Our new little apartment was situated in a warehouse, above the tiny office, in the heart of the warehouse district by the wharfs. Normally, it would’ve housed the clerk or bookkeeper who staffed the office, but we’d stuffed two cots into the tiny room. The apartment’s solitary window looked out on a dirty street, dirty buildings, then a long dirty wharf lined with sad, empty, ships. Beyond the crowded anchorage I could see the mighty Bandui River; strong, wide, deep, and gray as the darkening winter sky above. There were not many people about the wharfs, partly due to winter, partly due to the setting sun, curfew, and the nightly checkpoints that choked the warehouse district.

I turned away from the window and surveyed the bare little bedroom. There was a fireplace and two cots made up with linens far finer than had any right being in this part of town. A door led to a tiny washroom with a toilet and small tub. There was running water…but not warm water. I was glad for my nymph half, which made cold water relatively insignificant. We had no kitchen, but Domjoa had turned up this morning with a small icebox and ice, which he put in the warehouse to help reduce trips out to buy food. Not that we intended to stay past the Midwinter Ball.

Two days had passed without incident while Namal made preparations for this move and Hesperide spread whispers that the King and his mistress were fighting. I had sparred with Quill and Jemin in the King’s chambers and walked morosely through the frozen gardens in hopes that spies would confirm that Analie was unhappy.

Then, on the third morning, Analie had left the palace, sniffling into a handkerchief with her brother in tow. A carriage with three trunks had followed a couple hours later. Gifts for a departing lover.

It was probably the first time the King’s gifts had included sheets, blankets and pillows. Or armor. He’d also sent all the clothes and jewelry I’d worn while living at the palace, most of which we’d sold on the fourth day. Most, but not all. I touched the spot where the gold pendant stamped with ships sat against my skin underneath my tunic.  I had also saved Tarr’s nightshirt—I couldn’t part with it once I’d found it in the trunk tucked beneath my armor. We’d used some of the money to purchase much less conspicuous clothing, as well as some additional…tools. The rest we would dole out slowly and carefully—probably for food, bribes, and possibly even wages.

Now, it was the evening of the fifth day, with five days left before the Nether Queen’s arrival. Seven before the Midwinter Ball. I walked to the only trunk that we’d kept and checked the lock before heading downstairs to the office.  Namal was sitting behind the desk. Bookshelves full of ledgers lined the little room. The ledgers belonged to whomever owned the warehouse before the purge, and they added a feel of legitimacy to the room. The desk, was covered on one side with paper full of numbers which didn’t matter to us, and the rest was spread with maps of the city and surrounding countryside. The room was illuminated by one sad little lamp hanging over the desk, as Namal had already covered the window with thick canvas, tied down tight to keep light from escaping.

Namal looked up when I reached the bottom of the stairs and stepped into the office. “Trinh will be here soon.”

“I can hardly wait.”

My brother gave me a look. ­

I shot the look back at him. “I don’t have to like him.”

“I’m sure he says the same thing about you.”

“Don’t worry, I’d still pull him out of a burning building,” I grumbled, checking my knives. I had a new harness for Shiharr and Azzad that crossed them higher on my back and kept them much better hidden than before. Especially with my thick knit capelet around my shoulders. My stiletto still hid in my bodice—though this bodice was all cotton and wool, rather than silk or taffeta. I’d traded dresses for brown wool trousers that tucked into my tall boots. It wasn’t entirely out of the ordinary for a middleclass girl to dress this way for work, sans the knives, and I was happy to embrace the freedom. I dropped into the worn leather chair across from Namal and put my feet on the desk. “Any news from Ayglos?”

Namal nodded. “The captain just left. Says that last night they delivered game to some farmers, rang a bell so they would come out and see Nadine’s silhouette leaving.” My brother paused to roll up the maps. “Your dysfunctional horse has been quite useful for their little project.”

I smirked. “Hook? Glad to know someone’s keeping him moving.” Besides helping to smuggle people farther from the city, Nadine and Ayglos had taken most of the men from Gillenwater to do small good deeds to keep hope alive. Nothing too dangerous, with Namal and I so deep in Dalyn, it would be foolish to have all of the royals in extreme danger at once. Nadine and I, with our matching physical descriptions, played the part of one person. I’d conflated myself and Nelia at the Cymerie, and we’d determined that we didn’t mind confusion on that point. One ghost or another, as far as the world was concerned.  My skin prickled as that voice came to mind and I wondered if Nelia minded her name being used in this fight. I pushed the thought away. “How long will they stay at Sinensis, do you think?”

“Everyone in court has probably forgotten all about them, and it’s not a stretch that the King would have forgotten them as well. They should be perfectly fine to stay put until the ball. Although, Father is considering moving Mother farther away,” Namal’s eyes dropped, “in case the worst should happen.”

“He should. And Nadine. And himself. Maybe Ayglos, too.” Since the worst would be pretty incredibly bad.

A wan smile teased at Namal’s lips, “We need Ayglos.”

“What if,” I leaned forward, “Narya dies in an avalanche on the way here?”

“If she’s arriving in five days then she’s already passed the highest parts of the mountains.”

“A miraculous avalanche.”

“Probably should have started praying for that weeks ago.” Namal bent and retrieved a pair of short swords from under the desk and belted them on. Then he produced another long knife from a drawer and passed it to me. I strapped it to my waist. “Do you have everything you need?” he asked.

“Everything I have.” Which was different, and truer.

“I don’t expect trouble tonight, but it’s best to be prepared.”

“Domjoa set up this meeting, right?”

My brother nodded, “He’s been tremendously free with advice, contacts, and ideas. Makes me suspicious.”

Arching a brow, I said, “He owes me his life.”

“Which is why I am working with his contacts at all,” replied my brother. “I don’t know how much fealty means to a man like Domjoa. Just…keep to the shadows and keep watch, will you?”

I would forgive my brother’s paranoia. It made him rely on me like he would on Ayglos, and I liked that. The sun should be well down by now, I was eager to be off. A little knocked pattern sounded at the door. Finally.

Namal stood and turned down the lamp while I palmed the knife and answered the door.

Trinh stood on the doorstep, face shrouded in the shadows of his cloak. I stood back and he entered. “Are you ready?” he was talking more to Namal than me.

I closed the door and grabbed our cloaks off the hook by the door, tossing Namal his.

Namal smothered the lamp, and then we left. Locking the little office behind us.

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