Aly awoke with a start at the sound of her mother's fury.
"Alanna, I could think of no other options," she heard the King sigh tiredly.
"She is a child," Alanna hissed.
Aly sat up in bed, rubbing her eyes sleepily. To her right her twin slumbered peacefully in his own bed. She could see his twitching limbs flung out haphazardly across the entire mattress. On the other side of Alan lay Thom, curled up in a small ball in one corner of his bed, to make room for one of the many cats that roamed their grandparents' townhouse. Both he and the cat appeared to be fast asleep still.
"Alanna, I know what she is. I wouldn't ask it of her if I didn't think it was absolutely necessary." Now the king sounded less tired, and much more resigned.
Aly slid out of bed silently, wincing as her tiny bare feet hit the floor. As stealthily as a girl in a glowing white nightgown could be, Aly tiptoed to the cracked bedroom door and peered out. She could see light spilling out of Grandfather Myles' study and into the dark hallway. The yellow glow of the candlelight flickered and danced as shadows crossed, pacing angrily. Aly could hear her mother's angry hiss, but couldn't make out what she was saying. She crept closer, ears straining to hear.
"And besides the threat to her safety, you are asking my five year old daughter to hear things most grown adults find disturbing. You are asking that I allow you to put her in the same room as evil, and to listen to evil's gory details. George already exposes her to things beyond her years. I can't always put my foot down with him, but this I absolutely will refuse. I cannot believe you would even consider asking me."
Aly was close enough now to see that it was her mother's shadow that was doing the bulk of the pacing. The king's was slumped against something large and bulky, probably her grandfather's sturdy oak desk. There was a third shadow too, someone who hadn't spoken yet, sitting in one of the armchairs by the fire.
"Alanna," the king said, with more than a hint of steel in his voice, "I understand well what I am asking. If I had any other options I wouldn't be here. You are right, I am thanking all of the gods that none of my own children have the Sight. I understand that as a mother your first instinct is to protect your children. But think of the other mothers."
Aly shivered slightly, but it wasn't from the chill of the drafty hallway. The king's voice had turned low and ominous. She felt a tight ball of fear flare up in her belly as she leaned in closer to the edge of the doorway.
"Think of the mothers across the lower city right now, the ones who don't know what happened to their own little girls. The ones that will never know, who will stay up late nights for the rest of their lives, praying to the Goddess that one day there'll be a knock on the door and it'll be their baby, home again. The ones who have long ago given up hope, who now pray only that the knock on their door will be someone come to tell them that they found her body and she didn't suffer much. You accused me of being without compassion, and it's true. I have little compassion for you right now. My heart is busy aching for those mothers."
Aly was startled when instead of a fiery retort her mother remained silent, her shadow slumping into a chair.
"Do you accept then?" the king whispered.
"My understanding is that it's not optional," Alanna answered wearily. Her voice was muffled, as though she had her head in her hands. "I'll go wake Aly."
"Not sure you have to," the unknown man from the corner growled, startling Aly. "Looks like we've got some company."
Before Aly could run he was at the doorway, smiling down at her. He had a grizzled face, and something about his grin reminded her of her own father. "Come on in little lady," the man said in his gruff voice.
Aly stepped into the room, her bare feet grateful for the warm fluffy carpet Grandfather Myles kept in here.
Suddenly Aly was swept up in the strong, warm embrace of her mother. "What do your father and I tell you about eavesdropping Alianne?" her mother asked sternly as she carried Aly to a comfortable chair by the fire.
"When I do it I should be careful not to get caught?" Aly asked. She felt her mother's chuckle reverberate through her own small body as Alanna settled Aly on her lap.
The king even offered a weak snort of laughter. "I'm sure that's exactly what they tell you."
Aly wanted to smile, but she could feel the tense anxiety hanging in the air, and it made the ball of fear in her belly flip-flop. "I woke up and heard you talking. Were you talking about me?"
Her mother's soothing hand on her hair ceased it's stroking for a moment. Softly Alanna murmured, "Yes, we were."
Unseen by Aly, Alanna and Jon exchanged a series of frustrated glances over her head before the king finally sighed deeply and walked over to where Aly and Alanna were seated. Jonathan kneeled carefully so that he was at Aly's level.
Piercing blue sought wide eyed hazel as he thought how best to begin. Finally after a long moment he sighed, and said in a low voice, "Alianne, I have to ask a very serious favor of you. I need you to come with me to the prison so that I can ask a man there some questions and you can use your sight to tell me if he lies."