“We were unable to find any raw jewels among Orsin’s possessions,” Conners tells Anaslov. I am lurking in the shadows of Taver’s office, as is Taver. Anaslov does not deserve the honor of meeting the Wielder. And we do not want to show any interest in his silent companion. He has refused to give us his name, so we have nicknamed him Evert. The battalion thinks this is way too bland and non-descriptive. Taver and I think any spy overhearing us mention ‘Quiet’ or ‘Silent’ or ‘Mute’ might draw all too accurate conclusions. My guards haven’t offered an opinion; in fact, they have been way too agreeable lately. Even the priests have decided to approve of Alan, but I think that is more because Alan was as adamant as they about burning Destroyer’s spells, and not because of the Stormborne blood rumor.
Looking back, I can see how Dame Lassa drew the wrong conclusion from my two comments. And, of course, shared it. I am still determined to ignore the entire thing.
Conners continues, “We are, however, going to provide you with a horse and enough money to see you safely back to Isal. In fact, we have found a trading group heading that way day after tomorrow, and have paid your passage fee to accompany them, under the protection of their guards.” And to make it easier for our hunters to find him as he leaves the city.
Anaslov tells Conners how glad he is that our excellent justice system realized he is not guilty of any crime, and how grateful he is for passage to his beloved home. And he tells and tells, and I am really ready to hit him, just to shut him up.
Evert nods his thanks, and says nothing.
Evert is going to a small city to the north, to wait for the mercenaries who will be some weeks behind him. North, since Anaslov, if telling the truth, will be going west to Isal, and if lying, most likely going East to the coast.
The mercenaries have accepted our offer, and supplies and horses and some gold. And have been promised a lot more gold if Evert and his brother and mother are delivered safely to Misthold. An amount for each, so they gain more if all three survive. We are counting heavily on greed. Evert has also agreed, I think more from desperation than hope, but nonetheless, we have a plan, and it is a plan that costs Abalem nothing but a little gold. Part of me realizes this attitude verges on ruthless, but then my training tells me sometimes rulers have to be ruthless.
Evert and Anaslov are released openly, but the plan is to take the mercenaries with us, supposedly as prisoners.
“Oversupplying our troop as camouflage for our mission is turning out to be very useful.” Taver is pleased with himself. “We could easily return to Misthold on the supplies left, but no one knows that, so we can buy more supplies without arousing interest or starting rumors. And, of course, we will have to buy horses for the prisoners in order to keep them from slowing us down.”
In this particular instance, I am in full agreement with secrecy.
“We should be able to leave in two or three days.” Yes, Taver is definitely pleased with himself.
“After the feast,” I tell him.
“Yes, the feast Conners is giving us and the Guild Masters and their Ladies, and pretty much everyone with any pretense of importance in the city. There will also be bonfires and food in the major squares of the city for the commoners.”
“I didn’t know Conners was giving us a feast.” Taver doesn’t seem pleased at realizing his two or three days are more likely to be nine or ten days.
“Conners doesn’t know either, I haven’t told him yet.” This is politics, policy, not battle; I am confident it’s the right decision, even if I can’t exactly explain why. But I am Princess and Wielder; I don’t have to explain.
Twelve days later we finally ride out of Blythe, in pretty much the same order we left Misthold, except for the twenty-three ‘prisoners’ riding surrounded by the battalion and the one real prisoner riding, well tethered, in one of the supply carts. The ex-ShadowWalker is going home with us.
“All in all, we have seven disgraced ShadowWalkers. It seems an excessive amount for what is supposed to be an elite unit. It makes me wonder what is going on in Verkal.” Tavor doesn’t bother to lower his voice as we ride toward the main city gate, leaving without the show which accompanied our arrival. Crowds watch us anyway, hoping for more entertainment before we leave. Taver has apparently forgiven me for refusing to leave the day after the city-wide feast; I gave the men a day to recover from their part of the celebration. The Herald’s proclamation relieved us of any need to be discrete about the attempted assassinations, but Conners is talking to Alan behind us, still worried about lingering sorcerous traces. Alan is reassuring him yet again. Neither are paying attention to us.
“Do you think there is any chance of us finding out,” I return my attention to Taver’s comment. Mother’s information gathering is focused in what is happening in Abalem, she doesn’t care about what goes on outside of our borders. Or didn’t, until people outside of our borders started threatening her family. Now that I think about it, I foresee an expansion of her spy network.
“Probably not, spying on them isn’t safe because of all of the Clairvoyants. And I doubt he,” Taver nods toward the supply cart, “Will tell us anything, even if we offer to let him go.”
“How about if we offer to not send him back to Verkal?”
Taver thinks for a moment, “Maybe.”
We reach the gate, and Conners moves off to the side, where Captain Kale waits with a contingent of the city guard. I wave to them all as we leave.
We are all in a good mood; we are going home.
The ShadowWalker makes his first attempt to escape just before dawn our second day out. The warriors are still debating where he got the knife he used to cut the ropes. They are also debating if the early hours of the morning are part of our first day of travel or the second; there is a betting pool: when he would make his first attempt, how many attempts he would make. No one was willing to bet on if he would succeed in escaping.
I finally tell them to stop arguing and ask the priests to decide.
We end up on the road earlier than planned, and not a little grumpy, so it isn’t surprising Taver and I start arguing.
“The fewer who know the better.”
I have a feeling Taver mutters that in his sleep, but this time he is just wrong. “We are not going to send out a squadron with the prisoners and have them come back without the prisoners. There will be rumors we slaughtered them before the last of our group is through Misthold’ s city gate.”
“We can’t tell them the truth.”
Of course we could, but it probably isn’t worth days of fighting to make Taver realize this. “Then what do you want to tell them.”
Taver doesn’t answer, probably because he is trying to compose a believable lie.