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Lord Seabolt (Four Families Book 2) by Megan Derr (1)

Torment

"Why are you so much like your father?" Tolan asked, pinching the bridge of his nose, pushing up his spectacles.

"You're my father."

"I'm aware," Tolan said, fixing his spectacles and folding his arms across his chest. "I have told you time and time again that my temper should not be emulated."

Goss shrugged and looked down at his feet, the brand new boots he hadn't even gotten to enjoy for a whole day before those assholes had ruined them and everything else he wore by throwing him in a cesspit. After that, they'd deserved every last bruise and broken nose he'd given them, and he wasn't going to be a single bit sorry about it.

All he'd wanted to do that day was impress Kerra, and instead he smelled like literal, actual shit and his father was mad at him. Again.

Why couldn't he do something right just once?

"Go rinse off. You can't trek through the palace like that. I'll send a servant with a dressing robe and have a bath ready for you." Tolan stared at him a moment longer, looking supremely frustrated, but he only gathered the folds of his beautiful robe and walked off, the chain of his girdle clinking softly before he vanished around a corner.

Goss dragged himself to his feet and headed down the stairs of the back pavilion and across the yard to the stables, around it to the water pump there. It was old and creaky, but his only other option was to use the newer, more frequented one closer to the gardens. No way was he going to add to his humiliation by letting everyone in the palace watch as he cleaned off shit, piss, and who knew what else. At least it hadn't gotten in his mouth.

He rinsed and rinsed and started in scrubbing when the servant sent by his father offered a bar of soap. When he finally felt relatively clean again, he shrugged into the robe and belted it shut, thanked the servant, told him to just burn the ruined clothing (and his poor boots), and headed back to the suite his family called home half the year. They'd done so ever since Tolan had been appointed Master Mage over all those who did work, overt and covert, for the crown.

It never stopped amusing Shaw that Tolan had gone from his apprentice to his boss, though Shaw had retired two years ago and was happily teaching young children the basics of magic—to the absolute terror of everyone.

Goss paused glumly in a hallway that was open to the courtyards below, watching longingly as everyone milled about, laughing, talking, dancing, and playing games. Right in the middle of it all, the heart of the room as always, was Kerra. He was the son of Lords Sealore and Moonrise, Shaw's closest friends, and the most sought after person in the city—possibly the kingdom.

Given how close their fathers were, they should have been good friends. But Kerra had been adopted when he was ten, and Goss had been only three at the time, putting them worlds apart. By the time Goss was old enough to realize that he very badly wanted to kiss Kerra—and many other things he still got flustered thinking about—Kerra had a beautiful lady on his arm, and later a beautiful lord, and now it was a lady again, and there were rumors that an engagement would be announced soon.

So Goss had given up any and all hope of Kerra seeing him. He'd settle for Kerra being aware he existed, maybe even regarding him in friendly fashion. At the very least, it might mean people would stop throwing him into cesspits and locking him in closets.

Goss was eternally grateful his father was the best Finder in the kingdom and could locate him no matter where he was or how he'd gotten there. He just wished everyone would lose interest in being mad at him. But why would they? He was the one who'd murdered the golden child.

"There you are," Tolan said as he stepped inside the suite, smiling in that quiet way of his. Shaw was the brash, loud, vibrant one. Tolan only got loud and evocative when he lost his temper. Otherwise he was so self-contained, people thought something was wrong. "There's a hot bath waiting in your room, and fresh clothes. Once you're done, I have breakfast waiting as well, since you couldn't be bothered to eat before you left earlier. We can talk about—"

"About nothing," Goss said with a groan. "What's there to talk about?"

"The way everyone is still harassing and abusing my son three years after an accident that's not actually his fault," Tolan snapped. Anyone else would have immediately done as told or fled the room.

Goss just groaned again and went to get a bath.

He considered dragging it out, on the hope that Tolan would get called away to deal with something, and Goss could skip off in his absence—but the last thing he needed was Tolan Finding him while on the warpath. Especially after all the expensive clothes he'd just ruined, the boots not even half a day old.

Damn it, he'd really liked those boots.

Hauling out of the bath, enjoying smelling like minty soap instead of a refuse pile, he padded over to the bed where his clothes had been laid out—and stopped short, eyes blurring at the sight before him.

His boots. The ones he'd just burned. Were somehow on his bed, like he'd never put them on. How…

Dressing quickly, Goss then settled on the padded bench at the foot of his bed to pull the boots on.

He'd been so excited for them, had obtained the dragon hide himself from the one he'd killed in Bandalara when he'd gone along with Shaw on an assignment. It had been sighted in the woods and killed off nearly an entire herd of sheep over the course of the month, along with dozens of other livestock scattered over nine farms.

As he'd had nothing else to do, he went along with a hunting party and had wound up being the one to kill the dragon after it had knocked the rest of the party all around the woods. He'd been given part of its hide, several bones and teeth, and the flame jewel pried from its guts.

Now his boots, made from the hide, were gone. If he wasn't still so fucking mad he'd break the rest of Hetzler's face when he saw him again, he'd cry.

And yet, somehow, here were his boots. Or an exact copy, more likely. But he still didn't know how that was possible.

He had a feeling, though, that his fathers would be able to provide the explanation.

Standing, Goss went to finally go face Tolan and the conversation he didn't feel like having.

He wound up hovering in the doorway, helplessly admiring the quiet, handsome man who'd once helped a lost child find his missing guardian and somehow wound up adopting him. Goss had heard the story a hundred times, from the parents who'd wanted to kill him for power to the way Tolan had fought with practically the entire royal city to ensure Goss had a good future.

Growing up, Goss had initially been deeply disappointed he'd wound up not having any real affinity for Finding. He'd tried and tried, but it was Tolan who'd finally told him to quit being a stubborn nitwit and try something else.

So he had, and eventually found he was remarkably good at Binding.

Anyone could lay a spell on an object, but such spells didn't last long. Most of them were only meant to be temporary, so it didn't matter, and otherwise they faded after a week, two at most.

That was where Binding came in. A Binder could make any spell laid on an object permanent. It was difficult, laborious, and exhausting work that most simply weren't suited to. Tolan had remarked, frequently and always dryly, that he wasn't remotely surprised Goss would land on one of the most difficult and dangerous types of magic in existence: he was like Tolan in temper but entirely Shaw when it came to trouble.

He should be a journeyman by now, but as with everything else in his life, that had fallen apart in the aftermath of accidentally killing someone.

"Thank you for the boots," Goss said.

Tolan looked up from the book he was reading and slid his glasses into place. "You're welcome."

"Where did you get the dragon hide?"

A look of deep, abiding fondness fell over Tolan's face, a look that only ever had one source. "Shaw bought it off one of the other hunters in the party, sensing it would come in handy given your penchant for destroying clothes. When you told me about your plans to have boots made, I arranged for the second pair." He sighed. "I wish the precaution had not proved a wise decision."

"It's not like I provoked them," Goss said, dropping into his seat and hunching over the table, the smell of food making his stomach churn. "I was taking a shortcut to the library. How was I supposed to know they'd be there waiting to throw me into the cesspit?"

"You misunderstand my anger." Tolan snapped his book shut and poured them both tea. "Those cretins deserve to be thrown in a cesspit themselves, with rocks in their boots. I also understand why you broke all the bones you could before palace guards dragged you away, although I wish you had refrained as all it does is further the belief that you're a violent, uncontrollable brat."

Goss flinched, pinching his eyes tight to drive back the tears that threatened.

"What bothers me is that you continue to let the lie fester when there are things we can do that would let the truth be known and restore your good standing."

I don't know what I'll do. This will ruin everything—my family has worked so hard—what am I going to do?

"No. Not if Amella isn't here to speak with first. I'm not going to do that to her or her family."

"What about you!" Tolan snapped. "This has gone on long enough."

"I'm fine!" Goss replied, surging to his feet. "The problem isn't me, it's everyone else." He stormed from the room, ignoring Tolan's bellowing, and fled through the royal palace—

And right into somebody, so hard he bounced back and landed on his ass. Rubbing his poor nose, he looked up—and his heart dropped into his stomach with terror and delight as he stared at the beautiful, golden, imperious man before him. How many times had he dreamed of Kerra sweeping him up? Kissing him breathless? Of finally being allowed to run his fingers through all that long, lovely, spun-gold hair or stroking his porcelain skin? He climbed hastily to his feet and brushed dirt and dust from his clothes. "Kerra! I'm so sorry!"

Kerra sighed and made a show of smoothing down his fancy red and gold tunic. Everyone had thought, with his beauty and voice, that he'd wind up an Enchanter like Lord Sealore, but he'd shocked everyone by following Moonrise into Healing. "I hear you've been in yet another fight."

Some of Goss's delight withered. "It wasn't like that. They threw me—"

"It's never like that, is it?"

Goss's stomach clenched, destroying his remaining happiness and leaving a sour taste in his mouth. Thank the gods he hadn't eaten anything yet today. "What do you mean? They started—"

"Yes, just like Derlin started it. Just like Josten and Hetzler and the others always start it. Never poor, innocent you."

"But…do you really think so little of me?" Goss tried to swallow the sudden lump of lead in his throat, his fingers clenching and unclenching at his sides, trembling ever so faintly. "Look at my fathers. Do you honestly think they'd put up with me if I was so terrible?"

Kerra laughed, the sound sour and mean. "Your fathers? That's how I'm meant to judge that you're not a spoiled, violent brat who shows not a single bit of gratitude for all he's been handed?"

Goss had never been stabbed in the heart before, but he swore that was what was happening right then. "I've always been grateful."

"Please. I know my fathers and yours are extremely close friends, but I think that combined with your…unique childhood…has resulted in blind spots where they and you are concerned. Everyone knows Lord Tolan certainly doesn't see clearly where you're involved, and it's well known the late king let them do whatever they wanted. And now you're allowed to do whatever you want, up to and including getting away with killing a man in a drunken brawl."

"I can't believe you think so little of me," Goss choked out, vision blurring. "You know my fathers and yours. If I'd really done all that rumors say, do you think your fathers would still associate with mine? I may be a spoiled brat, but my fathers would never let me get away with murder. I know everyone else has always believed the worst of me, but I thought you would know better. That you would realize there must be more to the story. I thought you would believe in me."

"What are you talking about?" Kerra asked, his angry look falling into one of complete bafflement. "Why are you even here? You should be in the library. I can't be expected to believe in you when you can't even bother to—"

"Go soak your fucking head!" Goss said, knocking his hand away when Kerra reached out to grab him and bolting through the halls until he was finally free of the smothering palace.