Authors: Meaghan Rauscher
Tunder’s calm figure turned away from the window and as his arms slipped to his sides, his face came into the light of the burning torches. His expression was one I had never seen before, a sort of calm which mingled on the verge of being overly stifled, as though on the point of breaking. His eyes remained just outside the circle of light keeping his thoughts hidden from me. I waited patiently, even though I was brimming with questions.
“Thank you, Elik,” his voice was the same as it had been in the throne room. The harshness of it surprising and also concluding my earlier accusations of the type of leader he was. “I’m not going to waste our time,” his voice was sharp, “you’re here because we have a need of your power.”
Taken aback, I gave no inclination to my thoughts. I wasn’t going to give him the benefit of hearing my shaky voice, no matter how many questions I had.
“Before the king’s death he told me what you were practicing, what I need to know is if you were successful?” He dangled the question in the air, but I didn’t answer. Elik shifted uncomfortably beside me. “Well?” He prodded and when I remained silent he stepped out from behind the desk and my heart rate accelerated.
I had always noticed how large and powerful he was, but in the past his presence had been one of kindness and, if needed, protection. To have it facing me now in hostility was at once shocking and terrifying.
“Answer him,” Elik said beside me in a soft whisper. The words weren’t harsh, more of a plea for me to acquiesce to the demands of Lathmor’s new leader.
Deciding to answer without giving away as much as he asked, I raised my chin a little higher and looked the captain directly in the eye.
“And what if I have?” I asked, a little unsure of where the confidence was coming from.
Tunder’s jaw tightened only to relax a moment later when he smiled, his tight lips pulling back and baring his teeth. “Then, I would ask you to do me a favor.”
“And what is that?” I asked quickly, realizing I was showing too much curiosity in his plans. My suspicions were confirmed by the spark in his eye as he readied himself to tell me.
“As you know, we have been on the hunt for a particular warrior,” he didn’t have to say which, “and although we’ve searched harder than ever these past weeks, we cannot find him. My sources tell me he’s no longer with Morven, but we can’t be sure. I had given up the idea of going after him, until he murdered the king.”
A gasp passed through my lips and I felt a shock numb me.
It can’t be true. It can’t be.
“W-w-what?” I stuttered.
“So Kryssa didn’t tell you,” Tunder looked pleased, “I didn’t think she would be able to keep it from you.”
His eyes met mine and there was a challenge in them, beckoning me to try and dissuade his judgment. “Did you see the dried blood at the location of his massacre on your way up to the castle?” He asked and I didn’t even nod. I couldn’t forget the sight of all that blood. I now knew exactly what he was going to tell me. “Did you also notice there was a bright pool of it in the middle?”
Again, I didn’t answer.
He took a step toward me and I wanted to move back. Against my better judgment, I held my ground even though my eyes were no longer seeing what was in front of me.
Dusted and red cracked stones, long since dried with the blood of Lathmorians, floated before my eyes. The screams and cries of pain pushed their way into existence and I wanted to shake my head to shut them out. But it was the memory of the warrior’s gaze, filled with blood lust, which shook me to my core.
In the mere seconds it took for my mind to register just what Tunder was telling me, my heart was pumping hard enough to leap out of my chest and my breaths had become loud in the still room. With all the effort I could muster, I reigned in the image of the blood-caked stones and lifted my eyes to Tunder’s. Zale had warned me of this before I even realized what was happening.
Hang onto what you know. To what you told me when I left.
The words ran through my mind with a different form of clarity.
“Is that where King Oberon died?” I asked, my words shakier than I wanted to admit.
“No, that is where the king was
.” He said the last word with such finality and vengeance that the torches behind him were dull in comparison to the fire in his eyes. “It’s where Morven’s mutilated creature took our king and sliced his throat, leaving him for dead in the middle of the night.”
An unwarranted shiver ran up my spine as the image of the very same warrior filled my mind, I fought it back with everything I had. I had seen the warrior and I had seen the man beneath.
It was the man who had given me the dagger, now sheathed against my arm, the man who had saved my life on the island and resisted fighting the Lathmorian captain against his better judgment. Most importantly, he was the man who had said he loved me and had proved it, by leaving Morven. It was his word against Tunder’s; a fight I had never wished to witness.
“And what makes you so certain it was him?” I asked, my mind working quickly.
For a moment Tunder’s face cleared as though hit over the head with something heavy, but when the words sunk in, the anger I had grown accustomed to returned.
“What did he do to you?!” He suddenly yelled making both Elik and me jump. “How did he make you believe him without question? How? The girl that was in love with Patrick would never have been this stupid!”
“How dare—” I began, but he cut me off.
“No! How dare you stand there and not listen to reason!” His words seemed to echo throughout the room and my eyes welled with tears, as they always did when someone yelled at me. “You are here because the king told me your powers were important for our survival in this war. That alone is the reason for your presence. If I had my way, you would never set foot in Lathmor again.”
“Then why don’t you go ahead and tell me what it is I’m supposed to do. That way I can get back to my cell.” I spit the words back at him, wanting to hurt him in the same way he was tearing me apart.
His jaw clenched again and he looked toward the windows once more, in some way I felt as though I had just crossed an imaginary line, putting myself in the same place as his enemies. Yet, he was not reacting the way I expected he would. Instead of sending me away, he turned his back and paced toward the desk, each step he took looked weighted and heavy, as though burdened. For the first time since I got here, I began to realize the position he was in.
For many merfolk years, Tunder had been the war leader, but now with the king’s passing, he had been thrust into the political side of ruling which he had never had before.
As though confirming my beliefs, he braced his backside against the edge of the desk and crossed his arms over his chest. It was the lines streaked over his forehead which made him look older than ever before; he had always been a leader to me, but a confident one. Now, he was pulling at loose strings.
“Wait,” I said, just as he was opening his mouth to speak. His eyebrows lifted and he paused. “I know you don’t believe me about Zale, and you’ll never be able to trust him. I also know you don’t trust me, but I have my reasons to believe Zale wasn’t the one to murder the king.” Elik shifted beside me once more, but Tunder made no movement as he listened.
“A few weeks ago Morven visited me,” the lines in Tunder’s brow grew more pronounced and he glared at me again. “He left a note in my bedroom that I thought was from Zale and I went down to the beach expecting him to be there, but it was Morven instead. It’s true, Zale has left Hyvar and is no longer under their control, but he wouldn’t do this, and—”
Tunder raised his hand to silence me and I let the words remain unspoken, “I don’t have the luxury to think that way anymore.” He said and turned his back to me.
“I wasn’t finished,” I continued, refusing to let him dominate me. “I received a note two night before Voon came for me. It was from Zale.”
The captain turned back to look at me, this time his eyes were once again hidden in the shadows. I focused on the stubbornness of his jaw line and recited the words of Zale’s letter; each word falling from my lips as though I had repeated them thousands of times before.
“That doesn’t prove anything,” Elik pointed out beside me and stepped away, his shoulders were slumped and more relaxed than I had seen them since my arrival.
“He’s right,” Tunder agreed, “Unless you have the note with you?”
“No,” I shook my head and tried to ease the growing frustration in my gut. I knew why they couldn’t trust him or me; I just wanted to make them understand.
There is a way
, the thought shot through my mind with a streaking brilliance, but I shied away from it, afraid of the power it had had over me in Kryssa’s bedroom.
Deciding to distract myself, I looked Tunder directly in the eye, or at least from what I could tell I was looking directly at him. “You spoke of a favor earlier,” I said, with a confidence from somewhere within. “You obviously don’t want to hear about Zale, so what do you need from me?”
The captain shifted and brought his face back into the light as he sat down behind the large wooden desk. His chair creaked and he leaned forward to look down at me, clasping his hands together on the table before he spoke.
“We have a Hyven prisoner in the dungeon. I want you to speak with her.”
“When you say speak…?” I trailed off in suggestion, realizing what he meant.
He nodded, “I mean interrogate, and use your gift to get the information we need.”
I scoffed, “And you think I’d do it?”
“Yes,” he said and pursed his lips. “I remember making a promise to you about Zale; one where Lathmorians wouldn’t kill him, but bring him in as a prisoner. I can always change my orders.”
His words were cold and made my breath catch in my throat. “How do you even know I’d be able to do it?”
“King Oberon believed in your abilities,” the captain said and cocked his head to the side. “He may not have been right about some things, but I would bet my life, he was right about you.”
I was being backed into a corner and was well aware of it; Tunder was cleverer than I had realized. “Are you commanding me, my
?” I asked with mock reverence, which didn’t go unnoticed. His mouth twitched, but he nodded all the same.
“Then you’ve left me no choice,” I sighed, “Bring in the prisoner.”
“Tomorrow,” he said, “be ready.” With a wave of his hand, he beckoned to Elik and I realized I was dismissed.
Elik followed me out of the chamber, and this time we walked side by side on our way to Kryssa’s room. The daunting task, which Tunder had set before me, crashed over me in a wave. It was simple enough to practice using my power on my brothers when they were willing to help, but it was another thing entirely to presume I was strong enough to overcome a resistant enemy.
“Go a bit easier on him next time,” Elik said from beside me and I shook my head at his words.
“Not when he treats me like that,” I said and sighed. “He’s changed, more than he realizes.”
“True, but he wants to believe you. Show him he still can.”
“And how am I supposed to do that?” I asked. If there was anything Elik and I shared, it was the way we were always able to tell one another the truth. He had been more understanding than the rest of them when I thought Patrick was dead, and though he was frustrated with me now, I was aware of his belief in me. Maybe I hadn’t lost all of his trust yet.
Reaching up, he scratched his head as we rounded a corner. “Show him what you can do. Help us get the information we need and he’ll be more likely to trust you.”
“You make it sound so easy,” I admitted and bit my lip. The torches in the hallways burned low as though we were the only two merfolk to need the light in the shrouded paths.
“Is it really so complicated?” he asked, but the way he said it was more curious than demanding.
“No,” I swallowed around a knot in my throat, “It’s just, I’ve never tried to use my voice on a merperson before. Only my brothers let me practice on them. I don’t know if I’ll have the strength to do what Tunder wants.”
He chuckled, “I would’ve loved to see that.”
I smiled up at him and caught his eye. “I’ll try my best, but I don’t know if it will be enough.”
We had reached my door and Elik stopped my hand from grasping the handle. “Make it enough,” he said calmly, and in some odd way his belief gave me courage.
I nodded and pushed the heavy door open without another word. A jangle of metal made me glance behind and I saw the keys he pulled from his back pocket.
“Precautions,” he said and chuckled apologetically.
“Of course,” I smiled back. “See you tomorrow,” I added just before shutting the door.
The lock clicked with a grinding finality and I exhaled loudly in the now silent room. Without delay, my feet began to trace the pattern across the floor and I passed from wall to wall and back again.