A Clever Hound

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The man, whom Rainhart inferred was named Cervin, led them through Breg to an abandoned house. Under the floor was a cellar, which was sparsely appointed with blankets and cushions, and some meat packed into a salt-box in the corner. Once he had seen them all in the cellar, Cervin stepped back.

"Where are you going?" said Rainhart.

Cervin gave him a look that made him feel as if he were ten years old again. "I did not anticipate shepherding four children to Jovan. I am going to get supplies and disguises for you three." His contemptuous glance took in the three royals, and he was gone.

Rainhart's head was still spinning from the events of the last day. He barely knew his father, who appeared in his childhood memories as a busy, gruff man who occasionally ruffled his hair and said, Along with you now, boy. He had thought he would have a chance to meet his father as men, but they had both been so busy. Now, father was dead, Tancred was disinherited, and because of a moment's decision, they were fugitives.

Half-listening, he fixed on one part of Cervin's response and turned to Tancred. "You're going to Jovan?"

"I don't know." Tancred ran his hand through his hair. "I thought to head for Reuz, or one of the loyal baronies. Valdon is trying to eliminate me before I can rally the Teuta."

"Well, that makes sense, at least. It's the only thing in this forsaken day that does." Learning to fight in Mullrose, he had imagined the day that his father would call him into the throne room and give him his first command. He shook his head to dismiss the melancholy thought. He had barely known the man; it was stupid to poke at the edges of the hole left by his death.

"Does it?" said Holle.

Tancred shook his head helplessly. "Perhaps I shouldn't have called the Kingmoot. I could have delayed it until the new barons arrived..."

"People did advise you so." Holle smoothed down her dress.

Burying his head in his hands, Tancred said, "I shouldn't have left the palace. I handed the kingdom over to him."

"The Cimbra planned this. They knew what they were going to do, and how. If you had stayed, you would be in a cell beneath the castle right now having a confession tortured out of you."

"That is probably what is happening to Henrik," said Tancred, leaning against the wall. "Valdon might have preferred me, but he has a good scapegoat in Henrik. Great and lesser gods, I wish King Godfrey were alive. He'd know what to do."

"What's done is done," Holle said, brushing down her skirt. "What matters is what we do next. So, do we strike out, the three of us, towards Reuz to gather a Teuta army? Or do we flee to Jovan? Cervin will take Lady Philomena to Jovan. We have neither the right nor the ability to compel him otherwise."

"Valdon has the barons, and not all the houses will be willing to fight without the heads of their families. So we end up facing Valdon on his terms: the rump of a Teuta army against the full might of the Cimbra. If you hesitate, Valdon will hunt you down." She paused. "Or, we go to Jovan, seeking safety on foreign soil, and rely on the alliance father died for. We have time to reflect and consider what to do next."

Tancred nodded, but didn't respond. He leaned back and looked past them all, his brows drawn into a worried line.

Into the silence Rainhart said, "If father had any sense, he'd have broken the alliance with Jovan years ago, he'd still be alive, we'd be in the castle, and none of this would have happened." He heard the hoarseness in his own voice.

The air in the cellar seemed to grow cool. "It wouldn't hurt you to show some gratitude, cousin," said Tancred. Rainhart glanced at Philomena, who was sitting on a crate.

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