‘He and his men quickly surrounded my immaculate grounds. I remember it irked me at the time how many of my rhododendrons were crushed under their grim boots. I was in a daze as the Dynast advanced, and began pounding on my door.’
‘Laynee just looked utterly confused. She was one of the many that had lost her sweetheart on the battleground. I couldn’t blame her for being slow on the uptake. But when she squinted at the royal crest adorning the soldiers’ armour, it dawned on her that I’d done something either foolish or brave enough for the Dynast to pay me a personal visit.’
‘I’m sure the city was in chaos, plagued with grief and resentment. All I could feel as I got up to answer the door was a heavy silence, brimming with suspense. My heart thudded loudly enough for Laynee to give me a concerned look. I felt sick. I was sure I’d gone pallid.
‘I opened the door and was faced with those mesmerising golden eyes. Eyes that were creased with worry, tiredness, and the responsibility of having to rule thousands in a realm that was too small. Eyes that were bloodshot, and yet startlingly aware. The Dynast stared at me keenly and then shook his head. Whether with admiration or disgust, I couldn’t tell.
‘Then he spoke. “I asked all the other Seers,” he said hoarsely. “None of them had had any inkling of what was about to happen. What makes you so different?”
He was already positioned dangerously at my doorway, so like a good hostess I invited him inside my house. I was reluctant to answer his question, since I had no idea what Seers were supposed to be like, and he would likely have my head if I told him about my Consecration, which was starting to sound like a joke to even myself. As we faced each other, him perched on my favorite armchair and I on a wicker stool, Laynee cast me an anxious glance and conveniently bustled away, mumbling something about making tea.
“Well, your highness,” I hesitated. “I…I’m sorry!” I blurted out. “I didn’t know about the Coterie of Eyes, of the Limit of Auguries, or anything and it could have been a coincidence, the vision-” The Dynast’s eyes darkened to a liquid amber and he pursed his lips in what almost looked to be pity.
I was rambling. I knew it, and Laynee did too. Quietly, she strode into the room and set a tray with a kettle of tea, and cups and saucers for us on the table. She placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder. I looked up into her steely eyes.
“Your Majesty, what is the meaning of this. You barge into my friend’s house, give her no information whatsoever about the reason of your visit, and ask her to divulge her deepest secrets?”
I frowned, confused. I’d never expected sweet, reserved Laynee could be that caustic. What else was she hiding from me?
The Dynast, who was sipping unprompted from a cup of tea, choked on his mouthful. He set his cup down and looked at Laynee as if he were inspecting some newly discovered dangerous animal. Then he braced his hands on his thighs and leaned forward, addressing me.
“You have got quite an interesting friend, Seer,” he bared his teeth in the semblance of a smile. I was wondering what exactly he saw in Laynee-the king was a Cloaker, I was sure now- when he purred,”There’s more to Laynee Reginsa than meets the eye.”
His words chilled my blood. Laynee’s hand stiffened on my shoulder but she held her chin high. After considering her a moment, the Dynast waved a dismissive hand. “As unfortunate as this is, I am not here for Laynee today. I am here for you, Seer.”
“My name is Valerie,” I snapped, surprising myself. Did the Dynast’s presence make people say things they would live to regret?
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Valerie.” he said smoothly, extending his hand. Was he masking his ugly personality with a façade of politeness so he could manipulate me?
I shook his hand reluctantly when Laynee snarled. “Enough small talk, sire. State the purpose of your visit,” she commanded coldly.
“I was under the impression I made the rules in the New World, Reginsa,” he said with another malevolent twist of his lips. “But one can never predict for how long, especially with your family involved.”
Laynee’s grip on my shoulder tightened again. I was perturbed at how easily the Dynast could goad her. Of course, that was what Cloakers did; they looked past skin and flesh and bone to the soul beneath. He probably had gleaned all her deepest secrets, her greatest fears, her entire history…
“But if that is what you wish, Reginsa, I will tell you why I am here,” he said, ever the gentleman again.
I was conjuring up a million possibilities for what he was about to say. I was a rogue Seer, and he had come to arrest me, or exile me, or send me to the gallows, or sentence me to a life of polishing aristocrats’ shoes, or…
“Quite simply,” he said, sipping his tea, ” I have come to offer Valerie a job.”