The Queen's Garden was on the north end of the castle, tucked into the corner between the Keep and the high outer wall. It was a place where gravel paths wound gently through beds of flowers, or turned off to secluded resting-areas shaded by chaba-trees and siv-vines. In the spring, both trees and vines added their flowers to the cultivated arrangements below; summer began, by tradition, when the flowers of the trees and vines fell away, to drift to the ground like brightly-colored snow.
Cyjar was lying on a stone bench in one of those enclosures. Siv-vines wound through a set of trellises all around and overhead, offering plenty of shade but still letting in the late-summer breeze. The small, red-brown siv-fruits were almost ripe; he'd eaten a couple of the redder ones already, fresh from the vine.
The book was another history, an account of the Accord of Ironthorn that had united the people of the empire with the people of the hills. His father had suggested that he read it, since in a few weeks Cyjar would go to join the hill people on their great summer hunt. It was interesting stuff, even if it had all happened two hundred years ago. One to the princes, second-prince Biltrop, had been given charge of the western outliers - a group of farming settlements that had grown up against the edge of the great forest where the hill people lived, at a time when the hill people were raiding heavily. Biltrop had begun trying to strengthen the outliers' defenses, before eventually realizing that the outliers were plundering the great forest every bit as much as hill people were raiding the towns. With that knowledge, he had taken a small force and gone to find the Forest King...
Cyjar was so caught up in his reading that, while he heard the footsteps on the gravel path, at first he didn't realize they were coming towards him. He looked up to see his cousin Seshil standing hesitantly at the entrance of the resting-area. He marked his place and closed the book, then greeted his cousin: "Seshil."
"Cyjar." Seshil hesitated, then came and sat on a nearby bench. "I wanted to talk to you."
Cyjar looked at him. They were close to the same age, and close to the same size: they both had inherited the trim, compact build common to the royal bloodline. "It's strange to see you without Dabin," he said.
Seshil chuckled. "I suppose it would be." He drew a breath. "Did you ever have something that seemed like a clever idea, something far too fun not to do... and then, looking back, realize that it was incredibly stupid and could easily have turned into a disaster?"
Cyjar considered that. There'd been a few things, after all. Once he'd gotten into the candied chaba-fruits, and eaten enough to make himself sick; once he'd decided that it would be fun to try sleeping in the stables, and awakened to the panicked sounds of guards and servants searching for him. None of that was really important, though. Seshil wouldn't be asking the question if he hadn't done something himself. And he wouldn't be asking Cyjar unless whatever he'd done had been directed at Cyjar. So while Seshil hadn't said, "I'm sorry I left a grabby-monster in your room, I shouldn't have done that," this was still a confession of sorts.
"Was it your idea, or Dabin's?" Cyjar asked quietly.
"I'm not sure," Seshil said. "A little of both, I think. That it was possible, that was my idea. Dabin was the one who thought we should really do it, though."
Cyjar frowned, turning that over in his mind. "Easy for him to say," he told Seshil. "He isn't studying with Magister Hollint. He wouldn't have to face the consequences if you were caught."
"I realize that," Seshil said, suddenly angry.
"Do you?" Cyjar pressed gently. "It's always been like this, with the two of you. You come up with these ideas, and Dabin presses you to go through with them... and lets you get in trouble for them. Dabin might not have come up with it on his own..."
"I don't know," Seshil interrupted. His anger had melted away and he suddenly looked thoughtful. "He left a Spineback in my boot when I was seven. I didn't know until I put it on. It burned, and my foot swelled... they had to cut the boot off, and the healer said I nearly lost two of my toes."
Cyjar looked appalled. "Perhaps he could have come up with it on his own, then. But you wouldn't have gone through with it if it wasn't for him. You need to stop listening to him so much." He reached down to his belt, and untied a small pouch that hung there. "Here." He tossed the pouch to Seshil.
Seshil caught the pouch and opened it, looking at the soft glow of the golden containing-crystal inside. "Thank you," he said simply.
"I haven't said anything, and I don't think anyone's checked the inventory in the King's Menagerie, so you should be able to put it back with nobody the wiser. But, Seshil... what I said a moment ago? I meant that. You and Dabin together are trouble, and sooner or later it's going to get you into trouble. Either stop listening to him, or rein him in, or... or something. He's your brother; I dont know. But think about it."
Seshil drew a deep breath. "I'll think about it. And, Cyjar? Thanks."