I sit huddled in my bed, freezing even though the room is warm. I can’t sleep without nightmares, the Sorcerer’s head rolling across cobblestones. I don’t regret killing him, more of our men would have died if I hadn’t killed him, but the dreams won’t stop. He is the only one I am sure I killed. Some of the rest probably died—most of the rest—but he is the only one I am sure of. And I don’t regret it. Despite the dreams.
I stay quietly in my bed until it is light enough to get up without causing my Ladies more worry. The pale sun of winter has broken through the clouds and the snow is over for a few days. My Sword is happy with the weak sun, and Thunder is happy that I have resumed his daily visits, or more likely daily apples. He had not been happy with me, once I was no longer hiding behind the inner wall; I had missed visiting him too many days in a row. But I had brought lumps of sugar as well as apples, so he forgave me.
We moved Alan into a larger wall chamber in the outer bailey where he slept for two days. I suspect the main reason few Sorcerers learn his dissipation spell is they aren’t willing to pay the cost. At first I feared he had damaged himself permanently trying to throw it a second time, but he is slowly recovering. Dryn came to check on him, stared at him as he lay sleeping, and promised to keep him from overtaxing his strength when he came back to the smith. Alan has fought beside our soldiers twice, he may claim no realm, but Abalem has decided to claim him. I remind myself that I really want to find out what he is; non-Sorcerer isn’t good enough.
I find Lord Taver in Jes’ spot on the wall, looking out toward the snowy field where the bodies are being burned in individual pyres. The urns containing the dead pirates will stretch in rows on the beach just above high tide, with some identifying trinket tied to the neck, so that anyone looking can identify the fallen. Almost certainly no one will come to retrieve them, and as in the past, they will eventually be taken by the sea during some great storm. But we do not do this for the sake of our enemies, but for our sake, our honor. There is no lack of firewood, keeping lavish supplies for pyres is one of the legacies of the Dark Years, one of the many legacies. Sometimes I wonder how different our realm would have been if the plague ship had not landed in one of our villages.
I join Lord Taver, and try to shake off the morbid mood I have been wallowing in since the battle.
“We have burned most of the bodies. I hope to be done by tomorrow.”
“And then, back to normal.” I shouldn’t be sharp with him, but I’m mad at the whole world.
He looks at me tolerantly. “The bad dreams will get less frequent.” He knows, all of the warriors know; I only manage to fool my Ladies, and Mynar.
“If they had taken us by surprise, could they have won?” I have been worrying over this; even as I try to lessen our dependence on the Sword, are we becoming too dependent on Celeste. Would we have been complacent, expecting no attack until the spring. I am certain that the army must become the true bulwark for the realm; the army does not depend on one or two people, who can die and leave us exposed to our enemies. “Unless the plague returns and the army also dies,” my foul mood whispers to me. Maybe that is the answer, there is no bulwark.
“They might have breached the gate, gotten inside our walls, but they would not have won.” Taver sounds confident. “We are stronger than our enemies believe. Many more would have died, but we would have driven them out.”
I try to hold onto my foul mood, but it is too much trouble. “Have you found the traitor who opened the gate?”
“No. But many are looking.” His voice is harsh, and I wonder if the traitor, when found, will live to face a trial. The five soldiers guarding the sally port were found dead in their guardhouse, poisoned; treason opening a gate that would otherwise have been impregnable. It can only be opened from the inside and the steep path up the hillside makes a battering ram impractical. Five guards were more than enough to protect the gate, if someone they trusted hadn’t killed them.
Some of the burghers want father to use the prisoners to start clearing the main road. Father just tells them ‘no’ without trying to explain the danger. He also says ‘no’ to summary executions. Attacks and battles usually take place on the borders, or in villages near the sea, rarely against the walls of Misthold; some of the burghers are resolute, but others have panicked. And it is the latter who are coming to the court to demand father do some stupid thing or another.
Mother decides to come to the weekly court, and we ignore decorum to whisper to each other. “We need a blizzard,” mother decides, “To keep everyone huddled near their own hearth, instead out gossiping and crafting wild proposals.”
Unusually tart for mother, but we had just listened to a demand that father build a fleet of ships so we could attack the Outlands. Jes and Mynar are whispering to each other on the other side of father, and probably saying even worse things. I can see father mentally rejecting several replies, before just saying ‘no’ yet again.
“Enough.” Surprisingly it is mother who loses patience, not father. “If you have nothing sensible to say, then keep silent.”
She holds out her hand to father. “I think we should schedule the next court for the first of the month, and give people time to compose themselves, so they do not make of exhibit of themselves with silly suggestions.” She speaks loudly enough for everyone to hear.
Father smiles, takes her hand, and they walk out, leaving gossip and protests in their wake. The citizenry will be shamed by scolding from mother, where the same words from father would only have angered them.
Mynar and I leave quickly, towing Jes with us, while all eyes are still on our parents’ departing backs. Only Alan notices—or more likely notices the exit of our guards—and follows us. I lead us all to a storeroom off the kitchen, piled with unused trestles and benches. Because it is near the cooking fires, it is warm. It’s one of my hiding places when I don’t want to be found—except by my ever present guards.
“He’s never going to open the chest, is he?” Alan sounds despondent, as if his pet dog had just died, if he had a pet dog, that is.
“That’s what father would prefer,” I admit.
“There are still too many loose ends from the attack,” Mynar tells him. “I doubt if he will be willing to consider the chest until at least some decision has been made about the prisoners. We don’t want to keep them, and we can’t just let them go without seeming weak.”
“And we aren’t just going to kill them,” I add.
“But I am going to try and get permission to look at the Sorcerers’ papers, and translate them. You could help with that,” Mynar offers.
Alan’s eyes light up. The Sword is right about his lust for knowledge.