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A large blot spread over the parchment, marring the curves of the letters around it. Steven frowned at the page. With a sigh, he dabbed the blotch with a cloth and picked up a razor to scrape off the blemish.
That activity was one with which he was becoming quite familiar. Indeed, ever since he’d stood beside Will Scriber, nee Bill Kangraff, and seen the Telling Tree shrivel and blacken, everyone in Ferngold was becoming increasingly adept at fixing mistakes. The simplest and largest things kept going wrong, from milk spoiling too soon to farmers having deadly accidents with scythes and hoes. The king, queen, and princess spent all day trying with limited success to keep order and instill hope, while most people, like Steven, simply tried to live under the loss of the Fern’s blessing as best they could.
Through the open window came the tramp of heavily-shod feet. Curiosity got the better of him. With a glance to verify the master wasn’t at the door, Steven climbed on his bench to peer outside. Sunlight glinted off metal armor and weaponry. An army had come to Ferngold! And in its midst he saw the familiar face of his old co-apprentice.
But where was Annette?
The master’s rage he could survive later. Now, he needed to know what had befallen his friends.
He accidentally spilled the inkwell on the table when he tried to replace its lid, but cleaning it up would have to wait. He slipped through the small back door and began weaving through the throng gathered to witness the Poldarian army.
By the use of elbows and treading on the toes of obstacles, he managed to find a place in the castle throne room from which he could see the exchange between Scriber and his monarchs. The king’s face was warm and kind. “I am very glad to see you,” he told Will in the hearing of the crowd. “We feared your journey would be treacherous.”
He could see only Will’s back, but his voice sounded bored. “Thank you for your concern, but traveling by army does mitigate risks.”
The king blinked, then nodded. “I’m sure it does. But you did not have an escort the whole way?”
“Please, enough with these irksome pleasantries,” Will waved a hand clad in a glove that Steven wagered cost more than he earned in a year. “I come to deliver your plant’s antidote. Take it, and I’ll be gone.”
The king’s look deepened into a frown. “Oh. Yes, thank you. We are deeply indebted to your kindness and sacrifice.”
With a bow that could not have demonstrated more stiffness if his back were made of wood, Will turned to leave.
Was that it? Steven wondered incredulously. He was leaving without a word? Where even was Annette? “Hey!” he shouted, squeezing between an old man and a portly woman. “Will!” He reached out toward the prince as if his gesture could stop him.
The prince squinted at him as if trying and failing to recognize his face. “What right have you to address me so, peasant?” he almost sneered.
Steven gaped at him like a gasping fish before he found his voice. “What right? Why—Willy, it’s me, your mate Steven. I’ve only worked beside you this past year as the master scribe’s apprentices.”
“If you want demonstrate your madness, do it on your own time. Remember your place and leave me alone.”
The queen spoke up. “Your majesty, I ask that you speak to my subjects with more civility.”
Steven wrinkled his nose. “Fine. You want to put on airs and do wrong by him that saved your starving life? Then I say good riddance. But at least tell me, is she okay?”
At that question, Will started. “She?”
“Aye,” Steven rolled his eyes. “She. Annette. The girl who went with you.”
“Annette.” Will rolled the name over his tongue, tilting his head to the side.
Anxiety gripped Steven. Had something befallen the girl, and the prince was too great a coward to tell him? He lurched forward, grabbing will by the front of his fine shirt. Will’s guards shouted, but Steven didn’t care. “Where is she?” he demanded. “What happened to her?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Will pushed him back.
“Tell me where she is! What have you done with Annette?”
“Get off me,” was Will’s only response, and Steven felt his worst fears were confirmed. Annette must have fallen to a terrible evil, and the yellow-livered prince he had once called his friend had allowed it. Before the soldiers could grab him, he drew back his arm and swung his fist at the prince’s face. “She was my friend,” he yelled. Poldarian soldiers and Ferngold guards alike grabbed him, but he continued to shout. “She was only with you because of the Fern’s words to you. How dare you! How dare you let her be hurt! You’re nothing but the lowest, meanest rat of Poldar, you stupid Kangraff. I thought you were different.” Hands clapped over his mouth then. All he could do was struggle against his captors and glare hatred at the restored prince, who clutched his swelling eye and stared at him in bewilderment.
Maybe someday he would regret violating his apprenticeship and ending up imprisoned for assaulting a foreign leader. When the cell door clicked shut and Steven rubbed his bruised knuckles, though, all he felt was grief for Annette’s loss and satisfaction at the look on Will’s traitorous face right after he punched him.
Let me know what you think so far! Chapter 15 will be up on Monday.