The Prophetess's Tale: Part Four
"You got this," Charlie said, but Cheyenne didn't feel as though she got it at all. She pulled the hood over her eyes, as though closing off her vision would make her invisible.
"I look like a hoodlum."
"Today, you are a hoodlum!" Charlie whisper-exclaimed, smacking her on the back affectionately. "That's the whole point."
The seer's throat itched. The line weaved into the castle endlessly; it was complaint day today, and everyone was excited to throw in their problems to the king. She did not know much about the kingdom, but she never realized how unpopular he must be to have this many unsettled denizens.
"Nothing's going to happen to you," Charlie added. "You're the messenger. King Tristan would not hurt a messenger. I promise."
Cheyenne's vision went blurry. "They could take me in for questioning, or—"
"I'm right here if something happens." Charlie poked her nose. "If, not when. As an unlikely precaution, but I got you."
A wave of gratefulness passed over the prophetess, but she knew better. The awareness that he was offering to solve a problem he helped create flashed at the back of her mind. But he was so nice. Were all conmen this nice?
"I don't want to do this. I don't want to deceive a king. It's wrong..." When she looked up into his eyes, there was genuine sympathy in them. She couldn't help but like him.
"I'll show you my family some time, okay?" he said with a sad smile. "I think that'll help you understand."
Merely holding his shoe could help her understand more about him than he understood about himself, but she said nothing.
The line moved forward at an agonizingly slow rate. Charlie stood three spots behind her. She looked back frequently, and he gave her a much-needed reassuring smile each time. She was thankful it was him and not Audley watching over her.
Of course, Audley had his own role in this, and Cheyenne's heart fluttered to think of how delicate this plan was, how easy it could all fall apart. Sweat soaked her fur through to her cloak. She had to distract herself from fainting.
Two hours passed. Cheyenne entertained herself by subtly holding onto the frayed ends of the coat of the red Lupe in front of her. She knew basically his entire future now, from what he'd eat for lunch tomorrow to how his children would grow up. She was impressed with herself; she'd never gone that deep into anyone's future before, never been given the time to analyze it so thoroughly.
The Lupe moved to enter the ballroom, where the king was taking the complaints, and the cloth was suddenly tugged from Cheyenne's hands. She gasped in surprise. The heat flushed to her cheeks as the Lupe made a strange expression and looked her up and down, clearly full of judgment.
She looked back to Charlie for reassurance, but he was gone. Her heart skipped a beat. This was it. She was next, and she had to pull off this farce.
It wasn't until the guard ushered her in that she realized she hadn't been breathing.
The double doors were huge, intimidating—the ballroom was worse. A domed ceiling sported floral images over golden paint, and the immense space was enough to make her footsteps echo to the sky and back. A group of people sat around the king toward the back near windows that stretched all the way to the ceiling.
The guard gently prodded her along, and thank goodness, too; there was no way she'd be able to move on her own. Her thoughts raced and leaped over one another, scrambling to get to the front of her brain. She couldn't remember anything Audley told her to say.
It had been such an eloquent speech, too.
She finally stood before them after what felt like a mile of walking, right behind the line where she was not to pass. The king appeared plain and tired, a green Cybunny with no ornament besides his kingly staff, sitting in a chair only slightly taller than those around him.
They were fidgeting, tired, leaning back in their chairs and whispering to one another. And of course they would be. They'd been sitting there longer than Cheyenne had waited in line. She couldn't blame them.
The king was the only one mildly paying attention. Cheyenne tried to clear her throat, but couldn't even bring herself to do that. She didn't know what to say. She couldn't do this. She itched to leave, to bury herself in her cloak and disappear.
And that was when she noticed Audley.
He was seated right beside the king, at his right hand, whispering something into his ear. The king nodded, though did not acknowledge the words. Cheyenne's mouth fell open involuntarily.
"Can you speak?" the king asked at last. It was clear that he did not mean it in a mocking way, but rather was genuinely asking about her capability to speak.
"Y-yes, Your—" Was it "your majesty," or "your highness"? Was one for princes and one for kings? Was one for men and one for women? She held the hood further over her face. If she couldn't see them, perhaps they would not judge her. "—Highness? I have... news about your son."
The collective groan of chairs shifting as twenty people shifted into attentive postures echoed throughout the spacious room. Audley had asked her to build it up, she thought, but she couldn't remember how. Better to just do what she could and get out of there.
She peered out through the hood at the sudden silence, as if to make sure they had not all left. The king hunched forward in his chair, paws clenching the armrests. "News about my son?" he echoed.
"I'm merely an informer," Cheyenne said, licking her lips. This was nothing like the eloquent speech Audley prepared and would have been better at pulling off, but it had the gist of it. "Not a co-conspirator."
Murmurs started from around the king. He held up a paw and hushed them instantly. "I assure you that whatever information you have will be highly valued and you will walk away free," the king said, his voice so strong and powerful that Cheyenne thought he had to be covering up a nervous tremor.
"I know he's in the desert, to the south. It was a kidnapping." She licked her lips again. "As was speculated." Her heart dropped into her stomach. He'd said she could walk away free, but there was no guarantee. If she forgot any vital information this could all go to ruins.
"Who?" the king asked.
"I don't have a name for you," Cheyenne said. Her tongue seemed to fill her entire mouth and she had to talk around it. "But I know whoever it is is familiar with the sea."
She flipped through Audley's speech in her head, but she was sure she'd said it wrong. This was the worst plan in the world. She felt as though she was going to faint, avoiding Audley's eye contact so she couldn't see her disapproval. She might as well kiss her friend goodbye, too. He would ruin her, just like Cheyenne saw in her future. This was the end.
"Your Majesty," Audley said in a tone that was quiet and powerful. Cheyenne cursed herself under her breath for using "highness." "You know I've got quite a bit of experience in this area..."
The king nodded, as though it was part of a private conversation and not one that everyone intently listened in on. "You do come highly recommended, and from Yafda..." He stroked his chin. "I really wasn't going to consider taking you on, as I thought something would pop up soon, but with a lead like this I see there's much more work to be covered."
"I promise you, Your Majesty, you will not have to pay me a Neopoint for my services. I do this out of service and generosity to heal an ailing country."
The king watched him a moment. Scrutinizing. Cheyenne plucked at her hood, wishing he would dismiss her. There was something wrong in the way that he looked at Audley; maybe admitting the kingdom was less than perfect, she thought, but Audley didn't seem to notice.
"Yafda has never been more peaceful, as you know. They're calling it the new golden age over there," Audley said with a nod. "Not that I can take all the credit for that, of course, but I won't deny my meager contributions. Anything I can do to help."
"I accept, in this case. You are welcome to the evidence I currently possess. I expect you to report to me every time progress is made."
"Absolutely, Your Majesty."
How easily he put on his new persona. Cheyenne fumed. How could anyone slide into a new personality without batting an eye? There had to be something wrong with him.
"Is there anything else, informant?" the king asked hopefully.
"That's all," Cheyenne murmured.
"Very well. You have my gratitude, though not the reward, which I hope is understandable."
"Yes, Your Majesty."
"You are dismissed."
Cheyenne turned to go, led back by the guard. The crowd of the king's men was much more lively now, excited over new information. She watched them chatter as she left them behind. One of them caught her eye; a Meerca watched Audley quietly, with her arms crossed, not joining in the excitement.
Cheyenne was just relieved to go.
To be continued...