Chapter Thirty-Three: Amends

"You're looking better, lad," Neolander said quietly, laying a hand on Tyland's shoulder.

Tyland smiled slightly, staring thoughtfully at the sunburst now marked on his hand. He found himself looking again for any trace of the black sword, and found as always that he could detect no sign of its presence. "Thank you," he said quietly, at last. "I know I didn't deserve this…"

Neolander chuckled softly. "Did anyone ever say you did, lad? You are Feodor's son; 'twas for that and no deserving of yours that he was determined to save you."

"And you?" Tyland asked quietly.

Neolander smiled gently. "Any son of the House of Sídaj is a son of mine."

Tyland sighed. "When I refused to take the mark, it was partly because I couldn't be sure yet that you were not another one like Nalsa." He shrugged in apology, not looking up. "But that was not my full reason. I suspected you were telling the truth about who you were, but I did not feel worthy to bear your mark.

"At first I thought my headaches were your doing — and then when I found they were not, I wished that they were. I tried to kill you, Neolander," he burst out. "How can you stand here and act as if that never happened?"

"I could tell you that, bearing the mark of Nalsa's authority, you were not acting entirely of your own will, but I think that is not what you want."

"We both know it isn't true," Tyland said bitterly. "I followed Nalsa so willingly that his mark gave him very little power over me. And don't tell me I was deceived, either; I knew right and wrong."

"Very well, then. I do not excuse your action," Neolander told him, "but we have all done what we are not proud of."

"Not proud!" Tyland scoffed.

Neolander smiled sadly. "You wish me to be judge and executioner? Very well. In the court of my heart, I have sentenced you to death for what you have done. But for the love I bear you as my own son, I have pardoned you and accepted you as my heir."

Tyland looked up, tears streaming down his face. "How?" he whispered.

"By the power of the Ancient One," Neolander murmured. "Only by his power."

oOo

"How's the ankle?" Feodor questioned.

Thurston glanced down, surprised by the question. "It doesn't bother me, highness," he said truthfully.

Feodor laughed a bit sheepishly. "You know, if I had stayed to tend it a few more days instead of leaving you to the Skill of that healer, you might not have that limp."

Thurston shrugged, knowing Feodor had not asked him out walking to discuss his ankle.

"Why did you do it?" the prince asked at last, stopping and looking over the hills away from Thurston.

Thurston sighed. "I meant him no harm, highness — I didn't know about his headaches."

"What? Oh… No, I do not hold you at fault for taking Tyland from the palace. It may have been the best thing that could have been done; I do not believe he would have accepted my father's mark as long as he stayed there. In time he might have gone off on his own, and I would rather he have traveled with someone who knew Ainran."

Thurston frowned. "Then I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about, highness."

"Don't you?" Feodor murmured. He turned suddenly to face Thurston. "I'm talking about you taking my children into Nalsa's camp."

Thurston groaned softly; in the time since he had nearly forgotten that it was he who had first brought Lonna and Tyland to Nalsa. "I meant them no harm, Feodor," he said in a low voice. "I was asked to do it, and I knew if I refused the task would only be given to someone else. I thought it better to remain in Nalsa's good graces so that I could be a friend and protector for them."

Feodor turned away, speaking again to the hills. "You knew where our camp was. How much harder would it have been to tell them the truth and bring them straight to me?"

Thurston groaned softly, pressing a hand over his eyes. "In all honesty, highness, that never occurred to me."

"I have no reason to believe you," Feodor said flatly. "And yet you have shown yourself too much a friend to my children for me to doubt what you say. Your heart was good, Thurston, though I cannot condone your methods. What do you intend to do now?"

Thurston shrugged. "Wander Ainran, I suppose; I can see I wouldn't be welcome at the palace."

"Would you come, if you were?"

"Permanently? Probably not. Wandering is too ingrained in me now. But I have grown fond of your children; I'd stop by to visit."

"Nalsa is dead," Feodor mused. "Yet that does not necessarily mean your loyalty now lies with my father. And you have made too free with the truth to be trusted on your word alone. Would you be willing to take my father's mark?"

"I…do not object to the idea," Thurston said slowly.

A slight smile briefly crossed Feodor's face. "And would you have 'objected' to taking Nalsa's?"

"Yes," Thurston said at once. "Mind you, I would not have said such a thing to him, but if I had taken his mark it would have been unwillingly."

"Then we will go back and talk to my father."

"Thank you," Thurston said quietly.

Feodor shrugged. "You did help my children; it's the least I can do."

Something twitched at Thurston's mouth; he made up his mind to earn the prince's friendship and gain more than this grudging pardon. But for now, it would do.

oOo

Lonna watched with shining eyes as the palace of the Sídaj appeared on the hill above them. She twisted around to look at Tyland sitting behind her in the saddle. "It's good to be going home, isn't it?"

"Home," Tyland murmured. "Yes, it is." He glanced at Feodor and Neolander riding beside them, and turned his hand so the golden sunburst caught the rays of the setting sun. The orphan children had come home at last.

THE END

Next week I'll begin posting the sequel (very unoriginally titled "Sequel"…)

I proofread all my stories at least once before posting, but if you see any mistakes I might have missed, please let me know!

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