And the finale. I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed reading it.
Previous: part seven
The capital was to the Northeast, so they were able to avoid the Braisen woods, much to the relief of Reyst and her companions. Caevrin barely spoke as they began their journey, no matter how Reyst tried to draw him into conversation. At first, she tried to ask him questions about what had happened, but he told her that it was not important, or outright ignored her. Her next step was to explain a little about what had happened after the night the duke’s men had raided the home Reyst shared with the small group of thieves and brigands that had taken her in.
The logical part of her understood that it had been such a long time and that Caevrin had been through so much, so it was not surprising that he was distant with her, even cold. Emotionally, however, she could not come to terms with it. She had not been expecting him to have remained madly in love with a girl he thought dead for six years, but she had hoped he might be happy to see her alive, at least.
Caevrin spoke with Vince, at least. He was not particularly friendly to Reyst’s cousin, either, but he did pepper him with questions about the state of the kingdom, what had happened to the princes and how the king had kept his affair with Duchess Cavara a secret.
While Vince and Caevrin talked, Reyst found herself spending the week in conversation with Farrow. He was much more open to discussing his magic with her, now that she was clearly accepting of it, and she learned much from him.
When they separated at the castle gates, she was sad to see him go.
“I’m sure we can find some reward for your assistance,” Vince told him, with a sidelong glance at Caevrin, who still knew nothing of the Gypsy’s powers.
“As glad as I am to see your opinion of me has changed, Vince, I do not think that will be necessary.”
The guard shrugged, “At the very least, let us buy you a drink. Once we get Caevrin inside, we’ll come back out and meet you in the city’s south. There’s a tavern called ‘The Three Ducks’, ask for Miranda.”
They turned to leave, but Reyst hesitated. She stepped up to Farrow and said, quietly, “If I don’t make it there tonight, and if you move on just… know that I’m grateful for your help.”
The Gypsy looked at her sympathetically. “I am sorry that it did not work out the way you had hoped, my dear. I hope your journey did not feel as though it was for nought.”
Reyst smiled at him. “Had we not journeyed at all, I would not have been able to get to know you,” she told him, turning swiftly to join the others as they approached the castle.
Upon the guards seeing Vince, and after a few messengers had run back and forth inside the castle, the trio were permitted in to see the Royal Council. They were led up several flights of stone stairs, through numerous hallways and, finally, into a large circular room with a central table and half a dozen people seated.
Reyst saw the man she recognised as Caevrin’s father, Duke Alron, among the other men and women of the Council. The duke stood, and the others followed suit, surprise written across their faces and a few shocked gasps passing among them.
“The heir,” whispered an older woman with a severe expression.
“Yes,” Caevrin announced, raising his head as he surveyed them, eyes locking on the man he now knew was not his father, “I have returned to-”
But he was cut off as the woman who had spoken moved around to take Reyst’s hands in her own. “You were thought to be dead, dear girl. How?”
Caevrin’s cold eyes settled on Reyst, and she felt suddenly uncomfortable. Beside her, Vince guffawed.
“I was told,” Caverin said, very slowly, “that I was the king’s heir.”
Reyst winced, then turned to look at him. “No,” she said softly, “I am.”
“What?” The young lord snarled, taking a step towards her. “You lied to me? For what purpose have you dragged me halfway across the kingdom, then!?”
His father was in his way at once, holding Caevrin’s arm with one hand, and pointing at him with the other. “Listen to me, Caevrin-”
“No, wait. Let me explain,” Reyst told the room, “please.” She turned to Caevrin with a sigh. “This is going to sound childish, but hear me out, please.” The other occupants of the room watched her, the four other council-members resuming their seats while the old woman and Duke Alron remained where they were. “I suppose part of me hoped you still loved me. That you’d pined over me these last six years. At the very least, I thought I could convince you love me once more. There have been rumours circulating involving the king as your father.”
With a sigh, Duke Alron nodded. “Necessary, as the king had no heir and we could not allow Tarrend to take our kingdom.” Caevrin glared at his father, pulling out of the man’s grip but not moving away.
“If we returned,” Reyst continued, “you could take the throne and I could rule as your queen. No one would need to know the rumours were a lie – I’m sure people would take the king’s bastard better as a nobleman then as a common-born girl – and any…” she flushed, “any children would still remain of the king’s blood because they would be mine.”
“You could have told me the truth,” Caevrin said, coldly.
“You didn’t seem to want to hear much of anything from me,” she retorted. “I wasn’t interested in being royalty, but I thought that if we were together that it-” She sighed, scrubbing at her brow. “It doesn’t matter.”
“We need someone to take the throne,” pleaded the older woman, to the Council as well as to Reyst and Caevrin. “Her Highness’s plan might very well work.”
Reyst winced. “Please don’t call me that,” she murmured under her breath.
There was a long silence in the room while Caevrin stared out a window. Finally, he nodded. “Very well. I have come this far for the same cause, the fact that it is a lie is… unimportant. What difference does it make if a bride is arranged for me now or later.”
Reyst scowled. ‘A bride’. She would be no simple bride. “Keep your kingdom, then, I will not marry a man who does not love me,” she spat at Caevrin. To the Council, she added, “The people believe him to be the heir, let them believe. Your plan was for him to take the throne himself, was it not?”
“It was when we had thought you dead, but I would not have my wife’s reputation besmirched needlessly,” Duke Alron told her.
“Then continue to consider me dead. Besides, your wife’s reputation has already been dirtied with the rumours this council spread.”
“We can compensate you,” one of the Council-members told the duke. “If you ensure you and your lady wife keep this knowledge to yourself, of course. You have an heir of your own?”
“My nephew,” the duke agreed reluctantly.
But Reyst was not listening, she was stalking out of the room with Vince on her heels. Her cousin was gaping at her like a fish.
When he finally managed to find words, all that came out was, “Where are you going?”
“To buy Farrow that drink you promised.”
Atop the castle wall, they could see the inauguration well enough. Stones and gems glittered in the light atop the heads and necks and hands of the nobility present. Behind them, held back by a wall of guards, the common folk had gathered to watch.
Reyst shook her head. They had taken only a day to organise the inauguration, such was the Council’s panic.
“I very much wish you had refrained from blurting out the whole story to me last night,” sighed Farrow.
Vince blinked at him. “How could you not want to know?”
“Well, for a start, I value my life and my freedom.” Farrow raised a finger, ready to begin a list.
With a chuckle, Reyst nudged Vince with her elbow. “Are you really that unaware, cousin?”
“I don’t know, Highness, is there something I’m missing?” Vince scowled at her.
“We know the truth,” Farrow supplied helpfully, “and by knowing the truth we could unseat your new king. Rumours gave him his position, and rumours could readily take it away.”
The colour drained from Vince’s face, “You think they’d have us killed?” He gaped.
“Not if we leave now,” Reyst told him, moving away from the balustrade and back towards the stairs. “I wouldn’t bother going back to your quarters for your things, we should get moving before anyone notices.”
Farrow joined her, walking by Reyst’s side as Vince simply gaped at them. “This is too much,” he groaned, “where will we go?”
“Wherever we please, I suppose. It is what I have always done, and Reyst from the sounds of it.” Farrow told him as he and Reyst reached the stairs.
With an amused smile, she lay a gentle hand on the Gypsy’s arm, “Just don’t summon any demons, you’ll give Vince a fit.”
“Wait!” Vince called, stumbling after them as they disappeared down the stairs, “Wait for me.”
tl;dr – Crowns are not worth staying with a guy who doesn’t love you.