“Why are you up here?” Alan’s question doesn’t surprise me, I heard the rustling of someone filtering through the guards on the steps below. I am surprised it isn’t Mynar; he is usually the only one who follows me to my favorite tower.
“Watching,” I answer truthfully, but without telling him everything. Mainly it is my thoughts I’m watching.
For a while he just joins me in looking silently out the window. I am tracing paths through the back alleys and trying to memorize them. I wonder what he is looking for.
“Why is it important to you for me to not be a sorcerer?”
“Not important—accurate.” And that is really true. If he were a Sorcerer I could just reform him. If I wanted to, which I don’t.
“Oh.” He sounds slightly disappointed, which makes me slightly happy.
For a while we just watch the snow; it’s light, small flakes with no driving wind; the last gasp of winter, nearing its end, but not quite done.
“Why do Sorcerers summon demons? It’s so stupid.”
“It is also the path to great power; if you survive. That’s been known since the greatest Sorcerer, Lord Malice, shared the secret of his power. But he only shared what, not how.”
I am glad Alan’s explanation sounds more like a history lesson than a passion. We watch the snowflakes a little longer.
“How do you know he told the truth?” I finally ask. “Maybe it was just a good way to kill potential rivals.”
“That is ridiculous.”
I don’t bother answering him because I am distracted by something more interesting than provoking a stupid man who will either get eaten or leave.
“Look.” I point toward an outlander ship coming up the river flying a flag of truce.
We have enough time to warn mother and gather in the same room we had used when ransoming the captured pirates. The ship’s Captain came ashore with only two guards, so they probably don’t mean anything violent, but we still watch the ship closely, in case others try to slip into the city.
It looks as if the Captain is trying to be formal, minimal armor and weapons. He doesn’t bother with introductions, just hands father a small casket.
“Final payment of ransom from Fleet Captain Wyson.” He doesn’t bow, but does move his head slightly, a major concession from an Outlander.
Father responds similarly, even taking the casket in his own hands. I can see father’s bodyguard twitching and I wonder what horrors their imaginations are supplying that would fit in such a small casket.
“We send our recognition to Fleet Captain Wyson as an honorable enemy.” Father sounds really impressive without actually saying anything. “Would you and your guards join us in a meal, or does your duties prevent delay.”
The Outlander Captain looks around, clearly undecided. “My men,” he finally answers, “Might get concerned if I delay my return.”
Father nods his understanding. “Then let Lord Taver offer you a tankard of mulled wine for warmth while I write a response for your Fleet Captain.”
This suggestion is more than acceptable. Alan, who has remained silent, follows Taver after whispering to me that he wants to question the Captain about the Outlander Sorcerer who died during the attack. I don’t expect him to get many answers, but just wave good-by instead of saying anything discouraging. The Outlanders have been courteous, so I decide not to tease them with my obviously not-dead self. I go to join father, wondering what is in the casket.
My delay has given father time to open the casket. Or, time for him to watch as his guard carefully opens the box, revealing nothing more dangerous than a folded letter. Under the letter there is a short note from Fleet Captain Wyson. Father reads that first, then laughs and hands it to me. While I read it, the guards are still carefully examining the casket, apparently looking for miniature poisonous snakes or spiders or whatever.
The letter is annoying.
“As you can see, I am now Fleet Captain with more seeking to join my command than I can accommodate. They are impressed that I negotiated not only for their release, but also for medical supplies. I am sending you a letter found in the former Fleet Captains shore-quarters in gratitude that your demands for ransom and medicines were not so extortionate that I could not meet them.”
“He didn’t buy medical supplies, he didn’t even ask for medical supplies.” Father’s laugh stops my sputtering whisper.
“The letter is a bribe,” he explains. “So we don’t deny a lie which is bringing him benefits. Did you mention that we gave them the medicines free?” Father smiles when I shake my head. “Nor did I; what was important was getting rid of the prisoners, so the people would stop making stupid suggestions. Did you know that Vager suggested cutting their heads off and putting them on pikes facing the sea?”
“And not burn them?” I am incredulous, how could anyone suggest leaving even part of a body unburned.
“People are sometimes stupid,” Father looks at the letter. “Are you comfortable telling a lie about this?”
“I don’t have to lie, just not tell the truth. It isn’t as if anyone is going to ask either of us.” My answer satisfies father, and he sits down to write the Fleet Captain. The letter is a masterpiece of good sounding meaningless sentences, but the Captain will recognize it as an acceptance of his bribe. Father dispatches it to Taver to give to the Outlander Captain.
But when father starts to open the bribe letter his guards have fits until he stops. They won’t let him near it until the Royal Doctor has verified it isn’t folded around poison. The events of the past few months have raised their normal paranoia to specular new heights. Once the doctor teases open the first fold, he waves the hovering guards away. They rush father out of the room, and then stand in solid line in front of me, begging me to leave too. They have long ago learned better than to try and physically move me anywhere.
“No,” the doctor sounds tired. “I just mean that no one should see this except the King.” They still won’t let father back in the room until the doctor has completed his examination, so I join him in the hall since all I can see are the backs of the guards, all much taller than me.
“It’s too late for this,” I complain to father, Captain Wyson at the least has already seen it, and I’m betting his courier has too.”
“Of course,” father agrees, “But Wyson won’t share our secret because he wants us to keep his. And if his courier talks, then Wyson will know he can’t be trusted. All in all, I think it safe to believe the contents of the letter are secure for a while, probably months.”
When we finally are allowed to read the letter, its contents are anticlimactic. It promises I will be dead and the sword inert by the first winter full moon, and reminds the Fleet Captain how useful it will be to an Outlander fleet to have a trade port with a ‘truce’ in place. Of course, it is unsigned.
“This is only the last detail of the plot; there must have been more letters.”
“Or a meeting. Remember the rumors of illicit trading,” I remind father.
Taver and Alan return, walking through the door arguing something about honor. Taver is outraged and Alan amused. They have found out why the traitor who opened the gate was killed. He was given money to hire enough thugs to kill the guards at the sally port, but he had saved money by buying poison. The pirates were outraged when they found out, and killed him. Apparently it is acceptable to put a knife in a guard’s back, but not poison in his wine. Alan finds it amusing and Taver doesn’t.