1 Uncovered Secret
This is a problem.
“I’ve spoken with the florist again. All white, I reminded him. He said everything will be ready for next month, but I intend to call on him again. You can never be too careful about these things.”
A serious problem. Fives, only a month left.
“The seamstress said everything is on schedule as well, but I’ll feel better once I’ve had a chance to try on the dress. I mean, Pria’s Eyes, what if it doesn’t fit? That would be a nightmare.”
Why didn’t I tell her when I had the chance? She has to know before the wedding, but I can’t say anything when someone else is around, and Tilda’s always—
Nils looked at Raeya, her gray-blue eyes watching him with some mixture of bemusement and irritation.
“Sorry,” Nils said. “I was far away again, wasn’t I?”
“Yes, dear,” Raeya said. “It’s happening more and more lately. You aren’t…having second thoughts, are you?”
“Of course not.” Nils took a breath, then glanced sideways at Raeya’s attendant. Tilda wasn’t looking in their direction, but he couldn’t risk it, not even at a whisper. In fact, nothing would draw their chaperone’s attention more than him surreptitiously whispering in Raeya’s ear.
He should’ve told her before they’d gotten back to the manor two months ago. He’d had the whole trip back from Galreyva to explain what had happened, but like a fool he’d put it off, told himself there would be another time. But he hadn’t had even a single moment alone with her since they’d returned, and no one on the entire estate besides Raeya knew Nils’ secret, not even Tilda, and so…
Nils stared at his wrists, glowering at the finely-crafted leather cuffs that covered them. They may as well have been shackles, for how they restrained him. Beneath the leather the blood flowed black in his veins, and if anyone found out, he’d likely be killed for it.
So he sighed, and leaned his head on his hand, defeated.
I want to tell her. She should know, before she marries me. Know that when I became a weaver, I met…
Nils squeezed his eyes shut, shaken by the memory.
The door to the parlor opened, and a servant came in and whispered something to Tilda.
“Oh, blessed Pria. I’ll be right there,” Tilda said. “Lady Raeya, I’m afraid I must step out for just a moment.”
“It’s no trouble, Tilda,” Raeya said with a dismissive wave, her other hand fastened on a book. Somehow she managed to read and talk about wedding plans at the same time. “Take as long as you need.”
“Thank you, my lady,” Tilda said, scurrying from the room with the servant. Nils barely noticed, returning his attention to his cuffed wrist resting in his lap.
Maybe there’s some way I could sneak her a letter, but…no, it’s too risky to attempt it myself. If only Sandri was still working here.
I guess there’s Bern. He might be willing to do it without asking questions, but how exactly would he get it to Raeya without anyone noticing?
Nils snapped out of his thoughts, and looked up again. “What?”
“We are alone,” Raeya said.
Nils looked around the room. Empty, besides the two of them.
Just like Nils’ brain all of a sudden. Raeya smiled and leaned in, and Nils wasted no time. He kissed her and forgot everything else. Gods, how long had it been since they’d had a real kiss? Tilda only allowed them the occasional peck, which may as well have been a handshake for how satisfying it was, so this…
This set every nerve singing. Raeya’s arms wrapped around his neck, and Nils drew her closer while her fingers tangled into his hair. A single thought found purchase in his mind—a most beautiful thought—that in only a month, this woman would be his wife, and—
Only a month. He only had a month, and this might be their only moment alone together before their wedding night.
He hated to do it, but he pulled away.
“Nils?” Raeya asked, looking as disappointed as he felt.
“I’m sorry, but there’s…something I need to talk to you about. It’s important, and we may not get another chance.”
“What is it?” Raeya asked, now looking worried.
“All right, it’s that…I need you to know…” Gods, it was hard to say. “When…when I healed Taws, something happened, and I—”
The door to the room opened, and Raeya shoved him away, retrieving her book and trying to look as though she’d been reading it all along. Nils made a similar attempt at looking natural so Tilda wouldn’t scold them, hoping his hair wasn’t a terrible mess, but—
But it wasn’t Tilda. It was one of the domiseer’s guards.
“Mr. Tenning. Lord Dreygard wishes to see you.”
“Oh,” Nils said, failing miserably at disguising the annoyance in his voice. When the domiseer called for him, it always meant now. Raeya sighed, but shrugged at him with a little smile and nodded for him to go. Nils touched her hand and tried to smile back. If only he could speak to her without words, let her know what was hanging over his mind. Unfortunately that power was unattainable, even for a spellweaver.
“Coming,” he said to the guard.
* * *
“You wanted to see me, my lord?”
Nils stepped into the meeting room with the domiseer, and the door shut behind him. The guard who’d brought him remained outside. This was important, then. Only Nils and Lord Dreygard were present in the room. They could talk about anything—chrysolin mines, deceased enemy emperors…
“Your wedding is a month from today.”
“Um, yes, my lord,” Nils said, frowning. Was that really what the domiseer wanted to talk about? Gods, if this was some kind of father-in-law speech about how Nils ought to treat his daughter—
“Do you know the order of events when you appear before the king?”
“Oh. Well, not much by way of details. Just that I need to get his approval before I become heir of the domisary.” Nils was already dreading the trip, scheduled a week before the wedding. “It’s mostly a formality, though, isn’t it?” he said. “You don’t think he’d reject me just because I’m a townsman?”
“No, that will not be a problem,” Dreygard said. “However, your cuffs might be.”
“My…cuffs?” Nils’ blood went cold and thick as mud, slowing in his veins.
“Any man who would be domiseer must have his wrists inspected, for obvious reasons. You will not be permitted to wear cuffs in the king’s presence.”
Fives. Fives. Unholy fives. “All right, so why is that a problem?” Nils asked, trying for all his life to remain calm, if only on the outside.
“You’ve worn those cuffs since your return, and you never wore them before,” Dreygard said.
“It, um, seemed proper,” Nils stammered, panic rising like steam in his skin. “Noble fashion, right? Since I’m going to be…” Gods, he couldn’t even finish his sentence. His mouth had gone dry as dust.
“Then I suppose you need not worry, if that is all.” The domiseer’s voice was as unwavering as his gaze, but there was an edge to it that Nils felt more than heard. “And in that case, perhaps you could show me.”
“Show you…my wrists?”
Nils tried to swallow, but the dryness chafed his throat. His whole body had gone rigid.
“You won’t remove your cuffs, will you?” the domiseer asked.
Nils remained silent, then finally managed to swallow. “How long have you known?” he rasped.
“I suspected since your return, but two month’s passing made me certain.”
Nils could only stare at the floor. Dreygard knew the truth, which meant he could turn Nils in anytime. Could send him to his death. Could prevent him from marrying Raeya, which the domiseer was against from the beginning. He had complete power over him.
Lord Dreygard sighed. “I won’t pass judgment on you,” he said, and Nils looked up. “I did worse by our country. Additionally, I inspected your wrists myself when you first entered my manor. You only gained your black veins after traveling to Galreyva to rescue my daughter. I suspect it was a matter of necessity.”
To save Taws, not Raeya, Nils thought, but he kept it to himself. “So what happens now?” he asked, still chilled with shock.
“I don’t know,” Lord Dreygard answered, “but surely you understand the implications.”
Nils nodded. The only way to marry Raeya was to appear before the king. If he did that, he’d be executed for being a spellweaver, and Raeya…
What would happen to Raeya? If she wasn’t his wife yet, she’d be spared, wouldn’t she? And yet…there was no way on the king’s soil she wouldn’t try to defend him, even against the king himself. Nils simultaneously felt a swell of pride and the burn of frustration.
“There must be some way,” Nils said, mostly to himself. “Some way to hide it…”
No man can hide,
Who’s bent his knee.
The marks bleed through
For all to see.
Nils shivered. “Or if not, then to run, or…” He trailed off, remembering the domiseer was listening.
“I gave you my word that you could marry Raeya,” Lord Dreygard said, “and I won’t rescind it. However, I trust you know the sort of lengths I would go to in order to keep her safe.”
Nils swallowed again, then nodded.
“I also trust…that you would go to those same lengths.”
Nils held Dreygard’s gaze, pulse thundering in his ears. “Yes,” he said. A promise.
“Think over what you will do,” the domiseer said. “For now, you may go.”
“Wait,” Nils said. “I need to talk to Raeya about this. Alone. We have to figure this out together, and no one else knows about my—well, you understand.”
Dreygard raised a brow. “Very well. I’ll send for her. You’ll have ten minutes.”
“Ten minutes? To sort through all of this? Are you mad?”
The domiseer could’ve had him beaten for such impropriety, but instead he just gave him a withering look. He’d had two months to get used to Nils’ exasperated outbursts. “You’re a clever lad,” he said. “Too clever for your own good, so I know you’ll figure something out. But I won’t leave my daughter alone with her betrothed longer than that in my own house.”
* * *
“As if I didn’t have enough to worry about just planning the wedding! Blessed Pria, what do we do now?”
Nils thought Raeya had taken the news pretty well, considering. “We need to focus on buying more time,” he said.
“You’re right.” Raeya bit her lip and stared at the floor, then looked up with resolve. “The Chanterey Fair,” she said. “It begins on the first day of Raulen’s season, the end of this week. I already told Tilda I was interested in going to visit the vendors. We can make an event of it and bring you along, and while we’re there we can—”
“—meet up with Taws and Sandri,” Nils said.
“Exactly.” Raeya smiled. “They can help us slip away from our chaperones, and maybe they’ll have some ideas for how we can hide your…”
Raeya’s eyes dipped down to Nils’ wrists, and her words died away. Nils fought the urge to put his hands behind his back.
“Do you suppose…they can be hidden?” Raeya asked softly.
“I don’t know,” Nils said. “I…haven’t dared to try.”
The old rhyme ran through his head again. The marks bleed through for all to see.
“Well, we’ll figure it out when we have more time, right?” Raeya said, pressing on with her usual vivacity. “I’ll talk with Tilda and make arrangements. They’ll surely send a couple guards with us, but we can get around that somehow. And you can contact Tawson, yes?”
“Yes, I know how to reach him. It’s easier now that he’s living in the center-city.”
“Perfect. It will be nice to see him and Sandri. We can give them a proper scolding for not including us in their special day.”
“Yeah.” Nils tried to smile, but it was lost to his nerves. “Raeya,” he said, “if this doesn’t go well…I couldn’t possibly put you in danger.”
“We talked about this,” Raeya said. “We’re in this together, Nils, no matter what. Even if it means we have to orchestrate a complete change of plans and abandon all our expectations.”
She would do that for him, but could he really ask her to?
“You look like you’ve already been sentenced to death,” Raeya said, giving him a quick kiss. “Stop it at once. I said I wouldn’t let anyone touch you, not even the king, remember?”
“There may not be any such thing as soulmates, but I still believe fate brought us together, and I insist we stay that way.”
“Fate?” Nils interjected. “More like a heartless, spellweaving banshee.”
“They may be one and the same, dear.”
“Well, that’s a terrifying prospect.”
“Enough about this, and about her,” Raeya said, shaking herself. “Now, what was it you were trying to tell me in the parlor?”
Nils thought his stomach couldn’t clench any tighter, but it did. Did he really have to address that right now, too? “I…I needed to say that—” The door to the room swung open behind them, Lord Dreygard appearing. “Your ten minutes are up.”
* * * * *