Kale has provided a pavilion and chair for me just outside the keep, so I can talk to the long line of people who think they have something important to tell or to ask me. One or two of them may be right, but to find those one or two, I will have to talk to all of them.
Gregor is inside going over the keep looking for other traps, assisted by stonemasons and carpenters recommended by Captain Conners. Two of the priests are supervising building the pyre for Orsin and his sorcerer, planning on having it ready by mid-afternoon.
I tell my guard to send forward the first citizen.
“Please forgive me, Princess.” I just motion for him to continue, I can’t even imagine what this mousy, slight man could have done requiring forgiveness.
“Orsin said he would kill my wife and son. I had no choice.” He looks as if he is going to dissolve into tears.
“You had no choice about what?” I ask when it is clear he isn’t going to continue.
“Guild Master Zale was brave, but I’m not.” He is weeping now.
I take a guess, “You got the poisons for Orsin?”
He doesn’t answer, just cringes. I wave over one of my guards. “Take him to Gregor, he knows what poisons to look for.”
I turn back to the pitiful man standing before me, “You will give Captain Gregor a list of everything you procured for Orsin, and you will help him search the keep for any store of poisons that might be there.” My guard hurries him away, still weeping. I wonder if he will be of any use at all. I’ll let Gregor decide.
The second, third, and fourth citizens want to complain about raised taxes they don’t believe were sanctioned by the King. They are right.
I send for one of my guards. Marcs has one of the loudest voices in the kingdom. “Go up and down the line and announce that if they are here about taxes, they need to give their complains to their Guild Masters, and then go home. In the next few days I will meet with the Guild Masters, after I have tried to find what happened to the illegally collected money.”
At least two-thirds of the crowd leaves. As the rest are sorting themselves back in line I see Alan standing in the door of the keep, looking at me. After a moment, he goes back inside. I find I have more patience with the rest of the crowd.
I wish Orsin was alive so I could kill him again. I have told family after family we found no other prisoners. I have sent for one of the priests to make lists of the missing, and directions to their kin. I am afraid we won’t find any of them still alive. There are seventeen names on the list when we finish, and no one else standing in line.
I go to talk to Taver. “Father was right, this was an attempt by treachery not force. The city is loyal. I just don’t understand. Thirty-nine people imprisoned or missing, why didn’t they send word to the King, or to the nearest royal garrison? As near as I can tell, they just sat around worrying.” He listens, but has no answers either. We are just sitting and staring when Gregor comes to report.
“The trap is an old one, added to the keep just after the plague, when invasion was expected. Originally it was just a pit trap. The covering stone was repurposed from another trap in a main hallway—it was suppose to fall and crush any enemy who made it inside—last winter. At least, that is what we assume. During that time, the servants were kept out of the main hall while the mercenaries did some kind of work. The masons and carpenters have found no additional traps. The priests won’t let Alan check for sorcerous traps before tomorrow afternoon.”
“Where is Alan?”
“Looking at the sorcerers room.” The look on my face must be interesting, for he hastens to expand his answer. “Just looking through the door, not going in, not trying any spells. One of the priests is with him.”
Servants come in and start setting up tables and producing food. It’s mid-day, and I still have a whole list of things I need to take care of. I leave Gregor with Taver and sit at a table as much in shadow as is available. I need to talk to my Sword.
“Do we tell Alan about the null, or do I just toss firewood into the center of the sorcerer’s room and burn everything. The keep is stone, so it won’t all burn down.”
“Why?” Well, that is a nice change, the Sword asking me a question.
“In case it could be improved until it is dangerous to you.” I had assumed the Sword was just stronger than the spell.
“It could never be dangerous to me.” The Sword sounds matter of fact, not boastful, but I am still worried.
“Are you positive? I would rather destroy everything than take a chance.”
“I am certain.”
“Absolutely certain, not even a little doubt certain. Sword I do not want to lose you, or have you hurt.”
“Absolutely certain, Princess. I’m not magic.”
My brain just freezes, not a single though forms for a long minute. “Oh no, you’re not a trapped demon…” I realize I probably shouldn’t have thought that much less whispered it.
“No, I am not a trapped demon, I am not a trapped anything. I am Sword.”
I can’t have hysterics. I’m the Wielder, I’m in charge as long as Taver is hurt. I can’t well, really do anything. I put my head down on the table, wanting to bang it on the table so I can hurt instead of think.
I realize the hall has become completely silent, and I can feel everyone’s eyes boring into me. I ignore them. “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings.” At least it is easier to whisper unnoticed with my head down.
Someone sits down beside me, but I don’t raise my head to see who it is.
“You are frightening everyone.” So it’s Alan.
I don’t care. After a moment I realize I didn’t say it out loud, so I repeat it, “I don’t care.”
Alan doesn’t say anything, but he doesn’t go away either. I suppose that ultimately I’m going to have to lift my head and be the Wielder; or I could just lie here unmoving until spiders wove cobwebs around me.
“Just leave me alone.” Alan doesn’t move, and I realize he hasn’t spoken either.
“You are just full of secrets, aren’t you?”
My Sword doesn’t answer my question, just comments that some more sun would be nice. I don’t understand; of course, I didn’t understand before either, but I had a word, ‘magic’, to apply to my not understanding. Now I don’t understand, and I don’t have a word. Nothing has materially changed except that I have a headache.
“Oh, all right.” I look for Captain Gregor. Everyone in the room quickly finds something to do, pretending they haven’t been staring at me. I ignore them. I have a prisoner to interrogate. And I’m going to give Alan a treat and let him help. He’s been complaining about not getting to inspect an active swamp-tattoo ever since we told him about them.
I will think about what my Sword told me later, or maybe never.
But first, I need to go watch a pyre burn. I stand at the top of what was once the steps and is now a wooden ramp, trying to look stern and unemotional. Alan stands on one side, and Gregor on the other, and my guards are all around, as always. A vast crowd has gathered.
“They want to be sure he is dead,” Kale explains as he joins us.
I enjoy watching the flames take the two bodies, and then I worry about enjoying it. Alan enjoys it without any worrying.