2- In Which Worries are Confirmed
The news came to her suddenly. In the two days since Hunt's savage attack on the Kingdom of Clouds, enough evidence had been gathered to successfully find Alexander Wood guilty of treason against the King.
His execution was scheduled for that afternoon.
Irving told this after he had only just heard of it himself. "Danver told me during the evaluation," he said. "Can you believe it?"
Danver was one of the high ranking soldiers who had specifically been the one to take Elena's words out of context to initiate the investigation. He was an awkwardly shaped man in perhaps his mid-thirties, who always seemed to be irritated with any decision that wasn't his own. He had been promoted to be the King's bodyguard, but that King had been killed while in his protection, and he was since demoted back to Executive. Elena was sure that didn't do wonders for his perpetually poor mood.
Irving was clearly concerned that his good friend was not only a traitor, but would also be dead in a few hours. Since Elena was unable to form a verbal response, he followed up his statement with, "It's been made public too. It will take place in the center of Cerah, and anyone can attend. That's for humiliation."
"This isn't fair," Elena said flatly, trying to keep her head level. "Danver twisted my words to launch an investigation, and now they're going to kill Alexander to satisfy a hunch. That's ridiculous! What evidence could they possibly have?"
"I don't know," said Irving. "I don't have access to the files."
"They can't kill him without giving a reason why."
Elena could feel herself starting to cry, but Irving reached out and put both his hands on her shoulders. She took in a deep breath as their eyes met. She knew she had to be tougher than that. Wood was Irving's close friend, but he was managing to hold it together. Elena absolutely had to hold it together too.
So she took another deep breath. "Okay," she said, calming down. "What can we do?"
"I'm going to talk to Danver," said Irving, glancing back at the door that led to the stairwell, still heavily guarded. "But until they deliver my identification, I don't have the clearance to even leave this floor."
"Identification for what?" Elena asked.
"Identification for—well, the psychological evaluation was short," Irving said.
"What do you mean?"
"After they found Wood guilty, he of course lost his job. Danver's become Captain of the Guard now. He's determined that the after-effects of the Extension Curse would not affect my work after all, and recanted Wood's dismissal."
Though Elena understood all the words he used, she wasn't sure if she understood the sentence he made with them.
In response to her puzzled expression, Irving revised his statement by simply saying, "Danver is Captain of the Guard now, and he's elected me as one of his Executives."
"Congratulations," Elena said automatically, though she couldn't even fool herself into believing she was sincere. "Are you really okay?"
Irving actually did hesitate, running his finger around the outline of the button closest to his neck. Finally, he nodded, though he definitely didn't appear sure of himself. "I think I am," he responded.
"Irving, really? You still won't even tell anyone how long you were stuck inside the Extension Curse."
"I don't know how long I was stuck there," Irving said. "I lost track of time."
He was speaking quietly, sounding almost ashamed of his words. Elena felt bad that she had accidentally made him feel so bad about something he was excited about. Irving loved being a soldier—he had been bred for it. This was the only good news he had gotten in weeks and she had ruined it for him.
"Sorry," she said. "All that was awful. I'm sorry."
"All what was awful?" he questioned confusedly.
"I should have just—Irving, congratulations," she said, hoping to set things right. "When are you going to get your identification so you can go back to duty?"
Irving actually did smile a little bit as he thought about going back to duty. "Soon," he said. "The Kingdom will launch to go back to Cerah. I should be back in uniform before then."
"That's great for you."
"It is," he concurred. "Although, I had begun to wonder what it would be like to be a civilian for a time there." He turned his head to the side and looked thoughtful. Then, with some reservation, he confessed, "Frankly, I don't know what I'd do with myself if I couldn't be a soldier."
Elena wasn't sure that was good enough reason to accept a promotion so soon after the extensive torture. But now was not the time to bring it up. Maybe he'd consider the decision a little more seriously later on.
"For now, there's nothing we can do to help Wood," Irving said, trying to look positive, like he expected there was something they'd be able to do later on. "We can only hope that people come to their senses and realize that he is the most loyal soldier they've ever had and they're making a horrible mistake."
"That's too much to hope for," Elena said, though she wanted to be as positive as him.
He closed the door and kept his voice low. "Ms Elena, if you sustained an injury that required medical attention, then you'd have to be escorted to the hospital floor," he said. "I know that's where the King is—where Hayden is. Perhaps you would be able to convince him to pardon Wood if you explained that the initial arrest report was inaccurate and did not reflect your actual words."
That sounded like something she wanted to do, though she was quite hung up on the 'sustaining an injury' part. "What kind of injury?" she asked cautiously.
Irving looked her over. "I could break your finger," he suggested.
Elena inadvertently winced at the thought, but simultaneously nodded. "Okay," she said definitively. "But do you think he'd listen to me? Do you think he'd even talk to me? Hayden, I mean."
"I think he will," said Irving with a nod.
"But he wouldn't talk to you?"
"I couldn't get access to the floor," Irving answered. "I had an escort the whole time taking me to the evaluation and Danver refused to talk about it."
"But what am I supposed to say to him? How do I convince him?"
"I wonder, Ms Elena," Irving started, lowering his voice even further. He averted his eyes and kept them fixed on the floor. "Maybe you could say you got one of your feelings? The feelings you so often get about things… that generally turn out to be correct. You could say you got one of those about his innocence."
"Even if I didn't?"
Irving tried to disguise the fact that he was nodding.
Elena felt her anxiety rise. "Do you believe that I even get those feelings?" she asked.
"I believe you do," Irving said. "I spent my entire life looking up to Sir Steinorth and trying to be the soldier he was. And I saw that he often would know things inexplicably and almost always those things would come true. So yes, I believe."
Irving's words made her feel a lot better. He was one of the very few people who believed that she got those feelings as a result of her former status as a Chaste Beauty. "I'll do my best to talk to Hayden," she assured him.
"Thank you," Irving said. "It's very brave of you, Elena."
She liked to hear him speak her name casually and in such a friendly way. When she first met him, she had asked him to call her that instead of adding the formal 'miss', but he had almost never strayed away from the formality. And, during the past two days, she reminded him over and over to be more casual with her but he continued on principal.
Maybe this would mean it was finally changing.
As he took her hand into his, she remembered that she still had to break her finger. She closed her eyes tightly and she felt Irving put pressure on her knuckle. Then she heard a snap but, surprisingly, no pain.
All that anxiety left her as she opened her eyes and looked down at her hand resting in Irving's. "It doesn't hurt at all," she said, thoroughly confused.
"Oh," said Irving, laughing somewhat. "I used magic to dull it. You knew I could do that, didn't you? Did you really think I'd put you through that?"
"I guess I forgot," Elena admitted as she allowed Irving to guide her hand closer to her body for safe keeping.
"That's good of you to be willing to do it anyway," Irving remarked. "But remember, though it doesn't hurt, the damage is there so you have to be careful. And, after a day, it will start to hurt. I can give you another dose when that starts to happen, though."
"Got it," Elena said, nodding.
"Come on," he said, opening the door for her.
She paused a moment and looked him over. "Did you use magic to dull any of your own pain that day we fell off of the Kingdom?" she asked, remembering distinctly that he had suffered so much when he had all those bones broken.
"It doesn't work that way," he said. "You can't dull your own pain, only the pain of others. If you find yourself in a situation where you need it done, you had best hope that you have a friend nearby who can do the technique."
"So, if Garrett had fallen out the window with you…?"
"I'm sorry you went through all that," she said, "just to save me."
"I'm sorry you feel guilty," said Irving, looking concerned.
He gestured for her to come with him as he went straight to the soldier standing in the hall and in front of the door that led the stairwell. Elena allowed him to do all the talking.
In fact, he only had to say a handful of words to get Elena the permission she needed to go up to the hospital floor.
Elena thought that the easy part would be finding the room Hayden was in because she expected his personal bodyguard, Sir James Winter, would be standing in front of the door. But, she looked around at the various soldiers in front of various doors and she didn't see him. Then, she recalled that Winter had sustained injuries in the fight against Hunt too, and maybe he wasn't ready to return to duty just yet.
As she stood aimlessly in front of the nurse's station, one of the doors opened and a young, red-haired doctor stepped out. Elena recognized him as Kieran Grand, a medic soldier in the King's Guard. They had only spoken briefly during a particularly brutal struggle against Hunt, but Elena had concluded he was a harmless combination of awkward and nice. His magic was powerful enough to perform complicated medical magic and his family had served the King for generations.
He had also been one of the people to draw attention to the suspicious circumstances surrounding Wood's interaction with Hunt.
When he saw her, he clearly didn't know who she was at first. But, after taking a few more seconds during his approach as he washed his hands on a cloth, she could tell he was able to recall her face. "Ms Elena," he said. "Can I help you? Is something the matter?"
"Uh…my finger," Elena said.
He took her hand and looked it over, immediately making a face as he did. "This is certainly broken," he quickly concluded. "Though, it doesn't look serious. Let's have a closer look at it."
Politely, he led her into a room and instructed her to sit down as he continued to look it over, apparently not concerned with her lack of pain. Elena looked around the room and then, as casually as possible, she asked, "How is everyone doing?"
"Everyone?" Kieran repeated, sounding amused. "You mean everyone in the Kingdom, or what?"
"No," Elena said hastily, apologizing for the vagueness of her inquiry, figuring maybe she could somehow trick him into revealing something. "How's Sir Jasper?"
"Sir Jasper has returned to duty this morning," Kieran replied. "He recovered without complications from the poison."
Wade Jasper was a no-nonsense soldier who seemed to have no human emotions because of his incredible dedication to protocol and rules. However, Elena had managed to learn a little about him through Anya when she revealed that she had once considered adopting him after his father had been killed. After all, Anya and Jasper's father planned on marrying if it wasn't for his untimely death.
"How about Clinton?" she asked.
"Well, considering he didn't sustain many physical injuries, all he required was rest after the blessing," Kieran answered. "Ideally, he shouldn't use magic at all for several weeks after a blessing, but I'm sure he'll never listen."
Saul Clinton used to be an Executive in the Guard, but his magic abilities became too great for them to allow him to be a soldier anymore. He was very powerful and very handsome, though somewhat of a jerk because he knew just how valuable he was. People with his abilities generally got away with a lot because they were so highly sought after.
"Garrett?" Elena went on.
Kieran hesitated a moment, initially unsure of how to address the former Executive following his recent retirement and marriage to Sage. The shy and soft-spoken gentleman was no long 'Sir Garrett Kidd' as he had once been only a short time ago, and was now 'Master Garrett'. Once Kieran sorted through this all in his head, he responded with, "Master Garrett is resting. He's recovered from reaching Limit, but remaining awake continues to be difficult for him. Thanks to his accelerated healing, it will only be another few weeks before he's up and about like nothing happened but, until then, there's not much he can do."
"That's good, I guess."
"Yes, it is," Kieran agreed. "Will you ask about Sir Winter next?"
Elena nodded. "How is he?"
"Sir Winter has always been an excellent patient," Kieran said. "Most soldiers we get here are too urgent to leave so it delays their recovery. We've stitched him up and he'll be on bed rest for a few more days, but there were no internal injuries, which is good."
"So he's still Hayden's bodyguard?"
Kieran nodded, though it clearly made him uncomfortable that Elena referred to the King by his name.
"And how is he? Hayden, I mean. Uh—the King."
He was definitely reluctant with the notion of disclosing information about the King. "He has a broken nose and two broken ribs on top of his old injuries," he said after Elena asked a second time. "Some are saying that Clinton did a disservice to the King by choosing to bless Mr. Irving instead. There has been talk about organizing a blessing to help him recover."
"That's a great idea," Elena said. "He'll be able to breathe again, and even defend himself if he has to. Will Clinton do it?"
"No," said Kieran. "Blessings should not be performed this close to one another."
"Do you think I can talk to him?"
"No, to Hayden."
Kieran looked at her skeptically. "I'm not sure I can allow that," he said. "You'd have to talk to Sir Danver."
"I just want to talk to him. You know, he's my friend."
"I'm certain you're not being dishonest, Ms Elena," he said. "The King is currently in recovery. His condition is very fragile."
"It'll only take a minute."
Kieran gave a heavy sigh. "This feels urgent," he commented.
"It is," she said quietly, sensing Kieran knew why she wanted to see Hayden so badly.
"Is it regarding Alexander Wood?"
Wood's fate was on everyone's minds, so it didn't take a detective to figure out that she was trying to secure a pardon for him. "He's innocent," she insisted. "You've worked with him! You have to know it!"
"I worked with Judge Hunt as well," Kieran pointed out, his eyes flashing slightly. "And his story had quite a treacherous end."
"I want to believe that, but he's already been found guilty," said Kieran, sighing. "I have to trust that the evidence they have is sufficient grounds to execute him."
"Then why aren't they telling anyone their evidence? He's your friend, isn't he?"
Kieran put his hand on Elena's shoulder in hopes to calm her. Very softly, he drew in a deep breath and then let it out. "Listen," he said, "in a perfect world, our friends would be our friends, and our enemies would be our enemies, and nothing more than that. This is a complicated world. Something about Hunt's lifestyle must have been appealing to Wood."
Elena went silent. She didn't have anything more to say, especially since Kieran had clearly made up his mind. Of course, she didn't fault him for it. In fact, she respected his decision to put faith in the system. If he couldn't trust the system that his family had been part of for generations, then it that would perhaps be more difficult than getting a more complete answer about Wood.
"How is your finger?" he asked after a moment's pause.
Throughout their conversation, Kieran had wrapped Elena's finger in a small splint that was barely imposing. She had hardly noticed him doing it because obviously she felt no pain. Pleasantly, she thanked him.
"It should heal completely in a few weeks as it is," he said. "But try to avoid using it to give it the time it needs."
"Thank you," she said. "Where can I find Danver?"
"So you can get permission to see the King?"
"I'm not sure I know his exact location at the moment."
"Then what should I do?"
He brought her out into the hall. She watched as he moved his head in somewhat of a deliberate way, staring down the hall at the very end of it and pausing a moment.
It was a strange kind of motion that initially didn't appear to have a purpose, but then he looked at her again and gave her a smile.
"I have other patients, Ms Elena," he said. "I trust that you can find your own way out."
She nodded, still confused by his behavior. He excused himself and ducked into another room without saying anything else.
At first, Elena glanced over at the door that led to the stairwell. She only took a few steps, but then stopped and looked behind her at the door Kieran took the time to stare at. Maybe that's where Danver was. For whatever reason, Kieran was perhaps instructed not to tell anyone Danver's location, but that didn't stop him from implying it apparently.
The next time she saw Kieran, she'd make sure to imply some appreciation to him.
She'd just go in and quickly ask for permission to speak to Hayden and it would all be fine. There would definitely be no problems and no complications whatsoever. Maybe Danver would say yes simply because he felt guilty about using her to convict Wood.
Even as she repeated this to herself several times, she knew it was completely absurd.
She hurried to the implied door and hesitantly knocked. There was no response. It was beginning to become apparent to her that maybe she had read too much into Kieran looking in a random direction. It wasn't as if she knew him at all and maybe he was prone to doing stuff like that for no particular reason. The room was probably empty. Maybe he wasn't even looking at this one at all.
Figuring she'd find nothing inside, she turned the doorknob and pushed it open. Just to be safe—maybe Kieran was trying to imply that he wanted her to wait in there. Or it could lead to another set of stairs, merely a different option for leaving the floor.
Or it was entirely possible that she was bypassing all that tedious legwork and Kieran had sent her to Hayden himself.
And, sure enough, there he was. The King himself: Hayden.