Maybe, she thought with some perversity, it wasn't the gods who controlled the universe, but cats. Cats who toyed with humans as a puppeteer would a marionette. Ghost Kitty had always manipulated her into feeding him treats and giving him the greater part of her bed.
- De plus, elle n'aurait pas souhaité qu'il t'arrive malheur.
Un tel silence régnait dans le couloir que l'on aurait pu entendre une plume tomber sur le sol.
- Zacharie, elle n'est plus là, mais elle aurait voulu que tu vives. Elle aimait la Sacoridie et elle t'aimait, toi, et pas simplement en tant que roi.
Zacharie détourna les yeux. Larenne n’osait imaginer le poids intolérable que devait représenter sa couronne.
- Je ne... Elle est résistante. Je ne peux accepter qu'elle ne soit plus là.
- Dans ce cas, pourquoi essaies-tu de te faire tuer avant qu'elle revienne ?
Parce que, se répondit-elle mentalement, s'il n'arrive pas à l'accepter, il sait cependant au fond de lui que Karigan est morte.
Tout en haut de la page était écrit : << Pour Karigan>>. Venaient ensuite des portraits dessinés à l'encre, des portraits de personnes qu'elle avait connues. Même en l'absence de noms, elle identifia aussitôt avec un coup au coeur : Mirriam avec sa gravité coutumière, et portant monocle; Lorine et Arhys qui marchaient sur les pavés, main dans la main. Le professeur Josston, splendide dans sa tenue de soirée. Luke, la main posée sur l'encolure de Corbeau.
Et haut milieu de la page était relrésenté Cade qui souriait d'un haire songeur,comme pour lui dire qu'elle ne risquait pas de l'oubliet.À cet instant, les souvenirs affluèrent. Tout ce qu'ils avaient traversé ensemble, et ce qu'ils signifiaient l'un pour l'autre. TOUT.
Grâce à Yates, Cade vivrait dans sa mémoire, et elle n'oublierait jamais. Jamais.
J'ai pensé que vous aimeriez voir ce qu'il reste de la Cité de Sacor tout en ayant un aperçu de ce qu'il y a de nouveau.
Karigan songea que le peu qu'elle avait déjà vu : dureté, tristesse et égoïsme, lui suffisait amplement.
- A ce rythme-là, autant marcher, maugréa le professeur, car c'était à peine si le coche progressait.
- Et pourquoi pas, justement ?
- Je, euh..., fit Josston, pris au dépourvu. Les dames n'ont pas pour habitude de...
- Je ne suis pas une dame.
- Je sais, je sais..., dit-il avant de baisser le ton. Vous êtes un Cavalier Vert.
Karigan ferma les yeux de toutes ses forces
- Non..., murmura-t-elle.
Mais à quoi aurait-elle pu s'attendre ? Elle avait vu les ruines de la Cité de Sacor, appris comment l'Empire s'était créé. Et le roi, elle le savait, avait donné sa vie pour son pays. S'il avait vécu, il n'aurait pas été question pour lui de laisser l'ennemi prendre l'avantage. Il ne se serait pas terré dans son château. Karigan aurait dû être là. Sa présence n'aurait pas changé le cours du conflit, mais elle aurait dû se trouver auprès des siens, même si cela signifiait mourir avec eux.
Lorsqu'elle rouvrit les yeux, le professeur, à genoux devant elle, lui présentait un mouchoir.
- Décidément, je vous aurai mise dans tous vos états, aujourd'hui.
C'est seulement alors que Karigan sentit les larmes qui lui brûlaient les joues. Elle accepta le mouchoir.
- Vous êtes convaincue que le roi Zacharie était un grand roi, cela ne fait aucun doute.
- C'est un grand roi, oui.
When Vasper the royal armorer tightened the side straps on the king’s breastplate and then stepped away, Laren noted two important things: The first was that Zachary had not yet recovered much of the weight he had lost since his wounding from the assassin’s arrow. His cheeks were more sharply defined making his expression more severe. He had trained away any remaining weakness and excess flesh with Arms Master Drent. She thought, perhaps, he worked too hard. Maybe he thought that by doing so he could erase the past. She did not know if it worked. What she did know is that it left him all sinew and muscle.
The second important thing Laren noticed as he turned to gaze at himself in the mirror, tugging on the breast plate to check its fit, was that this was not his parade armor. This was true battle-worthy steel lacking decorative embellishment. The only ornamentation was the silver etching of the firebrand and the crescent moon across his breast. This was Zachary’s war armor.
They’d been slowly readying for conflict with Second Empire, making plans and contingencies. There had been minor skirmishes in the north country, but no out and out battles, no formal declaration of war. Still, she should not have been surprised to find her king preparing here in his private arming chamber on so personal a level for a time when he might have to lead his forces onto the field of battle. She found herself startled on some level. Disturbed.
I pray he has no need to go anywhere near a battlefield, she thought. Second Empire was a people without a country and only a small rebel army. Given time, they’d be brought to heel, but their forces were slippery, very slippery, and were backed by a necromancer. Should Mornhavon reappear and reinforce them . . . No, she did not wish to think of it.
Zachary turned toward Laren, faced her, but gazed thoughtfully into the air somewhere over her head. Where did his thoughts travel? What did he see?
“Your Majesty?” She stepped forward.
Her voice roused him from some reverie. “Yes?”
She bowed. “I—I was wondering if I might have a moment to speak privately with you.” She almost hoped he’d refuse her.
“Of course, but let me get this off first.”
Vasper came forward and helped the king unbuckle and remove the breastplate, which he set on an armor tree next to other pieces that made up the full suit. On the walls, alongside tapestries depicting battles of old, hung the weaponry and shields that had belonged to past kings, some marred by hacking blades, others pristine pieces of parade armor, gleaming with the heraldry of the clans and the sigil of Sacoridia. Zachary excused Vasper as well as his Weapon, leaving the two of them alone together, the westering sun flowing through the window turning the steel in the room bronze. Laren hesitated, wishing for a way out, but she must not delay any longer.
“What is it, Laren? You look . . . bereft. What is wrong?”
It was not, she thought, so far from the truth. “Zachary,” she said very softly. “I . . . I thought you should know. The standard time has elapsed and . . .” She took a deep breath. “It is time to acknowledge that Karigan is not coming home.” He stared, his eyes boring into her. There was a smoldering quality to them that had not been there before. Before the arrow. Before the betrayal of some of his closest advisors. Before Karigan had gone missing. The dark gaze did not make her task any easier. “We have removed her from the active duty rolls, and I intend to notify her father myself, in person, since he has been such a good friend to His Majesty and the messenger service.” This, she knew, would be as difficult, if not more so, than facing the king. It had been bad enough telling Stevic G’ladheon she’d sent his daughter into Blackveil. “Zachary, it has been too long. She is not coming back.”
He turned away from her to face the window. “Her brooch has not returned.”
“That is true. When a Rider has passed, his brooch will always find its way home.” She clenched her fists. She knew it all too well. “But it does not indicate that she still lives. It may be that Blackveil is too great a barrier for even a Rider brooch to find its way home, or, as has happened historically, it will take years before it returns to us. I believe the record stands at about a hundred years in one instance.” She had to convince Zachary Karigan would not be coming back. She had accepted it herself, mostly. A small part of her held out hope, but it had diminished as the days rushed by and there was still no sign or word of Karigan.
She’d watched Condor closely, hoping the horse sensed something about his Rider with that special connection that messengers and their horses shared, but it was difficult. He appeared neither content nor disconsolate. He ate his feed, but dragged, heaving long, heavy sighs. Often he just stood in the pasture with head lowered, the picture of dejection. No, he wasn’t declining, precisely, but he wasn’t thriving either. She could not divine what went on in his horse brain. Each horse handled the passing of its Rider differently.
The time had come to end the limbo, to seek closure. It was time to declare Karigan dead.
“Your Riders will be holding a memorial circle for Karigan tonight should you and the queen wish to attend.”
He bowed his head. “I feared it, that this time would come. However, I do not wish to believe it. She has survived other dangerous missions. She has always returned.”
Laren did not think she needed to remind him that Karigan’s walking into Blackveil Forest had been her most perilous deed of all. And it appeared that, even in death, she had bought them more time against Mornhavon. Lynx said Karigan had wounded him, and the forest had lain quiescent ever since.
Zachary strode to the window, placed his hands on the wide stone sill. The lowering sun washed across his face. The window looked out on the west castle grounds where the mounted units, including her Riders, liked to exercise their horses. A barely perceptible smile formed on his lips as he immersed himself in a pleasant memory. He looked so very tired to her, and she did not think it was just the pressures of his kingship.
“It seems I failed,” he said.
“Failed? What do you mean?”
He shook himself as if suddenly recalling her presence. As he gazed at her, she saw something of the young boy she’d once known, before he’d grown into a man and become a king, hardened by all its responsibilities.
“I’d made an oath,” he said. “To myself. To protect her. And I failed.”
Laren’s shoulders slumped. His quiet anguish was worse than any display of grief or outrage. When she’d learned of the dangerous mutual attraction between Karigan and Zachary, she’d tried to quell it for the sake of the realm. She’d sent Karigan away on errands, kept them separated, but to no avail. And now there was this. She would never have wished to keep them separate in this manner.
“She is . . . was . . . a Green Rider,” Laren replied. “If you exerted your will to protect her from all harm, she would not have been able to perform her duty, follow her calling. That surely would have killed her just as readily as her stepping into Blackveil.”
“I know it,” he said, gaze downcast. “But still, I could have—”
“Stop!” He looked at her, startled by her sharpness. Lost. “There is nothing you could have done. She was the best one to send into Blackveil. I knew it, and you knew it. Yes, I question myself all the time, and the doubts flood in, late at night, in the back of my mind, but I come back to the same conclusion each time. Whenever I assign a Rider to an errand, I wonder if they’ll return, and sometimes they don’t. But if I allow my desire to protect them to get in the way of the realm’s business, nothing would get done. The realm would not move forward. My Riders—your Riders—do their work willingly because they believe in their country and their monarch. Karigan believed no less than any other.”
She reached into the inner pocket of her shortcoat and pulled out an envelope with “King Zachary” written across it in Karigan’s exacting hand. She had considered not bringing it to him, thinking it would only deepen his feelings for Karigan even in her death, and she did not want it to come between him and his new queen. But, while Laren might act for the good of the realm, she was also human.
“We’ve been cleaning out Karigan’s room so I can take her belongings to her father.” Laren remembered the few books, a blue gown that had once been quite gorgeous but was now in rough shape; hair ribbons and combs, slippers, a few oddments of jewelry. It might have seemed strange that there were not many personal items in a Rider’s room, but the nature of the messenger service required that they often be on the road and rarely home long enough to accumulate possessions. As for Karigan’s cat, Ghost Kitty, he’d taken to sleeping with Mara, but could still be found hanging about Karigan’s room much of the time.
“As we packed,” Laren continued, “we discovered some letters. It appears she knew there was a good chance she was not coming home. She left one for her father, which I’ll be taking to him, and one for the Riders, which I’ll be reading at the memorial tonight. And, she left one for you.”
She strode over to him, by the window, took his hand in hers and squeezed it, then pressed Karigan’s letter into it. She excused herself with a bow, but she didn’t think he noticed her departure. A final glance revealed him gazing out the window, the letter unread in his hand.
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