I preside alone at the evening meal; father and mother dine cozily before her solar fire. We are nearing the end of the meal before Mynar, Jes and Alan return. They are wet, and cold, and happy. The unknown language has been identified, but they won’t tell me more in the great hall. Which is only fair, because I’m not telling them anything about the council meeting either. Members of the staff come running with warmed blankets and hot soup. The rest of the court dallies over the last of their meal hoping to find out why the three of them were out in the snow instead of sitting by the fire like sensible people. Doubtless there will be rumors by morning. There is always a fine crop of rumors in the winter, the snows offering little else for the people to do for amusement.
I get Alan to talk about his travels, he has been to Halft and Verkal as well as his native Isal, but never as far as Mysk. He and Jes, between them, have at least a surface knowledge of most of the land. Except for the swamps of Caeel. Jes knows something of their flatlands, and has heard stories from travelers that have been to their great fortress built at the edge of the sea to keep raiders from the Outlands from sailing up their slow moving river, but few stories of the swamp.
After supper we go to talk to our parents, and take Alan with us. Mother’s guards are not pleased.
“You should not take a Sorcerer to the queens solar.” The sergeant on duty is adamant, he is not letting us in.
“He’s not a Sorcerer,” I try to explain, but it would have worked better if Alan hadn’t declared, “Yes, I am.”
The guards line up behind the sergeant, willing to die defending mother from Mynar’s and my bad judgment. I know they will not back down, even if I should draw my Sword. Problem is, I’m not about to back down either, and some day I might even figure out why. Fortunately, we are all rescued by the one force none of us will resist, mother’s soft voice asking what is going on.
Somehow she leaves the guards knowing she appreciates their vigilance while at the same time making Alan aware he is a valued guest.
If she persists in her plans to travel to Kaskl in the spring, her guards will likely suffer nervous breakdowns from trying to keep her safe and warm. I don’t know why I am thinking ‘if’, like I think there is any doubt what she is going to do.
I introduce Alan. Mother has seen him at court, and knows exactly who he is, but mother is also much for the courtesies.
“We owe you thanks for joining in the defense of our city, and saving lives from the Sorcerous attack.”
Alan looks embarrassed at her praise. “It only makes sense to help preserve the safety of the city where I am living; raiders would not be likely to spare me because I am merely a wanderer.”
Mother smiles her ‘I know everything there is to know, so you can’t fool me’ smile. She drives Mynar and me crazy with that smile, mainly because she usually does know whatever we are trying not to tell her. Sometimes I wonder if mother can read minds, but the rest of the time I am sure she just knows how to read people. “Wanderers are just people who haven’t found where they belong yet.”
I decide to rescue Alan and change the subject. I tell them what Taver has learned from the prisoners, father nodding gently to encourage me. I don’t mention the conclusion I have reached, and am sure father shares—our traitor is someone who has Stormborne blood, someone who hopes to wield the Sword.
Mynar looks thoughtful for a moment, then shares their news.
“The documents are in a strictly guarded code used by merchants of Verkal. It just happens that somehow our merchant’s guild has gotten a copy of the key, which they have agreed to loan us.”
“Because they have only one copy?” Father’s tone is disbelieving.
“Because they only admit to having one copy. Alan and Jes and I have promised that we will only tell the three of you, and will return the key once we have decoded Rout’s papers.”
“And it took all afternoon and early evening to tell you this?” I am suspicious they have left out something.
“No, it took that long for them to decided to admit they recognized the code.”
“They understand that knowledge is valuable,” Alan tries to defend them. “And this is the type of knowledge whose value depends on secrecy.”
I can’t complain about that, I am keeping way too many secrets myself right now. And I keep adding to them.
I am in a good mood, as I take apples to Thunder. I have just beaten both Jes and my training master throwing knives. The streets have turned into small streams as the snow melts, and will turn to slick ice runs when the temperature falls again, as it surely will. With things calmer—no demons or attacking raiders for almost two weeks, Jes has been able to concentrate on training his students. Now he has four, counting Leum, who only trains when he is not on duty. Somehow, the Enchanters don’t seem the danger they once appeared to be, but it will still be good to be able to recognize them.
Father and I haven’t talked about our suspicions yet, but both of us have talked to mother. She sees this as encouraging.
“A unknown enemy in the swamps of Caeel, or the fastness of the Outlands could be hard to find, hard to come to battle with. An enemy in Abalem itself is a threat that can be found and rooted out.”
I am not as convinced as mother that we will not have to deal with the power in the swamps, even though he may not be the person organizing the attacks. If not right now, then surely in the future.
“I have sent for copies of the genealogies collected by the Lord Advisors in order to compile their list of prospective brides. Almost certainly the traitor is named among them, since he clearly believes he can wield the Sword. I will see what names I can find with ties to Caeel or the Outlands.”
“And you can do this without arousing the traitors suspicions because everyone will think you are checking the names on the list.” Well, it’s a start.