“No need to explain,” Shaenyll said, stepping out of the shadows. Frey seemed to give a start and an audible gasp, but Aphella thought in the front of her mind that his surprise seemed feigned; something about the man’s glance made her believe that he had seen both of them through the illusion without difficulty.
“Lovely Shaenyll,” Frey said, and bowed, his voice stammering quavering. “I… don’t know how you arrived… but I of course must explain. You see-”
“I was watching the entire time from behind a layer of confusion, as was Aphella,” Shaenyll said. Aphella felt the spell around her dissipate, like a sudden breaking of a bubble. Frey raised his eyebrows even higher.
“He was trying to steal the central sphere from the chronolathe,” Aphella said. “Why?”
“Like I said, I have an idea, or a few,” Frey said. He smiled at her. “Perhaps I was a bit too zealous to put my neck out catching Azom, with the villages two most powerful casters lying in wait for him, eh?”
Aphella felt herself blush at the compliment, but before she could respond, Shaenyll spoke again.
“The council will heed what I have witnessed. You I will call free of blame – mostly. You still brought this thief inside the walls, and that is something Zyteus and Hamon will seize upon. However, nothing in the end was stolen, so I would not expect too much in the way of demands for justice in regard to yourself. For the thief, however…”
Frey bowed low again. “I will be indebted to you. As for Azom, I have no particular love for him. He was a man I hired a few towns back to fill in a gap in my protectorate. Good with a sword, but that does not earn trust. If justice will be done to him, so be it.”
Frey ducked at a loud crack as the room was filled with a flash of bright, white light. Sparks flew and dust rained down as something struck the ceiling.
“I have you now!” Hamon appeared, his long, narrow one-handed focus out in front of him like a blade, bright light skipping off of its edges in blue arcs as he continued to fill it with light.
“Put that down, you old fool!” Shaenyll said, stepping up beside Frey.
Hamon’s bright eyes narrowed for a moment. “You know better than to show this contraption to outsiders. And tripping a ward is a fool step, like you’re a bloody thief.”
“And so we have caught one,” Shaenyll said, flicking her own glowing focus toward the bound dim man, his arm still outstretched, only frightened eyes moving. “Or rather, Frey did.”
Hamon let the light dissipate from his focus, but he continued to look about suspiciously. He glared at Frey. “This is one of your men.”
“I’m afraid so,” Frey said.
“But he did stop him,” Aphella said.
“But he also brought him hither, my young apprentice.” Hamon narrowed his eyes as Shaenyll gave an audible grunt, like she was stuffing a chuckle. “That is nearly as bad. It’s still a matter for more than me, but I trust you, for what it’s worth.” He gave Aphella a long considering look.
“What?” Aphella said.
“Probably nothing.” His deep gaze fell back onto Azom. He cocked his head, the looked at Shaenyll. Something seemed to pass between them in that moment, but Aphella could not tell what.
Aphella lay on her bed. The many soft layers of leather and snuffler wool cradled her back and legs, but did not seem to offer their usual comfort. A restlessness had settled in her knees. Her eyes were open, and she could faintly make out the lines of the room in the glow from them. Instinctively, she reached out of the bed and felt for the shaft of her focus, the spear her mother had carried and left behind those few years past. Feeling the smooth bone (dragonbone, she knew, though she also knew nobody but Frey truly believed that) gave her a sense of security and comfort.
That reassurance did little for her in the late hours of the sleeping period. It was not the dreadtusks or the thief that came flitting in and out of her mind, though she knew it should be them. They were dangerous and real, knocking at the gates of the fortress that was her already waned childhood. Watching the thief writhe on the ground under Frey’s spell, as much knowing that a thief could walk into the time-keeper’s tower, shook years of innocence from her, like soup from a spoon. And yet, that was not what occupied her mind.
What returned to her then was the image of Ty at the feast, sitting (laughing!) beside the light-haired Maeven.
“I’ve never been jealous before,” she said quietly to herself. “Why now?” She sighed. “By the prim, Aphella, you can be so stupid sometimes.” She rolled over. Maybe I should be Shaenyll’s apprentice. Or Hamon’s. Then – Bah! Ty’s mother doesn’t want someone like me as daughter-in-law. Doesn’t matter what role I have in the village.
The realization, slow in coming, firmed in her mind, and her heart. She did care about Ty. She felt possessive of him, and angry, and frustrated that someone was trying to pry him from her hands, no matter how proper the arrangement might be. The expectation of Ty, her father’s expectation as well, had always been there, but was only realized at its removal, like a child who realizes she loves a toy only when it is taken from her.
I’ll find something to do about that. The thought comforted her, but she didn’t sleep. Her mind raced on, thinking of just what to do.