Ris glanced my way, regret clear in his eyes, before he turned back to the guard. I was getting really tired of watching him disappear behind his official mask.
“Lead the way, Palian,” Ris said to the guard with a wave of his hand. Not a second later, they were both quickly striding towards the garden’s entrance. I slumped back down on the bench and tried to control the cold feeling swirling in my gut. We had only really started to get to know each other tonight. How could I feel so disappointed at missing his kiss or that he left me behind without so much as a second glance? I was so wrapped in trying to ignore my bruised heart that I almost missed the clank of boots on the concrete path coming back towards me.
The runner was almost upon me before I looked up. I was startled to see Ris approaching me, confusion written plainly across his face.
“What are you doing, just sitting there, Be?”
“What else would I be doing? It’s not like I can interrogate a prisoner.” I said that with a little more vehemence than was strictly necessary. And I didn’t really want to see the man who shot me, did I? I had done a pretty good job of keeping my fear at bay for the past couple of weeks but it all rushed back with the thought of seeing my shooter. The terror I had not been allowing myself to feel since that night made its debut appearance, wrapping itself around my spine in an icy chain and it held me frozen in place as surely as any physical shackles.
Something of my thoughts must have shown on my face because Ris’ gaze softened and he pulled me up off the bench and into his arms. Heavens above, all other throughts flew from my head. His strong arms held me so close I imagined I could feel his heart beating against my chest, despite the layers of clothes between us. As I wrapped my arms around him and buried my head against his shoulder, I was overwhelmed with a sense of belonging and rightness that I had never felt from anyone before.
“I won’t let him hurt you, ever again. I promise.” He whispered, lips brushing against my ear in the process. We stood there for a few more moments as I tried valiantly not to start shaking or crying. Finally, I nodded slightly against his shoulder, took a deep breath and stepped out of his arms.
When I was far enough away he gently took hold of my chin and lifted it so I was forced to look into his piercing green eyes. His stare bored into my soul and I wondered what he was looking for. After a few brief seconds he seemed to find whatever it was and broke eye contact.
He threaded his fingers through mine reassuringly before he started walking back the way he came. I steeled myself for him to let go as we reached the waiting guard. When Ris’ hand remained steadfastly in mine, my heart did a little dance despite my stern warnings that it didn’t mean anything.
He didn’t let go until we reached the dungeons and had no choice but to walk single file down the winding stairs.
Nullnomen was waiting for us in the duty office that served the dungeon guards. Everyone turned to look at us as Ris stormed into the room, me in his wake.
“Clear the room,” he said in a deceptively calm voice. I was still standing close enough that, when I turned to leave with everyone else, he was able grab my wrist and whisper, “Not you, Be.”
In less than a minute the only people left in the room were me, Ris and Nullnomen.
“I discovered the identity of the shooter after overhearing two servants gossiping about a guard one of them had seen sneaking through the halls on the night in question. One speculated he was sleeping with the cook’s assistant but the other thought it odd he would be carrying such a large sack with him on a secret assignation. From there I deduced that he could be our shooter, trying to hide his crossbow. Upon arriving to search his room, he ran. He has since admitted to being the shooter but will not reveal who hired him or why.”
Nullnomen said all this as succintly as possible. However, his oily voice sent shivers down my spine as I listened to him describe what had happened. Almost unconsciously, I edged closer to Ris.
Ris didn’t notice. He nodded at Nullnomen and said, “Thank you. I will speak with him now.” He turned towards me, then, still keeping some distance. “Do you want to watch?”
I almost said no. I was going to say no. I definitely did not want to be in the same room as the man who had shot an arrow through my chest. But before the words could leave me lips I heard myself saying, “Yes.”
Ris nodded before turning towards the door. He led the way out and down the hall to the cell where my shooter was being held, and stopped for a moment before opening the door. In the moment it took him to cross the threshold of the cell, my Ris disappeared completely and was replaced by the cold strong façade of King Kalristian.
I hurried in after him and quickly found a corner to lurk in while I watched Ris.
“What is your name?” His voice was as cold as his countenance.
“Vailanar, sir.” The prisoner repsonded with obvious fear. I stared openly at him, wondering if he recognized me. Vailanar had obviously seen better days. His tunic was dirty and torn, as were his pants. His face was covered in dirt, bruises and blood. But it was his eyes that screamed his distress the most. They looked haunted and empty – like a man who knew that all he had left in life was pain.
“Who hired you?”
Vailanar shrunk back in his chair at this question. Ris let the question hang in the air for what seemed like ages. The tension created by the silence seemed to stretch and grow until the room was taut with it.
Eventually, Vailanar answered. “I can’t tell you, majesty. He’ll kill me.” He was on the verge of tears. I was glad that Ris had asked me come and see this. I couldn’t be afraid of this man anymore.
Ris and Vailanar went back and forth, Ris asking questions with ever growing anger and Vailanar cowering and crying.
Eventually Ris broke. His stormed up to Vailanar, grabbed the front of his tunic and dragged him until he could slam the shooter against the stone wall of the cell. In a quiet voice, thrumming with anger and power, Ris spoke, staring directly into Vailanar’s eyes, “If you do not tell me who hired you then I you will not need to worry about him killing you. I will beat the answers out of you. And if that doesn’t work, I will call Nullnomen in and allow him to practice his skills on you. You will die. But it will not be anytime soon.”
My alarm grew with every syllable of this speech. By the end I could not contain myself anymore. I walked over to Ris and pulled at his shoulder. It did not budge. “Your Majesty.” I said earnestly. He ignored me. I pulled harder, eventually hissing, “Ris” fiercely under my breath. It broke through and he turned towards me.
His eyes blazed anger and I was pretty sure it wasn't entirely for Vailanar. He grabbed by shoulder none too gently and pushed me towards the door.
When we were in the hallway with the door closed firmly behind I rounded on him. “You cannot possibly plan to torture him, Ris. I thought you were better than that!” I yelled at him.
His face was stormy as he replied, “Heavens damn you Be, of course I wasn’t going to torture him. He’s been broken already. Nullnomen did a number on him before we got here. Sometimes threatening more pain to someone who has already reached their limit can get results. If you had not interrupted, I could have gotten him to confess without calling my bluff!”
I stepped back, shocked. I didn’t like the idea that he had already been tortured but I was glad that Ris had no intention of torturing him further. I wasn’t really sure how to respond to Ris’ outburst though. He was running one hand through his hair and squeezing the bridge of his nose with the other. All of the sudden I noticed how exhausted he looked. His eyes were red and tired looking. The bags under them were dark and deep.
I stepped towards him, pulled his hands away from his face and looked him in the eyes before speaking again. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have doubted you.” I sighed. “What are we going to do now?”
He lifted his hands from where I was still holding them and ran them through my hair. He looked calculatingly at my face and, under my confusion, I felt a warmth running through me, emanating from his hands.
“Do you trust me?” he asked.
“Yes.” I replied without over-thinking it.
“Okay. I have a plan.” He stepped back from me. Then he waved a hand and whispered something under his breath. I felt a rush of tingles spread over my head. When I looked up at him, he answered the question I had asked with my eyes.
“I just did some illusion magic. You now look like I have beaten you rather severely about the head. We will return to the room together and it will look like I have punished you for interrupting me. It will add credence to my threats to harm him. Hopefully it will be enough.”
“And if it isn’t?”
He sighed a bone tired sigh and answered, “Then we will have to figure something out.” I sincerely hoped he wouldn’t resort to actually beating Vailanar if this didn’t work. I guess we would have to wait and cross that bridge when we got to it.
Ris stopped briefly before he opened the door again. “Remember to move like you are hurt.” I nodded and we entered the cell once more.
Vailanar blanched when he saw me. I shuffled back to the corner I had been in before. But instead of standing alertly and watching, I slumped against the wall and acted like the stones were all that kept me from toppling to the floor.
Ris didn’t even look in my direction. The moment he walked through the door, his eyes were locked on Vailanar.
It didn’t take him long after that to get a name from him.
I was truly shocked at that. That was the ex-High Regent’s son. I vaguely remembered him as the man who had glowered at me during my first meeting with Ris and Nullnomen. I could tell Ris was shaken as well. In the few weeks since he had awoken, he had become very close with Silurianus. If Vailanar was not lying, then Ris was most likely going to have execute the son of a man who was quickly becoming a dear friend for treason.
Ris was unable to get any further information from Vailanar on why Silenkian had hired him. It seems Silenkian had kept his motives to himself.
A few more minutes found us back in the duty office with Nullnomen. Ris’ command of “Find Silenkian and bring him here” still echoed on the walls when he sank into the chair. His head slumped down against the desk and I watched as the in control façade he worn slipped away and he allowed me to see everything he was feeling in the set of his back and the curve of his shoulder. My heart squeezed in my chest at his pain and I felt uncharacteristically light that he was actually letting me see it.
I walked up behind him and wrapped my arms around his torso. I dropped a gentle kiss on the back of his neck and whispered, “It’ll be okay. We’ll figure it out.”
To be continued…