Oh, yes, the plot thickens. *rubs hands together wickedly* Misdirection and suspicion abound. The Keldari and Shanhasson intersection approaches, kicked off by this scene.
NaNo total: 46,489
“Your father says you were recently in Keldar.”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Percy replied, holding up his hand. One finger had been hacked off, the stump blackened as though rotted…or blasted by dragon fire. “I barely escaped with my life.”
She kept her expression politely interested and made the appropriate noises of sympathy, but she knew him to be a liar. No desert savage or dragon would have stopped at removing a finger if they’d truly wanted him dead.
Percy leaned forward, still a safe distance away, but her muscles tensed. His pale blue eyes flashed like drawn steel, and she suddenly remembered the silvered gray of Stephan’s eyes. They shared a very similar ghastly glow that had nothing to do with light and everything to do with Shadow. He’d leaned across the table very much the same way, that same dreadful look of hunger in his eyes. He’d worn a small ring on his hand so evil it had throbbed and crouched like a venomous spider. That ring had been on exactly the same hand. That missing pinky.
Heart pounding frantically, she let her hand settle on the hilt of her rahke.
:If he does so much as twitch toward you, his head will fall into your lap,: Dharman swore.
She let shaky laughter travel through their bond. :On the floor is fine. It’s easier to clean than my leathers.:
Stephan was dead. She’d seen his body hanging in the gate at High Bridge. Even if this man was trying to masquerade as the dead Duke of Pella, his face was entirely too young and fresh. However, the suspicion lingered. This man could easily pass as a younger brother or cousin of Stephan.
“Your Majesty, is something wrong?” the young man asked, swallowing nervously.
“I must admit, you seem rather familiar to me. Have we met before?”
“Not to my knowledge, Your Majesty. Although perhaps you met my brother, Alastair? I know he spent some time in Shanhasson before he…he…”
Color drained from the young man’s face and he suddenly looked gaunt and worn. Now that face she could definitely see on Stephan. Slowly, she loosened the rahke, drawing it slightly.
“Forgive my son, Your Majesty.” Benton sniffed and wiped his eyes with a handkerchief. “Your predecessor took Alastair from our family home as a sort of…hostage. He didn’t survive Theo’s reign.”
“I’m sorry for your loss. Unfortunately, many people lost their lives during Theo’s reign.” Relaxing, she let the rahke slip back fully into its sheath. Theo’s enemies made for likely allies. “What news can you tell me of Keldar?”
“There was a gathering of tribes,” he lowered his voice, flickering his gaze at his father and at the Blood at her back. “To the south and west of [Far Illione main city]. They say the ground split open so deeply that you can see the heartfires of the earth, and a river as red as blood pours across the sands. They say there’s a dragon in the crack, Agni, the Red Dragon, He Who Burns. When He comes out of the ground again, He’ll burn everything in His path. So the savages…”
He gulped and looked to his father again. Benton nodded encouragingly. “It’s alright, son. She needs to know.”
“They throw sacrifices into the smoking crack,” Percy whispered breathily. “The women they steal. They toss them to the dragon and hope it keeps Him from burning them all.”