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The Element of Fire was my first novel, written around 1990, when I was 26. It was published in hardcover in 1993 and paperback in 1994, by Tor Books. It was published in Italy in 1995, Russia in 1997, Poland in 1998, in France, by l'Atalante, in 2002, and will be published in Spanish by Bibliopolis. It was a finalist for the 1993 Compton Crook/Stephen Tall Award and a runner-up for the 1994 Crawford Award. And it's almost impossible to find in the US, so I'm posting it here.
It was the first Ile-Rien book, before I knew there were going to be any other Ile-Rien books. Since then Vienne, altered by time, war, and general rough usage, has been a setting for The Death of the Necromancer (nominated for the Nebula Award in 1998 and also becoming impossible to find in the US) and The Wizard Hunters, The Ships of Air, and The Gate of Gods, available in paperback from HarperCollins. Kade Carrion also appears in the short story "The Potter's Daughter" in the anthology Elemental, edited by Steve Savile and Alethea Kontis, published in 2006 by Tor Books.
The text posted here does not match the original US edition; I've edited it to make the prose a little smoother and more in line with my current style, but haven't made any substantial changes to plot, storyline, characterization, or anything else.
by Martha Wells
And New Philosophy calls all in doubt,
The Element of fire is quite put out;
The Sun is lost, and th'earth, and no man's wit
Can well direct him where to looke for it.
"An Anatomie of the World"
THE GRAPPLING HOOK skittered across the rain-slick stone of the ledge before dropping to catch in the grillwork below the third-story window. Berham leaned back on the rope to test it. "That's it, Captain Sir. Tight as may be," the servant whispered.
"Well done," Thomas Boniface told him. He stepped back from the wall and looked down the alley. "Now where in hell is Dr. Braun?"
"He's coming," Gideon Townsend, Thomas's lieutenant, said as he made his way toward them out of the heavy shadows. Reaching them, he glanced up at the full moon, stark white against the backdrop of wind-driven rain clouds, and muttered, "Not the best night for this work." The three men stood in the muddy alley, the dark brocades and soft wools of their doublets and breeches blending into the grimy stones and shadow, moonlight catching only the pale lace at the wrists or shirt collars of Thomas and his lieutenant, the glint of an earring, or the cold metal sheen on rapiers and wheellock pistol barrels. It was a cool night and they were surrounded by failed counting houses and the crumbling elegance of the decaying once-wealthy homes of the River Quarter.
Thomas personally couldn't think of a good time to forcibly invade a foreign sorcerer's house. "The point of it is to go and be killed where you're told," he said. "Is everyone in position?"
"Martin and Castero are up on the tannery roof, watching the street and the other alley. I put Gaspard and two others at the back of the house and left the servants to watch the horses. The rest are across the street, waiting for the signal," Gideon answered, his blue eyes deceptively guileless. "We're all quite ready to go and be killed where we're told."
"Good," Thomas said. He knew Gideon was still young enough to see this as a challenge, to care nothing for the political reality that sent them on a mission as deadly as this with so little support. Glancing down the alley again, he saw Dr. Braun was finally coming, creeping along the wall and uncomfortably holding his velvet-trimmed scholar's robes out of the stinking mud. "Well?" Thomas asked as the sorcerer came within earshot. "What have you done?"
"I've countered the wards on the doors and windows, but the inside... This person Grandier is either very strong or very subtle. I can't divine what protections he's used." The young sorcerer looked up at him, his watery eyes blinking fitfully. His long sandy hair and drooping mustache made him look like a sad-faced spaniel.
"You can't give us any hint of what we're to find in there?" Thomas said, thinking, This would have been better done if I hadn't been saddled with a sorcerer who has obviously escaped from a market-day farce.
Braun's expression was both distressed and obstinate. "He is too strong, or... He might have the help of some creature of the Fay."
"God protect us," Berham muttered, and uneasily studied the cloudy darkness above. The others ignored him. Berham was short, rotund, and had been wounded three times manning barricades in the last Bisran War. He claimed that the only reason he had left the army was that servants' wages were better. Despite the little man's vocal quavering, Thomas was not worried about his courage.
"What are you saying?" Gideon asked the sorcerer. "You mean we could fall down dead or burst into flame the moment we cross the threshold?"
"The uninitiated so often have ill-conceived ideas about these matters, like the fools who believe sorcerers change their shapes or fly like the fay. It would be exceedingly dangerous to create heat or cold out of nothing..."
"So you say, but..."
"That's enough," Thomas interrupted. He took the rope and tested it again with his own weight. The first floor of the house would be given over to stables, storage for coaches or wagons, and servants' quarters. The second would hold salons and other rooms for entertaining guests, and the third and fourth would be the owner's private quarters. That would be where the sorcerer would keep his laboratory, and very likely his prisoner. Thomas only hoped the information from the King's Watch was correct and that the Bisran bastard Grandier wasn't here. He told Gideon, "You follow me. Unless, of course, you'd like to go first?"
The lieutenant swept off his feathered hat and bowed extravagantly. "Oh, not at all, Sir, after you."
"So kind, Sir."
The brickwork was rough and Thomas found footholds easily. He reached the window and pulled himself up on the rusted grating, balancing cautiously. He felt the rope jerk and tighten as Gideon started to climb.
The window was set with small panes of leaded glass and divided into four tall panels. Thomas drew a thin dagger from the sheath in his boot and slipped the point between the wooden frames of the lower half. Working the dagger gently, he eased the inside catch up. The panels opened inward with only a faint creak. Moonlight touched the polished surface of a table set directly in front of the window, but the darkness of the deeper interior of the room was impenetrable. It was silent, but it was a peculiar waiting silence that he disliked.
Then the window ledge cracked loudly under his boots and he took a hasty step forward onto the table, thinking, Now we'll know, at any rate. Dust rose from the heavy draperies as he brushed against them, but the room remained quiet.
"Was that wise?" Gideon asked softly from below the windowsill.
"Possibly not. Don't come up yet." Thomas slipped the dagger back into his boot sheath and drew his rapier. If something came at him out of that darkness, he preferred to keep it at as great a distance as possible. "Tell Berham to hand up a light."
There was some soft cursing below as a dark lantern, its front covered by a metal slide to keep the light dimmed, was lit and passed upward. Thomas waited impatiently, feeling the darkness press in on him like a solid wall. He would have preferred the presence of another sorcerer besides Braun, the rest of the Queen's Guard, and a conscripted city troop to quell any possibility of riot when the restive River Quarter neighborhood discovered it had a mad foreign sorcerer in its midst. But orders were orders, and if Queen's guards or their captain were killed while entering Grandier's house secretly, then at least civil unrest was prevented. An inspired intrigue, Thomas had to admit, even if he was the one it was meant to eliminate.
As he reached down to take the shuttered lamp from Gideon, something moved in the corner of his eye. Thomas dropped the lamp onto the table and studied the darkness, trying to decide if the hesitant motion was actually there or in his imagination.
The flicker of light escaping from the edges of the lamp's iron cover touched the room with moving shadows. With the toe of his boot Thomas knocked the lantern slide up.
The wan candlelight was reflected from a dozen points around the unoccupied room, from lacquered cabinets, the gilt leather of a chair, the metallic threads in brocaded satin hangings.
Then the wooden cherub supporting the right-hand corner of the table Thomas was standing on turned its head.
He took an involuntary step backward.
"Captain, what is it?" Gideon's whisper was harsh.
Thomas didn't answer. He was looking around the room as the faces in the floral carving over the chimneypiece shifted their blank white eyes, their tiny mouths working silently. The bronze snake twined around the supporting pole of a candlestand stirred sluggishly. In the woolen carpet the interwoven pattern of vines writhed.
Keeping hold of the rope, Gideon chinned himself on the window ledge to see in. He cursed softly.
"Worse than I thought," Thomas agreed, not looking away from the hideously animate room. Unblinking eyes of marbleized wood stared sightlessly, limbs and mouths moved without sound. Can they see? Or hear? he wondered grimly. Most likely they can. He doubted they were here only to frighten intruders, however effective they might be at it.
"We should burn this house to the ground," Gideon whispered.
"We want to get Dubell out alive, not scrape his ashes out of the wreckage."
Good question, Thomas thought. The vines in the carpet were lifting themselves above the surface of the floor like the tentacles of a sea beast. They were as thick around as a man's wrist and looked strong, and metallic glints that had been gilt threads in the weaving were growing into knife-edged thorns. It was only going to get more difficult. Thomas caught up the lantern and stepped down into a chair with arms shaped into gilded lampreys. They were struggling viciously but were unable to turn their heads back far enough to reach him. From there he stepped down to the hardwood floor and backed toward the doorway.
Gideon made a move to climb into the window but the viselike tentacles were reaching up above waist-height and groping along the edge of the table. Thomas said, "No, stay back."
At the sound of his voice the vines whipped around and stretched out for him, growing prodigiously longer in a sudden bound, and Thomas threw himself at the door.
The latch was weak and snapped as his weight struck it. He stumbled through and caught himself, just as something thudded into the dark paneled wall in front of him. He dropped the lantern and dove sideways, scrambling for cover between two brocaded chairs and the fireplace.
Embedded in the wall, still quivering, was a short metal arrow; if he had come through the doorway cautiously it would have struck his chest. The lion heads on the iron firedogs snapped ineffectually at him as he pushed himself further behind the chairs, thinking, Where the hell is he? The sputtering candle sent shadows chasing across crowded furniture and everything was moving. Then in the far corner he saw the life-sized statue of a Parscen archer. Naked to the waist and balancing a candleholder on his turbaned head, he was drawing a second arrow out of the bronze quiver at his side and putting it to his short bow.
Rolling onto his back to make himself a smaller target, Thomas dropped the rapier and drew one of his wheellocks. He'd loaded both pistols down in the alley, and now as he wound up the mainspring, an arrow thudded into the over-stuffed chair seat. The other chair began to edge sideways using the clawed feet at the ends of its splayed legs; without thinking Thomas muttered, "Stop that." He set the spring, braced the pistol on his forearm and fired.
The plaster statue shattered in the deafening impact. The shot scarred the wall behind it and filled the room with the stink of gunpowder.
Thomas got to his feet, tucking away the empty pistol and picking up his rapier. Now the whole damned house knows I'm here. He hadn't planned to do this alone either, but the vines filling up the first room and curling round the doorway into this one committed him to it.
Avoiding the animate furniture, he went to the door in the opposite wall and tried the handle. It was unlocked, and he eased it open carefully. The room within was dark, but the archway beyond revealed a chamber lit by a dozen or so red glass candelabra.
Thomas pulled the door closed behind him and moved forward. The dim light revealed stealthy movement in the carvings on the fireplace mantel and along the bordered paneling. In the more brightly lit chamber beyond the arch, he could see an open door looking out onto the main stairwell.
He stopped just before the fall of light from the next room would have revealed his presence. There was something... Then he heard the creak of leather and a harsh rasp of breath. It came from just beyond his range of sight, past the left side of the arch. They knew Grandier had hired men to guard the house; it was the only way the King's Watch had been able to trace the sorcerer, since there was no one in the city who could identify him. The man in the next room must have heard the shot; possibly he was waiting for the protective spells to dispose of any intruders. Thomas had planned on something to distract the sorcerer's human watchdogs, to send them down to the lower part of the house, if Gideon would just get on with it...
From somewhere below there was a muffled thump, and the floorboards trembled under his feet. Thomas smiled to himself; shouts and running footsteps sounded from the stairs as the hired swords hastened for the front door. In theory, he wasn't disobeying the King's orders to keep the raid on Grandier's house secret. Placed correctly, a small charge of gunpowder could blow a wooden door to pieces while making little noise, and the houses to either side of Grandier's were empty anyway.
The waiting guard did not take the bait with the others, but went forward to stand at the doorway into the stairwell, his rapier drawn. He was big, with greasy blond hair tied back from his face, and dressed in a dun-colored doublet. Thomas had already decided to kill him and had started forward when the man turned and saw him.
The hired sword's shout was muffled by the clatter of his comrades on the stairs and he rushed forward without waiting for help. Thomas parried two wild blows, then beat his opponent's sword aside and lunged for the kill. The man jerked away and took the point between the ribs instead of under the breastbone, dropping his weapon and staggering back. Cursing his own sloppiness, Thomas leapt after him, grappling with him and trying to drive his main gauche up under the man's chin. In another moment Thomas was easing the limp body to the floor. There was blood pooling on the rug and on his boots, but hopefully the others were occupied below and there was no one left to follow his trail.
He glanced quickly around the room and noted it was free of the sorcerous animation. There was a closed door on the opposite wall, and it bore examining before he ventured out onto the main stairs.
As Thomas was reaching for the handle, he felt a sharp stab of unease. He stepped back, his hand tightening on his sword-hilt, baffled by his own reaction. It was only a door, as the others had been. He reached out slowly and felt his heart pound faster with anxiety as his hand neared the knob.
Either I've gone mad, he thought, or this door is warded. Testing it with his own reactions, he found the ward began about a foot from the door and stretched out to completely cover the surface. It was a warning, with a relatively mild effect, more than likely meant to keep the hired swords and servants away from this portion of the house. It could also explain why the dead man hadn't left his post to investigate the pistol shot or to follow his comrades to the front entrance. He had been guarding something of crucial importance.
Thomas stepped back and kicked the center panel, sending the door crashing open. Beyond was a staircase leading upward, softly lit by candlelight glowing down from the floor above.
Bracing himself, Thomas stepped through the ward and onto the first step, and had to steady himself against the wall as the effect faded. He shook his head and started up the stairs.
The banister was carved with roses which swayed under a sorcerous breeze only they could sense. Thomas climbed slowly, looking for the next trap. When he stopped at the first landing, he could see that the top of the stairs opened into a long gallery, lit by dozens of candles in mirror-backed sconces. Red draperies framed mythological paintings and classical landscapes. At the far end was a door, guarded on either side by a man-sized statuary niche. One niche held an angel with flowing locks, wings, and a beatific smile. The other niche was empty.
Thomas climbed almost to the head of the stairs, looking up at the archway that was the entrance to the room. Something suspiciously like plaster dust drifted down from the carved bunting.
A tactical error, Thomas thought. Whatever was hiding up there wasn't doing it to be decorative. He took a quiet step back down the stairs, drawing his empty pistol. The air felt warm; beneath his doublet, sweat was sticking the thin fabric of his shirt to his ribs. From the powder flask on his belt he measured out a double charge and poured it into the barrel. He pushed the bullet and wadding down with the short ramrod, thinking that it would be quite ironic if the pistol exploded and ended the matter here.
Thomas wound and set the spring, carefully aimed the pistol at the top of the archway and fired. The fifty-caliber ball tore through the light ornamental wood and into the body of the plaster statue that had perched up on the opposite side of the arch. Thomas shielded his face as splintered wood and fragments of plaster rained down. A sculpted head, arm, and pieces of a foot thudded to the floor in front of him.
He climbed the last few steps and stopped at the front of the gallery, which was now wreathed in the heavy white smoke of the pistol's discharge. This next trap wasn't bothering to conceal itself.
Ponderously the angel statue turned its head toward him and stepped out of its niche in the far wall. Thomas shoved the empty pistol back into his sash and drew the second loaded one, circling away from the angel. It was slow, its feet striking the polished floor heavily, plaster wings flapping stiffly.
It stalked him like a stiff cat as he backed away. He wanted to save the pistol for whatever was behind the next door, so he was reluctant to fire.
Then his boot knocked against something that seized his ankle. He fell heavily and dropped the wheellock, which spun across the polished floor and somehow managed not to go off. Rolling over, he saw that the hand and arm of the broken statue had tripped him and was still holding onto his ankle. He drew his main gauche and smashed at it with the hilt. The hand shattered and fell away, but the angel was almost on top of him.
Scrambling desperately backward, he caught the base of a tall bronze candlestand and pulled it down on the angel. The heavy holder in the top struck the statue in the temple, knocking loose a chunk of plaster. It reared back and Thomas got to his feet, keeping hold of the candlestand. As it lurched toward him again he swung the stand. A large piece of the wing cracked and fell away as the blow connected, and the creature staggered, suddenly unbalanced.
Past the stumbling statue he saw movement on the stairs. There were dark writhing shapes climbing the steps, dragging themselves upward on the banisters. He backed away, realizing it was the vines that had sprung out of the carpet in the first room. Are they filling the entire house? The situation was horrible enough, it hardly needed that. And he had known he couldn't get out the way he had gotten in, but he had hoped to have the front door as an option. Now that way was blocked. Thomas dropped the candlestand and turned to the other door.
He pulled it open and one quick glance told him the room seemed unoccupied by statues. He slammed the door closed as the angel lumbered awkwardly toward him, bracing against it as he shoved the bolt home. He stepped back as the thing battered against the other side.
Moonlight from high undraped windows revealed shelf-lined walls stacked with leatherbound books, most chained to the shelves. It was a large room, crowded with the paraphernalia of both library and alchemical laboratory, quiet except for the erratic tick of several lantern docks. There was a writing desk untidily crammed with paper, and workbenches cluttered with flasks and long-necked bottles of colored glass. It smelled of tallow from cheap candles, the musty odor of books, and an acrid scent from residue left in the containers or staining floors and tabletops. He drew his rapier again and moved around the overladen tables, inbred caution making him avoid the stained patches left by alchemical accidents on the floor. He knew he would have to come back to this house at some point: the desks and cabinets crammed with scribbled papers would undoubtedly hold some of Grandier's secrets, but now he hadn't time to sort the vital information from the trash.
Thomas circled the rotting bulk of a printing press and a cabinet overflowing with ink-stained type, and stopped. At the far end of the room, hidden by stacked furniture and shadows, was a man seated in a plain chair. He faced the wall and seemed to be lost in thought. Dressed in a black cope and a baggy scholar's cap, his face was angular and lean in profile and his hair and beard were gray. He didn't seem to be breathing.
Then Thomas saw the shimmer of reflected moonlight from the window and realized the man was encased in an immense glass ball. Wondering at it, he took a step forward. The enigmatic figure didn't move. He went closer and lifted a hand to touch the glass prison, but thought better of it.
As if the gesture was somehow perceptible to the man inside, he turned his head slowly toward Thomas. For a moment his expression was vacant, eyes fixed on nothing. Then the blue eyes focused and the mouth smiled, and he said, "Captain Thomas Boniface. We haven't formally met, but I have heard of you."
Thomas had not known Galen Dubell closely, the fifteen years ago when the old sorcerer had been at court, but he had seen the portraits. "Dr. Dubell, I presume." Thomas circled the glass prison. "I hope you have some idea of how I'm to get you out of there."
There was another heavy crash against the door. The statue, the animate vines, or something else was intent on battering its way in.
"The power in this bauble is directed inward, toward me. You should be able to break it from the outside," Dubell said, his composure undisturbed by the pounding from the door.
It would be dangerous for the old sorcerer but Thomas couldn't see any other way. At least the heavy wool of his scholar's robe would provide some protection. "Cover your head."
Using the hilt of his rapier, Thomas struck the glass sphere. Lines of white fire radiated out along the cracks. The material was considerably stronger than it looked, and cracked like eggshell rather than glass. He hit it twice more, then it started to shatter. A few of the larger shards broke loose, but none fell near the old man.
Galen Dubell stood carefully and shook the smaller fragments out of his robes. "That is a welcome relief, Captain." He looked exhausted and bedraggled as he stepped free of his prison, glass crackling under his boots.
Thomas had already sheathed his rapier and was overturning one of the cabinets beneath the window. He stepped atop it and twisted the window's catch. Cool night air entered the stuffy room as he pushed it open. An ornamental sill just below formed a narrow slanted ledge. Leaning out, he could see the edge of the roof above. They would have to climb the rough brickwork.
He pulled his head back in and said, "I'm afraid we'll have to take the footpad's way out, Doctor." He just hoped the old man could make it, and speedily; the battering at the door was growing louder.
Dubell scrambled up the cabinet easily enough. As if he'd read Thomas's thought, he said, "It's quite all right, Captain. I prefer the risk to more of Urbain Grandier's hospitality." He might have the easier time of it; he was almost a head taller than Thomas.
As Dubell pulled himself carefully out onto the narrow sill, the door gave way.
The sorcerer used the scrollwork around the window casement as a ladder, drawing himself up toward the roof. Thomas swung out onto the sill after him and stood, holding onto the window frame. Broken fragments of brick sprinkled down as Dubell grasped the edge of the roof above.
Thomas boosted him from below and the scholar scrambled over the edge. Digging fingertips into the soft stone, Thomas started to pull himself upward. Dubell had barely been able to grasp the ledge from here; Thomas knew he would have to stand on top of the cornice before he could reach safety.
There was a crash just inside. Straining to reach the edge of the roof, Thomas bit his lip as something gave way beneath his left boot. Fingers wedged between the soft brick, he groped for another hold and felt the mortar under his hand crumble.
Then from above, Galen Dubell caught his arm in an iron grip, supporting him as he found another foothold. For a man who must do little with his hands besides write or do scholarly experiments, Dubell was surprisingly strong. The man's gentle demeanor made it easy to think of him as nothing more than an aged university don and to forget that he was also a wizard.
Thomas scrambled over the edge, his muscles trembling with the strain. "I thank you, Doctor," he said, sitting up, "but there are those at court who won't appreciate it."
"I won't tell them about it, then." Dubell looked around, the damp breeze tearing at his gray hair and his cap. "Are those your companions?"
There was a shout. The two men he had stationed atop the tannery were waving from the edge of the next roof.
"Stay there," Thomas shouted back. "We'll come to you."
Slowly they made their way up the crest of the pitched roof to the edge where the others were throwing down some planks to bridge the gap. The slate tiles were cracked and broken, slipping under their feet. They had just crossed the makeshift bridge to the tannery when Thomas turned to say something to Dubell; in the next instant he was lying flat on the rough planks with the others as the timber frame of the building was shaken by a muffled explosion. Then they were all retreating hastily across the tannery roof, choking on acrid smoke, as flames rose from the Bisran sorcerer's house.
"So much for keeping this quiet," Thomas remarked to Gideon. The two men sat their nervous horses, watching from a few lengths down the street as Grandier's house burned. There was a crash as the facade collapsed inward, sending up a fireworks display of sparks and an intense wave of heat. The neighborhood had turned out to throw buckets of water and mud on the surrounding roofs and mill about in confusion and panicked excitement. The real fear had subsided when the residents had realized the fire was confining itself to the sorcerer's home, and that only a few stray sparks had lit on the surrounding structures.
Three of the hired swords had been taken alive, though Thomas doubted they would know much, if anything, about Grandier's intentions. His own men had obeyed their orders and come no further than the front hall, so they had been able to escape the fire. There had been one casualty.
Gaspard, one of the men who had been posted in the court behind the house, had been hit by a splintered piece of flaming wood as he tried to escape from the explosion. His back and shoulder had been badly burned and he'd only escaped worse by rolling in the muddy street. Dubell had insisted on treating the injury immediately, and Thomas had been only too glad to permit it. Now Gaspard sat on a stone bench in the shelter of a hostler's stall, his shirt and doublet cut away so Dubell could treat the blistering wound. The servant Berham was handing the sorcerer supplies from Dr. Braun's medical box and Dr. Braun himself was hovering at Dubell's elbow. Thomas suspected that Berham was providing more practical assistance than the younger sorcerer.
"The fire is hardly our fault" Gideon shrugged. "Blame Grandier for it."
"Yes, he's a cunning bastard."
Gideon glanced at him, frowning. "How do you mean?"
Thomas didn't answer. Dubell had finished tying the bandage and Martin helped Gaspard stand. As Castero led their horses forward, Thomas nudged his mare close enough to be heard over the shouting and the roar of the fire. "Gaspard, I want you to ride with Martin."
"Sir, I do not need to be carried." The younger man's face was flushed and sickly.
"That was not a request, Sir." Thomas was in no mood for a debate. "You can ride behind him or you can hang head down over his saddlebow; the choice is yours."
Gaspard looked less combative as he contemplated that thought, and let Martin pull him unresisting to the horses.
Berham was packing the medical box under Braun's direction and Dubell was staring at the fire. Thomas had been considering the question of why Grandier had not killed Galen Dubell. The answer could simply be that Grandier might have wanted to extract information from the old scholar, and his plan had gone awry when the King's Watch located the house. But somehow he didn't think it was going to be simple. The fire should have started when I broke the glass ball. Yes, it served the purpose of destroying Grandier's papers, but why not kill all the birds with one stone? Unless he wanted us to rescue Dubell. But why? To announce his presence? To show them how powerful and frightening he was? To make them distrust Dubell?
As Berham took the box away to pack on his horse, Thomas waved Dr. Braun over and leaned down to ask him, "Is it possible for Grandier to... tamper with another sorcerer, to put a geas on him?"
Braun looked shocked. "A geas can be laid on an untrained mind, yes, but not on a sorcerer like Dr. Dubell."
"Are you very sure about that?"
"Of course." After a moment, under Thomas's close scrutiny, Braun coughed and said, "Well, I am quite sure. I had to put gascoign powder in my eyes to see the wards around the house, and a geas, or any kind of spell, would be visible on Dr. Dubell."
"Very well." That was as good as they were going to get without taking the old scholar to Lodun to be examined by the sorcerer-philosophers there, and there was no time for that.
Dubell came toward them. "An unfortunate fire," he said. "There was much to learn there."
"I thought you said it was dangerous to create fire out of nothing?" Thomas asked Braun.
"It is," Braun protested, flustered.
Dubell smiled. "It depends on one's appreciation of danger."
"So much does," Thomas agreed. "They'll have some questions for you at the palace."
"Of course. I only hope my small knowledge can aid you."
"We'll find Grandier," Gideon said, coming up beside them.
Dubell's eyes were troubled. "If he continues his mischief on such a grand scale, he will be hard to miss. He'll also be a fool, of course, but he may not see it that way."
"Oh, I hardly think he's a fool," Thomas said. Castero and Berham had gotten Gaspard mounted up behind Martin, and they began to turn their horses away from the crowded street. As the others went down the alley, Thomas took one last look at the burning house. So far Grandier had shown an odd combination of ruthlessness and restraint, and he was not sure which he found more daunting. The sorcerer had snatched Galen Dubell out of his home in Lodun, indiscriminately slaughtering the servants who had witnessed it. For no practical reason, since Lodun University was full of wizards and scholars of magic who had been able to divine Grandier's identity within hours of examining the scene. Yet the fire that could have been so devastating stuck to Grandier's house like pitch and refused to spread to the ready tinder of the other old buildings. As much as he might wish to, Thomas couldn't see it as a gesture of defiance. He only wondered where, in what corner of the crowded city, the word had passed to watch for a sorcerous blaze in the night, and what to do then.
"DOES THE MASK fit?" Anton Baraselli looked up at the young woman who sat on the balcony railing, her feet swinging under her tattered red skirt.
Gray eyes stared back at him from the pale features of the distorted half-mask. "It fits. Do I have the part?"
Baraselli sat at his table on a balcony overhanging the main room of the Mummer's Mask tavern, where his acting troupe made its home. He was middle-aged, his dark hair wispy on his nearly bald head, but his plumpness and the newness of his clothes reflected his troupe's recent prosperity. He could barely hear the woman's deep voice over the shouted conversation, drunken arguments, and the competing strains of mandolin and viola that rose up from the rowdy crowd on the tavern's main floor below. The wealthier patrons were drinking in the small private rooms off the second-floor gallery, the shutters propped open so the music could reach them clearly.
"Well, you've no troupe to recommend you," Baraselli said, leaning back. He didn't want to pay her as much as she might ask. His last Columbine had run off to be married, leaving without a backward glance yesterday morning.
Baraselli had come to Ile-Rien from conquered Adera years ago when all forms of the Aderassi theater were despised and confined to back alleys and peasant festivals. Now the war with Bisra was over and Ile-Rien's capital was more cosmopolitan and free with its money. Vienne was a jewel of a city in a rich setting, standing on temperate plains roughly in the center of the country, with rolling hills and olive groves on the warmer coast to the southwest, rich forested midlands, and black-soiled farmland in the terraced valleys of the high country to the north. Baraselli had liked it, and now that Commedia and other foreign theatricals were popular he liked it a great deal more.
The woman took the mask off and tossed it onto the table. Her hair was dirty blond and her narrow face with its long nose and direct eyes was plain, too plain to ever play the unmasked heroines. Her faded red dress was old and well-worn, better than a country woman's but no bawd's false finery either. Whatever the rumormongers thought, whores made terrible actresses.
She looked toward him with a grin. Smoke from the candles and clay pipes below reached up to touch the tavern's high beamed ceiling and spread out like a cloud behind her. It was an interesting theatrical effect, but there was something about the image that Baraselli found faintly disquieting. She said, "I'm not here to make my fortune. I'll take what you paid the last one."
She had good teeth, too. "All right, you're our Columbine. But on sufferance, mind. We've got an important engagement, a very important engagement. It happens when you attract the crowds and praise we have. If you don't give a fine performance, you're out. If you do, well, it's one silver per fortnight and a fair share of whatever they throw onto the stage."
"That's well, I agree."
"Anton! Look out the window." Garin, still wearing the gray beard from his Pantalone costume, came pounding up the stairs.
"What? I'm busy."
Garin pushed past him and threw open the shutters of the window behind Baraselli's table.
"Damn it, you'll let the night air and the bogles in, you fool." Baraselli stood abruptly, jarring the table and slopping wine onto the stained floor.
"But look at this." Garin pointed. The Mummer's Mask stood in a huddle of taverns and old houses on the side of a low hill commanding a good view of the River Quarter. Lying before them were the narrow overhung streets of the older and poorer area, which eventually led into the vast plazas and pillared promenades surrounded by the garden courts of the wealthy. Farther to the west and standing high above the slate and wooden roofs were the domes of churches, the fantastic and fanciful statues ornamenting the gables of the fortified Great Houses, the spires of the stone-filigree palaces on the artificial islands on the river's upper reaches, all transformed into anonymous shapes of alternating black and silver as clouds drifted past the moon. But now, against the stark shadowy forms of the crowded structures of the River Quarter, they could see the bright glow of fire, a harsh splash of color in the darkness.
"Down near Cross Street, I think," Garin said.
More of the troupe had drifted up the stairs in his wake, curious. "Lord save it doesn't spread," one of them whispered.
"Another bad omen," Baraselli muttered. One of the clowns had died of fever last month. Clowns were traditionally good luck in Adera, if not in Ile-Rien, and having one of them die unexpectedly had shaken the other performers. Gods and spirits, no more omens before this of all performances, Baraselli prayed.
"Maybe it's a good omen," the new Columbine said, selecting an apple out of the bowl on the table and watching the worried actors with oblique amusement. "Some people think fire is."
Dark smoke streamed into the night sky.
They rode through St. Anne's Gate and into the cobbled court between the high walls of the Mews and the Cisternan Guard Barracks. The facades of the two buildings were almost identical, though time and weather had scarred the dressed stone in different ways. Each was entered by three great archways that faced one another across the length of the court. Now torches threw reflections up onto the mist-slick stone as grooms and stablehands hurried to take the horses or curious Cisternans wandered out to see what the excitement was.
Thomas dismounted and handed the reins to one of the grooms. He took off a glove to rub the horse's nape, then let the man lead her away. This was Cisternan Guard territory, but it was also the closest entrance to the palace, and he wanted Galen Dubell within a warded structure before Grandier made another attempt on the old sorcerer.
The palace wards repelled fay, sendings, and any other form of magical attack. They were fitted together like the pieces of a puzzlebox, or a stained glass window, and drifted constantly, moving past each other, folding over each other, wandering at will over their domain. They would prevent the sorcerous abduction that Grandier had used to snatch Galen Dubell from his home in Lodun, and the palace's other defenses were more than adequate to hold off hired swords.
As Thomas crossed the court toward the two sorcerers, the Cisternan Commander Vivan joined him. The Cisternans were the regular guard for the palace, their ranks drawn from the families of the wealthy merchant classes or the gentlemen landowners. Vivan had held the post of Commander for the past five years, and even though the Cisternans were ultimately under the King's authority, Vivan had no particular political ax to grind, and Thomas found him easy to deal with. The Commander said, "A midnight expedition? How exciting."
"I would have preferred to stay here and help you guard the stables, but duty called," Thomas told him.
Vivan snorted. The old king Fulstan had made the Cisternans his bodyguard out of dislike for the Albonate Knights, who had held the post traditionally. When Fulstan's son Roland had taken the throne, his mistrust of anything belonging to his father had led him to demote the Cisternans and return to the Albons. Going from the King's Own to the King's Old had been a great loss of prestige for them and the Queen's Own had never let them forget it. Another sore point was that their ceremonial tabards were dark green trimmed with gold, making them good targets and appropriate decor during midwinter festivals.
Gideon reined in near them and dismounted, asking, "Captain, what orders?"
"Send these gentlemen back to the Guard House." As the lieutenant came closer and Thomas could lower his voice, he added, "Go to Lucas. Tell him what happened and then wait to see if the Dowager Queen has questions for you. I'll see him after this meeting." He wanted to double his share of the guard placements and put a watch on Dubell.
"Yes, Captain." Gideon nodded.
Vivan was eyeing the old sorcerer with grudging curiosity as Galen Dubell and Braun dismounted. He asked, "What were you doing, kidnapping scholars out of the Philosopher's Cross?"
"Exactly," Thomas said as he went to join the sorcerers. "I could never keep anything from you."
Thomas led Dubell out of the wet chill of the courtyard and through the inner gate at its far end, passing under the spikes of an old portcullis. Dr. Braun trailed behind them. In the wall beyond, a heavy ironbound door guarded by two alert Cisternans led into one of the corridors that ran inside the protective inner siege walls. The corridor was raw stone, lit by oil lamps and undecorated except for scribbled writings by present and long-dead occupants. Dubell shook his head. "I lived here for many years and there are still parts of this place I have never seen. I am quite lost, Captain."
"We're in the siege wall opposite the south curtain wall. The Summer Residence and the Adamantine Way are behind us at the opposite end of the corridor, and we're going toward the King's Bastion." This siege wall divided the newer section of the palace with its open garden courts, domed Summer Residence, and the terraces and windowed facades of the Gallery Wing from the jumbled collection of ancient blocky bastions, towers, and walls on the west side.
A steep stairway led up into the King's Bastion, which loomed above the Old Courts and the Mews. As they climbed, the surroundings began to show rapid signs of improvement, the rough stone softened by hangings and overlaid by carved paneling. The ancient cracked tiles had been recently scrubbed and polished, reflecting the light from hall lanterns of stamped metal and glass as soft pools of gold. They passed Cisternan guards posted on each landing, and began to hear the bastion's hum of activity, never still at any time of night. At the fourth level, Thomas led them out of the older stairwell and across the landing to the carved-oak Queen's Staircase. They were in the heart of the bastion now, and the men posted here were Queen's Guards.
Dubell paused on the landing, looking up at the wide staircase with its dark wood carved into flowing bands and banisters set with fragments of mirror glass. Then he shook his head as if at his own folly and said, "It has been a long time."
The old sorcerer had been led this way the day of his exile ten years ago, to see the Dowager Queen and to hear his sentence, which so easily could have been death. Thomas acknowledged the guards' salute, and thought it fortunate all around that Ravenna had been lenient with Galen Dubell.
The top of the staircase opened into a vestibule, the first room in the Dowager Queen's State Apartments. The King's State Apartments were on the opposite side of the bastion, and the young Queen Falaise lived in another suite on the floor just below. They passed the young pages waiting in the vestibule and went in to the Guard Chamber, a long richly paneled room lit by several glass drop chandeliers. Gideon was already there and several Queen's guards surrounded him, demanding to know how the night's work had gone. They called greetings as Thomas entered, and he went forward to ask Gideon, "Did you see Lucas?"
"Yes, and he spoke to Ravenna. But the Bisran ambassador came in and demanded to see her. They're in the Privy Council Chamber now."
"Damn. What does he want at this time of night?"
"Who knows?" Gideon shrugged. The ambassador was a diplomat, not a soldier, and the young lieutenant didn't think him a matter of much importance.
Thomas considered a moment. Something to do with Grandier? If it was, then there went all hope of keeping the River Quarter incident quiet.
"Queen Falaise has been asking for me." Gideon looked uncomfortable. "Will you need me anymore tonight?"
Thomas eyed him a moment, but said, "No, you can go on."
As Gideon left, Thomas saw Dubell was taking his leave of Dr. Braun, who had apparently decided not to brave an interview with the Dowager Queen. The other guards were watching the sorcerer curiously, which at least meant that news of their adventure hadn't flown too far ahead of them. There were also two young Albonate squires waiting self-consciously in the corner. So Renier is already here, Thomas thought. Whether that was good or bad depended on what mood the King had been in when he had sent him. He said, "We'll wait in here, Doctor," as Dubell turned back toward him, and they went into the anteroom.
Tapestried hangings with a Garden of Paradise theme matched the carpet and table covers, cloaking the large, high-ceilinged room in rich shades of green. Renier stood before the immense marble hearth, abstractedly watching a manservant build up the fire. He was Preceptor of the palace's chapter of Albonate Knights, which was a military order founded for the protection of the King's person, and the only order of knighthood in Ile-Rien that still meant more than a courtesy title. They were members of some of the highest families in Ile-Rien, brought into the Order as boys, living in monastic discipline until they were knighted by the King. Renier would probably have made a better country bishop than a preceptor, but in his tenure he had kept the Order's tendency toward religious fanaticism under tight control. He had broad shoulders and was muscled like a bear, and still rode to tourney on King's Ascension Day, easily managing the weight of the heavy ceremonial mail. Over his court doublet and lace-trimmed collar, he wore the bedraggled coat of sackcloth and poorly cured leather all Albon knights bore in honor of St. Albon, who had done some wandering in the wilderness before his sainthood.
Renier looked up at their entrance, saw Dubell, and smiled. "Success."
Thomas watched the Preceptor greet the old sorcerer, and wondered just how much Renier had known of tonight's expedition.
The door opened again and Lord Aviler stood there a moment, eyeing them thoughtfully. He was dark haired, dressed in the blood red state robes of the Ministry, and his handsome sallow face was carefully controlled. He nodded to Renier and Galen Dubell, then his gaze shifted to Thomas. He said, "The River Quarter is on fire."
Thomas smiled slightly to himself and went to lean casually against the mantelpiece. "Only a small portion of it." Aviler had followed so quickly behind them that he knew the man must have been lying in wait.
"A stupid mistake." Aviler moved farther into the room, his folded hands covered by the hang of his sleeves. Thomas wondered if the pose was intentionally copied from the High Minister's late father, or if it was only habit. Aviler had recently inherited the post of High Minister of the body of nobles and wealthy merchants who formally advised, or were supposed to advise, the King, and had a great deal of theoretical power. But the Dowager Queen Ravenna actively opposed him, Queen Falaise ignored him except on social occasions, and no one had been able to do anything with Roland one way or the other since he had taken the throne at the end of Ravenna's regency last year. Aviler was statesman enough to resent this and just inexperienced enough to occasionally reveal his feelings.
"Really, my lord, what do you want me to say?" Thomas raised his brows inquiringly. "That the mission was in danger of being found out so I set the city on fire to confuse the issue?"
Before Aviler could reply, Galen Dubell said quietly, "It was unavoidable."
"Dr. Dubell." Aviler acknowledged him stiffly. "It's a pity you couldn't have returned sooner and avoided this consternation."
"That was my intention, my lord, but my plans went somewhat astray when my household was murdered and I was abducted." Dubell said it with such good grace that Aviler was actually caught off guard.
"So Galen Dubell is a diplomat as well as a scholar," Renier said softly to Thomas as Aviler recovered his composure. "He was something of a recluse when I knew him, but I suppose years of academic infighting at Lodun will give anyone eyes in the back of his head. It's good he's returned."
Thomas wasn't about to admit he missed Dr. Surete, who had held the post of Court Sorcerer since he could remember and had died suddenly last month of pleurisy. Surete had been seventy years old, had called every man under the age of sixty "boy," and had been the terror of the court for his ability to use sardonic invective like a bludgeon.
Thomas said, "Let's hope Dubell's not anxious to get back to Lodun soon. We're going to need his help." Dr. Surete's assistant Milam had been killed in an accident before Surete himself had died, and since then there had been nothing but argument over who would receive the appointment while lesser talents like Dr. Braun vied for attention.
Renier looked at him thoughtfully. "Lose anyone?"
Thomas's expression betrayed nothing. "Does it matter?"
Renier said softly, "Forgive him, Thomas. He's a boy and he was angry."
"I thought you'd given up on the priesthood," Thomas answered, thinking, If His Majesty Roland wants me to die in the line of duty, it's his business, but he could have chosen a better time. If he doesn't see that Grandier is a danger to the state... At Renier's look he added, "It isn't my place to condemn him or forgive him. But tell me, did Denzil suggest the plan to Roland, or was it someone else?"
Renier stiffened visibly. "I know of no plan."
The double doors into the Privy Council Chamber beyond the anteroom opened and the Bisran ambassador stepped out, his expression grim. He was an older man, with the olive skin and hawklike profile of the Bisran aristocracy. Ile-Rien and its capital and court were alien to him, and his disapproval was evident. The excessive formality of the Bisran Court made it stagnant and stultified, while in Ile-Rien landlaw had traditionally permitted high officers and even personal servants to address kings and queens as "my lord" or "my lady," and to forgo obeisance in informal circumstances. The ambassador's dark plain clothing and simple white collar also marked him as a member of their sect that regarded any kind of ornamentation as a work of Hell; the opulence of the palace must seem almost a personal insult.
The ambassador's hard eyes swept the room, pausing on Galen Dubell's scholar's cope and narrowing in dismayed disgust. Turning to the High Minister, he said, "Another sorcerer for the King's menagerie, Lord Aviler?" In Bisra, the magical as well as most of the philosophical arts were condemned, though the theurgic magic their priest-magicians practiced had been a deadly barrier against outside attack during the war. Sorcery that was not performed under the auspices of the Bisran Church was outlawed, and punishable by death.
Aviler hesitated, his diplomatic smile turning thin with annoyance, unable to find the right words to defend Dubell's honor without insulting the ambassador.
Before the silence could last long enough to give the Bisran a victory, Thomas interposed, "Perhaps that's a subject you should discuss with the King himself?"
The ambassador flicked a resentful glance at him and received only an ingenuous smile in response. As a matter of policy, Roland did not receive the Bisran ambassador, who was not very pleased with this arrangement, since it required him to address his demands to the considerably less malleable Dowager Queen. But why is he here in the middle of the night? It could be only obstinate determination to get a hearing no matter who he inconvenienced, but Thomas doubted it. To compound the Bisran's discomfort, he added, "But I'm sure my lady Ravenna dealt with you to her best ability."
The ambassador said, "Her Majesty was most... civil," and favored him with the same cold scrutiny he had employed on Dubell. The Bisran Court did not allow favorites to wield political power, so the ambassador tended to discount Thomas's position and influence, and cordially hated him as well. It probably didn't help either that the shape and tilt of Thomas's black eyes gave his face a naturally cynical slant, and that with his dark hair and beard this effect made him resemble certain popular portraits of the Prince of Hell. If the ambassador had noticed the evidence Thomas's climb on a wet and dirty building had left on his clothing, no doubt he attributed it to some adventure in debauchery.
Turning stiffly back to Aviler, the ambassador said, "Another matter. I wanted to make certain you understood that if Ile-Rien offers shelter to the devil's son Grandier, the cost may be more than you are prepared to pay."
Aviler bowed, his reserved manner masking a certain wariness. "I assure you, my lord Ambassador, Ile-Rien has no intention of offering shelter to a criminal sorcerer who has caused your land such pain."
Besides, Grandier hasn't asked for shelter, Thomas thought. Unfortunately. And since the Bisran sorcerer had announced his arrival in Ile-Rien by abducting a prominent Lodun scholar of Galen Dubell's reputation, it hardly seemed possible that he would.
But it was likely that the ambassador was only using Grandier's presence in the city as an excuse for a confrontation with Ravenna, and if he was being prodded by the Bisran War College to take a more aggressive stance with the Dowager Queen, it could only mean trouble. Bisra was miles of dry flat plains, and only tribute from its conquered states kept its coffers full. The Bisran Church exercised rigid controls on a populace that was land-poor and half-starved in the country and hovered at the brink of mob violence in the crowded cities. Ile-Rien had its uprisings and city mobs as well, but usually over taxes, and they were scattered outbreaks that were settled within a few days. Bisra seemed to teeter always on the edge of chaos, and with Ile-Rien's rich land and its Church's policy of tolerance toward the pagan Old Faith as a constant irritant, war had been inevitable and frequent.
And now Urbain Grandier's depredations had made them even more desperate.
Thomas watched critically as the ambassador nodded with bare courtesy to Lord Aviler and strode to the anteroom door, the page stationed there barely managing to swing open the heavy portal in time.
As the door closed Aviler shook his head and said softly to Galen Dubell, "My apologies, Doctor. To a Bisran, any man in a scholar's gown is half demon."
Dubell's expression was closed and enigmatic. "And a sorcerer, of course, is all demon."
From the Privy Council Chamber two Queen's guards entered and stepped to either side of the doors as the Dowager Queen came into the room. Everyone bowed and she acknowledged them with a nod and a slight smile. "Gentlemen. Forgive the delay." Her graying red hair was tucked up into a lace cap and she wore a dark informal morning gown. She was over fifty now, and the years hadn't diminished her beauty, but transformed and refined it. Only the faint laugh lines around her mouth and the shadow of strain at the corners of her eyes betrayed her age. She took a seat in the brocaded canopy chair beside the hearth, her attendant gentlewoman settling on a cushioned stool behind her. "Dr. Galen Dubell, I'm glad to find you in good health. Perhaps you can help us in explaining this matter."
"Yes, my lady. You saw my letters concerning Urbain Grandier?" Dubell said, stepping forward.
"Yes. Dr. Surete brought them to me when he requested your return to court. His unfortunate death delayed the matter just long enough, it seems. When the messages came from Lodun telling of your disappearance I had already sent an order lifting the ban and requesting your return." As she spoke she was already unfolding a square of half-completed black-work embroidery and looking for the needle that marked her place. Ravenna always had to have something to do with her hands. It was a habit that disconcerted all but the most resolute of petitioners and foreign ambassadors, but Thomas noted it didn't seem to faze Dubell.
The old sorcerer bowed to her. "I am honored, my lady."
Ravenna gestured that away. "Tell me more about this Grandier. He has an odd name for a Bisran."
Watching the Dowager guardedly, Aviler said, "We have some knowledge about his early life. Urbain Grandier was a Bisran sorcerer and scholar, though it is believed his father was from Ile-Rien, possibly a visiting priest, or even a noble, journeying there during one of the temporary treaties in force in the year of Grandier's birth. This would explain his surname, which is certainly not Bisran. Stubbornly, he refused to take another name, and this probably contributed to the suspicion with which he was regarded there."
She frowned at her embroidery. "His original offense was some outrage concerning nuns, and the Bisran Church removed his sanction to perform sorcery? And then he was arrested by the Inquisition?"
"Yes, my lady. After his escape from the Inquisition, Grandier brought on a plague and apparently made subtle changes in the weather over the Kiseran plain, some of their richest farmland, and destroyed most of their last year's harvest. The Bisran theurgic sorcerers are said to be near exhaustion with holding off magical attacks on Church officials and the War College."
Ravenna smiled tightly without looking up from her embroidery. She hated Bisra even more than she had hated her dead husband, the old king Fulstan. "One might point out that it is nothing more than they deserve."
"One might," Aviler agreed. "But the point is that Grandier has suddenly chosen to come to Ile-Rien."
Thomas shook his head, briefly amused. Aviler's relationship with the Dowager Queen was an acrimonious one.
For her part Ravenna merely studied the High Minister a moment. Her fine long-fingered hands had paused on the embroidery, the gold needle catching the firelight. That might mean anything; Thomas had known her to order an execution, explain to the culprit why it had to be done, and deny the family's fervent pleas for mercy, all without missing a stitch. Then she drew the strand of thread up tight and said, "Tell me about the events at the convent, Lord Aviler." She nodded to her gentlewoman. "Lady Anne knows she has permission to leave the room should she hear anything that causes her to fear for her modesty."
As Lady Anne bit her lip and looked studiously at the floor, Aviler frowned and said, "The original incident took place at a convent in a town called Lindre, in the northern part of Bisra. Grandier was accused of corrupting the nuns, causing them to blaspheme against their own Church, to attack each other, to perform rituals that..."
"According to the Inquisitors General of Bisra," Galen Dubell interrupted gently, "he caused them to corrupt themselves." The old scholar had moved toward the hearth and was staring into the fire, an expression in his eyes that Thomas couldn't interpret. "They found evidence of human blood used in rituals, symbols and books banned for centuries, the darkest magic... There was even some evidence of an agreement with a Lord of Hell."
As the others watched Dubell in silence, Thomas said, "In Bisra they still burn hedgepriests for putting curses on cows. Why do you feel you can trust the Inquisition's reports?"
"True, Captain." Dubell turned back to them. "The Inquisitors were, of course, lying. They manufactured the evidence, or most of it. Scholars who are not even sorcerers may have items in their possession that an evil mind can misinterpret. And Urbain Grandier was a scholar. He studied the stars, as well as the body and its ills and humors. He was also very outspoken in his opinions, and involved in the printing of inflammatory pamphlets. It was for this that he came under the Inquisition's scrutiny. The incident of some hysterical nuns at the Lindre Convent was used against him and he was given the usual sentence of torture and imprisonment."
Dubell's voice had an enthralling quality. It might have been facilitated by the growing warmth in the room or the fatigue that was catching up with Thomas, but the old sorcerer seemed to be painting a particularly vivid picture of the man Grandier had been.
After a moment Dubell shook his head. "It turned him, you might say. He escaped eventually, and began to commit many of the crimes of which they had accused him, but on a larger scale. The plague, for instance. It caused pockets of a poisonous humor to form beneath the skin, which burst when the victim was in death agony and spread the disease to anyone who stood nearby. It caused so much chaos entire cities were disrupted; the sick went untended... Only a man well versed in healing-sorcery could have devised something so terrible, and only a man driven mad with the lust for revenge could have brought himself to implement it." In the firelight, Dubell's face was a mask of pain. Then he sighed. "When I heard that a man calling himself Grandier had become established in the city and was believed to be a sorcerer, I thought it best to bring the matter to Dr. Surete's attention. I only wish I'd acted sooner."
Renier had gone to the round table in the center of the room and was looking through the faded parchment and leather maps stacked there. He pulled one out and found Lindre, then thoughtfully tapped the red cross that marked the town. "You knew Grandier very well?"
"No. His excesses and the motivation for them were much discussed at Lodun, where there is great interest in the natural, as well as the magical, arts." Dubell smiled. "And the printing of an occasional pamphlet."
"We know," Aviler said dryly. He paced a few steps, his face severe and only half-visible in the candlelight. Aviler's late father had made his fortune in trading voyages to the East before he had settled down to take over the Ministry, and the stigma of those origins made Aviler the Younger careful to preserve the proper aristocratic disdain toward the occasional political commentary from Lodun. But the High Minister dropped the subject and only asked, "Why does Grandier come here now?"
Dubell spread his hands. "I don't know. But whatever his reason, he must be stopped and driven away."
Ravenna nodded. "Excesses in Bisra are all well and good, but he cannot be allowed to commit them here. I agree, Doctor. But why did he seek you out? Some special grudge?"
Dubell looked thoughtful. "It has been ten years since Dr. Surete and I last tended to the palace wards. With Surete dead and Grandier rumored to be in the city, I thought it best that I should see to them again. The warding stones that hold the etheric structure of spells in formation around the newer sections of the palace must be examined individually, though in the Old Courts where the wards are tied to the structures themselves such attention is not necessary. But now I realize the situation is even more urgent than I thought. If Grandier meant to keep me from examining the wards after Dr. Surete's death, then he must have some way to circumvent them."
Aviler looked up, frowning. "How is that possible?"
"The wards are not unlimited or infallible. The sorcerers who constructed them directed them to react to certain situations in certain ways. But their creators could not, and did not, think of every situation. If a fay knew where the gaps were that their movement occasionally creates, it could pass through them unharmed." Galen Dubell smiled. "Dr. Surete knew the most about the wards. He could tell you their names."
"I see," Aviler muttered.
"Do you? Good." Ravenna finished part of the pattern and spread the square of needlework out on her lap. "Dr. Dubell, when can you begin this examination of the wards?"
"Immediately," Dubell told her. "It will take several days, as some portions may only be performed during certain hours of the night."
"Good, but we must continue the search for Grandier."
Thomas said, "The King's Watch found that house; they'll find him." The King's Watch was a euphemism for the network of spies set up by the late Aviler the Elder to keep an eye on discontented nobles living in the city and the foreign cults that had begun to appear then. It was they who had been able to find Grandier's River Quarter house when the Lodun sorcerers had named him as Galen Dubell's abductor.
"Very well. That is enough for now. Dr. Dubell must rest before he begins his work and I know you gentlemen have much to attend to."
As they made to leave, Ravenna added, "Stay a moment, Captain."
Thomas waited, and when the doors had closed behind the last of the others, she asked, "It was difficult?"
Ravenna lifted a brow. "That's hardly an answer."
He watched her a moment thoughtfully. That Roland had sent him on a mission designed to cause his death probably rankled her more than it did him. "Is that why you wanted me to stay, to indulge my sense of self-pity?"
"Oh, don't start. Roland could send you to the edge of the earth and I would not care." She smiled for a moment, but her expression became bitter as she smoothed a section of the embroidery. "Master Conadine was sent for today from the Granges to help deal with Grandier. He should be here within the week. It was the worst stupidity not to wait for him and to send you with only Dr. Braun."
"If I'd had the choice, I might have gone anyway," he admitted. "If we had waited any longer Grandier could have killed Dubell."
"And taken a handful of men, and only Dr. Braun?" Her lips thinned. "Never mind. Roland did it to aggravate me, and we know who encouraged him to it, don't we?" Ravenna tested the sharpness of her needle with a finger, then selected another out of the case Lady Anne held ready for her. "And what other mischief has Denzil been up to lately?"
Thomas took a seat on one of the stools near her chair, feeling his weariness as a tight pain across his shoulders. The episode with Grandier had worried Ravenna more than she had revealed to Aviler or the others, but he let her change the subject. He said, "He visited a banker on the Riverside Way yesterday, but that was about a gambling debt. If he's planning something now, he's taking more care with it."
"Perhaps." Ravenna carefully threaded the needle. "Someday he will miscalculate."
Thomas shrugged. "Roland can always pardon him." Denzil was Duke of Alsene, Roland's older cousin on his father's side, and acknowledged favorite. There were men who had more respect for the finer feelings of their dogs than Denzil had for Roland, but the young King still clung to him. It was undoubtedly Denzil who had talked Roland into sending a small contingent of the Queen's Guard to beard Grandier in his lair, knowing Thomas would be bound to lead them, and knowing that it would infuriate Ravenna. Thomas reminded himself there was nothing to be done about it tonight. But he was looking forward to the moment when the news reached Denzil that he had gone into Grandier's house and brought Galen Dubell out alive without losing a single man. "What did the Bisran ambassador want?"
"To accuse us of harboring Grandier." She made a gesture of exasperation, willing to be led away from the subject of her son's favorite. "And also to present a new list of their heretics sheltering in Ile-Rien, so they could be arrested and returned to Bisra to burn for their crimes. That the Bisran Inquisition has no authority within our borders is immaterial, apparently. I wish I knew why the ambassador is so certain that Grandier is here with our blessings." She coughed, and Lady Anne hastily produced a lace-edged cloth for her.
Watching her accusingly, Thomas said, "You're not feeling well." She had caught a lung flux last winter when they had gone to Bannot-on-the-Shore to quell a minor upheaval among the March Barons. Her vitality made it difficult to remember that she was not a young woman anymore, and Thomas still regretted allowing her to ride with the Guard instead of going in an enclosed carriage, even if it had let her surprise the barons in the middle of their secret conference. The disease had weakened her lungs despite the best efforts of apothecaries and sorcerer-healers, and she wasn't up to any more midnight rides over ice fields, whatever she might think. "You didn't have to see Dubell tonight, or the ambassador."
"It is very damp out, and you are not my nursemaid." She tucked the cloth into her sleeve, unperturbed. "I wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible. And if the palace wards are weakening..." After a moment, Ravenna shook her head. "And what do you think of Dr. Dubell?"
Thomas knew she wasn't asking about the old scholar's abilities as a sorcerer. "He's no fool. He handles himself very well."
"Lord Aviler, the old Lord Aviler, not that young puppy of a High Minister, had great faith in Dubell. Despite his past disgrace." She sighed. "But I've kept you long enough."
Thomas stood up, took her hand, and kissed it. She said, "Oh, and I'd almost forgotten." She rummaged in her sewing case, and pulled out a ribbon-tied packet of letters to hand to him.
"What is it?"
"An annoyance for you to deal with."
He accepted the packet with an expression of distaste. "And I was afraid I might have to sleep tonight."
"Oh, it isn't urgent. At least not to me." She smiled. "Enjoy."
Stepping out into the Guard Room, Thomas turned the packet over curiously. Ravenna never forgot anything; it must be something she didn't want to discuss. Before he could untie the bound letters, he saw that Galen Dubell was waiting for him. "A moment, Captain?" the old sorcerer asked.
"Forgive me if the question is intrusive, but Lord Aviler does not care for you?" The High Minister had already gone, though Renier was still in the Guard Chamber, speaking quietly to the two Albonate squires.
"Lord Aviler is like that." Dubell's expression held nothing but mild curiosity. After a moment, Thomas found himself saying, "He doesn't approve of favorites. He's studied enough history to know what damage I could do if I were inclined to it."
"I see." Dubell smiled. "Does Queen Falaise still have her entourage of poets?"
Falaise had been a princess of Umberwald when Ravenna had chosen her to marry Roland a year ago. At eighteen she was four years younger than the King, and if Ravenna's motive in choosing her for a daughter-in-law had been to pick someone she could teach and influence, she had made one of her few mistakes. Falaise might have been the quiet studious girl that the ambassadors had described when she was a third daughter with few prospects, but once here and safely wed to Roland she had taken to palace life like a beggar child let loose in a bakery. "Yes, she does. City gossip reaches you all the way out in Lodun?"
"City gossip is a treasured commodity. The servants bring it in with the milk every morning. The general opinion, I gathered, was one of relief that she had chosen to turn her attentions to harmless poets, considering what else she could have done."
"She could have had guardsmen."
"Or sorcerers." Dubell's expression turned serious. "I owe you a great debt, Captain."
Thomas looked at him sharply. "I think you've already repaid that debt."
Dubell gestured that away. "Nevertheless, if I can help you in any way, do not hesitate to call on me."
As the sorcerer turned to follow the servants waiting to take him to his rooms, Renier intercepted Thomas. "There's something I have to show you." He looked worried.
Resigned, Thomas followed Renier to a quieter corner of the Guard Room. "What is it?"
"A letter. It arrived today in a packet of dispatches from Portier. The courier's a trusted man who swears he never let the packet out of his sight." The big man unfolded a square of paper. "This is a translation I had a priest do."
Thomas took the paper. "What language was it in?"
"Old Church Script."
Thomas read the first scribbled sentence aloud, " 'O Best Beloved'?" He looked up, puzzled. "To whom was it sent?"
"Roland. But the priest said that's the proper way to begin an old riddle-song, which is what this is."
Where the music is not heard,
There was a light not seen,
There are barren hills home to multitudes,
And dry lakes where fish are caught above a
city's towers. Catch the incantation, solve the song.
"The answer is a simple one: the Fay," Renier said.
There was only one person acquainted with Roland whose feelings would naturally express themselves in poetic forms of the past. "You know who this is from," Thomas said, looking up at him.
"The country folk are calling her Kade Carrion now." Renier shrugged, uneasy. "I suppose we're lucky; she could have sent something that exploded or told the secrets of whomever picked it up."
Roland's older sister, the bastard princess who had never forgiven anything. Thomas tapped the rolled paper against his palm. "An odd coincidence, with Galen Dubell here. Ravenna decides to pardon the man who first told the bane of our lives that she was a witch, and the witch herself starts meddling again." She had chosen her moment well. We have more than enough to deal with from Grandier, and Kade is too dangerous to ignore.
"She's been quiet for almost six months. Why now?"
Across the room, a musician had taken a seat at the spinet and now played the opening verse of a popular new ballad, about a man who fell in love with a fayre queen and was taken away by her. He couldn't have chosen an air more inappropriate to the moment, Thomas thought. He said, "One hundred and ninety-seven days. I keep count. She might be in league with Grandier." Though Grandier had killed to protect himself, and Kade was rather like a cat--if the mouse was dead it was no good playing with it anymore. But people change.
Renier shook his head. "There's not much else we can do. The sentry positions have already been doubled and tripled for Grandier's sake." His eyes flicked up to meet Thomas's. "Dubell is going to tend the wards."
"Yes, he is, isn't he?"
"We've nothing to go on."
Thomas handed him back the letter. "Watch him anyway."
AT THE FIRST creak of the door, Thomas was up on one elbow and drawing the main gauche from the belt hung over the bedpost. Then he recognized the man entering the room and shoved the long dagger back into its sheath. "Damn you, Phaistus."
The young servant shrugged and knelt beside the hearth to scrape the ashes out, muttering to the unresponsive andirons, "Well, he's in a mood."
Thomas struggled out of bed. Despite the high ceiling and the natural tendency for drafts, the room was almost too warm; daylight shining through the high windows was reflected dazzlingly off the whitewashed plaster of the walls. His scabbarded rapier leaned against a red brocaded chair and his other three civilian dueling swords hung on the wall, along with the heavier, broad-bladed weapons used for cavalry combat. He ran a distracted hand through his hair, working the tangles out, and said, "What's the hour?"
"Nearly midday, Sir. Ephraim's outside. He said you wanted him. And Master Lucas brought that Gambin fellow in."
"Good." Thomas stretched and grimaced. A few hours of sleep had done little besides give his bruised muscles time to stiffen. While Phaistus banged things on the hearth, he found his trousers and top boots on the floor underneath the bed's rumbled white counterpoint and started to dress. "Clean that pistol."
The servant stood, wiping his hands on his shirt tail and glancing over the draw table where Thomas had left his wheellock and reloading gear. "Where's the other one?"
Thomas grabbed up a pewter jug and threw it at Phaistus, who ducked, grinned, and went on with what he was doing. Phaistus had come to the Guard House as a kitchen boy, silent and terrified, but had grown out of it before his voice changed. "I obviously don't beat you enough." Thomas went to the table and pushed back his sleeves to splash water on his face from the bowl there.
Undisturbed, the boy asked, "Going to kill Gambin, Sir?"
"It's a thought." Deciding he could wait to trim his beard. Thomas picked up the scabbarded rapier and went into the small anteroom.
Ephraim was waiting for him. He was a little old man, the pockets of his faded brown doublet and breeches stuffed with sheaves of paper, the ballads he sold on the street. His stockings were mud-stained and one of his shoes had a large hole in the toe. He grinned and pulled his battered hat off. "You wanted to see me, Captain?"
"Someone sent a packet of letters to the Dowager Queen through Gambin. I want you and your people to find out who hired him."
Ephraim rubbed his grizzled chin. The best of the civilian spies Thomas employed, Ephraim was discreet enough for the occasional official mission as well as for Thomas's own needs. "That could be difficult, Sir. That Gambin lad hires out to so many there's no telling whose business he's on today, and he mightn't have a reason to go back to the fellow, you know."
"Gambin's here now. I'll make sure he does."
"Ahh. That's a different matter. The usual wages?"
"A bonus if you find out by tomorrow."
"Oh, I can't make any promises." Ephraim looked flattered. "But we'll do our poor best."
Thomas left him and went down the staircase toward the clash of steel and loud talk from the large hall on the lower floor. The old, rambling house stood just inside the Prince's Gate, where it was dwarfed by the bulk of the King's Bastion and the Albon Tower. For seventy years the house had been the headquarters of the Queen's Guard and the property of whomever held the commission of Captain. The carved knobs topping the stairway's balusters were gashed and chipped from practice bouts up and down the steps, and the walls still bore the faint scars of powder burns from more serious skirmishes.
The Queen's Guard were all scions of province nobility or second sons of landed families, with few expectations of large inheritances. The requirement for membership was a term of service with a crown troop, preferably cavalry, and an appointment from the Queen. In general the Queen's Own were unruly and hard drinking, and carried on jealous and obsessive rivalries with both the Cisternans and the Albon Order. They were also the most effective elite force in a country where until a few years ago private armies had abounded; commanding them had been Thomas's only ambition for a long time.
As he reached the second-floor landing, Dr. Lambe was just coming out of the archway that led into the other wing. Dressed in a stained smock, the apothecary was followed by a young boy weighed down with various satchels and bags of medical paraphernalia. Thomas asked Lambe, "Did you see Gaspard?"
"I did, Captain, and I'm not sure I believe it." Lambe adjusted the cap on his balding head. Apothecaries prepared the herbal remedies used by sorcerer-healers, and many, like Lambe, also made good physicians, even without any sorcerous skill. Healers learned in magic were in short supply everywhere but in Lodun, where the university drew them by the dozens.
"What do you mean?"
"The burns are scarred over already." He shrugged. "I knew Galen Dubell had a reputation for healing-sorcery, but what did the man do?"
"Whatever it was, he did it quickly. He used some things Braun had."
"Dr. Braun's not so bad." Lambe caught Thomas's expression and added, "He's not a steady sort, I'll give you that, Sir, but he has the makings of a fine practitioner in him. But this work of Dr. Dubell's... It would be an honor to hand the man bandages."
Thomas watched Lambe go, thoughtfully, then turned into the small second-floor council room where Lucas waited for him.
The dingy walls were hung with old maps and a few tattered remnants of flags, some of which were trophies from the last war, while others were more recent acquisitions from the Cisternan Guard, who would undoubtedly give a great deal to learn where they were. In the glass-fronted bookpress were classical treatises on warfare, manuals of drilling, musketry, fencing, and tactics, The Compleat Body of the Art Military and Directions For Musters. Lucas, the First Lieutenant of the Queen's Guard, was leaning back in a chair, nursing a tankard, his boots propped up on the heavy plank table beside a wine bottle and another tankard.
Gambin was standing in the corner in an attitude that suggested he wanted to be as far away from Lucas as possible, and his long face was sullen. Gambin was a spy as well, but without Ephraim's sense of professional integrity. He worked most often for the lesser lords of the court, and this was the first time Thomas had considered him anything more than a minor irritant. He was dressed in a red and gold slashed doublet, the peacock finery of a court hanger-on that was particularly hateful to the eyes after a hard night and little sleep. Gambin said, "I've business elsewhere, Captain, if you don't mind." The bravado in his voice was unconvincing.
Lucas raised an eyebrow. Thomas glanced at the lieutenant as he set his rapier down. Ignoring Gambin, he poured wine into the other tankard, tasted it, and winced in disgust. He said to Lucas, "Adijan '22? Are you mad?"
Lucas shrugged. "It wakes me up."
"It wakes the dead." Thomas dropped into a chair and looked at the spy. He waited until Gambin's pale eyes shifted away from his, then said, "Someone gave you a package."
"They do. I'm handy for that," Gambin muttered.
"This was for the Dowager Queen."
The spy licked his lips. "Was it?"
"Was it?" Lucas echoed.
"It was," Thomas said. He drew the rapier from the fine black leather of the scabbard and out of the corner of his eye saw Gambin shift nervously. The hilt was unadorned beyond the inherent elegance in the shapes of the half-shell guard and the blunt points of the quillions, and the metal was worn smooth from use. Thomas ran a finger down the flat of the narrow blade, apparently giving all his attention to the shallow dents and scratches it had collected. "Who gave it to you?"
"I'm not saying I had any package."
Lucas pulled the packet of letters out of his rumpled doublet and dropped it on the table. Last night, after discovering that it was Gambin who had delivered the packet to one of Ravenna's gentlewomen, Thomas had given it to Lucas along with instructions to bring in the spy.
Thomas held the rapier up and sighted along the blade. Despite last night's misadventures, it was still unbent. "Where'd this package come from, then?"
Gambin laughed nervously. "There's no proof I had anything to do with that."
Thomas looked up at him. "A Queen's word is not good enough?" he asked softly. "That's dangerously close to treason."
"Who gave it to you?"
Gambin made the mistake of changing defensive tactics. "I can't tell you that."
"'Can't'? Surely not 'can't,' " Lucas pointed out. "Perhaps you mean 'shouldn't'? There is a distinct difference."
"I meant I don't know who it was; he had his man give it to me," Gambin protested.
"That's a pity." Thomas laid the rapier gently back on the table and stood up. "You're no use to us, then, are you?"
"So I'll be on my way, then."
"Yes, do that."
The spy hesitated, started to speak, then made a sudden dash for the door. Thomas caught him as Gambin faltered in the doorway at the sight of a group of guards dicing in the next room. He slung the spy around and slammed him face first onto the table.
Lucas deftly rescued the wine bottle and moved it out of the way.
Gambin yelped, the cry escalating into a scream as Thomas twisted the spy's arm upward at an unnatural angle. He said, "Keep yelling. There's no one to hear you who gives a damn. Now I suggest you consider an answer."
"Look here, I... I'll find out who it is for you. I swear, he... I've got friends that can find him." The spy's voice rose in desperation.
"I think you're lying. Doesn't it seem like he's lying?" Thomas asked Lucas.
Lucas shrugged. "Well, he is handy that way."
"No, no, it's the truth," Gambin panted. "I'll find him."
"Are you sure?" Thomas put a little more of his weight on the man's abused arm bone.
Gambin shrieked. "Yes, yes! I swear it!"
Thomas let him go and stepped back. Gambin fell to the floor, gasping. He staggered to his feet, clutching his arm, and stumbled for the door. Thomas stood his chair upright and recovered his tankard from the floor. He gestured at the wine bottle Lucas was holding protectively. "Are you keeping that all for yourself?"
Lucas passed it to him as he took his own seat. "I thought it woke the dead."
"It does. That's what bad years are for." He poured the tankard full and took a long drink. He resented wasting the time on Gambin, and wanted to get back to the problem of Grandier. The three prisoners they had taken last night had known nothing. The man who had hired them had worn a hood and a mask, which was a common practice for nobles and the wealthy slumming in low taverns, and they had not been able to decide if he was a Bisran. Which might mean Grandier spoke without an accent, that the man who had done the hiring had not been the sorcerer but another confederate, or that the hirelings were too witless to have known him for Bisran if he had been wearing a Bisran cornet officer's tabard. We know nothing about Grandier, Thomas thought in disgust, except rumor and common knowledge. "I suppose Gideon relieved you at dawn."
"Yes, and he was disgustingly cheery about it." Lucas sighed. "I can't recall being that energetic as a youth. Who's following Gambin?"
"Ephraim, the one that pretends to be a ballad-seller."
"Oh, hiring out, are we?"
"Had to. All the regulars from the King's Watch are still looking for Grandier."
"Grandier's a bad business." Lucas picked up the packet of letters and glanced through it. "So you're having an affair with the Countess of Mayence?"
"A long, torrid affair. I get very effusive about it in the one dated last month." Thomas didn't mind his lieutenant's raillery. Lucas was perhaps the first man Thomas had learned to trust entirely, when with the rest of the Queen's Guard they had been employed as couriers and intelligence-gatherers during the last Bisran War. Since they were both dark enough to pass for Aderassi, the two of them had once spent six days disguised as mercenaries from that small country in a Bisran cavalry encampment on the wrong side of a wide and rising river. The Bisran commander had staged executions of captured officers of the Ile-Rien army as after-dinner entertainment, and the bounty he had offered for Queen's Guardsmen was enough to support a well-to-do merchant family for a year.
"Yes, I particularly enjoyed that one." The older lieutenant spread the letter out on the table to examine the signature. "It's a good forgery. I'd think there were some truth to it if I didn't know you were too proper a gentleman to stand in line with the good countess's grooms and lackeys. I expect it's a lucky thing the Dowager thinks so too."
"It's hardly luck. If Ravenna had asked me if I'd actually slept with the countess, I would've had to tell her I honestly couldn't remember. Most of the court ladies are starting to look alike to me." Thomas and Ravenna had not been lovers for more than a year, since her health had first begun to fail, and she knew that he had had other women since then. It hadn't changed anything between them; their relationship had passed that point long ago. The only woman she would have objected to was Falaise. Not too many years ago palace coups had ignited as quickly as fires in a dry summer; Ravenna could not afford to have the man who commanded her guard become attached to a daughter-queen who in many ways was still an unknown quantity, and who one day might like to rid herself of a dominating mother-in-law.
But even though the letters had failed in their purpose, they were an annoyance at a time when Ravenna needed him free to help her, and not constantly guarding his own back. Thomas tapped the packet. "This was done by someone who doesn't know Ravenna."
Lucas nodded. "Someone who doesn't realize how little she appreciates people who trouble with her personal..." He paused and his mouth quirked. "Matters."
Thomas strongly suspected his friend had been about to say "affairs." He let it pass and said, "It's more the sort of thing that would work with Roland. I wonder if our anonymous schemer plans to try it." If some disgruntled courtier also tried to drive a wedge between Roland and his cousin Denzil in this manner, Thomas wished him luck, but it was far more likely this asinine trick was the brainchild of one of the Duke of Alsene's cronies. Inspired by a few casually dropped hints by Denzil himself, of course.
Lucas looked thoughtful. "I wonder if it's been tried already."
"I'd think the screams would have been audible even over on this end of the court. But there's no way to be certain."
"Surely Renier, the ideal of perfect knighthood, would know."
Thomas snorted. As the ideal of perfect knighthood, Renier was not without flaws. He was a skilled swordsman but tended to depend too much on his weight and size, using his greater strength to bowl over smaller opponents. This technique had some merit: there were many men who unwisely dueled with the Preceptor of the Albon Knights only to end with his footprints down their backs. Renier had knocked Thomas down once in a friendly duel, and when the Preceptor had stepped in close to follow up, Thomas had retaliated by slamming him in the groin with the hilt of his main gauche. Renier didn't seem to hold it against Thomas, and his good humor never seemed to suffer. But Renier had a misguided perception of loyalty, and while he was not a bad influence on the young King, he was not a good one either. He often went out of his way to repeat to Roland what everyone else in his hearing said, without regard for Roland's sensibilities or the safety of those whose careless words were later used against them. Thomas said, "The ideal of perfect knighthood thinks it's his duty to tell Roland every word I say to him, and God knows what His Majesty would make of the question."
"Well, whatever you think." Lucas got to his feet slowly. He was only a few years older than his captain, but he moved like a much older man when he was tired. The reflexes go, Thomas thought, looking at the rapier lying on the table. And that's that.
Lucas said, "I'm off to a well-deserved rest. Oh, there's that entertainment at court tonight. Will you need me?"
"No, Gideon and I will take it. I've doubled the duty list for it, what with all our other little troubles." The acting troupes brought to court by the Master of Revels didn't ordinarily present much of a problem. Before they reached the palace they were examined for foreign spies or suspected anarchists, and the actors seldom turned mad and attacked anyone. "What sort of play is it?"
"An Aderassi Commedia."
Thomas winced. "Well, it could've been a pastoral." He drained the tankard.
"Oh, there's this. I'd forgotten." Lucas picked up a leather dispatch case from a pile along the wall and tossed it onto the table. It was stuffed with papers.
Thomas looked at it without enthusiasm. "What's that?"
"The King's Watch sent it over. It's some writings and copies of documents from Grandier's heresy trial in Bisra."
"You're joking," Sitting up, Thomas pulled out the papers and thumbed through the pages of faded script. "How did they get it?"
"A Viscondin monk who was traveling in Bisra attended the trial. He asked one of the officiating priests if he could copy the documents, and they allowed it. None of it was considered secret, or important, apparently. The King's Watch said it wouldn't be of any use, but they know how you are about these things so they sent it along."
As Lucas left, Thomas spread out the papers. The Viscondin Order was one of the few brotherhoods that could still cross the border to Bisra freely. The Church of Ile-Rien and the Church of Bisra had declared ecclesiastical war on each other when the bishops of Ile-Rien decided against purging the countryside of the pagan Old Faith. The Bisran Inquisition had started its persecution of sorcerers at about the same time, and the Church of Ile-Rien's objections to it had caused Bisra to outlaw most of the independent religious orders.
The Viscondin monk had copied the court documents in the original Bisran. Thomas could read Low Bisran, but not the elaborate High Script used for their official documents. He doubted the monk had been able to either, and the King's Watch had probably not bothered. He sorted the unreadable documents aside to send to the palace clerks for translation.
It was clear even from the monk's crabbed notes on the evidence that Grandier had been a victim. The nuns' testimony had been confused and contradictory, and the details of how Grandier had enchanted them were vague at best; if they had brought such charges in Ile-Rien a magistrate would have had them all hauled off to gaol for false witness and wasting the time of a law court. According to the monk, one nun had even tried to recant her testimony but the judges had refused to hear her.
Grandier had been tortured with fire, the choking-pear, and the other devices the Inquisition used to obtain confessions of heresy. Despite this the sorcerer had refused to confess, and had been sentenced to the question ordinary and extraordinary. He had been subjected to both strappado, having been hoisted by his bound arms and dropped to a stone floor, and squassation, during which the executioner had attached heavy weights to the victim's feet, then hoisted and dropped him to within a few inches of the floor until limbs had been dislocated. The scars would be visible on his face, his hands. Even if he's healed himself, he can't conceal that kind of injury. It would be a miracle if he could straighten his back or walk without limping, Thomas thought.
Grandier disappeared from his cell a few weeks after his torture. A month later the priest who had brought the original complaint died insane. Within another month the bishop who headed the Inquisitorial Committee followed him. The witch-pricker, who had probably falsified the demon marks he had reported finding on Grandier's body during torture, died later in "terrible delirium," as the monk described it. The account ended there, before the plague and the other horrific disasters now attributed to the outlaw sorcerer.
If he wasn't working dark magic before the trial, Thomas thought, he is now.
The afternoon at the Mummer's Mask passed slowly as the tavernkeepers recovered from the night before and the acting troupe prepared for the night to come. Baraselli and his assistants sat at a big round table on the tavern's main floor arguing over which characters they would use tonight, while the actors lounged nearby feigning disinterest. Shafts of sunlight from the cracked windows glittered off the dust in the air and the various paraphernalia of the stage that had been hauled out for inspection.
Silvetta, the actress who played one of the heroines, said, "What did you say your name was?"
There was a moment of hesitation before the woman who had been hired for the Columbine mask answered, "It's Kade." She was sitting on top of one of the wine-stained tables, her legs folded beneath her skirt in a position that most women of better breeding would have found difficult if not impossible. The playing cards she shuffled were a tattered pack belonging to the tavern.
"Really? Don't tell Baraselli." Silvetta shuddered, rolling her eyes in a gesture better suited for the stage. "Bad luck, ill omens, that's all he talks about. But they don't give children that name here anymore, do they? Except in the country. Are you from the country?"
"When did you learn Commedia?"
"I traveled around with one for a while and learned the Columbine mask. That was after I got out of the convent," Kade told her.
Silvetta leaned forward. "Why were you in a convent?"
"My wicked stepmother sent me there."
"Oh, you're telling me a tale." Personal questions out of the way, she said, "Do my fortune again."
Kade's brows quirked. "I doubt it's changed any in the past hour."
"You can't tell; it might have."
"You can tell," Kade said, but began to lay out the cards for the fortune anyway.
Corrine, the other heroine, appeared out of one of the back rooms carrying two dresses visible only as tumbled confections of sparkled fabric and lace. "What do you think, this blue or that blue?"
Both women paused to give the matter serious consideration. "That one," Silvetta said finally.
"I think so," Kade agreed.
"What are you wearing?" Corrine asked her.
Kade suspected she was anxious to make sure she wasn't going to be outshone by the woman playing her maid. With a shrug of one shoulder, Kade indicated the loose red gown she wore over the low-necked smock. "This."
"You can't wear that," Silvetta objected.
"I'm playing a maid." She laughed. "What else should I wear?"
The free fortune-telling had won Silvetta over completely. She said, "At least let me curl your hair."
Kade ran a hand through fine limp hair that the dusty sunlight was temporarily transforming into spun gold. Ordinarily she considered it the color of wheat suffering from rotting blight. "With an iron?"
"Of course, you goose, what else?"
"I hate that."
Corrine draped the gowns over a chair and said, "The thing to do is to attract attention to yourself. There's plenty of men there, gentlemen, lords, wealthy men, on the lookout for mistresses. Of course, it's not often you can get something permanent, you understand, but it's worth a go."
"Really?" Kade asked, her tone a shade too ingenuous, but not so much so that the other two women suspected subtle mockery.
"Much better than an actor," Silvetta said, and jerked her head in the direction of the tavern entrance. The actor who played the Arlequin stood there talking to one of the tavern-keeps, having just come in from the street. He was darkly handsome, clean-shaven after the current fashion in Adera, and didn't look at all like the other actors who played clowns.
After a moment, Kade said, "How well do you know him?"
Silvetta answered, "He's new. Baraselli hired him last month when the other Arlequin died."
Kade glanced at her. "Was he an old man?"
"Oh, no, all our clowns are young. He died of a fever. It was very bad luck."
The Arlequin had looked in their direction, and seemed to be staring at Kade. Corrine, who apparently had only one thought in her head, grinned and said, "He likes you."
But Kade, who could read wolfish contempt in those dark eyes, snorted. "Hardly," she said, and by sleight of hand managed to insinuate the card for future wealth into Silvetta's fortune.
Thomas had spent the afternoon checking on the progress of the inquiries he had set in motion last night, but the King's Watch had made little headway so far. He had wanted to sound out Galen Dubell on the subject of his one time student Kade Carrion, but last night hadn't seemed the right moment after the sorcerer's rescue from three harrowing days as Urbain Grandier's prisoner.
Galen Dubell had moved into the late Dr. Surete's old rooms, and Thomas found him there when the afternoon sun was glowing through the windows and filling the high-ceilinged room with light. The old Court Sorcerer had needed this room when his eyes had started to fail; the multipaned windows in the west wall took full advantage of the daylight. Gold-trimmed bookshelves covered the other walls and a globe still shielded by its protective leather cover stood in the corner. The rest of the furniture was buried under piles of more books and a fine layer of dust.
When the servant led Thomas into the room, Dubell looked up from his writing desk and smiled. "Captain." He was wearing a battered pair of gold-rimmed reading spectacles and open books were spread out on one side of the partners desk Dr. Surete had once shared with his assistant Milan.
Thomas said, "I wanted to thank you for what you did for my man last night. He would have died if you hadn't healed him."
Dubell smiled. "You are welcome, but I don't think that is the only thing you came to speak about. Please be direct."
Well, well. Thomas leaned on a bookshelf and tipped his plumed hat back, finding himself more amused than discomfited. Directness was not something one encountered often at court. "We've had a message from an old acquaintance of yours. His Majesty Roland's half sister Kade."
"So that is it." Dubell took off his spectacles and tapped them thoughtfully against the carved arm of his chair. For the first time he looked like a young man who had gradually grown old rather than the model of an aged wizard-scholar who had sprung fully formed out of the fertile ground at Lodun University. "Indeed, I know Kade."
"She was your apprentice."
"Not quite. I was the first to show her the uses for the talent she already had. A mistake I have already paid for. Ten years is a long time to be banished from the city of one's birth." He shook his head, dismissing the thought. "But you have had a message from her?"
"Yes. It seems to suggest she's about to pay a visit."
"In person? That is odd. She usually sends tricks disguised as gifts, doesn't she?"
"If you can call them that." Kade's tricks ranged from the dangerous to the ridiculous. The goblet that no adulterer could drink from had provided some embarrassing and humorous moments for the entire court. A gift of a necklet that, once clasped, contracted and cut the wearer's head off had been considerably less entertaining. The ancient knight who had arrived last midwinter with his beheading game had been one of the most frightening but the least substantive. Of course, Renier had fallen for it like a sack of rocks off a wall. It had taken the Preceptor of the Albon Knights off on a two-month quest that was notable for its pointlessness and not much else. Presumably the fay sorceress had watched from a distance, laughing her own head off. When violent, Kade was about as subtle as a thrown hammer; when devious, she still preferred to sign her name to the deed. As an enemy Thomas would have preferred Kade over Urbain Grandier; she, at least, was a known danger. "Could she be coming to see you?" he asked Dubell.
The sorcerer got to his feet and went toward one of the windows that looked out on the Rose Court five stories below. Thomas followed him.
The stone paths below formed gray rivers among islands of small red and white fall roses. On one of those shaded rivers were a gallant and a court lady, standing close together in conversation. There was something furtive in the turn of the woman's head that spoke of an assignation. They couldn't know they were being watched by the Captain of the Queen's Guard and the man who would probably be made Court Sorcerer sometime in the next few months, but in the palace someone was always watching.
After a moment Dubell said, "Kade could have seen me more easily at Lodun. Why should she wait until now?"
"I can't answer that, Doctor. She's only half human and I don't understand why she does anything." No one had been able to answer the question "why" when Kade's mother appeared at court twenty-five years ago to captivate the old king Fulstan. No one had known she was Moire, a great queen in her own right from one of the multitude of fayre kingdoms that hid under ancient barrows, deceptively deep lakes, or the disappearing islands that lay off the southern coast. She had held Fulstan's attention constantly, day and night, for one year before departing and leaving behind her a baby daughter like a forgotten piece of baggage and a man who was far worse a king than he had ever been before.
Dubell had a way of seeming to pick up on someone else's train of thought. He said, "I remember her mother. I was a young man then. The King's Company was performing The Fortunate Lands and suddenly she was there, dressed in black and her jewels like stars. The Queen of Air and Darkness." He picked up a book from the window ledge and absently added it to a stack on a nearby chair. "A wiser man might have seen a potential danger in Kade. The fay who appear the most human are often more changeable and vindictive than their monstrous brethren. But I saw only an isolated child with the first stirrings of real power and the wit and the will to use it. I admit I have never felt guilty, Captain. I gave her only an elementary tutoring in the craft. If I hadn't, she would have found someone else. I'm sorry for what she has done with the knowledge since then, but I assume no responsibility for it." He looked back at Thomas seriously. "I suspect that may be lese-majeste."
"Perhaps, but it's a mild form of it." Compared to most of what goes on here. "And we do need your help." He was sure Dubell realized that until another court sorcerer could arrive he had them over a barrel, and Thomas was curious to see if the old scholar would come out and admit it.
Dubell shook his head. "I took a vow of fealty when I first came here years ago. Whatever differences of opinion have arisen since then can have no bearing on it."
The old sorcerer stood there watching the garden below, his stooped shoulders revealing his bone-weary exhaustion. Galen Dubell spoke so freely it made suspicion difficult, even for someone in whom suspicion was a deeply ingrained habit. And how many times does a man have to swear undying loyalty before you have to give him the benefit of the doubt? Thomas thought. At least until events prove otherwise.
The couple in the court below had moved somewhere out of sight. Dubell asked, "Has anything been heard of Grandier?"
"No, not so far. He's not going to be so easy to find again. You haven't remembered anything else you heard that might hint of his plans?" Thomas asked without much hope. They had gone over all this exhaustively last night on the way back to the palace.
"No, I saw and heard very little of anyone." Dubell spread his hands. "A thing to be glad of, since I expect that is why they allowed me to live."
"I don't know. This is a very complex game he's playing."
Dubell nodded. "So it is," he agreed. "So it is."
With winter on the way, the days were growing shorter, but as night dropped over the city on this particular day, Thomas felt he had done a great deal and gotten absolutely no results for any of it. As he leaned on the balustrade of the Queen's loggia and repeated to his young lieutenant Gideon the last message from the King's Watch commander, he was even more convinced of it.
One of the roofed terrace's walls was open to the night and to a view of the park and the river canal where it ran for a time within the towering bulk of the palace's outer curtain wall. Paintings on oiled silk hung from the edge of the roof, rippling slightly in the sharp coolness of the evening breeze.
"They've lost Grandier's trail completely," Thomas told Gideon. Both were dressed in dark brocades for court, with lace at collars and cuffs and overlapping their top boots. Thomas wore Ravenna's signature color of red in the ribbons on his sleeves and his sword knot. "Which isn't surprising at this point. He was here secretly long enough to establish that house; he could have bolt holes all over the city by now."
"That's not very encouraging," the lieutenant said with a rueful expression. One of Gideon's duties was the command of the group of Queen's guards that formed Queen Falaise's escort, and he had been attending to her most of the day instead of participating in the more exciting search for Grandier.
"That's an understatement." Thomas watched the breeze ripple the surface of the canal. Gideon had been Falaise's lover for the past month, and he wondered if the younger man realized that he knew it. Thomas hoped it didn't become awkward. I've known him since he was a boy, he thought. I'd hate to have to kill him. Muted music and laughter drifted up the graceful staircase to the loggia. The open doors in the archway below led into the entrance hall of the Grand Gallery where the night's entertainment for the court was being staged. Thomas said, "Grandier's playing with us. I think he wanted us to find him the first time, and the question of why isn't an easy one." He shook his head. "I'll have to talk to the King's Watch commander again tonight."
"Yes. Well, there's one other thing." Gideon lowered his voice. "My lady Falaise wants to see you. I know what you've said about that, Captain, and I have put her off, but..."
"I'll take care of it." You'd think the woman didn't have any sense of self-preservation, he thought. Thomas was trying to avoid giving Queen Falaise an opportunity to make him any offers he would be honor-bound to tell her mother-in-law Ravenna about. "Who is she with at the moment?"
"Aristofan, he calls himself." Gideon grinned. "His real name is Semuel Porter."
"Which one is he?"
"The pimply one."
Thomas sighed. "They're all pimply, Gideon."
"The pimply one with the red hair." He hesitated. "Braun's coming this way."
Thomas glanced around. Dr. Braun, dressed for court in a black velvet scholar's gown, was gesturing erratically at them from the landing below the loggia. "He seems to have something on his mind," Thomas said.
Gideon looked down at the young sorcerer with thinly veiled contempt. "He nearly got Gaspard killed fumbling around with the wards at that wizard-house."
"Then perhaps it will offset all the times that Gaspard has nearly gotten himself killed," Thomas said, his voice dry. "Go on back to Falaise. See if you can tactfully encourage her to show up for court."
"Sir." Gideon saluted and headed for the stairway leading to the upper levels and Thomas went down to meet Dr. Braun.
"I have something I need to discuss with you," the sorcerer said hurriedly as Thomas reached him.
Dr. Braun was worried, and his normal hangdog expression had given way to a look of frightened intelligence. Thomas found himself asking seriously, "What is it?"
"Captain!" The voice hailed him from the arched entrance to the Grand Gallery.
Hell, it's Denzil, Thomas thought. He told Braun, "If it can't wait, tell me quickly."
Braun hesitated, his nervous eyes on the approaching Denzil. "It can wait," he said. "I'll come to the Grand Gallery later."
"Are you certain?"
"Yes." The young man began to sidle uneasily away.
Braun nodded and all but bolted out of the entrance hall.
Thomas went to join Denzil.
The Duke of Alsene's father had been a wastrel and little better than a border bandit who managed to lose most of the family properties by the time of his death. Denzil had inherited the Duchy of Alsene at age eight, surrounded by a large family of grasping and impoverished noble relatives. Seven years later when he had come to court and captured Roland's favor, all those properties had been restored, and he had been made generous gifts of land, court offices, and the incomes that came with them. Now he had his own cadre of debauched and worthless young nobles, and he encouraged them to plot and spread rumors and otherwise annoy Ravenna, even though two of his foolish friends had gone too far, and died for it on the Traitor's Block outside the city. Ravenna was continually balked by his influence over Roland, and if Denzil's family had deliberately trained him for the part he played now, they couldn't have done better.
"I've heard some unpleasant rumors about the crown's intentions toward my manor at Bel Garde, Captain," Denzil said, adjusting the set of his gloves and deliberately not looking at Thomas. The King's cousin was the mirror of the perfect courtier. His blond hair was curled to perfection, his beard perfectly trimmed, his handsome features unscarred by the ravages of battle, work, or time, his amber doublet trimmed with aglets and his gold-embroidered breeches the height of fashion. That might be part of the attraction Denzil had for Roland; the King had always been an awkward boy. "Perhaps you can put me right on it."
"I would be happy to put you right, my lord," Thomas said easily.
At that the Duke's eyes lifted to meet his, cold blue and opaque, and very much at odds with the pettiness he was affecting. After a moment he smiled ingenuously. "I've heard that a cavalry officer thinks my manor there is some sort of threat."
That was enough to tell Thomas that Denzil already knew all and was only trying to bait him. Bel Garde was built around a fortified tower overlooking the city. In the last century it had withstood a two-year siege and it would make an ideal staging area for an attack on the city wall. That Denzil should be owner of such a valuable and potentially dangerous property was a sore point with the older nobility and particularly Ravenna. Thomas silently damned whoever had let slip their plans to the young Duke and said, "It isn't a manor, Sir. It's a fortress, and in violation of the edict against private fortifications." The edict helped discourage rebellious nobles, but Roland had managed to avoid the issue of Denzil's property at Bel Garde for the past year. He had finally given in to Lord General Villon's diplomatic prodding, but the difficulty had lain in keeping it from Denzil until they could get a signed warrant from Roland.
"Who has said this?"
"Lord General Villon, the commander of the siege engine cavalry."
Denzil snorted. "He's a fool."
Thomas lifted his brows. "It is possible he was misled by the moat and the crenellated walls."
Denzil fingered one of the tawny stones set into the cup hilt of his rapier, apparently trying to decide if the mockery was worth taking issue with or not. Thomas knew the gesture for an empty one, perhaps put on for the benefit of a group of courtiers now crossing the foyer to the gallery behind them: Denzil was a superb duelist, but Thomas couldn't challenge him because of his loyalty oaths to the royal family. Denzil could initiate a challenge himself, but despite provocation, he seemed to be saving it for a time when Thomas was badly wounded or on his deathbed. Denzil finally said, "And so he will destroy it?"
"Only fill in the moat and tear down the walls. The estate itself will be better for it in the long run. I'm told by those who should know that it presents a golden opportunity to extend the park and put in formal gardens."
Denzil's expression suggested this was the equivalent of prostituting one's children. He said, "Surely this plot did not originate with the King."
"This edict has been posted in the Council Chamber for two years and a great many lords have already submitted to it. I would hardly call it a plot, Sir."
Denzil gestured that logic away. "You would not call it so, Sir," he said stiffly. "I would like to know why you are my enemy, Sir, and despise me so."
It was one of Denzil's best tactics with Roland; he could turn any mild criticism into a personal attack on himself. Thomas said, "I suppose if I ever gave you any thought, I might despise you, Sir, but I can't imagine circumstances in which I would be compelled to give you any notice at all."
The expression of artificial indignance in Denzil's eyes hardened to real anger, and for a moment Thomas was hopeful, but the young Duke was only foolish about things that endangered other people's lives, not his own, and the moment passed.
"We will see, Sir," Denzil said softly.
Thomas waited until the Duke had vanished through the main doors of the Grand Gallery before starting down the steps after him. Denzil couldn't have gotten wind of the plans for Bel Garde any time before this afternoon, at the earliest, or he would have confronted Roland about it when he saw him this morning. Wager then that Denzil had approached Thomas impulsively. Wager then also that he would approach Roland sometime tonight, instead of waiting for a private audience, in the hopes of provoking Ravenna into an unflattering and public argument with the King.
Walking through the oversized double doors of the archway was like walking into a wall of sound. The combination of the music from the musicians' galleries above the raised dais and the babble of conversation echoed off the high sculpted contours of the ceiling and shivered the rock-crystal chandeliers. The room was so immense that what Thomas knew to be a large crowd appeared sparse. Visiting nobles, courtiers, ministers, and wealthy merchants invited out of courtesy or political necessity milled in large groups around the bases of the marble-sheathed columns, the orange trees potted in silver tubs, or the fountains running with wine.
Thomas made his way through the crowds toward the dais, occasionally greeting an acquaintance. In the center of the room, the play had just started on a raised plank stage with wooden classical columns and a painted backdrop of an Aderassi marketplace. A gaudily dressed Pantalone with a pointed beard and a mask with a long hooked nose was in loud mock argument with a grotesque Pulchinella with a humped back, protruding stomach, and a high peaked cap. Some of the crowd were even paying attention to it.
Cisternan guards were stationed at all the entrances to the gallery, though they were armed only with swords. The Queen's Guard and the Albonate Knights were permitted to carry firearms in the royal presence at court, but no one else.
The polished-stone dais supported the three chairs of state for Ravenna, Falaise, and Roland. Roland was surrounded by his servants and a few courtiers who had been called up to speak to him. An Albon knight stood guard at his back. Next to him Falaise's chair was empty.
Ravenna was firmly established on the opposite side of the dais from her son. Four guards were gathered near her and a lady-in-waiting sat on a stool at her side.
Thomas swept off his hat and bowed to Roland who was hidden behind his wall of servants and hangers-on, to Falaise's empty chair as a matter of form, and to Ravenna, who smiled down at him. As he climbed the dais, the guard nearest her caught his signal and stepped out of earshot. Thomas kneeled beside Ravenna's brocaded chair and said, "There's news."
Ravenna put her sewing down. "Elaine dear, come and stand in front of me, there's a good girl. Here, wind this thread back on the spindle." The young woman's full skirt, puffed sleeves, and wide plumed hat effectively shielded them from curious eyes.
"Denzil knows about the plans for Bel Garde. It's likely he'll confront Roland about it tonight. You know what will happen," Thomas told Ravenna.
Ravenna's face set. "Villon's been working on Roland for the past two months. He said he'd give the order." She shoved her sewing into her satchel and started to stand.
Thomas said, "Don't."
She stopped, looking down at him, her hands white-knuckled on the arms of her chair.
"Roland won't listen to you. Or worse, he'll do the opposite."
"He will do what I..."
He regarded her steadily. "Face it, Ravenna; it's a fact."
She sat back down with a thump. "Damn Denzil to hell. Damn you to hell. Hand me that fan, Elaine. Oh, don't cringe so, child; I'm not angry with you, am I?" She fanned herself rapidly, the delicate silk construction somehow holding up under the pressure of her grip. "I want you to kill Denzil, Thomas."
Thomas nodded. "Fine. Is now soon enough? I believe I can hit him from here if Elaine would step out of the line of fire."
"No, no. I'll get him eventually. I'll think of something. You'll think of something; it's your duty."
"My duty is protecting you and Falaise," he reminded her.
Ravenna snorted in disdain. "Damn Falaise to hell. What I mind most is that Denzil's making a fool of the boy. Treating him like a puppy to be petted or kicked as the mood takes him. God, I hate that."
Thomas didn't answer.
She twisted the fan between her fingers, then extended it with a snap. "Well?" she asked softly.
Thomas turned over a couple of options, then said, "Send the order tonight. Tell them to start a breach in Bel Garde's curtain wall."
He continued, "There was a mistake. You thought Roland had signed the warrant, or was about to sign it. You sent the order yesterday."
"Ah." She bit her lip thoughtfully and the fan's motion slowed. "I will order them to stop work immediately when I realize what an unfortunate mistake has been made. I will be properly apologetic. I will repair it with my own funds."
Thomas waited, watching her as she thought it over. A breach in a supporting section of the curtain wall would be difficult to repair, especially with gentle mismanagement, and could be made to buy them at least six months. It would also keep General Villon, who was away with his troop at the moment, from being compromised.
"It will do," Ravenna said. "Elaine, find me that lapdesk, please."
As the girl brought the flat wooden box with the ink bottle and pen set, Thomas noticed the crowd around Roland had cleared and one of the stewards was presenting Dr. Galen Dubell to the King. As the old sorcerer bowed deeply, Roland said, "Come up here, Sir, and tell me how things are at Lodun."
Roland had wanted to go to Lodun or the smaller university further off in Duncanny, but Ravenna had needed him here during her regency, and before that, Fulstan had refused to even let the boy make a progress there to see the place. It couldn't have hurt, Thomas thought as Ravenna's pen scratched across the parchment. He'd have tired of it in a few months, but it would have made him happy. God knows, they might even have been able to teach him something. Roland resembled his father, with his curling brown hair and blue eyes, but his features were a good deal more delicate. The King's servants would never have let him out of his rooms looking anything other than immaculate, but he still managed to look incongruous in his cloth-of-gold slashed doublet, and the lace of his falling band was beginning to turn.
Galen Dubell climbed the dais and took a seat on the stool a servant whisked into place for him. Roland asked a question and the sorcerer's answer made him laugh. Thomas looked over the crowd for Denzil and spotted him in deep conversation with a man he didn't recognize. Denzil's companion had dark hair and sharp features, and though he was dressed in the heavy brocades of court finery, he was obviously ill at ease. That might not be due to the lofty company: most of the city's monied class was here, bringing with them all the rivalries and old scores that wanted settling. But something about the way he was standing, the way he turned his head, made Thomas think he was observing the crowd and the room with particular care.
If this was some new advisor of Denzil's, he hadn't been in the last report. And if the spies paid to watch Denzil were taking bribes to leave out certain details, then there were going to be a few new heads adorning the spikes on the Prince's Gate come morning. But in that case, surely the man wouldn't casually wander into a court function. He might be only an acquaintance, Thomas thought. But Denzil seemed to draw all of his acquaintances into his plots eventually.
Then Denzil broke off the conversation and started toward the dais. "Here it comes," Thomas said quietly to Ravenna.
When the Duke of Alsene bowed in the Dowager Queen's direction she smiled sweetly back at him and nodded graciously.
The steward caught Roland's attention unobtrusively and stepped aside as Denzil bowed.
Roland said, "Welcome, cousin." He looked pitifully glad to see the older man.
With just the right amount of theater Denzil said, "Your Majesty, my home is in danger."
Caught by surprise, Roland said, "You told me your home was here."
Thomas winced. Roland's reply had the distinctive sound of a lovers' quarrel rather than a sovereign dressing down a lord, and the courtiers near the dais were growing quiet to listen.
Denzil recovered smoothly. "It is, Your Majesty. I was speaking of my home at Bel Garde."
"General Villon has spoken to me about it. It's in violation of my edict because the walls are greater than twelve feet in height." Roland shifted uncomfortably. "They will be careful of the surrounding land, and it will improve the view."
Denzil's expression remained stern. "Your Majesty, it is my ancestral home. Its walls have defended our family for generations, and are a symbol of my allegiance to your crown."
Roland's brow furrowed. "I will give you another manor in compensation. There is an estate at Terrebonne that--"
"My cousin, it is Bel Garde that concerns me." The carefully calculated interruption, the appeal in his expression, were all part of the deliberate assertion of his personality over the younger man's.
Thomas could see Roland waver. The King said, "You are a trusted councilor."
Denzil bowed again. "There is none more loyal than I, my cousin, and I need Bel Garde to defend that loyalty."
Then Galen Dubell, forgotten at the King's side, said something to Roland. The King looked down at him, startled.
Denzil caught a hint of something that worried him. Almost too sharply he said, "What was that, Sir?"
Frowning in thought, Roland said, "It is an interesting point. Why do you need the fortress, Sir, when you are under my protection?"
There was a tension in Roland's voice that quieted the rest of the conversations around the dais and stopped Ravenna's pen. Denzil hesitated, staring at the young King. Then he made a gracious bow. "I need it...to present it to you, Sire."
There was a moment's silence as the surrounding courtiers digested that, then a polite murmur of congratulations and applause. "Oh, how delightful," Ravenna exclaimed loudly.
"I accept it, Sir," Roland said happily. "I'll have my best architect put in magnificent gardens, and then I will return it to you."
There was more applause. Ravenna folded the half-written order and handed it to Thomas. "I shall like Bel Garde a great deal with a new formal park."
Thomas allowed himself a slight smile, and dropped the paper into a nearby brazier. "You'll like it even better with your troops all over it."
BEHIND THE WOODEN backdrop of the stage, in the small actors' area curtained off from the glories of the gallery by dusty velvet drapes and a canopy, confusion reigned.
Ignoring the outcries and exclamations from the actors and clowns rushing around in the lamp-lit gloom and musty heat behind her, Kade had enlarged a hole in one of the dark blue curtains and was looking out at the rear of the gallery. The back wall was mostly paned glass, its windows looking out onto the terraces and a wide expanse of garden designed to provide a harmonious view.
She remembered that garden, though she could see little of it now through the glare of candlelight on window glass and the darkness beyond. She could have pointed to the stand of sycamore trees, or the hill with its classical ruins carefully constructed to look aged and abandoned. She had expected to remember the palace, but she had not expected its sights, textures, and scents to press in on her in such an overpowering way. The walls were stained with powerful auras of old battles, old anger, love, pain. They hummed with the revenants of the emotions and magics of long-dead sorcerers. She had left her own marks here, somewhere. She was not pleased at the idea of coming upon one of them suddenly.
Here Kade had learned her first real sorcery from Galen Dubell. He had taught her High Magic, with its slow painstaking formulas that used alchemy and the powers of the astral bodies to understand and compel the forces that governed the universe. Galen had been an excellent teacher, his instruction touching on everything from the simplest healing charms to the architectures of the Great Spells that eventually took on lives of their own. When he was banished for that teaching, Kade had been sent to the Monelite Convent, where she had learned about herbal poisons and the Low Magic of witchcraft from the village women. Later she had learned what she could of fay magic from her mother, but her human blood kept her from shape-changing and practicing many of the other skills that came so easily to the fay. It had been Galen's teaching that had enabled her to survive. Human sorcery was painstaking and slow, but powerful, using numbers, symbols, carved stones, music, and other tools to explain the unexplainable, to control and direct the astral forces the fay only toyed with.
I shouldn't have come back, Kade thought. Somewhere between here and the Mummer's Mask, her courage had fled, leaving her to pick up the pieces of her plan alone. Not that it was a good plan to begin with. She felt an overwhelming desire to discard it and stay with Baraselli's acting troupe for a few weeks. The gods of the wood knew the actors could use the help. Only one thing stopped her.
I might be able to stand feeling like a coward, but I can't live with feeling like this much of a fool. And it would be foolish to turn back when she had come this far. But the more she thought about it, the more the idea of returning to Knockma or Fayre with nothing solved and facing the same old difficulties seemed worse than continuing on this course.
It had become apparent to her that she needed to go home, to the palace at the heart of Ile-Rien, to face her past. To face her half brother Roland, to see if it was really him she hated or the memories and the father he represented. And perhaps to face Ravenna as well, to show the Dowager Queen what that once-unlovely changeling fay child had become. To get her approval? Kade asked herself suddenly. I bloody well hope not. She bit her lip, fingering the frayed edge of the curtain. So it's either stay with Baraselli's troupe forever, or go on with what I came to do, what I said I had to do, she thought. A group of women passed by in front of the windows, the light glittering on their satin gowns, gems, and starched lace collars, their motions hampered by layers of underskirts, hip rolls, and fashionable puffed sleeves. Perhaps I'll wait and see how the play does before I decide.
She turned back to the troupe's frantic clamor as Garin hopped through the curtained stage doorway. He was immediately attacked by three other actors and their helpers, who began to tear off his Pantalone costume and wrestle him into the Brighella outfit. Kade picked the wig and cap off the floor and handed it to them, trying not to get her fingers torn off by their frantic grasping.
Baraselli peered through a gap in the backdrop. "Terrible," he moaned. "It isn't going well at all."
"Damn it, man, I've done my best," Garin snapped, his voice muffled because Uoshe was forcing a new shirt over his head. "If it isn't good enough, then you get out there."
Unlike other theatricals, Commedia had no playbook for the actors to learn. The plot was determined by the characters, and the actors learned only the standard lines for one role and supplemented them by whatever jokes or local gossip came to mind. Garin was doing the unfamiliar Brighella role more ad lib than usual and using the standard lines only when he could remember them; it was confusing everyone else terribly.
Garin had taken the extra role because the worst had happened. The Master of Revels and the Cisternan guards who examined entertainers for the court had refused to allow the clown who played Brighella entrance into the palace. The clown had a cousin who was on a list of participants in an ill-fated Aderassi independence revolt. The officials had been terrifyingly polite about the whole thing, and Baraselli, suspecting them all to be magicians of the blackest kind for knowing about it in the first place, had not dared to speak even a word of protest.
In the prisonlike barrenness of the questioning rooms of the St. Anne's Gate Guard House, the troupe had been kept waiting for hours. Partly, Kade knew, to give those who had reason to be nervous a chance to betray themselves, but mostly to allow the clerks to look through the rolls of "undesirable" names that the King's Watch endlessly compiled.
"And what's your name, darling?" the Cisternan guard had asked Kade when it came her turn.
Kade knew the robed academician in the corner of the whitewashed questioning room was a sorcerer, using spells to search out hostile magic. As the guard asked her the question, Kade felt the sorcerer's spell settle over her like a cold mist, invisible and intangible to anyone not trained in magic. It met the masking spell she had prepared and set around herself hours earlier, then slid across and away without friction. The sorcerer's second and third spells did the same. He stopped there, just as her masking spell was beginning to fray on the edges. He might have cast five or six spells and caught her out; Kade, being Kade, had taken that risk. If the sorcerer had detected either her magic or that she was fay, she would have thought of something else.
In answer to the guard's question, she had said, "Katherine of Merewatch. They call me Kade, short for Katherine." Merewatch was a hamlet near the place she made her home much of the time, and so it was factual enough not to set off the truth spell that blanketed the whole room. It was a complex spell, older than she was, as intricate and detailed as the inside of a Portier clockwork toy. It had the combination of ruthless logic and artistry about it that marked it as old Dr. Surete's work. Despite great temptation, she decided not to tamper with it.
The guard stared at her a moment. She had a minor qualm, wondering if they had really burned the only portrait of her, as Roland had claimed they had so long ago. But the man only said, "You ought to change that, you know. Could make trouble for you."
"But it's what my mum calls me."
"Your lookout then. And how's your mum's family called?"
"She didn't have one that I knew of. In Merewatch they called her Maira." Also true; the deep northern brogue of the Merewatch inhabitants rendered Moire as Maira. Kade sensed a faint tremor in Surete's truth spell, but her statement was on that very narrow line of truth and falsehood, and it didn't betray her.
Neither questions nor spells had shown anything odd about the actor who played Arlequin, and that puzzled Kade.
She had suspected him of something, of what she wasn't completely sure, but she knew the palace's protections to be good ones. She had gotten through them with a substantial helping of fayre luck and the willingness to take a risk, and she knew that having been born inside the wards had let her pass them and any other traps Surete might have laid. It didn't seem possible that an ordinary human sorcerer could accomplish it.
Perhaps he's just an ass, she thought, watching the Arlequin now in the backstage confusion. He was sitting on a props box, watching the others with a grin, cool and unaffected by the frantic activity.
Kade lifted her leather Columbine mask and wiped the sweat off her face. She knew she should be going onstage again soon, but with all the Brighella confusion, she couldn't tell if they were getting close to her part or not. Possibly overwhelmed with relief at sighting the end of the play, the others might skip her last entrance entirely.
Kade moved to where she could glimpse the front of the Grand Gallery through a gap where the curtain met the stage's edge. There was a good view of the dais from here.
If seeing the palace again affected her, it was even more of a shock to see its inhabitants. Roland has changed--for the worse, she thought. Worse still, Ravenna hasn't changed at all. Despite the new gray in her red hair, the Dowager Queen was still delicate, still lovely, and still ruthlessly self-assured. And every woman at court was still hiding behind a fan while following Thomas Boniface with her eyes. That Kade had joined in this pastime enthusiastically as a child somehow did not make it any better. She had to admit, at least in the privacy of her own thoughts, that while he was a touchy and arrogant bastard, he was still well worth looking at.
She remembered deep-set dark eyes, and a remarkably ironic smile. He had long been known as one of the jewels of the court, even when blond gallants were more often in fashion. She watched him leave the dais and cross the crowded gallery until he was out of her view. He must be nearing forty now, but the years hadn't changed him much and there was only a little gray in that dark hair. Don't be an even bigger fool than you already are, Kade told herself. He and Ravenna had been made for each other.
Baraselli had given off moaning and was now racing around like a madman trying to collect the props for the finish. He rushed up to Kade and thrust a gold candelabrum at her. "Quick, hold this."
An instant later she realized it was gold paint over iron and dropped the thing with a curse. It clanged on the tiled floor.
"What is it?" Baraselli cried out, with the same hysterical urgency he would've shown if she had fallen to the floor in a dead faint.
"I sprained a finger," she growled at him, tucking her smarting hands under her armpits.
"A sprain? Oh god, it could've been your foot!" He grabbed up the candelabrum and fled toward the stage with it.
Fayre luck, hell, Kade thought. She could hear Silvetta shouting at one of the heroes and vaguely remembered she should be onstage for that.
She headed for the curtain. If she hadn't stood there like a dolt and held the thing... The intensity of her magic could be affected for a short time.
When Queen Falaise entered with Aristofan, or Semuel Porter, on her arm, and Lieutenant Gideon and the rest of her escort trailing her, Thomas had decided it would be more politic at the moment to leave the dais and take a turn through the crowd. He also wanted to find Dr. Dubell, and caught up with him as the sorcerer was leaving the gallery.
They stood in one of the gracefully arched doorways at the opposite end of the room, just far enough away from the milling groups of guests to be able to hear each other.
"You may have made an enemy," Thomas told him.
"Possibly, but I certainly didn't intend to provoke all that." Dubell looked back toward the dais, frowning a little.
Thomas leaned back against the curve of the archway and regarded him thoughtfully. "What did you say to Roland?"
"Well, he asked me what I taught at Lodun besides sorcery, and I told him it was debate and logic, and we spoke a bit about how orators use it. Then Lord Denzil started his speech. Finally I couldn't contain myself. I said, 'It's an invalid argument.' His Majesty said, 'What is?' and I said, 'He seems to be claiming that he needs the fortress to protect you, but under landlaw of course you're his protector.' The King quite liked that idea, I think." Dubell shook his head, ruefully amused. "It's almost the right phase of the moon to start the crucial work on the palace wards, and I'd hate to be distracted. At Lodun we're all very experienced in how to give each other the cold shoulder at dinner, but I've been away from court so long I'm out of practice dealing with quarrels of this kind."
"The thing to do would be to bring it to my attention, at least in your case," Thomas said.
"Would it?" Dubell met his eyes seriously.
"Then I will remember to do that." Dubell inclined his head. "Goodnight, Captain."
Dubell left, and Thomas turned back into the gallery. He had never offered either support or protection to anyone at court lightly, and he wasn't really certain what had prompted him to do it for Galen Dubell. Except perhaps that the old sorcerer had survived decades of court intrigues and still seemed to have retained both his optimism and his honesty, and Thomas didn't want to see that change. He looked back toward the dais where Denzil now sat at Roland's feet, making his King laugh at something, all ill feeling apparently forgotten.
Thomas turned away from the dais and looked around for Dr. Braun, but if the young sorcerer was here he was lost in the crowd.
The Commedia was almost over. Thomas hadn't paid much attention to it, except to notice that it was a little better than the farces performed almost nonstop for market-day crowds. This troupe had apparently altered its performance to accommodate a more sophisticated audience. He stopped near the stage beside a group of outland nobility to watch two of the clowns performing the climactic sword duel. Instead of uncoordinated acrobatics that would have bored most of their audience, with its connoisseur's appreciation of dueling, they did it in exaggeratedly slow motion, allowing them to perform intricate moves that would otherwise have been beyond them.
Thomas had also noticed the masked actress who was playing Columbine. She was standing within about twenty feet of him on the opposite end of the stage from the other actors and was the apparent instigator of the duel for some reason that he assumed would make sense if he had seen the entire thing. With tousled blond hair and a red dress that would have been more appropriate on a disreputable wood nymph, she was hardly as glamorous as the two demure heroines, but she had her tattered skirts kilted to the knee for the acrobatics and undoubtedly had the most attractive legs.
Oddly, the actor playing the Arlequin was standing behind her in the shadow of a painted scenery column, not quite off the stage but not on it enough to be a part of the action. There was something in the man's stance that kept Thomas's attention. The Arlequin seemed to be focused on the actress a few feet in front of him, and not on the mock duel. His half-mask was dark and trimmed with coarse false hair, with deep scarring wrinkles around its pinhole eyes and snub nose. His brown baggy clothes were patched and torn, and there was a bedraggled rabbit tail on the top of his cap. Then the Arlequin took a half step forward and the air around his bare feet seemed to blur. The shadows near the column were pooling around him as if they were solid.
Thomas swore, turned and brushed past the spectators, heading toward the Cisternan guard stationed at the nearest archway. He grabbed the guard's pike and said, "Get Galen Dubell; get him now."
The guard stared. "Sir...?"
"He should be on his way to the North Bastion. Tell him we're under attack. And give me that."
This settled the Cisternan's hesitation at taking orders from another officer. He surrendered the pike and slipped back out of the archway.
"What is it?" The Cisternan Commander Vivan was coming over from his post.
Thomas said curtly, "The actor playing the Arlequin is in the process of transforming into something. Get ready to contain it or we're all going to be dead."
Vivan looked toward the stage, startled, then headed toward the next Cisternan guardpost at a run.
Thomas took the pike and started toward the Arlequin, ignoring the curious stares. His pistols weren't loaded and there wasn't time to do it. He came up behind the Arlequin at an angle, out of its line of vision. Through the breaks in the scenery he saw more Cisternans moving up behind the stage. A murmur of unease grew as the crowd saw the guards moving and began to sense something wrong.
The change was so quick it was moments before the panic started. Suddenly the Arlequin's exposed flesh turned mottled and patchy and the actor's leather mask and rough costume seemed to enlarge and meld with its face and body. Then it was twice the size of the man it had been and its legs were taking on the demon-shape of a goat's hindquarters.
A woman in the crowd screamed, and up on the stage the Columbine actress whirled and saw the Arlequin just as the creature rocked forward to leap at her. Not close enough yet to do anything else, Thomas threw the pike.
The weapon struck the Arlequin's arm, staggering it. Wailing, it jerked the pike out and tossed it away, scattering yellowed bits of flesh.
The crowd and the actors were scattering in panic and the Cisternans were fighting their way through the rush.
Trying to push past the panicked spectators himself, Thomas saw the Arlequin strike one of the actors who hadn't fled quickly enough, slamming him through the wooden backdrop. It pushed a column aside, knocking another actress down, then charged the woman playing Columbine. Incredibly, she waited until the last moment, then ducked out of the way and leapt off the stage. Its own momentum carried the Arlequin to the end of the platform before it could stop itself and turn.
Thomas broke free of the crowd and picked up the fallen pike. The Cisternan guards were circling the stage, pikes leveled at the snarling creature. Thomas moved to join them, noting that some of his own men were coming up to help. He hoped Gideon was getting Ravenna and Falaise out of the gallery, but he couldn't spare a look over his shoulder.
A shot went off from somewhere behind them, then another, echoing thunderously against the marble facings, but the Arlequin wasn't affected. Thomas knew there were some creatures of Fayre immune to gunfire and silently damned Galen Dubell for not being here. The Arlequin made a darting motion at one of the Cisternans, testing them. It seemed reluctant to face the pikes again. Thomas shouted, "Steady, we can hold it!"
He glanced sideways and saw the masked Columbine actress, a little to the side and behind him, watching the Arlequin.
Everyone else with any sense had long since fled. "Get out of here," he yelled at her.
She glanced at him and obligingly backed up a few steps. Madwoman, Thomas thought.
Abruptly the Arlequin rushed forward, moving with sudden and blinding speed. It slammed into two Cisternans, knocking both men aside with a force that must have broken their necks, then changed course and darted toward Thomas.
It caught the top of his pike before he could brace the butt against the floor. He let go and dove out of the way. The Arlequin overshot and crashed into a brandywine fountain in an explosion of plaster and brass pipes. Dripping with brandywine, it struggled out of the debris and turned to come at him again as he rolled to his feet. A guard threw another pike at the creature and caught it a glancing blow as Thomas drew his rapier. The Arlequin pounced forward and was almost on top of Thomas when he shoved the sword into its chest.
The creature's forward motion against the rapier sent Thomas falling backward, his back striking the hard floor, momentarily knocking the breath out of him. Then the Arlequin was straddling him, falling forward on top of him. Its smell was foul, like rancid milk. Desperately he twisted the hilt and pushed, the creature's own weight helping to drive the rapier through cartilage and muscle. He felt the vibration through the hilt as the blade snapped, then the Arlequin shrieked and leapt away from him.
Thomas scrambled back and shoved to his feet. One of the Cisternans tossed him a sword, but the Arlequin had leapt backward onto the stage. At least the thing was slowing down--and still dripping brandywine. Thomas glanced around and spotted one of his men. "Martin, go get a torch."
The Arlequin paced around on the creaking wood of the stage, snarling at them. As Thomas looked back he saw that the actress who had been struck down in the first attack was on her hands and knees and trying to crawl toward the edge of the stage. Before he could move to distract the Arlequin, it whirled and saw her. She screamed and the Arlequin grabbed up a section of one of the painted columns and hurled it at her.
Suddenly Columbine was on the stage and shoving the other woman out of the way. The wooden missile hit her in the back and knocked her off the stage, sending her crashing to the floor in a heap of splintered wood.
Damn it, Thomas thought. Damn brave madwoman. He looked around as Martin ran up with the lit torch, a makeshift affair of a chair leg, a torn piece of someone's underskirt, and lamp oil. Thomas took it and moved forward slowly. The Arlequin shifted away, wary, ready to charge again.
Thomas's first thought was to lure it away from the wooden stage, knowing the stone and marble facings in the rest of the room would give them time to put the fire out. But he suspected the Arlequin's instinct would be to take as many people with it as possible; when it was racing around like a monstrous torch, it would have plenty of opportunity.
In the pile of shattered wood, the Columbine actress stirred. She pushed herself up, shaking her head dizzily as her actor's mask fell away. Thomas was thinking, She must have a head as hard as a brick... Then she looked up and saw the Arlequin just as it turned and saw her.
Instead of rushing her, it gave that wailing cry again. Thomas took the moment of distraction to run forward and hurl the torch.
He saw the actress struggling to her knees, her hands a flurry of motion. Thinking it over later, he thought she had scraped up a handful of splinters, spat on them, and tossed them at the Arlequin. They flew further than their weight allowed, blown by some invisible wind to scatter around the creature's feet.
The torch struck the brandy-soaked fur on the Arlequin's chest, which caught fire as if it had been dipped in pitch. The Arlequin wailed and battered at the air around it, fighting an invisible wall. There was something containing it, a hardening of the air that the heat of the flames shivered against.
The Arlequin dissolved into a cloud of thick black smoke. Its wails ceased and it curled up like a roll of paper kindling. Thomas saw Dubell arriving through the arched doorway leading from the long hall, and realized the fight had lasted only a short time.
Actors and guests who had scattered around the room behind columns or furniture began to emerge from hiding.
The guards were beginning to look around for wounded and dead. Thomas walked slowly over to where the Columbine actress still sat in a pile of scrap wood. She was watching the monster burn with a grin of undisguised triumph.
He already knew who she must be, but it still took him what seemed moments to put together the direct gray eyes and the long straight nose with a forgotten portrait in an upstairs hall, and with the wildness of the magic she had just performed.
Kade looked up at him, met his gaze, then winked.
THOMAS SAID, "MAY I congratulate you on a spectacular entrance?"
The sorceress looked up at him from the floor. After a moment, her lips twisted ruefully. "It was one of my best."
Dubell moved to Thomas's side. He looked at what was left of the Arlequin, at the destruction in the gallery, and down at Kade. "Was this your doing?" His voice was incredulous.
For a moment her expression was that of a small boy caught stealing an apple. "No." As she got to her feet, Thomas saw there were wood chips in her hair from the broken column the Arlequin had thrown at her. She looked defensive. "It followed me here."
Thomas moved a few paces away from them. The Cisternans and his own men were scattered, collecting the wounded and the dead. There were still courtiers milling around toward the end of the room. Now would be a terrible time for a pitched battle.
Dubell met Kade's eyes a long moment, then he said thoughtfully, "Did it really?"
"Well, in a way it did." She began to pull the splinters out of her hair. "But it joined the troupe before I did, and I think it killed one of the clowns to get a place. I would have stopped it sooner but I'd touched some iron, and it took a bit to wear off."
Renier and a group of Albon knights burst in through the archway and started toward them. The hide and sackcloth coats they wore over the lace and velvets of court finery made them look like ancient barbarians arriving to loot a city. Thomas went forward quickly to stop Renier. "Let Dubell handle her," he said in a low voice.
Renier signaled his knights to halt. "Who is she?"
Renier stared. "My God, we've got to..."
"No," Thomas said pointedly. "If he can get us out of this without a bloodbath, we've got to let him try."
The big knight considered a moment, then nodded tensely. "Very well." He signaled the other knights to move back.
Thomas nodded, thankful that while Renier wasn't a particularly brilliant statesman, he wasn't a bloodthirsty idiot either.
"Did she cause all this?" Renier asked, looking around at the chaos in the gallery.
Thomas glanced back at Kade and Galen Dubell. She was watching them, wary and a little angry. Her brows were darker than the pale blond of her hair, so the effect was that when she was looking at you, you knew it. He thought about her leaping to push the other actress out of danger and said slowly, "I don't think so."
Then Kade's eyes focused past them and her expression changed. Thomas followed her gaze and swore. Roland stood in the archway the knights had come through. Thomas said, "Renier..."
"What?" The knight looked around and gasped, "Damn that boy." He sheathed his sword and strode toward Roland, deliberately placing himself between the King and the sorceress.
Thomas looked back toward Kade, aware that the other guards in the room had held off on his order. He would have to decide what he minded more, dying or behaving this stupidly.
Galen Dubell was watching Kade thoughtfully. With gentle firmness he said, "Kade, don't."
She looked up at the older man, her eyes losing some of their intensity. "I didn't come here to kill anyone--even him."
Renier, as Preceptor of the Albon Knights and the only man in Ile-Rien allowed to touch the King without his permission, seized Roland's arm and hustled him out of sight. Dubell watched as they disappeared, then turned a worried eye on Kade. "Then why did you come here?"
She smiled. "For an audience with my dear brother, of course."
And that, Thomas thought, is not going to help matters at all.
The gallery smelled of ash and sour wine. Many of the chandeliers and lamps had gone out, throwing the upper half of the huge chamber into shadow. The court had been dispersed, and Ravenna, Roland, and Falaise had retired to a nearby solar with watchful guards. A breeze, created by an open door or window somewhere up one of the long galleries, swept gently through the huge chamber, lifting the heat and the stench for a moment.
"How long had he been with the troupe?" Thomas asked Baraselli.
The Aderassi actor-manager moaned and would have sunk to his knees again but for the two Queen's guards who were struggling to hold him up. The Master of Revels hovered worriedly nearby; it was on his responsibility the troupe had passed the final check at the gate.
"No one's done anything to you, and no one will, if you just answer the question." Thomas kept his voice mild, despite his growing irritation. It was easier to question recalcitrant anarchists under torture than someone who was so busy collapsing that he could hardly stay coherent enough to speak.
"Only a month. Only a month. I didn't know."
Dubell had moved quietly up behind the actor-manager. His lips moved soundlessly for a moment, then he looked up at Thomas and nodded. Baraselli was telling the truth.
"Who recommended him?" Thomas nodded to the guards, who cautiously released their hold of the man and stepped back.
Baraselli swayed on his feet, but stayed upright. "It was his first mask, he told me. He'd learned it from an old actor he lived near. He did it well, and he came to us just after Derani died..."
"Who was Derani?"
"He played the Arlequin until he died of fever."
Dubell asked, "What were the symptoms?"
Baraselli whipped around, staring up at the tall sorcerer in fear, but something in Dubell's expression and mild demeanor calmed him and he said, "He... His skin was hot to the touch, and his wife said he couldn't keep anything down, not even water, and he had blood in his, pardon, piss, and... We paid to have the apothecary in to him, but he just died."
There was something familiar about that. And convenient, for the Arlequin. Thomas asked, "When was this?"
"Last month. Well, a month and a fortnight ago."
Thomas shook his head, pressing his lips together. There was a pattern here, a deadly one. He looked up at Dubell. "About a month and a fortnight ago Dr. Surete's assistant Milam fell down a stairway in the North Bastion and broke his neck. A week after that Surete himself died of pleurisy. It came on suddenly, and by the time anyone realized how serious it was, he was dead."
Dubell's brows drew together as he considered it. He said, "It's the easiest of dark magics to bring sickness, and the hardest to detect. It's simplicity itself to send a bookish and uncoordinated young scholar down a staircase. If one has the stomach for that sort of thing, of course." He nodded at Baraselli. "He's telling the truth, and I doubt he can reasonably be held responsible for Kade's actions. What will be done with him?"
Even without the confirmation of Dubell's truth spell, Thomas was inclined to believe Baraselli. He had observed enough people under stress to read the sincerity in those hysterics. He told the Master of Revels, "Give him his money and tell him to take the others and go away."
Baraselli sobbed and tried to fall to his knees in thanks. The Master of Revels gestured sharply to the Cisternans waiting nearby, who intercepted the actor-manager in mid-grovel and hauled him away.
"It's either a hell of a coincidence, or a hell of a plot," Thomas said quietly to Dubell. He knew which he favored.
The old sorcerer sighed. "There are no coincidences."
Thomas watched him thoughtfully. "I would have thought it difficult for a wizard to hex another wizard, especially someone like Dr. Surete. He was the Court Sorcerer for two decades."
"If a sorcerer is in fear for his life, he might test every object he is about to touch with a sprinkle of gascoign powder or some other preparation that reveals the presence of magic." Dubell made an absent gesture. "But Surete and Milam were not in fear for their lives. The spell could have come to them on anything--a forged letter purporting to be from a friend, an apple sold to them by a street vendor..."
As Dubell stood lost in thought, Thomas watched the sorceress. Kade Carrion was pacing around the remains of the stage which the servants were dismantling. As she walked around the painted panels scattered on the floor and the stacks of singed planks, he had two distinct impressions of her. The first was that she was only a young girl with a tangled mop of hair and a tattered red dress, not oblivious to the consternation she was causing but not particularly worried by it, either. The other was that here was a creature ephemeral yet solid and real, who walked with the night and the wild hunt. Dubell is the only one who really knows her, Thomas thought. And even he isn't certain what her game is now.
If she hated her brother and the rest of the royal family as much as she claimed, she wasn't without motive. Their father Fulstan hadn't been much use as a king: he had neither Ravenna's head for finance and diplomacy nor the ability to listen intelligently to advisors who did. The fayre queen Moire had drained him of what vitality and strength of character he possessed, leaving him bitter and old before his time. He had taken out his anger at Moire's abrupt departure on anyone in his reach, especially on Moire's daughter. No one directly in his power had mourned his death.
Urbain Grandier, however, had no motive, at least not one that Thomas knew.
Kade might be in league with the Bisran sorcerer, but discovering what she knew wasn't going to be easy.
Dubell was looking toward the center of the stage platform, where what was left of the Arlequin had burned down into a heap of some foul-smelling dark powder. "Be careful not to step in that black powder," he called to the servants who were warily clearing away the debris. Then the old sorcerer turned and saw Kade, whose curiosity had already led her ankle-deep into the black powder. She lifted her head, surreptitiously rubbed a stained bare foot against her calf and looked the other way. Dubell shook his head irritably.
The Albon knights had by now arrived in force. There were about forty of them in the gallery now, guarding the arched doorways and the terrace windows, pacing the musicians' balconies, and watching the sorceress. The rest of their number were patrolling the palace with most of Thomas's men and the Cisternans.
Behind the dais, Renier emerged from the wide oak door inset with panels of stained glass. It was the gallery entrance to the solar where the royal family had retired to fight things out. He walked up to Thomas and said softly, "Roland wanted to put her under arrest, but Ravenna has talked him out of it. Apparently she's in favor of giving the sorceress the audience she wants, and trying to settle it quietly."
Thomas thought wearily, Yes, Renier, tell me all about how the anointed King still can't win an argument with his mother. He said, "Really."
Renier either did not recognize the sarcasm or ignored it out of habit. "My guess is they'll give her the audience."
Thomas eyed him. "Very likely. I suppose, in the long run, it is better than going to war with her in the middle of the palace, killing everyone who stumbles into the way."
As Galen Dubell turned back to them, Renier asked, "Dr. Dubell, could you tell what that creature was?"
The old sorcerer nodded, gesturing back toward the ruin of the stage. "It wasn't fay. It was a construction of wood and animal bone, animated by a very powerful spell, called a golem. I'm not sure, but I imagine it was designed to resist anything the weight and size of a pistol ball. It's a relatively new technique which I believe will come in quite handy on the battlefield once it's perfected. Doesn't help at all for cannonballs, though. The combination of the weight and size..." Dubell recollected himself and shook his head. "But that is neither here nor there."
"How did it get past the wards?" Thomas asked, looking at the heap of black powder.
Dubell met his eyes frankly. "I've done some work with the wards, nothing that should weaken them. They shouldn't have let this creature pass through. I believe something has affected the ward structure, making the gaps their continual movement creates larger, making those gaps appear in locations predictable to someone. It would take an intimate knowledge of the construction of the wards, at least as great a knowledge as Dr. Surete had, but it would be possible. And, perhaps more disturbing, the spell that caused the golem to shape-change from the appearance of a man to that of the creature we saw here would have to be actuated by someone close at hand."
Slowly, Thomas said, "You mean the sorcerer was here, in the gallery."
"Or an assistant, who carried in the charm designed to trigger the golem. I have looked for Grandier's power-signature, but the ether in this room is free of it." Dubell nodded to himself. "Yes, I believe it was only an assistant who was here tonight."
"What a chance to take," Renier said sourly. "There was a Parscen witchman who tried to cause trouble last year. Surete said there was a disturbance in the wards, and had some of us come with him while he tracked it to the source. We found the witchman hiding in an empty house in the Philosopher's Cross, sitting on the floor and crying like a baby. Surete said he must have tried to do a sending against someone in the palace, but the wards stopped it and followed his magic back to him and took his mind away. We knew that he tried something because he had more witch-poisons and hair amulets on him than you can imagine, but it didn't help him at all."
Dubell's attention had gone back to Kade; his expression was worried. As well it might be, Thomas thought. Had the golem been activated by a confederate of Grandier's or by Kade herself? He nodded to Kade, who was still wandering the stage. "Did she tell you why she wanted an audience with Roland?"
"No." Dubell was silent a moment. "Her abilities here, in the mortal world, are not as great as when she is in Fayre, and it is difficult to fatally wound her with anything other than a weapon of iron, but... It appeared the creature was attacking her?"
"Yes," Thomas admitted.
"I hope so, for all our sakes."
The door to the solarium opened and one of the stewards emerged, looking harried and somewhat the worse for wear. He hesitated, then approached Thomas and Renier. He said, "His Majesty will see the sorceress now."
Thomas said, "Good. Go and tell her."
The steward blanched visibly.
Thomas relented. "Very well, I'll tell her."
As Thomas approached Kade looked up, a strange creature not at all like the child he barely remembered, or the fifteen-year-old girl in the portrait. He said, "His Majesty will see you now."
She lifted her brows. "Will he?"
"And I thought he would be so glad to see me he'd have run out into my arms long before this." There was a bitterness underneath the light irony in her voice.
"You were mistaken."
"I suppose." She shrugged, abandoning repartee with a disconcerting abruptness.
Thomas turned and walked back toward the solarium's door without looking to see if she followed.
After a moment she caught up with him. "This isn't turning out right at all," she muttered.
He glanced down at her. "Oh? Who did you plan for the Arlequin to kill?"
She snorted. "You don't really believe that. And I don't know who sent it so you won't find out from me." Her mouth quirked. "Oh, was I supposed to pale and let something slip at that point? I'm sorry, I was thinking of something else."
Thomas didn't slam the door of the solar open with any more force than necessary, and bowed her in with elaborate courtesy.
The old solar wasn't used much, and the three huge windows covering the further wall had already been shuttered by painted panels in preparation for winter. The scene on the panels was a lurid traditional hunting landscape, subtly at odds with the other paintings on the oak-sheathed walls, the hangings of brocaded satin and striped silk, and the delicately carved furniture. Thomas remembered that this room was one of those that had been redecorated after the death of Roland's father; the painted panels reflected the old king's taste, and had probably been left unaltered by mistake. He thought Ravenna might have chosen the room for that rather than its convenience to the gallery.
Roland was slumped in his chair in a sulk, Denzil seated beside him. Falaise's face was still a little reddened under the powder, as if she had been weeping from anger rather than hysteria. She had chestnut hair and blue eyes, and her natural prettiness had been transformed by her coiffure and costume into fashionable beauty. She wore a blue gown trimmed with gold ribbons and seed pearls, and against the somber colors of the rest of the room she looked like an orchid thrown into a dirty alley. Ravenna was the only one who appeared calm. Her hands were busy on her embroidery and she didn't look up at their arrival.
There was a stiff silence in the room and the dregs of a bitter argument lay heavy in the air.
Thomas realized it was his duty to announce Kade, the steward having apparently seized the opportunity to escape. Sensing that calling her "the evil fay sorceress" would probably please her no end, he said, "The Princess Katherine Fontainon," then moved to take his place at Ravenna's side.
Kade's fair skin made her helpless against a sudden blush.
Ravenna looked up and said, "How lovely to see you again, dear child."
Kade curtsied in what had to be an intentionally graceless fashion. "I'm sure it's just as lovely for you as it is for me, stepmother."
"I'm not your stepmother, dear," Ravenna reminded her calmly. "Your mother did not bother with the travesty of marriage with your father, and it would hardly have served the purpose if she had, because he was already my husband at the time. You know this, but it seems to please you to hear me repeat it."
In a whisper plainly audible to the rest of the room, Denzil said to Roland, "Cousin, this is all too dull."
Ravenna snapped, "Roland, send him away. This is private."
Roland glared. "I could ask you to send your paramour away too, mother."
In the ensuing moment of silence, Kade snickered.
Thomas glanced briefly heavenward. Denzil looked at Roland in irritation as the implication in the unfortunate phrasing of the King's retort sunk in.
Realizing what he had said and reddening faintly, Roland continued defiantly, "This is a family matter and he is the only one of my family who is truly fond of me."
"What a sad thought," Kade added helpfully. "Sad, but true."
Roland stared at her, meeting her eyes for the first time since she had entered the room. "What do you want here?"
Kade ignored the question. She looked to Ravenna, who had gone back to her embroidery. After a moment the Dowager Queen said, "And how is your dear mother, child?" as if her prepared greeting had never been interrupted.
Ravenna's expression was as polite as a judge passing sentence; Kade looked ironic and amused. "She's in Hell," she said.
Ravenna's brows lifted. "Wishful thinking, certainly."
"Oh no, she really is," Kade assured her. "We saw her go. She lost a wager."
"My condolences," Ravenna said dryly, as the rest of the room digested that. Kade had just reminded them all of her strangeness, and Ravenna had taken the point. "Now tell us why you've come here in this unseemly fashion, as an actress of all things, bringing an enemy with you and disturbing our peace."
"What are you more worried about, that I brought you a battle or that I was with an acting troupe? Never mind." Kade shrugged, playing with the frayed threads on the edge of her sleeve. "I have quite a few enemies; I can't help it if they follow me about. As to why I'm here..." She paced a few steps, not looking at them, hands clasped behind her back and the dingy lace of her petticoats swirling around her feet. "I just wanted to see my family, and my dear younger brother."
The slight emphasis on the word "younger" made Roland sit up and flush.
Kade looked from Ravenna to Roland, her gray eyes passing over the quietly watching Falaise.
This isn't turning out right at all, she had said outside, Thomas remembered.
Ravenna just watched her, until Kade said, "I want to make an agreement with you."
"Was it agreement you wanted when you sent my court those cursed gifts?" Roland demanded. "How many of us have you tried to kill?"
"Then there's the death of King Fulstan," Denzil added helpfully, before Kade could answer. "His illness was very sudden, was it not?"
"I see no point in resurrecting either the dead, or the rumors of years past." The gaze Ravenna turned on Roland's cousin should have transformed him into stone. He only nodded politely at her. "Kade, what agreement are you--"
Unable to contain himself, Roland interrupted, "Why would we want to deal with you, sister?" Contempt twisted his voice. "You've threatened us, ridiculed us--"
"Threatened? Oh, what a King you are, Roland." Kade clasped her hands dramatically and said mockingly in falsetto, "Oh, help, my sister is threatening me!" She looked down at her brother, lip curled in disgust. "If I wanted to kill you, you would be dead."
Roland was on his feet. "You think so?" he said. "When you cursed the name of our family--"
"You mewling idiot, so did you," Kade shouted, her sarcasm abruptly giving way to rage.
"You're lying; I never did. It was you who--"
"Silence, both of you," Ravenna said, but something in her tone told Thomas she had rather enjoyed the argument.
Brother and sister stared at each other a long moment. Kade's hands were at her sides, curling into fists, uncurling.
Damn it, he's too close to her, Thomas thought. The Albon knight nearest Roland had eased forward, ready to snatch him out of his sister's reach.
Then Roland turned away from her and threw himself down in his chair. Kade turned her back on him and walked stiffly to the other side of the room, her hands shaking.
Into the silence Ravenna said, "You haven't said what agreement you want to make, dear."
In a voice almost a whisper, Kade said, "You make me wish I never..." She stopped, shook her head. "Landlaw and courtlaw, stepmother. Landlaw favors the first-blooded child of the female line. That's Roland. But courtlaw favors the first-blooded child of the male ruler. That's me." Kade stopped to watch them a moment, their silence, their concentration.
She shrugged. "Roland's little ass is planted firmly on the throne. That gives him the advantage. And you base your power on landlaw, stepmother. You founded your regency on the rights it gave you. You keep your guard by its traditions." She met Thomas's eyes a moment. He returned her gaze imperturbably. She went on, "But there are still those who think I should have been the heir."
Without looking up from her embroidery, Ravenna said, "Do you want to be Queen, dear? When you were fifteen you said you didn't. You spat on the throne and said it was a foul thing and you wouldn't have it as a gift. And yes, there are still those who would put you on it, or at least long enough to secure the succession for a more manageable candidate."
Kade shrugged. "It's caused you no more trouble than it has me."
"Then what is your solution, dear?"
"I'll sign an agreement formally giving up my claim on the throne and any Fontainon family properties. Have your counselors draw it up." She gestured eloquently at the King. "And I'll even stop 'threatening' Roland."
Ravenna frowned. "And what do you want in return?"
Kade was deliberately silent until Ravenna looked up at her. "The freedom of my old home," the sorceress said softly.
"That's impossible," Roland said, his voice low and harsh.
"Oh, it's hardly that," Kade told him.
Ravenna still looked thoughtful. "And what has brought this change of heart about?"
"I have my own reasons." Kade smiled thinly. "You don't have anything I want enough to make me tell you what they are."
"But why, dear?"
"Because I want it."
Ravenna lifted her brows. "That isn't much of a reason."
Kade made her a half-bow. "It's always been enough for you."
Have to give her that one, Thomas thought. Good shot.
Ravenna's hands paused on the fabric and she stared at Kade. Her voice hardened. "You don't know enough to judge me, Katherine."
Kade tilted her head. "Don't I? You've always thought yourself fit to judge me. It's only fair."
"You are young, you know nothing, and life is not fair."
"I know enough, and life is what you make it."
There was a pause.
Ravenna said quietly, "If you are to stay here, there are proprieties that must be observed..."
"No conditions. I haven't made any." Kade smiled. "It's only fair."
The whole idea was so unlikely it took Thomas a few moments to realize that Ravenna was seriously considering it. In a low voice, he said to her, "It isn't worth it, my lady. It's too dangerous."
"Very likely," Kade agreed, idly twisting a lock of her pale hair.
Thomas knelt beside Ravenna's chair so he could see her face. "Don't do it."
Ravenna looked at him, then regarded Kade for a long moment. Her opaque blue eyes betrayed no emotion. She said, "I accept your proposition, dear."
"No," Roland said, his voice unsteady. "I forbid it."
Ravenna turned a basilisk gaze on her son. He trembled, whether from anger or fear it was difficult to tell, but said, "I won't have her here."
For a long moment the outcome was in doubt. Thomas realized he was holding his breath. The room was silent in suspense, as if they observed someone poised on the brink of a chasm. Even Denzil had lost his expression of detached amusement and watched the struggle in fascination.
Then Roland's nerve broke. He pounded his fist on the chair arm and shouted, "I don't want her here! Damn you, can't you listen to me?"
It was a retreat. A shadow crossed Denzil's face that might almost have been disappointment. Ravenna started to speak but Kade interrupted her. "Oh, come now, Roland." The sorceress smiled. "You have more to worry about than my presence here."
He looked at her uncertainly. "What do you mean?"
She said, "The palace wards are still in place. I felt them when I came in." She frowned thoughtfully and laid a hand flat on the marble veneer of the fireplace. She curled her fingers, drawing something out of the stone that was gray and wriggled.
It came out with a shower of stone chips, but without leaving a hole in the mantel. Kade held it between thumb and forefinger like a boy with a rat, a spidery, boneless thing that struggled frantically. It was hard for the eyes to fix on it. "This is a frid. It's harmless. It lives in stone and eats crumbs spilled on the floor. But it shouldn't be here."
She dropped it. It hit the hardwood floor with a splat, hopped once to reach the hearthstone, and disappeared beneath the pitted gray rock like a duck diving under water.
"I'd say the wards aren't proof against the fay anymore. You have a problem, stepmother." Kade bowed to the room in general and was out the door before anyone could react.
Roland leapt up and moved to stand over Ravenna's chair. "You have overreached yourself this time, mother," he said. The protest convinced no one. His face was red with thwarted anger, but he had lost his chance to defy her.
"Have I? What would you have done, Roland?" she asked, as if not terribly concerned with his answer.
"And if she didn't want to go with the guards? Power is relative, my lord." Ravenna let heat creep into her voice. "I thought I'd taught you that if nothing else. Tell me you understand."
She looked up at him, waiting, while Roland stared at her.
Lounging back in his chair, Denzil said, smiling, "Really, cousin, it's beneath your notice."
Roland looked back at him. After a moment he nodded. "Perhaps you're right." He turned back to Ravenna, lips twisted with contempt. "Do what you like, mother; it doesn't concern me."
Then Roland turned and stalked toward the door, his page scrambling to open it for him and his knights smoothly surrounding him.
Denzil stood and bowed to Ravenna with an ironic smile. "Congratulations, my lady. Very well played."
Ravenna looked up at him, her eyes opaque. "How old are you, Denzil?"
"I am twenty-six, my lady."
"And do you intend to be twenty-seven?"
Denzil's smile widened. "I depend upon it, my lady." He bowed again and followed Roland's departing retainers.
"What a good idea," Ravenna said to the room at large. "Why doesn't everyone go?"
When Ravenna phrased an order as a question it was a good indication that her temper had reached the boiling point. Falaise started to speak, reconsidered, and stood up to let Gideon conduct her out. Ravenna's guards and attendants all moved hurriedly to wait for her outside.
Thomas had started for the door when Ravenna said, "Stay here, Captain."
Unwillingly he stopped, his back to her, waiting until the others had filed out before turning around.
Ravenna had shoved her sewing aside and was resting her face in her hands. The flicker of light from the hearth played about the red highlights in her hair and the metallic threads in the embroidery of her gown. Without moving, she said, "Don't look at me like that."
He folded his arms. "I am not looking at you in any particular way."
"The hell you're not." She lifted her head and rubbed her temples. "If she had been my daughter I'd have married her off to the God-King of Parscia. Civil war would have been the least of his worries."
Thomas gave up pretense and let her see how angry he was. He leaned on one of the flimsy rosewood tables that looked so out of place next to the blood-splashed hunting scenes that dominated the room and said, "Civil war may be the least of your worries now that you've let her in here. Before this she was taking out her revenge in small pieces, which was a damn sight better than what she could've chosen to do. Now she wants something more."
Ravenna sat back and looked up at him. "She may well get it, whatever it is," she said seriously. "Did you see the way she dealt with me? And I think there was a moment when Roland actually forgot Denzil was in the room. She makes a fine enemy."
"She could be a deadly enemy. She's grown now and she doesn't want a child's revenge anymore," Thomas told her. Ravenna was single-minded and ruthless in a way that would have been devastating had it not been for the lack of any sadism. She had been born to be an absolute ruler as some men were born to paint or write music. She wanted to bring Kade back into the fold, to direct the sorceress's powers and talents to her own ends. He didn't think Ravenna would understand the bitterness of wounds that had never healed.
"A child's revenge," Ravenna said, looking into the fire. "I wish I had a child's revenge. Fulstan wore away at them, both of them. When I discovered all he had done... And I didn't realize it until he'd made my son a coward."
Fulstan's treatment of Roland and Kade had been at its worst when Kade was fourteen and Roland twelve, at the time when Ravenna was away on the borders during the last Bisran War. Thomas had been a lieutenant then, traveling with Ravenna and the rest of the Guard. There had been no one at the palace with the courage to inform the Queen that while she was managing supply lines and browbeating her generals into cooperation, Fulstan was destroying Ile-Rien's future through its heir. Thomas had long wondered if Fulstan hadn't known exactly what he was doing. If he wasn't striking back at Ravenna in the only way open to him. God knew she had been indifferent to anything else he'd ever done.
At this time it had also been an open secret that Thomas was Ravenna's lover. Most of his conversations with the late king had been limited to details of the execution Fulstan had planned for Thomas the day Ravenna died, or grew tired of him. He did have a gift for words. Perhaps he would have been happier as a poet than a king.
Ravenna was saying, "Had my children been bastards I think all of us would be the happier for it."
Thomas let his breath out, suddenly weary. "Very eloquent. Now what are you going to do about it?"
She stood up and flung her sewing to the floor. "Sixteen years ago when I approved your appointment into my guard, I knew I was making a mistake," she shouted.
"Probably," Thomas agreed. "And I suppose that bit of misdirection, while admirable, though not quite up to your usual standards, is the only answer I'm going to get."
She stared at him a moment, then shook her head, her expression turning wry. "If I had an answer, I wouldn't need misdirection." After a moment of thought, she asked, "Can we trust Galen Dubell?"
And that was that, even if he stood there and argued until he fell down dead of old age. Thomas rubbed the bridge of his nose. It wasn't the first time Ravenna had given him a headache. He said, "I think so."
"I don't think he knew she was coming here." Thomas shrugged. "But he's genuinely fond of the girl, and there are people who are going to mistake that for collusion. It would be against your best interests to be one of them."
"Yes, we need him. Braun and his little apprentices are no good for serious work like this. The sorcerers we sent for from the Granges and Lodun haven't even reached the city yet. That's suspicious in itself. I'll tell Renier to send more messengers." Ravenna paused, her back to him, her slender form silhouetted against the light of the fire. "I want you to watch her, Thomas."
"I gathered that," he said dryly. "I've already arranged for it."
There was a discreet tap on the door, and Ravenna irritably called, "Enter."
It was the steward who had made his escape from the solar earlier. He said nervously, "My lord High Minister Aviler is requesting an audience, my lady."
"Oh, he is? Well, I'm in the mood for him, as a matter of fact. Tell him he may enter, and don't think I didn't notice when you disappeared earlier, Saisan. Let's not make a habit of that, hmm?"
The steward bowed. "No, my lady."
As the servant withdrew, Thomas said, "Fond as I am of Aviler, I have some things to attend to."
"Thomas?" she said quietly.
"Yes?" He stopped halfway to the door.
"You're the only man I know who doesn't hate, dislike, or fear me, and it is a blessed relief simply to speak to you; did you know that?"
Because the High Minister was already coming through the door behind him, Thomas swept off his hat in his best formal court bow and said, "My lady, it is my very great pleasure."
On his way back to the Guard House, Thomas took the immense circular stairwell that led up from what had been the main hall of the Old Palace two centuries earlier and now linked the wing that held the Grand Gallery with the older defensive bastions. The gray age-old stone of the banisters and the central supporting column were carved into flowing ribbons and bands that ended in the heads of gryphons, lions, and unrecognizable animals from the artisan's imagination. The lamplit twilight of the stairwell was cool, and echoed faintly with the humming activity of the rest of the palace.
Thomas wondered what Kade Carrion the fay sorceress was doing now.
The first time Kade had used her power against the court had been on a Saints' Day ten years ago. It was held on Midsummer Eve because combining the Church's holy days with the Old Faith's festivals made it easier for the priests to get a respectable turnout for the services, especially in the country where most of the population still considered themselves pagan. Outside, the city streets had been packed with costumed entertainers, traveling merchants, and celebrating crowds, while in the High Cathedral the bishop was saying the Saints' Day Mass before the royal court. At the culmination of the service, pandemonium had erupted. Objects levitated and smashed into walls. Candlelamps, altar vessels, and stained glass windows shattered. It had been a display of raw uncontrolled sorcerous power.
Dr. Surete had been Court Sorcerer then, and he had immediately sensed the cause of the disturbance. It was Kade.
Galen Dubell, who had been at court working with Surete, admitted that for most of the past two years he had been secretly teaching Kade the rudiments of sorcery. This in itself was not much of a crime. But Kade was the illegitimate daughter of the king. She was older than Roland and courtlaw gave her a claim on the throne. She was also half fay, and elements at court and in the Ministry had been advising Ravenna that Kade was dangerous almost since the girl's birth. The next day Ravenna had banished Dubell to Lodun and sent Kade out of the city to the Monelite Convent, perhaps knowing she would not long remain there. Many had wondered at the time why Ravenna had shown the daughter of her husband's mistress that much mercy, when no one in Ile-Rien except the disgraced Galen Dubell would have objected to Kade's execution. But they knew that Ravenna did everything for her own reasons, and asking for an explanation when none was offered was useless.
In the solar, Ravenna had unintentionally said "my children" and Thomas didn't think she was including the two stillborn girls buried in the High Cathedral's crypt. Ravenna had wanted Kade to be the canny beautiful daughter she had never had, and in some ways she still wanted that. But that was exactly what that brave, daft, strange-eyed sorceress would never be.
There was a clatter as Martin appeared on the landing above and called, "Captain?"
"What is it?" Martin had been sent with the other Queen's guards to see that the palace was secure after the Arlequin's disturbance. Thomas suspected the expression of relief on the young man's face indicated that he was about to pass a thorny problem on to someone else.
"Trouble, Sir," Martin said as Thomas reached him. The young guard led the way off the landing to a short pillared hall. "We just found him. It's Dr. Braun."
On one side of the hall an oaken door stood open. Thomas followed Martin into a small room furnished as a salon which had been used as a waiting room for foreign ambassadors when the Old Hall had been an audience chamber.
Braun lay crumpled on an eastern carpet whose rich color was distorted by his blood. He lay as if he had been sitting on the stool at the high writing desk when he had slumped to the side and fallen to the floor.
Two more Queen's guards waited there, Castero and Baserat. Both were looking at the corpse as if trying to decide what to do with it. Thomas went past them and knelt beside the body. The carpet was soaked with blood and squished unpleasantly underfoot. Carefully he lifted the young sorcerer's head and saw that his throat had been cut. The edges of the wound were straight, not ragged. It had been done smoothly, with a very sharp knife. The body was cold and beginning to stiffen. "Who found him?" he asked.
"I did," Martin said. "We came past this room earlier on the first quick search and missed him. You can't see the body from the door since the secretaire is in the way. When we were working our way back just now doing it thoroughly I walked all the way in and saw him."
"He's cold, so he must have been here before that, Sir," Baserat added.
"Yes, and he must have been killed here," Thomas agreed. The carpet was evidence enough of that. Braun had been leaving from the gallery, going back to the King's Bastion, and must have stepped into the little room to speak to someone. Someone who had come up behind him at some point during the course of the conversation and skillfully slit his throat.
"What is this?"
Thomas looked up to see High Minister Aviler standing in the doorway, watching them suspiciously. It wasn't surprising that the High Minister's audience with Ravenna had been a short one; in her current mood it would have been succinct, to say the least. Thomas answered, "At first glance it appears to be a dead man."
"I realize that." Aviler stepped into the room, his long state robes brushing the floor, keeping a wary eye on the other guards. As he well might, Thomas thought, if this were really the murder in progress the man obviously half hoped it was. Martin and the others, who were probably still uncertain whether they had neglected their duty and didn't appreciate Aviler's presence as a witness to it, were no doubt helping this impression by their obvious attitudes of belligerence and guilt.
The High Minister came to the edge of the blood-soaked carpet and stopped, frowning, as it became apparent the death was some hours old. "Braun," he said in surprise, recognizing the young sorcerer. "Who did it?"
"That's a good question." Why? is another good question, Thomas thought, though he could guess at least part of the answer. Poor bastard. He said it wasn't important...
THE AIR SMELLED like rain. Kade sat on the ledge of the fourth story of the North Bastion, leaning on a stone porpoise and watching the sky. The clouds were gray and heavy, though sunlight broke through in occasional patches. Across the maze of paved courts and formal gardens below were the high walls and steeply pitched roof of the Gallery Wing, more modern and airy in its design than the blocky bastion at her back. It was a cool day, and a damp breeze tore at her hair.
She could feel the wards. They stretched from the bottom of the outer walls to a point high above the palace, forming an invisible, constantly shifting dome. Years ago Galen Dubell had shown her how to use gascoign powder made from hart's horn and crab's eyes to see the corona of light that marked their presence, and to use ash or flakes of charcoal to track their movements. Bad weather tended to push them closer to the earth; perhaps that was why they seemed to be intruding into her thoughts today.
The frid must have slipped in through one of the naturally occurring gaps between the individual wards. If it had blundered directly into one, the harmless powerless creature would have been eaten in an instant. If the motion of the wards was slowing, then the frid--and the golem for that matter--might simply have been lucky enough to slip through. The new sorcerer Braun might have been as incompetent at tending the wards since Dr. Surete's death as he had been at defending himself from whoever killed him. Galen Dubell had only been back a day: not much time to make up lost ground with as complex an etheric structure as the wards.
However it had gotten in, Kade was fairly sure the golem had been sent for her. She had enemies enough among the courts of Fayre, without even considering those among the mortal sorcerers. There were many fay who wanted Moire's strongholds, especially Knockma, and Kade was determined not to give them up.
Someone moving through the garden below reminded her that she was being followed, but the passerby did not glance up. Kade had dodged the men who were watching her, though they probably knew she was somewhere in this bastion. It didn't matter; all she needed was a few moments' privacy.
Seeing Roland and Ravenna again had stirred a whole nest of unpleasant memories. He stood there and said I cursed the name of our father, as if nothing had ever happened. As if I hadn't held him while he prayed to the Church's God for our father to die, she thought. Roland was only two years younger than she; he couldn't fail to remember.
Fulstan had always been a frightening presence in their lives, but during Ravenna's long absences from court in the last years of the Bisran War, he had been at his worst. Kade's memories of those times were particularly vivid. The day Fulstan had beaten to death one of Roland's servants, a boy no older than the ten-year-old Prince. Gods, how can Roland forget that. Those little bones breaking... In sheer terror Roland had sent away his other young servants, and even his pages, sons of high nobility meant to grow up with him and become his companions and advisors. Fulstan had permitted this, because it had left Roland alone.
Except for me, Kade thought. Looking back, she could see that they should have spoken to someone, that Roland could have sent a letter to Ravenna... As the daughter of the king's supernatural and despised leman, Kade had had fewer options, but neither she nor Roland had been able to believe that a world existed where help was available.
Landlaw expected even a sovereign to be responsible for his behavior, even if courtlaw did not, but Fulstan had been careful. He had made the Cisternans his personal guard instead of the Albon Order, thereby ridding himself of the interfering presence of an Albon Preceptor. He had never done anything to Roland that would leave an outward sign. He had surrounded himself with sycophants and cronies, and he had been a terror to the palace women.
For a long time he had been wary of Kade, perhaps half hoping, half fearing that her mother Moire would return to claim her. He had treated his daughter with contempt, reviled her, held her up to the court as an object of ridicule, but he had never touched her. Until that day of her fifteenth summer, when he had pinned her in a corner of her room and told her that as she grew older her looks were almost passable...
The next day had been Midsummer Eve and the Saints' Day episode in the cathedral. She had been banished to the convent, and six months later Fulstan was dead.
Kade cursed softly to herself, coming back out of the past to the cloudy day and the breeze lifting her hair. It's no good to think about it; it's over. If Roland hates you for leaving him, that's his decision. You were a prisoner escaping a cell, and you took the first chance you had. At least that was what Galen Dubell had told her, two years ago at Lodun.
From the open window a few paces along the ledge to her left came the sound of a door squeaking open, then a moment later the muted thump of something heavy being shifted. That's Galen, Kade thought, easing herself up the wall to stand on the ledge. The servants never moved anything.
She stepped around the elaborately figured window casement and onto the wooden sill. Galen Dubell was in a corner of his room, piling stacks of books atop a stout wooden chest. He finished and straightened his back with a sigh, turned, and saw her. "Kade."
His expression was disturbingly neutral. She wondered at his lack of reaction. Even though she had never fallen off anything high enough to hurt herself, he hated to see her walk on ledges. She said, "I wrote and told you that I was coming back. Didn't you get the letter?"
"No, I never received it," he said slowly. "I would have tried to dissuade you."
"You told me I should face my anger and that would help me get rid of it. I take it this wasn't exactly what you meant." Kade spoke with a sinking heart. And she had thought her decision to return to the palace to confront her past was sensible and wise.
"Perhaps I didn't know what I meant." He almost smiled. "Perhaps I've become too used to dealing with old men who would rather talk than act. But if this is the way you must do it, then I wish you luck."
"But you don't want me to involve you," she said, and thought, How calmly that came out. The wooden window frame was rough against her hand and she realized she was gripping it very tightly.
He held her gaze gravely. "That might be for the best."
It was not what she had wanted to hear. She had wanted him to look exasperated and say, That wasn't what I meant at all, you little fool; now stop feeling sorry for yourself and come down out of that window.
"Something is going to happen here, Kade," he was saying. "I don't know what it is yet, but I have to be free to deal with it."
And not be banished again because of me. She said, "I know. It's someone called Grandier."
He frowned. "What do you know about him?"
"He tried to kill you." Kade shrugged.
She shook her head, trying to put the anger away. "The lesser fay won't even speak his name. They're more afraid of him than they are of me. The ones from the higher courts say they've never heard of him, but it's pretense. They wouldn't tell me the truth anyway."
"He's in the city, perhaps closer than anyone realizes. Dr. Braun was killed last night. I'm certain Grandier had something to do with it, and that means he must have someone inside the wall already." Galen let out his breath, his face weary. "I could use your help, but I dare not take it. Do you understand?"
"Yes, well, I suppose I do." She managed not to say it with too poor grace.
He watched her carefully. "And you must give me your word that you won't harm anyone here, no matter what provocation."
Kade couldn't look at him anymore. Her voice was more bitter than she intended. "You know I can't promise that." She slipped out of the window and began to make her way down the ledge to an unused balcony. Behind her, he called with a trace of his old exasperation, "Be careful, damn it."
The guards spotted her again when she had reached the ground floor and was coming out of the entrance into the Rose Court. Kade picked up her skirt and bolted down one of the stone-paved paths between the rosebushes. As she reached the wall of the court, she heard heavy bodies crashing into the thorny and not-so-delicate hedges. The wall was rough and pitted and she scaled it easily.
Reaching the top, she crouched amid the tangled vines and took a quick glance around. As she had seen from above, the area between the bastion and the high walls of the Gallery Wing was a honeycomb of intersecting gardens and courts, some old and familiar and others that were recent additions. She ran lightly along the wall, jumped to a narrower intersecting wall, and ran along its length. She heard a yelp and a crash as the vines on the first wall gave way on someone. As she spun around to look, her lace underskirt caught on a lionhead spout on the wall's rain gutter, throwing her off balance and forcing her to jump down.
She landed heavily in a pile of raked leaves. She was in a long and irregularly shaped garden, with a clipped lawn and overflowing flower borders, most of it rambling out of sight behind the wall and sheltering hedges.
Kade got to her feet and strolled toward the mossy fountain just around the curve of the wall, prepared to be mildly amused when they caught up with her.
In the fountain, water spouted from pitchers in the hands of stone nymphs. Kade wriggled her toes in the cool grass. The garden widened out from this point on, becoming larger and more grand than she had first supposed. In the wide area of lawn were yew bushes shaped into a scaled-down battlement with towers half-circling a large round mosaic of a massive sundial. Distracted, it was moments before her eyes focused on the man and the woman seated on a bench beneath a honeysuckle arbor only a few yards from her; the play of the fountain had covered their voices. It was Queen Falaise and Denzil.
Falaise saw Kade at almost the same moment. She stood, jerking her hand free of Denzil's grasp, and hurried toward her. Kade, who was more used to catching people unawares than being caught, stood there and stared.
The Queen stopped a few feet from her, said uncertainly, "My lady Katherine...ah, Kade?" She wore a dress of rose and pearl and was clutching a small book in a white-knuckled grasp. like most aristocratic women would have been, she was out of breath from the exertion of walking quickly across the garden. Falaise hadn't been crying, but there was something stricken in her blue eyes that amounted to the same thing.
Kade felt herself looking stupid. She said, "Yes?" hoping to provoke an explanation.
A little desperately, Falaise said, "We had an appointment."
Kade realized that the Queen was not seeing her as a sorceress or as her husband's mad sister, but only as another woman. "An appointment," she repeated helpfully, nodding.
Denzil reached them and caught Falaise's arm again. The Queen flinched and dropped her book, which barely missed the fountain. Kade stooped immediately to rescue it from the damp ground.
Denzil said, "Another appointment, my lady?" His smile was confident and amused. A brief glow of sunlight breaking through the cloudy sky touched his blond hair, the powder blue of has doublet, the gems ornamenting his sword. He and Falaise made a beautiful couple.
Falaise hesitated. "Yes, I..."
"I was late," Kade said, brushing dirt off the little book's sheepskin binding.
"Yes, she was," Falaise agreed instantly. She stepped away from Denzil, the movement stiff and awkward.
He chuckled and bowed slightly to make the point that he was allowing her to escape. "Then I'll leave you to your appointment."
His arrogance was too obvious for Kade to leave well enough alone. "Do that," she said.
Amused and ironic, he met her eyes and bowed. "My lady."
They watched him cross the garden toward the gate behind the hedges. Kade didn't know Denzil very well. He had been presented to court shortly before she had left. He had attached himself to Roland shortly thereafter.
There was nothing she hated more than people who didn't take her seriously.
Falaise sat down on the edge of the fountain, heedless of what the moss would do to her silk damask skirts.
This near to the Queen, Kade was suddenly conscious that the climb on the bastion's ledge and her fall into the leaves hadn't done her dress any good. But her grubbiness was bound to aggravate Ravenna, and she resolved to let her clothing degenerate as far as modesty allowed. "Where are your guards?" she asked Falaise.
Falaise shook her head slightly. "This is my private garden. When I give audiences here they wait beside the gate. I bribed my ladies to go down to the grotto."
"Why didn't you call them back?"
"That wouldn't do any good." Her face was bleak.
Falaise had the calm of someone who has been miserable for a long time and expects to go on being miserable. Kade shifted uneasily. "It's difficult for someone to make advances when there are a lot of men standing around looking at him as if they want to kill him. They're Queen's guards; even Roland can't order them away when they're protecting you."
Falaise looked away wearily, the wind playing with her curls and ribbons. "It isn't that sort of advances."
"It doesn't matter what sort of advances. It always worked for Ravenna's ladies when..." When my father... "when they needed it," she finished, but Falaise didn't notice the lapse.
"He wouldn't let me call them."
Kade snorted. "Do it anyway."
"It's easy for you to say." Falaise gestured helplessly, the puffed sleeves of her gown almost hiding the movement.
Kade watched her a moment, then sat on the fountain rim beside her. "Not always."
But Falaise opened the book on her lap and turned the pages distractedly. By craning her neck Kade could see it was written instead of printed, and by a hand not as fine as a professional clerk's. Poetry, she guessed, and it would hardly be from Roland. Falaise slammed the book closed and said abruptly, "What do I call you, Katherine or Kade?"
"Kade. Did you ever turn yourself into a bird?" Her expression was wistful.
Kade lifted her brows. "I thought about it, but I decided I wanted to live." It came to her that Falaise wasn't really much of a coward. Denzil must have browbeaten her thoroughly. Possibly most men in authority over her had browbeaten her thoroughly. "Human sorcerers can't shape-change, not if they ever want to turn back into themselves. Most fay can, but I never had to badly enough to make the experiment. "
"That's a shame." Falaise fingered the book again. "It would be wonderful to just turn into something and fly away."
They sat in the quiet a moment, with not even birds to interrupt the fountain's bubbling. Then Kade remembered something and asked her, "What did you mean when you said Denzil wasn't making that sort of--"
A man came running around one of the yew hedges toward them. He threw himself at Falaise s feet so enthusiastically Kade had to scramble out of the way to avoid being tumbled into the fountain.
More graceful than the sorceress, Falaise kept her balance and said in exasperation, "Aristofan, please--"
The young man kneeling at her feet was handsome with russet hair and eager brown eyes. He was dressed for court in blue and gray and had lost his feathered hat in his run across the lawn. "It was him, wasn't it? That was why you didn't want me to come to you today. You must tell me what he wants from you."
Kade looked down at herself to make sure she hadn't inadvertently faded from sight.
"No, I can't, I told you." Falaise spoke firmly, but then she stroked his hair. "Really, it's all right."
"Don't mind me," Kade said. "I'll just stand over here, shall I?"
Aristofan clasped the Queen's hand ardently. "Don't you trust me? I'd do anything for you."
Falaise smiled fondly. "Sometimes I almost think you would."
One of the men following Kade appeared at the top of the wall, spotted her, and waved back to his companions. "Well," Kade said, "I have to leave before they decide I'm holding you prisoner and roll in a couple of cannon."
"Please." Falaise looked up at her. "You won't say anything?"
"I don't know anything." Kade started away, then stopped and looked back at the other woman. "If you're going to tell someone, tell Ravenna."
Falaise looked down at Aristofan's head, her expression drawn and troubled.
To avoid Falaise's guards, Kade left the garden by going over the wall behind the battlement hedge. She was still not quite ready to be followed again, and she rejoined the path that led away from the Queen's garden only when she was out of sight of the garden gates. The path wandered past walled herb gardens then abruptly opened out to the paved area below the terraces of the Gallery Wing. The smooth stone of the Gallery Wing's walls was butter colored and would glow like gold in the full sunlight. She climbed the steps and walked along the terrace, looked at the view of the rolling lawn, the trees, and the artificial temple ruins, and wondered about Galen Dubell.
I'm not going to sit like a lump while he fights this Bisran bastard Grandier single-handed. Does he honestly expect me to do that? No, he couldn't, she decided. It was incredible. If she were going to behave in that ridiculous fashion to one of the few friends she had, then she might as well have stayed in the convent and saved years of trouble. Galen isn't an idiot. Grandier trapped him once; he might do it again. He knows he needs help; he just can't ask for it.
She stopped, drew a toe meditatively over a pattern in the paving stone. She was tired of being followed.
Kade closed her eyes and pulled glamour out of the damp air and the dew on the grass, wove it with the afternoon sunlight filtered through the clouds, and drew it over herself like a concealing blanket. If anyone saw her she would appear as another courtier, a servant, whatever they expected to see.
She would help Dubell, and she had an inkling of how to go about it.
"Well, that's been a waste of time," Thomas told Lucas.
They had just finished questioning the last of Dr. Braun's apprentices and servants and had elicited nothing but a tearful confession from the sixty-year-old chamberlain about a few pennies' worth of misappropriated household funds.
During the questioning, Lucas had been entertaining himself by flipping a small boot dagger from hand to hand, and now he sent it into the table with a thud. "So, who killed the poor bastard? The chamberlain?"
The room was damp and too warm, despite the open window. Thomas stood up from the table piled with papers and moved restlessly to the room's little balcony, unbuttoning the top of his doublet. From here he could look down onto the hall where servants wandered, off-duty guards gathered, and the main life of the Queen's Guard House was concentrated. He leaned against the rough pillar in the corner of the balcony and said, "He's too short. Braun was sitting at a clerk's writing desk and the stool was a foot or so taller than an ordinary chair. Whoever cut the good doctor's throat was at least my height. The way that old man's back is bent he'd never have been able to reach him."
On the stone-paved floor of the hall below, some of the men had discarded their doublets to practice swordplay on wooden targets and one another. Constant work was required to keep in top form for the real duels, which usually lasted no more than a few moments, depending on the relative skill of the opponents, and often ended with a death or a crippling. All used their regular dueling swords rather than the blunt-tipped weapons often employed for practice, and it was only due to the skill of the combatants that so little blood was being shed. There were not as many men off-duty as usual; all the guardposts and duty shifts had been doubled since last night.
All this morning Thomas had noted a tension on the wind that hadn't been there yesterday. Everyone knew the danger of dark and deserted places, but the palace had always been safe ground from any but human opponents. Two Cisternan guards had been sent back to their families in boxes today, the first casualties in a new and uncertain war. The rest of the court had also finally bothered to notice the danger, and today there were complaints, mild hysteria, and loud questions about why someone wasn't doing something.
"If you're going to be clever about it, we won't be able to arrest anyone," Lucas pointed out.
The pillar Thomas leaned against still bore the nine-year-old bullet hole that had signaled the end of his predecessor's career. He picked at the splintered area thoughtfully and said, "We're looking for a throat-slitter who takes an unprepared man from behind but who still scruples at robbery." Braun had been wearing a respectable amount of court jewelry, including a diamond-studded presentation medal from Lodun and several gemstones given to him by past wealthy patrons. All had been left on the body. "That eliminates most of the servants but certainly throws suspicion on every member of the nobility in the palace. And Grandier."
Lucas tipped his chair back against the yellowed plaster wall. "Always Grandier. What did Braun have that Grandier would want to kill him for?"
"Information." And thinking of information, Thomas wished the clerks would hurry with the translation of the documents chronicling Grandier's trial in Bisra. They knew so little about the man, and he wanted to take advantage of every resource, no matter how sparse it might be.
Lucas nodded. "You think Braun saw something someone preferred he didn't..."
"Or remembered something. He tried to talk to me last night but we were interrupted by Denzil."
"Coincidence?" Lucas lifted his brows in speculation.
Thomas glanced back at him. "Which coincidence? Braun wanting to tell me something or Denzil interrupting at the opportune moment?"
"We're not going to get anywhere if you keep inventing new questions." Lucas glanced briefly toward the window, which opened onto the narrow alley between the house and the stone wall of the old armory. "Half the palace is saying that it was the sorceress."
"Not a bad suggestion, except she was already in the gallery performing bad Commedia in front of everyone who matters in the city when I saw Braun alive. The body was long cold by the time she left." Thomas shook his head. She was also too short. "Today she lost her guards in the Queen's garden. One of them reported it an hour ago."
"What was she doing there?"
"Talking to the Queen, apparently."
"Odd." Lucas frowned, looking puzzled at the idea that anyone might want to talk to Falaise. Possibly because they were all so used to discounting her influence, it was hard to remember that she had any power in her own right at all. "What's going to come of that, do you think?"
"Not much." Thomas smiled. "They can't banish Falaise."
Lucas was silent a moment, watching Thomas. "Your great friend High Minister Aviler is implying it was a Queen's guard."
Thomas's lips twisted in annoyance. "What a helpful suggestion. How in hell did he come up with it?"
Lucas shrugged uneasily. "The usual way. There was some loud muttering about Braun, some of the men blaming him for his incompetence when you were trying to get Galen Dubell out of Grandier's house. Braun was never half the help old Dr. Surete was."
"So one of them takes it on himself to remove the irritant? It's unlikely." But Gideon had said something about Braun last night. And Lucas clearly believed it was a possibility, though he wouldn't say it outright.
Thomas was struck by an unpleasant image. Braun, unable to find Thomas in the crowded gallery, stopping a faceless Queen's guard on a deserted stair. Asking him to take a message to his captain, stepping into a quiet parlor to use the writing desk... But Thomas had always seen Braun as a pitiable figure, and the young sorcerer had been coldly eliminated in a way that didn't agree with the theory of a guard murdering him in sudden anger. Then again, Braun was a sorcerer and would surely have had some means of defending himself; he would almost have to be taken from behind...
The door creaked as a servant opened it to usher in Ephraim, the ragged ballad-seller and professional spy.
"Good news?" Thomas asked as the old man grinned and bowed to both of them.
Ephraim pulled off his cloth cap and began to knead it conversationally. "In a manner of speaking, Sir. It's quite a tale. The Gambin lad's dead, you see."
If he had his throat slit around the same time as Braun did, I'm going to retire, Thomas thought, and kept the surprise off his face. "What happened?"
"From the beginning it was that a couple of my own boys followed Gambin to see if he would lead us to the fellow who hired him, and he led them a merry way, Sir, but he ended up back at the palace quarter and entered Lord Lestrac's house." Ephraim hesitated. Not from trepidation, but more as if he were still trying to sort things out in his own mind. "After a bit he came out, and the boys followed Gambin on a wandering way back to his home ground, and waited outside his house, as they hadn't any instructions to do otherwise. Before dawn this morning a young woman arrives, and she goes in and starts to scream. The boys figured they should go in and see what the matter was, and as Gambin didn't know either of them they could say they were passersby. Well, they didn't have to say much at all, because Gambin was dead, you see, without a mark on him.
"When I got there I sent for a lady who lives down in the Philosopher's Cross and knows a bit about these things, and in her opinion it had the look of a wicked sending about it, though I never heard of Gambin to trouble with sorcerers before. She said it was most likely in something he was given, some token, that was enspelled to murder the lad whenever the master was finished and didn't want the likes of anyone asking questions. It cost extra for her to search for the token, and I thought you'd want your own people to do that, so I locked up the house and came on here."
"You've done your best," Thomas told him, preoccupied. This was another piece in the puzzle. And it was a damn good thing he had set Ephraim on this job; without him, it might have been days before news of Gambin's death reached Thomas, and the evidence of sorcery in the killing might have been gone by then. "Tell them to get you a drink, and the Paymaster has your fee."
Ephraim's bow was unpolished but sincere. "Oh, that's very good of you, Captain."
When the spy had left, Lucas grimaced. "Well, well. Lord Lestrac is our nameless letter-forger, and Gambin is silenced the same way you think Dr. Surete and Milam were. Another connection to Grandier?"
"Maybe." The attempt with the letters was the sort of unsubtle ineffective trick Denzil's friends were famous for in their attempts to please him, and of which the Duke unconcernedly let them suffer the consequences. "It almost seems as if there are two different men, or factions, at work. Grandier with his sorcery, and then someone else plaguing us with little distractions. Gambin was hired by the second man, and when he was compromised, Grandier killed him."
"If they're working together. They might not be." Lucas worked his dagger out of the table, frowning at it. "There's no way to tell."
Thomas bit his lip thoughtfully, considering his options. He said, "I want you to send men to search Gambin's house and pick up the body; I'll want an opinion on it from Dubell."
"How lovely for him," Lucas said dryly, getting to his feet. "You know, if I'm not mistaken, Lestrac is also a friend of Denzil's. I think the good Duke of Alsene maintains that house for him."
"He does. And it was searched by the King's Watch about two days ago. They didn't discover anything." Lestrac's house was one of a group of manses for royal dependents that were built up against the outside of the palace's west wall. Lestrac was a landless dissipated young nobleman, useful occasionally as a tool for Denzil but not much else. He had never been implicated in one of Denzil's plots deeply enough to send him to the traitors' graves outside the city, but he assisted Roland's cousin in the spreading of rumors and lies. Thinking it over, Thomas shook his head. "Even if we did connect a friend of Denzil's to Grandier, it won't prove anything to Roland. To convince him we'd have to catch Denzil standing over the royal bed with a drawn sword, and even then I'm not sure he'd believe it."
"Lestrac was supposed to have dabbled in black magic in his wilder days, and bargained with demons, like Grandier. The letters might have been his own idea, and he could have killed Gambin himself," Lucas pointed out.
Thomas wasn't convinced. "I heard he dabbled, but I never heard he dabbled all that successfully. Finding the token should settle it. Have them be especially careful of anything valuable on Gambin's body. If I were Grandier, I would have put the spell on the payment that was given him." He paused. "I'll see Lestrac myself."
Lucas frowned. "Will you take Dubell with you?"
Thomas shook his head. "He's still a target for Grandier and I'm not sure I want to risk him. He may be the only protection the palace has."
Lucas eyed him, not happily. "So you go to Lestrac's house where Grandier is hiding and he kills you because Galen Dubell is safe back here. Does that make sense?"
Thomas had to concede the point. "It's not a perfect plan, I'll admit. I'll take one of Braun's apprentices. They aren't completely useless."
"Or take me."
Kade Carrion was sitting in the window, perfectly composed, the ragged hem of her dress tucked under her feet. How she had gotten there without either one of them hearing her was incredible; from her attitude she might have been there for the past hour.
"What are you doing here?" Lucas asked, so startled he dropped a hand to his sword.
Her look said she suspected his sanity. "Listening. Next you'll ask me how much I heard, to which I'll very likely reply 'enough.' Can't we dispense with all that?"
Lucas looked at his captain and raised an eyebrow inquiringly. Thomas shook his head minutely, and asked Kade, "Take you where?"
She made an impatient gesture. "To what's-his-name's house where you think Grandier is."
Thomas leaned back against the pillar and folded his arms. "Why do you want to go?"
She rolled her eyes in exasperation. "I'm offering to help."
"And in such a touching and spontaneous way. If I refuse your help?"
She appeared to seriously consider the question. "I might follow anyway. I'm good at that. Or not. I might do a lot of things; the day is young."
This was ominous. "And I'm expected to trust you?"
Apparently outraged, she sat up straight against the window casement and said, "I gave my word."
"No, you did not." Thomas was fairly certain he would have recalled that.
He saw her hesitate, then she gave in and grinned. She said, "So I didn't. Come on, you know you want me to go. I'm lucky."
"Lucky for whom?" Lucas muttered.
"This isn't a game," Thomas said, wary. She had her own brand of charm, that was certain. And Thomas realized that even against his will he was tempted by that charm. Because she's different, or because she's dangerous? he asked himself, irritated. Stop being ridiculous and concentrate. "You've said you want to help, but you haven't told me why. And you haven't been terribly helpful in the past."
"The past is the past." Kade tilted her head to one side, watching him with those very direct eyes. "Grandier would have killed Galen Dubell, who is my oldest friend." She finished lightly, "I can't have that, can I?"
Trusting her was a decided risk, but if Grandier was in that house, or had been there and left more traps, Kade would be their best hope. And so far Thomas had come across nothing to suggest that she was the Bisran sorcerer's ally. And this is certainly one way to find her out if she is. He said, "Very well."
THE HOUSES THAT clustered against the palace's west wall presented blank stone façades to the public, most of their life and wealth turned inward. The clouds had closed up overhead and a light rain had started, settling the dust and washing away the habitual stench of the street, preparing to turn it into a river of mud. Street vendors who sold ribbons, trinkets, foodstuffs, and amulets to protect against night-dwelling fay were gathered in damp clumps around the pillars of the promenade that faced the line of houses. Coaches splashed by, trying to reach their destinations before the storm started in earnest; few of the wealthier residents were abroad at this hour, and most had retreated into the rich shops further under the sheltering roof of the promenade. The street was mostly unobserved, for which Thomas was glad. He hated an audience for this sort of work.
Lestrac's house was four stories topped by a steeply pitched red tile roof, set between the towering residence of a ship owner and the winter home of a minor noble.
Rain dripping off his hat, Thomas stepped back to look up at the barred windows while Castero banged on the door. Another Queen's guard tried the double carriage doors while the others spread out in front of the house and attempted to look innocuous. There was no back alley and no other exit. He had brought twenty men, which was overkill if this was Lestrac's own plot. If Grandier himself was in there despite the earlier search by the King's Watch, the entire troop might not be enough.
There was no answer at the door. Thomas started to tell Castero to break it in when he glanced down and found Kade Carrion at his elbow. The water that was beading on his dark cloak was dripping from her hair and her dingy red dress. She had appeared so suddenly it was possible that she had simply risen out of the mud. She had been investigating the street on her own, wandering about in a random fashion and poking around doorways. "There's someone in there," she said positively.
Thomas eyed her. "Is it warded?"
She stared at the door, brows drawn down in concentration. "No. It should be."
"Open it," Thomas told Castero.
The guard drew his pistol and used the heavy butt to pound the lock. The wood around it cracked and Castero used his shoulder. As he struck the door it swung backward and came off its hinges.
Kade slipped past Thomas almost before the door gave way. As she ducked inside Castero jumped back and muttered, "Pardon me."
If it's a trap, she's determined to spring it first. Thomas signaled Baserat and another two guards to stand watch outside and followed her, drawing his rapier.
Inside was a high-ceilinged area with a stone staircase curving up the wall to the second-floor entrance. The floor was stone paved, and a black coach with polished brass fittings stood in front of the carriage doors. Light came in through high narrow windows in the outside wall. There was stabling beneath the stairs, and Thomas nodded for one of his men to investigate it.
Kade was halfway up the steps. Thomas called to her, "Give us a moment, please." She threw her arms up in exasperation, but stopped, tapping her foot impatiently.
The guard flushed a couple of frightened grooms out of the stalls where they had been attempting to hide. From the number of horses stabled there, Lestrac was indeed home and entertaining.
Thomas put two more men to watch the servants and to keep any fugitives from escaping behind them, then headed toward the stairs, the others following him. Kade was off again as soon as he started up. Behind him, Castero whispered, "Captain, should we let her go first? I mean, she is a woman."
"Presumably she knows that," Thomas told him.
At the top of the steps, just before the wooden doors, Kade stopped them with an outflung arm. After a moment of intense study of the dirty stone of the landing, she tore a scrap of cloth from her skirt hem, licked it, and stooped to rub it over some invisible spot on the flagstones. Something came away bright blue, and Kade flicked the cloth over the edge of the landing.
"A ward, but it wasn't working anymore. It was old," she admitted, and stepped up to push the door open.
It was the first room of a suite of salons, the dying embers in the hearth revealing landscape paintings, papered walls, heavy oak cabinets, and brocaded chairs. Sprawled around on the fine furnishings and all drunk into unconsciousness were three young men Thomas recognized as sprigs of nobility and two women whose elaborate and revealing costumes proclaimed them upper-class bawds. A bottle had broken on the floor and wine had seeped into the carpet. From the smell, they had been lacing the stuff with syrup of poppies. Some of the candles were still lit, their holders half-buried under bizarre shapes of dripped wax.
"We've interrupted a party," Thomas told Castero, who grinned, and tipped one of the unconscious young men off a couch.
"A dull one," Kade said, looking around with a puzzled expression.
Thomas considered her a moment, suddenly recalling that she was a member of the royal family and had spent some of her youth in a convent, then decided to let it go. If he had known Lestrac was going to be hosting an orgy, he would have reconsidered allowing Kade to accompany them into the upstairs rooms, but he was damned if he was going to say anything about it now.
"A livelier brood in here, Captain," one of the guards called from ahead, and Thomas followed him into the next room.
There were five of them in a central parlor, and they had leapt up from a card table, overturning their chairs, fumbling clumsily for swords. They were all drunk, though not quite to the advanced stage of their companions in the other room. "What is this?" one of them demanded muzzily. Thomas thought he might be the second son of the Count of Belennier, though he wasn't certain. He ignored the question and nodded to the guard who was covering them with a pistol, who immediately said, "Drop your swords, gentlemen."
While they disarmed, Thomas quietly told Castero, "Leave a few men down here to watch this lot, and take the others on ahead to search the rest of the house. Lestrac is the one I want."
"What about me?" Kade whispered, standing at his elbow again.
"You go with him," Thomas snapped.
"You're here to spring sorcerous traps, not to stand about and be entertained by me."
"Oh. My mistake." She didn't sound particularly chastened, but she followed Castero and the others.
Turning back to the group held at bay, Thomas suddenly recognized what he had thought at first to be a completely unfamiliar face. It was the dark-haired stranger he had seen with Denzil at the disastrous court last night. There was nothing unusual about him; he had the same pale bedraggled look as the others, the early lines on his face that came from too much drinking. But there was something about his eyes... Guarding a queen of stubborn and definite opinions in the crowded courts had made Thomas preternaturally sensitive, and people who were hiding something usually betrayed it in some way, either in look or gesture or simply by the way they stood. This man was hiding something.
The object under scrutiny seemed to realize he was being watched, and swayed a little against the table. Thomas smiled to himself. He's also not as drunk as he's pretending. "Where's Lestrac?" Thomas asked the group in general.
"He's about somewhere," answered the second son of the Count of Belennier, who seemed to have elected himself the spokesman. "You'll pay for this, forcing your way into a gentleman's house--"
"I'll discuss that with the gentleman in question."
"Well, he's about somewhere." The young man stared around blearily, as if expecting Lestrac to suddenly appear.
"How long have you been here?"
"Oh, all day." Recalling he was outraged, he protested, "And you've no right to question us, if it's Lestrac you're after."
And he's about somewhere. That would be all Thomas could get out of them until he actually produced Lestrac, but the chances were they hadn't been here yesterday when Gambin had visited the house. At least, if Lestrac had any sense at all they wouldn't have been here.
"Don't let them talk to each other," Thomas told the guard with the pistol, and moved on after the others.
They went from one well-appointed room to another and up the central staircase to the third floor, the guards spreading out to search more thoroughly as Kade flitted before them checking for magical traps.
After a short while, it became apparent that the only inhabitants were those they had already discovered and that Lord Lestrac was nowhere to be found. Thomas and Castero met back in a central parlor on the second floor.
"He must be on the run, Captain." The young guard absently kicked a chair.
"Unfortunately." Thomas looked around, one eyebrow lifted in an ironic appraisal of the empty room. It seemed clear. Lestrac had used Gambin in a minor plot against Thomas. When it failed to have the expected result, Lestrac had panicked, used magic to dispose of Gambin, and fled. "How very neat and tidy." The other guests had been herded into the next salon under guard. A few had families influential enough that they would have to be released, but Thomas hated to do it before he knew where Lestrac had gone. Each one was a potential accomplice.
Kade wandered into the room from the stairwell. She looked around, apparently in a state of deep consternation. "It's here. I don't know what, but it's here. And it's not." She moved around the room, touching things, stooping to look under the furniture.
Madwoman, Thomas thought. But the longer he was in the house the more suspicious it seemed to him. There was more here than appeared, or something out of place, and he wasn't willing to leave until he found what it was.
Kade straightened suddenly. Her examination of the parlor had led her to the far wall. "How many rooms on this floor?"
Castero stared at her. "Nine."
"Eleven upstairs." Thomas saw what she was getting at, and suddenly realized what was wrong about the place. It was the position of the stairwell in relation to the second floor. He went to stand beside the sorceress and ran a hand across the paneled wall. "Look at the way the top of this meets the ceiling. It's a false wall. There must be a moving panel or--"
Kade said, "No, not a panel." She placed a palm on the center of the wall and leaned in, whispering to it. Thomas stepped back as the shape of a door slowly formed out of the dark wood, as if a sculptor were molding it out of clay. Grinning with triumph, Kade stepped back as it solidified.
As she was reaching for the handle, Thomas caught a handful of her tattered smock and hauled her out of the way. He stepped to one side of the door, motioning for Castero to take the other. Castero stepped hastily into position, winding his pistol. At Thomas's elbow, Kade was silently bouncing with excitement.
Thomas twisted the handle and flung the door open.
It was a banqueting room with a long table and sideboards, lit by a dripping candelabrum and chandeliers. There was a man seated at the end of the table, slumped over forward.
Thomas advanced cautiously toward him. There was a half-empty wine bottle on the table, two more on the floor beneath it.
Thomas used a handful of the man's unkempt blond hair to pull him upright. It was Lestrac. The lean, dissipated features were slack and sickly red. His eyes didn't focus, and the pupils were so wide they seemed to cover most of the white. His breath was quick and panting, as if he were running for his life. It's poison, Thomas realized. Belladonna or henbane, something that the Aderassi are always using to put each other out of the way. Holding the young lord up, he could feel his burning skin. "Who did this to you, Lestrac? Was it Grandier?"
The dying eyes seemed finally to focus. "No, no, not him..." Lestrac shuddered weakly, the effort of speaking almost too much.
"But you know him. Was he here?"
"No, he's... He told me he'd teach...power. I should have known."
"Where is he now?"
"It was Dontane, on Grandier's orders," Lestrac said suddenly, his voice growing stronger. He made a convulsive movement and caught the front of Thomas's doublet "Captain Boniface, you've got to get that bastard Dontane."
Lestrac started to slide out of the chair and Thomas caught him and shoved him back. The nobleman's head lolled and his eyes were wide open and staring, though he still breathed. Thomas let him go and stepped back. That was it, Lestrac would stay like this, impossible to wake, until he died in a few hours. But they've made a mistake, perhaps their first, Thomas thought. Someone, perhaps Lestrac himself when he hired Gambin, had acted out of turn, revealing that Grandier had the help of others who could come and go inside the palace. And if Denzil Isn't involved somehow... He told Castero, "Send someone for the men from the gate watch. We're going to tear this place apart."
As Castero left, Kade did a quick circuit of the room, checking the walls for more concealed doors. Watching her, Thomas knew that at least to some extent she was enjoying herself, and that she certainly didn't give a damn for the fact that Lestrac had all but expired a few moments ago. He didn't know why that should bother him, since he didn't care either and knew that if even half of what he suspected was true, Lestrac would have been executed anyway. And to some extent he was also enjoying himself. Perhaps her reaction annoyed him because it was so much in tune with his own.
Kade had drifted back to the table and now took the wine bottle and emptied the last of its contents onto the polished surface. She stirred the pool twice with a finger and stared into it intently.
Unwilling to ask, Thomas stepped up behind her to see what she was doing.
Without looking up, she reached out and grabbed his wrist. Before he could pull away, he saw a shadow come over the wine pool and something move within it. It was a man. At first the image was shifting and muddy like a poor mirror, but abruptly it cleared, revealing the face of the man in the other room, the man who had been with Denzil at court last night.
Kade said quietly, "I thought so. He was in here, and they fought, or at least argued. Violent emotions always make the strongest impressions."
She let Thomas go and he stepped back, and the pool became only spilled wine again. He hadn't realized until then how the sounds of his men searching the next room and the occasional drunken protests of Lestrac's friends had temporarily faded as the picture appeared in the pool. "Is he a sorcerer? Did he conceal the door?"
"Maybe. But that one might have done it, too." She nodded toward Lestrac's still form. "You said he knew some of the art, and it wasn't a very powerful illusion, though it was tricky."
Thomas nodded to himself. "He brought Dontane in here, Dontane killed him, then walked out through the unconcealed door on this side. He stayed with the others to make sure Lestrac didn't come staggering out gasping accusations. He must have known how long it would take to die from the stuff. Any later and we would have missed him."
Kade looked thoughtful, then turned for the door, remarking pointedly, "Well, I'm certainly glad I bothered to come."
After considering Lestrac's slumped body a moment more, he followed her.
Later, Thomas had the guards carry Lestrac out past the group gathered in the parlor. Leaning on the billiard table, which was extravagantly covered in green velvet and lit by candleholders mounted on its raised sides, he watched the nobles react with varied degrees of befuddled shock. Including Dontane, whose reaction was perfectly in keeping with the rest.
"When do we carry out this lot, Captain?" Castero asked.
"Now. Take them to the Cisternan Guard House for the present" He touched one of the silver bells fitted above the billiard table's goal. "All except Dontane."
Dontane looked up, but if he was startled he concealed it well. As Castero and the other guards herded Lestrac's guests out, Thomas waited patiently. When they were gone, that left Dontane, three watchful guards at the door, and Kade, who was sitting on top of a sideboard and swinging her feet. As Thomas looked at her and started to speak, she announced, "I've been a help, and shown quite a bit of restraint, and I think I should be allowed to stay and watch."
It was harder than Thomas would've thought to conceal his smile. He said, "Well put."
Watching them with contempt, Dontane said, "I assume there is some reason for my being singled out." He swayed slightly and steadied himself on a chair.
"You assume correctly." Thomas watched him a moment more, wondering how long the playacting would last. "How long have you known Lord Lestrac?"
"Not long. But I am a friend of the Duke of Alsene."
"That puts you in the minority, then, because no one else here is." It would have been foolish to deny the connection; Dontane must realize he would've been seen at court last night. And why attend court at all, except to activate the golem so it could attack a certain sorceress. Thomas folded his arms, deciding on a more direct attack. "I know you poisoned Lestrac."
Dontane drew himself up. "That is an insult, and I will challenge you for it." He stiffened resentfully as one of the guards at the door chuckled.
The man was certainly presenting a good performance of a foolish young noble. Thomas said, "You were in that room with Lestrac. Were you discussing a spy named Gambin, perhaps?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"He's lying," Kade interrupted.
"Yes, thank you, I know," Thomas told her patiently.
"I suppose I should be flattered that you find it necessary to have your pet witch here to deal with me," Dontane sneered. But he had lost a little of his pretense of drunken nonchalance. Thomas thought Kade's presence was making the man uneasy. As well it might.
"'Pet witch.' I like that," Kade said, apparently addressing the blue faience vase sitting next to her on the sideboard. "I'm going to put a curse on him."
"If you can't be quiet you'll have to leave, pet," Thomas said.
Kade turned a look of narrow-eyed reproach on him, then regarded Dontane with so much sly malice it had to be artificial.
Thomas studied him thoughtfully a moment, then asked, "Are you a sorcerer?"
Dontane's expression was calm. "I am not."
"Then are you a dabbler in magic, like Lestrac?" He hadn't forgotten the young lord's last words: he said he'd teach power. If one had a taste of power, enough to hide a door by illusion, or to witch a useless spy dead, the temptation to learn more at the hands of a master like Grandier might be overwhelming.
"No, I am not," Dontane said, looking away in disgust.
Had he hesitated, deciding how to answer? "Is he a sorcerer?" Thomas asked Kade.
She dug a moment in the pocket of her smock, and when she drew her hand out her fingers were covered with a dark powdery substance. She touched her forefinger carefully to the corner of each eye, then looked up at Dontane.
He smiled, scornfully. "Well, witch?"
She held his eyes a moment, then said, "I think he knew what I was doing."
Dontane snorted derision and looked away. Watching him carefully, Thomas asked, "And what was that?"
"Putting gascoign powder in my eyes. If he had been using a spell, or if there had been a spell on him, I would see it. It doesn't prove he isn't a sorcerer."
Dontane smiled. "Alchemical powders are hardly a secret."
"Maybe," Thomas agreed. He had heard of gascoign powder as well, but that explanation for Kade's actions hadn't immediately leapt to mind. If Dontane wasn't trained in the craft of sorcery, he had at least been much around those who were. "Where's Grandier keeping himself these days?"
"Who? I don't know the name." It was said admirably, with just the right amount of confusion.
Thomas smiled. "Then you must have been under a bushel. Everyone else knows it" After Dr. Braun's murder, rumor had spread out of control in court circles and Urbain Grandier's name had been prominent, though without any real detail.
Dontane's expression froze and for a moment he looked dangerous, and not at all like the drunken puppies that Castero had herded out.
Dangerous, Thomas thought, but weak, like Lestrac, Someone's useful tool. He said, "You will be glad to know that I am extending the hospitality of the palace to you."
"You'll regret this." Dontane had gathered up the remains of his façade, and spoke with drunken arrogance.
"I'm sure one of us will," Thomas agreed.
It was evening by the time they returned to the palace. The rain had stopped but the clouds still obscured the stars and the waning moon. Thomas had seen the prisoners settled in the Cisternan Barracks, with Dontane in one of the cells specially warded against the use of sorcery. Then he set off through the corridor within the outer wall toward the King's Bastion. He wanted to find Lucas and hear what they had found at Gambin's house, though he suspected it wouldn't be much. The answers he needed would have to be pried out of Dontane. It was pure luck they had managed to catch him at all.
Pure luck, and Kade, who had disappeared again after they passed through the Prince's Gate, taking her confused motives with her. She couldn't be here simply to cause trouble. Thomas might have realized Lestrac's hidden room was there without her help, but he would never have gotten into it in time to question the dying noble.
He climbed the rough-cut stone staircase that angled up into the King's Bastion. The tapestry-concealed entrance on the third floor gave onto a long central mirror-lined gallery, which was unusually crowded and noisy for this time of night.
Thomas made his way past a group of loudly talking courtiers and saw the cause of the excitement.
Denzil was dueling with Aristofan, Queen Falaise's poet-companion. They had stripped to their shirts and were stalking each other up and down the length of the candlelit room. The young poet was intent but breathing hard, and was obviously having the more difficult time. Denzil, his blond hair tied back, was moving with easy grace and confidence. It was the social event of the night, the women watching from behind fluttering fans, the men commenting on the performance and quietly placing wagers.
Thomas joined Lucas, who was watching from the sidelines with the old Count of Duncanny and a few other bystanders. "How did it start?" Thomas asked him.
Lucas shrugged. "The boy accused Denzil of insulting the Queen in some way and Denzil challenged him. It's all very mysterious. Neither will say exactly what the insult was."
Arms folded and eyes critical, the old count said, "I don't think they know."
Most duels were sparked by boredom. Courtiers and city-dwelling nobles with little to do except drink, gamble, and argue fought over everything from their wives' honor to the score of card games. This one had a certain impromptu look; there were no seconds and they were fighting in the flickering inadequate light of the long gallery.
Face shining with exertion, Aristofan was quick to take advantage of the openings in Denzil's guard, but his blade never seemed to connect. After a few moments, Thomas recognized Denzil's technique, which was one he had often used himself for training inexperienced swordsmen. Denzil was completely controlling the fight by maintaining a constant distance between himself and the young poet. Denzil was the taller man, and with his longer reach and better control, Aristofan hadn't even a chance of wounding him.
The Duke of Alsene was using a special dueling sword with a black metal cup hilt that matched his main gauche. Thomas noticed Aristofan was using a businesslike dueling rapier. "Where did he get that sword?" He looked at Lucas.
Lucas shifted uncomfortably. "You should have seen the one I took away from him. The boy was going to try to defend himself with a piece of jewelry."
Thomas snorted. "Getting sentimental in our old age, are we?"
"Won't help," the count said quietly.
Thomas sensed movement near him and looked down to find Kade Carrion at his elbow again, watching the fight with a faint look of contempt. He was beginning to wonder if the woman was intentionally following him. As if aware her presence had been noted, she asked, "What's this about?"
Several nearby watchers looked around at the shabby figure of the sorceress in surprise, having not realized she was there until that moment. Thomas said, "Possibly the Queen's honor, possibly nothing. Public opinion is divided at the moment."
She glanced up at him suspiciously. "Oh."
Denzil was continuing to play with Aristofan, turning the duel into a cat-and-mouse game Thomas began to find repellent. He should end it. Bastard.
Kade asked suddenly, "Are the rumors about Denzil and Roland true?"
Thomas automatically glanced around to see if any of Denzil's tale-bearing friends were within earshot. Roland had a morbid fear of idle talk, and what the gossips would make of Kade's innocent question would reach his ears in no time. Her presence had cleared the immediate vicinity of everyone except himself, Lucas, and the Count of Duncanny, who was a staunch supporter of Ravenna's faction, and Thomas didn't see any real reason not to answer her question. "If they are, it isn't because of any affection or desire on Denzil's part, at least." He had always seen Roland and Denzil's attachment as a strange sort of parasitic relationship on both sides, and he found himself searching for a way to explain it. "And I don't think it matters. Denzil's real control over Roland is the friendship they had when they were boys. If Roland had other favorites, or even if he managed to notice Falaise's existence for once, it would mean taking his attention away from Denzil, which Denzil can't allow. Roland must know how easy it is for a king to attract admirers; Denzil doesn't want him to discover how easy it would be to use a rival against him."
Denzil was apparently finding the fight as it was boring. He stepped back, tossing away his main gauche and drawing a second one from his sash. The hilt on the long dagger was overelaborate and the blade looked oddly heavy.
A moment later this was explained as Denzil pressed a hidden catch on the weapon's hilt. Two metal rods popped out of the central blade and snapped into positions at acute angles to it. Their movement revealed that the center blade had a serrated edge.
The Count of Duncanny shook his head in disgust and walked away.
Kade squinted, frowning. "What is that?"
"It's for breaking blades," Thomas explained.
"I thought that's what quillions were for."
Thomas said dryly, "Obviously we were all mistaken."
Aristofan shifted his stance and adjusted his grip on his rapier. The weapon was obviously heavier than what he was used to, but it still wouldn't hold up against the main gauche's serrated edge. Aristofan and Denzil circled each other.
"You're about to lose a blade," Thomas told Lucas.
"I've been doing this twenty years and I never needed anything like that," Lucas said, exasperated. "This isn't a duel; it's a murder. That young idiot ought to give over."
"It would look bad. People would talk." Thomas's voice was heavy with irony.
Lucas made an impatient gesture. "He'd be alive to hear them. He's only a poet; why should he care what people say?"
"Everyone does," Kade said.
Thomas looked down at her and saw the tension in the way she was standing, the intent look in her gray eyes, and realized what she was about to do. He decided to let her.
Aristofan attempted a desperate parry and Denzil trapped the boy's sword in his elaborate main gauche and snapped the blade. The Duke's first slash opened a long cut on Aristofan's cheek; his second never landed.
Kade slammed into Denzil from the side. He staggered and twisted away from her, landing heavily. Before she could leap on him, Thomas caught up with her from behind and pulled her out of the way. Denzil leapt to his feet, threw down his sword, and started toward her.
Thomas shoved him backward and said, "Temper, my lord. Take them one at a time."
They were treated to a good view of Denzil with the veneer of civility stripped away. "How dare that bitch interfere with me?" he shouted.
Aristofan had fallen to the floor and was pressing his arm to his face, trying to staunch the blood flow. A couple of watching servants ran forward to help him.
"I'll do more than interfere with you, posturing monkey," Kade sneered at the infuriated Denzil. "Why don't you take on someone with a chance against you?"
"There's a thought," Thomas remarked pleasantly.
Denzil focused on him and his expression changed. He smiled and gestured back toward the fallen poet. "Is that the problem, Captain? Am I usurping your duty?"
They regarded each other for a moment, long enough to realize the entire chamber had fallen silent. Thomas turned and saw Roland standing in the doorway at the far end of the room, his attendants grouped around him. After a moment of angry contemplation, the King strode forward and shouted, "What is this?"
"What do you think it is?" Kade asked him with withering contempt.
Roland turned a slightly darker shade of red, embarrassment added to anger, and said, "You will all stop this immediately."
There was some shuffling among the spectators as they tried to look as if they were obeying. The main figures in the drama simply stood there and stared at him.
Roland looked at Denzil and started to speak, then abruptly wheeled and stormed out of the room. Denzil recovered his sword and went after him without even a glare for anyone else.
As Thomas expected, Lucas and the others had found nothing incriminating at Gambia's house that had any bearing on Urbain Grandier. They had brought the body and its effects back to the palace and Galen Dubell had promised to examine them.
Thomas had gone out to the portico that extended off the third floor to take a shortcut across to the main part of the building when Kade caught up with him.
She asked loudly, "Why did you stop me?"
He turned to face her. The threatened afternoon storm had never produced more than a light rain, but the evening breeze was damp and strong, rocking the lamps hanging from the columns and tearing at her hair. He asked, "Why did you let me?"
He watched her mentally back up to begin again. She demanded, "What did Denzil mean by 'usurping your duty'?"
She could hear it from anyone, and was perfectly capable of badgering him about it for hours. He said, "Queen Falaise had a lover, a young stupid man like Aristofan, nearly helpless with a sword. He became too arrogant, she sent him away, and he insulted her in front of important witnesses. I killed him."
Kade turned that over for a moment. Her eyes narrowed. "You wanted to stop the duel."
"Yes." In spite of everything, he was surprised. For someone who leapt to conclusions as often as she did, her leaps were fairly accurate.
She stared at him. "You bastard, if you want to kill Denzil, have the guts to do it yourself; don't use me for it."
It was foolish to be angry with her, but Thomas found himself saying tightly, "If you don't want to be used, then don't open yourself to it by behaving stupidly and leaving other people to pick up the pieces. You can't play the spoiled witless child all your life."
"Well it's better than what you're playing at, isn't it?"
"I wouldn't know, having never been so lacking in initiative that I had to act like a raving idiot to get what I wanted."
As Kade was drawing breath to answer, there was a crash beneath their feet as a glass-paned door was flung violently open on the balcony of the floor below. Both of them flinched.
"My lord--" Denzil's voice said.
"Don't call me that, not while we're alone." It was Roland.
Thomas remembered that this terrace was directly above the balcony of one of Roland's private solars. He and Kade regarded each other in silence. They could hardly object to each other's eavesdropping, Thomas supposed, having just come to the mutual conclusion that they were both too despicable to live in polite company anyway.
Denzil asked, "Are you all right?"
"You ask me that?"
The voices below had grown softer. Thomas took a silent step forward to the railing to hear more clearly. After a moment Kade joined him.
"What? Were you worried?" Denzil's voice had a laugh in it. "That was barely worth the effort."
"You take too many chances. But you should have left that boy alone. He's nothing." Roland was oblivious to the fact that Aristofan was perhaps a year or two older than himself.
"He insulted me. And you should thank me for ridding you of him. He's your wife's lover."
"He's nothing. All the married women in the city have lovers. My mother has lovers. God knows my father had worse habits--"
"Don't. If your honor means nothing to you, it means something to me."
And how is Roland's honor affected by an insult to Denzil, Thomas wondered. Where was Dr. Dubell to ask the pertinent question?
"Sometimes I think you're the only one."
Denzil did not dispute this. "I'm sorry I upset you. That bitch of a sorceress--"
"Is my sister."
At his side Thomas sensed Kade stiffen.
"And where was she when you needed her?"
"She ran away. I loved her and she left me behind without a second thought."
Kade shivered once, a slight movement with all the intensity of a restrained convulsion. Thomas found himself unwillingly sympathetic. Roland had been the Crown Prince; his exiled sister could hardly have taken him with her, as if they were farm children escaping a harsh master. And the choice to stay with him in the city had been taken from her by Ravenna's command.
Kade drew back as if to leave. Impulsively, Thomas put a hand on top of hers on the railing and she froze. At that moment an army probably couldn't have kept her on that balcony by force, but that gentle touch seemed enough to hold her there.
"Who stayed with you?" Denzil asked.
"You did. I'd have died without someone."
"Then it's a good thing she wasn't all you had." There was silence, then a creak as one of the men below opened the door.
Thomas released Kade's hand, and she vanished back through the archway.
KADE FOUND HERSELF in need of company. Falaise was the only person she could think of who might possibly be willing to put up with her, and Kade was in such a mood that she was willing to put up with moping, which was probably what Falaise was doing at the moment.
The Queen's apartments were on the fifth level of the King's Bastion, but when Kade came up the stairs to where she could see the doorway of the first antechamber, it looked like a disturbed anthill. Gentlewomen and maidservants were running in and out, and Queen's guards were stalking around outside the door. That doesn't look promising, Kade thought. She didn't particularly want to start another sensation, so she crept back down the stairs and out of sight.
The next stairwell gave onto the cathedral-like entrance of an old gallery, and she stopped in front of the oaken doors carved with willows and birds of paradise. This was the hall where the royal portraits were kept, "where the family was interred," as some long-ago courtier had referred to it.
After a moment, Kade went inside.
It was cold with the chill of marble, fine wood laid over stone, and gilded frames, and it felt barren as rooms that have never been lived in feel. The hall lanterns illuminated ancestors, distant relations, and the notables of this or other ages, which Kade passed by without more than a cursory glance. There was only one set of portraits here anyone ever came to see. They were the Greancos, the portraits of the royal family.
Other painters had done royal portraits which were scattered about the palace or presented to favored nobles, but Greanco had been a seventh son of a seventh son, with half his mind in the Otherworld. Having a portrait done by him was to take a chance at having one's soul revealed. Fortunately for Greanco, this held a fascination for Ravenna and her family that had kept him at court longer than anyone else would have put up with him.
Knowing the effect and having felt it before didn't help; shivers ran up Kade's back as she stood beneath those canvas eyes. She had to fight the conviction that there were people watching her who disappeared when she turned to face them.
She stopped before the portraits of the old kings: Ravenna's father and grandfather. Their hard eyes stared down at her. Both men had been beleaguered warrior kings, and the primary impressions the portraits gave were those of guile and strength. Undoubtedly they would have found Ravenna a proper daughter; her strong features were echoed in theirs. But what would they think of Roland, Kade wondered. Or herself, for that matter? Probably not much, she decided. Why Ravenna's father had chosen to settle the ruling right on Fulstan and not on her was a mystery. Perhaps he had not entirely trusted her, or perhaps he mistook independence for willfulness. Kade had heard that Fulstan had always put on a good show for his father-in-law. It hadn't mattered in the end, and Ravenna had had the kingdom in reality, if not in name. We all make mistakes, she told the portrait silently, as she moved on. But some of us have to live with them.
There were solemn representations of other relatives, and courtiers she should have known, generals or statesmen who had walked these rooms when she was a child and had since died. But like the children she had played with until her father found reasons to send their families away, she only dimly remembered their faces and couldn't quite recall their names.
Then she circled a pillar and found herself facing the portrait of Fulstan in his prime. Surprisingly, Kade could look at it without emotion; Greanco had painted an empty slate, a weak vessel that had not yet been subjected to the stresses that would deform it. He had faithfully depicted the handsome features, the full brown hair, and the wide-set blue eyes but had managed to give the impression that the beauty was transitory, and not something that grew out of character, that would last through age. The later portrait that revealed the older bitter man was said to hang in Ravenna's bedchamber, there only because the Dowager had reportedly said that she couldn't think of a better place for him than nailed up there on the wall, watching.
After the Arlequin's attack, Denzil had brought up the subject of Fulstan's suspiciously quick illness and death, and Kade had felt an odd mingling of triumph and guilt. She had been almost certain for years that she had caused Fulstan's death with that same unskilled power that had smashed the cathedral's windows, that she had wished him dead all the way from the Monelite Convent. But she was a little afraid of those thoughts, too. She wanted to think her sorcery had some control, that it wasn't as wild as her fay magic. But study was the only cure for lack of control; she should be studying in the quiet peace of Knockma instead of stirring up trouble here.
The next portrait was of Roland as a child. The better-known and inferior portrait by Avisjon hung in a more prominent location downstairs. Despite the trappings of royal tunic and mantle, the scepter and the Hand of Justice, Greanco had captured Roland's frightened eyes all too well.
She wandered down the wall a little and unexpectedly encountered her own portrait.
I should have known, she thought, staring. Ravenna wouldn't have let Roland burn the rags Greanco used to wipe his brushes, let alone one of his paintings.
When it had first been painted so long ago, Kade had been upset that her awkwardness and anxiety had been so well revealed. Now she saw what had really been there. It was pain.
So that's what it was like, she thought. It seems I might have forgotten.
Kade now understood why Ravenna had had the portrait put away after it was complete. It was also a reproach. How it had found its way up here she couldn't imagine.
She stepped back to where she could see both her own and Roland's portraits and thought, Did I run away? At the time it had seemed a glorious escape. What would have happened if I'd stayed? Nothing or everything. She couldn't remember being angry at Roland when she left for the convent. She felt like a contributor to that expression on Roland's young face which Greanco had captured so well, and she didn't like the feeling. I should leave, tonight, now, she thought wearily. This isn't turning out the way I imagined and I'm just in the way. Now that they've seen me again they probably won't even be afraid of me anymore.
Kade remembered that hot Midsummer Eve's day when the power had come flowing out of her as if she were a bottle shattered from pressure within. She hadn't had any grudge against the cathedral itself; in fact, she rather regretted the destruction of those stained glass windows. She had done simple magics under Galen Dubell's tutelage, but that had been the first time the ability had risen in her with such strength, the first time she could focus it at will. It had been marvelous. But it was the first and only time. She would not reach that peak so easily again. The only road to that kind of power was the one of hard study, and she had dedicated the years since to mastering her abilities, though it had never been easy. And perhaps she had let the more painstaking magics of sorcery take second place to the easy power of fayre.
She turned to go, but she had missed the paintings on the other side of the gallery and now one caught her eye. It was an informal portrait of a younger Ravenna with an elite group of her Queen's Guard and the officers. She sat in the center, dressed in a mantua of black velvet and flame silk, a rose of diamonds on her breast. A younger Thomas Boniface leaned on the chair at her side and slightly behind her, with the rest of the guards grouped around, all handsome and all with a pronounced air of danger.
Kade didn't remember seeing it before. It must have been done after she had left, to commemorate the recently victorious Bisran War, when Ravenna had brought the years of fighting to an end. It was odd that it wasn't somewhere downstairs, but Kade supposed that it had been scandalous for an independent queen with a useless husband to have her portrait done with a group of young men. But then that was Ravenna down to the bone, and Greanco had conveyed that, too. During that war, Ravenna had traveled extensively around the disputed borders with her guard and one or two maidservants. Knowing Ravenna, she had probably chaperoned the maidservants more than they had chaperoned her. A few bishops had spoken out against her, but the rest of the country thought the Church poked into other people's morals too much as it was; landlaw barely took notice of adultery, and queens had traditionally taken lovers among their personal bodyguard.
It was the tacit rules of landlaw that allowed Ravenna to keep command of the Queen's Guard when she should have passed it on to Falaise as the younger woman was crowned. Under landlaw, a personal bodyguard could not be inherited or given away without the liege's permission. If there was something Ravenna was good at, it was manipulating laws and circumstances to her own ends.
I should learn to do that, Kade thought, bitterly amused at herself. But fayre had few laws, or at least few that made sense. Like the court, the denizens of the Kingdoms of Fay fought, plotted, and stabbed one another in the back to excess, but they were soulless creatures and their passions were short-lived and shallow. The outcomes of their games didn't really matter to them, and there was nothing like the solid trust that was reflected in this portrait...
You are getting sentimental, you idiot.
The next portrait was of Thomas Boniface, also in informal dress. Even for a Greanco it was dark and elusive. Though Thomas was more than ten years the elder, he and Denzil had much the same presence in person: arrogant and sensual and well aware of their own worth, both wolves in lapdogs' clothing. The portrait suggested that in the Captain's case the arrogance might be tempered by irony.
Tradition dictated that the Captain of the Queen's Guard as well as the Preceptor of the Albonate Knights renounce all familial connections so their whole loyalty would be to the crown. Nepotism and interfering relations could be permitted with other nobles who served in the palace, but these positions were seen as too important. Renier had been Duke of something, Kade remembered, when he handed the whole thing over to a younger brother and took his post for Roland. Thomas had been Viscount Boniface.
Both court offices came with a huge amount of wealth and some land, but gave up the right to leave that wealth to any heir other than the next man appointed to the position. If the Albonate Preceptors lived to retire they were usually created a duke and awarded estates and income. It was assumed the same thing would be done for the Captains of the Queen's Guard, but in recent history all of them had died at duty.
Kade realized abruptly that Thomas Boniface probably expected the same to happen to him. If he outlived Ravenna his position at court would not be a good one. Roland and Denzil were both against him, and Falaise seemed helpless to protect anyone including herself. That was what the portrait conveyed, Kade knew suddenly. It was the face of a man who took service with the crown accepting the possibility of eventual betrayal and a violent death, but not one who enjoyed having to kill people whose main crime seemed to be stupidity.
Kade turned away and started resolutely for the stairs, telling herself, I don't know why I care; I don't even like him anymore anyway.
Then the nagging restlessness that had plagued her coalesced into dread, and she stopped in the doorway. Her heart was fluttering. She took a deep breath, her hand pressed to her chest, and tried to think what it could be.
Something's gone wrong; something's happening. She forced herself to move forward, to start down the stairs. I've got to get to Galen.
"What kind of a man is Grandier?" Thomas asked.
Kneeling on the floor beside the wall niche, Galen Dubell paused to give the question serious consideration. "He is driven," he said finally, looking up at Thomas seriously. "And in pain. The worst sort of opponent to face."
They were in one of the deep cellars of the Old Palace, the rough stone walls glistening faintly in the flickering light of the candlelamp. Stone pillars as wide as draft carts stretched up into darkness to meet the arched ceiling somewhere overhead. The dirty straw-dusted floor was littered with broken or empty barrels, boxes, and odd pieces of ironwork. Battered and forgotten siege engines, lowered through traps in the ceiling sometime in the dim past, looked like the metal skeletons of beached sea monsters in the half-light. Wandering at the edges of the light were the three Queen's guards Thomas had assigned to watch Dubell when the old man's work took him into deserted corners of the palace. They were fighting both boredom and nerves and trying to look unaffected.
In an effort to discover what was wrong with the wards, Dubell was examining the warding stones buried in various locations around the palace. He was also planning on moving the keystone. He could remove it with Thomas and the guards present, but he would have to convey it to its new resting place alone. Thomas wasn't happy about Dubell moving about the undercellars of the palace unguarded, but the keystone was kept safe by being hidden away among the hundreds of other warding stones. Dubell was the only one who would know its exact location.
After carefully examining the dull-colored egg-shaped warding stone, Dubell replaced it in its wall niche and sealed it up with clay, handing the bucket back to the unwilling servant boy who had been drafted for the task.
"Driven by what?" Thomas asked, though he wasn't sure why he was pursuing the subject. Though if it provided no insight into Grandier, it might reveal something about the way Dubell thought.
"By his convictions." Dubell climbed to his feet awkwardly and they started toward the pillars in the center of the cavernous room, the boy trailing behind.
The cellar was damp, but the air was neither too hot nor too cold, and not at all stale, as if the airshafts within the thick walls of the Old Palace overhead might have openings somewhere in the cellar's ceiling.
Thomas had followed Dubell down here to ask him what he had found out about Gambin's death, but Dubell hadn't been able to discover what the spy had been killed with or how it had been done. Now that Thomas was down here, he might as well wait until Dubell was finished; the old sorcerer might be helpful during Dontane's questioning. Thomas said, "I don't understand why his convictions would lead him against us. This isn't Bisra. If a sorcerer steals or kills his neighbor, he's hanged just like anyone else, but not for practicing magic."
Dubell gestured with his trowel. "That, of course, is the difficult point. Why is he here at all? In Lodun we believe he has never been across our borders before, even though his father was from Ile-Rien. He has certainly never been accused of a crime, justly or unjustly, by our crown. Which leads me unfortunately to believe that his grudge against this land or this city is ideological, in which case there is little that can be done to deter him."
Thomas shook his head. "I can't agree with that. There's a member of the city Philosophers' Academy who has invented some kind of clockwork that can add figures when he turns the knobs on the outside. The Inquisitors General in Bisra heard about it and have declared him a devil's servant, and if he ever crosses their border they'll kill him. If Grandier considers himself such a scholar, why isn't he still over the border giving hell to the Bisran crown?"
"It would certainly seem more sensible of him. Unless," Dubell paused as the idea occurred to him, "he has been offered money by someone to persecute us."
"That's been considered." In Bisra, mobs surrounded the churches where the Inquisition held court, accusing each other of witchcraft and seeing demons under every bush. If it came out that the Bisran crown had employed a man who had escaped the death sentence for black magic, there would be riots it would take them weeks to put down. Thomas kicked a pillar thoughtfully. He would have to consider ways to let the appropriate rumors slip across the border. "Grandier might do it, if they offered him something he wanted badly enough."
Dubell shook his head, brow furrowed. "If I were him, I think my quarrel against them would run too deeply."
"There are several possibilities as to who could have hired him." Thomas had no wish to discuss the possibilities who were nearer at hand than Bisra; not with Galen Dubell, at any rate. "And you have never heard of this man Dontane?"
"Not in connection with Urbain Grandier. Not at all, in fact. The poison that the poor fellow Lestrac was given tends to cause hallucinations and delusions before the sleep that soon turns to death. He might have accused the man falsely."
Thomas didn't think it had been a delusion. Lestrac had been too certain, too angry in his betrayal. "Kade seemed sure that he was the one in the room with Lestrac. She made his likeness form in a pool of wine."
"That is not entirely a tried-and-true method. Kade is," Dubell hesitated, "quite brilliant in a peculiar way. But she also tends to let her imagination get the best of her."
Thomas, who also thought of Dubell as brilliant in a peculiar way, didn't comment.
Dubell stopped at one of the huge pillars and pointed to a square section near the base that had been carved out and refilled with clay. "This is where the keystone is buried. I've already prepared the new location for it, and it will only take me a short time to convey it there. Not long enough to cause any degeneration in the wards."
Frowning, Thomas knelt to look at the clay seal more closely. "This is recent. Have you looked at it before?"
"No." Dubell stooped anxiously, and started to pry out the clay. "Perhaps Dr. Surete... God, if it's been this all along..."
The explosion was like a cannon going off directly over their heads. The stone pillars trembled with the shock of it, releasing a rain of dust and rock chips from above. Thomas stood, then staggered as the floor slipped suddenly under his feet. Deafened by the noise, he waited for the thousands of tons of stone to come crashing down on top of them.
The walls shuddered back into stillness.
For a moment Thomas and the other guards stared at each other. "What..." whispered Baserat.
Dubell had rocked back on his heels with the concussion but he kept digging away at the clay seal. It broke under the pressure and he shoved his hand back into the niche. "It's empty," he said, and began to curse Grandier.
Thomas hauled Dubell to his feet. "Come on," he said and led them at a run toward the stairs. It might have been the city armories, he thought. The two long stone buildings housed stores of gunpowder and stood on the opposite side of the inner wall from the Gallery Wing. But even if both had gone up at once... No, there was no accidental cause for an explosion like that; the palace was under attack, from outside or from within. He tried to remember who had been on duty in the building overhead, and where Ravenna was likely to be at this time.
They reached the staircase at the far end of the shadowy darkness. Thomas took the lamp from the guard who had had the presence of mind to bring it and held it up. The narrow stairs spiraled upward, unblocked as far as the light reached.
Thomas said, "Load your pistols."
Dubell took the lamp and moved to peer uneasily up into the stairway as the guards loaded their weapons with the swiftness of long practice. By the time Thomas closed the cover over the priming pan of his second wheellock and tucked it back into his sash, he had calmed himself enough to think clearly. If the few of them were going to do any good, there could be no mistakes.
He started up the stairs, the others following behind him. The four-story climb might have stretched to infinity.
They had reached the second flight when there was a yell from behind and Thomas turned back. Treville was slumped on the stairs, clutching his side. The figure standing over him was nightmarish; it looked like a man, but its skin was gray and foul, its clothes in brown tatters, its hair a torn greasy mop. It seemed as though they froze there, staring at the apparition, for moments, but it must have been only half a heartbeat because the creature never had another chance to move. On the stairs below, Baserat struck upward at the same time that Martin fell on it from above, almost succeeding in impaling himself on the other guard's sword.
Dubell flattened himself back against the wall so Thomas could get past. The two guards were standing back from the creature now, looking down in shock. Thomas had to put a hand on Martin's shoulder and move him out of the way before he could see it.
Its narrow features twisted in death, it looked like a man who had been held prisoner in a dark place for a very long time and starved. The wound in its chest where the point of Baserat's rapier had emerged was bloody but also burned, as if the metal blade had been red-hot.
Dubell had edged down past them and was helping Treville to sit up. Thomas picked up the weapon the creature had used. It was a bronze short sword, with a narrow blade and wickedly sharp edges. Not much protection against a steel weapon, but it did its job well enough on human flesh.
"It was up above us, perched there, Captain," Baserat said, his voice a little unsteady.
"What is it?" Thomas asked Dubell.
"Fay, but I don't recognize what sort." He finished staunching Treville's wound and looked up at them. "With the keystone removed from the matrix for more than a few hours, the wards would begin drifting away from the outer walls of the newer sections of the palace. The creatures must have been waiting for a large enough opening."
Thomas felt everyone's eyes on him. He had known it must be an attack, but he had assumed the enemy was human. Ignoring the cold dread creeping up his spine, he looked down at Treville. "Can you walk?"
"Out of here I could run." The man grinned weakly.
"Good." Thomas looked at the others. "Let's go, gentlemen."
Dubell helped Treville to his feet, then reached back to collar the servant boy and pull him further up the stairs. "Here, boy, carry the lamp, and don't fall behind."
The boy took the lamp in a shaking hand and whispered, "Yes, Sir."
The air in the stairwell was growing warmer. It might mean the entrance above them was blocked, or the building overhead had caught fire, or collapsed entirely. It might have been Kade. It might have been her plan all along, Thomas was thinking. He had no idea why that thought made him so angry. She had never promised him anything.
The final turn brought Thomas to face the wooden doorway at the top of the stairs, which still stood open as they had left it earlier. The darkened corridor was blocked by the collapse of its wood and plaster ceiling. Dim lamplight shone down from the resulting gap in the passage above.
Thomas climbed the debris and took a cautious look through the opening in the ceiling. Above them was a passageway, its floor and one wall wood while the rest was the original stone. The source of the light was hidden around a corner further up the way. He thought about the layout of the Old Palace and decided they were near the lower kitchens and storerooms. There were many ways leading out into the rest of the structure from here; some would have to be unblocked.
"All right," he said to the others, "this is our way."
It took some moments to get Treville up into the passage, his wound making their efforts to help difficult and painful for him. Just as Thomas gave Dubell a hand up, Baserat signaled them hastily for silence. "Hear that?" he whispered.
In another moment they all did. There were people further down the passageway. For a moment Thomas found it a relief that they were not the only survivors of some immense disaster, then the faint sound turned into a tumult as shouts and a woman's scream echoed down to them.
"Save your pistols," Thomas told them. The unspoken thought was on all their faces. Because we don't know what we'll find upstairs...
Thomas ran down the passage and burst through an archway into a large low-ceilinged storeroom. A group of men and women dressed as servants was trapped in a corner, half-surrounded by a dozen or so of the sickly emaciated fay. The servants were fighting the creatures off with torches and makeshift clubs and whatever else they had been able to find. The fay rushed their new attackers as they entered the room. The first leapt at them, waving its sword over its head, and was disemboweled by Thomas's rapier. A bronze sword swung at him from the side and he swept it away and punctured the owner's chest.
One of the fay kicked over a lamp, sending the room into near darkness. Obviously the creatures can see in the dark, Thomas thought, parrying another thrust. Pity we can't.
Dubell shouted something and clapped his hands. Immediately a small bright ball of pure light appeared over his head and hovered there, flooding the room with a stark white illumination.
From behind, something grabbed Thomas's arm and swung him around. The strength was astonishing for a creature so apparently delicate. He slammed the rapier's heavy hilt into its face and it fell away from him with a shriek.
As he turned, Thomas saw that three more fay had come at them from the door to the passageway. Hell, they must have been following us up the stairs. One had attacked the wounded Treville from behind, and he was now sprawled bleeding on the floor. Martin leapt over his wounded friend to knock the creature away from him; as it staggered back he drove his rapier through it.
Nearby another fay was grappling with Dubell, trying to plunge its sword toward his face, but the old sorcerer was holding it off. Dubell managed to shift his weight and shove the creature up against the wall. Thomas stepped up behind Dubell, said "Pardon me, Doctor," and finished off the creature.
All the other fay in the room were down. The spell light above Dubell's head died away as the servants relit their lamps, and the strange unwavering white light was replaced by the familiar flickering yellow.
"Captain," someone gasped at his side, and Thomas turned and saw Berham. The servant had armed himself with a crude but effective iron club. "Captain, there's fighting in the hall by the round stair. We could hear the shots. That's where we was making for."
"Good." As an afterthought, Thomas asked, "Do you know what's happened?"
"No, Sir, I couldn't say that." Bertram's story was like their own. He had been visiting nearby when the explosion had occurred. As a veteran of the last war, his instincts had taken over and he had gathered survivors, armed both men and women with what was available, and set off to join the organized resistance.
Martin came up to them as Berham finished, saying bitterly, "Dr. Dubell said Treville's gone, Sir. The bastards go for the wounded like wolves."
"Aye," Berham said softly, looking back toward the bodies of his companions who had not survived the ambush. "I noticed that."
"Take his sword and give it to Dr. Dubell. Let Berham use the pistols. We'll come back for the bodies when we've secured the palace," Thomas told him, and thought, I sound like a bloody idiot of an optimist.
But it was what the other two men wanted to hear. As they moved to obey, Thomas went to where Dubell was still kneeling beside Treville. Dubell looked up at Thomas and said, "I'm sorry."
"It wasn't your fault," Thomas said automatically.
Dubell's face was drawn. "The fay are attacking in force. This is no raid. It's another damned war, Captain."
Another damned war, Thomas thought. But the Bisran army fought us for two decades and they never got as close as this.
As they returned to the others, Baserat was leaning over the fay that Thomas had disemboweled, poking the entrails experimentally with the tip of his sword. "See, it looks human to me."
"You're right. I wish I had my glasses." Dubell peered down at the creature, then said, "As I thought. The Unseelie Court, or the Host, as they are more commonly called. On their nightly rampages they seize human captives whom they will use to attack their fellows." He paused as Martin came up and handed him Treville's rapier. Dubell looked at the weapon as if he wasn't sure what it was, then said, "Yes, of course."
"What makes men turn into that?" Thomas nudged the corpse with the toe of his boot. He couldn't believe it, though he knew Dubell must be right.
"Prolonged exposure to the influence of the Host. Their captives become like them. Iron becomes poison to them. They gain some powers of the fay, but they lose their souls in the process."
The room had grown silent as the others listened. The servants were watching them with white bruised faces and apprehensive eyes.
Something bumped his elbow and Thomas looked down to see the servant boy who had somehow managed to survive so far, peering interestedly down at the fay's corpse.
"Berham," Thomas said. "Keep this one with your lot."
"Yes, Sir," Berham said, gesturing sharply to the boy. "Come away from there, boy, before you get in the way."
There would be far too many people wandering about without Berhams to organize them. Unarmed retainers and servants, children who could not fend for or protect themselves, women who would not think to pick up a weapon. "We have to get moving," Thomas muttered.
Kade was on the stairs in the King's Bastion when the explosion shook the Old Palace. She held onto the balustrade as the walls trembled in sympathy with the adjoining building. A stiff breeze poured up the stairwell; the stink it carried made her wince. The shaking stopped and the beams supporting the stairs gave an uneasy creak before deciding to hold. Kade started down again, stumbling occasionally because her legs were trembling for some reason. The inexplicable wind had ceased with the reverberations of the explosion, but it had left the air smelling of mud, stale water, and death.
It can't be the wards, Kade told herself uneasily. It can't be.
She found the bottom of the stairway blocked by a panic-stricken crowd of palacefolk and servants and she had to go back up a flight to work her way around by back passages. She could smell smoke now, from fires that had caught when candles and lamps were knocked over.
When she reached the long gallery that connected the bastion to the Old Palace, it was badly lit and in chaos.
Albon knights were milling around the doors and Renier was shouting orders. Over the noise, someone was yelling, "If you don't send them to help us fight the fire, they won't have anywhere to retreat!"
Kade ducked into the crowd, slipping past a mailed arm before it could stop her. She emerged onto the wide balcony of the great spiral staircase that led down into the main hall of the Old Palace.
It was a pitched battle.
The main hall was on two levels and the wide sweep of steps leading down to the lower portion of it was where the battle line had been drawn. Furniture, boxes, and other debris had been piled up at the top as cover for the defenders. Queen's guards and a few Albon knights and Cisternans were manning the barricades along with disheveled courtiers, retainers, and servants who had either taken up weapons or were crouching back behind the defenders and reloading pistols. The lower half of the hall was walled away by a palpable unnatural darkness. Missiles flew out of that darkness, bronze-tipped bolts of a deadly effectiveness demonstrated by the number of corpses sprawled on the floor.
Kade started down the staircase, one hand on its wide banister. The zoomorphs carved on the stair's central column leered out of the shadows as they were briefly illuminated by torches, adding to the nightmare quality of the scene. Refugees struggled past her, palacefolk and wounded guards.
As she fought her way closer, she began to see past the curtain of shadow in a way the others defending the barricade below could not. There was movement in that darkness, mangled faces, shifting forms, distorted or partly human. The wards must be gone, at least over the Old Palace and the Gallery Wing; that's how this mess got in, Kade thought, and forced herself to keep moving down the stairs toward that chaotic darkness stretched across the hall. But what drove them here? It was the Unseelie Court, the rulers of the dark fay and the other creatures who fed on blood and terror, who rode the night in the form of the Host, preying on humans and destroying every living thing in their path. They traveled the sky on dark windy nights accompanied, the church priests claimed, by the souls of the dead and wreaking havoc wherever they went.
At the bottom of the stair, Kade started toward the barricade, dodging running forms, ignoring startled glances of recognition. As she reached the hastily erected wall of broken furniture and tried to peer through it, she heard, "If it isn't the Queen of Air and Darkness."
The voice was sibilant and soft and came to her quite clearly over the noise. She looked down slowly and saw the face through a gap in the barricade. It was Evadne, one of the princes of the Unseelie Court. His narrow features might have been called handsome by someone less picky about character, even if his skin was powder blue. But though his expression was that of a wistful fay child, his eyes were gloating and entirely adult. Kade said, "Your eyesight is as bad as your sense of humor." She had never truly accepted her mother's title, which Evadne must know.
He grinned up at her, revealing pointed teeth. "Why don't you join us, my sister? What has the Seelie Court ever given you that you should risk your life to side with them and battle us?"
Kade ignored the growing knot of coldness in her stomach and laughed at him. The Seelie Court was the highest court of the Otherworld. Titania and Oberon ruled it, but spent little time in governing the fay who swore allegiance to them, and occupied most of their days in fetes, rades, contests, or other unreal pastimes of Fayre. The fay loosely attached to the Seelie Court loved daylight and music but were often dangerous to humans, either through acts of mischief or simple lack of concern over human frailties.
The Queen of Air and Darkness was not truly a member of either court, and Kade did not like to think about what would happen to the balances of power in the Otherworld, which she only vaguely understood herself, if this were to change. Evadne must be very confident to risk making that offer. She said, "The Seelie Court has given me nothing, which is far better than the trouble you've given me. What makes you think I'd throw my fortune in with either of you?"
His features drew into a pinched sneer. "The Host grows in power by the moment. The mortals' pitiful protections are scattered and you can't stop us. I'll destroy you myself."
"Promises, promises. Who's your master? Is it Urbain Grandier?"
The eyes hardened. "We have no master."
"I'll tell him you said that when I meet him."
Evadne stepped back, fading away into a darkness even Kade's sight couldn't penetrate. "I expect," he whispered, "that you will..."
Kade dropped to the floor and used the hem of her dress to wipe a clear spot. Evadne had given her an idea. Those were powerful wards; they couldn't simply dissolve. They must be about somewhere. If she could find one...
"Hey, come away from there." She looked up to see a man in a Cisternan officer's colors, who started back when he recognized her.
Kade said, "I need chalk, wax, and some burnt coal." At his expression she shouted furiously, "Do you want help or not?"
An unblocked corridor leading out from the storerooms led Thomas and the others into the main hall.
Wounded guards and refugees were climbing the huge spiral stair up into the King's Bastion and a thick white pall of smoke from pistols and muskets hung in the air. Out of the confusion, Thomas spotted the Cisternan Commander Vivan. He stepped forward and caught the other man's arm. "What did we lose?"
Vivan ran a hand through his dark hair and didn't seem to notice when it came away bloody. He said, "They're in the Gallery Wing, and probably all of the east side."
Thomas kept the shock off his face. "What about the King's Bastion?"
"Secure. Everything inside the inner wall is secure, They didn't come through there."
"The wards," said Galen Dubell, who was suddenly standing beside them. "They have drifted away from the newer structures of the palace, but the foundations in the older sections act as keystones themselves and are holding the wards in place there."
Thomas nodded. "Good, it'll give us breathing room." What he wanted to do most was slam Vivan up against a wall and demand to know where Ravenna and Falaise were, but there was no time, and no sense in it. He knew Lucas and Gideon were on duty and for now he would just have to trust that they had gotten both Queens to safety. He said to Vivan, "You're trying to push them back so you can close the siege doors at the top of the stairs?"
"Yes, If we fall back now, they'll push forward and we'll all go, but the sorceress said--"
Thomas stared. "Who?"
"The sorceress said if we gave her some time she could keep them back long enough to let us retreat."
"Where is she?"
"At the barricade." As Thomas started away, Vivan called after him, "Thomas! They're throwing elf-shot."
That explained the ominously still forms that bore no visible wounds.
Thomas spotted Kade's tattered form crouching near the center of the barricade between two Cisternan guards firing muskets. He began to make his way over to her.
She had drawn some kind of design on the floor and was dripping wax from a lighted candle onto it. She was muttering continuously at it and Thomas thought she was saying a spell until he was close enough and realized she was cursing.
He crouched beside her and said, "How much longer?"
She tossed her head to get the hair out of her face and said, "Hours, days, weeks, how should I know?"
A bronze crossbow bolt shot through the barricade and clattered off the stone floor between them. They both hunched their shoulders instinctively and Kade said, "Close," in a conversational tone. She tossed her hair back again.
Thomas reached over and tucked her hair into the back of her smock for her.
She muttered, "Thank you," without looking at him, a slow flush spreading up her cheeks.
He said again, "How much longer?"
"Not long. I'm almost done. Listen, what I'm doing is calling a ward." She stopped, grimacing as the barricade shuddered under another onslaught. "Impatient bastards."
"Calling a ward?" he prompted.
"Yes. Its name is Ableon-Indis and it's supposed to be over the St. Anne's Gate but it's lying across the top of the King's Bastion now. I don't know why."
"Someone's taken the keystone."
"Damn. That would be the reason, then. The newer wards float away from their places without the keystone in the etheric structure, but the King's Bastion has the strongest warding spells in the old parts of the palace. It's drawing the drifting wards over to it. Not that it's helping much." Her expression was grim. "Anyway, when I finish this the ward should fall toward us here. If I'm lucky it will come to ground right here along the barricade. When we leave, the Host will surge forward, run into it, and get an unpleasant surprise. But Ableon-Indis will start moving upward again almost immediately. What I'm doing here isn't as strong as the warding spells still drawing it to the King's Bastion."
Thomas nodded. "So we'll have only a few moments at best?"
"It'll be enough."
She looked up quickly and grinned.
Berham made it over to them and knelt beside the barricade. "Albons are holding the doors in the bastion, Sir," he reported.
"Which officers are up there?"
"Just Sir Renier that I could see, Sir. They said if I came in they wouldn't let me go back because the idea was to get everyone out, you see."
"All right." Thomas looked around and saw Martin nearby. He waved him over and said, "Find Commander Vivan and spread word that when I give the order to fall back everyone's to stop firing immediately and head for the stairs. We'll have our retreat covered but not for long." As Martin hurried off he told Berham, "You tell the reloaders to make sure they get the wounded out of here before we have to move."
"Yes, Captain," Berham said, pushing to his feet. "By God, this might work."
As Berham made his way back to the reloaders, Thomas saw a disturbance on the other side of the hall. Soot was pouring out of the great hearth in a dusty cloud. Thomas stood and started toward it. There was something coming down the chimney.
Closer, he could see that the head emerging from under the stone mantel was like a horse's in size and shape. But its eyes were glazed over and white and it looked as though its coat had been removed with a dull knife. It had teeth like a lion. Thomas drew his pistol, but before he could wind the mainspring, the creature plunged out of the fireplace and fell on a group of men who had been reloading muskets. It swung its great horse's head from side to side, its teeth tearing as the men scrambled to get away.
Reaching it, Thomas drew his rapier and slashed at its side. As it turned toward him with a scream of rage, he drove the point through its neck. It teetered, then fell toward him, dragging him down as it slumped onto the floor.
A second creature was emerging from the fireplace. Thomas dropped the rapier and wound the pistol's spring, then braced it on his forearm and fired.
The ball hit the creature in its broad chest along with three other shots fired from different areas of the hall and a fourth ball that all but shattered the mantel of the hearth. The creature dropped like a stone.
Galen Dubell appeared at Thomas's side, pointed at the fireplace, and gestured. The creature's body caught fire as if it had been dipped in pitch and flames shot up the chimney. "That should hold them for awhile," Dubell said with satisfaction.
Thomas shoved himself upright and went to put a foot on the fay-horse's neck to work his rapier free. He asked, "Can you help Kade?"
"No, anything I could do might only counteract the effect she is attempting to create and then we would be dead." Dubell smiled grimly. "But I can harry the enemy and perhaps give her more time."
As the sorcerer strode off Thomas looked after him, a little nonplused. Disasters agree with you.
As others ran up to carry the wounded, more fay charged the barricade and Thomas joined the defenders.
Nightmare images flung themselves out of the darkness and were driven back by pistol balls or pikes wielded over the barricade. There were hideous animal-shapes with distorted bodies and wicked intelligent eyes, creatures with oddly human faces and bodies that were marked with startling deformities, and other things that vanished so quickly the mind discounted what the eyes saw. Their shrieking and keening mixed with the blasts of muskets and pistols was deafening.
Thomas had lost track of time when Vivan grabbed his arm and said, "She's ready."
Thomas looked around. The wounded and the refugees had vanished up the stairway and Commander Vivan had already sent the reloaders after them. Thomas said, "Pass the word: when I give the order, stop firing and fall back into the bastion." He stepped back where he could see Kade and waited for the word to pass down the line.
When the guards at each end signaled ready, Thomas looked at Kade. She nodded, and he yelled, "Fall back."
Discipline held remarkably, even among the Albon knights, who didn't think themselves obliged to listen to anyone.
The shrieking din from their attackers rose in a crescendo. Thomas moved with the others to the foot of the stairs and looked back for Kade, not seeing her among the crowd.
She was still crouched beside the barricade. Thomas saw what she had been waiting for. The Host surged up toward the barricade and met a wall of hostile air. Some dissolved into myriad colors that shrieked toward the ceiling and away like fleeing ghosts. Some popped like soap bubbles and disappeared while others fell backward, marked by horrible wounds.
Kade smiled tightly to herself, leapt to her feet, and ran.
Thomas waited for her to reach the stairway before starting up. She was a little ahead of him halfway up the second tier when she was thrown back against the banister as if something had struck her.
The Host started to pour over the barricade. Thomas reached Kade and lifted her up. She was unconscious but still breathing and weighed practically nothing.
The third tier passed in a blur with the fay on the stairs below. Then the Albon knights were closing the siege doors behind him, foot-thick oak panels sheathed with iron. They slammed them to and shoved the heavy locking-bolts home. The foyer was crowded with wounded guards and refugees, and the light was dim and smoky.
Kade let him know she was awake and wanted to be put down with a sharp elbow in his ribs. He set her on her feet and she staggered slightly. "What happened to you?" he demanded, his breath coming hard from the climb.
"I don't know. Ow." She felt the side of her head gingerly. "Where's Galen?"
The old sorcerer was already on the other side of the gallery, helping with the wounded. As Kade turned away to go to him Thomas said, "Wait."
She paused, wary, and he asked, "Did you know this was going to happen?"
"No." Her voice was scornful. "That is the Unseelie Court, the Dark Host, the enemy of light. I wouldn't have anything to do with them. They were the ones who tricked my mother into accepting a wager she couldn't possibly win. I wasn't much fond of her, but no one deserves-- And they would just as soon do the same to me."
He had to be sure. "You didn't mention you knew how to manipulate the wards."
"I wouldn't have been able to call that ward down if the keystone had still been in its place. Removing it destroyed the etheric structure that held the wards in their courses." She winced and touched her head again, then continued more calmly. "Galen taught me how to track wards in a puddle of ash, and the way I called Ableon-Indis to me was only a variation on the spells used to temporarily hold a ward in one place, which every apprentice knows. Ask him if you don't believe me."
There was a muffled thump from the other side of the siege doors, then an echoing roar, as some thwarted creature expressed its displeasure. If Kade had not bothered to aid the defenders, they would have been on the other side of those doors now. Thomas thought, She didn't have to do it, and it certainty wouldn't serve her purpose if she meant us any harm. He said, "It won't be necessary to ask him."
Kade hesitated, as if she was just as inexperienced at accepting trust as he was at giving it, then she turned without a word and slipped into the crowd. Renier pushed past the other Albons clustering near the siege doors to reach Thomas and said, "The doors are holding."
Thomas asked, "What started it?" It had occurred to him that he still didn't know exactly what had exploded or where, except that it was somewhere in the Old Palace or the Gallery Wing.
The big knight looked like he had been run over by a wagon. The final touch was a perfect black eye. He said, "I only know we've lost half the Cisternan Guard and anyone who was posted past the main hall of the Old Palace. Including one of your lieutenants. I saw him going that way just before it happened."
Gideon would be with Falaise in the King's Bastion. "Lucas Castil?"
"Yes, that's him."
"God damn." Thomas leaned back against the wall and used the full sleeve of his shirt to wipe the sweat off his forehead. He could still smell the fay-horse's acrid blood. "Where's Ravenna?"
"She's here in the bastion; I've seen her. Roland was in the Gallery Wing when it happened. We got him out barely in time." Renier hesitated, then said, "I have to talk to you in private."
Thomas looked up at him. With Kade on the other side of the gallery, there was no one to eavesdrop except for their own men, who were standing or lying about in various positions of pain or exhaustion, but Renier's expression was deadly serious.
As they moved off a little, Thomas asked, "How did you get that eye?" Considering everyone else's wounds, it was oddly minor.
"The King was a trifle upset at certain developments," Renier answered with a noticeable lack of expression.
"Well, he's a great comfort to all of us," Thomas snapped. We've given our lives for an idiot child. And Lucas was dead.
Renier didn't seem to notice the comment. He seemed almost dazed. "Thomas, I'm not sure about this but..."
Renier hesitated such a long moment Thomas had to take a better hold on what was left of his patience. "Go on," he said in a level tone.
"A knight stationed on the Prince's Gate Tower reported to me a short while ago. He said they could see fires and fighting in the streets. It's not just the palace quarter; it's the city."
Continue to Chapters Nine through Sixteen
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