“Gestin? All the elements be praised, we thought you were dead,” Jeslynn said, coming forward and taking my hands.
I had died, several times, but I couldn’t figure out how the village had heard that.
“Who told you..?”
Elder Ponmay reached to pat my shoulder only to have Uri’s hand intercept hers. She gave him a glare and said, “Let’s sit down and exchange stories. Wulfgit, if you could, a round of beer.”
Tables were pulled together and we sat, the Crown City group across from the Oakvale group. Wulfgit brought out a pitcher of beer and passed out glasses. He hovered behind the chair Jeslynn eased herself into. Rhaenan moved to sit on the other side of Vytar, but I grabbed her hand and seated her next to me. She squeezed my hand with cold fingers. Each group eyed each other with curiosity.
I took a sip of the beer as the silence grew. It wasn’t my beer and I longed to fix that. I also noted certain other changes in the room. The bookshelf had been replaced by fox fur with nails poking out of its eye holds. Dust lined the windowsill, and the room smelled musty. Rhaenan’s hand, clasped in mine and hidden under the table, reminded me that this inn was no longer my problem.
Elder Ponmay thanked Wulfgit for the beer and told him to sit down. He sat and glowered at me.
“When I saw you in the Dreaming, I thought maybe you were just a memory. I am glad I was wrong,” the elder said. “But as you can see, your wife – thinking you were dead – remarried and is starting a family.”
And she married the Butcher, of all people. I guess if I’d expected her to be involved with anyone, it would have been Torgood.
“Storm god’s na..teeth,” Som said, “What happened to you? The tale Torgood told us made it sound like you had burned to death in Southallow.”
I almost said, “I did,” but I recalled at the last moment that these people of Oakvale had a different view of magic than I now did.
“Where is Torgood?”
His mother, the elder, answered with excitement. “He’s helping to rebuild Southallow. And he says when he’s done, he’s going to join the new king’s sentinels.”
I swallowed my initial laugh and glanced at Vytar, who raised an eyebrow.
“Do I know this person?” He asked.
“I think you met him as ‘the Handyman.'”
Good ole stoic Vytar nodded without comment.
I calmed my amusement and said, “I’m glad he’s found an endeavor to hold his interests.”
She smiled at that. “As have you, I see.”
“Oh, my endeavor holds all of my interest, believe me. Well, Som, I didn’t die although I came close to it many times. Elder, you sent me to Crown City to find a reason for the drought. We are still seeking that reason, but we suspect it has to do with abuse of the elements.” I didn’t want to say ‘Dvergr,’ because that would necessitate a lengthy explanation of what a Dvergr was.
“Did you ever find Goodwife Tiria’s people and figure out if she was a witch?” Dasta asked with a laugh.
“I did, and she was definitely a witch.”
That caused some mutters and a frown from Elder Ponmay. I held up my hand and the muttering stopped.
“Goodwife Tiria was also the Queen Lyntrillienne of Adnor, wife of King Myrik, and my mother.”
I don’t know if my announcement broke the last of Tiria’s forget-and-don’t-notice-me spell or not, but the Oakvale group froze for a moment and then, as a one, blinked.
“You’re the new king,” Jeslynn whispered.
I nodded, “I’m the king.” Wulfgit poured himself a beer and gripped Jeslynn’s hand.
“She was your mother? I thought Kotja was your mother,” Som said.
I shrugged. “I think that’s what she wanted people to believe. She probably had enough trouble keeping herself hidden without my teenage angst over being stuck in a small village.”
Som shook his head, “But you believed it too. Where you lying?”
“My lord does not lie,” Uri said, putting his hand on his sword.
“No, she used magic to block my memory. It started to return when she went to the elements. Just as all of her magic that protected this place and maintained her things – like Dasta’s stuffed chair – faded, so did the block of my memory.”
“Magic,” Elder Inveer said from by the bar, “is the province of the elements. Adnorians shouldn’t presume to use it.”
“She was a Nord from Elidyr,” Rhaenan said, rising, “Magic is our birthright. It is your king’s birthright and he accepts it.”
Elder Inveer smirked and sipped his beer.
She looked around and sniffed her opinion of the backwardness of the group. I touched her arm and she sat down.
“So you remembered you were the son of the king and everyone in Crown City believed you?” Wulfgit said.
I shrugged but Vytar stood, his sentinel tabard standing out among the homespun, and said, “He is the son of King Myrik and he is now your king. Show some respect.”
The sounds of chairs scrapping back filled the inn. Everyone, including Elder Ponmay and Jeslynn, went to their knees.
“Thank you for honoring me. Please sit again and be comfortable. Let’s have more beer.”
Everyone returned to their seats and Wulfgit brought more beer and stood behind Jeslynn’s chair again.
“My lord,” Wulfgit stared to say but stopped, shaking his head. “It’s hard to call ya anything but Gestin or Hospitlar.”
“Or freak,” someone muttered. Vytar cleared his throat.
Wulfgit tried again. “Lord Gestin, why are you here?” He held on the Jeslynn’s hand. She curled a protective arm around her belly and gave me a worried look.
“To see if Jeslynn wants to be queen.” Rhaenan’s hand left mine, leaving me to feeling empty. I grabbed her’s back and squeezed a little, encouraging her to be patient.
“She’s me wife.”
“She was mine first.”
“Yeah, but you forgot her. Called her yer sister. She don’t want to be married to you.”
Jeslynn looked between us and kept her mouth shut. Som shook his head and drained his beer.
“But she is.”
Wulfgit started to get belligerent but Elder Ponmay held up her hand.
“Jeslynn, do you desire to be queen?”
She blew out her breath and said, “No.”
She turned to me. “My lord, do you want Jeslynn to be your queen?”
My heart said ‘no, Rhaenan is my queen,’ but I didn’t blurt that out. “Not if she doesn’t want to be, no.” I added a moment later, “But she is my wife, so, I guess it follows that she’d be queen.”
Elder Ponmay pursed her lips and announced, rising and bowing to me. “Let the elders discuss this for a moment. Bide, please.”
She gathered the other two elders and walked out, leaving me in an uncomfortable silence, feeling strung like a clothesline between my past and future.