Chapter 22: Unwelcome Interruptions

Karigan decided to be outrageous. "I need to get better at hiding from you."

His eyes widened and he stifled a satisfied smirk with limited success. "And why is that, my lovely Lady Karigan?"

"When I'm hiding from you, I can't eat. And if I can't eat, I get hungry. That makes me grouchy. Guess what?" She extracted herself from is arm and began calculating the shortest route to the banquette table.

Zachary shifted his grip to her arm in a proper hold that could not be commented on. Not, this is, unless it was being bestowed of someone with little standing in the courts.

Which it wasn't.

And he had left her alone long enough.

"What?" he said, widening his almond eyes in a guileless expression.

Her delightful eyes glared at him. Zachary loved their sparkle. "I'm hungry you—your Highness." Apparently, Karigan was willing play nice in public. Excellent.

"Allow me, then. I'm sure you're wondering why we have something so uncouth as a table, but I have come to find that people enjoy gathering around a focal point. I am surprised though that you didn't send one of your…servants to get you a plate so that you could make yourself scarce from certain unnamed persons…?"

She gave a laugh bordering on a snicker. "Like you don't know to watch for them taking meat rolls and crumpets to hidden locations. Give me some credit here."

Zachary had to admit she had a point. He also noticed with half amusement that their limps seemed to match. She must have too. "My liege," she crooned, her eyes as big as his were attempting to be moments earlier, "whatever has happened to your foot? You seem to be limping! It must be awful for you to be at a ball with a limp!"

"It was a gift," he said expansively, enjoying their banter untouched by the darkness seemingly filling her every time they talked. "Duchess Lamphrey was so kind as to give me the most unforgettable waltz I have had in…oh…quite sometime."

"Oh? Do tell." Zachary could see her attention beginning to wander.

Time to fix that. "The other night. With you."

Uh oh. Karigan couldn't believe she had stopped paying attention; stopped concentrating when she was with him. "uuUumm…which way was that hors d'œuvre table?"

She could tell by his amused smile that he knew exactly what she was doing. And probably thinking. Karigan knew she should have learned her lesson by now. Don't trust. Don't believe. Don't relax. And most importantly, don't ever think the L word. Even to herself. That was just the path to madness.

Aahhh, but you're already mad. You told me that, remember?

She stiffened. Not. The. Time.

Why? Just because you're sauntering along with your precious king? You think you love him, you wonder if he loves you, but it's all meaningless. Don't you see?

Karigan thought hard in the direction of that misty castle, that room in the depths of irrational thought. See what? There's nothing TO see! You aren't even part of this world anymore! What do you even know?

She heard his laugh winding through all her being, all she had set her lodestone in as a person. I AM a part of this world…because I'm a part of you. Whatever they say is meaningless because you're mine. You've been mine since we danced. Nothing that simpering Avery, Proud-Oak Sora, the king, and yes, even your mysterious inspector will wrest you from me.

His words ended in a barely audible whisper even though rationally, she knew it wasn't. If the king had noticed that she was unusually quiet, he made no sign. If you want to talk, she gave her best shot at a mental hiss, get to the point, or I'll tell them all the truth. That you're really here. Not just a vision. And you know what they'll do then.

Nothing will change, but you win….for now.

There was a pause and Karigan felt her impatience rising. Well, what?

You just had a power draw there, right when you were sharing your cup with the…inspector. We'll talk later.

What? Wait! How dare he just talk to her when he pleased!

Not that she was really talking to anybody, really.

Zachary's voice broke into her self inflection. "So, you only talk to me when you please, huh? Not that it's a new development."

Karigan jerked. Was that true?

She had to admit that it was, but wasn't that her prerogative? After all, he could command people to converse. Karigan told herself that avoiding him was the choicer alternative to refusing to talk to him.

Not that she hadn't done that on occasion too. She blushed at the thought.

When she looked around to see where they were, she found the king staring down at her with the strangest expression on his face. "What?" she asked, a little too roughly to be completely nonchalant. "I'm just a little warm right now."

He gave a little shake of his head and gestured towards the table, not commenting on the fact that she knew her skin to be cool to the touch. "I'm told the cheese is excellent, but it's a little sad right now. The grapes on the other hand, have just been shipped in from Selia…" He raised an eyebrow in the mirror of her own."

Selia was a bitter-sweet topic for Karigan, but even she couldn't deny the petty amusement she took from Duke Coutre's anger. She had a feeling that Zachary shared it.



The king. That the king shared it.

"Grapes it is." She tried for a light tone. With the king attached to her arm, she wasn't sure how many more people she could corner. Speaking of people, where was—

"My Lady, may I take that dish for you?" Sal gave a respectful bow.

"I see my shadow has found me," she said, handing the dish over. "What about your shadow?"

He lost some of his easy smile. "Charles Avery came up to me a bit earlier. Seems he has some papers…" He must have seen something in Karigan's expression. "What do you know about these papers?"

"Heh…" Karigan was not pleased. Whey now? "Well, funny you should mention papers. I was to have brunch with Georgina and Charles tomorrow to go over them….just as a passing amusement of course." She added the last hastily. Damn, she just knew the man wouldn't let that one go.

"Well," he said, eyes still narrowed from her revelation, "I think something happened tonight to upset him and he didn't want to wait. I sent Fastion with him so they could bring them back and we can slip out to my study."

"And where's the replacement Weapon?"

Now Zachary looked a little nervous. "Well...he did mention that he needed to do that, and I kind of said I would find one…"

Karigan looked around to make sure no one else was looking—besides Sal that was—and kept her voice low. "Do you realize that if something were to happen to you, Fastion would probably take his own life?" She gave another look around. "Here, I'll just grab someone—"

He stopped her with a light hand on her wrist as she reached out to grab a bored-looking Inspector. "Not one of them."

Karigan pulled her arm out from his hand. Really, he was stretching propriety to all levels tonight. "Why?"

"I'm not sure I trust them. Let's find a Weapon."

When he tried to cup her elbow again, she resisted. "You've spent enough time with me tonight. People are starting to talk…"

"But who will protect me during my search?"

Karigan took a step back. "You seemed to be managing fine." As she turned, she could almost fancy she heard him whisper "I had you…"

She was leaving him. Again. He wanted so badly to take that first step after her, but the voice of his conscience cautioned him not to. His conscience was starting to sound a lot like Fastion.

He spotted McGregor in the shadows…just like his Kari-Karigan seemed to prefer. "McGregor, a moment of your time."

"Yes sir." He looked around for a moment, then looked back with the beginnings of alarm. "Where is Fastion? Did something happen?"

"Sshh!" the king cautioned, "He's gone on an errand for me, will you fill in?"

McGregor seemed barely able to speak. "But for me to not have noticed you were unaccompanied—I could be beheaded! Fastion's so good at hiding—I didn't think—"

Zachary realized with a sigh that Karigan had been right. It was just…it was just that she made him want to forget about being a king. Made him want to be just another man.

"I'm sorry, McGregor. I should have thought. I told him I'd take care of getting a replacement. It was important."

"Not more important than your life, Sire," the weapon said in the closest approximation of a scold he had heard since Fastion had last done so. Zachary couldn't help but think he deserved it, so he nodded at his new shadow before turning to finish his rounds.

Sorry for the length guys; I am suffering a severe case of writer's block. I like my chapters to be about 2000 words in length, but Karigan and her friends (and enemies) just aren't playing nice this week.

Someone submitted a review about Estral and how she was lost in First Rider's Call, and I apologize for the error. I'll get it fixed as soon as possible.