"Ah, Madame, it is a pity you are not in better health. We must keep this short, then?"
"I regret so, sire. What is it you wish to speak to me about?"
King Alastor, Ruler of All, looked at the slight woman in the bed and, for a moment under his beard, a faint wistful smile flickered before it was eclipsed by the more serious expression he usually wore.
"I'm sure you can guess. It is the matter of the traitor Borysko."
Ah, Borysko, Madame de Silva mentally sighed. Why does everyone want you so? What have you done?
"I am sorry, sire, but he is no longer here. He...fled the school in the dead of night; I believe he kidnapped his guard also. We are searching for him, I assure you."
The King's brows lowered like stormclouds; Madame de Silva met his gaze levelly.
"A school of mages, and a mere warrior slipped through your fingers? I cannot believe it."
"You must believe it. His guard was...lax, and he is adept at hiding himself. We believe he has fled to the forest; as you know, sire, it is a large forest and it will take time to find him again. But we are getting there."
A contemptuous snort was all the answer she got; King Alastor leapt to his feet and began pacing from one side of the room to the other, distractedly gnawing at his long moustaches.
"I cannot have it!" he burst out at last, halting by her bed, staring down at her fiercely but with desperation reflected deep in his eyes. "I cannot have it. With Berengar acting so strangely, I cannot afford to have my younger son at risk! Where is he? I will see him!"
Alarmed, Madame de Silva reached out and grasped his arm. This was not the Alastor she knew; she had never seen him so wild, except in battle. She would have to tell him the truth, and hope he believed her, or there would be trouble.
"Alastor," she soothed. "Sire. Sit down. Please sit. I have not been...wholly truthful with you."
"Not truthful? By the Seven Gods on High, when will people be truthful with me?" the King bellowed furiously. "Cringing courtiers not daring to say me nay, advisors whose only advice is to follow my own counsel! Even my heir is now untruthful! I will have the truth!"
"I will tell you! I will tell you the truth, if you sit, and you believe me. Sire, I swear, if you sit I will tell you the truth; only the truth. You have my word."
King Alastor snorted into his beard, but subsided slowly into the chair, looking at her with something almost approaching affection.
"Well, your word is worth more than many peoples', Nyssa. Tell me. I will believe you."
The Assessor smiled, bowed her head, and told him.
When she had finished, he sat silently, tugging on his moustaches. Eventually, he let out a sigh.
"It seems I have been mistaken. You say they are in the forest? I will fetch them back, we will sort it out. You stay here, Madame; I will bring them to you."
"Be careful," the Assessor warned. "There are...too many things happening, too many things you must be aware of. Do not go rushing in. Tread carefully."
"I will tread as on eggshells, Madame," he exclaimed, with a low bow and a smile. "We will be back within the hour, I do not doubt. Rest."
He strode to the door and pulled at the handle to open it. But it resisted fiercely; someone had locked it, from the outside.
"I say!" the King bellowed, red creeping over his cheeks at the temerity. "Open the door!"
There was no answer, and no-one opened the door. King Alastor beat at it fruitlessly, then swung round to Nyssa de Silva.
"What has happened?"
"I fear events may have caught up with us, sire," the Assessor answered calmly. "But they have overlooked one thing. May I suggest you escape out of the window?"