THE HENGE BETRAYED
By Janet Lane Walters
Available from Mundania
Alizand prowled about his bed chamber. He paused beside the window and pushed the heavy draperies aside. Another day of confinement. Since the day his step-brothers had invaded the suite, forcing Alizand to reveal his affinity for Fire, he’d been a prisoner.
At least the guards at the door believed he couldn’t leave. They didn’t know about the hidden sections and the secret rooms and passages to be found beyond the walls. Though Alizand could slip away, he should wait until night lest his room be checked. Dom Senet often made random visits during the day. Only when Alizand’s personal guard appeared could he escape these chambers. The corridors and places he could go had to be kept secret.
He was bored. He even missed the tedious lessons he’d been given by the clan elders during the short time he’d been acknowledged as his father’s heir. Having his affinity exposed had ended the dream of being deemed fit to become a prince. No one who could use one or all of the elements could rule the princedom of Wesren.
He stared at the tray on the table. A maidservant had delivered the food a short time before. Though he had eaten nothing since yesterday’s midday meal, he had no desire to break his fast.
The back of Alizand’s neck prickled. Trouble approached. Which of the many enemies he’d collected in his fourteen years of life came to upset his day?
The door opened. Before the guard could announce the visitor, a tall man entered. His ash blond hair hung in a single braid. Black leather riding clothes gleamed in the light from candles set in glass-shielded sconces on the wall. His dark green eyes sought and held Alizand’s gaze.
A smile appeared on Dom Senet’s face. Alizand felt like a tabby surrounded by a pack of ratis. He forced himself to breathe. How could one man raise such a high degree of terror? Though Alizand’s legs felt unsteady, he forced himself to remain on his feet.
“Dom Senet.” A sense of pride filled Alizand’s thoughts. His voice hadn’t cracked or risen to a high pitch to reveal his inner quaking.
The dom stroked the multi-colored gem he wore about his neck. The gold chain glinted. “I have questions for you to answer.”
Questions, Alizand thought. What kind of trick was this? He couldn’t relax his barriers or forget his suspicions of the dom. Was this a new way to fool him into becoming the dom’s puppet? Alizand needed to respond. To remain silent would expose his fear. “What do you want to know?”
“About your kin, the children of your father’s step-brother. I have a great need to find them. Poor lost children who need a home and a guardian.”
Alizand’s hands clenched. His friends had saved his life when he’d been injured in the aftermath of the destruction of the henge. With them, he’d been Zand, a person and not a creature to be used. “I don’t know where they are. I told my father I didn’t and I say the same to you.”
“I think otherwise.” The dom moved closer.
Alizand clung to his determination to resist. He felt icy touches trying to push beneath his surface thoughts and invade his memories. He pressed his hand against the gem beneath his tunic and strained to hold firm against Dom Senet’s invasion. “How could I know where they’ve been or where they’re going? I’ve been a prisoner here for weeks.”
Dom Senet ran a finger along Alizand’s cheek. “And I imagine you have no idea how the child escaped the circle room.”
“What child?” Though he had released Ky, he didn’t consider her a child. The pressure in his head built until his vision and balance wavered. “Is there a circular room in your suite?” The pressure vanished so suddenly Alizand’s knees folded and he fell into the chair.
Dom Senet frowned. “Perhaps someone else is to blame.”
Alizand looked up. “Who?”
“Don’t worry. I’ll learn. As for you, your barriers are stronger than they were the last time we met. I haven’t time to break then now, but be assured when I return, you will answer to me.”
“Even if I don’t know the answers you want?” To Alizand’s surprise, though inside he battled hysteria, his voice remained calm.
“This much I can tell you. Your friends have left the city and foolishly chose to challenge me. They gave themselves away. Though they’ve escaped, they have nowhere to go. I’m leading a patrol of guards eager to receive the reward your father has offered for the return of his step-brother’s children. We will bring them back.”
His laughter sent prickles along Alizand’s skin. “Will you betray my father by taking charge of them?”
“Betray him? How? Your father is mine to move as I will. Once he sees these children have affinities, he’ll gladly name me as their guardian.” The dom leaned closer. “When I return with them you will come to me. Don’t think to flee. Remember, I touched your gem. No matter where you go, I can find you, unless you remove the crystal and suffer the seizures of destruction.” He strode to the door.
The door snapped shut. Alizand slid to the floor, grasped his knees and rocked. Why hadn’t he been told to hide the gem he’d received on his fourteenth birthing day? He’d worn the red gem proudly. Dom Senet had touched the stone and had made some kind of connection to Alizand.
What could he do? Where was Dragen? He needed his kinsman and protector. He had to let Dragen know about Dom Senet’s latest attempt. Alizand swallowed. He was more than frightened. Terror swept through him, causing his body to shake like the leaves of a tree during a windstorm.
Once his weakness passed, Alizand rose. He arranged pillows to look as though he hid beneath the covers and closed the curtains around the bed. He stepped into the closet and opened the door into the hidden room. There he took his sword from the sheath. For a time he danced flames along the shining metal blade the way Ky had shown him.
Was she all right? She had been his first friend and had trusted him before her siblings had. Where had they gone? How could he warn them about Dom Senet? He stared into the flames and thought about his friends. Bran and Jay had healed him after the rock had smashed him into unconsciousness. Ky had helped, too. He closed his eyes and recalled Ash. She was the image of her mother, a woman he’d seen just once.
Dom Senet hunts you. Over and over again he mouthed the words and prayed Ash would hear them on the winds. The sword grew heavy. He let the flames die and sheathed the blade. With weary steps, he returned to his chamber.
At midday a maidservant brought his meal and took the untouched morning food away. The door guard lingered.
“Kafene?” Alizand pointed to the two cups on the tray.
“My thanks.” The guard accepted the cup and closed the door. “Lady Melena leaves the palace today.”
“In the middle of winter?” Alizand asked. Though he had no love for his step-mother, to be forced from Cedris during the winter season could be a death sentence. There were few inns in the princedom to offer shelter if there was a storm. “How will she travel? Where will she go?”
The guard chuckled. “She won’t go far. Her maid obtained rooms at an inn near the southern gate. Several guards have bought release and have taken service with her. Once the midday meal in the great hall ends she will depart.” He drained the cup.
“Will her sons go with her?” Alizand prayed the bully boys would leave with their mother. If they hadn’t invaded his chambers and attacked him, he wouldn’t have revealed his affinity.
“Those two? Do you really think they’ll leave their comfort before they must?” The guard opened the door. “In the spring Prince Zedron will send Mandir and Lodar to their fathers.”
Alizand dismissed the guard. His shoulders slumped. Though two of his enemies would leave the palace today, his step-brothers would remain. He ate some of the stew, and then devoured the nut rolls. Had Melena left yet? He wanted to watch. He wiped his fingers and hurried to the secret room.
There he fastened the sheathed fire sword to his belt. Though what he planned wasn’t without risk, he desired to see Melena disgraced. He lit a candle and made his way along the narrow inner passages to the stairs leading to the hidden door into the courtyard. Before opening the door, he stuck the candle in a sconce and pinched the flame. After tapping the proper sequence on the tiles of the door, he stepped outside.
The air bore a damp chill. Snow flurried around him. With his back pressed against the stones of the wall, Alizand edged toward a place sheltered from the wind where he could observe the front entrance. He halted in a shadowed alcove beneath an overhang and waited. His gaze was focused on the heavy doors of the palace’s main section.
The double doors at the top of the steps opened. Melena appeared on the landing. Alizand’s father and step-brothers followed her from the palace.
“Be gone, Melena,” Prince Zedron shouted. “You are no longer my spouse and are no longer welcome in this palace. Stay at the inn, but as soon as the thaws begin, I order you to depart from Cedris and Wesren. Should you remain within the borders of the princedom beyond Summer Day, you will be meat for any man’s blade.”
Melena walked down the steps. Her back was stiff and her head erect. When she reached the courtyard, she turned. “Zedron, I curse you. May you never sire another and thus you will have no one to follow you.”
Her words sent a chill through Alizand. His father had two children, a daughter who could never rule the land and a son who was a halfling with an affinity.
He stared at his former step-mother. Rings glittered on her fingers. Bracelets flashed on her arms. As she strode toward the gate a gust of wind parted her cloak. Alizand stifled a laugh. Necklaces and broaches covered her chest. She was so laden with jewelry he wondered how she could walk.
She turned and held out her hands. “Mandir, Lodar, attend your mother as dutiful sons must.”
Mandir turned his back to her. Lodar laughed. “Mother, don’t be foolish. Why would we leave our comfortable place in the palace to live in a single room at an inn? In the spring, Prince Zedron will send us to our fathers with all honor.” He followed his brother into the palace.
“You’ll be sorry, all of you.” Melena’s voice rose in pitch as piercing as the howl of the wind. “A thousand curses on your heads. A hundred plagues to ravage your lands. I will not rest until I have revenge.”
A hand clamped on Alizand’s shoulder. Waves of panic washed through him. How could he run when his feet were leaden weights? “Who?” He forced the question out.
“Dragen, and you’d best be thankful. Lad, what are you doing here?”
Alizand swallowed his fear. He met the gaze of his kinsman. Weathered lines across Dragen’s brow and at the corners of his eyes softened the anger in his voice. White strands dotted his auburn hair. “I had to see her gone.”
“And so she is.”
“Did you know Dom Senet is also leaving?”
The older man nodded. “He’s gone. Left before the midday meal. Did the guards permit you to leave your chamber?”
“I used the inner ways.”
“Then let us return the way you came. There is much I have to tell you and I have orders you must obey.” Tension filled Dragen’s voice. He held his cloak to shield Alizand.
When they reached the entrance to the hidden ways, before tapping the bricks, Alizand scanned the area. As soon as the door opened he stepped inside. Dragen was at his heels. Alizand took the candle from the sconce and lit it. “What’s going on?”
“Wait until we’re upstairs.”
Alizand hurried up the steps and along the narrow hall to the secret room. Dragen pointed to a chair at the small table. “Sit and listen carefully.”
“Am I in danger?”
Dragen sat across the table. “Always, until you’re away from the palace and have mastered your affinity. While Dom Senet is gone from Cedris, I’ll have a chance to leave and speak to someone about the best way to arrange your death.”
Alizand swallowed. Every time Dragen mentioned death as a way to escape the palace and the dom, Alizand felt ill. How could he die yet remain alive? Did Dragen mean the affinity for Fire would be lost? There wasn’t time for more than one question. “Are you leaving Cedris?”
“For a short time.”
“Can’t you take me with you?” Alizand thought of what had happened the other times Dragen had been absent from the palace. Both times there had been trouble caused by his step-brothers. The first time, Alizand had fled the palace, and the second his affinity had been revealed.
“Lad, you must stay here. My destination has to remain a secret from Dom Senet. You will need a refuge while learning to use your affinity. Senet can find you through your gem.”
“I could leave it behind.”
“That might be the answer, but I don’t know what effect that will have on you.” The older man shook his head. “Might be the same as what happens to a dom or doma when their gem is destroyed. They die in convulsions. Another possibility is Senet finding the gem and using it against you.”
“We could hide it and I could sneak away.”
Dragen frowned. “Doubtful. The doms and domas who remain in his suite communicate with him. You will be missed and a hunt for you would begin. You must stay here.”
Alizand bit his lip. He would be alone and unprotected again. What if his step-brothers gained access to the chambers? If they tried to hurt him, would the guards step in? Even thinking about the possibility brought the urge to summon fire. “Couldn’t this person come to Cedris?”
“She would endanger herself. The doms and domas would recognize her. Senet would enjoy having her in his power. I’ll be away no more than two sevendays. Promise you will remain confined to your quarters.”
Alizand stared at the table. “What about Arrow? He becomes restless if I stay away from the stables for too long.”
Dragen tapped his fingers against the surface of the wooden table. “Night visits only. Take care not to be seen.”
“I’ll wear a dark cloak and keep to the shadows.”
“Good enough. Expect me back as I‘ve promised.”
“What if someone asks about you?”
“Tell any and all I’ve taken my war steed to the farm to give the stud service he
owes the guard.”
Alizand rose and embraced Dragen. For a moment he clung to the older man, then stepped back. “Be safe.” Alizand followed the older man through the secret ways and stood at the head of the stairs until Dragen merged with the shadows. When Alizand heard the door close, he retraced his steps, unbelted the sword and returned to his chamber. He took a book of adventure tales from the shelf. Perhaps in a story he could forget how alone and frightened he was.