They stood at the beginning of the long road to the palace.
‘We’re back.’ Bo looked exhausted, both physically and emotionally, as if this last port had sapped the last of his reserves.
‘You’re done in,’ Ghyll said.
The mage shrugged. ‘I’m going away for a time. I – need to be alone.’
Ghyll nodded. ‘I understand. Where will you be going?’
‘Home. I want to go home. Right now.’
‘No porting,’ Ghyll said quickly. ‘I’ll call a skyboat for you.’
They mounted for the last mile to the castle.
Olle moved as an automaton, his eyes empty. He had spoken only a few words since he had awakened that morning.
Ghyll had been warned the shock of his brother’s near-death would have a profound effect.
‘It has shaken him to the core of his being,’ the undead archmage had said. ‘It all depends on his strength of will how well he recovers.’
Two by two, they rode to the palace gates. The knights on guard came into action when they saw Ghyll and Kerianna. The watch rushed out and lined up in two rows. Hornblowers blew an enthusiastic fanfare from the battlements. The King and Queen have returned!
‘Hmm,’ Jesserie said. ‘It’s not what I’m used to, but it’s not bad.’
‘You mean that cage?’ Damion frowned. ‘Shall we bring it here? If you’re feeling homesick…’
‘Don’t bother,’ Jesserie said loftily. ‘I’ll manage.’ His laugh was filled with elation.
In the hall of the palace a delegation from the court waited on the Royal couple.
‘Welcome, Highnesses,’ the chancellor said. ‘I am glad to see you back safe.’ His must have noticed their exhaustion, for his face turned grave. ‘Was it very bad?’
‘It was a very close call, this time,’ Ghyll said. Then he put a hand on Olle’s shoulder and the other arm around Keri’s waist. ‘But we made it back. We even brought a few more friends. Anliin of the Yinno is a priest of Greos; he can share a room with Prince Torril. The young lady is Avelore anThelander, Adepta of Mainal. And our airy friend is Jesserie, the last Prince of Abarran.’
The chancellor’s face didn’t betray even the slightest surprise as he bowed to the ghost boy. ‘Welcome, Highness,’ he said.
‘I don’t need a room,’ Jesserie said. ‘I don’t sleep. An empty closet to call my own would be sufficient.’
‘An empty closet…’ Kyssander repeated slowly. ‘The royal steward would resign on the spot if I suggested that, Your Highness.’
‘Put the ghost in my room,’ Bo said heavily. ‘I’ll be away for some time, anyway.’ He looked at Jesserie. ‘There’s a big closet in my room.’
‘Olle…’ From the shadows along the wall a slim figure stepped forward. She was dressed in a simple blue robe and carried a lute on her back.
‘Kaati anMarevale!’ Ghyll said, surprised. ‘You are the most welcome face of all. My brother has great need of you.’
The girl didn’t even look at him; but went straight for Olle. She gripped his shoulders and their eyes met. Olle bowed his head and still without a word, she led him away to their rooms.
‘How did she know we’d be back today?’ Ghyll said, staring after them.
‘The grandmaster has been waiting for weeks,’ Duke Kyssander said. ‘She is a very determined young lady, Sire.’
Ghyll grinned. ‘I know another such one,’ he said, grabbing Keri.
‘A bath!’ Kerianna said. ‘That’s the only determination I have right now. A hot, soapy bath.’
With their arms around each other, king and queen went to their apartment.