His body relaxed a trifle. “Good to know. As for Kerrick letting you go, he would have to admit his feelings for you to stay, and that he won’t do.”
Maybe the Kerrick Tohon knew in school would fall for me, but the man I’d traveled with was not capable of any warmth, let alone affection. “What do you have against him?”
“Prince Kerrick is handsome, rich and a powerful mage.”
“Have you looked in a mirror recently? And I’d bet you could sell a few of those diamonds in your father’s throne as long as you don’t tell anyone where they came from.”
Tohon laughed. His good humor shot right through me. I bit my lip to keep from giggling along with him. “I don’t know,” Tohon said. “‘King Zavier’s ass diamonds’ has a certain ring to it. The moniker could make them more valuable.”
“Good luck with that. However, my point is you possess all those qualities, as well.”
“Thank you, my dear. But Kerrick had what I never did.”
This time Tohon didn’t crack a smile. “No. A father who loved him. For six years, I had to hear all about King Neil and how smart and funny and wonderful he was. No doubt Kerrick loved his father. King Neil visited the school often. They were almost as close as Kerrick and Belen.” His grip on my hands tightened. “When Kerrick and Jael fell in love, I couldn’t stand it anymore. It was unfair. Kerrick couldn’t have it all. No. Bad enough he had a doting father and a best friend. I couldn’t let him have a gorgeous, powerful wife, too. And I can’t let him have you.”
I yanked my hands from his. “No one has me.”
Tohon’s gaze went to his guards by the door. A silent reminder of my situation.
“I’m here, but I’m not yours.” I crossed my arms. “State your terms, Tohon.”
“Not here. This place is for…peace.” He led me back down the corkscrew staircase and into an office.
The furnishings had a simple elegance. The desk was midsize and organized. Tohon spoke with one of his guards before settling behind it. The paintings in the room were stark, capturing subjects like a single winter tree, a solitary horse and one chair in an otherwise empty kitchen.
A large map of the Fifteen Realms covered the right wall. Symbols and arrows had been drawn on it as well as troop information. I stood before it, examining it.
I pointed to Tohon’s occupied Realms—Lyady, Zainsk and half of Vyg, with Sogra in the center. “Are you invading the other Realms just to spite Kerrick?”
He laughed. “I’ll admit to being petty and jealous, my dear, but my invasion, as you so quaintly put it, is not due to him. We need a leader, and frankly, I already command life and death, so who better to rule?”
He gestured for me to sit in a soft, burgundy-colored armchair that had been pulled up to the side. Tohon shuffled a few papers on his desk, ignoring me until a knock sounded. The door opened without Tohon’s permission and a tall woman around Tohon’s age entered. With a sword hanging from her waist and her athletic build, she reminded me of Jael. She even had blond hair and blue eyes. The resemblance ended there. Her features were plain and her pudgy nose looked as if someone had sat on it.
“Cellina, this is Avry of Kazan,” Tohon said.
Her name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place her.
Instant dislike flashed in her gaze. “The healer?”
“Yes. We’re going to write up a contract and need you to bear witness to the terms and conditions.”
“You’ve never needed a contract before, Tohon.”
“Avry is different.”
“Really?” Cellina peered at me with a shrewd calculation.
“Stay away from her, Cellina.” Tohon’s tone held a clear warning.
Cellina failed to be intimidated. She flopped into another armchair. “Go on, write your contract. I’ve things to do.”
Tohon drew a clean sheet of parchment from a pile. He wrote a few lines. Anxiety swelled and I clutched my hands together. This was probably an exercise in futility. I couldn’t trust him. His moods swung from perfect gentleman to perfect maniac.
He sensed my apprehension. “Basic introductory language.” Setting the stylus down, he leaned back. “Time for the terms. I need you to heal my subjects as needed—not that it matters to me if they die, but they’re easier to train while alive—to assist with an experiment I’m working on and to promise not to run away. In exchange, you will be well cared for and you won’t be confined. Except for a few areas, you can roam the castle complex when you’re not needed.”
Other than the experiment, his terms matched what I had been expecting. I addressed them in order. “I’ll heal the sick and injured, but I decide who is healed and who can be treated by herbs or time. I want to be in charge of the infirmary. You can’t force me to heal anyone.”
“Agreed.” Tohon wrote down the conditions.
Too easy? I continued. “What type of experiment? I won’t work with your dead soldiers.”
“It’s with Death Lilys.”
Intrigued despite myself, I asked, “What are you trying to do with them?”
“I’ll explain later.”
“Not if you want me to agree. I won’t hurt anyone.”
“How about you’ll help me with my research as long as your tasks don’t harm anyone?”
I found a loophole. “But what about you? What if the research results in something you can use to harm another?”
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