silver, emotionless, it inspired more awe in person than when he’d written it.
“As requested, I have brought you the four we stopped in the early hours of the morning, Your Majesty,” Dorning announced. “They were trying to find access into the Court.”
Jeff’s mouth snapped shut. He wanted to protest that they were about to knock, not barge in, but awe kept him quiet.
The woman twitched the fingers of her right hand, and the captain stepped back beside Jayden. Jeff wondered how many years of practice it had taken for the man to pick up on such subtle signals.
“Counsellor Basten has told me your story,” the queen spoke, her voice softer and higher than Jeff had expected, given the mask’s severe appearance. “You, scholar, weave an outlandish tale.”
“But true, Your Majesty,” Brady replied with an incline of his head.
“That may be, but you leave us little means of verifying any part of it.”
This time Brady remained quiet. Sneaking a glance at Jayden from the corner of his eye, Jeff saw the warrior standing even straighter than the queen sat, his arm flat by his side, and his stare focused at a spot above the queen’s head. On Jeff’s other side, Cassie looked almost relaxed, as if this were only as stressful as tea at her grandmother’s house. Jeff envied both of them. He had no idea what to do with his hands, let alone the rest of him.
“Lord Jayden of Feldall, We know you,” Queen Ansella continued. “You have been recognized by this Court for your great feats of courage and loyalty, and as such We welcome you in these strange times. Unusual as your story may be, I would be inclined to lean in your favour.” Hope rose in Jeff’s chest. “If you are able to confirm two points. The fact that Raul is, without a doubt, back in Andvell, and the extent of your involvement with him, including the identities of your unknown guests.”
Jeff’s hopes crashed again. He carried his wallet on him, but somehow suspected that wouldn’t be enough.
“Your Majesty,” said Jayden. “I swear by my oath as a servant of your court that my involvement with the sorcerer Raul is purely for the benefit of crown and country. I desire only that he be stopped and brought to justice. If Your Majesty will allow me to write to my sister, she and our House Enchantress will be able to provide proof that our story is true.”
The queen’s head tilted minimally towards Jayden. A moment’s silence as she considered. “We would allow this. Although it would mean remaining in Our care for a few days longer, until Jasmine of Feldall replied to Our summons.”
Jeff heard Jayden’s teeth grind together.
“The delay would be unwise, Your Majesty,” said Brady. A few gasps rippled behind him at his seeming disrespect, but the queen didn’t appear offended. Not that it would have been easy to tell. “We witnessed Raul return to this world first hand. Even now he may be collecting allies to help him achieve his goal of regaining power. The longer we wait to find him, the greater our challenge may become.”
Queen Ansella dropped her head a fraction in a sort of nod. “And how would you suggest confirming the latter part of your story? Do you know where he has gone?”
“Unfortunately, we were separated on travelling back to Andvell,” Brady admitted. “With Treevale Fortress overrun with our dragon, we’re not sure where his next safehouse might be located.”
“You can understand my dilemma,” said the queen. “While I agree full-heartedly that we cannot wait to find and arrest Raul for treason and genocide, I do not see that your participation is required. Unless you are able to provide the necessary information, my decree is that you remain—as guests—in this palace.”
“That won’t be necessary,” another female voice called out from the corner of the audience chamber.
The crowd began to stir from their orderly observation, twisting around to see who had spoken. From his place at the