I decide it is time for another walk around the city and demand Alan join me. He doesn’t want to leave the grimoires until Gregor promises to put a guard on them, which insults the priests until Alan explains that he wouldn’t want some other Sorcerer to sneak in and take them, that he knows the priests wouldn’t burn them behind his back. He is right, but they will certainly burn them with him watching, if they can convince me to let them.
“We need to find a square large enough to build a really big bonfire without any danger of burning the city down,” I tell my guards and Alan as we start out.
“Why don’t you just ask Conners,” Alan complains more than asks; he wants to be back in some corner of the keep reading his new books.
“Because the people need to see me walking about, taking an interest in their city, and because if we walk briskly enough it will be hard for people to overhear what we are saying.
“Oh?” Alan thinks about this for a while, as we set off down the broadest street. “Do you really want me to call you Adava, or did you just want to annoy your guards?”
“Both. I’m efficient.”
“What do you want to talk about?”
“You not killing yourself with those damn books.” Not that I really thought I was going to talk him out of reading them, out of trying things.
“I’m not stupid. Sorcerers write their grimoires so only they can use them safely. Some leave out things, some add things. But they all keep to a pattern, so they can easily read their own books. All I have to do is figure out the pattern. I won’t do anything until I’m sure I have.”
“What do you do in your grimoire?” Not that I need to know, I just want to see if he will tell me.
“Nothing. Knowledge should be shared, not hidden.”
Of course, I should have known. “Yet another difference between you and Sorcerers.” Beside me Alan goes all stiff and stubborn. I annoy him by changing the subject instead of indulging in an argument. “Destroyer tried to erect a null in the cavern, to render my Sword useless. Orsin thought it worked, until I killed him. It might be useful against the swamp-wizard.”
“Or a more powerful Sorcerer might use it against you. I will destroy its description when I find it.”
I walk down the street smiling at everything I see. Alan has offered to destroy a unique spell for me. How romantic. Or at least our version of it. “Not necessary,” I assure him. “There is no Sorcerer stronger than my Sword.”
“True, but not truth,” whispers in my ear. I pick up the pace just enough to be able to almost-whisper back, “You are my Sword, not my conscience.”
“Both,” comes the complacent answer. I definitely like Thunder best.
“A crossbow bolt would be even more useful,” Alan offers. “Before he decides to try to assassinate you again.”
“Why would he, with Orsin no longer available to pay him?”
“You are never alone, are you?” Alan uses my trick of changing topics.
“Rarely,” I agree. “The top of the tower in Misthold, the vault, my bedroom in my suite, if I remember to block the door. But pretty much everywhere else I’m a crowd.” I try to sound matter-of-fact, not pathetic.
We walk in silence for a while, looking for a good location for a bonfire.
The priests are eager to start laying out the kindling and wood ready for the fire. I think they are afraid Alan will talk me into letting him have more of Destroyer’s possessions. I ignore the issue and schedule the burning for tomorrow, mid-day, bidding Kale to send out runners to all parts of the city to be sure we will have a good crowd.
I get this well started before talking to the frail looking man who is waiting patiently for me when we return to the keep. One of the priests has tucked him off to the side and provided him with mulled ale; Orsin’s Steward has decided he is well enough to work.
Once I walk over, Taver joins us.
“I decided Valle didn’t need to answer the same questions twice.”
I nod in agreement, the City Steward doesn’t really look as if he is ready to answer any questions even once.
“You need to know what Orsin has done,” he interrupts in a voice just above a whisper.
I leave Taver with him, and question one of the priests.
“No, he has not recovered,” the priest agrees, “But he believes he needs to tell you what he knows. Such effort is not good for him, but not letting him speak would be worse.”
I go to listen to what Valle has to say, fearing I won’t like it. Several hours later Valle is sent home with a escort and Taver and I both have headaches.
We sit in my favorite shadow while Taver works on his timeline and I just watch. I’m not sure why a timeline is important.
“See, Princess,” he shows me the papers he has been working on. “Orsin started misappropriating funds that should have been used for maintaining the city walls well before he brought Destroyer to the city. And he had also started hiring mercenaries—at least a dozen of them predate Destroyer.”
“Why is that important?” I’m not questioning his judgement, I just don’t understand.
“It means that whatever started him on this path, it wasn’t Sorcery.”
I decide not to ask why this is important. “Something convinced him he could wield the sword.” I am sure of this; all of his actions were steps to him obtaining the Sword. “Do we really care what?”
“We do if the same tactic could be used on another Lord.”
I sigh and reach for a blank sheet of paper, “We need another courier.” Taver gives me a ‘what aren’t you telling me’ look, which I ignore. We need to tell the realm there is no longer a problem finding Wielders. But it is father’s decision. Taver is still staring at me when I finish the message to father; he’s not going to give up without an answer. “Orsin couldn’t wield the Sword, and that is all I can tell you without the Kings permission.”
Surprisingly, Taver accepts this answer. Perhaps impressed that I called father ‘King’; I rarely do.