, and the singing and playing of buskers, and the bustle of people flowing this way and that had not changed.
Captain Mapstone nosed Bluebird alongside Condor. Karigan’s father and the cargo master rode on ahead. The captain twisted in her saddle so she could look directly at Karigan. Her hazel eyes were intent. “I am sure King Zachary requested you to join the messenger service,” she said. “Add my invitation as well.”
Stevic G’ladheon overheard and opened his mouth to protest, but the captain forestalled him with a stern glance. “Hold, merchant. You agreed to let me have my say.”
He pursed his lips, but could not contain himself. “Yes, and a lot more.”
“You made a bargain, if you recall,” Captain Mapstone said.
Karigan raised her eyebrows. “Bargain?”