Sorrel gripped the back of the fireside chair and tried to stop the room spinning. His stomach roiled; if he didn’t get a grip on himself, he’d vomit all over the rich silk brocade and ruin it. He closed his eyes.
Arianlach put his hand on the back of Sorrel’s head. ‘Who was it? Who did you see?’
‘What…?’ Sorrel twisted his head to look at Arianlach. How did the Earl know he’d seen anyone at all?
Arianlach smiled a lopsided smile. He held up a feather, swirling with deep, jewel colours on a ground of velvety black. ‘I’m the age I am because I keep my eyes and ears open,’ he said. ‘But most of all, I keep my mind open. I read. I know the stories. Was it Morien?’
Arianlach didn’t reply.
‘Have you…’ Sorrel began. He stopped, cleared his throat, and tried to get his thoughts in order. ‘Have you…seen any of them?’
The weight of Arianlach’s hand on his shoulder almost bore him to the floor.
‘Kaithenal did,’ said Arianlach after a moment. ‘He told me he suffered terrible nightmares, but could never tell me where he’d been. I guess the same place as you, just now.’
‘Get away from me,’ Sorrel rasped.
‘I can send for the apothecary,’ Arianlach offered, taking his hand away. ‘He’s discreet. No-one need ever know…’
‘I don’t need some paltry witch-herbs, if that’s what you mean!’ Sorrel straightened, furious to discover he was shaking. Whenever he’d Travelled before, he’d meant to: he’d been prepared, both before and after. He had no idea how to handle this.
‘Not witch herbs,’ said Arianlach, sounding hurt. ‘Nor witchbane! Gods know I don’t think you’re any part Lyr Blaed. No, he’ll give you limeflower and feverfew, and maybe one or two other things, I don’t know – I’m not an expert. Something to help with the sickness? And something to help you sleep?’
Sorrel fought back the tears. How did it feel, to have someone by his side who knew? He white-knuckled the chair-back and held onto himself with grim determination not to come undone.
‘I’ll be fine,’ he said, and then amended it to, ‘but by all means, send for him. Please.’
When the apothecary came, Sorrel was crouched by the fire, a blanket around his shoulders, and Arianlach cheerfully pointed out he looked like an old woman, hunched under a shawl and poking at flames as if there were fortunes to be read in them.
‘He’s sick, and tired,’ Arianlach told the apothecary.
The apothecary checked Sorrel’s eyes, looked in his mouth and under his tongue, and felt his pulse, then dumped a spoonful of some sweet-smelling green stuff, instructed him to pour hot milk on it, and go to bed.
When he’d gone, Sorrel uncurled himself from the hearth and went to do as he’d been told.
‘You said it was Morien,’ said Arianlach, once Sorrel was halfway down his mug of hot, green milk, the taste of which he couldn’t make up his mind about. ‘Rakshin-corth?’
‘Yes.’ Sorrel sipped. ‘The Ghoul. And I don’t think I want to talk about it.’
‘What did he want?’
Sorrel sipped again, thinking. ‘I don’t know,’ he said at last.
‘He didn’t say?’
‘No. Not a word. Just…looked at me. Then I was back here…’
‘Back here? Where were you, then?’
‘I thought you knew.’ Sorrel was surprised. He’d thought, from Arianlach’s certainty that he’d seen someone, that he knew where he’d seen them.
‘No. I only knew…you got that look…Kaithenal got that look, sometimes…’
Sorrel filed that away for further questioning another time. He thought he’d like to meet Kaithenal, Henarian’s older brother, and the Hviturek heir.
‘Where is Kaithenal, anyway?’
‘Nobody knows. I think he’s somewhere in Iskalla. I had a letter from him, at New Milk. It came with a merchant carrying Iskallan goods, so I think that’s where he is. But why, is anyone’s guess – unless he really did elope.’
He paused, helped himself to some of Sorrel’s milk, and went on, ‘the letter didn’t say much, only that he was at peace with his decision, and he wouldn’t be coming home. I don’t expect to see him again.’
His face clouded, and Sorrel realised that Arianlach and his cousin must have been close – and that Henarian was no real substitute.
‘He’d be the Baron Whiteoak, though, wouldn’t he? When your uncle dies.’
And there’s only Henarian. Or me – if I marry Sersa Hervik, and Henarian is dead.
He dared voice that thought.
Arianlach snorted, mirthlessly. ‘If you think you’d have any power, married to any Hervik, you’re sadly mistaken. You’d be Baron in name only. Sersa will run rings round you.’
‘You forget,’ said Sorrel, acidly, ‘that I’ve been raised to rule an entire clan of Tethiri warriors, and that if you want them in your service and not Hervik’s, you’d better not say anything like that again!’
Then he pushed Arianlach out of the room, and went to bed.