I was startled to find him already inside, naked to the waist and cleaning himself after the fight. Surprise turned to horror as I saw the thick scars across his back. He laid the towel he was using down on my vanity and turned to face me.
"I said I needed quiet, Fenaway, not solitude."
I offered him a clean robe and we sat together on my couch. Though the image was already burned into my head, it was improper for me ask.
"Thank you," I said quietly, "For defending my honor."
"Without honor, we are nothing. In that Misha and I are in complete agreement." His eyes were peering deep into me. The tables had been turned on me. "I'm sorry, Fenaway. I have failed you--both of you and brought dishonor on the alliance Burgi and I vowed to protect at all cost."
It had been such a long since I heard that name. Only Burgi had called me that as a child. 'Fen, away from the knives, the wine, the older boys...' It spoke to me of the closeness between those two men, caught on opposite ends of the war, yet cut into my very soul. I closed my eyes for a moment and fought off the tears. He was good.
"I'm listening." His hand slowly brushed away an errant tear from my cheek. I caught his hand and held on and waited.
"There were rumblings in the council against my father. Many feared that his deep ties with the House were a disadvantage to the other sects. They were mere rumblings when I sent you and D'Hir here. None of those loyal to my father had any idea how swift the tide would change against us. Vay and all members of the House were barred from entry to both court and council. We foolishly believed that our actions would appease the opposition. There was a fleeting calm before the plague descended upon us, brought on not by god but a violent coup."
"The council had them killed?"
"Until only I remained, with no will left to challenge them. Paynor needed a figure head to keep the country from falling into anarchy."
"With the end of the holy war Nalev returned to victorious. Instead of a hero's welcome, he was thrown in prison. His wife Zbinka helped to restore order and justice to the court. It was she who appealed to Paynor to allow for Misha to be found and sent to you and D'Hir, and was greatly surprised that he agreed."
"D'Hir knows nothing of this?"
"Three days ago, Fen," he started. "Three days ago I poisoned the council like the vermin they were. But that wasn't good enough for the mastermind Paynor. I would take no chances with him." Roarke let out an uneasy laugh and bit his lip. "After years of being robbed of all I loved, my dignity and my country I severed the head of the beast as he slept. And what of that do I tell my only son and heir to the throne?"
"The truth. What else is there for you?"
"We need you, Fen. D'Hir's letters to me gave me strength when all else was lost. He wrote only of you. All those years, Fen, only of you. Together we can make some sense of this."
"I can not return with you. D'Hir knows that." I said.
"You know I would be within my rights to hold you to that agreement, despite all of this."
"I know you will do what is right for D'Hir and not deny him the chance to have someone worthy of his attention."
"He's sleeping with the Queen, isn't he?"
I looked away. Judging by the trembling in his voice, he blamed himself for that as well." And you, are you happy here?"
"Being Ompar's mistress affords me many freedoms I would not otherwise enjoy."
"Ompar?" Roarke chuckled. "You will think me a great hypocrite..."
"You are among friends here. You have my word that no harm will come to you."
He brought his face close to mine. There was no more talk either past or future, only one moment that blended into the next, all too perfect for words. When at last he fell asleep, I pulled away from his embrace and he rolled peacefully onto his stomach. I kissed his ear and softly ran my fingertips across his back and knew that nothing could rival the scars to his soul. It pained me to leave him there, but he would not be surprised. I quickly got dressed and went into the night. I rode faster and farther that I had ever gone on my own. I rode and rode, all the way to the sea. But there was no peace for me there, only solitude.