Excerpt: Blood Tells
Demetrius had had his first warning just after breakfast—the prickling sensation down the back of his neck that meant someone was Seeing for him—but he was still caught by surprise when royal soldiers in full uniform arrived three hours later. He had carelessly attributed the Seeing to the magician down the street who had set up shop a few days prior and viewed Demetrius as unwanted competition, if the narrow-eyed looks Demetrius had been receiving were any indication. But unless the magician were King Humphrey himself in pomaded disguise, he couldn’t order Demetrius brought to the palace. As Demetrius was forcibly marched out of his house by iron grips on both arms, he had to conclude he had made some sort of mistake.
They put him in a coach and got in on either side of him, trapping him firmly in the middle. Demetrius watched his street flash by the curtained coach window and then slid his glance to the stone-faced man on his right. “May I ask what this is about?”
Silence. In Demetrius’ admittedly limited experience, royal business was full of silences. These particular men were probably paid quite well to keep their mouths shut.
Demetrius sighed and leaned back against the cushioned seat. “Right. Well, I suppose I’ll just wait, then.”
As the coach clattered along the cobbled street, the houses out the window became larger and more elegant. They were moving in to the middle of the city; soon enough, Demetrius knew, he would see the marble walls of the palace shining in the late-morning sun.
He hadn’t been in this part of Kingsmount in fourteen years, but it was still as familiar to him as his own reflection. As a youth, he had toured the neighborhood with his father, showing off to their neighbors and striving endlessly to do his father proud before the world. Later, on holidays during their time at the High Sorcery Academy of Alrenterre, he and Eliam had sometimes wandered the area, imagining how they would live when they were full sorcerers, choosing their houses and their gardens and their servants from the panoply of wealth laid out before them. But that was a long time ago.
His recollections distracted him so much that he was actually caught by surprise when the coach jolted to a halt. One of the soldiers opened the door and stepped out while the other, in a move made fluid by practice, caught Demetrius’ elbow again and manhandled him into the street. The day was bright and sunny, the wind picking up. Demetrius’ uncombed hair blew across his face, and he was disconcerted to realize, far too late, that he hadn’t changed clothes in two days. Before him, the wrought-iron gate of the palace rose toward the sky. If he had known he would be visiting royalty that morning, Demetrius thought grimly, he would have bathed.
“This way,” said one of the soldiers, starting toward the palace. They were clearly expected: the gate opened as they approached and the men on guard hardly glanced at them. Then they were through the gateway and into the grand, red-paved front courtyard, their destination the great double staircase and the entrance to the palace.
Inside, they took a winding path through hallways and corridors. The soldiers marched briskly, their eyes locked ahead.
“What is this?” Demetrius asked, dragging his heels a little. It wasn’t that he was afraid, precisely, but he was beginning to grow nervous. Even all those years ago, during the trial, he had never been escorted anywhere by mute guards who towed him toward unknown destinations.
One of the guards grunted impatiently and tugged him along. “Don’t lag behind.”
Demetrius fought back an ugly desire to curse the guard. Nothing nasty, of course; just enough to make a point. But it was an execution-worthy crime to use magic on another without cause, and besides, to punish someone with violence—to fall into that familiar pattern—would never be acceptable. Demetrius had spent the better part of twenty years unlearning his childhood lessons, and would not lose ground. He focused on his surroundings to calm his thoughts.
Nothing around him was familiar, and he tried with little success to identify which direction would be the best choice should he try and make an escape. It was all equally hopeless. The last of his resistance slipped away as he trailed the soldiers unresistingly down the hall.
The doorway they stopped at opened onto a little parlor: small, stuffy, with elegant little chairs and intricately carved tables and heavy curtains shielding the interior from the morning sun. The windows were barred and wards shimmered, ephemeral and liquid, in the glass of the windowpanes. The guards’ boots clattered on the parquet floor. They brought him to a chair and one nodded at it.
“Sit down,” he said. Demetrius did so.
“Lord Abernathy will be with you shortly.”
“You won’t give me any warning as to what to expect?”
It was mostly only said in irritation, and he didn’t expect any kind of result, but this time he netted a response: the guard who spoke more said, “Lord Abernathy wants to speak to you about a private matter.”
“I don’t know who Lord Abernathy is,” said Demetrius, though the name seemed familiar. A noble, obviously, though not one of his father’s acquaintances. Perhaps Demetrius had read about him in the papers.
There almost seemed to be something in the guard’s eye, some hidden emotion. Not sympathy, exactly, but perhaps pity. That was promising.
Whatever it was, it vanished almost in an instant, long before Demetrius could pursue it, and once it disappeared the opportunity was lost for good. Both guards departed, and Demetrius was left alone with his thoughts and the memories of the last time he had been dragged before the scouring light of the law.