Wildman and his friends could care less about the city. No Name and his friends were useless. I fumed the entire way through the tunnel. “It’s all on us, Teddy. No one else is going to help stop the king, at least not before he’s sucked every speck of our abilities from us. What are we going to do?”
Teddy shrugged. “Sneak into the king’s palace, find Schvesla’s machine and shut it down, and then find a key so we can sneak out of the secret tunnel to the theater.”
I stopped. “You make it sound so simple, but it’s anything but easy.”
“You’re right, it won’t be. I don’t even know how we’ll manage it.” Teddy pulled me to a stop. “But I’ll be by your side, the entire time, no matter what.” His smile was too sweet.
“I can’t let anything happen to you.” I reached up and stroked his cheek. This moment, maybe one of the last we’d have together like this, was everything to me. Teddy’s lips were dry and warm against mine. I tasted him, stroking my tongue between his lips. I shuddered when he slipped the tip of his tongue out and touched it to mine.
Warm, slick… taking my breath away. The kiss scrambled my brain. Teddy slid his hand up my arm, capturing the back of my neck and squeezing it tight. I broke away, gasping. We rested against each other, forehead to forehead.
“Won’t let anything happen to you, either.”
The entire house was in a tizzy when we got back. My mother and father were so relieved we were back in time, they didn’t even ask where we’d been. Teddy and I were shoved into my room, instructed to make use of the now tepid bathing water, and dress in the suits laid out on the bed.
We’d been summoned before the king for an important audience, an opportunity of a lifetime, my father said.
“Do you think this is it?” Teddy asked.
My stomach churned. “I don’t know. Why would they take us now, before our abilities mature? It wouldn’t make sense.”
Law said we couldn’t take a weapon when attending an audience with the king, but I wouldn’t go like a lamb to the slaughter. We smuggled in a dagger wrapped inside the sling Teddy wore to support his shoulder. I changed the belt my mother had chosen for one with small pockets inside. I lined it with flexible blades and a lock-picking set.
“Just in case we can’t find keys.”
The excitement inside the carriage made me uncomfortable. Teddy and I sat a decorous distance apart on the bench, facing my mother and father. I desperately wished I could hold his hand, but there was nothing we could do.
“You must have impressed him with your knowledge of architecture,” Mother said.
“I highly doubt that. He must have quite a few men with far more knowledge and experience than I. Perhaps it has something to do with the novelty of my status as a beta.” I watched her closely, taking in the tightening of her lips and the way her gaze shifted down and away.
“Either way, remember your manners and mind your tongue,” my father barked. “And make sure that one stays aware.” He gestured with his chin at Teddy, who hadn’t said a word.
“He’s not in a fugue state, Father.” I wanted to tell them to leave him alone, but I didn’t dare. Not yet.
Arriving at the palace, there were other carriages lining the courtyard, stable hands standing by the traces and waiting the return of the nobles. A footman helped my mother out and the rest of us followed her inside. Our secreted weapons passed the cursory search from the guards.
“This is a public audience?” I hadn’t been aware of that. Some of my tension drained away. They wouldn’t try to capture us in front of the masses.
“The king is making appointments.”
Why would we be called to his yearly appointments audience? This all tied together; I was sure of it. We melted in with the masses. My mother preened, brushing her hands across her skirt. My father stood with his nose in the air, stroking his mustache. Their greedy excitement was palpable.
They were so fake. How had I missed it for so long?
Teddy and I stood silently beside them in the ranks of those not of the noble class, who ranked seats closer to the king. Then we were called forward.
“After a private audience, the king would like to acknowledge your position and skill. We have decided to create an advisory committee of the public avenues to ensure they properly reflect our endorsement of the arts. You will head this committee and present a report for the king on a bi-weekly basis. This is to supersede any previous commitments or apprenticeships. A private appointment to discuss your recommendations will be scheduled at our convenience. That is all.”
The king waved his hand and his master of ceremonies passed two certificates down to a scribe who scurried over to us and handed them over.
He’d just handed us legal means to stay together and the excuse for our absences each day. We even had cause to enter the palace again, twice a week. With all the apathy toward stopping him before he could steal our abilities, I’d almost given up hope. I’d started to wonder if my stubborn desire to stop him myself wasn’t going to damn us both, and thoughts of running away to find a safe place for us to be together was tempting me.
But I was afraid if we didn’t stand up to the king’s machinations, no one would. Everywhere we turned there were clues of where we had to go and what we had to do, and now we had a wax sealed pass.
It was almost too good to be true.TBC
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