“Have you ever been in love, Hadrian?”
“I’m not sure. How do you tell?”
“Love? Why, it’s like coming home.”
Hadrian considered the comment.
“What are you thinking?” Bulard asked.
Hadrian shook his head. “Nothing.”
“Yes, you were. What? You can tell me. I’m an excellent repository for secrets. I’ll likely forget, but if I don’t, well, I’m an old man in a remote
jungle. I’m sure to die before I can repeat anything.”
Hadrian smiled, then shrugged. “I was just thinking about the rain.”
“You think you’re a very clever fellow, don’t you?” Saldur challenged.
“No, Your Grace,” Merrick replied. “Clever is the man who makes a fortune selling dried-up cows, explaining how it saves the farmers the trouble of getting up every morning to milk them. I’m not clever—I’m a genius.”
“If this keeps up, we’re going to own Melengar,” Hadrian mentioned.
“What’s this we stuff?” Royce asked. “You’re retired, remember?”
“Oh? So you’ll be leading the Nationalist advance, will you?”
“Sixty-forty?” Royce proposed.”
“That’s why you shouldn’t make vows. The moment you do, fate starts conspiring to shove them down your throat.”
“Right. And our first job is to teach her to give a speech on the Grand Balcony in three days.”
“That does not sound too difficult. Has she done much public speaking?”
Amilia forced a smile. “A week ago she said the word no.”
“And now she has you seizing control of my army.”
“Your army? I thought this was Gaunt’s.”
“So did he.”
“There are no honorable causes. There is no good or evil. Evil is only what we call those who oppose us.”
“Breathe the air, taste the wine, kiss the girls, and always remember that the tales of another are never as wondrous as your own.”
“Power rises to the top like cream and dominates the weak with cruelty disguised as -- and often even believed to be -- benevolence.”
“Royce took out his dagger and drove it into the table, where it stood upright. “Look at the blade. Is it bright or dark?” Hadrian narrowed his eyes suspiciously. The brilliant surface of Alverstone was dazzling as it reflected the candlelight. “Bright.” Royce nodded. “Now move your head over here and look from my perspective.” Hadrian leaned over, putting his head on the opposite side of the blade, where the shadow made it black as chimney soot. “It’s the same dagger,” Royce explained, “but from where you sat it was light while I saw it as dark. So who is right?” “Neither of us,” Hadrian said. “No,” Royce said. “That’s the mistake people always make, and they make it because they can’t grasp the truth.” “Which is?” “That we’re both right. One truth doesn’t refute another. Truth doesn’t lie in the object, but in how we see it.”
“Their jobs were almost too clean for Royce's taste.”
“Any chance he’s turned a new leaf and taken up sailing for real?”
“About as likely as me doing it.”
Hadrian eyed Royce for a heartbeat. “I put him at the top of the list.”
“Royce hated keeping secrets from Hadrian, and it weighed heavily on his conscience, which was amazing, because he had never known he had one. Royce defined right and wrong by the moment. Right was what was best for him—wrong was everything else.”
“She put her hand on his shoulder and gave a soft squeeze. She did not know what else to do. First her mother, then her father and Fanen, and finally Hilfred—they were all gone. Mauvin was slipping away as well. The boy who loved his sword more than Wintertide presents, sweet chocolate cake, or swimming on a hot day refused to touch it anymore. The eldest son of Count Pickering, who had once challenged the sun to a duel because it had rained on the day of a hunt, spent his days watching ducks.”
“You broke into Drumindor?" Wyatt looked impressed. "I thought that was impossible."
"Just about," Royce answered, "and we didn't get paid enough for the trouble it gave me."
Hadrian snorted, "You? I was the one who nearly died making that leap. You just hung there and laughed.”
“That was why nights were so frightening. Without the distraction of light, the doors to other senses were unlocked.”
“Arcadius was nothing but an old hack, what Cenzars used to refer to as a faquin, an elven term for the most inept magician—knowledge without talent.”
“Hadrian gestured toward the sentinel. “So, what’s going on between you and Thranic, anyway? He appears to really hate you—even more than most people.”
Royce did not look in his direction. He sat nonchalantly, pretending to ignore the world, as if they were the only two aboard. “Funny thing, that. I never met him, never heard of him until this voyage, and yet I know him rather well, and he knows me.”
“Thank you, Mr. Esrahaddon. Can you provide me with perhaps a more cryptic answer?”
Royce smiled. “I see why he does it now. It’s rather fun.”
“You ready?” Royce asked. “For what?” “Turn around. Let’s go back-to-back and link arms.”
“You should have woken me. I would have taken a shift at the tiller.”
“We actually considered it when you started to snore.”
“I don’t snore!”
“I beg to differ,” Hadrian chided while chewing.
She looked around the skiff as each of them, even Etcher, nodded. Her face flushed.
Hadrian chuckled. “Don’t worry about it. You can’t be held accountable for what you do in your sleep.”
“Still,” she said, “it’s not very ladylike.”
“Well, if that’s all you’re worried about, you can forget it,” Hadrian informed her with a wicked smirk. “We lost all illusions of you being prissy back in Sheridan.”
How much better it was when they were silent.
“That’s a compliment,” he added hastily.
“You don’t have much luck with the ladies, do you, sir?” Wally asked, pausing briefly and letting the paddles hang out like wings, leaving a tiny trail of droplets on the smooth surface of the river. “I mean, with compliments like that, and all.”
Hadrian frowned at him, then turned back to her with a concerned expression. “I really did mean it as a compliment. I’ve never met a lady who would—well, without complaining you’ve been—” He paused in frustration, then added, “That little trick you managed back there was really great.”
“I hope you’re planning on heading to the kitchens. I’m starved—practically eating my fingers here.” He chuckled.”
“Royce traveled wrapped in his cloak with the weight of the rain collapsing the hood around his head—not a good sign for Thranic and Bernie. Until then, Royce had played the part of the good little sailor, but with the reemergence of the hood, and the loss of his white kerchief, Hadrian knew that role had ended. They had not spoken much since the attack. Not surprisingly, Royce was in no mood for idle discussion. Hadrian guessed that by now his friend had imagined killing Thranic a dozen times, with a few Bernies thrown in here and there for variety. Hadrian had seen Royce wounded before and was familiar with the cocooning—only what would emerge from that cloak and hood would not be a butterfly.”
“What was that all about?” Royce asked. Hadrian shrugged, but Royce looked unconvinced. “You were here for what—five years? Anything happen? Anything you want to share?”
“Sure,” he replied with a sarcastic grin. “Right after you fill me in on how you escaped from Manzant Prison and why you never killed Ambrose Moor.”
“Sorry I asked.”
“Royce watched the courier ride out of sight before taking off his imperial uniform. Turning to face Hadrian, he said, “Well, that wasn’t so hard.”
“Will?” Hadrian asked as the two slipped into the forest.
Royce nodded. “Remember yesterday you complained that you’d rather be an actor? I was giving you a part: Will, the Imperial Checkpoint Sentry. I thought you did rather well with the role.”
“You know, you don’t need to mock all my ideas.” Hadrian frowned as he pulled his own tabard over his head. “Besides, I still think we should consider it. We could travel from town to town performing in dramatic plays, even a few comedies.” Hadrian gave his smaller partner an appraising look. “Though maybe you should stick to drama—perhaps tragedies.”
Royce glared back.
“What? I think I would make a superb actor. I see myself as a dashing leading man. We could definitely land parts in The Crown Conspiracy. I’ll play the handsome swordsman that fights the villain, and you—well, you can be the other one.”
“That living has no value - it's what you do with life that gives it worth.”
“It’s strange. I keep forgetting you don’t have hands,” Hadrian commented.
“I don’t,” the wizard replied coldly.”
“That’s—why, that’s wonderful!” Hadrian burst out as he leapt to his feet and hugged her. “Congratulations! He didn’t even say anything. We’ll be like family! It’s about time he got around to this. I would have asked for your hand myself years ago, except I knew if I did, I’d wake up dead the next morning”
“That we’re both right. One truth doesn’t refute another. Truth doesn’t lie in the object, but in how we see it.” Hadrian”
“Why didn’t we ever consider sailing as a profession?” Hadrian asked Royce as he moved to the side and faced the wind. He took a deep, satisfying breath and smiled. “This is nice. A lot better than a sweaty, fly-plagued horse—and look at the land go by! How fast do you think we’re going?”
“The fact that we’re trapped here, with no chance of retreat except into the ocean, doesn’t bother you?”
Hadrian glanced over the side at the heaving waves. “Well, not until now. Why do you always have to ruin everything? Couldn’t you let me enjoy the moment?”
“You know me, just trying to keep things in perspective.”
“Mouse?” Royce muttered. “I just can’t seem to get rid of this horse, can I?”
“Our kiss was niticlimactic. It wasn't that the kiss was bad, but it was just a note of punctuation in our long conversation, a parenthetical remark made in order to assure each other of a deeply felt agreement, a mutual offer of companionship, which is so much more rare than sexual passion or even love.”
“Some people get to live life. Some people survive it. We’re survivors. We can carve out our piece of happy, and, I swear to God, baby, right now, you got my vow, for you and for me, the rest of our lives, I’ll bust my ass to carve our piece of happy.”
“None of this made any sense to Benjamin, however hard he tried. Roll-Up Reg was talking another language. But then, he was no more persuaded by the things his parents told him, or the teachers at school. It was the world, the world itself that was beyond his reach, this whole absurdly vast, complex, random, measureless construct, this never-ending ebb and flow of human relations, political relations, cultures, histories . . . How could anyone hope to master such things? It was not like music. Music always made sense. The music he heard that night was lucid, knowable, full of intelligence and humour, wistfulness and energy and hope. He would never understand the world, but he would always love this music.”
“Oh, the universe had outdone herself. The universe would be send flowers.”
“Politics are for the Washington, D.C., policy makers who safely watched the action on a video monitor from thousands of miles away.”
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