Silvin was five, and her mother gave him a little pony. He’d insisted on scrambling on best he could, and she was leading him around the courtyard of their city home. The pony didn’t care. With every circuit of the courtyard, it eyed up her garden. Caron smiled, settling back in her chair. It wouldn’t get past her.

He was seven, and he’d been in his first fight with the boys next door, nose bleeding, glaring at the wall. She didn’t bother telling him off – why say what he could See, with that precocious little talent? She cleaned him up with a faint smile, and patted him on the head. “Remember to head butt them first,” she said. He grinned at her.

He was ten, and Farren had finally found them –

Caron opened her eyes, staring at the cold stone wall. Outside, in the cool of an autumn evening, a farmer and his wife carried her baby boy away.

:-#-:

Someone found her. It was Rob – could only have been Rob. She’d gone looking for the most secluded place in the entire castle, but he knew it all. Over the achingly long months, they’d all needed something to do. She sat in the library and was taught to read by a patient scribe. Hanson curled up in bed, healing, or beating up knights in the name of sparring. Rob explored.

“You’ve missed dinner,” he said, crouching beside her. “Shouldn’t do that.”

“I’m not keeping someone else alive,” she said.

A pause. “You need to keep yourself alive, Caro.”

She gave him a long look. He rocked back on his heels. “Don’t do that.”

Caron looked down at decades of dust, the perfect desolation she’d ruined.

“I want you back,” he said. “Why can’t we all just – stop being this? We could disappear, find some backwater place where they don’t know our names and get back to living.”

She pressed her lips together.

“Somewhere they still believe in happy endings,” he said, lower.

“We can’t do that because you’re a Finder,” she said gently, or as gentle as she could manage. “Hanson is a knight, and I’m your damned princess.” She looked at him again.

He swallowed. “The future can be changed.”

She smiled sadly.

“Anyway,” he said, “Hanson won’t eat unless you’re there. Come on.” He stood, pulling her up. “You don’t get to hide away, Caro.”

“No,” she said. “That’s what you do.”

:-#-:

When Hanson had been taken to the castle, in agony but alive, and their story told, the King told them they were staying with him. Thinking only of a bed she hadn’t shared with Farren, Caro accepted. She didn’t know what happened to their little house. Rob fetched all their things up, a sorry pile in a single cart.

She’d set up a bonfire in the castle courtyard and burned all of Farren’s clothing. No one tried to stop her.

Hanson’s rooms were sparser than she’d imagined them being, before. She left the door open, so Rob could fidget in the doorway. Hanson was sitting on the bed, sword lying next to him.

“You didn’t eat again,” she said.

Silence. He rarely talked, of late.

“I can tell when you don’t,” she said quietly.

He shifted, pointedly not looking at her. The sunlight streaming through the window picked out the jagged white line that ran down his face and throat, disappearing under his high-collared tunic. She mustered all her strength and stepped forward.

“You didn’t eat again,” he said, his voice rasping terribly.

She looked down, then up again. “They took the boy.” Silvin. He was so beautiful.

Hanson nodded. He took the sword and stood. “I need to practise.”

He walked. She got in the way, relying on Sight to know where to step, the time to reach up and pull the sword out of his hand, wrapping palm and fingers around the leather-bound hilt and tossing it aside. He stared down at her, bare inches from her. His hands were rough, worn, when he took hers and carefully moved back.

“I’ll eat if you do,” she said, quiet.

He nodded.

“Promise?” It was a childish thing to say.

He kissed her forehead. “Promise,” he whispered. He smelled of sawdust, and a thousand things never to be said.

:-#-:

Some days later – time was irrelevant, unless she was counting down the days, hours, to some event or another – Rob came running in her rooms. “Caro, the king -”

He stopped and stared at her, in her best dress, hair held back by pins her mother gave her before the wedding. “You already knew.”

“Say it anyway,” she said.

“The king wants us,” he said, all breath and fright. “In court. Yesterday.”

Today was that day. Of course. She nodded. “You’ve told Hanson.”

“Yes.” Rob shifted on his feet. “What is it about? I wasn’t told why he wanted us.”

She shook her head. “Go get ready, Rob.”

“I will.” He hesitated anyway. “Do I need my staff?”

“You think you could fight your way out of the king’s own castle?” she said, smiling faintly at the idea.

“Not really,” he muttered, and left.

She knew the quickest way to the great hall, but Hanson got there first. She stood next to him, waiting outside the old wooden doors, so close they might have touched. The guards were busy trying not to watch them.

Rob ran up to them, panting, “Am I in time?” just as the doors swung open.

A hall-full of people in rich, bright clothing stared at her, whispering and laughing amongst themselves. Hanson went first, walking up a beautiful red carpet. Caron realised, distantly, that she’d forgotten shoes – the carpet was soft under her bare feet, like fresh, clean fleece.

Hanson stopped short of the dais, bowing his head. Rob copied him. Caron held her head high. She could look any of the pampered peacocks in the eye and tell the world their darkest secrets.

The king was wiry, dressed in bright blue and a gold circlet. Elaborate embroidery danced across his tunic in the form of a thousand tiny animals. He looked at them from his throne with brown eyes, under a wave of greying black curls.

“Squire,” he said, standing. “Kneel.”

Hanson knelt, face impassive.

A servant came forward with a pillow. On it was a sword made out of gold and fine jewels. The king took it, tapping Hanson’s shoulders twice each. “You have served me with honour and integrity, in face of the worst treachery – that of a friend and comrade. Rise, sir knight.”

Hanson rose, his face unchanged. The servant took the sword.

“Such a man can only live so long,” the King said, “Before his own ways kill him.”

Hanson nodded. Rob glanced between them, wearing his familiar worry like a cloak.

The King returned to his throne and said, “I take it you know what I want, madame Anhy?”

It was Peters, but she didn’t bother to correct him. “You want us to rescue your son,” she said, “From people who claim his value as ransom – a large tract of your most fertile land, on the eastern border. He is kept in a keep that has never been taken, by siege or battle, set on a hill surrounded by marsh. You want us to do the impossible.”

He nodded. “For a Seer?”

She inclined her head. “Not impossible for me,” she said, “But difficult.” Then, Seeing questions not yet spoken – “Yes. Yes. No. Three horses and a pouch of diamonds.”

He smiled wryly. “I like to speak for myself, madame.”

She inclined her head. “Of course.”

“For the benefit of others… I take that to mean that you know a way in, and you can do it before the ransom is due.”

He didn’t say, but it isn’t guaranteed.

“And you can achieve this impossible task with just three animals and some gemstones.” He raised his eyebrows. “Not your companions?”

“I don’t consider them riding beasts,” she said calmly.

Rob snorted. She could feel him, riding the edge of terror and disbelief.

“Indeed,” the King said.

“We would need to leave by the end of tomorrow,” she said. “At the most.”

“With a guard,” he said.

“No.”

“Madame, you aren’t leaving with a fortune in gems without a retinue of guards.”

“A retinue,” she said, “Would get us noticed – no one should notice us come or go.”

“My son’s life is in danger -”

“Which is why we will not have guards.” She made her voice hard. “Three can pass where ten cannot.” Then, softer, “I know your pain, your highness. Please.”

:-#-:

“You ordered the king!” Rob sank into a chair in her rooms, shaking. “You stood in front of the king and you ordered him -”

Hanson passed him an open brown bottle. Rob drank, one slow mouthful at a time.

“I know what I’m doing,” Caron said. “He’s a good man, but pressured. Stressed.” She looked to the window, catching the red of the setting sun. “Two guards are a token force. Hanson could overpower them without help.”

Two guards meant five horses. She’d have to lose them.

Hanson poured something pink into a small glass and drank it in one mouthful. “What’s the plan?” he said.

She watched the window and said nothing.

Rob leaned forward in the chair. “There is a plan, isn’t there?” He waved the bottle. “You always have one.”

“You need to go pack,” she said, “Don’t have another one. You’ll regret it in the morning.”

“Whatever.” He pushed himself up. “You know horsedung everything.”

When he was gone, door slammed behind him, Caron said quietly, “He’s got a long way to walk before he finds home.”

“And us?” Hanson said.

She leaned against the wall, folded her arms, and said nothing.

He moved forwards. She closed her eyes and said, “I could have had ten years.”

A pause.

“It would have cost everything,” she whispered, “But it was ten years.” Inevitability dragged her down, every future playing out into darkness, but in one Silvin grew up himself.

“Caro,” he said gently. His voice was her guilt. “What about us?”

“We both need to pack,” she said.

A soft sound, too full of emotion to describe. Footsteps on the floor. A door opening and closing, not quiet but not loud.

She slid down the wall and stared at nothing.

 

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