Deep Secrets: Part Eight
Over the next three weeks, Demetrius tried to work the location of the ring out of his father: choosing moments when all the servants were out of the room, he used every tactic he could think of to convince the Kyrii to talk.
All that King Coltzan would tell him, though, was that he couldn’t tell him, that he didn’t remember, and then he'd go on to tell him one of his stories.
In his spare moments, the Aisha tried to think of where it could be. His father had never taken an interest in his lessons, so it wouldn’t be something in those—
He overlooked Coltzan’s stories entirely, not believing there could be anything of value in them.
And then, one day, King Coltzan sent for him. Demetrius was sitting in his room, thinking, when the footman, an orange JubJub, came in.
“King Coltzan I requests your presence, your highness.”
All the way to his father’s room, the Aisha wondered: was he finally going to tell him the secret?
When he got there, though, the Kyrii just nodded. “Ah. There you are. Listen carefully,” he said, which was how he prefaced all his stories.
Demetrius sat on the stool placed next to the bed, but as Coltzan started his story, he sighed. It was the one about the Fire Faerie again.
King Coltzan glanced at his son, and amusement twinkled for a moment in his eye.
Halfway through, the story started to change. The Aisha sat up straight, now listening. He could hear the changes: he knew the story so well by now, rote memorization, he knew how his father was altering it. Just one word here and another there—but it was enough. Enough to tell him where the ring was, and why.
Coltzan finished the story, and for a moment Demetrius sat still as stone.
“Thank you, Father,” he whispered, and ran from the room.
The Kyrii watched him go, and wondered if he’d done the right thing after all.
Despite the fact that he now knew where the Ring of the Deep was, Demetrius took a week more to decide whether or not to go.
What would he do with it? he wondered. Destroy his father’s kingdom—then what? Set himself up as King?
Why should he be better? Sankara’s voice echoed in his head.
Demetrius decided. He would find Sankara, give her letters back to her, and ask for her advice. If she thought he should not—he wouldn’t. He would come back and be a model Prince. His father still had years of life ahead of him.
And if she thought he should...
The Aisha got up and started packing. The sooner he found the former Princess Sankara, the sooner he would know the course of his future.
The same day, King Coltzan summoned the new Commander of the Royal Guard to his room. He was a green Scorchio who’d been a general under Delia; Coltzan usually couldn’t manage five minutes’ conversation with him, but today was different.
“When my son tries to leave,” he told the Commander, “let him.”
The Scorchio frowned. “Your majesty, he is the prince. He may leave whenever he wishes to.”
“Yes. Yes.” He waved a paw. “Do not have him followed. Assign no guards. Do you understand?”
The commander had to admit that he did.
“Good. Thank you.” Coltzan watched him leave, and thought of Delia.
Demetrius packed clothing, food and water, and then slipped out of the palace by a way he’d found a year after his father confined him to the place. Either the guards didn’t know it or they’d forgotten their orders to follow, but even an hour later, they hadn’t caught up to him.
He made his way through the bustling streets of Sakhmet City with some difficulty: before, he had been smaller, and it had been easier to sneak through the crowds.
With effort he summoned to his mind the faces and names of those he’d known, and kept an eye out for them as he walked.
The first one he saw was Becca: a merchant’s daughter, a blue Gelert. She was leaning against a doorframe and smiling at a tall yellow Nimmo.
“Becca!” Demetrius hurried toward her, and then had to apologize to the people he’d run into and slow down. He passed the Nimmo, leaving, and hoped she would still be there when he got out of the crowd.
She was: standing there, looking after the Nimmo. As he came up, her gaze refocused on him, and she frowned.
“Do I know you?”
The Gelert’s eyes widened. “Demetrius.” She looked him over. “It is you, isn’t it? What happened?”
“C—my father—he forbade me from coming here.”
“Here, to see me?” Becca made a noise between a snort and a laugh.
“No—well, into the city.” Demetrius hesitated, and then shook his head. “It doesn’t matter now. I was wondering—do you know anyone who would remember where the old King and Queen moved, when King Coltzan arrived?”
Becca thought. “My grandmother,” she said slowly. “But only if you promise to come back and see me sometime soon, Demetrius.”
Demetrius smiled. “I promise.”
An hour later, he was leaving Sakhmet City behind and angling southeast toward the flatlands.
The old King—yes, yes. He’s not with us anymore. But his daughter lives up in the flats. She has a nice house there, I heard. Big gardens. A lot of those little kings moved into mansions like that, you know.
His daughter. Princess Sankara. Demetrius’s heart had leapt at that. If she wasn’t there, surely someone would know where she’d gone.
It took him an hour or so from the outskirts of the City to the edge of the flats: like their name, they were even, with no high dunes or low valleys. Standing there, he could see far into the distance. The little bumps of houses, and the larger one of a mansion.
Demetrius let out his breath. There, then.
He adjusted his course to head straight for it. As he got closer, and more detail was apparent, he wondered why she would have a dark grey house. Surely she was too fashionable for that?
Or maybe that was the fashion, among the royalty his father had evicted.
The Aisha had been walking for longer than he usually did, by now, but he wasn’t about to stop to eat at this point. He could see Sankara’s house, was getting closer with every step he took.
But his head drooped, until he was staring down at the sand as he walked.
The shadow of the house slid over him, and he jerked his head up, snapping out of the daze in which he’d been walking. The house loomed above him: huge, priceless, tall.
It was no more than a shell now, and not even that in some places. The flames licking the walls had left traces of ash where they’d been: the grey he had noticed, and thought little of.
Demetrius dropped to his knees, staring up at the destruction.
A little later, he thought to get up and ask among the people of the village that lay sprinkled on the flats. Their answer was always the same: a glance at the ruined mansion, and a shake of the head.
He walked slowly back to the mansion and stood watching it. Nothing moved. Even the flakes of ash had flown away in the wind.
The Aisha took off his pack and opened it: Sankara’s letters lay neatly folded on top of everything. Waiting to be returned to their owner.
He pulled them out, stack by stack, and walked toward the mansion. The villagers glanced at each other, but didn’t try to stop him.
Standing in the fire-ravaged doorway, Demetrius said, “Sankara.”
There was no answer. She wasn’t there anymore, not even as the faint hint of her perfume or a scrawl of her writing. The fire had burned all the papers, and smoke covered up any other smell.
Demetrius went back to his pack, pushed the letters back inside, and swung it onto his back.
He looked around, but all directions looked equally hopeless. Equally helpless.
He picked one, and started walking.
After a while, he noticed there were no more houses, and there hadn’t been for a while. He couldn’t even see any on the horizons, as dark shadows or smudges, couldn’t even sense the presence of people.
He remembered, suddenly, his father. Had he been out in the desert, like this?
Yes, Demetrius thought—he had. He had summoned the Fire Faerie.
He sank onto the ground. It took him a while to find his voice; his throat was hoarse and dry, but getting the water out of his pack seemed too much effort.
“Nuria,” he started, and cleared his throat. “Nuria.” He had heard his father’s stories a hundred, a thousand times. He knew the words. “I come in supplication.”
It ended on a whisper, but she heard it.
Heat enfolded him as she came: more intense as she walked towards him out of nowhere.
“Coltzan’s child,” she said, and her voice was surprisingly gentle. “Why have you come?”
He tried to speak, and failed. He had been walking all day in the sun without drinking water, and his mind hurt.
With a little moan, he tipped forward into the sand, and knew no more.
To be continued...