Tennoc took his armies north along the River Cobb toward Gwyrfal, Crymavon's men joining the expedition. The Kellish towns and castles along the way were caught unawares and lightly defended. Some surrendered outright to the Hero of Maalig, others after a brief skirmish; a few chose to fight to the last. The fierce battles at the coal mines of Baltha ended in the fortress's taking, and the slaughter of Clan Baltha's men.
When Tennoc arrived at the castle's gates, Lady Flaryn's husband had already thrown them open. "I saw your forces long before you got here, Tennoc ar Sial," said Cror ar Crymavon, "and I couldn't have defended against your war machines had I wished to."
Tennoc smiled, but he drew his lips flat. "You're wise, cousin. In my current humor I am not countenancing resistance."
Lady Flaryn ar Crymavon still lived. In her own court, the cousin Tennoc's mother had remembered as painfully shy had blossomed into an assured woman, still beautiful and like enough to Lassanna that Tennoc's heart ached at the sight of her. "Why did you not stop here in your flight from Gwyrfal, cousin?" she asked him in Kellish at dinner that night.
New Year's Day, 63 KY
King Dunnoc did not appear at the Eddin's Day celebrations for the new year: too ill, said Ulvyn, to leave his rooms. Gwynna sat at her husband's side, hugely pregnant. It was for the best that Dunnoc had not been brought down. He'd begun drooling, and his private conversations with ghosts had become even more incoherent. The Sisters said he might go on like this for spokes--perhaps years.
Her father's condition oppressed her spirits as much as the infant within her did. In the last days its squirming and kicking had subsided. Perhaps it had died. She would not cry if it was stillborn. Nevertheless, she loved children and she feared that one look at a tiny, helpless baby of her own, even one fathered by Ulvyn, would be her undoing. She had resolved not to look at it and to leave it to a wet nurse until she recovered her equilibrium.
Inside the catacombs, Tennoc stared at the two bricked-in niches. In the lefthand one, his father King Andrin the First moldered; to the right, the heads of his mother and his best friend lay, sewn into clean linen and left to rot away to bone, with Tennoc's heart beside them.
Lassanna died Queen of Kellen; Whitehorse would also lay claim to her remains, but Tennoc would keep Mama here, in the Tremontine royal chapel beside Andrin's bones--and some day, his own. Kenver's spirit would not fully rest until he lay in Gwyrfal's Hill with his ancestors; somehow Tennoc would return his stepbrother's skull to Kellish soil.
Thoughts of Gwyrfal brought thoughts of his Gwynna. She must be alone and friendless now, for Dunnoc had clearly lost his mind. Even so, madness wouldn't stop Tennoc from caving his stepfather's head in.
The day after he committed his father's body to the Hill, Tennoc rode down from the Keep to Tremont City for his hasty, simplified coronation, his father's reluctant lords at his back. Hanni followed behind, holding the reins of a white bull calf. They climbed the long winding switchbacks on foot up Pagg's Hill to the Temple at its top. He could have lifted himself to the top had he wished--Teacher had taught him to raise himself on a column of solid air--but he did not wish to leave his lords behind. He had lords now. What a strange thought. Would that he could depend on them.
The discovery of the guards' bodies put Gwyrfal in an uproar. "How could Tennoc have defeated three of my best men?" fretted Dunnoc. "Three men he trusted!"
"He had to have been warned, sire," said Daevys ar Ulvyn. "There's no other explanation, though perhaps it was his plan all along. He took them by surprise like a coward." He helped Dunnoc drink from his cup. The King shook now more than ever. His legs were growing stiff; he never left his rooms but for meals at which he presided but did not eat for fear of spilling food and drink down his front in public.
"Who could have done it? Who betrayed me?"
"We shall discover the man, sire. Or woman."
The Keep was a short ride down a wide, well-tended way called the War Road. "Our armies ride to battle from here, six abreast," said Teacher from a perch behind Tennoc. "These are the King's Woods. Only the King hunts here--and now you, if you please."
"I wish for nothing but a roof over my head at this point."
The trees thinned, giving Tennoc his first view of Tremont Keep, a stone fortress that was new in his great-grandfathers' day built into the living rock that sheered above the confluence of two rivers. Four rounded towers stood at each corner; the side closest to them bowed out toward the forest. A fifth tower rose just behind the bowed wall, higher than the other four. It looked out over the King's Woods and the foothills, and in the other direction, the Capital. Tennoc wondered how it stayed up; he'd never seen anything so tall.
Teacher met that night with the nervous Duke, his fidgeting heir and the new Prince. No one in the room seemed at ease around the pale figure in dark robes; Teacher took their fear in stride. When a servant made a furtive sign of Amma--head, heart and groin--Teacher may even have smirked. "We leave tomorrow, Your Grace," said Teacher.
"The boy should rest, counselor, do you not think?" said Gonnor. "It's been a long journey for him…and I would like for Prince Temmin--Tennoc," at his grandson's lowering look, "to know his homeland and family. He's been on the road for more than two weeks already, surely a rest before such a long journey--it's the better part of a spoke to Tremont City."
"We will go back the way I came," said Teacher.
Tennoc left the room much disturbed and ran almost headlong into Fallik. "Do you have a habit of listening at doors, cousin?" said Tennoc.
The cords stood out in the bigger man's neck. "You are a rude, dishonorable cur. I've half a mind to challenge you!"
"By all means!" answered Tennoc; his new power crackled and sang within him. "Name the time and place, if you ever find the other half."
Whitehorse Freehold reared up from a flat plain, its ancient earthen and stone fortifications undulating around it in sinuous curves. Rising above it stood a new stone fortress, spectators lining its ramparts; a lookout must have noted the unknown additions to the outriders and spread the word. Though the fortress was huge, the hill fort itself dwarfed it--an old, old place. Across the valley, another hill rolled up from the grasslands surrounding it. Turf had been carved away from the hill to form a rearing horse, white chalk against the deep green grass.