Lon’s attendants had a habit of stooping to talk to him. They leaned down beside his throne, and it only measured how low he sat as they bent and straightened. Walking beside him, they rounded their shoulders, dropped their heads, and pointed out that his head only came to their elbow.
Terius stood a foot and a half taller than the boy Lord, and refused to bend. Someone should speak to him as if they trusted his voice to carry all the way to their ears.
Lon saw him enter and turned to acknowledge him, but said nothing until the advisor on his right finished his appeal, stepped back and unrolled his spine. Lon gave him a gentle thank you, looked to his mother and excused himself from the table.
“Terius,” he said formally, loud enough for the ring of people at the table to hear him. The tone fit him, though Terius wasn’t used it from someone with such a light voice. “I’m glad you came.”
“I’m always at my Lord’s call,” Terius told him. He bowed from the waist, hand to his shoulder, and straightened again.
“Come walk with me,” Lon said, and tramped through the open double doors behind him immediately. His mother lifted her head, a little surprised. Two of the men with their backs turned, shifted to look over their shoulders. Terius nodded, and followed Lon out.
In the corridor, Lon smiled. It wasn’t a big gesture, subtle as letting out a breath, but it suited him too. He started walking down the hall and Terius set pace beside him.
“I really am glad you’re here,” Lon said.
“And I really would come whenever you called,” Terius said.
“My mother doesn’t like you much anymore,” Lon said.
Terius blinked. He considered ignoring it, until he saw the way Lon watched his face, looking for his reaction. So he smiled, and shook his head. “I don’t think you’re supposed to tell me that.”
“You knew already,” Lon said.
Terius nodded. “I knew.”
“So, explain why.”
Terius shook his head, stunned, trying not to laugh at the awkwardness of the question. They turned a corner and Lon set a new direction, wandering into a wide hall on their right. Tall windows slashed lines of light across the floor and heavy tapestries padded the walls.
“What has she told you?” Terius asked carefully.
Lon shook his head. “No. Not today,” he said.
Terius stopped, turning to look at him.
Lon refused to look apologetic. “I don’t want to be polite today. I want you to answer my question.”
“She’s afraid for you,” Terius said. “You’re a ten-year-old Clan Lord, and I’m a First Lord’s heir, ready take over for him when he’s gone. Our families have traded titles and thrones so often, no one gets upset anymore. And people are starting to talk.”
“About what?” Lon said. He held Terius’ gaze, daring him to say it out loud.
Terius didn’t look away. “About how it might better for my father to be Clan Lord, than you.”
“They’re not just talking,” Lon prompted.
“Of course, they are,” Terius returned.
Lon’s eyebrows snapped together, uncertain if he was lying.
“They’re just talking. About how many men they would send out to help us take it from you,” Terius told him. Lon rolled his eyes. Terius smiled.
“And what do you say to them?” Lon asked.
Terius leaned back. He crossed his arms over his chest, letting his voice settle back into formal tones. “Are you questioning my loyalty, my lord?”
Lon held his eyes again.
“My father and I don’t say anything to them,” Terius told him. “Because it’s ridiculous. We’re sworn to you, and we’re nothing if not stubborn. We’d fight to keep you on that throne even if the ocean herself was trying to tear you off it.”
“You swear?” Lon challenged.
Terius laughed to himself. Stopping quickly, he dropped to one knee, fist to his shoulder. “I’ve said it once, I can say it twice.”
“Good,” Lon said. “Because I have a commission for you.”
Terius paused. He glanced around at the empty room, the secrecy that the dark stripes between the windows seemed to lend. “I know you’re not supposed to say that to me.”
Lon barely held back his grin. “The outer islands have been asking me to come out. They want a grand tour, me and my mother on parade. Every one says they just want to get a look at me and see what I am. But my Mother says I can’t leave the island. There’s a lot of work here for me. I want you to go in my place.”
Terius stared, blinked, almost burst out laughing. “Your mother would have your hide.” He stood slowly, shaking his head.
“She wants to send someone,” Lon said. “They’ve been arguing in that room for weeks, over who would be good to send, who would be safe to send, and who would be worth sending. You came up.”
“I can guess why they decided against that,” Terius murmured.
“Imagine their faces,” Lon said. “When you bring your ship into port with my banner flying on it. They’d look like they’d been punched in the nose or the gut or the…” Lon stopped himself, realizing that he was about to say something that might get his mouth washed out. “It would shut them up, if they knew that I trusted you and you were loyal to me.”
“They must have told you the reasons you shouldn’t send me,” Terius said slowly. “Why would you…”
“Because I know you,” Lon said. “I know you don’t want my throne. And I know you’d want to punch all these idiots in the nose, if I could only give you the way to do it.”
Terius hesitated, then realized there was a wide smile growing across his face.
“Aye, aye, my lord,” he said quietly.
My friend, Bek is a thief! She stole the first line of this piece for her own piece of fiction yesterday. Check out her blog to read her take on the short little boy.