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“The spell’s directions are clear, and I have all of the required elements, but I have never performed it, so I cannot guarantee it will work.”
The ex-ShadowWalker just looks confused. Maybe he isn’t used to being told the truth. “But you think it might work?”
“Then I will try to find your murderer.”
He doesn’t understand our outrage is as much for the buried bodies as for the killing. It doesn’t matter, if he catches the killer both will stop.
“What is your name?” Sister Mays asks, seeming to confuse him more. “Your true name, what you call yourself in your heart. I cannot bless you without a name.”
“Of course. You need help keeping your heart pure so you seek justice, not death.”
“Zar,” he whispers, as if he can’t decide if a blessing is a good thing or not. But he doesn’t recant his agreement, not even when Jes takes him out to the courtyard for his ‘hunting ritual’ which must be done under the sky, and with several different herbs burned is strict order and their smoke wafted toward the frankly confused ex-assassin.
He stops being confused once his weapons are returned; he knows what to do with them.
Zar goes hunting, and finds nothing. For two weeks, night after night of nothing. Father consents to continuing the attempt because no one else has suggested better. Mynar stays moody, construction continues on my tower, and I really want to hit someone—preferably the murderer—with my Sword.
Germins’ great amassing comes and passes. When he finally emerges from his rooms he is annoyed.
“I could have gone home a month ago,” he complains to me. “And now I supposed I really should wait until you have ended your quarantine.” I give him points for doing the right thing, even though he does it with poor grace. I also wonder if he had no vision, of if he had a vision which he isn’t going to share and is just doing a really good job of acting ‘nothing happened’.
The great lore tales don’t mention long periods of time while you are just waiting, with nothing useful to do. But life isn’t a lore tale with the boring parts left out, in real life you have to live through each long minute, and find something to do besides snapping at people.
At the end of the fourth week Sister Mays tells father he can lift the quarantine, the danger past.
“There will have to be a celebration to welcome the volunteers home.” Father would have been happier ordering a celebration for the capture of the murderer. We all would have, but Zar has patronized most of the bars favored by foreigners in complete safety. Pity no one has come up with any other suggestion. Only Jes still thinks this will work. Even Zar is just going through the motions, but with determination; he hopes we will give him points for trying.
“You must have patience when hunting,” Jes lectures Zar before his next foray. “My ritual is potent; you will succeed.”
For a few moments I think about dragging my brother out to the street celebrations, but decide Alan and I will have more fun alone. Just Alan and me and all of my guards and the two guards who seem to have started following Alan. I don’t know if he hasn’t noticed them yet, or if he has talked to Jes and knows a losing fight when he sees it.
“We are not staying out all night this time,” I tell him, remembering our betrothal celebration and its aftermath far too well to repeat it so soon.
He just smiles and puts his arm around my shoulders, “I think we should visit all of the bonfires. It’s almost possible to ignore your guards when the crowd is so big.”
Our debate ends undecided when an older man runs up yelling something about monsters and riots down the street.
“Probably just too much celebration.”
“Probably,” I agree as we both turn and walk toward the excitement. Of course this attracts attention, and most of the crowd starts following my guards. Part of me is annoyed, but the rest of me is pleased the guards are getting a taste of ‘always being followed everywhere’.
We don’t find any monsters or riots, but there is a large number of city guards closing off the entrance to an alley. They divide to allow us to pass, but deftly cut off the following gawkers.
Zar is about midway up the alley, blood flowing sluggishly from a thin cut around his neck, a dead body at his feet.
“No one said anything about wanting him alive. Why would you want him alive.” Judging from the volume of Zar’s protests, his injuries aren’t severe.
“Now we will never know why,” the Captain stops complaining abruptly when he sees me.
I can understand his need to know why, but I can be satisfied with knowing the murders stopped. And since Zar is holding a garrote identical to the ones found with each body, I have no doubt that they are stopped.
“Stop arguing Zar, and let them take care of your wound.” I look over my shoulder, gauging how much the crowd can see. “Take Zar back to..”
“No. You promised my tattoo would be removed.”
“Do you want to be in the same place as a Verkal Clairvoyant?” His sudden silence gives me his answer. “I expect Germins will leave either tomorrow or the day after. It will be wiser to let him leave, before you are brought to Alan’s workroom.”
Our celebrating is over; there is a body to deal with, a crowd to disperse and people to inform. Alan and I head back to the castle, after promising Zar, yet again, his tattoo will be removed. Or at least Alan will make his best attempt.
Germins is pleased there is no plague, pleased the murderer is no longer a problem, and really pleased to be heading home.
I force Mynar out of his library and his bad mood to go say formal good-by, knowing Germins won’t feel sufficiently honored by a mere female, even a royal one. And also because Mynar really needs to leave his library more. Germins’ leaving at the break of day assures that neither of my parents will be there to say farewell.
Afterward I almost have time for a leisurely breakfast before my Ladies descend on me determined to force me to attend to Wedding stuff, specifically The Betrothal Ball, which will be just like every other Harvest Ball, except more.
I spend the rest of the morning saying ‘no’. I won’t wear three ball gowns to the Betrothal Ball. Not all at once, of course, but changing at the middle and end of the ball. Nope, not doing it. Equally ‘no’ to Alan and I exchanging massive amounts of jewelry instead of the plain silver bracelets exchanged by every bride and groom. (I make a mental note to find out if there are any customs from Isal that Alan wants to include.) I also will not have a fortune in jewels sewn onto my wedding dress. (Pretty sure mother doesn’t know about that suggestion; she doesn’t believe in ostentation.)
I am delighted when a Captain of the Guard summons me to the castle gate, and then feel guilty because such a summoning always means trouble, and I should not rejoice in trouble, no matter how personally convenient it is.
“A man calling himself Hunk the Mercenary is asking to speak to the Wielder.” The Captain’s deportment is formal and his tone neutral, but somehow he still manages to express disapproval. Mercenaries should not expect to speak with any of the Royal Family.
I, however, am pleased. Maybe it isn’t a problem, maybe it’s good news for a change. Evert could provide massive information about the swamp-wizard if the mercenaries have managed to free his brother and mother. “Does he have a woman and two men with him?”
“Two women, an adolescent girl and a baby.”
I start moving a little faster.
Hunk takes a step toward me as I arrive at the castle gate, but stops abruptly, probably at the looks on my guards faces, and waits until I approach him.
“Where is Evert? And who are these..”
“Sloan and Jkas went with Rage and Bryn to kill the Wassak,” the older woman answers.
“Where are the rest of your men?” This time Hunk is allowed to speak.
“Camping outside the city walls, near the west gate.” He gestures toward the small group with him, “We rescued them all.”
“Daver.” It only takes a moment for him to answer my call. Sometimes I think there are more than one of him. “We need to set up an empty house for these ladies.” I look toward the older woman who had spoken before, “I assume you will prefer to stay together.” She nods. “And,” I continue to Daver, “They will need some help for a few days, they have traveled a great distance.”
“But you have,” I turn to look carefully at each one of them, “Reached a place of safety.” I hope I am telling the truth.
I take Daver aside, smiling a fake smile for the benefit of anyone watching, “The ‘helpers’ should be from Taver’s battalion, there are a number of women who you can ask to volunteer. Get their stories.” I nod toward the small group of women. “And don’t necessarily assume they are helpless.”
“Certainly, Princess.” He sounds as composed as if I had just asked him to serve my favorite dessert. He probably is.
With the women and children in Daver’s capable hands, I lead Hunk to one of the empty barracks inside the first curtain wall of the castle. I will take him no nearer to father or mother. Staff swarm in behind us, lighting fires, providing wine, organizing chairs around a small table.
I send guards running for Taver and Alan and Jes. I think a moment about dragging Mynar, but while I can compel his body, I have doubts about compelling his attention, so decide it will be wasted effort. I am glad the staff are bustling about making things comfortable. This is likely to be a long story.