Ash woke up to silence: no hustle-and-bustle of Ardenscourt castle life; no chatter that echoed through Stokes Hall; not even the sounds of forest nature that he lived with every summer as he traveled around wreaking havoc on the Ardenine army. Just... nothing.
It was also dusty. He didn't like dust; he wasn't used to it after being on the move for years.
Surroundings having been confirmed by hearing to be unknown, Ash turned to his sense of smell – more dust – taste – also obviously unhelpful – and touch.
Touch left him even more confused: soft sheets, better quality than those he'd found yet in any inn, castle or dormitory bed, an even-softer pillow and a heavy down-stuffed blanket.
He was still sore, more tired than he'd even been in the past few years, and pain shot up his left arm and leg when he moved them. The headache didn't help, instead making it harder for Ash to recall his last few days before waking up here, in an unfamiliar bed.
Jenna... King Gerard falling off the tower... traveling up on Tamron Road to Rivertown until –
There was only one logical progression from the ambush to this amazingly comfortable bed.
Ash opened his eyes and looked up at the canopy of his old bed in Fellsmarch: rich red fabric that was worn in spots where he'd practiced spells on nights he couldn't sleep - mostly after Hana had died. His peripheral vision told him there was someone sitting to his left so he turned his head.
Well. That was not who he would've expected.
Ash tried to push himself up, forgetting that his left arm was broken, but before his arm collapsed in protest his grandfather took him by the chest and pulled him into a sitting position. It was like Ash was still a lýtling and Grandpa Averill still towered over him.
"You're lucky my scouts were in the area, or else you and Lila Byrne would have died." Averill hesitated. "You were attacked close to where Running Wolf died."
"My da thought Arden had a spy in the Fells," Ash told him. "Someone must've tipped the army off that Hana's triple was there. They sent a whole company to take her."
"We know. Briar Rose has suspected it ever since the attack on your father."
Averill Lightfoot Demonai leaned back in his chair and looked his grandson over. Ash in turn assessed his grandfather: his totally-white hair – unsurprising given he was well into his sixth decade – held a stark contrast to his dark skin. He wore trader clothes that to anyone non-clan would have disguised the weapons on his body.
Ash was suddenly conscious that, while someone had washed him, changed his clothes and splinted his arm and leg, he still had his amulet and the knife holsters on his right wrist and calf.
There was no reason for him to be wary of grandfather. They'd had a perfectly cordial relationship when Ash was a lýtling and always spent time together in the palace or at Marisa Pines Camp, where all three royal children stayed in the summers.
"Where is she? Ma?"
"In a meeting with Captain Byrne and his daughter. They will be done by the hour. She is anxious to see you."
"How is she? And Lyss? And – and Grandmother Cennestre. And Willo and Fire Dancer and –"
Averill cut off his grandson with his hand. "My mother died not long after your father."
"She was old. It was her time."
Ash looked down at his lap and nodded. The tears were gathering in his eyes despite the fact that he'd barely known his great-grandmother, who'd held even more distrust of wizards than her son and rarely traveled to the camps where Ash was allowed to go.
"Your sister is busy preparing for her name day. Willo Watersong was ill over the winter last year but has recovered well. The healers from Spiritas were very helpful." He said it grudgingly, as if acknowledging that wizard magic had its uses was painful.
To the head of the Demonai Clan it certainly would be.
"That's where I was," blurted Ash. "I went to Oden's Ford. Spiritas for two years and – and then Mystwerk," he added in a mutter.
"So Taliesin told us. She also said you spent your summers fighting the Ardenines. You snuck in and out of their camps undetected" – was that approval in his grandfather's voice? – "killed your targets by any means and sabotaged their equipment and supplies."
Right. That was what the Demonai did too.
"And then," Averill continued, "you worked your way up in Ardenscourt, ruined their plans of an alliance with Carthis and killed King Gerard."
Ash shook his head. "That wasn't me. He was trying to kill me but Queen Marina stepped in and –"
"You and she killed him both, then."
"That's one way of looking at it," he admitted.
"You have almost singlehandedly dealt the worst blow to Arden since your father led the fight to expel them from our Queendom. Their king is a young boy, their thanes are rebelling and the delegation from Carthis is at the bottom of Baston Bay harbor. The Seven Realms are the closest to peace now as they have ever been in the last thirty years."
Yes, Averill was clearly proud of his grandson.
"I had a lot of help."
"But your courage and determination made it possible. I never liked your father," he admitted, "but it seems that he passed down much more than his magic to you."
"I couldn't've done it without magic," Ash told him. "I got so close to the king because I was a mage healer."
Lightfoot held up his hands in defense. "I never said it was bad that you were a wizard. You and your father both served the Queendom well with magic."
They fell into a silence. Ash picked at the threads of his blanket and looked, finally, around his room. The dust floated around in the air despite the open windows but someone had recently brushed off most of the furniture. None of the carpets or couches were faded from the sun so he supposed they'd covered the windows and furniture after he'd left.
After he'd died.
Ash's set of rooms were sandwiched between his sisters' and connected to each other through the same secret passageways that could take them to their parents' suite unseen. After Hana had died they'd boarded up the secret entrance to her rooms and draped the public doors in mourning cloth.
Averill hadn't said anything about a public homecoming so Ash's own doors were probably still similarly covered.
"Adrian," said his grandfather eventually. "Your mother and the Byrnes are discussing your future. They think it may be better for you to return south and work with Lila Byrne to further disrupt Ardenine efforts. Maybe help the Tamron rebels take control of that country.
"Your sister – Willo – even Lord Bayar and Fire Dancer would appreciate it if you stayed here. Not that any of them know that you're alive," he added. "But... even I'd prefer you not to leave."
Ash looked up at him, surprised. Lightfoot had always favored his granddaughters, who at least hadn't sinned by inheriting their father's wizardry. Willo Watersong embraced the princeling and taught him clan healing while Grandpa Averill was reserved in his affection.
"It's ultimately your decision," he continued, prompting Ash with a nod.
"I'll have to talk it over with the queen and Captain Byrne. And you."
Taliesin had mentioned once that, with High Wizard Alister gone, Queen Raisa had been taking her father's council more often. It would explain his presence here, and that he had known that his grandson was still alive even when the crown princess herself hadn't.
"I don't – I don't know how well I'd adjust to being back," confessed Ash. "I'm used to lying about who I am. Not being the center of attention. But I want to stay here, too."
"We'll decide together. And help you no matter what you choose."
He produced a small wrapped parcel and Ash took it quickly out of his hands. Maker, he was hungry. "You couldn't've started with that?" he asked – demanded, probably rudely – as he peeled away the thick paper and found the bun inside.
Averill laughed, a hearty sound Ash had only heard a handful of times. "It's good to have you home, Adrian. We've all missed you."