There were two of them, Tiernan learned, but it took him five hours to even gain that much. He made gentle inquiries to some of the more talkative men and women he’d met at Madden’s court, and met verbal brick walls with enough force to make him feel bruised. They were, as he had suspected, incapable of keeping the secret. They were not, however, willing to speak. Tiernan had no intention of waiting around to catch what time might loosen from their tongues, and turned his servants out to find what they could.
It took a long time, but they filtered back to his rooms one by one, feeding him scraps.
There were to of them, accompanied by Lord Commander Macsen himself. Rumor was, he’d brought his favorite pets.
The woman was named Seryn. At twenty-two, she’d already served years on the border, and she looked it. She was quiet, sharp. The servants were already eager to stay out of her way. No one had seen her all afternoon or evening. She’d given a demonstration in front of the king, and left two perfect five-fingered hand prints on the ribs of a soldier named Jeyd.
Tiernan had seen Jeyd. He was good at winning knife fights, better still at walking out of them with a smile. It would have concerned him enough to know she’d beaten Jeyd, hearing how chilled him. Keimon energy was usually wilder than that, rolling from the hand before half a thought gave it permission. To hold it so close to her hands, to burn him so precisely, took a kind of control that he hadn’t thought Vardeck would cultivate.
Aled, the other, was a quieter story. He was also twenty-two. He’d seen the borders, but not for long. He answered to Seryn, smiled, and passed through the castle like he didn’t notice that the walls were a different color from home. He’d gone out the patrols that afternoon, and hadn’t returned yet.
Eoin looked at Tiernan carefully across the room at mention of the patrol. Then he returned to listening with calm interest, his eyes on the floor.
They were in King Madden’s court on invitation. That was repeated over and over, and no one seemed surprised to see them except Tiernan and his retinue.
Eoin almost laughed. He glanced at Tiernan and managed to level his expression. “This isn’t good,” he said.
“As soon as we get home, I’m petitioning for a law against you telling me things I already know,” Tiernan told him, rubbing his forehead.
“Oh, good,” Eoin told him. “It can go along with the law that says I can’t be too cheerful before the sun comes up, and the one that says I can’t sing any song you actually like because I butcher them.”
Tiernan blinked at him. “You’re missing a few.”
“I dropped the ones I didn’t think would pass legislation.”
Smiling, Tiernan shook his head. “Aifric,” he said, turning back to the servant still standing in front of him. “I’m going to need a bottle.”
Aifric nodded, trying to hide his amusement. “Now, sir?”
“Now,” Tiernan confirmed.
Aifric disappeared through the door, and came back within a minute, a dark bottle held in both hands. He set it down on the table in front of Tiernan, then pulled two cups from a cabinet beneath the tabletop.
“Thank you,” Tiernan told him. He nodded and Aifric left again. Tiernan gathered himself from his chair, grabbed both cups in one hand, the bottle neck in the other, and strode after him.
“Where are you going?” Eoin asked. He looked at the bottle, then at Tiernan. “I don’t get any?”
Tiernan turned back to look at his brother, elbowing the door open behind him. “I’m sure you can find some of your own.”
“Alone?” Eoin asked. “Depressing.”
“Sorry.” Tiernan shook his head. “I need to convince a man that I’m not an idiot.”