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The Court of Five Thrones

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Gwyn

*

When Tigbalan arrived – later than many of the others – Gwyn tensed. He remembered a wet, cloying heat. The taste of blood in the back of his throat. Ribs grinding together. The pain of teleportation followed by fussing hands, the combination of care and outrage from Augus. He met the horse shifter’s eyes across a sea of milling fae. Tigbalan didn’t smile as he stepped forward through the crowd.

A movement in the corner of his eye, and Gwyn realised that Augus had stood, much to the surprise of people around him.

Whispers nearby.

‘He’s territorial.’

‘Another horse shifter, this should be interesting.’

Gwyn wondered if that was truly the issue, and he signalled to get Augus’ attention. Augus dragged his eyes away from Tigbalan only reluctantly, meeting Gwyn’s.

Tigbalan reached Gwyn’s side. Gwyn felt like Tigbalan towered over him, remembered being a meal in exchange for the invisibility he had given to Augus to help with his freedom. His skin crawled. He’d been tortured many times, but he’d never been made a meal of, beaten so that Tigbalan could feed. He no longer flinched or cowered on matters relating to the subject, he had no more nightmares about it, but there was a textural scent to Tigbalan – swamps and wetlands, trees with twisting branches and thick, astringent saps that clawed through his nervous system.

‘Your waterhorse wants us both,’ Tigbalan said, holding out hands with hard, hooved fingernails. Gwyn grasped them, and Tigbalan squeezed back.

Those hands had broken his spine.

Gwyn met his gaze coldly, and Tigbalan smiled jagged, wretched teeth.

‘You are lucky I have not come here hungry tonight, Lord. Shall we go to the young Each Uisge? I must insist on your presence. I do not trust his instincts.’

‘Would it not be best to keep you separated?’ Gwyn said, and Tigbalan shook his head.

‘No. He wants my attention. He wishes to speak. And I cannot deny one who carries a part of me within him.’ His voice, deep and profound, was still very quiet, and no one else seemed to hear what he was saying. He wondered if this – along with Tigbalan’s invisibility – was part of his magic.

Tigbalan let go of Gwyn’s hands and strode towards Augus, Gwyn following. Augus watched them both, mouth set in a thin line, hands too still by his side – the chain dangling. Augus swallowed when Tigbalan came closer, the collar rose and fell on the bob of his throat.

‘I did not think you would invite me, young Lord,’ Tigbalan said to Gwyn.

‘You are Tigbalan, and I work with Luma. I observe the etiquette of old.’

‘You are still filth,’ Tigbalan said, his voice rippling through Gwyn while not touching anyone else.

Except Augus. His eyes widened and his face twisted in anger. His fists clenched. But he remained composed, watching Gwyn as though assessing him, before turning his focus to Tigbalan. He seemed to need several seconds to focus before he could even ask a question. His eyes were far brighter than usual, he stared at Tigbalan with an avid hunger.

‘This is difficult for you,’ Tigbalan said, and Augus’ expression didn’t shift, exactly, but Gwyn thought he caught something of a wince in his features.

‘May I talk to you about this invisibility?’

Tigbalan’s horse eyes crinkled in something of bemusement.

‘Yes, colt. You may. Though I require Lord Gwyn to stay here. Your territorial instincts are too strong.’

Augus looked to Gwyn. Gwyn could tell this was a conversation that he didn’t want Gwyn to witness. Gwyn averted his eyes, gave what privacy he could.

‘The invisibility is becoming harder to use,’ Augus said finally. Gwyn’s eyebrows twisted up. He hadn’t known that. ‘It affects my breathing. It leaves me drained. I thought it would become easier with time, but instead-’

‘Easier with time? Are you saying that you were afflicted with this tiredness from the beginning?’

‘Yes,’ Augus said, and Tigbalan stepped closer.

A deep growl sounded around them, and other fae nearby – excluded from the conversation by Tigbalan – turned at that, eyes widening in alarm. Augus cut the growl off immediately, cleared his throat.

‘I don’t have what you might call exact control, over that,’ Augus allowed.

‘Do not rile yourself. I am not going to hurt you.’

‘Because you have such a great reputation of not hurting people,’ Augus said, looking to Gwyn.

‘That was a transaction. This is not.’ Tigbalan reached out and placed a palm on Augus’ upper arm. It was a light, brief touch, but even so, Augus bared his teeth and the whites of his eyes showed. Tigbalan stepped back immediately, something troubled on his face. His horse ears flickered. ‘You are sick.’

He turned to Gwyn, ears flattening.

‘Lord Gwyn, you should have told me this. I would never have bequeathed this gift to someone as sick as he.’

‘I’m not sick,’ Augus said, looking alarmed.

‘He’s shown no signs of-’

‘I tell you, he is sick.’ He turned back to Augus. ‘The invisibility should have eased into your power seamlessly. This is my gift also. That it hasn’t, that it is being rejected…truly I apologise. I did not know. I should have been told.’

Augus looked confused, and then his eyes met Gwyn’s before he looked somewhere past Tigbalan.

‘Is it because my heartsong is destabilised?’

‘I beg your pardon?’ Gwyn said, staring at him in horror. How long had Augus known that for?

‘No. This is an old sickness. It clings to you. A miasma. You should go to that one over there.’

He turned and pointed at a crowd of people, and Gwyn could just make out mouse-ears, a chignon, a white sari. Fenwrel.

‘I have been taught how to use pressure points and meridians,’ Augus said slowly. ‘I think I’d know if I was ill. Perhaps your power is just-’

‘Ask the Master Mage to check. I am not wrong. I am not sure if you can preserve the invisibility. But it will take some time to wane completely. Perhaps in that period you may become healthy enough to help it integrate.’

Tigbalan turned and walked away, and Gwyn had no choice but to follow, indicating that Augus should sit once more. Augus looked shaken as he sat back on the throne. Gwyn’s head swum. Augus’ heartsong was destabilised? When had that happened? He’d not even had it that long. He was ill?

When they were a distance from Augus, Tigbalan turned and rolled his horse eyes down to Gwyn, the horizontal pupils expanding and contracting at him.

‘Should you ever need anything from me again, you need only find me. I have to confess, I dream of feeding from you once more. It’s not every day a King offers himself up as a meal. Just looking at you whets my appetite.’

‘I think you’ll find I won’t have need of your services again,’ Gwyn said, remaining calm as possible despite the memories that Tigbalan’s words were evoking.

Tigbalan gave him a long, measuring look. Horse lips curling up into something like a sneer. He drifted away into the crowd and Gwyn breathed a quiet sigh of relief. He wanted nothing to do with Tigbalan again. He’d only invited him to prove to the Court that he had no issue with Tigbalan and show his respect to some of the oldest members of the Unseelie alignment.

Still, his spine ached with phantom pain, and it took some time before he was able to fall back into the façade he’d so carefully cultivated.

*

Many of the fae that had drifted into the night gardens, vocally praising the Court’s appearance, drifted back for the Presentation of Fealty. Gwyn found the fancy name laughable; it was simply the period of time where different fae noble families would try and buy their way into Gwyn’s graces.

Gwyn and his Inner Court sat down in the four thrones. Augus sat to the far right, hands folded in his lap, staring straight ahead – elevated enough that he could stare over almost everyone’s faces. Ash, next to him, rolled out a calming glamour. Gwyn wondered if that was because he felt nervous. Gulvi, at the far left, looked into the crowd with calculating eyes. Enemies and allies of hers were all present, and she’d been socialising carefully. He’d tried to get her attention several times, but she always seemed to be off in the shadows with someone, behind a pillar, in an alcove – the people she spoke to taking a risk in showing that they knew her publically; not that it seemed to matter, Gulvi had many friends in high places.

Common fae servants and trows waited nearby to assist with the careful removal of gifts to prepare for the next presentation, and had already amassed a fortune in chests, coffers, magical orbs and more.

Gwyn, thus far, had been surprised at the pledges. He’d expected less, and more veiled insult.

Perhaps Fenwrel was right. Perhaps they did want him to succeed – some of them, anyway. Ifir still watched the proceedings with suspicion on his face, and some of the other War Generals maintained expressions of indifference. But as Gwyn generally did the same, he wasn’t sure what their thoughts were.

Princess Braith and Prince Vane stood before him now, on the dais, kneeling before six coffers of uncut, high grade gems, and a seventh of pearls from Trearddur Bay, harvested from the rare singing oysters. Ash had whistled low under his breath when he’d seen it all, and even Gulvi had leaned forwards, eyes widening.

They’d expected the fie ellyllon to want to buy their way back in – but this amount of wealth almost matched half of what was in the entire Court treasury.

Gwyn opened his mouth to offer thanks, when the shadows in the throne room darkened, spread cloying around the cavernous space. Gwyn looked up, eyes shrewd, nostrils flaring. Augus made a small, terrified sound beside him, and Gwyn placed a hand out without thinking, to keep Augus still. The Nightingale wasn’t the only fae who could manipulate shadows, though to manipulate them to this degree meant there weren’t many others who it could be.

Except…

Exclamations of shock, and fae parted around a small creature. Gwyn caught the scent of rotting animal flesh and bone, of fur badly treated, and then saw a mop of tangled hair matted into locks in some places. A pale face and opaque dark red eyes the colour of dried blood.

‘I heard there was a thing going on,’ the Nain Rouge said in the impish, hard voice of what looked to be an eight or nine year old girl. But everyone there felt the ancientness of her. She’d sat in one of these thrones during Augus’ reign. She was old enough that she’d occupied Inner Court positions so long ago that many of them had not been born.

She was one of the classless, and Gwyn shivered to see her again. Last he’d seen her – they’d been on opposite sides of a war.

‘I always think uncut gems look a little like oversized poprocks, yeah? Shove ‘em in your mouth, listen to the little bombs going off.’ Her small legs, covered in bloodied furs, feet in dirty red leather boots, complete with buckles, took huge steps to make it up the dais. She was uninvited, but no one stopped her. No one would.

‘Hey, grandma,’ Ash said, and the Nain Rouge’s eyes shot to him, her lips split apart in a grin that revealed broken teeth.

‘Don’t you call me that, fuckin’ ingrate, I might be old as balls but I’m no one’s grandma.’

‘S’good to see you too,’ he said, and Gwyn wondered when it was that Ash and the Nain Rouge had apparently forged a connection. Was it that they both cared for living in the human world over the fae? Was the Nain Rouge one of the few allies Ash had when he was Inner Court during Augus’ reign? It seemed hard to believe. Most fae wanted to stay as far away from the Nain Rouge as possible.

‘Your glamour tastes like hard liquor,’ the Nain Rouge said to him.

‘Yours is like pixie sticks,’ he said, giving her a mischievous smile.

‘I swear to fucking god, I leave the Court for all of five seconds, and come back to a pair of tweaking queens running the show. This world is going to shit. Can’t say I mind. Bitches fucking shit up is like my favourite.’

She reached into the coffers and drew out a handful of gems on sticky fingers. She then let them all fall back into the container. She had to shake an emerald off – a clot of blood sticking to it – and Princess Braith raised a dark red brow, but otherwise said nothing at all.

Gwyn watched, tense, as she walked past the jewelled boxes until she was between Gwyn and the fie ellyllon. She stared impishly up at him, and then looked over at Augus.

‘Hiya, Princess!’ the Nain Rouge said. ‘Remember demoting me? Cuz I sure do. S’pose you think I’m all weak as piss now, but actually-’

He hadn’t seen it coming with Ash, but he saw it coming now.

The Nain Rouge leapt for Augus amidst gasps and cries from the Unseelie, but Gwyn was already out of his throne, springing in front of Augus. Shadows gutted and flared around the throne room. Outrage made his body to turn hot and then icy cold. He got his hand around the Nain Rouge’s neck while she shrieked with laughter, but it was her hands that were the danger. He was sure she wasn’t strong enough to suck people’s life force from their necks as she once used to, but he didn’t need to find out the hard way.

He secured one of her hands as she laughed and alternatively cried out: ‘Ow! Ow! Uncle! Time out!’ His shoulder flared its nasty pain at him and he ignored it, lifting her clear off the floor and moving her bodily away from Augus, despite the fact that she was far heavier than she looked. He stepped to a clear section of the dais and twisted her body as he went down to one knee, pinning one of her arms beneath her and bringing his weight to bear, his other hand broad enough to have her wrist by the thumb and the rest of his fingers wrapped around the flesh of her neck.

She stopped laughing when he squeezed, though laughter lines still crinkled around the dead blood colour of her eyes.

He looked up into the crowd of Unseelie faces, furious.

‘This is the throne room of the Unseelie Court! We follow the old laws.’ He looked down at the Nain Rouge and glared at her. ‘We do not go after our own within these walls!’

His voice rang out, the only sounds that of fae shifting, the Nain Rouge wriggling half-heartedly beneath him.

‘I do not care what grievances you hold with him,’ he said to her, then looked up. ‘And that goes for all of you. I do not care what grievances you hold for each other! I know of the civil unrest amongst many of the Unseelie and I am not blind to the tensions in this room. I understand that you have no reason to think of the Unseelie Court as a haven, even though that is what it has been for tens of thousands of years more than it has ever been anything else. But that is what it is.’

He looked down at the Nain Rouge again.

‘Lady, I know your penchant for mischief, but I do not wish to hold you bound for the rest of the evening.’

‘Like you could, dickface,’ the Nain Rouge said as he released the heavy grip he had on her throat. ‘But whatever, capisce, I got it. Lookin’ pretty good with that crown, I gotta say.’

Gwyn moved his hands away from her slowly, then held out a hand to her. She took it, and he was sure she deliberately gripped hard enough to smear his hand with the blood of her kills. He could hear the coffers being moved off the dais by the common fae servants. Princess Braith and Vane retreated after Ash murmured something to them. Gwyn was too busy meeting wondering at the attack, at the timing of it.

Was it a test?

For though she played at mischief and chaos, the Nain Rouge was one of the oldest advocates of the old ways. She paid her debts. Though she called the Nightingale a younger brother, she’d distanced herself from him when he’d become close to the spirits and gods and demons of the underworlds. She was dangerous – but even the Nain Rouge didn’t attack other fae within the walls of the Court.

She held her hands out to him in supplication, palms up, and he grasped them and squeezed.

‘So you’re a King again,’ she said. ‘Righty. I can’t, with you. It’s not Pokemon, you don’t gotta collect all the statuses.’

Gwyn had no idea what she was talking about, but Ash snorted behind her. Her eyes slid past Gwyn’s torso and she winked at him.

‘I didn’t bring you any presents,’ the Nain Rouge said, shrugging. ‘I mean aside from me. Being here. That counts, doesn’t it?’

‘You bet, grandma,’ Ash said from behind Gwyn.

The Nain Rouge mock gasped.

‘And in front of all these ‘who’s who’ of the dark!’ she reprimanded. ‘You’re such a shit-stirrer.’

She looked towards Augus, then grinned wickedly.

‘Tell that pony of yours that he looks damned fine chained up like that. Missed his calling. There’s a whole porn industry waiting for-’

‘Do not insult my Inner Court,’ Gwyn said coldly.

He let go of her hands and she winked at him, quickly waved at Ash, then scurried off into the crowd. The fae parted like water for her, and a small chuckle aired in one of the darker alcoves when she reached it. The dais was clear once more and there were no more gifts to receive.

Gwyn drew himself tall on the dais, looked out into the crowd, deciding that now was the best time for it.

He groaned inwardly.

Speeches.

‘It is time to re-establish the old laws of this Court. The ones that hold us all bound while you are within this throne room, while you walk the night gardens and the outer circles.’

Seeing the way they all met his eyes – the different expressions – was familiar. It was like trying to reach a group of unruly soldiers.

‘We do not go after our own within the outer circles of the Unseelie Court. We do not feed our true appetites at these gatherings. Moderate theft is permitted, but we do not steal the breath and livelihood of another while we stand here. We are all bound to these laws, made the same beneath them.’

He wasn’t sure that was entirely true; it wasn’t like there was an abundance of underfae represented here in the throne room. And those that ‘advocated’ for their species, often advocated for their wealth or their militaries instead.

Still, it was a start.

He spread his arms, offered the triumphant smile that had caused soldiers to rally around him at a time when all might look lost.

‘By the gods, but it is good to finally make it home.’

There was something close to a collective exhale when he spoke those words. He saw scepticism on Ifir’s face and couldn’t fault him for it. He had been practicing these words for so long they hardly felt real. He couldn’t say whether the Unseelie Court was home even if the zahakhar told him that it was. He couldn’t tell whether these were his people, even though his alignment and his status made it true.

All that mattered was that he be a person they could rally behind. He would lose a few, certainly, but…

The Unseelie Court had to survive. He believed that even in the days when he wished he was Seelie down to his marrow and the Oak King was trying to find ways to not-so-subtly destroy the Unseelie completely.

‘I know there have been whispers since my securing the position of Seelie War General. Whispers in the dark. Always, since the beginning, fae under their breaths have wondered: ‘How does he use Unseelie strategies so well?’ ‘Where does he get it from?’ Some of my methods, unsurprisingly Unseelie. Now you know.’

He turned a slow circle, indicating his Inner Court with a slow sweep of his arms, noting the slightly stunned expression on Augus’ face. He resisted smiling.

You didn’t know I could be good at this, did you?

‘My Inner Court is still growing, consisting of some of the most beloved, infamous, and powerful fae in our current times. We have forged allies across land and sea, our military is growing.’

He was grateful they had seen that for themselves. Some of the War Generals that very evening – notably Ocypete, Anggitay, Ifir, Vane, Mu, Baw and – of course – Dogwill, had pledged quantities of soldiers towards the Unseelie Court military. The one that would officially be designated to protect all those who pledged their alliance and fealty directly to Gwyn and the Unseelie Court.

‘There has been far too much war,’ Gwyn said, allowing his voice to go quiet, even hushing his glamour. ‘To that end, I have seen the wisdom in re-opening the Winter Court when the season is right.’

Low, excited whispers. Tiny whoops of excitement from the fairies clustered around several of the vines curling around pillars. Fae turned and whispered to each other, eyes widening or narrowing, smiles lighting up on several faces. Amaley Manytrees beamed at him from her corner, where she sat with several other gentler natured Unseelie fae.

‘We shall be holding a Masquerade like those the Raven Prince himself used to hold, in the coming months,’ Gwyn said. ‘And for those who like the chase, the Wild Hunt has not been forgotten.’

He had them. Even the War Generals hadn’t known that, and some of the more doubtful gazes had perked up with reluctant interest.

‘Hard times have befallen us,’ Gwyn said, his voice rising in volume. ‘And I have been responsible for some of them, so it is that I owe you a debt to undo what has been done to the Unseelie. But take heart, for we are the shadows and darknesses upon the land. We grow stronger when the light fades. We only gather as one when there is true need. We grow rich from the misfortunes of others. And we will remind the Seelie that this is a world that needs balance. And we will remind the world of our true natures, as our hearts crow hungrily, as we feed upon the lifeblood of others.’

A small scattering of cheers, he felt the energy locked in now, focused on him, and his dra’ocht blazed, turning him shimmering. He couldn’t see it himself, but he knew that those who could – saw him as the Bright One. The one that the trows called ‘Gwyn of the Stars.’

‘I need not remind you of our code, but I will speak it anyway. A reminder of what we are, what we fight for:’

He took a breath, remembering doing this for the Seelie when he became King the first time, not so long ago that he couldn’t recall the whole thing in terrible clarity.

‘Honour is a lie!’

Uphold honour and all things virtuous.

‘Duty only to one’s self and one’s loved ones!’

Duty to one’s family and Kingdom.

Cheers now, growls and roars and the satisfaction of knowing he’d won them. Knowing that this feeling was the sort of thing that Crielle had lived for all her life, to the point where he couldn’t not look for it himself, in any crowd he found himself within.

‘Beauty and ugliness are the glamours we use to feed!’

Beauty is truth.

‘Fervour, frenzy, agony, ecstasy and chaos are our birthright!’

Change only when necessary, stay your hand when it is right.

Hands, paws, clawed fingers were raising in the air, and the Unseelie pushed forth their glamour together, the giant room shining with a stir of energy, twinkling in the air like motes of dust. It was a fretwork of jarring, abrasive, passionate, hungry energy, lacked the containment of the Seelie, but there was a rawness there that Gwyn appreciated.

‘The night gardens are yours to enjoy for the evening,’ Gwyn said, indicating the direction they should go. ‘All tastes have been catered to and our beloved Glashtyn has provided the drink, which I know will please many of you.’

‘He probably stole it from us!’ someone shouted.

‘Not this time, Arinaud!’ Ash shouted back.

Laughter, a release of the worst of the tension, and Gwyn knew it was time to wind things up. He’d planned to say more, but a shorter speech was best. He would see many of them at the opening of the temporary Winter Court, at the Masquerades; there would be many more chances to speak.

Gramercie,’ Gwyn said, inclining the head. ‘The gift of your presence is great.’

Old words, and the speech was closed. Excited talking buzzed immediately, some fae running off to the night gardens – the fairies zooming fastest of all towards the night-blooming flowers and werelights that awaited.

Gwyn continued to mingle, conversation turning to more relaxed matters. The atmosphere of the throne room had changed markedly, though Gwyn could still pick how often they tried to manipulate him, how many of them wanted higher status, wanted recognition, wanted the chance to get in on the ‘ground floor’ in a poor, fractured Court.

Hours drifted by; fae caroused into the early morning hours. The entire time Augus sat on the throne and Gwyn made sure he talked to as many as possible, never letting his time be monopolised by one person for too long.

The revels would continue. A large portion of the night gardens were now open to all Court fae, at any time. Along with the throne room now being accessible to all except during Court meetings, the Unseelie Court was officially open for business.

Gwyn turned and saw Augus – alone on the dais now, as he had been for some time – standing and stretching subtly. He searched the room and met Gwyn’s eyes, looked fatigued.

Just like that, Gwyn remembered that there was a cost to this evening. That he, too, was sleep deprived.

He made his farewells to the fae closest to him – not expected to stay up with the rest of them – and walked towards the antechamber doors, knowing that Augus would follow.

As soon as the double doors were closed, Gwyn removed the crown and held it in his hand. He expected Augus to stop, to say something, to express surprise at Gwyn’s competence, or to at least acknowledge him. But Augus walked ahead, didn’t even turn his head and meet his gaze. He walked crisply, though there was a heaviness to his booted steps. Gwyn remembered Tigbalan saying, ‘He is sick.’ Was it true? He could have Aleutia there in a heartbeat, if he thought Augus would submit to it. But Tigbalan had suggested Fenwrel, hadn’t he?

Augus reached behind his head and carefully removed the tie from his hair, dropping it to the floor as he went, running his fingers in long lines through his mane, settling it over his shoulders.

Gwyn’s hands ached as he watched.

They were already deeper into the palace when Gwyn realised that Augus possibly had no intention of acknowledging him at all. After a night of being sought after by some of the most powerful fae in the Unseelie alignment, following after Augus like a wayward hound was disconcerting.

‘Augus?’

Augus slowed to a stop. He didn’t turn and face him.

He said nothing as he undid the collar at his neck and let it and the chain fall to the ground with an ugly clatter. Despite how beautifully they had been wrought, the sole of Augus’ boot found them – with an air of absentness – and pressed down, crushing the finely worked ivy leaves and part of the stag’s copper-verdigris antlers into the ground.

Only then did Augus meet his eyes, something considering in his gaze, despite the fact that the rest of his face was a mask.

‘You did well,’ Augus said. ‘It went well.’

It did.

Gwyn didn’t care about that.

He opened his mouth to ask if Augus was well, but Augus spoke first.

‘I’ll bid you good evening, Your Majesty.’

The words – how he hated hearing them from Augus’ mouth – were like glass in his chest. He watched, unable to move, as Augus turned and walked away again, a half-crushed collar behind him. Gwyn stared down at it in dismay. He…wanted that collar. Not for Augus – never again – but for himself.

His hand was cut as it clenched around the indestructible Unseelie crown.

Minutes passed before Gwyn propelled himself into action, running after Augus, turning a corner only to-

Augus was backed up against the stone wall and staring at Gwyn in horror, the whites of his eyes showing and silent gasps sounding in his throat, his chest heaving, his hand hovering near his heart.

‘I thought you were someone else,’ Augus managed, his normally smooth voice breaking.

Gwyn was shocked. Surely- But surely Augus must have known it was Gwyn? There was no one else who-

Gwyn closed his eyes, pained, realising what Augus must have thought when he heard the footsteps pounding towards him.

‘But- But I changed it. The whole Court. There’s nothing there that should remind you of him.’

Augus forced himself to straighten, his breathing still shallow and uneven. He placed a tired hand against the stone, claws scraping against it. He offered a weak, wry smile.

‘The Court remembers. Shadows speak – ineloquent, clumsy things that they are. And, Gwyn, forgive me…but tonight has been rather trying. Filled with unpleasant discoveries and memories both.’

‘What can I do?’ Gwyn said. ‘Is there anything you need? Do you need-’

‘You can’t know how long I’ve wanted to hear-’ Augus shook his head. ‘I need many things from you. But right now, I only wish for space. And you…you should get some sleep, Gwyn. I can see how tired you are.’

He left Gwyn standing alone in the corridor, a crown cutting his hands and a cold sweat clinging to his body.