Trik couldn't believe it, either. Right away, they'd done this—his right hand looked normal. Connegar said that he and Reemagar would come back in a week, when Trik had time to get used to it and exercise his hand every day, before they attempted to do more. After about a month, his right hand and arm would look exactly like the left. Then they would start on his leg. He'd always heard the Larentii were powerful beings, but until today, he'd imagined that they might not be quite real.
"Want your chair or do you want Tory to skip us to dinner?" Nissa asked. Toff had both arms around Nissa as she leaned against him.
"I think I'll do the chair, but only because I want to see the palace," Trik breathed.
"And you don't have to room with us unless you want to," Tory said. "But we like having Toff with us. If you're here, we can plot and plan without having to sneak into your bedroom."
"And after the Larentii are done with you, you'll come to train at Grey House," Nissa said. "It'll be so nice to have someone there who's a friend and close to my age."
"They'll train me?" Trik's voice was almost a squeak.
"Yes. Like I said, Daddy told me they'd check your ability when you go through the rite. Great-Grampa Glendes will probably do it himself."
"Glendes of Grey House is your great-grandfather." Trik's voice held awe tinged with a bit of alarm.
"Marid complains about him constantly. Says he takes away Belancour business."
"We have all the business we can handle. We send the excess out to other houses," Nissa sniffed.
"No, no, I didn't mean it that way. Grandfather just gets grumpy at times," Trik said. He was still in shock at the sudden change in fortunes for him. Finally, the wind seemed to be blowing in the proper direction.
"Young ones, are you ready to come to dinner?" A tall, dark-haired man appeared in the doorway.
"Uncle Rigo, this is Trikleer," Nissa made the introduction.
"Most pleased to meet you, young sir," Rigo nodded to Trik.
"Uncle Rigo used to be King of Hraede," Nissa said conversationally as Trik steered his chair through the suite he now shared with Tory, Ry and Toff.
"Am I missing something here?" Trik was completely confused.
"Do you know about Le-Ath Veronis?" Ry turned and smiled over his shoulder.
"My history books didn't cover it," Trik replied.
"Then we'll bring you up to date," Tory laughed, reaching over to flick Ry's ear.
"Here we go," Nissa grumbled, rolling her eyes. Toff burst out laughing when Ry wet a finger in his mouth and stuck it in Tory's ear before running down the lengthy marble corridor.
"Toff, you have a visitor." Toff couldn't fathom why he'd been called to Lissa's study after dinner, but now he knew. Corent sat in one of Lissa's chairs, waiting for him.
"Father!" Toff rushed toward Corent and Corent lifted him up, hugging him hard.
"I missed you, son," Corent smiled at Toff as he set him down again. Corent's hair was a blue-green—clouds must be moving in, Toff thought as he smiled up at his foster-father.
"I missed you, too."
"Toff, why don't you take Corent to the arboretum upstairs," Lissa suggested.
"All right." The arboretum would be perfect—it held all kinds of plants and trees. Toff hadn't ever seen the gardeners that tended it, but they had to be good—the plants were all thriving.
"Do you like it here?" Corent asked as they walked up the last flight of stairs to get to the arboretum.
"Father, I do. I mean no disrespect to you or my foster-mother, but I feel at home here. Nobody bullies me or calls me names. And I learned that my lack of, well, that my lack is normal for what I am. I jump in the pool here with Tory and Ry and they don't even look."
"Child, I should have told you that long ago, but Redbird thought it would confuse you. I see now that it was a mistake. Those children in the village were being taught to ridicule by their parents, who had less understanding than they should." Toff merely hunched his shoulders at Corent's words. Nothing could take away the emotional bruising he'd received at the hands of his peers in the Fae village.
"Father, what can you tell me about these trees?" Toff decided to break away from the subject of his past once they walked into the arboretum. The enormous, indoor garden was beautiful, with sunlamps hanging everywhere inside the glass enclosure. From the outside, Toff thought the arboretum looked like something from an old tale of castles and such, sitting atop the palace as it did and always lit from within.
"These trees I haven't seen before," Corent went to touch the first of many. "I was born on Vionn, you know."
"Then you would have been left behind, if the Fulls had gone on when the threat came."
"Yes. My mother didn't want to leave me to whatever fate awaited, so they devised an alternate plan. That turned out to be a mistake. I could have melted into the forests with the others—the Vionnu army would have had a difficult time tracking us."
"Then why was Mother Rain worried?"
"She was afraid that Tiearan would move on to another world and not go back. She did not want to leave me on Vionn. So here we are, son, our lives changed forever because of decisions others made."
"But why did Mother Rain think it wouldn't bring harm to someone else?"
"She knew it would, but she thought it was only temporary harm. Redbird decided to make it permanent."
"I can't understand that, father."
"I don't understand it either, child. Father Willow says to tell you hello and that he misses your hard work. He is having difficulties getting the others interested in throwing hay to his cows." Toff and Corent spent about an hour going from tree to tree and plant to plant, talking while Corent put his hands on this tree or that, closing his eyes to give it a bit of his power.
Toff always liked watching Corent work—the Half-Fae loved the living things he touched. Toff walked with Corent to the palace gate later, a guard following discreetly behind. Toff hadn't realized until then that he was guarded just as closely as the Queen's natural children.
"Toff, take care and enjoy your life," Corent squeezed Toff's shoulders before walking through the gate and away from Toff. Toff felt a sadness he couldn't describe as Corent walked away from him. As if Corent were saying good-bye for all time.
"No, I will never tell that child who his father is," I grumped. I wasn't feeling very well right then and Norian was irritating me. I considered barfing on his shoes.
"Even if he asks you someday? As an adult?" Norian was Director of the ASD at the moment, not my mate. Hence the annoyance. He'd been shocked by the information I gave him, but didn't doubt its veracity. I could smell parentage in the blood. My nose was better than any DNA test Norian had ever seen, and he employed it as often as he could. Some days—actually most days—being Liaison to the ASD was aggravating in the extreme.
"Norian, let him grow up without that taint, all right? If he's stable and happy as an adult one day, then sure, we can tell him. But as long as I have my doubts about his mental state if we pass that information along, then no, it stays with us."
"Do you think the ASD's new most wanted even realizes he has a child?"
"I find that highly unlikely," I retorted. "But if he did, and if there was the slightest chance he'd try to get him back, well, you see how that could go wrong in a hurry."
"How do you think it happened?" Norian settled onto my sofa and patted the seat next to him. I frowned at my lion snake shapeshifter mate for a moment before settling beside him. Norian ran gentle fingers over my forehead. I considered punching him, while wondering if pregnancy affected every woman the same way.
"I don't know what you have in your files on all this, Norian. But Melida supposedly was pregnant with her husband's child before he was killed on Cloudsong."
"I have that information," Norian nodded. "I also have records that say she miscarried."
"Except she didn't."
"Oh, she probably wanted to miscarry, but she didn't. We all assumed that Findal, Melida's husband, approached Black Mist. I don't think he did. I think Zellar may have approached Melida on Black Mist's behalf, offering all sorts of promises to her and Findal if they'd get Black Mist what they wanted, which was Brandelin's death."
"Sounds as though he offered her something else, too."
"Yep. Maybe she did that whole miscarriage thing just to throw Zellar off the track in case he got suspicious. Either way, we both know she showed up at Grey House already pregnant and she wouldn't let Cleo touch her when she didn't feel well. Cleo would have known. Heck, Selkirk probably would have too, just by putting his hands on her. She had a really good illusion spell going, I think, to fool them. I saw the records—Trik was born two months after Grey House sent her packing."
"You think Marid knows? Who the father is?"
"I hope not. I don't want Trik hurt or upset by any of this. I think he's had a hard enough life so far. He doesn't need any more trouble."
"When are you going to tell Toff that his father is still alive?"
"When I think he's ready," I sighed.
"Just lean back, breah-mul, and close your eyes. You've had a long day." I settled into the crook of Norian's arm and did just that.
Tory had gone to the kitchen for a snack. And then, deciding to sneak past his mother's study just to see why the light was shining underneath the door so late, he'd skipped close to her door so she wouldn't hear his footsteps. Tory only caught the last bit of conversation between his mother and Norian. Tory couldn't wait to tell Ry and Sissy what he'd heard.