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“He has many who serve him because they want the power he gives them, but there are others who are forced, because they already have power he wants to control, or because he wants to use them as he used my sons, forcing muteness on them to protect his scheming.” Adl is repeating for me what she has already told Taver, but is happy enough to do so; I have brought her word that father has set up pensions for both her and Mychl, along with tenancy in the house where they have been quartered. Mother insisted.
Mychl is silent, but nods in agreement. She is more tense than Adl, and occasionally glances toward the room where one of the ‘maids’ is tending the two children, as if she needs reassurance her daughter is still there, or perhaps both children, since she has cared for the baby Byne practically since he was born.
“My sons are good men, Jkas was doing well on our farm, and Sloan had just finished his apprenticeship with the local blacksmith, when that monster ruined our lives.”
Taver had suggested I come and talk to them, thinking I might notice something he missed, but so far Adl had said nothing of importance and Mychl had said nothing at all.
“Abalem always had need of good farmers and blacksmiths,” I reply, more to keep her talking than anything else, but before she continues Mychl interrupts.
“But not for Sorcerers, unless he’s your Sorcerer.” Her tone is more defeated than accusing.
“Alan is a Mage,” I answer automatically. “And the King is more against demons than against Sorcerers.” I try very hard to hide my real opinion, that it isn’t likely any of the four will survive attacking the swamp-wizard. And if they do survive… “Wassak sent three assassins to kill me.” Both women look surprised. So the town hasn’t accepted them enough to share gossip. “Father has a general problem with Sorcerers, but a very specific one with Wassak.”
I stop short of making any promises. I really don’t know how father would react to a Sorcerer who had managed to kill the swamp-wizard, and I really, really don’t think it is likely I am going to find out.
“The only thing new Adl told me was Sloan and Jkas’ professions.” Lord Taver doesn’t seem too disappointed, in fact, he seems in a very good mood considering the lack of new information.
“I didn’t really think you would hear anything we didn’t already know, but it was worth attempting.” He leans back in his chair, radiating satisfaction, and I wonder at what. He doesn’t make me ask. “I did settle the issue with Daly and his father.”
“You managed to satisfy them both?”
“I managed to make both equally unhappy. Daly is going to join the City Guard on his eighteenth birthday.”
I agree this is a good solution. Wish we could solve another thing or two.
“What do you think about Hunk and his men?” I have managed to procrastinate about implementing mother’s suggestions for them because she is more interested in the wedding, but I know that won’t last.
“Mediocre armsmen at best. Totally devoted to you.” At my look of surprise, he explains, “They think you saved them from being executed by finding a use for them. And then you not only held to the terms of their contract, you also paid for hostages that were outside the contract. I think they are used to being paid less than promised.”
“Mother thinks they could be useful as guards in Alan’s village.” I explain only part of her plans, no need to mention spying to someone who might feel he had to pass it on to father.
“Excellent suggestion.” Taver, at least, has no reservations. And he does care about Alan’s safety. Or he cares about the possibility of blowing up things. Whichever. Guess I need to talk to Alan.
I wander over to Alan’s workshop in the outer bailey. (Father has insisted on putting his workshop as far from the keep as possible while yet keeping it inside the outer walls of the castle.) With Celeste’s message staying the same each day, it isn’t the time to leave loose strings dangling, so instead of shrieking my impatience to the sky, I am working my way though a whole list of things I have been putting off. For some reason, I have set Murr’s upcoming meeting with Mynar as my deadline. I keep telling myself that just because two things happen in the same timeframe doesn’t mean they are related, and I keep not listening to myself and equating Murr with danger.
Alan’s two guards are waiting outside the door, reminding me that Alan still doesn’t know mother is planning a full compliment for him. Also reminding me that I’m not going to be the one to tell him.
He, too, is looking rather pleased with himself. “Flint won’t accept a spell at all.”
“OK.” I’m not sure why that makes him cheerful.
“Everything else either accepts the spell or is destroyed by it. Flint just sets there, unchanged. Thank you for suggesting flint; this is very interesting.”
He punctuates his thanks with a quick hug and kiss, knowing that we have only moments before one of the guards join us. Our chaperones are now indulgent instead of glaring, but chaperones they remain. A whole damn castle of chaperones.
I jump up and sit on the table he’s working at and pick up his nodule of flint. It just looks like a rock to me. “Not a knife?”
“I didn’t need a knife, that was just what the sky-metal had been forged into. I would still like to see…”
“No.” I interrupt. Not risking alienating one of our allies. “You have a forge and three grimoires to keep you busy. And speaking of forge, would you like to have my mercenaries to protect it?” Oh damn, my mercenaries?
Turns out Alan doesn’t really keep anything there worth protecting, but if repairs and heavy lifting is included then he agrees they could be useful. Guess I need to talk to Hunk. And father. And tell the paymaster to add them to his list. At least I will be busy until the ‘danger, danger, danger’ decides to manifest itself.
“If they say ‘yes’, we can talk them out tomorrow to look around and see what they need. The houses are in moderately good repair, but still aren’t much.”
“They’ve been living in tents for months, the houses will look just fine to them.” I think for a moment trying to decide if I am going to tell Alan about mother’s plans. It would be safe to, if I reminded him not to talk about spying in front of father, but I would have to get him alone, and that is proving to be increasingly difficult. Maybe I will have to wait until after the wedding.
I lose track of my thoughts when Alan touches my hand under the guise of taking the flint. I think he is going to ignore the guards and kiss me—it wouldn’t be the first time—but we are interrupted by one of the castle guards.
“Princess, one of the women from the swamp is at the gate asking for you.”
I send for her, expecting Adl, but it is Mychl.
“I want sanctuary for my family. Me, the two children, and my husband, she carefully enumerates. “And I have information to trade. Something Rage told me about Wassak’s methods.”
Suddenly she has Alan’s attention as much as mine. “Your husband is Rage?’
Not the question I was expecting.
She nods and Alan looks impressed.
“You realize only father can grant sanctuary?”
“He will listen to you. If you tell him I, and Rage, have give you something of value. And your Sorcerer can tell you how valuable it is.”
She shrugs and I can practically hear her say ‘whatever’. “I know what he needs to make his ink. His transformations don’t work, unless he uses his special ink.”
Now she really has Alan’s attention.
“That is a secret, too, but Rage found out. The others think it is Wassak’s power.”
Alan pulls me into a corner and whispers in my ear. “This could be important—really important.”
I have to think about it, not the least that Alan’s definition of important very likely doesn’t match mine.
“I will talk to mother, and see if she is willing to talk to father. He always listens to her. But I cannot promise.”
She nods her acceptance. “There is a breed of black cat in the swamps. He needs it’s blood. All of its blood—it doesn’t work unless he bleeds the cat to death.”