“Enough!” a deep voice resonated through the room. “Or our little pest here gets dropped on his ugly head.”
Everyone froze in place. As though choreographed, every head turned in the direction from which the sound had come. Framed in the carved doorway was the Commander. One of his strong arms was outstretched in front of him, and in his hand he held Higson by the ankles. The young Duende was flailing wildly, trying to get one of his fists to connect with the Commander’s chest.
Manti was the first to speak, a sword still held to his throat. “Brother, what is the meaning of this?”
“What do you think? Did you actually believe I was willing to join forces with you and give up on obtaining the throne?”
“I believed you when you said that was your intention, yes.”
“Then you’re a bigger fool than I’ve always thought, my dear brother. Thank you for proving me wrong!” the Commander said with a sardonic smile. He turned his head and his eyes narrowed as he looked at Carling. Still speaking to Manti, he said, “Did you really think I would let you take control of the throne through your little friend here?”
“Carling?” said Manti, his head flinching back slightly, a blank look on his face. “What does Carling have to do with any of this?”
“Don’t tell me you don’t know,” said the Commander with a sneer.
“Don’t know what? Tell me what you’re talking about,” said Manti.
“Have you been keeping secrets, Carling?” said the Commander, taking a step toward her. “Does Manti really have no idea what you’re wearing? I find that very hard to believe since you are in his household.”
Carling raised her chin and stepped toward the Commander, the Stone of Courage warm against her chest. “He knows nothing.”
“Tsk, tsk. It isn’t nice to keep secrets from your host, now, is it?”
“The Wizard did not give me permission to tell him.”
“Oh, he didn’t? Well, must we do only what the Wizard commands?” The Commander chuckled and looked back and forth at his soldiers. “I don’t see a Wizard in our presence, do any of you?”
The soldiers laughed and held their prisoners even tighter.
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