The Potter's Daughter
First published in Elemental, Tor Books, May 2006.
Reprinted in The Year's Best Fantasy #7, Tachyon Publications, June 2007.
The potter's daughter sat in the late afternoon sun outside the stone cottage, making clay figures and setting them out to dry on the flat slate doorstep. A gentle summer breeze stirred the oak and ash leaves and the dirty grey kerchief around her dirty blond hair.
Someone was coming up the path.
She could hear that he was without horse, cart, or company, and as he came toward her through the trees she saw that he was tall, with dark curly hair and a beard, with a pack and a leather case slung over one shoulder. He was unarmed, and dressed in a blue woolen doublet, faded and threadbare, brown breeches and brown top boots. The broad-brimmed hat he wore had seen better days, but the feathers in it were gaily colored. Brief disappointment colored her expression; she could tell already he wasn't her quarry.
Boots crunched on the pebbles in the yard, then his shadow fell over her and he said, "Good day. Is this the way to Riversee?"
She continued shaping the wet clay, not looking up at him. "Just follow this road to the ford."
"Thank you, my lady Kade."
Now she did look up at him, in astonishment. Part of the astonishment was at herself, that she could still be so taken by surprise. She dropped the clay and stood, drawing a spell from the air.
Watching her with delight, he said, "Some call you Kade Carrion, because that is the sort of name given to witches. But the truth of the matter is that you are the daughter of the dead King Fulstan and Moire, a woman said to be the Dame of Air and Darkness of the fayre." He was smiling at her. His eyes were blue and guileless, and he had a plain open face.
Kade stopped, hands lifted, spell poised to cast. Names could be power, depending on how much one knew. But he was making no move towards her. Intrigued, she folded her arms and asked, "Who soon to be in hell are you?"
"I know all the tales of your battle with the court, the tricks you play on them," he told her, his expression turning serious. "But the story I tell of you is the one about the young gentlewoman of Byre, who died of heartbreak in the Carmelite Convent's spring garden when the prince of a rival city took her maidenhead and mocked her for it afterwards."
Kade lifted an ironic brow. "I remember the occasion. I didn't realize how entertaining it was. Finding an untidy dead woman in my favorite garden was not the high point of my day." It was incredible that he had recognized her; no one in their right mind would expect a half-fay half-human witch to be barefoot and wearing a peasant's muddy dress. As a rule the fay were either grotesquely ugly or heartbreakingly beautiful. Kade was neither. Her eyes were merely grey, her skin tended to brown or redden rather than maintain an opalescent paleness, and her features were unfashionably sharp. She had never looked like anyone expected her to look and this was why she had never expected anyone to recognize her when she didn't want to be recognized.
Oblivious, he continued, "You took on the appearance of the poor lady and waited there, and when the prince returned--"
"He found me instead, and we all know what happened to him then, don't we?"
"Yes," he agreed readily. "You found that the little idiot had consented, and that she had been as guilty of bad judgment and weak nature as he was guilty of being a rake. So instead of killing him you cursed him with a rather interesting facial deformity to teach him better manners."
Kade frowned, startled in spite of herself. She had never heard anyone tell the incident in that light. It was astonishingly close to her own point of view. "And what does that tell you?"
"That you have a sense of justice," he assured her, still serious. "I've told many stories of you, and it's one of the things about you that always impressed me."
Kade considered him carefully. He evidently knew his danger and didn't shrink from it, though he hadn't exactly dared her to be rid of him. It had been a long time since anyone had spoken to her this way, with a simple fearless acceptance. Kade found herself saying, "She didn't perish dramatically of heartbreak, you know. She killed herself."
He shifted the pack on his shoulder and shook his head regretfully. "It's all the same in the end." He looked up at her, his gaze sharp. "But I'm here now to tell the story of the potter of Riversee who was murdered, and how you avenged her. I'm Giles Verney, a balladeer."
The balladeer part she could have guessed, but she still wasn't sure what to make of this man. Surely he can't be simply what he seems, she thought. People were never what they seemed. "Very well, Giles Verney, how did you know me?"
"There's a portrait of you in the manor at Islanton. It's by Greanco, whom you must remember, as he was court artist when--"
"I remember," she interrupted him. The only other portrait of her had hung in the Royal Palace in Vienne, and was probably long destroyed. Greanco was a seventh son and had the unconscious ability to put a true representation of the soul of his subject into his work. Kade could weave glamour into an effective disguise, but hadn't bothered for the inhabitants of Riversee, who had never seen her before. ?ou came here for the story of the dead potter.
Giles looked toward the door of the cottage. "I was in Marbury and heard about it from the magistrate there." He shook his head, his mouth set in a grim line. "It's a shocking thing to happen."
Maybe if I show him exactly how shocking it is he'll go away, she thought. She said, "See for yourself."
He followed her into the cottage with less hesitation than she would have expected, but stopped in the doorway. It was dark and cool and flies buzzed in the damp still air. The plaster walls were stained with dried blood and the rough plank floor littered with the glazed pieces of the potter's last work, mixed with smashed furniture and tumbled cooking pots. After a quiet moment he asked, "Do you know what did this?"
She hesitated, but his story of the gentlewoman of Byre alone had bought him this answer. "Yes."
Giles stepped forward, stooping to pick a piece of wooden comb out of the rubble. His face was deeply troubled. "Was it human?"
"I don't know. But you'd be surprised how often something like this is done by a man, despite the number of tales where giant hands come down chimneys." Kade rubbed the bridge of her nose. She was tired and the whole long day had apparently been for nothing. She made her voice sharp, wanting to frighten him. "Now why don't you go away? This isn't a game and I'm not known for my patience."
He looked up at her, the death in the poor little room reflected in his eyes. As if it was the most self-evident thing in the world, he said patiently, "There has to be an end to the story, my lady."
Stubborn idiot, if you are what you seem, Kade thought wearily. "There might be no end. I've waited all day here and all I caught was you, a human mayfly."
His expression turned quizzical. "You're pretending to be another potter?"
"Clever of you to notice." Kade regarded the thatched ceiling sourly. The inhabitants of Riversee knew her only as the potter's daughter, come from another village to see to her mother's body and continue her craft. But now Giles' recognition of her made her wonder. Had she fooled anyone? Did the whole village whisper of it behind her back?
"Do you know why it was done?" Giles dropped the comb and got to his feet, dusting his hand off on his doublet.
She wouldn't give him that answer. "No."
"She was killed because potters are sacred to the old faith, or you wouldn't be here." Giles glanced around the room again, frowning in thought. "Could it have been the Church?"
Kade shrugged, scratching her head under the kerchief. "The local priest is about as old as his god's grandfather. I'm not discounting misplaced religious fervor, but he hasn't the strength or the temperament." As for the rest of Riversee, they might be baptized in the Church and pay their tithes regularly, but they still left fruit and flowers for the nameless spirits of the water and the wood, as well as the fay. Then she glared at him, because he had drawn her in again and she had hardly noticed.
Giles nodded. "That's well, but as you say, it's best not to discount it altogether. What do you plan next?"
She stared at him incredulously. "Are you mad?"
He smiled, with the air of someone waiting for a joke to be explained so he could laugh too. "Why do you say that?"
Kade clapped a hand to her forehead in exasperation. "In all the stories you've supposedly told of me, did it ever occur to you that I'm easily angered and don't appreciate human company?"
Apparently this hadn't occurred to him. He was aghast. "Don't you want the truth told?"
"Not particularly, no." Kade waved her arms in frustration. She still couldn't believe she was having this conversation.
"Why?" he demanded.
"Because it's my concern," she said pointedly.
"My concern is to tell tales. This would make a very good tale," he assured her, all earnest persuasion.
Gritting her teeth in frustration, Kade pulled a bit of yarn off her belt and knotted it into a truthcharm. The strands held together and she knew he believed what he said, and she was enough of a judge of character to know that he wasn't merely overdramatizing himself. She took a deep breath, flicking the charm away, and tried to reason with him. "That's all well and good, Giles, but I've made this my battle, and I don't need interference."
"People will tell things to a balladeer they wouldn't think of saying to any other stranger," he persisted. "I could be a great help to you."
Apparently reason worked as well with him as it would with the birds in the trees. "I don't need help, either. Exasperated, she stepped out of the shadowed cottage into the bright sunlight of the dirt yard.
He followed, the leather case he carried bumping against the doorframe with a suspicious twang. Kade hesitated, her attention caught. "What's in there?" she asked warily.
He patted it fondly. "A viola d'amore."
Despite her best intentions, she found herself eyeing the case, torn between caution and greed. Like all her mother's people, she had a weakness for human music. She conquered it and shook her head, thinking if I wanted to trap myself, I would send just such a man. Inoffensive and kind, easy to speak to, with a legitimate purpose for being here. "I want you to leave, on your own, or I'll make you."
"Is it trust? Wait, here's this." Giles set his pack on the ground, knelt to fish a small fruit knife out and used it to cut off a lock of his hair. He held it up to her. "There's trust on my part. This should be enough to show you that there can be trust on yours."
She took it from him mechanically. That was trust. For a man without any magical knowledge it was also the greatest foolishness. For someone who knew as much about her as he plainly did it bordered on insanity.
She sighed. He might have a touch of the sight; the best balladeers did. Whatever it was, she really couldn't see her way clear to killing him.
No need to tell him that immediately. She lifted a brow, regarding him thoughtfully. "Did you ever hear the story of the balladeer who spent the rest of his life as a tree?"
Kade led Giles through the crumbling town walls and into the cluster of cottages that surrounded Riversee's single inn. The small houses on either side of the rough cart track were made of piled stone with slate or thatched roofs, each in its own little yard with dilapidated outbuildings, dung heaps, and overgrown garden plots. The ground was deeply rutted by wagon wheels, dusty where it wasn't muddy with discarded slops. The nearby post road made Riversee more cosmopolitan than most villages, but the passersby still watched Giles narrowly. They had become used to Kade, and a few nodded greetings to her.
As they passed under the arched wagongate of the inn's walled yard, Kade said quietly, "Tell your stories of someone else, Giles. I can be dangerous when I'm embarrassed." She added ruefully, And I've embarrassed myself enough, thank you, I don't need any help at it.
He smiled at her good-naturedly, not as if he disbelieved her, but as if it was her perfect right to be dangerous whenever she chose.
The inn was two stories high, with a shaded second story balcony overlooking outside tables where late afternoon drinkers gathered with the chickens, children, and dogs in the dusty yard. A group of travelers, their feathered hats and the elaborate lace of their collars and cuffs grimy with road dust, argued vehemently around one of the tables. To the alarm of bystanders, one of them was using the butt of his wheellock to pound on the boards for emphasis. Kade recognized them as couriers, probably from royalist troops engaged in bringing down the walls of some noble family's ancestral home. Months ago the court had ordered the destruction of all private fortifications to prevent feuding and rebellious plots among the petty nobility. This didn't concern Kade, whose private fortifications rested on the bottom of a lake, and were invisible to all but the most talented eyes.
Kade took a seat on the edge of the big square well to watch Giles approach the locals. The men seated at the long plank table eyed him with suspicion as the balladeer started to open the leather case he carried. The suspicion faded into keen interest as Giles took out the viola d'amore.
Traveling musicians were usually welcomed gladly and balladeers who could bring news of other towns and villages even more so. Within moments they would be fighting to tell him their only news -- the grim story of the potter's death, or at least what little they knew of it. Kade stirred the mud near the well with her big toe. She was disgusted, mostly with herself. She knew why the potter had been killed well enough -- to attract her attention.
In the old faith, the villages honored the fay in the hopes that the erratic and easily angered creatures would leave them alone. Riversee was dedicated to Moire, Kade's mother, and Kade could only see the death of the village's sacred potter as a direct challenge. A few years ago it might have pleased her, this invitation to battle, but now it only threatened to make her bored. She wasn't sure what had changed; perhaps she was growing tired of games altogether.
That night, seated atop one of the rough tables in the inn's common room, Giles picked out an instrumental treatment of a popular ballad, and watched Kade. She sat near the large cooking hearth in the center of the room, regarding the crowd with an amused eye as she tapped one bare foot to the music.
The inn was crowded with a mix of locals and travelers from the nearby post road. Both the magistrate and the elderly parish priest were in attendance; the first to count the number of wine jugs emptied for the Vine-growers' Excise and the second to discourage the patrons from emptying the jugs at all. Smoke from clay pipes and tallow candles and the heat of the fire made the room close and muggy. The din of talk and shouted comments almost drowned the clear tone of the viola, but whenever Giles stopped playing enraged listeners hurled crockery at him.
If Giles hadn't known better he would've thought the dim flickering light kind to the rather plain woman who called herself the old potter's daughter. But when firelight glittered off a wisp of pale hair as she leaned forward to catch some farmer's joke, he saw something else instead. The daughter of the spirit dame of air and darkness, and a brute of a king, Giles thought, and added a restless undercurrent to the plaintive ballad. Smiling at his folly, he bent his head over the viola.
Over the noisy babble and the music there were voices in the entryway. Two men with a party of servants entered the common room. One was blond and slight, with sharp handsome features and a downy beard. His manner was offhand and easy as he said something with a laugh to one of the servants behind him. His companion could not have been a greater contrast if nature had deliberately intended it. He was tall, muscled like a bull, with dark greasy hair and rough features. Both men were well-turned out, though not in the latest city style, and Giles labeled them as hedge gentry.
He also had a good eye for his audience, and saw tension infect the room like a plague in the newcomers' wake. There was muttering and an uneasy shifting among the local people, though the travelers seemed oblivious to it. In Giles' experience the nobility of this province were little better than gentlemen farmers and usually got on quite well with their villages and tenants, except for the usual squabbles over dovecotes and rights to the mill. Obviously the relationship in Riversee was somewhat strained.
Seated at the table Giles was using as a stage were the grizzled knife-grinder who worked in the innyard, a toothless grandmother that might have been a hundred years old, and a farmer in the village to sell pigs. Giles nodded toward the new arrivals and asked softly, "And who is that?"
The knife-grinder snorted into his tankard. "The big one is Hugh Warrender. Some distant kin of the Duke of Marais."
"Fifth cousin, twice removed," the piping voice of the old woman added.
The farmer said, "Fifth cousin...? Quiet, you daft old--"
"The boy is Fortune Devereux," the knife-grinder continued, oblivious to his companions' comments. "He's a brother from the wrong side of the bed, come up from Marleyton."
"From Banesford," the old woman put in, almost shouting over the farmer's attempts to keep her quiet.
"He first came here two years ago." The grinder shrugged. "Warrender's not well thought of, but Devereux' not so bad."
"Wrong!" The old woman glanced suspiciously around the room and lowered her voice to a shriek. "He's worse, far worse!"
Kade watched as a table was cleared for Warrender and his men near her seat beside the hearth, a process which involved a good deal of shouting, jostling, and imprecations. As the group argued with the landlord, her eyes fell on the blond Devereux. He was an attractive man, but she wasn't sure that was what had drawn her eye. There was something else about him, something in his eyes, the way he moved his hands as he made a placating gesture to the ruffled landlord. Whatever the something was, it made the back of her neck prickle in warning. She was so occupied by it that she was caught completely unawares when Warrender turned with a growl and backhanded a grubby potboy into the fire.
No time for thought or spell, her stool clattered as Kade launched herself forward. She landed hard on her knees, catching the boy around the waist before he stumbled into the flames.
Thwarted, Warrender snarled and lifted a hand to strike both of them. Kade knelt in the ashes, the fearful boy clutching a double handful of her hair. "Yes, it would hurt me," she said quietly to the madness in Warrender's face. "But it would also make me very, very angry."
Something in her face froze Warrender. He stared at her, breathing hard, but didn't drop his arm. The moment dragged on.
Then Fortune Devereux stepped forward, catching his brother by the shoulder. Past Warrender's bulky form Kade met the younger man's gaze. Though his expression was sober, his eyes danced with laughter. Yes, she thought, her grip on the boy unconsciously tightening, Oh yes. And now I know.
The tension held as Warrender hesitated, like a confused and angry bull, then he laughed abruptly and let Devereux lead him away.
Kade felt the potboy shiver in relief and released him. He scrambled up and darted away through the crowd. She was aware that across the room Giles was on his feet, that an older man had him by the wrist, trying to pry a heavy wooden stool out of his hand. As Warrender and the others moved away, Giles forced himself to relax and let the man take the makeshift club. He retrieved the viola from the table where he had dropped it and sat down heavily on the bench. She saw his hands were shaking as he rubbed at an imperfection on the instrument's smooth surface.
As the rest of his party took their seats, Devereux strolled over to the balladeer's table. He spoke, smiling, and tipped his hat. Giles looked up at him warily, gave him a grudging nod.
Kade looked away, to keep from betraying any uneasiness. Devereux had marked Giles' reaction, had seen him ready to leap to her defense. That, she thought, cannot mean anything good.
"What did he say to you?" Kade's voice floated down from the cavernous darkness of the stable's loft.
"Nothing." Giles had finished wrapping the viola d'amore in its oiled leather case. He was not sure when Kade had gotten into the loft or how. The stable, the traditional sleeping place of itinerant musicians and entertainers, was warm and dark except for the faint glow of moonlight through the cracks in the boards. The horses and mules penned or stalled along the walls made a continuous soft undercurrent of quiet snorts and stamping as they jostled one another. Straw dust floated down from above and into Giles' hair. He stretched slowly, trying to ease the knots out of his aching back. This had not been one of his better nights.
He knew he was a fool, but he would rather no one else know it; when Warrender had been a breath away from knocking Kade into the fire, he had come dangerously close to exposing his feelings. She's the most dangerous woman in Ile-Rien, he told himself ruefully, she doesn't need your defense. Except in his songs maybe, that spoke the truth about her when others lied.
"I know he said something to you, I saw his lips move," she persisted impatiently.
"Nothing that meant anything. Only gloating, I think. He said he was sorry for the disturbance." Giles hesitated. "What would you have done?"
Irritated, he replied more sharply than he meant to. "When that hulking bastard was about to push you into the fire, when do you think?"
"I wouldn't turn to dust at the first lick of flame, you know." There was a pause. "I did have in mind a certain charm for the spontaneous ignition of gunpowder. And considering where he carried his pistol--" She added, "Devereux made his brother do it, you know."
Giles turned to look up at the dark loft, startled. "What?"
"Warrender's under a binding spell. You could see it in his eyes."
"Devereux is a sorcerer?" Giles frowned.
Her voice was lightly ironic. "Since he can do a binding spell, it's the logical conclusion."
"But why would he do that? Did he kill the potter?"
Giles gestured helplessly. "But why?"
She sounded exasperated. "I'm only an evil fay, ballad-maker, I don't have all the answers to all the questions in the world."
Giles drew a deep breath, summoning patience. Then he smiled faintly to himself. "My lady Kade, the playwright Thario always said that it was how we behave in a moment of impulse that told the true tale of our souls. And you, in your moment of impulse, kept a boy from being pushed into a fire. What do you say to that?"
An apple sailed upward out of the loft, reached the peak of its ascent, then dropped to graze his left ear. There was a faint scrabble and a brief glint of moonlight from above as a trap door opened somewhere in the roof. "My mother was the queen of air and darkness, Giles," her voice floated down as if from a great height. "And darkness..."
Giles rolled over, scratching sleepily at the fleas that had migrated from his straw-filled pallet. The stable had become uncomfortably warm and the summer night was humid. The sound of a woman sobbing softly woke him immediately. Wiping sweat from his forehead, he sat up and listened. It was coming from the stableyard, the side away from the inn.
He pushed to his feet and pulled his shirt on. Moonlight flickered down through the cracks in the high roof. As he crossed the hay-strewn floor a horse stretched a long neck over a stall and tried to bite him.
The sobbing was slightly louder. It seemed to blend with the whisper of the breeze outside, forming an ethereal lament. Giles stopped, one hand on the latch of the narrow portal next to the large wagon door, some instinct making him wary.
Even through tears, the voice was silvery, bell-like. Odd. If the woman was under attack by whatever had killed the potter, she wouldn't be merely crying quietly.
On the chance that this was some private lover's quarrel and that interruptions, no matter how well-meant, would be unwelcome, he groped for the rickety ladder in the darkness and climbed to the loft. The window shutters were open to the breeze and the big space was awash in moonlight. The hay-strewn boards creaked softly as Giles crossed it and crouched in front of the window.
A woman was pacing on the hardpacked earth in front of the stable, apparently alone. Her hair was colorless in the moonlight, and she wore a long shapeless robe of green embroidered with metallic threads. She swayed as the wind touched her, like a willow, like tall grass. Behind her the empty field stretched out and down toward the trees shadowing the dark expanse of the river.
The woman tilted her head back and the tears streamed down her face, into her hair. Giles had one leg out the window when Kade caught the collar of his shirt and jerked him back. He sat down hard and looked up to see her standing over him.
He shook his head, dizzy and a little ill, suddenly aware his mind had not been his own for a moment. His gut turning cold, he looked out at the weeping woman again, but this time saw her gliding progress as strange and unnatural. "What is it?" he whispered, prickles creeping up his spine.
Kade knelt in the window, matter-of-factly knotting her hair behind her head and tucking it into her kerchief. "A glaistig. Under that dress it's more goat than human and it's overly fond of the taste of male blood. They usually frequent deep running water. Someone must have called her up from the river."
Giles looked down at the creature again, warily fascinated.
Kade said grimly, "Mark it well for your next ballad, that's your killer."
"Devereux controls it?" Giles guessed, thinking of the red ruin of the potter's house. "He made it kill the potter?"
"He must have. It wouldn't attack an old woman unless it was forced."
"But why send it here?"
Kade threw him an enigmatic look. "There's been too much happenstance already tonight. She's not trying to seduce a pack mule. She's after you."
"Me?" he said, startled, but Kade was already gone.
Kade closed her eyes and pulled glamour out of the night air and the dew, drawing it over herself. It was a hasty job, and it wouldn't have fooled anyone in daylight, but the creature below was not intelligent and the dark would lend its own magic.
She grabbed the tackle that hung from the loft and swung down, the heavy rope rough against her hands and bare feet.
The glaistig turned toward her, smiling and stretching out its arms. It would see a young man, in shirt and breeches, barefoot, details of feature and form hidden by the barn's shadow. Kade moved toward it, dragging her feet slightly, as if half-asleep. She was thinking through the rote words of a binding spell, to tie the glaistig to her and let her call it whenever she chose. The difficulty was that she had to touch the creature for the binding to take effect.
Within touching distance the glaistig hesitated, staring at her. Its eyes threw back the moonlight like the glassy surface of a pool, but Kade could read confusion and suspicion there.
Before it could flee, Kade leapt forward and grabbed its hands. It shrieked in surprise, the shrill piercing cry turning into a growl. It tried to jerk free and only succeeded in dragging Kade across the dusty yard.
Kade stumbled, the gravel tearing into her feet. The glaistig was a head taller than she and heavier. She dug her heels in and gasped, "Just tell me why he sent you after my new favorite musician and we'll call this done."
"Let go!" Far gone in rage, the creature's voice was less alluringly female, but far more human.
Straining to stay on her feet, Kade hoped it didn't get the idea to slam her up against the barn or the stone wall of the innyard, but the creature seemed just as bad at advance planning as she was. "I'm giving my word. Tell me why he sent you and I'll let you go!"
The glamour had dissolved in the struggle, and the residue of it lay glittering on the earth like solid dewdrops. The glaistig abruptly stopped struggling to peer at her, confused. "What are you?"
"I've power over all the fay and if you don't tell me what I want to know now I'll bind you to the bottom of the village well in a barrel with staves and lid of cold iron. Does that tell you who I am?" Kade snarled. She had no idea if that would tell the glaistig who she was or not. And with her spell trembling like sinew stretched to the breaking point she couldn't have bound a compass needle to true north.
The glaistig shivered. "He didn't tell me."
"Oh, come now, you can do better than that." Sweat was dripping into Kade's eyes.
"I don't know, I don't know," it wept, sounding like a human woman again. "I swear, he told me to come here after the music-maker, he didn't tell me why. Do you think he would tell me why? Let me go."
Kade released the spell in relief and the glaistig flung away from her. It stumbled, then fled towards the river in an awkward loping run. Kade sat down heavily on the hard-packed earth. She realized Giles was standing beside her, that he had been outside watching nearly the entire time.
He said, "You could have been killed."
She got to her feet, legs trembling with strain. "No, only nibbled on a little." She shook the dust out of her hair. "I can call that glaistig back whenever I want it. Though I'm not sure why I would. This all started out in a very promising way, but Devereux hasn't tried to fight me, or set me any puzzles to solve."
There was a moment of silence, then Giles said, "What do you mean?"
Something in his voice made Kade reluctant to answer. She watched the glaistig disappear among the trees near the river. Beautiful as it was, it was still just as empty-headed and perverse as the rest of the fay. It might guide a child out of the forest or care for elderly fishermen, but it would certainly kill any young man it could catch.
Giles asked, "Did he have any reason at all to kill the potter?"
"No." She could all but hear him drawing that last conclusion. If Giles Verney, balladeer, knew enough about Kade Carrion to realize that killing the village potter would bring her here, than surely the local sorcerer would realize it as well.
"The potter did nothing to him, knew nothing about him?"
Kade looked at him, his face a white mask in the moonlight. "What did you think this was?" she asked quietly.
"I didn't think it was a game. I didn't think he did it just to get your attention." He didn't sound shocked, only resigned.
With a snort of irony, Kade said, "It's what we do, Giles." She drew the fallen, scattered glamour around her to cloak herself in moonlight and shadow, and walked away.
Later in the night, when the moon was dimmed by clouds, Kade walked up the cart track to the gates of the Warrender manor house. The walls were crumbling like those around the village, too low to attract royal attention and be torn down. The house was small by city standards, but it was better than anything anyone else in Riversee had. It was two stories, with high, narrow windows shuttered against the darkness.
It had never mattered before what anyone else thought of her. The fay disliked each other as a matter of course, and Kade had never regarded her relatives on either side of the family with anything but anger or contempt. Having Giles' idealistic vision of her shattered shouldn't twist in her heart. But she hadn't chosen this game, Devereux had; she would find out what he wanted and end it tonight, one way or another.
Two servants were sleeping in a shabby outbuilding that housed the dovecote; she heard one cough and stir sleepily as she passed the door but neither wakened.
As she had hoped, there was a doorway near the back of the house, open and spilling lamplight. A postern door here would make a convenient exit for someone who wanted to leave or enter late at night without drawing attention.
The dry grass caught at her skirt as she stepped up to the open door. The room inside was low-ceilinged and cluttered with the debris of sorcery. Two long tables held heavy books, clouded glass vessels, curiously shaped and colored rocks or fragments of crystal. Wax had collected at the bases of the candles, their wan light revealing bare stone walls and soot-stained rafters. Fortune Devereux stood at the far end of the room, his back to her, leaning over an open book.
Kade held out a hand, took a slow breath, tasting the aether carefully. There was nothing, no wards that would set off nasty spells if she touched the doorsill. She took the last step forward and leaned in the doorway, saying, "Now what do you need this mess for?"
Devereux turned, his smile slow and triumphant. His doublet and shirt were open across his chest and she saw again that he was a very attractive man. "I didn't think you'd come."
She added that smile to what she knew of sorcerers and thought so this room is warded. She tested the aether again and felt the tug of the spell this time. Damn. She hadn't felt it outside because it wasn't set to stop her from entering the room; it was set to stop her from leaving. Idiot. Overconfidence and impatience will kill you without any help from Devereux. She didn't like stepping into his trap, but she still thought her power was more than equal to this mortal sorcerer's. If he struck at her directly, he would find that out. She smiled back, making it look easy. "I've only just gotten here and you're lying already."
His expression stiffened.
"You bound a glaistig and killed an old potter in the village you know by tradition I consider my property. Simply to get my attention. But you expected me not to take the bait and appear? Really, that makes you something of a fool, doesn't it?"
Devereux lifted a brow. "I misspoke. I didn't think you would come tonight, since you were occupied with your musician."
"I see." She nodded mock-complacently. "Jealousy, and we've only just met. Did it ever occur to you that all I had to do was point you out to the villagers, explain how you used the glaistig to kill the old potter, and this house would be burning down around your ears now?"
He laughed. "And I thought your loyalty to these people was as fickle as that of the rest of the fay. I didn't realize you were so virtuous."
Kade lifted a cool brow, though for some reason the jibe about loyalty had hit home. "My loyalty is fickle, but at least they gave me fruit and flowers. What did you ever do for me?"
"I have an offer for you." Devereux took a step forward. "You could benefit from an alliance with me."
"Benefit?" She rolled her eyes. "I repeat, what did you ever do for me?"
"It's what I can do for you. I can give you revenge."
This was new. No one had ever offered that before. Kade watched his calm face carefully, intrigued. "Revenge on who?"
"The court, the king. The tricks you play on them, however deadly, aren't worthy of you. With my help, and the help of others that I know--"
"You want to use me against my royal relatives," Kade shook her head, disappointed, and added honestly, "It's an audacious plan, I'll willingly give you that much. No man's had the courage to suggest such a thing to me before."
His face had hardened and she knew it had been a long time since anyone had refused him anything. "But it is not to your taste, I take it."
Kade shrugged. "If I really wanted to kill my mortal brother I could have done it before now. What I want to do is make him and his mother suffer, and I don't think you or your supporters would agree to that. And as soon as I wasn't useful to you anymore one of you would try to kill me, then I'd have to kill one or more of you, and the whole mess would fall apart." She hesitated, and for some reason, perhaps because he was so comely, said, "If you had approached me as a friend, it could have been different. Perhaps we could have worked something out to serve your end."
But from his angry expression he didn't recognize it as the offer it was, or he felt it was a lie or a trap. Maybe it was, Kade admitted to herself. Maybe what she was really wanted was something else entirely, something Devereux simply hadn't the character to offer her.
"I suggest you reconsider," Devereux said, his voice harsh.
She said dryly, "I suggest you stick to sorcery and leave politics to those with the talent for it."
He stepped back, giving her a thin-lipped smile. "You can't leave. This room is warded with a curse. If you break the barrier, the creature that loves you most in the world will die."
Relieved, Kade laughed at him as she slipped out the door. Fay didn't love each other, and there was no mortal left from her childhood who didn't want to see her dead. He had chosen this spell badly. "Curse away. I've nothing to lose."
"I think you have!" Kade heard him call after her as she ran through the tall grass. As she came around the side of the house there was a shout. Ahead in the darkness she saw moving figures and the glow from the slow match of a musket. She swore and ducked.
The musket thundered and there was a sharp crack as the ball struck the stone wall behind her. If they hit me with that thing, Kade thought desperately, we're all going to find out just how human I am. The musket balls were cold iron, and her fay magic could do nothing to them.
But that protection didn't extend to the gunpowder inside the musket. She covered her head with her arms and muttered the spell she had considered using on Warrender in the inn.
There was an explosion and a scream as someone's wheellock pistol went off, then a dozen little popping sounds as the scattered grains of powder from the musket's blast ignited.
Kade scrambled to her feet. The grass near the gate had caught fire and she was forgotten in the face of that immediate threat. She ran to the back wall with its loose bricks and crumbling mortar and climbed it easily. At the top she paused and looked back. In the glow of the grass fire she could see Devereux walking back and forth, shouting at the servants in angry frustration. Revenge against her royal relatives would have been sweet. But it would never have worked, not with him, anyway, she thought with a grimace. Too bad.
It was barely dawn when she reached the inn, and through the windows she could see that candles had been lit in the common room. From just outside the door she thought there was more noise than seemed normal at this hour, especially after last night's drinking bout.
When she stepped inside, she heard a woman say, "Must have died in his sleep, poor thing."
The morning was well advanced when Kade waited for the Glaistig beneath a bent aging willow in a stretch of forest near the river.
It dropped a lock of golden hair into Kade's palm.
"Did he notice?" Kade asked, looking up at the creature.
The glaistig's eyes were limpid, innocent. "I did it while he slept."
"Very good." She should have treated Devereux' curse with more caution, she had said that to herself a hundred times over the rest of the long night. And you should have known. All those brave stories Giles had told of her, his audacity in coming here to find her, should have said it plainly enough. She had also said that she didn't care, but no amount of repetition could make a lie the truth. Giles knew I was dangerous company to keep. Yes, he knew, but he had kept it anyway. And that made it all the worse.
She added the hair to a small leather pouch prepared with apricot stones and the puss from a plague sore, then sat down on a fallen log to sew it up with the small neat stitches she had learned as a child.
"The sorcerer was lovely," the glaistig said regretfully, watching her.
"He was lovely," Kade agreed. "And cunning, like me. And I would trade a hundred of both of us to know that one unlovely ballad-singer was still alive somewhere in the world."
Kade left Riversee after that. She had thought to stay to see the result of her handiwork but she had discovered that knowing was enough.
Gray clouds were building for a storm, and she might have summoned one of the many flighted creatures of fayre and ridden the wind with it, but she had also discovered that she preferred to walk the dusty road. Some things had lost their pleasure.
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© Martha Wells 2006
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