She spent the remainder of the trip in silence. The sailors had avoided her in general before, and since her run-in with the eavesdropping sailor in the night, nobody seemed interested in being even remotely polite to her. For better or for worse, the sailor had kept his word and hadn’t told anyone why she cut him—but this meant they thought she’d done it for no reason. She took her meals alone and didn’t push the point.
Greyson also wasn’t speaking to her. Which was just as well, she thought, as she had nothing to say to him and had nothing she wanted to hear him say, either. The whole thing was best left alone; once they reported to the king, he would surely relieve her of Greyson’s charge, and she would never see the smithy again.
They docked on the mainland, rode back to the city in silence, and reported to the palace. Along the way, she’d tried a few times to apologize for slapping him: she’d opened her mouth, started to speak—and then panicked. Apologize? She couldn’t do it. And what did she have to apologize for, anyway? He was the one who should apologize. He had no respect for proper forms of address, and he was oblivious to the damage it could do to her reputation as a warrior. Curse him and his soft kisses; she didn’t need them.
Thus it was that she held her head high as they waited for the king to listen to their report. He made them wait a couple of hours, as always, before entering with fanfare and a yawn. He took his seat, yawned again, and gazed at Ayalah with undisguised hatred.
“Warrior Tarall, Your Majesty, reporting the status of my latest assignment,” she intoned.
“Yes, yes, I know already, out with it.”
She approached him and handed over the small package she’d brought back from Olekoth. “The queen’s jewels, Sire.”
He tossed the package to one of his squires without opening it. “That’s it? What took you so long?”
“There was a celebration, Majesty. A male heir to the throne was born. We weren’t allowed to leave until the celebration had concluded.”
“An Olekian male heir, you say? Well, well. Yes, very good.” He appeared to notice Greyson for the first time. “Oh, I see the smithy is still here.”
“Yes, Sire,” Ayalah said, unsure if she was still being addressed. “He was very useful on this trip.”
“Was he?” The king smirked. “Do you have anything to say, smithy?”
Greyson lifted his eyes. “Only that I hope I have fulfilled my duty to the Crown, Your Majesty, and may return to my home and my business.”
King Mathais raised his eyebrows. “Indeed.” He turned to his scribes. “Make note that this man is hereby pardoned and released from my service.” He turned back to Greyson and then waited a few moments. “That means you are dismissed, smithy.”
Ayalah waited until the door had closed behind Greyson and the king turned back to her.
She resisted the temptation to respond sarcastically about her most recent “special” assignment. “Yes, Sire?”
“You are to meet with an ambassador of Naraloth at the Ancient Meeting Place in three weeks’ time.”
She stared. “A Naralian ambassador?”
“That’s what I said, yes. He’s going to be sending me some… information.”
“Yes, Warrior Tarall—are you losing your hearing? Information that is too confidential to trust to a common courier.”
“My apologies, Majesty. I would be honored to assist.”
“Excellent.” He smiled, but there was no warmth behind the expression. “See that you don’t return without that information.”