While it doesn't constitute a major plot change, it's significant enough that I wanted to alert readers to it. So, if the only version you've read is that with the beach on the cover, you might want to read the new ending after the jump, This excerpt picks up after Ares awakens from his foray into the underground stream:
He woke, at last, when his fever broke, and spoke the thought uppermost in his mind: “He didn’t pursue me.”
He blinked. Strong afternoon sunshine filtered through the shutters of the infirmary. He was weak, sore and hungry, but his mind was clear. Chiacos didn’t pursue me. Why not?
Shifting, he saw Nicole, asleep, with her head on his right shoulder. He became aware of a disagreeable, throbbing pain, and looked down to see bandages covering his upper chest.
Tentatively feeling under the bandages, he detected the catgut stitches. Raising his left hand, Ares regarded the bandages swathing his knuckles, as well. Chiacos is expert with knives, he thought. If he wanted to kill me, he would have. But it is almost as if . . . he wanted to drive me away.
At his movement, Nicole started up. She breathed, “Oh, Ares!” Then she turned her head to call, “He is awake!”
“Understood, Lady,” an unseen sentry responded.
She sat up on the bed, and Ares noted that she had taken the time to change into a proper daytime dress, though it was rumpled. In fact, she looked rather groggy as she took up a bowl and spoon that had been on the bedside table.
“Doctor Savary says that you must have the broth as soon as you are able, my lord,” she murmured, dipping the spoon into the bowl with shaking hand.
“Umph,” he grunted, pushing himself up to a sit. “I am hungry,” he said in surprise, while the mystery of Chiacos’ actions nagged at him. Why did Chiacos attack but not kill?
He leaned back into the pillows and let her feed him gruel by the spoonful. “I suddenly thought. . . . I realized that, as I came through the rocks, Chiacos did not pursue me. He let me leave. What happened to him?” he mumbled.
“I do not know, my lord,” she said lightly. Her tone indicated that her ignorance was deliberate. “But the Commander requested to be summoned when you awoke, so he may tell you. Another,” she instructed, raising the spoon.
By the time Thom appeared, closely followed by Carmine, Ares had finished the whole bowl. He felt so much stronger that he acknowledged Thom’s salute by asking, “Did I waste the whole day lounging in bed?” He glanced at the late afternoon outside.
Carmine replied, “You went down into the underground stream early yesterday morning, Ares. We feared we had lost you . . . several times. Word has already spread of your death.”
“Nonsense,” Ares said, and Nicole closed her eyes. “What happened to Chiacos?”
“I do not know, Surchatain,” Carmine said, resuming a formal tone.
So Ares looked expectantly at Thom, who replied, “I do not know either, Surchatain.”
Exasperated, Ares demanded, “You know nothing of the whereabouts of the man I risked my life to go after?”
“Oh, you are asking his whereabouts?” Thom asked, brows raised. “I thought you had asked what happened to him, which I do not know. If you are asking his whereabouts, I could venture a likely guess.”
Ares stared at them, then glanced at Nicole, who purposefully held a goblet of wine to his lips. He took a drink to ease the throbbing pain, leaned his head back, and said, “A straight answer, Thom. What do you know?”
“When we pulled you out of the stream and determined that you had been the target of an attack, we immediately put the stone back in place and resealed it with concretus. It is quite set by now,” Thom replied blandly.
“There was no sign of Chiacos behind me?” Ares asked.
“No,” Thom said.
Carmine asked, “Why did he set upon you, Ares?”
Ares lowered his head to think. “He said something about a command. He was weeping and moaning incoherently about something he had been commanded to do.”
“As he was weeping when he took me,” Nicole observed.
“But he allowed me to escape,” Ares insisted. The others studied him. Ares reiterated, “He fulfilled what he had been commanded to do, but let me leave.”
“That makes no sense, Surchatain,” Thom said.
“There is something more we do not know. Chiacos must be found if we are to discover it,” Ares said.
“How shall we find him?” Nicole asked.
Casting about, Ares replied, “He could have ridden the current past the cell out to freedom. That was the original escape route, after all.”
Thom and Carmine glanced at each other, then Thom confessed, “No, Surchatain. While you went west, I sent Claye, an excellent swimmer, east in the stream. He barely made it back. The water blocked both underground branches—and that before the tide came in. Whatever escape that stream afforded in the past is no longer there. The water is too high.”
“Poor Chiacos. His derangement killed him at last,” Nicole murmured.
“He was not deranged. Someone compelled him to act as he did,” Ares said in illumination.
“Yes, he was protecting Druella,” Thom reminded him.
“She is too powerful to be deposed on an old tale,” he scoffed, hand on his throbbing chest. “It is something more immediate. I wish to heaven that I knew what would drive a Polonti to such treachery.”
“We will never know now, Ares,” Carmine observed.
That much seemed indisputable, so Ares reluctantly put it from his mind. “What of the fire?” he asked, turning to the window.
Thom gestured. “It is still burning, though much of it was put out by the rain we had last night. If it rains again tonight, that should douse it for good.”
Nicole blurted, “I prayed for the rain.”
Ares looked at her, but a sentry requested entrance, which Thom granted him. “Surchatain. Commander. Counselor.” The sentry saluted them all before handing a small folded parchment to Ares. “A messenger brought this from hands unknown, Surchatain.”
“It has been opened,” Ares said in disapproval.
“Yes, Surchatain—it arrived unsealed. Half the palace has already seen it, and the Chataine Renée says that she is throwing the biggest fest Westford has ever seen to celebrate,” the sentry replied.
“Poor Giles!” Nicole said.
“Celebrate what?” Ares said, but answered his own question by reading the message out loud. “‘Greetings from a friend of Westford who has heard that you are searching for the Qarqarian Chataine Melva. Let it be known to you that she has eloped with the Lord Fancsali of Scylla, and both were seen two days ago in Crescent Hollow.’ That is all it says.”
“Who is it from?” Thom asked.
“It is unsigned,” Nicole observed, leaning over Ares’ shoulder to look at the note.
“It is from Tancred,” Ares said, handing it to her.
“How do you know?” she exclaimed, turning it over.
“I recognize his handwriting, from the letter he sent you after we got you out of the tower and burned down half of his palace,” Ares told her.
“But—that was years ago!” she protested, handing Thom the note.
“Some things you never forget,” Ares murmured, leaning his head back again. He watched Thom examine the short letter, then lay it on the table beside the candle, now burned down low. Why did it strike him odd that so much of the parchment was blank? Ares murmured, “So . . . Tancred considers himself a friend of Westford.”
Carmine observed, “He must have known he would escape when he agreed to ride out to meet his brother rather than accept your punishment. Tancred has friends yet at Magnus’ court.”
“But I do not, still,” Ares said, peeved. “Thom, when will you get me spies into Eurus?”
Thom looked thoughtful. “If we could locate Tancred, he seems to know a great deal . . . he certainly escapes a great deal. Eurus must have secret passages, too.”
Ares eyed him. “He was in Crescent Hollow three days ago.”
“I will send Alphonso and Derrick—”
“Moeck and Buford, as well,” Ares said.
“Very good, Surchatain.” Thom saluted upon turning out.
“Pardon me, also, Surchatain,” Carmine said with a bow. “I must go reassure Giles that the fest our dear Chataine is planning is to celebrate your recovery, so that it does not matter what it costs.”
“Thank you, Carmine,” Ares said, relieved.
As the Counselor left, Ares squeezed his wife’s waist, looking up at her in gratification. “Your daughters have been waiting outside since early morning,” she noted.
“Then let them in,” he said.
In moments two petticoated whirlwinds blew in to cover him with kisses. “Papa!” “You’re awake!” “We’ve been waiting for days!” “I got my dress all wet crying.”
In their tumultuous advance, Ares was not sure which twin was squealing what. Somehow, Bonnie wound up kissing his scar and Sophie his clean cheek, and no one thought anything was amiss. But the swirling skirts dislodged the letter from its place beside the candle stub to rest atop it instead.
Sophie saw the tendril of smoke first, and snatched the partly burned parchment from the flame. Snuffing the glowing edges with her fingers, she chided, “Bonnie! You are so. . . . Papa, there’s writing on this.”
“Yes, I know,” he began, then apprehended her meaning when she held the letter under his nose.
The rest of it was not blank, for the heat of the flame had revealed the invisible writing. In apparently the same hand, the writing disclosed, “The child has been released, and Druella has arranged for his transport to Eledith.”
Ares read the sentence over and over while his family watched. “Eledith? That is the capital of Polontis,” Nicole observed. “Who would go there but Polonti?”
At that, his face lit up in comprehension. “A child!” he whispered. “Chiacos and Druella had a son that someone was holding against my death. Chiacos fulfilled the conditions for his release at what may be the cost of his own life.”
“Who would do such a thing?” Nicole cried. “Tancred?”
“No,” Ares exhaled, “not if he’s going to tell us about it. But . . . we must ask him, when the opportunity arises.”
(The story continues in Games of God and Men.)