Fourteen hours later, Pallian was standing in the vault and regarding the Spear of the First where it was lashed to the wall. He wore his own sword, not the gauntlet-sword carried by the Black Knight, on a wide black leather belt, over a thin, off-white shirt and darker brown pants. He hadn't bothered with boots; here in the crypt, he usually wore sandals.
"A magnificent prize," said his father, the wizard-king of Teregor, from behind him.
Pallian immediately turned and dropped to one knee. "My sire."
"Was it worth the cost, do you think?"
Pallian hesitated, but only for a moment. "I do not know," he said. "As the Champion of Teregor, I only do as I am ordered."
"Duty," said his father. "Did you do your duty there in Marinul?"
"I came when I was called, did what I was bidden, and departed when I was ordered," Pallian said carefully. "I am, as always, your obedient servant."
"Then why," asked his father, "does Rebka, my daughter and my heir, lie slain in the city of Marinul? Did you not have a duty to protect her?"
Pallian swallowed. Rebka, dead? "I do not know, father--"
"Do not call me that."
Pallian kept his head down. "I came when I was called. I led the attack that broke through their earthworks and slew their sorcerers. I defeated the Champion of Marinul, though he was armed with the Spear of the First. Rebka herself ordered my return to the crypt, to make safe her prize and heal my wounds."
"You defy me, boy?" The wizard-king's voice rose, outraged. "You dare claim that your wounds were more important than the safety of my heir?"
Pallian opened his mouth to argue, then closed it again. His father had already decided what would happen here; that much was clear. He settled back, then looked up and met his father's eyes. "May I at least ask how Rebka died, Your Majesty?"
Caught off-guard, the wizard-king swallowed. "Killed in her sleep. A single knife to the heart. No doubt from the Shadow of Edrias."
Pallian settled back. His anger and his outrage drained away; with the strain of battle and healing, he was simply too tired to sustain them. So after all that, I am to be blamed for something I could not have prevented. The Shadow of Edrias was a legend, a murderous piece of the night itself, created to be the Champion of Edrias just as the Black Knight had been crafted to be the Champion of Teregor.
He knelt in silence for two full breaths before his father -- no, the wizard-king, he was only that now -- demanded: "Well, boy?"
"What would you have me say, Majesty?" He kept his head down, waiting.
"Tell me you understand the depths of your failure." The wizard-king's voice was tight with cold fury, he raised one hand in front of him. "Admit that your sister's death was your fault. Beg for my forgiveness."
Pallian drew a resigned breath, then looked up and met the king's eyes. For a heartbeat longer he remained silent, taking in the narrow face with its high forehead, the clenched jaw, the hands curled into fists. Then he said, "You Majesty, I cannot."
For a moment the wizard-king looked stunned. Then his face smoothed and his expression turned cruel. "And for that insolence, you will be executed. Seize him!"
Pallian let himself relax as the skeletons surrounded him. He didn't have the strength for another battle yet, and he had no hope at all of defeating his father. So he remained still as the closest of the skeletons pulled him to his feet and removed the sword from his scabbard. He didn't resist as they marched him out the door. He didn't have a plan yet, but if he was to have any hope of escape he would have to wait.