Tennoc awoke alone in his pavilion the next day. He'd been stripped of his armor and bloodied clothing, and lay naked on his cot under blankets and furs. A small camp stove burned nearby warming the winter air; on its hob a can of water heated. He found a towel and scrubbed dirt and blood from his body; goosebumps rose on his wet skin. He dressed in clean clothes, placed a gold circlet set with ruby cabochons upon his head and a fur-lined cloak around his shoulders, and walked outside. Men huddled near fires came to attention as Tennoc passed. He ignored them and left the camp.
Daevys ar Ulvyn
The plan broke, as plans do and as Tennoc expected it would. Fallik's cavalry waited too long to charge the Kells, giving them time to set up the shield wall so familiar to Tennoc. The Tremontines had no such reliable protection. He gritted his teeth in frustration; he'd warned his cousin, but Fallik was both headstrong and unconvinced Tennoc knew his business despite their previous victories. Magic could puncture the shield wall, but Tennoc's power had deserted him again.
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.
Late Fall's Ending, 62 KY
Six spokes after her wedding, Princess Gwynna was still kept to her rooms; armed guards stood beside her door, and she could trust none of her attendants. Her husband visited her every few days, but she saw no one else.
During his latest visit, Ulvyn once again denied her request to leave her rooms. "I am five spokes with child," she said in disgust. "How am I supposed to manage an escape? Who would help me?"
"You are impetuous, my dear," said her husband. "I would not wish anything to happen to the baby."
"I don't care what happens to it!"
"And that's why you cannot leave your rooms," he chuckled.
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."
Gwynna darted among the apple trees so quickly Tennoc couldn't get a bead on her; his missile bounced off a tree trunk. She was luckier. The hard little green apple flew from her hand and hit Tennoc square above the heart. "Ow!"
"A fair hit! A fair hit!" she cried, jumping up and down and clapping her hands until her flowing sleeves flapped. "You're dead, sir!" Tennoc clasped his chest, let out a melodramatic shriek and fell down obligingly.
A few yards away, Kenver said, "Can I get up now?" His sister went to both her fallen enemies and helped them to their feet in gracious victory. "How did you become such a good shot?" grumbled Kenver as he dusted off the dirt and picked twigs from his once nearly white hair, now a dark brown.
"Pirrun, you should have been there!" cried Tennoc, clapping a young man on the shoulder. Music, endless wine and drunken laughter filled Gwyrfal's great hall; Kellen's warriors were home after a long, successful campaign.
"I would've if I hadn't broken my leg," winced Pirrun. "You've been gone so long it's healed! Why did you two not come home on the Royal Road, as the King did? Why come home with your soldiers? You could've been back weeks ago!"
"I don't ask anything of the men I'm not willing to do myself," declared Kenver. "Besides," he added in mock confidentiality, "Tennoc gets nauseous when I take him through a reflection!" The crowd hooted.
Spring's Beginning, 60 KY
Eighteen-year-old Tennoc ar Sial took the stairs to his mother's bower two at a time, bearing a parchment in his hand. "Mother!" he called. "I--oh!" The young man skidded to a halt. Ladies-in-waiting surrounded his mother, at work on their embroideries and sewing; they smiled at him, especially Cariodas. Any other young man would welcome her soft brown eyes gazing at him in worship, but Tennoc blushed and looked away. "Ah, something has come for you, Mother. The messenger said it was for your eyes only, but that it concerned me."
In the end, she and an ecstatic Tennoc returned to Gwyrfal. Though Gwynna had rejected a borrowed mother the year before, now she clung to Lassa if not as mother then as a beloved aunt; Kenver, nearly ten years old and his tow hair darkening, held himself a little more aloof but not for long. Lassa was soon a part of the royal family to all its members but Dunnoc, through no fault of his.
Dunnoc made a respectful, determined assault on her. Her favorite dishes appeared on every menu. Music and dancing reappeared now that public mourning for Hallia had ended, and Lassa's favored musicians appeared at Gwyrfal. To Dunnoc's dismay, she kept herself from merriment, preferring to live quietly near the children. This was so unlike her, for while Hallia lived Lassa was the merriest of ladies imaginable, much given to dancing and laughter. That was the Lassa he wanted, and the Lassa he missed.