I gather Bevin and the men who guarded the ex-wolfman, and send for Hunk.
“I need for you to strip,” I order. “After I leave the room,” I hastily add as all of my guards draw breath to protest. “If you are free of tattoos, then your men need to be inspected next.”
“Oh,” is all Hunk says, but he starts removing his weapons as I walk out.
Bevin collects more men before heading toward the camp, just because Hunk is uncontaminated doesn’t mean that all of his men are. Luckily, the twenty-three coin bags are counted, ready to deliver, and guaranteed to soothe any hurt feelings at being demanded to strip.
Sister Mays readily sends several sisters to assist me. The servants (warriors) are still assisting the hostages, so I don’t need any more than my usual compliment of guards.
We flurry around, cause gossip, and don’t find a single tattoo. At least people are momentarily distracted from the lit Spires.
Alan finds me sulking in the stables, watching Thunder running around in one of the paddocks.
“Nothing. I need to rest before I try again.” Alan answers before I ask.
“I forgot to check for tattoos. I should have checked for tattoos immediately.” I am disgusted with myself.
“Glad to know you aren’t perfect. A perfect wife would be hard to live with.”
I start to get angry with Alan’s dismissal of my lapse. They could have…could have failed as spectacularly as the first three assassins from the swamp? Then Alan puts his arm around my waist and pulls me close.
“I have heard you complaining about Abalem putting too much of their faith in the Sword, and not enough in the army and knights. If you aren’t the only defender, then you are also not the only one responsible.”
I decide I’m not really angry, but it has more to do with Alan hugging me than it does his words.
I try to decide were we could go and have at least a pretense of privacy. My tower is unusable, Mynar’s library is too full of Mynar’s frustration at not finding the answer he wants, and every where else is too full of people. Nope, standing in the stables watching Thunder is about as private as we are likely to get today.
“We looked toward the Mysk border first, on a direct line from Caeel, and saw nothing. We’ll follow the coast down next, Taver is looking for people familiar with the fishing villages to give me targets.”
“Couriers will be riding fast, too.”
We stand quietly, watch Thunder, and ignore the guards. I don’t do waiting well, but it is easier with Alan.
“Daver wants to supply me with new clothes.”
“Of course. It’s our betrothal ball. And if he tries to tell you I am wearing three dresses, I’m not.”
“I can buy my own clothes.”
“Yes, but this is ceremonial garb. You will likely never want to wear it again. You probably won’t want to wear it the first time. I certain don’t want to wear a dress with skirts so full I will barely fit through a doorway, but it’s expected. The wedding celebrations are all about us, but they aren’t for us.”
“And he left a bag of coin. I don’t need an allowance from your father.”
“Alan, you accepted being the Royal Mage.” He looks at me as if he doesn’t understand. “Do you think father expects you to work for free? Did you ever scry for someone, and accept payment?”
“Of course, but that is different.”
I start to say ‘no, it isn’t’ but decide to save my breath, instead I just lean against him a little more and roll my eyes. “Just don’t annoy father until after the wedding.”
Alan scrys a partially burned fishing village, a small contingent of soldiers already there, and what looks like the remains of three burial pyres.
“Outlanders.” Father isn’t really surprised; their attacks are the biggest problem we have, now that the succession of Wielders has been solved. “We will have to send supplies to the village, to help them through the winter. Whether or not this is the reason the Spires were lit, supplies must still go out.”
The way things have been going, I expect the courier to arrive with a totally different problem, but I am wrong. The supplies are dispatched, Taver leads half of his battalion out, and for once, I don’t mind at all being left at home.
I spend one afternoon trying to understand why Mynar is so determined to ‘fix’ magic. All I do is frustrate both of us.
“It isn’t normal,” Mynar yells at me, “Broken things need to be fixed.”
“Or thrown away and replaced.”
“Just go somewhere else Adava.”
I surprise my brother by leaving; I don’t usually let him have the last word.
Mother summons me, and I resign myself to spending the rest of the day deciding things I don’t care about: color of the bed curtains, should there be a few large rugs or several small ones, how many bookcases. It’s just furniture. But mother thinks it is important, and has all of her ladies and mine running around matching pieces of material.
“Now that should take them a while,” she smiles at me complacently. “What are you going to do with your mercenaries?”
I didn’t tell her about them, but of course she knows. “I haven’t the vaguest idea, once they have finished surveying the unused land around the city. I did tell them we are almost certain all of the graves have been found; I didn’t want them to find out from gossip.”
“Of course not. I think they should hire out as merchant-guards. Since we will be paying them too, they can afford to hire on at slightly under the going rate (Too far under would be suspicious.) so should be able to find positions going just about anywhere we want.”
“Halft, Verkal, and Isal. Maybe Mysk—I’ll talk to Jes first. I wouldn’t want to send amateurs to Caeel, there is no telling how far the swamp-wizard’s reach is. All they need to do is keep their eyes and ears open and report to you.”
Yeah, mother is definitely expanding her spy circles. “They will need a home base, something to come back to, so they will come back.”
“Well, you have an entire empty village. Alan will be safer if it’s fortified, anyway.”
“I don’t trust them that much.”
“Adava, he is the betrothed of the Wielder and the first Royal Mage in the history of Abalem, they would never dare cross him. They will assume he must be massively powerful. And anyway, he will have a full compliment of guards, just as soon as we finish recruiting. And so will Jes, for that matter.”
“Maybe they will think I just married him for his looks.” I definitely don’t like this plan.
“You father would most certainly not have named him Royal Mage for his looks.” Mother is losing patience with me.
“If anything happens to Alan, you won’t be getting any grandchildren any time soon.”
Mother stops and looks at me seriously, “You are really worried about Alan’s safety.”
“Yes, mother.” Anyone else I would have answered ‘Duh’. Then I remember Hunk kneeling unasked, and his uncouth offering of fealty. “I’ll talk to Alan, and see what he thinks.”
And then the ladies return, and I’m pulled into an overly long discussion about how I want to wear my hair for the ball. ‘On my head’ is apparently not an acceptable answer.