After our meal we were escorted to what appeared to be an antechamber, and a long wait commenced.
The room was small, with comfortable couches set against the walls, and rich tapestries covering the floors and hanging from the ceiling. Light was coming in through windows that consisted, for the most part, of coloured glass, and those pieces that weren't coloured were shaped so that any image seen through them was distorted beyond recognition. Through them I could make out green shapes, possibly treetops like the ones that had been visible from the room where we had our breakfast, but that was all. The glass was thick, and no sounds penetrated from outside.
Rodan was pacing the room, exuding an anxiety so strong that I could sense it even without conscious effort. He seemed to avoid my eyes, appearing to be locked within his own world. Jared was on one of the couches, one leg casually slung over the armrest, his expression as unreadable as ever.
We should talk, I thought. Wherever their allegiances lie, there's three of us in a strange place full of potential enemies. I looked at the others, wondering whether similar thoughts were going through their heads. Maybe not. Maybe they already knew they would be making a bargain, with my life in exchange for their safety. Perhaps that deal was now weighing heavily upon Rodan's conscience, since he seemed to be a good man and he had always been kind to me. Or, then again, he might just have been afraid that, with the King possibly dead or incapacitated, the bargain could no longer be made. I turned away, unable to face my companions any longer.
One of the tapestries that were hung against the walls caught my attention. It showed a man, dressed in vibrant green, his gaze apparently fixed on a white stag that was on its hind legs and that seemed ready to make the giant jump that might take it to safety. Hunting scenes, I mused, why does it always have to be hunting scenes? To show the monarch's manly power, without risking to offend any enemy he was seeking to pacify by showing him victorious in battle?
A door opened, and behind me I could hear Rodan gasp. Two men in Royal Guards' uniforms entered, carrying trays with refreshments. They set their trays down and left without looking at us or speaking to us, closing the door behind them. For a moment none of us moved. Then Rodan began his pacing again while Jared crossed his ankles and leaned back against the thick pillows. None of us touched the steaming teacups or the small cakes that were on the trays.
I need to get out of here, I thought, even if it is just for a moment. I excused myself and stepped out of the door. One of the Royal Guards who were standing watch outside the door escorted me to the latrines down the corridor, and with some surprise I found that I actually needed to urinate.
Royal Guards, I thought, as we made our way back to the room. It had been Royal Guards who had served our breakfast and who had brought us the tea. Strange, I thought. I assumed that, tasks like serving food or preparing baths would normally be left to the servants. Then I realised that, since our arrival, I hadn't seen a servant or any other civilian at the palace, and I wondered about the significance of that.
When I re-entered Jared and Rodan were facing each other across the room, the echoes of some heated argument still hanging in the air.
"What?" I could sense the Royal Guardsman hovering behind me, hesitating to close the door.
"Nothing," Jared said, his voice light and casual. For a moment none of us moved, and then I could hear the door closing behind me.
Rodan turned away, and began to study the tapestry that had caught my attention earlier. My gaze followed his, and I began to notice details that I hadn't seen before. A square, white tower in the background of the scene. A portrait of a richly dressed lady, stiff and expressionless in her formal pose, in the adjacent panel of the tapestry. A memory began to stir, somewhere deep in my subconscious.
A voice in the dark, of an older man who expected to be listened to and obeyed.
My hand slipped into my pocket and folded itself around the red gem that I was still carrying, its cool smoothness somehow reassuring. The troth, I thought, I couldn't yet place the memory but it had something to do with the troth.
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