Thero had to see Prince Korathan as soon as he arrived in Rhíminee, but Klia was his second priority. When, after a thorough debriefing, Korathan finally let him out, he went to knock at Klia's apartments, even though it was already quite late.

The servant who answered was a dour man Thero had never seen before.

"Her Highness has retired for the night."

This early? Thero wasn't sure whether this was a good or a bad sign.

"Nevertheless, tell her that Thero í Procepios is here to see her."

Thankfully, it seemed his name was known to the man, because he turned away to obey, letting the door open and Thero to make his way inside on his own.

He only had to wait a few minutes until Klia arrived. She was in nightclothes already, her dishevelled braid thrown over her shoulder. Thero felt a shot of entirely inappropriate tenderness surge within him, and did his best to quell it.

He quickly forgot it, however, when he started recounting what had happened during his and Micum's rescue of Seregil and Alec. As he had expected, she wasn't in the least surprised by the news of Ulan í Sathil's treachery.

"He ransoms the members of his own clan? That's only to be expected." She paused for a moment, thinking. "His devotion to his clan is admirable, but it makes him quite predictable, in a way."

"But still quite slippery to work with. Or around."

Klia sighed. After a moment, she added, "So, how did you find Seregil and Alec? And how did you free them?"

"Oh, that part wasn't hard at all. They'd already freed themselves and were running away toward the coast." They shared a knowing smile, but it died quickly on Thero's lips. He was unsure how much to tell her of what had actually happened.

She knew him too well; she said, impatience in her voice, "Well? What is it you're not telling me?"

It was a difficult choice. Would she let his arguments override her loyalty to Skala? What right had he to ask her to make that choice?

Taking the plunge, he said, choosing each word with care, "What I'm going to tell you, I didn't tell Prince Korathan."

"Why not?" Her tone was sharp, but not suspicious, not yet.

He swallowed. "Because both Magyana and myself thought it best. If I may explain?"

She gave him permission with an emphatic sweep of the arm.

He gave a detailed account of what had happened, from the moment they'd seen Alec's ghost until they'd landed safely in Gedre. He didn't omit any details, not even Alec's resurrection and the death of the necromancer.

All the while, Klia listened attentively, only interrupting to ask for clarifications. When he was done, she sat silent for several minutes, mulling over what he'd said.

"That rhekaro, it can kill necromancers?"

Thero closed his eyes, guessing where this line of questioning would lead. "Yes, my lady."

"So it could be used to protect our armies against Plenimar's necromancers."

And that, here, was precisely why he hadn't told Korathan. "I suppose it's possible, my lady."

She looked up at him; she hadn't missed his reluctance.

"You don't agree."

That wasn't a question, but Thero answered it anyway. "I think it would be an incredibly bad idea." Klia waited for him to elaborate, so he complied. "The rhekaro is sentient. It has the capacity to learn, but it isn't sapient, not like you and me. It has no attachment or loyalty to either Skala or Plenimar. What it has is unwavering, absolute loyalty to Alec, and to a hugely lesser measure, those who help him. Even then, Seregil is going to have to be quite careful about picking a quarrel with Alec."

"The rhekaro might not have any loyalty to Skala, but Alec does."

"Does he? I don't mean the question as an insult, but think about it. He had tremendous love and respect for Nysander. He liked Queen Idrilain, and he likes you, but Queen Phoria? He's both 'faie and a Watcher, and she's made clear she distrusts both." Thero was aware he was treading on thin ice.

"She could make it an order," Princess Klia said.

"And in my opinion, that would be a huge mistake. To begin with, killing seems to be very draining for the rhekaro, and it would need days to recover every time, which is just not efficient enough. I'm also not sure that it would be able to distinguish friend from foe, when there are entire armies involved, and the last thing we need is an ally who'd decimate our own armies. But that's not the most important reason." Thero hesitated.

Klia crossed her arms. "Clear it up for me, then. What is?"

Thero winced; that was the voice Klia normally reserved for misbehaving soldiers. He knew he was right; he just needed to remember it even in the face of her disapproval.

"Alec will not stand for it. He's very protective of the rhekaro, and if you try to force him, he'll simply take it and disappear. Seregil will follow, and Skala will have lost two of its best spies."

"So you suggest I just ignore this gift Sakor set on my doorstep?"

"Yes. I think, for the time being, it would be best, yes."

"For the time being?"

"Alec and Seregil plan to go to the Northern lands to find Alec's kin. It's quite likely they'll get information about the rhekaro, as it was made specifically from Hazâdriëlfaie blood. When they come back, and so far there aren't any reasons for them not to, maybe we can find a way to make use of the rhekaro's abilities. I've already suggested so to Seregil; I know he will listen to reason on that subject, even if Alec does not."

Klia remained silent for a long moment, looking at Thero in a way that made him want to squirm like a ten-year-old.

"Very well," she said at last. "I'm going to allow it for the time being." She held a finger to stop him from speaking. "I can see the wisdom of your arguments, though I want to meet that rhekaro for myself before making a definite decision. I may change my mind then."

Fair warning, though Thero did not think she would. He hoped so, at least.

"Thank you, my lady."

She nodded. "You should go and rest. Thank you for being so prompt."

Thero bowed. "At your service, my lady."

He was opening the door when Klia spoke up again.

"I'm glad no lasting harm beset you during your trip. I would not have liked to see you injured, or worse."

Thero's heart leaped. "Thank you for your concern, my lady."