Scent of Magic Page 86

“Better,” Tohon said. He scanned those kneeling in front of him. “Where’s Jael?”

“She ran away last night,” Estrid said.

Tohon’s fingers dug into my wrist, drawing blood, but his voice remained even. “We will discuss this later.” His gaze met mine. “Including your little adventure, my dear.” He gestured for everyone to rise with his free hand. Yanking me to my feet, he towed me along as he entered the manor house.

When we reached the grand dining room, the group paused as everyone took in the elaborate decorations. Platters laden with cold meats, cheeses and fruits lined the tables. A string quartet played softly as servers waited to seat the guests. Tohon dragged me up to the head table, and I sat on his left with Estrid on his right. Sepp and Cellina joined us.

Tohon released his grip on me after the wine was poured. He grasped his glass and stood. The low buzz in the room ceased as he raised his wine, proposing a toast.

“Now that our conflict has ended, it is one more step to peace and prosperity. Here’s to the unification of all the plague survivors into one realm.”

Everyone clinked glasses and drank.

Cellina hopped to her feet. “Here’s to the man who will lead us to peace, King Tohon!”

More clinking and drinking. I went through the motions but only touched my lips to the edge of my glass. No doubt I would need a clear head for later. Also my thoughts had snagged on a comment Tohon had made about Kerrick. He had said the ufas tracked him down before he reached Ryne’s, but according to Ryne, Kerrick had not only arrived, but then was sent to the north.

Why would Tohon lie about the timing? Unless Ryne had been lying all along to save my feelings. Perhaps he thought I’d be too upset over Kerrick’s death to function. As much as I’d like to curl into a ball and sob, I knew Kerrick wouldn’t want me to give up. Tohon had to be stopped. And if the opportunity to do him harm presented itself, I wouldn’t hesitate.

The feast seemed endless. Servers brought out so many courses, I lost track. The tables filled with steaming bowls of soup, spicy beef, buttered potatoes and sugar beets. Unable to eat, I pushed the food around my plate.

Tohon appeared to be enjoying himself. He talked to Estrid during most of the meal. From what I could tell, he was pumping her for information. Not that it mattered. I wondered if Ryne was indeed hiding in the POW camp. Would he attack tonight? It would be quite the surprise. But when I remembered Ryne’s troops only numbered around four hundred, the odds wouldn’t be ideal.

Perhaps I shouldn’t try to guess Ryne’s plans. Tohon would eventually turn his full attention to me, and I didn’t know if I could refuse to answer his questions.

Tohon reclaimed my wrist after the dessert course had been cleared away. He ordered Estrid to lead him, Sepp, Cellina and all his bodyguards to her study. Tohon also requested that her top-ranking officers accompany us, as well. Dread lumped in my stomach as he pulled me along. This was it. He would demand all of us to swear our loyalty.

Settling behind Estrid’s massive desk, he pushed me to my knees next to him. I considered rebelling, but he still had a tight grip on me. Then he asked the High Priestess to explain Jael’s absence.

“She failed to attend our morning meeting, and when I sent a runner to fetch her, he found her page unconscious on the floor and Jael was nowhere to be found,” Estrid said. “When we revived her page, the girl said Jael had left during the night.”

“Did Jael tell her page where she was going?”


Tohon pressed his lips together. “Bring her page here. I wish to question her.”

Oh, no. Not good. “She doesn’t know anything,” I said.

His annoyance transferred to me. “I didn’t ask you. But don’t worry, you’ll get your turn soon enough.”

Estrid sent one of her officers. While we waited for Noelle, Tohon questioned Estrid on her staff and troops. How many, who was in charge of the companies, and who had been left behind in Ozero.

When Noelle arrived, I held my breath, hoping she wouldn’t mention being my sister. Aside from a quick look at me, she kept her gaze on Tohon. He stared at her for a full minute before asking her to recount the events of the previous night.

Noelle glanced at Estrid.

“Tell him everything,” Estrid said.

She repeated the story. “I blocked the door, hoping to keep her from leaving, but she used her magic, and the next thing I knew I was in the infirmary.” Noelle also confirmed that she didn’t know where Jael was hiding.

Tohon leaned forward. “What is your name?”

“Noelle, sir.”

“It’s sire. Or you can say your highness or my king.”

“Yes, sire.”

“Do you know what happens to people when they lie to me, Noelle?”

She stammered. “No, sire.”

He raised his hand, showing her that he held my wrist. “This is what happens.”

Although I braced for the pain, I still gasped as the wave hit me. Stronger and faster than what he’d sent me before, every part of me felt as if it were on fire. My world shrank to a pinpoint of agony.

When the onslaught stopped, I came to my senses. Lying on the floor, I panted as sweat dripped down my back.

Noelle’s panicked voice pierced my fog. She swore she hadn’t lied.

“I know,” Tohon said. “I just wanted to see your reaction. Very conflicted, and not quite what I expected. Come here.” He reached a hand to her.

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