The rest of that evening was a bit of a blur. After Alazne stalked off, claiming diplomatic immunity and the right to silence, there was a flurry of movement. The Prince took action immediately, calling for his most skilled diplomats and lawyers to instruct him on what the best thing to do would be. At the same time, the soldiers marched out, to "escort" the Yarran woman to her rooms – they would, naturally, find the broken window. It gave me some hope that they could accuse her of conspiracy. My mind was jumping around like a grasshopper; I finally noticed that my arm was throbbing. With all the distractions, I had forgotten about my pain completely, and it came roaring back all at once. And then, as my head reeled, my mother was leading me outside. I turned to say something to Flin, something important, but there was mass confusion outside – all the banquet guests had discovered that the Prince was absent, and it was basically chaos. I barely recalled following Mamma upstairs, to my rooms – Sojia was in there, with a hot tub of water –
And then I fell asleep.
I woke up feeling as though I had just laid my head on my pillow. The curtains were drawn over the windows, but muted sunlight filled the room with a soft golden glow. Carefully, I sat up, seeing that my arm was bound up in a sling and that I was now in my old nightgown. No one seemed to be in the room, and for a moment I closed my eyes again and soaked in the expectant silence. There had not been a lull in my life for so long; it felt as though I had been on the move for months, even a year.
The door opened gently, and my father peered in. His face lit up when he saw that I was awake.
"Lissandra," he said solemnly, his eyes wrinkling into a smile.
"Feeling better?" My father eased himself into the room and took a seat on the foot of my bed. He looked tired; dark pouches hung under his blue eyes, so like mine, and with a jolt I noticed that there was a lot more gray sprinkled in his dark brown hair. "You were pretty exhausted last night."
"I know it," I agreed. "My arm barely hurts. What time is it? What's going on?"
"It's past noon. You slept for twelve hours." He gazed at the floral pattern of my bedspread thoughtfully. "Alazne's gone."
"Back to Yarr." He smiled wryly at my exclamation of shock.
"She's not in the dungeon?" I protested in disbelief. "What on earth –"
"Technically there was no way to implicate her," Papa explained sympathetically, sensing my wrath. "The Artifact, the broken window – it wasn't concrete proof that she was conspiring against the leaders. However," he added, seeing my face turn scarlet, "it was proof enough to convince the entire palace that she was lying. And we did find traces of poison in the ceremonial wine – the wine that only the leaders of the Peace Conference were to drink when everyone was seated. You came just in time to save their lives. Unfortunately, we cannot prove anything. She got off on a mere technicality, but her guilt is obvious. There is also renewed suspicion on Alazne for helping to murder Harat's old ambassador Terak Malahais."
It took me a moment to remember that far-away scandal. Of course – it was the time Flin and I had been threatened by those caravan-goers in Narayar. When Flin told me about his childhood.
"So what now?" I asked quickly, trying to focus my thoughts again. "Do we do anything to her? She gets off scot free?"
"Not entirely. We cannot take decisive action against Yarr diplomatically, but your discovery has permanently tainted our relationships with Yarr. It's a black mark on them; the whole mainland continent has to keep one eye permanently focused on that island now. You've done a good thing, my girl."
I glowed – inside, of course. Hadn't my one goal when I started my whole spying fiasco been to get glory and fame – and to prove that I could do something right? Well, it had been my childish dream, but somehow it felt wonderful to have it fulfilled.
"By the way, you know old Treoven? He's been in Narayar for the past six months, unable to get out of the country?"
Treoven! I had completely forgotten the existence of our old friend. "Where is Treo now?" I asked breathlessly. "Papa, I forgot all about him!"
Papa made a face. "So did I, but we were understandably preoccupied. He's coming to Harat next week to meet –"
The door creaked, and Mamma poked her head inside. "Hugh, you didn't call me," she reproached, coming in with a tray of steaming hot food. "The palace healer told me to give you this if you were awake, dear."
I eyed it greedily. Hot tomato soup sent curling steam into the air, next to warm, freshly baked bread, goat's milk, and a cinammon pastry. It was an odd assortment, but as I tucked in, I discovered it was a most delicious one.
"Papa's been telling me everything," I informed her, my mouth full.
She exchanged glances with him.
"Not quite everything," Papa amended. "We are leaving for Harat the day after tomorrow, with Cadman's entourage."
I stopped eating.
"Have you thought any more about what you're going to do, Liss?" Mamma asked gently. "We have time, but – you should probably make a decision."
"Oh. No, I haven't thought about it," I said quietly. "When do I have to?"
"Only by the time we leave. We're not going to push you. Leonus has talked to Cadman, and he's made his decision."
I felt a rush of affection for my parents, and I couldn't explain why, either. "I'll think about it. Thank you."
"Well, while you do that, I'm going to go get some luncheon," Papa said briskly, embarrassed by this show of tenderness. "I'll see you when you're up, Liss."
On his way out, he bumped into Leonus, who apologized profusely and sidled into the room. He looked decidedly out of place in my undoubtedly feminine, pink-walled bedroom.
"I'll leave you two to talk," Mamma suggested, and she followed my father out.
Leonus nodded to her and then looked at me amusedly. "Enjoying your illness, are we, dear cousin?" he inquired mockingly.
"I have no idea what you mean," I said with dignity, settling comfortably against my plush pillows.
"Can I have some of your bread?" Without waiting for an answer, he leaned over to break off a piece from the roll, chewing it meditatively. "How's your arm?"
"Fine. How's your angst?"
"It's a little bruised," he admitted, sweeping his dark hair from his forehead. "Cadman and I had a talk, and he effectively made me feel like a spoiled child."
"You are a –"
"I'm still angry at him," Leonus interrupted before I could finish my insult. "I'm not going to forgive him. But I'm not going to hate him any more. Aric wouldn't like that, and I see that now."
We were both quiet for a moment. The mention of Aric's name invoked that familiar twinge of pain, but it was duller than before. Was I forgetting him? No, I corrected myself, I will never forget. I was just moving on, and his memory was more tender now, more softened, like an old painting that fades and curls at the edges but still retains its beauty. I saw Leo's dark eyes – less cynical now – and I knew he was thinking of his brother as well. The familiar swell of affection made me feel closer to him, somehow.
"So are you going with your parents back to Harat?" Leo asked, breaking the silence.
"I don't know. You?"
"I'm staying here. Teria and I have called off the wedding," he added casually. I stared at him. "She and Kivan were hitting it off in my absence, and I think it wasn't going to work anyway. I've experienced too much. I feel – old, compared to her. Besides, we were too young when we became engaged. It was only a year ago, but I was much younger then."
I scarcely knew Teria, so in all truth, I couldn't really feel any emotion. It did amuse me, however, that Kivan had found someone to appreciate his 'perfection.' "So you're still staying here, even though Teria isn't what's keeping you?"
"I'm not going back to Harat," Leo said decidedly. "And I've gotten used to this country. Truth be told, I like this court. It's refreshingly dull."
"You don't really like it, then. You hate dull things."
"No, I don't like it. But I'm used to it." He shrugged. "I think I might enter university. The Prince has offered to sponsor me, and I have nothing better to do."
"Won't you be lonely?"
Leonus grinned a little. "I'll find someone. Tell me if you decide to stay here. We could find some diversion in making fun of these stuffy nobles, seeing as we aren't really aristocrats any more."
"It would be fun," I agreed. We looked at each other awkwardly; neither of us were demonstrative, and emotions made both of us cringe. "See you, then," I said.
My cousin gave me a rough, one-armed squeeze, and then he left without even saying good-bye. I didn't mind, though. He knew that I was now his sister.
Many guests trickled in and out during the rest of the afternoon, including the Prince – who extended the invitation to stay in Cliadis – and then Cadman, the Sorangese Emperor's son, and King Mealc, all to thank me for saving their lives. Kivan also came in to give me some chocolate and his sympathy, but he left quickly. I napped for a little while in the evening, tired out with the visits.
When I woke, it was night, and I was completely wide-eyed. I was restless, too. I had thought and thought about what I wanted to do, and I still had reached no conclusion.
I didn't want to leave my parents. Though I was seventeen and a half, I didn't feel self-sufficient. Of course, I loved them. Yet the thought persisted that I didn't need them. Hadn't I been separated from them for seven months, and things were the same among all three of us? Though the Prince had expressed an interest in keeping me in Cliadis, I didn't want to. The memory of Rebekha was still acute, and I had not really been happy during my stay here. Leonus might be amused by the mindless games of the Cliad court, but I didn't belong in them.
Harat was looking like a better decision than Cliadis, but there for some strange reason that I could not pin down, I didn't want to go there. Perhaps it was Cadman, or the fact that being in Harat would just remind me of Aric. Going back to Harat would be like going back to the time before I had become a spy – back to being a child, back to the way things were, except things would be different.
Though it was dark outside and the palace was sleeping, I needed to get away from my bed. Just walking might ease my mind a little.
I slipped to my cupboard and pulled out my old breeches and shirt, the ones I wore constantly when traveling. They felt comfortable and cool on my skin. I realized that since I had come to Cliadis, I had only worn dresses. Leggings, I decided, gave a girl some freedom to move.
The corridors were dark and quiet, but it wasn't an eerie silence – it was a calm absence of sound. My slippers padded softly on the cold marble. My feet unconsciously led me towards the Council Room. Casually, I peered in, wondering what the hall would look like at night without the presence of hundreds – and, almost comically, my eyes were suddenly on level with a very familiar, stubble-covered chin.
"Lissandra," Lord Nicar said smoothly, bowing. Why did I always meet up at the worst times with this man? "I have not talked to you for a long time."
I gave him a halfhearted, sheepish smile. "I couldn't sleep," I volunteered.
"Ah. I was just leaving – late-night meetings. Are you feeling better?"
His concern seemed out of character, but I answered politely. "Much."
"I must thank you, by the way. Being poisoned would have been acutely uncomfortable, I think. King Mealc came to thank you as well, didn't he?"
"Yes, but you don't have to thank me. I wasn't doing it for you."
He was caught by surprise, and his laugh startled both of us. "At least your honesty is refreshing." Measuringly, his very-good-looking-Lordship scrutinized me. I didn't cower, though, nor did I venture a smart comment – I only looked back. "Lissandra," he began abruptly. "I must ask you a question, and – now that you, ah, aren't in my employ any more, you can answer without fear of bodily harm."
"How did you find out about Cadman's revolution? You went running off to Harat that day, and I have been at a loss for six months as to how."
I sensed that his curiosity was real, and somehow, I felt a sense of triumph. I had stumped Lord Nicar – this was more of an accomplishment than even saving his life. "I stole your Artifacts," I told him smugly.
His expression was ironic. "Ah. Then, if you don't mind – I have to offer you my congratulations." Wordlessly, he bowed again, and then left without a word of good-bye. I smiled to myself.
"You stole the Artifacts?"
I yelped and turned around to see a pajama-clad Flin Cardif.
"You heard?" I asked, chagrined. I had wanted to see his reaction for myself. For some reason, his expression made my heart patter wildly.
"I was the one meeting with Lord Nicar. But seriously – you stole them? You're – you're – words fail me." He looked at me with an amused twinkle in his dark eyes. "I salute you."
"You can have them back, though," I said, making a face. "They're in my room somewhere. They've caused me a bit too much trouble."
"No, you keep them," he said admiringly. "You were smart enough to steal them."
It was kind of bizarre, I reflected, that stealing from him was the one way to gain his respect. In a flash, I remembered what I had wanted to tell him last night. "Oh, Flin, I almost forgot. When I knocked out that window, your bird – the little blue vase – it broke." I felt a bubble of regret. "I'm sorry. It helped me tear my ropes, though."
"It helped you escape? Then it was useful, after all."
"Yes," I said, looking at him hopelessly and not knowing why.
"I – uh – heard you were going to stay here in Cliadis or go back to Harat. Have you decided which?" he asked awkwardly, shifting, running his hand through his curls, looking at me beseechingly.
"Not yet. I don't – really – want to do either," I said carefully, feeling a sudden need to say the right thing.
"Oh. You don't?" He coughed. "Well, Nic and I talked about this just now – um – well, there's one option you might not have considered. Not that you would have considered it, because you didn't know about it. But maybe you can now."
He was babbling, and the fact made me unreasonably happy. The always-confident Flin was nervous –
"What are you talking about?" I prompted gently.
"If you want, you can come with me. As my – well – sort of my assistant. Like, a job with the Narayan government – and Cadman offered to sponsor you as well – like a spy, but not really. Just an information agent. But you would – I mean, you would travel with me. Nicar would still be our – your – well, really, my employer – and we could buy another glass bird, if you wanted –"
I understood down in my bones what he was asking, but it was the perfect opportunity to torture him. "Come again?"
He took a deep breath. I suddenly noticed how close we were. "We would be partners," he explained. "Travelers. Messengers. And, sometimes, on the side, spies. Traveling all over the continent. Together. I mean, as partners. Do you know what I mean?"
I stood on tiptoes and kissed him. "I know exactly what you mean."
Oh my goodness. It's done. Wow!
Thanks to Aestas Memoriala, Arej, TirzahRuth, thunderbolt and lightning, clair-a-net, Abigail Radle, Pheobe Meryll, Loriency, rrmehta364, peaches08, animeanne, An Inside Joke, Kaggr, punchadara, and the yak.
Well, thank you to everybody who ever reviewed me and encouraged me! I'm sad that it's done but the sequel has been started, so I don't have to say good-bye to all my characters. And it's shaping up to be way better than this one, actually. Check in two weeks for the beginning of that story. Also, in two weeks I will update with review responses for this last chapter. Just because I can't leave things unfinished..
Here is the summary for the sequel: Rebellion, intrigue, disaster, doomed romance, exile, death – who ever claimed that being Queen was easy?
It's set mostly in Narayar, but not to worry - Liss will be back, and we will be in her head as well as Selera's. It's in 3rd person POV. I'm actually proud of the beginning so far. Anyways, yes.
thunderbolt and lightning: Happy belated birthday :)
Pheobe Meryll: Yep, it's "guilty as charged." That was a minor brain malfunction on my part. I just wanted to thank you for all your thoughtful reviews - glad you're back on FP (I glanced at your profile just now)
rrmehta364: REally insightful review. I'm actually going to have to completely rewrite the first half of this story because when I wrote it, I was thinking the story would go in a different direction - and it ended up having a mind of its own. Just so you know, I was planning to change the circumstances of Liss's presence in Narayar, because I know it just doesn't work that she is a spy. But anyway, this is just a first draft. Thanks so much.
the yak: Yeah, I kind of forgot about the birthday present, so I took it out of my personal drafts. COol story idea, but I can't take other people's stories! You should try writing it - the reason I started getting into writing was because I loved reading. The two kind of go hand-in-hand.
THANKS! WOW! IT'S DONE!
Review Responses for Ch. 32:
The sequel is tentatively titled The Paper Throne. Check it out - it's up now, if you are so inclined!
Thanks to Plinky, thunderbolt and lightning, Aestas Memoriala, peaches08, Phoenix-ofthe-Goldenrose, Summer Raine, Arej, Kaggr, Grave At.tention, rrmehta364, Me, Pheobe Meryll, An Inside Joke, clair-a-net, punchadara, Alexis LePlume, and For What Its Worth.
Aestas Memoriala: Happy belated birthday!
Arej: Ha, I'm amazingly satisfied that I finished something as well! I won't take this off any time soon, so no worries. Thanks :)
rrmehta364: Wow, thanks for your amazing review. Your editing - and everyone else's - is so appreciated, and of course I will pay attention to it! I know there's tons of work to do still, but you have really helped. Thank you very much :)
punchadara: Couldn't have it be mushy!
Thanks, guys. :)