And the Portal closed behind them again.
Lord Kyndreth steepled his fingers together and stared at his son Gildor, who had just brought him news that was—well— peculiar. He wasn't certain what to make of it. He was even less certain what to do about it.
He had young Kyrtian's report on his desk, a written copy of what Kyrtian had told him via the teleson, and although he could find no fault in it, it had left him feeling vaguely unsatisfied. Granted, everyone knew what the forest bordering Chey-nar's estate was dangerous, full of alicorns and the Ancestors only knew what sorts of worse things. And there was no real reason why Kyrtian should have actually found the purported den of halfbloods in there. After all, they'd been hiding for centuries with no one suspecting their presence, so why should one young Elvenlord find them now?
But—the report felt incomplete. As if Kyrtian was hiding something from him, although he could not even begin to guess what that "something" was.
And now—Gildor, poor dullard that he was, walked into the study with the astonishing news that Lady Triana and Ael-markin were missing. That they had left their estates with camping gear and a train of slaves that included (in Triana's case, at least) slaves trained as foresters. And now, both were missing, their estates in confused disarray, their slaves left with no orders, uncertain of what they should do now. Gildor and his friends had turned up at Aelmarkin's estate for a planned event—one at which Lady Triana was also supposed to appear— to find that both were gone, vanished.
"Thank you, Gildor," Kyndreth told his son, with the gravity due to a major piece of intelligence. "Thank you very much. Would you care to invite all of those friends of yours who were disappointed of their amusement here? I will be happy to entertain them for a week, if you like."
As he'd expected, Gildor's dull face brightened at the prospect; Kyndreth summoned his steward and sent his son off with the lesser Lord to organize the entertainment. That is, Lord Belath would organize the entertainment, and Gildor would summon his friends ... it would be a great disruption to Kyn-dreth's work, in fact, he might have to retire to the hunting-lodge or the old Dowager-House while the young roisterers romped through his halls. But that would be a small price to pay if Gildor continued to bring him tidbits like this one.
Was this what Kyrtian was hiding?
That didn't fit with his reading of the young Lord. Kyrtian was not likely to conceal the fact that his cousin had come to grief, and even less likely to have murdered Aelmarkin himself. Kyndreth could readily see why Aelmarkin would follow Kyrtian into the wilderness—Aelmarkin would be perfectly happy to engineer an "accident" out there. But if, in the course of trying to set up such an accident, it was Aelmarkin who perished, and Kyrtian found out about it, why would Kyrtian hide it?
Why would he want to? If Aelmarkin were hoist upon his own petard of treachery, Kyrtian should be only too pleased to trumpet the fact to all the world.
And as for Triana vanishing at the same time—well, the only thing that Lord Kyndreth could imagine was that for some reason she had gone chasing after Kyrtian as well. Although he could not imagine why.
Kyndreth ground his teeth, feeling frustration well up inside him. This was an entirely new experience for him—and he didn't like it. Always, always, from the time he first came to power and took his Council seat, he had known who was doing what, and why. Especially why. And now things were happening that he had not been told of, had not anticipated, and worst of all, he had no real notion of the motivations that lay behind these incidents.
Motivations—what in the world could have brought Aelmarkin out into the wilderness besides hatred for Kyrtian? Or, for that matter, Lady Triana? What could the two possibly have in common?
He closed his eyes for a moment, emptied his mind, and violently suppressed the emotions that came welling up in the wake of that frustration. Emotion was not useful. He needed logic and reason—and above all, planning.
And once he cleared his mind of emotion, something else occurred to him at long last. The one thing that Triana and Aelmarkin did have in common was the group that they associated with socially—the younger sons, and some few younger daughters. Until the Young Lords' Revolt, that had included—the rebellious Young Lords.
What if, rather than trailing after Kyrtian, Aelmarkin and Tri-ana had gone—quite coincidentally—into the same area, intending to meet with the fugitives?
What if Aelmarkin and Triana had been the spies within the ranks of the Old Lords for the youngsters?
If that was the case—no wonder Aelmarkin had been so intent on fostering the impression his cousin Kyrtian was dotty! And no wonder he'd been so disgruntled when Kyrtian was placed in charge of the army!
It was only a theory—could by no means be proved—but it wouldn't hurt to keep the theory in reserve. It might be useful.
Meanwhile, he should be the one to spread the news to the rest of the Council, if at all possible. How many other Council members had offspring likely to be invited to that aborted party? Not many—and none were likely to have mentioned the disappearances yet.
Good. He might be swimming in a sea of uncertainties, but he could make something out of this yet.
He straightened his back, called for strong wine, and began to plan what he would tell the Council. And as he did so, he felt a faint smile cross his lips.
At the very least, he would gain something. Triana had some ancient cousin or other who would swiftly claim her estate, but Aelmarkin's nearest relation was Kyrtian ... and Kyrtian was unlikely to want Aelmarkin's tiny holding or his business of breeding pleasure-slaves. When an estate went unclaimed, it traditionally went to the Head of the Council.
Which was, of course, Lord Kyndreth.
And if there was any question of whether or not it should be confiscated, well, Kyndreth could bring up that theory, branding Aelmarkin as a traitor, and overturning all possible objections to confiscating the property.
Kyndreth nodded to himself, feeling firm ground beneath his feet again. Good enough. He knew where he was now. He would call the Council Meeting, announce the disappearances, and see who reacted, and how. That would tell him a great deal—and in the meantime, he would send his stewards in to take control of Aelmarkin's possessions.
He took a long breath, and keyed the teleson. Shake the tree, and see what fruit fell—and how far.
And whatever happened, to make certain that it profited him.
"Well, Anster," he began, when Lord Anster's servant had summoned him to the teleson-screen, "it seems we have a mystery on our hands...."