We find a larger than expected group of priests waiting to move into guard quarters. I count six once and seven twice, then five. I give up. There is a certain amount of confusion since they don’t use names, but our guards are glad enough for the spiritual support that they don’t mind being a bit crowded. Mynar and I leave it to our off-duty sergeants to cope with housekeeping details and go to find father. We can’t. He isn’t anywhere he can be expected to be in the middle of the afternoon. Jes is missing too, the guard gone from his door; his room empty.
We look at each other and head for Mother’s solar. If she isn’t there I promise myself ten minutes to indulge in hysterics. We find all of them. Mother in her padded chair, wrapped in a shawl being cosseted by her ladies, and Jes sitting across from her, pale with dark circles around his eyes, being fed soup. The Ladies of the court are busy keeping them comfortable and father is lounging on the periphery gracefully accepting their leftovers. It is all very cozy. It takes the Ladies mere seconds to start cooing over us, too. They pull up more chairs and tactfully leave the five of us alone in a semi-circle before a toasty fire. Several of them stay near enough to see if we need anything, but far enough away they can’t hear us if we speak in low voices. Father still looks smug.
“I’m proud of you,” he informs us. “I was twenty-six before I defied the Lord Advisors, and probably wouldn’t have then, if they hadn’t wanted to risk Misel’s life with another pregnancy.”
I bask in his praise for a moment before I realized Mynar’s face is carefully blank again.
“We have sacrificed much to the Weapon’s altar.” Mynar’s answer surprises all of us. Even the Sword … cringed.
“What’s wrong with you,” I demand. “The Weapon has never asked for anything—except maybe a little bit of sunshine. You want to get mad at the Stormborne, who never fully kept the deal they made, go right ahead. You want to blame the Lord Advisors, and all the people of the realm for their dependence, go right ahead. But don’t slander my Sword.”
Mynar looks at me in shock. I may argue with him in private, but I before, I have always taken his side in public. It surprises him enough that he finally tells us what’s wrong.
“The Lord Advisor’s list, the prospective brides they want to summon for me to meet, includes two girls who are just fourteen. Fourteen!”
“Did you know this?” Mother asks Father.
“No.” He is stunned.
“I am going to attend the next council meeting.” mother decides, “And neither of your need to be there.”
Mynar and I look at each other out of the corner of our eyes and answer ‘yes, mother’ in chorus. We aren’t ready to defy mother yet.
She waves to her ladies, and two of them rush forward. “Wine.”
We spend the next few moments letting wine and crackly fire sooth. Jes is doing an excellent job if hiding in shadows, despite the fact that there aren’t any. I can tell how disturbed he is when he takes the glass of wine—usually he only drinks it well watered.
“Jes,” Father tells us, apparently thinking it well to change the subject, “Was able to make contact, but they had no useful suggestions.”
Of course not.
When we finally report, our parents are blasé about the near riot. They are both still too angry at the Lord Advisors, and are content to let matters stay as we left them with the magistrates dealing with the attack and attempted murder.
I am in my rooms, boots off, skirts pulled up and my feet soaking in a basin of hot water. I have walked every street in the quarter being hunted without a hint of Sorcerer or demon. All I had gotten was sore feet. At least there has been no more mobs, the magistrate made harsh example of the men I arrested, and all of them now reside in the castle’s dungeon. Perhaps father will pardon them someday.
For now, people are bringing names of suspected Sorcerers to the Captains of the city guard. Most are simply people who are different, or who have at least one neighbor who dislikes them. The Captains filter the lists and only bring three to my attention. One is a teacher, denounced by a student angry about a less than perfect, although not failing, evaluation. I want to smack him, the student, but don’t. We are making no progress and bringing fears to the authorities is better than vigilante mobs. But they will stop doing that if we punish those who speak from spite.
The second of the three deemed worthy of my attention is a scholar interested in night flying moths. I strongly suggest he stop collections specimens for the duration of the demon hunt. He sees my point, but won’t promise. The third isn’t a Sorcerer, either, but he puts my teeth on edge. I suggest the Captain keep an eye on him.
And I walk the streets, sometimes with Jes, sometimes with Mynar, many times with both. My training master spends all but the few hours he sleeps training guards, mine, Mynar’s, city. And staying in the castle, first line of defense for mother and father. We are not counting on the demon not expanding his hunting ground. But for now, I just enjoy the hot water soothing my aching feet.
I eat breakfast with one eye on the door, fearing a messenger summoning me to another death site. I’m pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t’ happen. Mynar tries to hurry me, before yet another Lord Advisor traps him in a corner to ‘explain’.
Mother has stirred them up big time. The Lord Advisors reactions range from cold fury to sitting in a corner and whimpering. The latter had attempted to explain how the fourteen year old suggested bride would be at least fifteen before becoming a mother.
A captain is waiting for us at the east gate. He didn’t send a messenger, he has come himself. The last of the dead has been identified. And there is another reported Sorcerer worth looking at.
The address isn’t in his area of responsibility, so we go to the local guard quarters first, and then go to the address with both captains. The house is a modest two story, its front door opening off the street, neighboring houses tight against each side.
No one answers the door. The two Captains take four of our guards down an alley to the back. The rest of us start questioning neighbors. Falchen has not been seen for weeks. One of my guards brings a merchant to us, and introduces him as Falchen’s landlord. He is willing to let us inside. I don’t need my Sword’s whispered ‘Sorcerer stench’, the bottles with murky contents and painted emblems are obvious. Falchen must have never had visitors.
We carefully go through everything. We learn nothing. Mynar shows me a list of symbols he has copied.
“I’m going to see if I can find any information about these.” I nod in agreement. “And I will send Jes back. Maybe he will see something we have missed.”
I arrange for enough guards to be left to deal with Falchen if he should return. I don’t really think he will. Jes arrives, and sees nothing new.
“This is evil, but not evil that I recognize.”
But I am feeling hopeful; we have found a thread to pull.
Father agrees. He sends criers through the city asking for any information about Falchen. He will not find anyone in the city to hide him. People are too scared.
The fifth body is found the next morning. The demon has moved into a new quarter of the city. I can almost taste the panic in the city. I continue to patrol, as useless as it had been for finding the demon, it still reassures the crowds. I am crossing one of the larger squares, today accompanied by Jes, when a dusty colored man approaches one of my guards. I go to see what he has to say—any small piece of information will be welcome.
“Princess, I heard the criers. Last month I rented a small warehouse to Falchen. I gave him the keys, and haven’t seen him since.”
“Excellent. Can you take us there?” He looks afraid, but agrees.
“But first,” my sergeant interrupts, “We will send for more men.”