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Soulblade: Epilogue

Shadow steps outside and disappears in a dark haze of wings and icy wind.

It seems so abrupt. “Sissy? He couldn’t even pause a moment to say goodbye?”

“Leave it, Ariel. I should be able to talk him round in a few days.”

“He sounds disillusioned. Disappointed, even.”

Alina’s voice is indignant. “What do you expect? After all he has given, we’re still forced to sneak in and out of the palace like criminals while we’re trying to protect Samaran’s King and Queen!”

I want her to know I understand how she feels.

“I know. Marin says the High Council fear his power. If they knew he had been coming here, they would order a terrible hunt, probably for both of you. I think you will have to find ways to live with the situation, at least until those old fossils have died off and been replaced with younger advisors.”

She sighs, trying to make light of it. “And I was so looking forward to wearing some bright gold or red for a change instead of mossgreen all the time! I have to keep explaining it as nostalgia for my Sylvani heritage, when it’s actually to stay less visible under Shadow’s cloaking.”

It’s hard to keep up the banter when her situation is so dangerous, but maybe it will make my questions easier for her.

“Surely you wouldn’t want all your elegant dresses to have pockets for so many concealed daggers?”

I can count two at her back and two more on her sleeves, each one a slender sheath for a fine-honed stiletto blade.

She follows my gaze and delicately lifts the hem of her skirt. “So you noticed. And I have two more hidden in the top of each boot.” She pushes her foot forward a little, revealing soft boots studded with jewels and yes, those tell-tale lines barely show where her blades are hidden.

“And this deadly array is known and permitted by the High Council because of your role as spy and bodyguard?”

“Yes. It also makes it easier for me to get access to any part of the palace and let Shadow in and out when I need his help. And it helped to keep my affair with Sarinder a secret.”

“But Alina, you are a Blade adept now. That means yet another part of Samarian law forbidding you from having any kind of relationship with the King.”

“I know. Another secret I have to guard carefully. Sarinder did some surreptitious checking and couldn’t find a way around it. Kashia has been wonderful the way she has been covering for me.”

“What about Sarinder’s new wife? How is that ever going to work?”

Alina breaks into one of her more mischievous grins.

“Varsha has been covering for me as well. Her only surprise was that Sarinder only had a harem of one! So far, we have been getting along really well. She says she is glad of a friend in a strange country and she actually misses the sisterhood of the harem. I just hope Sarinder doesn’t start getting ideas about wanting even more wives!”

“The problems will come if you bear Sarinder’s child. That is when the unease sets in among the advisers and politicians. Different factions try to use separate bloodlines to challenge the throne.”

Alina looks sad. “No chance of that. The poisons they gave us in the Rose Mansion to make sure we stayed slender and desirable… The effect is permanent. But Varsha has been raised to want nothing more than to produce a large family. It will take more than just the two of us to raise them all if she achieves the number in her wildest dreams––”

There is a soft knock at the door and she runs to open it. Marin steps into the room, cautiously checking who is in here.

Alina is quick to reassure him. “Only the two of us. Shadow has already gone. No other bodyguards or officials.”

Marin turns to usher in Brac, Deris and Jantian who have managed to replace the regular Eldrin bodyguards for Sarinder and Varsha. Without Jantian’s help it would have been impossible to get Sarinder here without being accompanied by someone who might report what is about to happen.

Samaran’s new King throws his arms around my sister and holds her close.

“Alina! I was so worried about you!”

I watch Varsha carefully, but she seems genuinely glad to see Alina as well. The rest of us walk to the other end of the room to give the three of them some space to catch up with each other’s news.

Jantian dispatches Deris and Brac to stand guard outside the door and returns to stand with both Marin and me by the open window.

“Marin, that was well done. The threat from Farang should now be over. But…”

Marin seems to know what he is about to say and interrupts. “Master, we must not forget that it was Alina and Shadow who dealt with the threat. I know you consider their arrangement here to be highly irregular but I believe it would leave the King at far greater risk if you try to put a stop to it. We know there are still more co-conspirators out there.”

Jantian frowns. “I would use a far stronger word than irregularUnfortunately I fear you are right. Which means I will have to remain in the capital to try to prevent it from turning into a disaster. I will try one more time to convince you to take over my command at Maratic but you have permission to make it your own choice.”

Marin shakes his head. “It is still exhausting. Being there, trying to resist the lure of the power source. Ariel is now experiencing the same thing. We will wait for a deployment elsewhere.”

“Very well. Deris would have been my second choice but he seems distracted since you all returned from Rapathia. It sometimes happens when the Fae become enraptured by the siren call of the ocean.”

Maybe Jantian does not have quite the whole picture.

“Not just the ocean, sir. He is drawn to a certain windsinger with sea-silver in her hair.” I can’t help smiling at the memory of Deris on the voyage home. “Let him go, Jantian. Maratic is still a difficult place for all three of us. Like gazing at a great feast that is forbidden forever. If you could find a mission to give Trengar’s wild desires legitimacy, then surely you can do the same for Deris? He has given so many years of faithful service in the face of so much pain and difficulty.”

Jantian almost smiles. “You can be very persuasive when you want to be, Ariel. But I understand. There is a need for more vigilance over our fleet in these troubled times. I’m sure your fight with that pirate ship will not be the only challenge we face in the aftermath of this war. I’ll ask Deris to form an Eldrin ocean patrol. Which leaves Brac with the command of Maratic. You and Marin can go to Caerlen, support Ramil and the southern militia for a while. Then we can talk again about your future.”

He walks out to advise Deris and Brac on their new roles.

Marin’s arms are around me as he dips his head to whisper. “Are you happy to go back to Caerlen for a few months?”

I rest my head against his shoulder, holding onto the powerful sensation of his presence close to my body.

“More than happy. I can’t wait to show you my home! I still love it more than all the grand palaces we have stayed in. And it will feel good to help people start to rebuild their lives.”

“Do you have any ideas about what you want to do after that? It seems that Jantian is actually going to let us decide for ourselves.”

“Unless another disaster descends on Samaran and he starts issuing orders again?” I hesitate, then take out the tiny scrying bowl from Maratic that Jantian had given me. “The war is over and the traitor is dead. But in some ways the world has become more dangerous. Zandar is curious about his vast new territory. Shadow holds a powerful position close to the King. My sister is weaving an influential but precarious web behind the throne. And our friends are scattered, deployed to the far corners of two kingdoms.”

Marin watches as I fill the bowl from a flower vase on the table and wait while the water stills and grows dark.

The image that appears has never happened to us in reality. After what happened in Rapathia, I no longer fully trust prophesies but instinct tells me this is a glimpse into the future.

Marin and I are standing with Brac and Lupine, as Deris and Ethelyn hold out their hands to us in greeting. Zandar coils around us with Nem perched on his glowing neck. Alina and Shadow watch from a few paces away and I cannot tell what they intend…

And then there is nothing but dark water encircled by a carved serpent.


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