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I waken in the middle of the night, reaching for the Sword before I realize the howling is just wind.
“Storm,” my Sword reassures me. Another blizzard has blown in during the night. My brother and Alan are going to be frustrated. I turn over and go back to sleep.
Even though I sleep late, it is still dark when I wake up, and the cold comes off the stone walls of the keep in chilling waves. I go to check on mother, and stay to eat breakfast with her. She is wrapped in blankets before the fire, trying to pretend she isn’t hurting. I provide a few moments distraction telling her the rumors in the city.
“Do you?” she asks.
“Do I what?” I pretend I don’t know what she is talking about.
“Do you like Alan?” Well, at least I am distracting her from the cold-caused pain.
“He is good looking,” I admit. “But I don’t see any reason to waste time liking a man who seems determined to dabble in a field that will almost certainly be his death—his early death.”
“Very logical,” mother agrees, but I feel as if she may be laughing at me.
I go down to the public areas and find Mynar and Alan pacing and looking out windows, as if that is going to have any impact on the blowing snow. Everyone, even them, agree the chest should be opened outside—but not in the midst of a blizzard.
They don’t even notice Jes coming in damp with snow. I pull him over to the fire and ask him if he is completely crazy.
“This is an even better storm than the last.” He seem to think this is an explanation.
Jes is definitely crazy, which doubtless explains why he has fit so well into our family. Alan abandons Mynar and joins us beside the fire.
Two days later the blizzard stops, and volunteers are digging out the courtyard Mynar and Alan want to use; many of the younger of the staff are eager to know what is in the chest, expecting something wonderful. Older heads are still voting to drop it in the ocean.
Once the snow has been removed, they light fire to provide warmth and to melt snow into barrels in case of fire, because with Sorcerers, fire is almost as common as demons. They are so happy with their planning, I don’t point out they could just dump snow on any fires. They will need warm water to wash the chest, otherwise the water would just freeze on it.
The sun is still weak, but there is plenty of light to see the chest in the center of the courtyard, resting on two trestles.
“Anything,” I mutter as silently as I can.
“No,” my Sword answers. “Just a wooden chest.”
I draw my Sword anyway, as Alan takes a bucket of water and starts pouring it over the chest. As the mud is washed off, it is revealed to be a completely normal wooden chest, well varnished to repel damp, but still annoyingly normal. You would think something a Sorcerer was after would be more interesting, more special.
There are no markings, no runes, and certainly no jewels. And to Alan’s surprise, no lock, just a bar of brass through two opposing loops.
There is a momentary distraction when one of the guard volunteers to open the box. Mynar and Alan both disagree. Mynar and the guard lose. Mynar might have hoped people would be distracted enough not to pull him away from the center of excitement, but he can’t have really expected it.
He does glare at me as I move forward, my bare blade giving me the right. Alan looks as if he wants to tell me to move back, but, smart man, doesn’t. Lord Taver stations himself on the opposite side the chest, also with drawn sword.
Alan slowly opens the chest. Nothing jumps out at us, there is just a roll of what looks like very fine wool. While Alan looks at it, two of the staff come forward carrying a small table. (I am sure they have a stash of everything they could think of which might possibly be useful setting just out of sight, but easy to reach. They do so like to anticipate needs.)
Alan takes the cloth out of the chest, and lays it on the table. He slowly unrolls it to uncover a round disk about the size of a large man’s palm.
“No power,” my Sword volunteers.
I look closer, the disk is made of flint.
Alan picks it up, looks at it and shrugs. Everyone has a ‘is this all’ look on their face except Jes. For just a moment, he looks thoughtful. I think I am the only one who sees this, before he assumes his usual bland expression.
“Maybe there is a secret compartment in the chest,” someone calls out. We all watch as Alan makes careful measurements and Mynar writes them down. They are all consistent, and the cloth seems to be just a cloth, although Alan says he will try to see if there are any hidden runes that can be brought out.
Taver and I put our swords back in their sheaths and wait, with everyone else, to see what father will decide to do.
“Adava, get a scarf and wrap up the disk, take it to the vault.” Maybe father did notice Jes’ expression. “Daver, clear out one of the storerooms and put braziers in it for Mynar and Alan to work in.” he tells the Steward. “And you two, find out if the chest or material mean anything.”
Jes follows me to the vault, watching while I take the disk inside and leave it on a table. I don’t think he can hear me mutter to the sword, “Do you see anything yet?”
“No power, no stench.” It sounds uninterested. I guess flint disks are not one of the things it was forged to fight.
“I think I’ll go see what Alan and Mynar are doing,” I tell Jes once the vault is locked.
“Why don’t we go by way of the tower, and look at the snow,” he suggests instead. For the first time, I don’t think he is really interested in snow, but the fact the tower is a good place for a private conversation without being obvious. So I agree.
“What,” I ask as soon as we reach the top level, guards, as usual, waiting on the steps below out of earshot if we keep our voices low.
“The disk reminds me of the three knives of the tribes that I told you about. I’m not sure why, but I am sure it is are related. I do not want to share this information with Alan.” He goes on to explain, “He would come to the summer meeting and ask to see them.”
“I can’t argue with that. Just our family.” I agree with him, pleased to see he accepts ‘our’ family. I don’t think Jes has had anyone he can consider family since his father died.
“I’ll go check on Alan and Mynar, and you can tell father. If we both go looking for him, people will wonder what’s happening.” Jes nodded his agreement.
The storeroom isn’t cold, but it isn’t comfortable either. I watch the two of them doing various things with heat, warm beer, and a minor spell or three. The box remains a box, the cloth remains a flat piece of material. (And I didn’t bother to ask what the warm beer was expected to do, with both Alan and Mynar in the storeroom, I would get more explanation than I needed and much more than I wanted.) The second spell did fail the first time Alan tried it, but the failure only produced a rancid smell which quickly dissipated when they opened the door. The heat dissipated too, faster. I decide there is nothing to find much sooner than Alan does. Mynar must agree with me, because he doesn’t protest when I suggested he check on how I had stored the disk. Alan just looks up and half-way waves good-by.
“Don’t try anything too dangerous,” I order him in my best Princess tone, “We need you alive.”
He just looks at me and smiles, then goes back to fingering the cloth.
Mynar looks at the disk lying on the desk. “Really? This is the best you could do?”
“I’m going to bring one of my jewelry boxes down later to put the disk in. That’s not what I want to talk about.”
After I’ve emphasized that the information must be kept in the family, not shared with Alan, I tell him about Jes’ observations.
“So the disk is what Rout was looking for. I thought it was, ever since I saw it was made of flint, but all other possibilities need to be considered. I haven’t told Alan about flint wounding demons. Have you.”
“No, but we haven’t tried to keep it a secret.”
“No one would have told Alan anything,” Mynar reminds me, “Before he helped during the Sorcerers’ duel and the pirate attack. And we have been so busy with the after effects of both of those, likely it hasn’t come up.”
“One of us should tell him,” I decide.
“You do it. I want to talk to Jes.”
I wait until Alan comes back to the hall, joining him as he stands before one of the great fireplaces, looking slightly grey. I recognize this now as one of the signs he has pushed himself too far. At least he didn’t kill himself.
I lead him to a couple of benches to the side of the fireplace and send for a pitcher of warm punch.
“I think you need to hear the story about our fight with the demon.” It is, by necessity, heavily edited because I have no intention of telling him exactly what Falchen did, but it does include explaining that flint can wound demons.
“I have never heard of flint having such power.” He is complaining, not denying. “I have traveled the lands studying lore, and nothing like this has ever been hinted.”
He finally stops fuming, drinks a cup of punch, and stares at the fire for a long time. “Perhaps we should get Sister Mays to look at it; she may not be a holy woman, but she is surely the closest to one I have ever met.”
I agree. It’s a good suggestion.