"Erland, she was only thinking of her child," Lissa said weakly. Karzac was out of his seat immediately and kneeling beside the Queen's chair.
"Then let us take all prisoners to the dungeons," Erland was still glaring at Hyacinth, who shrank back in her seat. Storm, Laral's mother, was sent away earlier.
Drake and Drew escorted Laral, Clover and Hyacinth away before the Council was officially ended for the day. Ry and Tory stood to help Toff, Nissa and Trik, who were all stunned at Hyacinth's outburst.
"Hyacinth attempted to cast the ripening spell at the Queen," Storm reported to Tiearan, Rain and a few other elders at the Green Fae village. "And this was after the Queen had argued for a lighter sentence for our children. Tiearan, I think the core's draining is affecting all of us in terrible ways. Hyacinth would not have done that, otherwise. We all feel the imbalance of things, as we are closer to the planet itself. How quickly will this affect the others, so they will come looking for a cause? We need to form the Circle soon."
"You are correct, I fear, and I weep for Laral, Clover and Hyacinth," Tiearan said. "And we owe a debt to the Queen—we all know that." He turned his gaze on those gathered, daring any to argue. The Queen had saved them, their Half-Fae children and the peaceful Vionnu. Twice. They were all indebted to Lissa and they'd done little to discharge that debt. "Charge your crystal. We will do this soon."
"Ry, could that woman hurt Mom?" Nissa whispered as they walked down the corridor leading to the family wing.
"Sissy, you didn't see Aurelius and Uncle Gavin, did you?" Tory asked.
"It happened too quickly," Roff came up behind them silently. "Many inside the chamber held power. Gavin and Aurelius would have killed that woman if she'd managed to harm a hair on your mother's head. Are you all well enough? Shall I send for another healer?" Roff added.
"We're just shaken up," Ry offered with a shrug.
"Then call if you need assistance," Roff replied. "Go now, and dress for dinner. It is scheduled for the usual time." Roff strode away.
"I wish we could see Cheedas," Nissa muttered.
"Sissy?" Tory looked down at his younger sister. He wasn't surprised when she burst into tears.
"Better now?" Nissa nodded at Toff's words—she was embarrassed that she'd cried in front of her brothers.
"It's nothing to be ashamed of," Toff whispered gently. Nissa clung to him while she wept, even as Ry offered a cool, damp cloth for her eyes. Trik watched in surprise; at Belancour Manor, the older ones would have ridiculed the younger ones for weeping instead of offering support.
"Come on, Sissy, we'll be late for dinner," Ry pulled Nissa toward her suite. "Get changed, we'll meet outside the dining hall."
"Mom doesn't look good," Ry muttered when they entered the dining room later.
Karzac was seated beside the Queen, watching her carefully. Dinner was a quiet affair, with hardly anyone speaking. Toff glanced at the Queen often, but her eyes were on her plate and Karzac continued to watch, silently urging her to eat more.
We'll talk when we get back to our room, drifted into Toff's head—it was Ry's mental voice. Toff almost jumped at the nonverbal contact. Instead, he nodded discreetly and went back to his dessert.
"What can we do?" Tory paced inside their shared suite later. Toff sat on the floor next to Trik's power chair, while Nissa settled beside Toff. Ry had his back to the headboard of his bed, listening while his brother spoke.
"There's a shield around Evensun," Tory went on. "As a High Demon, I might be able to get through, but anybody else might get fried on the grid. That means if I take anybody with me, they could die. And once I get there, I don't have the ability to set up any kind of perimeter for them."
They'd been talking nonstop ever since they'd shut the suite door behind them. All knew that Clover and Laral deserved punishment, but being sentenced to life on Evensun was practically a death sentence. It was no secret that terrible people had been sent there—older people who wouldn't hesitate to kill the convicted teens quickly.
"This is Gren's fault," Toff muttered angrily. "If he hadn't convinced them," Toff didn't finish.
"Yeah. We know that for sure," Nissa agreed. Gren's name had come up many times in all the testimony. He was at the bottom of everything.
All of them jumped when a light knock sounded on the door. "Mom, what's going on?" Nissa asked. Lissa walked in, followed by Drake, Drew and Erland.
"Dad?" Ry stared at Erland.
"We're going on a covert mission," Erland's grin was blinding.
"Where?" Tory asked. "Mom, I thought you didn't feel good."
"I'll feel better when we get this done," she sighed. "We know you're upset about this too, so you're all going with us. You, too, Trik." She came to him and smoothed hair back from his forehead.
"But where?" Tory repeated his question.
"We're going to Evensun," the Queen whispered.
"Wow," Ry breathed, turning in a circle. "Why isn't anybody here? This is nice."
A field of tall grass and wildflowers lay about them, with a stand of trees on one side.
"We've shielded this area, that's why," Erland placed an arm around Ry's shoulders. "Now all we have to do is find Haldis, Sark and their parents. They get a thousand acres to do with as they like, and none of the others will be able to get through. Clover, Laral and their parents will be brought here tomorrow—Drake and Drew will see that they're dropped off in the proper place."
"I will find them." The teens blinked when a strange Larentii arrived with Connegar and Reemagar.
"Hi, Ren, how are you?" Lissa smiled up at the eight-and-a-half-foot Larentii. "I haven't seen you in a while."
"I have been quite busy. I see that you have, as well." He smiled at Lissa and placed a large blue hand on her abdomen.
"It wasn't planned. I'm not complaining, either," she patted his arm.
"The child is quite fine," Ren proclaimed before taking his hand away. "I will return shortly." He disappeared.
"Mom, who is that?" Nissa asked.
"An old friend," Lissa said.
"Are we breaking the law?" Trik asked.
"Sort of," the Queen nodded. "Nobody is supposed to get preferential treatment on Evensun."
"I can see why the laws might say that. I can also see why the law needs to be bent in this case," Trik sighed.
"Then you see more than most," Connegar knelt beside Trik's chair. Trik blinked at the tall Larentii, whose face was not far from his. Had he ever thought to see a Larentii, or even more wondrous, to receive a compliment from one?
"Your observational skills are quite sharp, young one," Connegar smiled at Trik. "They serve you well."
"I expect all of you to keep this secret," Lissa said. "I only brought you because I knew you were upset about this, too. Toff," she turned her gaze to the young comesula, "You don't mind this?"
"I don't mind. This is better, I think," he nodded his dark head toward the Queen. "Gren is the one who deserved the worst punishment, and he managed to get away."
"I feel the same way." Lissa came to stand next to Toff, pulling him into a warm embrace. "I wanted to make sure this is what you want, too, because you're the one they wanted to harm."
"This is what I want," Toff said when Lissa let him go. He noticed that the Queen was brushing away tears, but chose to ignore it. He liked it, too, when the Queen hugged him. He'd gotten more affection since coming to the palace than he'd received in a very long time. Redbird had tended him often when he was small, but when he became older, she'd pulled away. There at the end, she felt like a stranger to him, and he didn't understand it at all. Her treatment of him, too, had bordered on mistreatment. No surprise, considering all the lies she'd told. Toff shook himself to dispel the memories.
"What about Narissa?" Tory asked quietly.
"Well. That—well," Lissa shook her head and walked away.
"Mom, we know she's our great-grandmother. Dad told me," Tory offered.
"She's done a lot of bad things in her life," Lissa lifted blue eyes to her tallest son. "She won't be given special treatment when she gets here. She was here before, but she was given clemency and a comfortable place to live on Le-Ath Veronis because she gave me information I needed once. She just negated all of that. If she'd contacted me right away when Toff showed up inside her perimeter, she might be getting better treatment still. Instead, she threatened Toff." Lissa tossed up a hand in resignation and turned away.
"She's been the same for thousands of years. Her willingness to cooperate in the past seems a temporary anomaly," Erland moved toward Lissa and pulled her against him. "Love, you can never predict what those with a predilection for betrayal might do."
"Seems to run in the family, doesn't it?" Lissa said.
"It does indeed, my love," Erland whispered.
"They're kissing again," Tory muttered. Tory wore a smile, though, when Toff turned in his direction.
"Here we are," Renegar the Larentii announced, as he appeared with Haldis, Sark and both sets of parents. All were dirty and much thinner than they'd been when Toff had seen them last.
"Will we really be shielded?" Sark's mother begged, dropping to her knees. "We have been hiding for days, and have been forced to hunt for food at night."
"You will be shielded," Lissa moved away from Erland and came to stand before them. "This land is yours, to farm or do with as you please. The others will not be able to cross the boundary. I warn you, though, step outside that boundary and you are on your own." Lissa gazed, unblinking, at Haldis and Sark. Her words were meant for them. They'd crossed another line already, when they'd beaten Toff.