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Seven dead, three identified. And the murderer is still out there. Every night I dream of new graves.
Two weeks have passed, and Sister Mays believes the danger over, but the camp remains, and will for two more weeks. Father has called me back home to help hunt the murderer, but I still visit the camp, standing visible beside the huge tree at noon each day, Alan beside me.
Alan has abandoned his forge to stay near me, contenting himself with studying the salvaged grimoire pages when we are in the keep. A sign of true love that only Mynar and I recognize.
We are focused on, must focus on, capturing the murderer before there is another set of graves. Taver has set his command and half of the city guard to patrolling the empty fields around the city searching for depressions or signs of new digging, while the rest of the guard are trying to identify the victims from scant information.
The last Lord Advisor arrives and father calls the council to order, signaling Lord Taver to begin.
“The three victims who have been identified were all foreigners, here for various reasons, but all here alone, with no one to raise alarm when they vanished.” Nothing surprising about that.
“And no one noticed when they just left their belonging?” Good question, but already thought of; we suspect their rooms were emptied, but after so long of a time, can’t prove it. The most recent identified disappearance was over five weeks ago.
“Perhaps we should find a foreigner willing to…” Lord Ekal doesn’t finish his sentence, doesn’t say out loud that he would use the foreigner for bait.
“He would have to be a good fighter.” Jes so rarely speaks, they are all surprised into listening. “He would have to wander from tavern to tavern, it would be impossible to follow him closely without it being noted.” Jes is convinced the men were taken from taverns, drunk. I agree it’s possible, but logic isn’t proof, and if Jes has more than logic behind his opinion, he isn’t admitting it.
“We do have one foreigner who can fight well.” Now I have everyone’s attention. “The disgraced ShadowWalker.”
“He would promise anything to gain his freedom, then he would just leave.” Lord Taver has given up expecting any information from our prisoner, even his name.
“Not if we had something he wanted that he wouldn’t be given unless he did as promised.” Father surprises me by seeming to consider using the man, I was all prepared to talk him into it, even though I’m not sure why I think it is a good plan, other than the ‘good fighter’ part.
“We could just ask him what he wants.” Jes surprises everyone into silence, and then discussion.
“But he would lie,” Taver repeats, “And then just leave.”
While they are arguing, I send for Alan. “No, I don’t have a truth spell. I have never heard of a truth spell.”
“How disappointing.” I explain why to Alan as the argument continues to swirl. Everyone thinks it’s a good plan, just impossible because we don’t know what to offer. Or really, just think it is a bad plan vs. no plan.
“One of the new grimoires has a spell for removing ShadowWalker tattoos.” Alan can see no one understands. “Those tattoos have a magical component, or the ink does. Some Sorcerer went to a lot of trouble to learn how to remove one, so there must have been something in it for him, which means someone one else wanted it bad enough to make it worth his while.”
We are all silent for a moment, sorting through Alans logic. Taver isn’t convinced, but agrees to talk to the prisoner. And, at fathers insistence, to take Sister Mays with him.
Alan decides he needs to read the spell more carefully, to verify he can do it. Jes follows us down to Mynar’s library, and we all interrupt a gloomy Mynar busy ignoring Lej’s monologue about how all research results are valuable.
Alan wisely ignores them to head to the table hosting his grimoire pages, while I demand to know what Mynar’s problem is. Not that I particularly want to help him improve magic, I just consider it my duty as an older sister to keep track of what my younger brother is up to.
Mynar ignores me, but Lej answers. “We are confident that there is a great deal of truth in the old lore stories.” Mynar mutters under his breath, but doesn’t say anything intelligible, so Lej continues. “What we did not consider is that lore would only concern itself with success. The great epic lore, passed from generation to generation verbally would be about those who succeeded, not those who tried, and killed themselves failing.”
“So you think magic has never been without flaws?”
“Only that we can’t prove one way or the other because of lore tales.” Lej sounds satisfied. They had a thesis, and, after researching, came to a logical conclusion. Mynar mutters some more under his breath. I decide to ignore both of them.
“I can do this.” Alan sounds confident. I stare at him a moment just because I enjoy looking at him. Jes interrupts my contemplation of my future husband.
“The ex-ShadowWalker is already a hunter.” Jes sees that I don’t understand. “We are seeking a man who is himself a hunter. Like against Like.”
“Congruency?” Alan asks as if he knows what Jes is talking about. Jes nods and they both act as if they have had a conversation.
Mynar is still muttering and Lej is still trying to ply him with logic, calling Jes over to answer some minutia about Tribal lore. I almost feel bad about feeling good that Mynar isn’t succeeding, but then I think about the results of Mynar succeeding, and decide failure is the best option.
With nothing to do but wait for Taver, I suggest that Alan and I go to my favorite tower, one of the few places with any privacy for a courting Princess.
To my dismay, there is construction going on in my tower. I consider throwing a fit and demanding they stop, but realize I would be yelling at the wrong people. Instead I go searching for Daver, and Alan abandons me to go back to his grimoire pages, since there is no possibility of alone-time for the two of us.
“The Queen ordered it.” For a moment I thought Daver was going to stop there, and I would have to go to mother to get my answers, but then he visibly changed his mind, probably realizing that I would go bother mother if I didn’t get answers from him. “The tower is being turned into rooms for you and Mage Alan.” After The Wedding being an unspoken subtext.
I can hardly complain about that.
I briefly consider going back to Mynar’s library, but then sanity takes charge and I go to join father waiting for Taver’s report. We sit before the fireplace, staring at the flames and not talking about magic, or lore, or other cryptic stuff. I enjoy it.
“The tower was supposed to be a surprise, but I called you back early.”
How had Daver gotten to father that quickly. “I was surprised,” I admit. Of course, not in the sense father means, but close enough. We stare at the fire some more, and after a while Jes joins us.
“They should worry less about understanding the world, and spend more time just enjoying it.”
I completely agree with that. I am also grateful father doesn’t ask what they were trying to understand.
Eventually Taver returns, followed closely by Ekal.
“He agreed.” Taver sounds stunned. “He almost wept at the thought of having the tattoo removed.”
“And Sister Mays?” Father doesn’t sound moved by the ex-assassins tears.
“She believes his desire genuine. Without the tattoo, he would have more options.”
Father nods his acceptance. Any day now he might just decide a Royal Court Mage is useful to have around.
“The chance is slight,” Taver continues, “But no one has any better suggestion.”
“It will be better than you think; I will perform a hunter’s ritual to bring him success in his hunting.” I can see that it takes a moment for the other three men to remember Jes is a Shaman. When they do remember, they just nod, probably wanting to ask questions, but not sure if they should.
“Will it work if he doesn’t believe?” I’m not at all shy about asking questions. I’ve probably been around Mynar too long.
“Yes.” Jes doesn’t explain; of course, Jes doesn’t explain.
Looks like we have a plan.