The following morning found Dillon inside, which was unusual for a rainless day. Specifically, he was up in the attic again. His mother's words spun through his head as he paced. Was it possible his father was still alive? It was so difficult to trust his mother's grief ravaged mind, but with all his heart he wanted to believe it. And if it was possible that what she said was true, shouldn't someone do something? He was or had been their king after all. Dillon shook his head. It seemed a situation that surpassed difficult and went straight to impossible.
Idly, the prince leafed through the bookshelf until he found an old atlas. He pulled it out and laid it down on the table. It let out a puff of dust as he cracked opened the spine and started flipping through the pages to a map of the sea of Alth. The Alth was a wide ocean that surrounded the island kingdoms of Jocasta and Aeronus, as well as the many smaller islands between the two countries. Dillon's finger traced the currents, already planning a route in his mind. It was better than pacing, anyways.
That evening at supper something strange happened. Alinia entered the dining hall, looking far more frantic than usual. Her freckles stood out across her ashen face. After curtseying to the king and queen, Alinia bent by the queen's ear. As she spoke Anthea's face paled too. The woman let her fork and knife drop to the fine china plate with a clatter, the sound ringing in the high-ceiling space.
"My dear, are you alright," Valin asked, reaching across the table to touch the queen's wrist. She gazed at him with wide, frightened eyes, which then narrowed infinitesimally. She nodded slowly once and stood from the table. On slippered feet, she walked from the hall, seeming little more insubstantial than a puff of air.
Dillon looked to Alinia. What did you tell her? his eyes asked, but she gave no answer, merely curtseyed again and left. Dillon made to get up to follow her but his uncle's cold gaze pulled him back into the seat.
"Not two nights a row young man," said the king. "You will remain with us for the rest of diner."
The boy opened his mouth to argue but remembered himself and shut it again. Morosely, he mashed his fork into the crab cakes on his plate, flattening them further. The memory of his mother's words of the night before came to him, but he pushed them away. That could not have been more than mad wonderings, could it?
When the meal was finished, Dillon realized he had no idea where to find his mother. He looked for Alinia in the servants' passage, but it was deserted aside from the old Ms. Mason who didn't know where the girl was either. Dillon went up to his mom's rooms. Behind the door everything was quiet. He tried it and found that it was locked. Not sure what else to do, he went to bed, though he didn't fall asleep for what felt like hours.
- - -
"Uncle, I must know how she is!"
"I will say it for the last time: she is unwell. You will not be allowed into her rooms; no one will. It would be wise of you to question me further." There was barely concealed threat in his tone, though the words were clear enough.
"Yes, Uncle," said Dillon, shaking with barely suppressed rage. How would he know what had happened to his mother if he was not allowed to see her?
"I will have you say it," Valin said imperiously.
"Very good. Now cheer up and go play one of those games you young boys enjoy now days," said the king, making a sweeping motion with his hand so that Dillon and Murron could pass. The dog growled a bit as he did so.
Go play. Usually Dillon would not have needed to be encouraged to go do just that. But today was different. Today, his mother's sanity, and, indeed, he believed his own, hung in the balance.
He thought of going up to the attic again, but the pull of the wide-open space was greater and soon the prince found himself making his way down to the beach again. Though it had only been two days ago, he was much changed from the last time he had been down there. Certainly the old Dillon would not have been so exalted to see Alinia sitting out on a rock by the shore. It was the very same rock, a large squarish white boulder with a deep scar on the side, that Dillon and the other boys played King of the Mountain on. By unspoken code, it was not to be climbed upon any other time, especially by a girl. It did not seem such a terrible offense though now.
"Hey," he called.
"Oh," said Alinia, her head snapping up. "I'm so sorry, I just couldn't work." Her slender arms unwrapped themselves from around her knees and she slid down, landing on the sand by the younger boy. "Is there anything you need?"
"It's okay." Dillon paused. "Actually, yeah, there is something I need. Alinia, tell me what's wrong."
The servant girl looked taken aback for a moment. "It's just," she confessed, biting her lip, "I can't focus. Not since seeing what those men did to your mother. They mustn't have known she was in such a fragile state, because whatever it was they said-."
"What? What did they do Alinia?"
The intensity in the young boy's voice was like nothing she'd never heard before. "N-nothing," she stuttered. "I mean, they just talked, her and two men in black suits."
"I don't know. I shouldn't have been watching anyways. The queen sent away the guards. I was just so worried."
Dillon stepped back and sunk down into the sand. Murron nudged him with his muzzle, but the boy was too astonished to feel anything.
So its true, he thought dimly, it's all true. Everything mother told me.
"Prince Dillon?" Alinia was asking, looking at him strangely.
"Listen, Alinia. You can get into my mother's chambers can't you?"
The girl nodded. "I'll bring her lunch."
"Good," said Dillon. "There's something I need you to ask her. 'Cept you cannot tell anyone."
"Will you do it?"
"Of course, Prince Dillon," she said quietly.
"Alright. Are you sure?"
She nodded, still paler than usual though the light of defiance was coming back into her eyes. "I'll pinky swear on it if you want."
Dillon shook his head. "That's girly stuff." He pushed himself up on to his feet and spat into his sandy hand. Wordlessly, he extended it out to her. Alinia blanched.
"I will not!"
"You will. It's your duty."
Alinia nodded hesitantly and the two shook on it. Dillon looked at her expectantly.
"I swear," she said, looking him squarely in the eye, "to ask your mom and to not tell."
Dillon nodded and then quickly related to her a condensed version of his mother's ramblings the night before. She stared at him open mouthed when he had finished. He saw what she was about to say and stopped her.
"You spit shook on it," he said. "It's an unbreakable contract – you can't tell anyone."
"But Prince Dillon, what if she was wrong? What if the only way to save the king is to tell someone?"
The boy swallowed hard. "If she was wrong, the men wouldn't have showed up last night. You must find out what they told her."
Alinia pushed her hand across her eyes and nodded her ascent.
Girls are more emotionally mature that boys, hah, Dillon thought, before more important concerns came back into his mind again.
"And you'll meet me out her again in an hour?" he asked.
"No, it'll have to be after lunch."
Dillon glared off in the direction of the horizon, the divide between the blue of the sky and the blue of the sea, both seeming to stretch endlessly as far as he could see. He was impatient, yet the view calmed him some.
"Alright. But right after."
Alinia nodded again and ran off towards the castle.