Helen and Edward sat in stunned silence.
“The stone?” Helen said slowly.
The officer nodded. “Indeed, Princess. We were having such plans for it, also.”
“Indeed. I heard the King say that we were to have it as an exhibit in the royal museum.”
“Ah,” Edward said. “So you do not know what kind of stone it was?”
The officer shrugged his shoulders. “Some new kind of quartz that no one knows of, from what I heard from the specialists here.” He smiled. “But I should not chatter so openly. We will find more specimens, I am sure.”
Someone peeked in behind the minister and prodded a shoulder. The minister turned around to find whom it was and, after a bit of whispered conversation, stepped against the doorway.
“Antony!” Helen said to the other figure. The prince was dressed in a green and black silk gown heavily embroidered in blue and yellow swirl work. A burly man, scarred from countless fights, stood behind him; He gripped at a broadsword hilt at his side.
“A greeting, betrothed, brother-in-law,” Antony said, bowing very shallowly. “Forgive me that I could not greet you in person, but I am sure that Norton informed you of the news.” He frowned at the line of grey cloth before his feet. “What is this? Some lady left her accessory here?”
“That had to be the elemental’s,” Helen said, walking up to her betrothed and bending over to pick up the shawl, which turned out to be a very finely woven wool twill. She draped it over her shoulders.
“The tempest visited you?” Antony said, smiling slightly. “I am not surprised. They have been worried over what has happened.”
“Would you like some tea?” Edward said.
“I would be honored,” Antony said. He leaned slightly on the man, who helped him move to the chair.
“A nurse of some sort?” Helen said as Antony slid into the chair. The man walked back to the entranceway and started to talk to the minister still there.
The prince smiled again. “My bodyguard for the moment,” he said. “After the attack, my fathers made me get one in the case I get injured again.”
Helen poured out a cup and passed it over to Antony. “Mind me asking what happened?” She blushed slightly. “I mean, I do not mean to pry, but—”
“Perfectly alright, sister,” Edward interrupted. “We can report this to our father.”
“Quite so,” Antony said, adding a sugar cube into his cup and stirring it. “Though, where to begin is rather confusing.” He sighed and sipped. “I would have to start when I was headed to the vault to do my daily check on the stone.”
“I do that, on average, two times a day. Knowing how dangerous the stone was, my father contacted a few summoners to see if they could already have an elemental take the stone.”
“We were wondering what was going on,” Helen said. “There was no message by anyone today. We were distracted by other matters.”
“Elred the Green,” Antony said, nodding. “We have Irgon here, but from the looks of things, the poor dragon is ready to join Elred.” Helen’s shoulders slumped, and she looked like she was about to cry. “I know, betrothed,” Antony continued, patting a shoulder. “We all will feel his loss.
She reached into her pocket and pulled out a lacy handkerchief. “It is okay,” she said, dabbling her eyes a bit. “I am just worried about the dragon, that is all.”
“Ah yes, him. We will visit him after I tell you what happened.” He topped off Helen’s cup and continued.
“This time, it was different. I found the vault already opened, and the guard slumped over in a puddle of blood. I barely had time to yell for reinforcements when this figure leapt at me with a dagger. I had no sword, only my own dagger, and I had time to take it out and defend myself with it.”
“I did get hurt, though,” he added, placing his left hand against his right arm. “Nothing much really, or so I thought until the medical found poison in the wound.”
Helen gasped. “If I knew you were injured, I would have brought over my healing potions.”
Antony smiled. “We have a potionmaster here, also, betrothed,” he said. “The medical has a full stock of them.”
“As I was saying,” he continued, “the figure was not like anything I’ve seen. Completely grey-skinned, in grey clothing. He was quick, I can tell you that. He almost had advantage over me before the guards came in to protect me. The arrival distracted him well enough for me to knock him out.”
“Where is the person now?” Edward inquired.
“In the prisons,” Antony said. “Now, after the medical looked me over and dubbed me fit, I had to look inside the vault.”
“And that is when you noticed the stone was missing.” Helen said.
Antony nodded. “Yes, betrothed. I did not realize how anyone could have gotten it out at the time, and I was already heading out to let Father know. However, I felt a wave of dizziness rush over me, and I blacked out.”
“When I came to, it was the next morning, and I learned that the blade was poisoned with powdered peach pit, according to the medical. It was a miracle that I was still alive, according to him.”
“Which brings me to the questions,” Edward said, “of who the person was and who took the stone.”
“Not to mention who opened the vault,” Helen finished. She drained the last of the tea and placed the empty teapot on the trolley. “It appears to me that there was more than one person who must have pulled it off. Any idea when this happened?”
“Must have happened in the morning,” Antony said, “before breakfast. I remember because that is when I usually make the first round of the castle. I finish the round with the vault. Then, at the evening, I reverse, starting with the vault and ending at the dining room for dinner.”
“Any way we could look at the assassin?” Helen asked.
The two looked at her as if she was insane.
“Begging your pardon, sister,” Edward said, “but I do not think a person of your station should be seen looking at such a creature.”
“I see nothing wrong with that,” a lilting voice said.
The three looked at the newcomer. He stood a head lower than the guard, but that did nothing to hide the gymnastic build. He gazed at the trio with almond-shaped blue eyes that stood in contrast with his luxuriously wavy flaming-red hair and beard. He has an upturned nose and hollow cheeks. He wore a form-fitting shirt of red velvet slashed with white on the sleeves and matching breeches.
“Father,” Antony said, rising and going up to embrace him.
“Son,” the king said, hugging back.
“Your highness,” Helen said, standing and giving him a deep curtsey.
“Call me Cail, daughter,” the king said. “After all this time, we can dispense with formalities, I think.”
Helen smiled. Cail Foghaven, Grace of the Light and Holder of the Throne of Foghaven, Twenty-Third Province of the Kingdoms of Redhedge, was informal, always wanting to deliver an air of ease into the stuffy atmospheres of the royal courts.
“And Edward,” the king said, nodding to the person. He let go of Antony to walk over and shake his hand. “What a pleasure to find the both of you here. Mind me asking what brings you here?”
“We thought to take the stormstone back to the elements,” Edward said. “However, we found that it was stolen.”
“Yes, that is a shame,” Cain said. “Also a shame that my son had to be injured in this conflict.” An sliver of anger slid into his voice. “Even a more shame that the theft escaped.”