I find Jes looking in the barred door of the wolfman’s cell. “I have never seen anything like this,” he tells me before I ask.
Our guest/prisoner/patient looks at us without comprehension, and for the first time I wonder if his lack of response is because he doesn’t speak our language.
I ask him his name in every language I speak. He doesn’t answer. Jes sees what I’m doing and tries a couple more that I can’t even guess at.
The whimpering man doesn’t answer, but his expression isn’t as devoid of expression during Jes’ last attempt. Jes and I look at each other, both sure he understands. I walk away, and Jes follows.
“What Language was that?”
“Jajel. It is spoken in the eastern swamps. Well…northeast of here.”
We go and tell father. He finds it as confusing as we do. Jes goes to the library to confer with Mynar and I go to mother’s solar to tell he what we have found out. It won’t take long.
Mother is seated before her fire, her feet on a stool, away from drafts and cold stone floors. Mother stays close to the fire once it starts to grow cold, and works on projects not requiring small stitches. Today she is making tiny red ribbon rosebuds, and one of her ladies is decorating red ribbon with seed pearls.
“It seems sad,” mother decides, “That he has to be locked up since he isn’t likely to hurt anyone.”
“Maybe, but he is very likely to be hurt himself. Too many people believe werewolfism is spread by biting.”
“True. What a pity he will not talk; it makes it hard to help him.”
“Jes is going back alone, to try again.”
One of the castle staff adds more wood to the fires. Everyone works at keeping mother warm. They know the cold hurts her, despite her best efforts to hide it. When she starts for Kaskl (and yes, I admit t myself, it’s when not if) half the castle staff will trek after her carrying whatever they believe will make the trip easier.
My thought are focused on the wolf and on mother to the point that I have forgotten about Mynar. Until he drags me to his library to rant at me. He divides his time between telling me I’m crazy and damning the Stormborne. I finally point out he can’t believe both. The logic—or me using logic—shocks him into silence for a moment or two.
“It really talks to you?”
I nod, thinking I detect a slight note of acceptance.
“I don’t want to tell our parents.”
I know what he means. “You are the most devious one in the family –you figure out some way this doesn’t negate their sacrifice.”
“But what if it doesn’t work, Adava?”
“Then we lose the Sword next generation instead of two or three more. You’ve said yourself arranged marriages are a short term solution.”
“Go away, let me think,” he demands as if he hadn’t dragged me in here.
I go visit Thunder. He’s much better company than wolves or brothers. Especially when I bring apples.
I decide I need a quiet night, and eat by the fire in my rooms. I start a new journal describing the partial wolf, and watch my ladies working on a new red blouse. They are really pleased I’m wearing something other than grey or black. I suspect I am a sad disappointment to my ladies who have little scope to show their skills while serving me. A squire would be happier with me.
Another problem is waiting in the morning. The guards watching the wolfman had caught an assassin. He had blatantly walked in with a small crossbow. When the guards stopped him, he was astonished.
“You can see me?” was the only thing he said, between the time he was captured and when he was put in a cell.
The guards were formal, reporting to me and Jes. Mynar is still tracking down what the word ‘wolf’ looks like in multiple languages. They are so very formal, I know something is wrong. It takes a while to work it out; the guards who captured the assassin are snipping at the guards who had let him get across the courtyard. Not good. I frown at them and am even more formal myself.
“Assassins bring out the worst in everyone,” Jes whispers in my ear. As I agree with him, one of the guards remembers to tell me the partial-wolf is now babbling away in some unknown language.
“You check on him, and I’ll talk to the prisoner.” Jes agrees and yet another breakfast ends with rushing about.
When we get to the cell, with a side-trip to the vault for my Sword, it is empty. The guard snarls and pulls open the door, rushing in as if he thinks the assassin is hiding in a corner. But I have been trained by a warrior monk, and even though I cannot see the assassin, I feel the movement of air as he rushes toward me—not toward the open outer door.
I draw my Sword and block him as he suddenly becomes visible. He doesn’t seem to understand we can see him, or he is stupid enough to fight against a sword when he only has a long knife.
The guards at the door charge forward before he can turn invisible again. I start to order them to take him alive, but I’m too late.
I have the guards lock his body back in the cell. Things have been too weird the last few days, and if the body suddenly becomes invisible again, I want to know it isn’t going anywhere.
The guards are eager to obey me. Then the four of us stand around staring at each other.
“Sorcerer?” one of them finally asks.”No,” the Sword whispers to me. “Like the other, it was done to him.”
“No,” I answer the guard, trying to remember how many people know about the semi-wolf’s tattoos.
“I need to take his shirt off and see if he has any tattoos.”
Well, it turns out that it will have to be over their dead bodies. Their princess can fight invisible assassins, but she simply cannot take his shirt off, even dead. They insist on drawing straws—and pretending the guard who is going into the cell ‘won’.
The assassin has tattoos. I send one of the guards after writing materials and tell the ‘winner’ we have to strip the assassin. This starts another uproar. We finally agree they will sketch the tattoos and I will look out the door to the courtyard. They don’t get hurt feelings when I double check the cell door is locked after we are done.
Then we scatter, one guard to father, one to Mynar, and two to guard the body—I change that to three so if anything happens, one can act as messenger, but still leave two on guard.
I go to see if Jes has found out anything useful, followed, of course, by everyone else. I stay in the outer corridor, out of sight. Our partial-wolf guest is chattering away with Jes and I don’t want to risk interrupting them.
I had sent the sketch with the guard to Mynar; the tattoos I could read all were some variation of ‘unseen’. Whatever is happening, it doesn’t appear to work out any better than summoning demons.
The guard I sent to father comes back with a summons to a meeting; I am about to send word back to delay when Jes comes down the stairs.
“Come,” he demands.
“What’s wrong?” I demand myself as we go running across the courtyard. “The council is waiting for us.”
“Good.” He changes direction slightly
When we get to the meeting room, Jes starts ordering the guards into a line across the width of the hall.
“We need to be certain there are no invisible people in the room.”
“He’s dead,” I tell Jes, and everyone else.
“There may be another; three were sent.”
Well, damn again. (Thanks to mother, my stock of profanity is limited.) “Then don’t forget to look up.” I repeat one of the maxims my training master has been driving into me ever since I was old enough to listen. Two of the guards in the doorway look at each other and say ‘pikes’ in unison before running off, probably to the armory.
Father tries to get mother to leave. She argues her side by not hearing him, a technique she excels at. Mynar sit in the corner, with a couple of books and some sheets of paper that I’m sure are the tattoo sketches, ignoring everyone.
Eventually we are sure there are no invisible assassins in the room. Guards stand shoulder to shoulder across the doors, while other guards work at clearing the hallway.
“Kymr—the wolf-man—started talking once the assassin tried to kill him,” Jes starts explaining what he has learned. “He is angry that his ‘master’ didn’t trust him to keep his vow of silence.” Jes says ‘master’ with a fair dose of scorn easily understood by everyone in the room. A dully sworn king with oaths and duties on both sides is one thing, a ‘master’ something else entirely. A something else that no one from Abalem or Mysk would accept. Even Verkal, with their oppressive oligarchy, would reject having a ‘master’. We waste a minute or two feeling superior.
“Three of them were sent to attack Princess Adava.”
“By whom?” Father’s voice is ice.
“He doesn’t know. I was trying to find out who his ‘master’ is when he turned to partial-wolf and lost the ability to talk. The guards will call me when he turns human again.”
The discussion becomes chaotic with suggestions about how to protect me from an invisible attacker. No one in the meeting knows I did a pretty good job of doing that myself. I send a guard for my training master; he isn’t well enough to fight yet, but he can support what I am going to try and tell my parents once things calm down a little.
Once the guard leaves on his errand, I go over to Mynar so I can talk to the Sword and look as if I am talking to my brother.
“Can you detect invisible attackers?”
“I guess we used up our share of easy answers with the Enchanter,” Mynar comments, correctly reading my expression even though he couldn’t hear the answer.
“There is more,” Jes’ voice raises over the hubbub. “I just told you the most important part first.”
“The words on his body do allow him to turn into a wolf—but they stopped working effectively as he crossed the Grey Peak mountain range.”
“And the invisibility spell became unreliable too,” I add, certain my attackers sudden visibility wasn’t planned.
After much discussion my training master and I prevail and plans for locking me in my room, or possibly the vault, are dropped. The testimony of the guards who saw me draw weapon and strike the invisible assassin helped too.
Equally tedious discussion doesn’t help clarify who was likely to have hired the assassins. Our best guesses are Enchanters for revenge, or someone who wants me out of the way before launching on attack on the realm. Lord Taver supports the latter.
“But that makes no sense. Mynar isn’t trained as I was, but he would have borne the Sword.”
For a moment I think Lord Taver will not answer, but he looks at father and only receives a shrug for an answer. “There are some who believe the Sword would not be wielded by our Princess, if the Prince were acceptable to it.”
“Idiots.” The Lord Advisors seem to hold their breaths for moments before the discussion continues. They must have expected a stronger reaction from me. I smile; Soon enough the Sword will have no shortage of Wielders, nor ever will.
A guard calls from the doorway; Kymr is human again.
“Question him,” father orders Jas.
Jes grins, “He is so angry, I don’t have to ask questions. He is eager to talk.”
“Be careful yourself,” mother tells him, “You are a target because you can speak to him.”
Jes nods as he leaves.
“And perhaps you are right, my dear, I am a little tired.” Mother has decided she heard fathers’ earlier arguments. She hugs me as she goes to the door, and whispers, “I will query my sources.”
The council meeting keeps going on and on because no one wants to admit there is nothing they can do. Of course, guards are searching the entire castle for strangers, but no one really expects them to find anything.