Tancred's Price (Part 1)

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Philomena was woken by an apologetic attendant. "My lady, the guard captain is asking for you."

Sitting up, Philomena looked across at Holle. Still asleep.

"Just give me a moment to dress."

Outside, the guard captain stood, wringing his hands. "My lady," he said. "I am very sorry to disturb you so early, but I have dire tidings. His majesty is missing."

"Tancred is...?"

The captain nodded miserably.

"Have you asked--" Philomena bit off the sentence. She had been about to say, Have you asked Konrad? But Konrad was dead, and Tancred slept alone. "Have you asked Rainhart?"

At that moment, Rainhart arrived, still buttoning his doublet. "Tancred is missing," she said.

Rainhart nodded. "So I hear. Since when?"

"We discovered him gone this morning."

"Were you posted outside? Did you not see him leave?" said Rainhart, frowning.

"I was," said the guard captain. "And no." The poor man looked miserable. "No damage to the tent, either."

So not a kidnap, then. Philomena looked quickly at Rainhart. Tancred had left of his own accord, and coerced his guards to forget his passing.

"There's only one place he can have gone," said Philomena.

Rainhart nodded. "Saddle horses for myself and Lady Philomena."

* * *

When Rainhart drew up his horse and pointed through the deep green forest, Philomena wasn't surprised to see Tancred there. For the last league, she had had a palpable sense that the forest was guiding them, bringing them to where Tancred was.

She dismounted. "Your majesty."

Tancred turned. "Good morning," he said, as if they had surprised him in his study at Breg Castle.

"You gave us a fright, cousin," said Rainhart.

"I do apologise. There was no chance my getting away unless I snuck off." He sighed. "Time to be getting back."

"Did you find what you came for?" said Philomena.

Tancred cocked his head, looking up at the thick canopy. "I suppose I did."

They didn't speak on the ride back, but to Philomena it was far from silent. The forest whispered to her, too soft to be understood, but she was left with a sense of curiosity, of knowing.

Then Tancred said, "I asked the lesser gods to take away my gift."

"You what?" said Rainhart instantly.

Philomena reached out with her gift. Tancred was still a blankness. "They denied you."

"No, they didn't," said Tancred. "I can feel that it's gone." He smiled. "If feels like relief."

"You're still invisible to my inner eye," said Rainhart.

"Oh." Tancred looked at Rainhart, then Philomena, who nodded.

Studying his hands on the reins, Tancred said, "Then I thank the lesser gods that I will neither be prey to this power nor prey on others."

"Forgive me, your majesty, but why did you..." Philomena bit her lip. She couldn't imagine losing her gift. The forest felt warm and welcoming around her. But then, Tancred had never liked to use his power. He had always had Philomena or Holle do the work mind-to-mind.

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