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I send for the tattooed prisoner and then wait. For him to be brought across the city, stripped, a ‘map’ of his tattoos made, and as many words translated as possible.
Kale reports to me as I otherwise sit alone at my table in the shadows. My guards don’t understand why I am avoiding the head table. They will just have to not understand, I can’t very well explain it is because I can more easily whisper to my sword.
“The town is relieved,” Kale tells me. “They have been worried since last fall.”
“Not worried enough to alert the King,” I point out.
“Captain Conners and the Guild Masters sent three couriers. Their names are on the list of the missing.”
I feel guilty and better at the same time. I didn’t realize how much it had worried me there was no word sent to father until I realized the depth of my relief.
“If we do not find them, they will be honored as having fallen in battle.” I don’t explain farther. So far, all the city knows is Orsin had been acting weirdly and then tried to kill me. It will be necessary to tell the realm what happened, but it is father’s right to decide when and how. I wish I had a Webb equivalent in Blythe to repeat the cities’ rumors to me, they were likely to be creative.
A wailing voice raises from the side chamber set aside for the severely wounded. Kale and I just stare at each other, realizing one of the last three freed prisoners didn’t survive. I am not good at comforting people, but I go anyway as Wielder honoring one who had resisted Orsin. It may bring some comfort. Even Taver hobbles out, attended by one of the priests, to say the formal words said at such times.
Hours later, Taver, Alan and I face the silent prisoner. Alan is doing a good job of faking patience. The battalion is unhappy because only my guards are allowed in the side chamber to attend us. But the selected guards already know about the tattoos and swamp-wizard. I again fight the battle of secrecy vs sharing and come down on the side of secrecy. For Taver, it hasn’t been a battle at all; I don’t tell him I had considered ‘sharing’ an option.
The three of us sit in throne like chairs placed in a semi-circle around the prisoner seated before us on a stool. The guards blend into the shadows around the walls, but he knows they are here.
He is the only prisoner who shows no sign of beating or torture, probably because Orsin ‘knew’ he couldn’t speak even if he wanted to. All of the tattoos, excepting the one he had in common with the two swamp-assassins we captured, translate as ‘silent’.
“I don’t understand,” I whisper to Taver and Alan. “Being a wolfman or invisible is useful, but being forced into silence. Why would anyone want to do that.”
“Maybe he didn’t want it,” Taver whispers back, “Maybe the wizard wanted a messenger who couldn’t betray him.” Alan nods in agreement with him.
“We really need to do something about this damn wizard.” Taver and Alan don’t answer me because they can’t hear my almost whisper. My sword doesn’t answer either, but I still feel agreement.
“The swamp-wizard’s magic doesn’t always work here,” I tell the prisoner.
He looks at me in surprise, but I can’t tell if it is because I know about the swamp-wizard or because I am claiming flaws in his magic.
“In fact,” I continue. “We know how to removed his magic. Will gladly do that for you.”
He shakes his head wildly, and with some effort produces a rusty sounding ‘no’. His surprise deepens, as if he can’t believe the word came from his mouth.
He tries again, gags, takes a breath and manages to get out a complete sentence. “He will kill mother.”
I stare at him for a long moment, thinking, plotting. Maybe I’m more like father and Mynar than I thought I was.
“If we could free your mother, would you help us against him?”
“Brother, too?” It takes him several tries to get the two words out.
“If possible,” I agree.
We whisper and form a plan. Alan and Taver will get his story—or, more accurately, Taver will get his story and Alan will study his tattoos—and I will talk to the mercenaries, right after I get Gregor’s opinion.
“They aren’t a formal group; Orsin hired them individually. He selected men who needed a place, and were good fighters. Their weapons are well kept, but they have no morals. They will likely turn outlaw now, if they are allowed to live, having no other options.”
“Actually, I would like to give them an option.”
Gregor looks at me skeptically “You couldn’t trust them.”
“Of course not,” I agree. “It will be necessary to offer them a strong enough incentive. Question them again, learn what you can about them. This time I will just watch.” Gregor looks confused. “The Sword and I will just watch. To make them uneasy. You make them think we are planning executions. After their imaginations have focused on sure death, anything else we offer will seem a good deal to them. We have time to play mind games—the time it will take a courier to reach father and return.” Because I will certainly need father’s approval to send forces beyond our borders, even forces we can deny.
The priests finally release both Taver and Alan, with the stipulation that Taver not over-exert himself. Alan is torn, he wants to study Marcus’s tattoos and he wants to investigate the sorcerer’s rooms. I solve his problem by demanding he start with Orsin’s rooms. I don’t have to worry about proving Orsin’s guilt, he solved that problem for me with his trap, but I still want to collect all of the evidence I can, starting with the letter from Afred of Halft.
“I need you to find the cowardly apothecary, “ I tell Gregor. “I don’t remember his name…”
“It is Leumr,” and unfamiliar voice offers from behind me. I turn around and barely recognize Captain Conners. His face still has splotches of purple and yellow, but the swelling has gone down.
“Are you suppose to be here, or did you escape your minders?” He doesn’t answer me, just looks over his shoulder toward the door where two city guards are clearly watching him.
“Send someone to get Leumr. I want to search Orsin’s rooms.”
“And carpenters and stonemasons,” Gregor adds. “There may be more traps.” I just nod my agreement. He is probably right.
“Whatever Orsin was doing, the city wasn’t part of it.” Conners’ sounds as if he doesn’t expect me to believe him. I wait until we are both seated at my favorite table in the shadows before I try to reassure him.
“We know that. His plans were assassination and politics, not war.”
Conners’ eyes open wide at the word assassination. “He tried to kill the King?”
“Me, the King, Prince Mynar, the Queen.” Conners grows so pale, I motion one of my guards over and tell him to send a member of the staff with wine. He ignores me and brings it himself, probably after tasting it. Every time I think my guards’ paranoia can’t get any worse, it does.
“I believe, and the King believes, he was planning treachery and assassination, not open war. I doubt that anyone knew all of his plans.”
Conners tightens his mouth and stares into the flames of the great fireplace. I have no doubt but that he is mentally saying all sorts of things that he won’t say aloud for fear of sullying my Princess ears. I just barely kept from rolling my eyes.
“Want to help us search his rooms? I have been waiting until the priests decide Alan has recovered from lifting the stone off Taver and me.” I don’t really think he will help, I think he will sit in a chair in the doorway and watch, but it is a sign that I trust him. As if finding him in the dungeon hadn’t been enough proof of his loyalty. “While we are waiting,” I continue, taking his agreement for granted, “What is the mood of the city?”
Conners gives me a comprehensive description, clearly Kale has kept him up to date. But it all boils down to ‘both worried and happy’. He tries to explain. “They are worried because they don’t understand, but they also have confidence in the Wielder.”
Of course, I can just wave my magic sword and fix everything—wave my non-magic sword, I amend my silent tirade. But I can’t say any of this out loud; I just sigh.