90-the apartment

Trinh led the way as we skulked through the darkest shadows. Once or twice we cut through buildings to avoid passing near a patrol. There weren’t as many as I’d expected. Perhaps we’d left the palace in more disarray than I’d thought…or else things had been relaxed for the festival and the military had yet to mobilize fully. It wouldn’t last, but for now we moved quickly. At least until we reached the warehouse where our little apartment was.

Then we waited.

After a few eternities standing in the cold watching for movement or patrols, we scouted the alleys and rooftops. Then, when we found nothing, Quill and I crossed the street. I unlocked the door and Quill stepped in first. He quickly searched the office, then darted upstairs to search up there. I closed and locked the door behind us.

Doubtless, we would have employed this caution regardless. After all, we didn’t know what had become of Lucius Tene, the King’s Guard, or even Domjoa. However, I’d told Bel Valredes my name, and Bel knew where we lived. I could still see the utter incredulity in Namal’s eyes when I’d confessed. As if I’d instead told him I’d decided to marry the noble.

I had spread my hands defensively, “I was angry. He knew what she was going to…that she would…” I couldn’t say it.

“So you decided to trust him with your big secret?” Namal had retorted, aghast.

“No!” I exclaimed, then took a deep breath, trying to be measured, “I called him a traitor. I was angry.”

“Damn it, Zare, he was always a traitor—why did you think differently?” my brother’s voice rose in frustration.

My anger mingled with shame and helplessness. “He might not be evil” really didn’t feel sufficient as an explanation. Nor did “I’m tired of lies.”

“It’s clear,” Quill called from the top of the stairs.

Brought back to the present, I ran up the stairs. Quill had lit the lamp which hung on the wall, the flame was turned down quite low, but it felt bright after the night. I had the trunk unlocked in a moment, and we started pulling out the armor, clothing and bags of money and heaping them on the closest bed. Quill started packing and I grabbed my clothes and armor and went behind him to change. “Don’t look,” I said.

“My lady,” acknowledged Quill, sorting the bounty.

Tarr’s pendant with the sailing ships swung as I stripped off my daggers and ill-fitting clothes.  I shivered as the cool damp of my hair—now contained by a braid—touched my back. Then my fingers touched the cold metal of Bel’s brooch. I nearly threw it across the room. I had thrown it when I’d found it at the villa, still pinned to my trousers. Then I’d wasted several minutes hunting for it on the floor. The brooch might be useful, and it would be silly to get rid of it now.  I pinned the brooch to my shirt before pulling it over my head.  It might as well be within easy reach.

Behind me, Quill said, “Don’t look,” and I heard his shoes drop to the floor, “Namal’s got a lot of clothes in here.”

I narrowly restrained the reflex to look over my shoulder. “Probably not enough to dress all twelve of you, though,” I replied, “Will his armor fit you?”

I slipped on my boots and started buckling on my thigh scabbards.

Quill snorted, “No, that armor was custom made for him.” His feet thunked to the floor again and he walked around the bed to stand in front of me. “The rest of his clothes fit, though.” He was dressed in a shirt and pants that might have been black, and while they weren’t fancy, they were nicer, better fitting, and darker than what he’d had on before. He hadn’t buttoned the collar and he looked like a rogue. It was a good look for him.

“Help me buckle?” I said, turning away to pick up my breastplate. Quill stepped forward, stopping when the lamplight flashed on the brooch.

“Don’t you start,” I growled. “The Valredes crest might be useful. That’s all.”

“I didn’t say anything,” he replied, reaching to help guide the breastplate over my head.

“Out loud.”

He started with the buckles and I contorted to don on my vambraces.

“Why did you tell him your name?”

“I was angry.”

“Do you always spill your guts when you’re angry?”

I shot Quill a look. He shot it back.

“I wanted to hurt him with what he’d done,” I said tersely. “It was stupid and I regret it.”

“You think he really cares for you?”

“I think he probably cared for Analie.”

Quill finished with the buckles and stood back to survey me.

I resisted the urge to cross my arms. “I don’t think he’s all bad.”

“I don’t think many of the men we’ve killed tonight were.” Quill looked me in the eye, “I wouldn’t worry about Valredes. He would have figured out something was up when you started stabbing people, anyway.”

A crash reverberated in the office below. Quill was faster than I was, whipping out a knife and darting down the stairs. I paused to grab the lantern off the hook before following him. Two men were struggling in the office, one was clearly the better fighter and had his opponent pinned to the desk—the ledgers were scattered across the floor. I recognized both men, “Domjoa!” I exclaimed.

“Rakov! It’s alright!” cried Quill at the same moment, sheathing his knife and rushing to intervene before Rakov plastered Domjoa’s face with his fist.

The knight stepped back reluctantly. “We saw him pick the lock and enter the warehouse, I was sent to make sure he didn’t get the jump on you.”

“Thank you,” said Quill.

I hurried to help Domjoa peel himself off the desk. “Are you alright?”

Domjoa straightened his collar, “I’m fine, no thanks to this gentleman.”

“Rakov, this is the Princess’s Thief, Domjoa.” Quill gestured between them, “Domjoa, this is Rakov of the King’s Knights.”

The men eyed each other, then Domjoa turned to me. “What happened at the palace, your Highness?”

“The Queen killed the King before the ball even started, we did not kill her, the palace caught fire, and now we’re racing to rescue the King’s true heir from her before she brings him to Hirhel.” Might as well get it all out.

The thief took a breath, “Is that all?”

“So far. Were you successful?”

A sparkle entered Domjoa’s blue eyes. “Perhaps, your Highness.”

“Good, I need your uniform.”

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