General Disclaimer: Probably all the characters of any importance in this fic are property of Tamora Pierce (a truly excellent author). The plot is mine. I keep very good track of what I've read and where, but in the unlikely event that you feel I've copied your work, please let me know, so I can either remove the offending material or offer explanations.
Author's Note from Erkith: I've updated it! FINALLY! I know… I know… I'M SORRY! I'll try to get another chappie in before August! Please review! I'm really guilt motivated… and I someimes pick which fic to work on by how many reviews I've gotten… And I really should try to get this up and running again, don't you think?
Chapter 4: The Liar
The Spy sat in darkness, listening as meaningless words filtered through the panneled door. Through magic mirrors, the Mage conferenced with the King. The voices grew agitated, but remained political as the King was denied his request and the Mage his information… again the conversation circled. The Spy sat silent to wait… and wait. Not a muscle flinched as something hit the opposite wall, hard.
"Well you can tell the King to get his sorry butt down here and check for himself! I've nothing to add on his condition."
"But, Sir. I was instructed not to return without your report," a boy's voice protested uncertainly.
"You have it." Came the easy reply, low and angry. "My report is that he'll have to come down here himself to diagnose this poor soldier. As it is squarely his fault that Masbolle is here in the first place."
There was a pause, followed by the sound of the runner taking a few steps back. "If I may say so, Sir… you're scary." The impetuous youth scampered off.
The owner of the older, more authoritative voice snorted. "The temerity of a young bull."
What the hell? I wondered before I drifted off again.
I was woken shortly after by another argument. "Mithros, Alanna! Must you turn everything into a damn contest?" Jon snapped as he marched in. "The Emperor of Carthak is waiting for the damn reply!"
"That usurper can stand to wait, and I have nothing more to say. I'm past tired of your messengers. It's not as if he's halfway across the Kingdom, Jon." Alanna replied heatedly. "Masbolle is here in the castle – in your home – and you can't be bothered to come see him; eventhough you are at least partially responsible for this!"
Jon paled. "Don't bring guilt into this. I feel plenty guilty enough, believe me… but I'm King, Lioness, and I have an entire kingdom to run."
"So you have better things to do. Is that what you're saying?" she asked. And there was a level of disgust in her voice that cut deep. It was scorn vocalised – almost tangible. It was a depth of disgust reached only by those who truly love us.
The tone my chest tighten in sympathy.
In my semi-awareness, I heard his breath catch. He was silent. Then a fractured word slipped through his lips, "Alanna."
It was one word, but said everything.
It was my desire to staunch that pain that finally drew me through the veils of sleep, and I woke to the fire in my side. I gasped against the sudden, sharp pain.
Both healers were on in me in a moment, and cool magic soothed my flaming wound. Their voices were hushed and unintelligble through the blood rushing through my ears. But as the pain faded, my hearing returned. I opened my eyes to the purple and blue ones, watching me anxiously.
"Dom?" Alanna asked.
"Yeah?" I croaked.
She smiled grimly, "Welcome back."
I felt my lips twitch into a wry smile. "Quite the welcome… heroines and royalty at my side."
"How do you feel?" Jon asked.
"Like I had a hot poker dragged through my intestines.
Alanna shuddered at the image. "That's a picture and not that far off."
I smiled weakly. "Yes, well."
A silence fell ominously. The tension between the King and his Champion was palpable. It tasted of bitterness and insult, leaving a faintly acrid taste in my mouth.
I cleared my throat.
Alanna threw Jon a glare, then turned to me. "Neal will want to see you. He's been worried."
"Neal likes to worry," I pointed out dryly.
"We've all been worried. I'm glad you're better," Alanna finished and dropped an impulsive kiss on my forehead.
I stared at the doorway even after she left. I'd never really known the Lioness. I wondered again what was going on. Why was I being attended by a noble such as her? Only vague memories pulled at me.
I watched the great man pause as he reached to open a curtain to the window. "Please. Just Jon."
Just Jon? Gods above! What had I done to deserve that? "I don't really remember how I came to be here."
The sigh he expelled was resigned. "I thought that maybe you did not," he confessed.
"I…" was interrupted by my cousin who, as usual, chose a bad time to disrupt my peace.
"Dom! You're awake!"
"I just told you that, puppy." Alanna pointed out mildly.
"The assassin is dead. Finest work I've ever seen you do, dagger straight to the heart." Neal rushed on; his hands checking for fever, coated in green fire.
Assassin? I wondered.
"Raoul was very proud of your company. They all closed ranks quickly. He's asking after you…"
A royal assassination attempt, maybe? It accounted for the extra attention…
"… and Kel's fine."
Here I had to interrupt. "Why wouldn't she be?"
All three healers exchanged an alarmed look. "He doesn't rememeber," Jon offered quietly.
Why is it that words are so much scarier when they're hushed like that?
"You… you don't remember." My cousin statement was flat and faintly disbelieving.
"Damn it, Meathead, don't sputter. Explain."
But my cousin was clearly at a loss for words.
Alanna came to my rescue. "She was the target, Dom. You saved her."
Kel? Confused, I watched them for a moment. "Why would anyone want to kill Kel?"
I looked to each of them. Their eyes didn't meet mine. "What aren't you telling me?" No answer.
His eyes skittered to mine, Alanna pounced on him.
"That's a good idea, Dom. Let Jon explain. It's his damn fault after all!"
"Explain, Jon. You OWE him that much at least." She snapped.
I raised a weak hand to stop the argument. "I don't care who explains so long as someone does."
Alanna walked Neal out of the room. I turned to the King who looked older than I'd ever seen him.
"It began with the letter from Carthak…"
I listened to him numb but for the building pressure in my chest and the pain in my throat.
The Mage tossed his desk into the wall, leaving a satisfying dent in both. Nothing was going as planned. The Lady hadn't even recognised him at the Wedding. He'd felt sure that despite years of seperation she would. He'd hardly expected her to be happy to marry an aparent stranger, but she'd never even met his gaze. Where was the spirit and defiance he'd known? Had it died with the friend who had saved her? He have to find out…
It would require a great deal of patience.
However, the Mage was nothing if not a patient man. After all, he'd waited over a decade to reclaim his family's throne, hadn't he?. He could wait for one woman to notice him. Or so he told himself.
Aiko paced his bedroom in hot debate. He was dying to bash her over the head with something! How anyone could march around for weeks without so much as making eye-contact was beyond him. Her reaction to him went beyond ignoring; it was damn close to unseeing!
And to top it off, Tortall was proving useless in terms of information about that soldier that had saved her at the wedding. The most his spies had picked up was that the soldier a close friend and cousin to his Lady's best friend. There was no talk of whether the man was dead or alive. King Jon was moderately cooperative, but of no apparent use. There was some sort of coma involved… and that's all he knew for all his connections.
He hoped that news from home might part the mourning fog that surrounded her, but he had none to give. Did he dare create some? Unsure, which was unlike him, Aiko paced his bedroom in hot debate.
As darkness fell, the Mage let his magic seep from his body, sending it snaking around the city in search of Kaddar. He had yet to figure out how the usurped Emperor had escaped, but it mattered little now. With one of Tortall's heroes as his wife, even if Kaddar did succeed in reaching King Jon, there was little his father-in-law could do. They could hardly hold him under seige with their Lady seated at his side.
Still… he intended to have Carthak's secrets, and Kaddar could not hide forever…
"We're in your debt, Sergeant. Is there a favour I can grant you?" Jon offerred quietly, a week after I'd first awoken.
I walked to the window, leaning heavily against its frame and ledge as I looked beyond to the rain-filled sky.
"Tell her I'm dead."
I repeated my request, adding, "She made her choice. I'm making mine."
"It's not your choice to make…" Jonathan frowned. His disapproval obvious. "She deserves to know."
"She deserves to know the truth."
I spun away from the window, abruptly angry. "Oh, really?" I spat. "And why is that? No one told me anything! Didn't I deserve to know? By the Goddess, make this simple for both of us, just tell her I'm dead!"
"Someone will tell her you're not."
"No, because only you and the Lioness are going to know. I'll leave tomorrow."
"Your cousin knows."
I shrugged. I could deal with that. Kel was likely to cut all contact anyway.
"You'll be silent, all of you. You asked me what I wanted; I want this."
Jon let silence fall between us. "So you'll let her grieve over you for spite."
It was a statement, not a question. I answered it anyway.
"That's very little of you." It was quietly said.
I threw the last of my composure into loading three words with a full dose of sarcasm and flippancy.
"More's the pity."
My King threw me a darkling glance, but said no more before stalking away. I turned back to the window.
I couldn't bring myself to care. I hurt too damn much. Pain. Physical and emotional was beating at me, pulsing through my bones and head. I felt hollow, as if someone had scraped the youth and vibrancy from my being as one would the stew from the bottom of a pot.
And so I stood there…
… and I watched as the skies cried my bitter tears and drew rivers across the panneled glass.
The room grew silent beyond the panneled door, but the Spy did not move. In darkness, images ran through the Spy's mind like fractured glass, spinning in a thousand directions. The Wedding was done. The Assassin had died. The Soldier was dead. And the Lady would die. The Spy would survive them all.
The Spy smiled bitterly into the dark servant's entrance.
Only the Spy knew all there was to know…
But then none knew the Liar had been born.
A/N: Thanks for reading and (hopefully) reviewing! I'm attempting to make this fic a priority if I get enough interest. Any pairings/ ideas for one one-shots are always appreciated!
THANKS TO REVIEWERS (those I can't easily get in touch with…)
Manda, mysisterthinksimasquijum, anita, just me, Carolina, tortall princess, soccerchick
Once again apologizing for tardiness…