It was late when I walked into the long sitting room in the guest suite where I’d left the others the night before. Quill and Eliah were sitting in wing chairs by the fire, books ignored in their hands, eyes on the door as I entered. They both relaxed when they saw me. I gave them a weary nod as I closed the door and crossed the room to join them.

Quill asked in Angari, “How was your first day as a leanyod?”

“Illuminating,” I replied, also in Angari, as I sank onto the couch between them and stretched. It had been a long day. “Did they get off alright this morning?” Jemin and Ayglos.

“They left first thing. I had them take Hook,” replied Quill, “Figured you’d want him close, and anyone who knew horseflesh would have been asking where you got him.”

I felt immediately forlorn having Hook out of reach for a few days. Even if it was so he’d be in reach for the bulk of the job. The horse had been with me since I’d won him in a wager almost three years ago, he was as constant as my daggers. Except, he had a lot of opinions. “It’s a mounted culture, surely no one would notice Gillenbred mixed in with the Angari horses.”

A laugh chuffed out of Quill, he set aside his book and leaned forward. “Have you seen an Angari horse? Hook will be stabled in Gar Morwen as close to the palace as they can get him.”

“Thank you,” I said, meeting Quill’s eye, then looking him over. He was dressed in a fine black shirt with a waistcoat and jacket in the Magadarian style. “Are you from Magadar now?”

“I’m from all over,” mischief crinkled the corners of his eyes.

“Druskin came to my room first thing this morning.”

Quill’s brows rose, “Don’t tell me someone has fallen for you already?”

I snorted, “No, he wanted to test my fighting skill.”

“In the yard?” asked Eliah, surprised. “I was in the yard the whole first half of the morning and didn’t see you there.”

“No, I wouldn’t go to the yard when I found out he doesn’t train the other leanyodi. I made him bring practice weapons to my room and we sparred there.”

Eliah threw her head back and laughed, her short blonde hair burnished in the firelight, “Serves him right. Pompous ass.”

“Who won?” Quill put his book down and leaned forward.

“In a fair duel with swords, Druskin would,” I replied, a smile tugging at my lips, “and handedly.”

“You spiked him with one of your daggers, didn’t you?” Eliah’s hazel eyes were sparkling, “I bet he spent the whole day struggling to breathe.”

“You sound as if you have personal experience,” I smirked at her.

“The voice of wisdom,” corrected Eliah, lapsing into our native tongue.

I smiled, Eliah and I had matched skill for skill early in our acquaintance, when we were both younger and stupider and thought we had to compete with one another. There wasn’t really competition to be had in either knife fighting or archery, and a female friend was so rare in our line of work that it seemed silly to let either men or politics get between us either. Though, I still called her Butcher. “It was a wooden weapon, but yes: He left satisfied that Quill had been telling the truth that I was useful in a fight.”

“I suppose I should be pleased he is thorough,” said Quill.

“Yes,” the word sighed out of me and I sank deeper into the couch, “But I’ve now been told repeatedly not to lock men in my rooms and that it will start rumors, and apparently, though I have told no one about our morning visit, Galo, at least, already knows things from my match with Druskin.”

Both Quill and Eliah straightened. “Such as?”

Touching two fingers to my heart I inclined my head. “If anyone asks, I’m the bastard child of a lord in Cartahayna.”

It was Eliah who snorted this time, “I knew it.”

Quill frowned, “Did you ask her how she knew?”

“I should have.”

“Did you check your room for peep holes?”

“I should have.”

Quill frowned harder at me. I frowned back. I knew the next question, the one he didn’t want to ask but did want the answer to: Had anyone seen my nymph stripes? I crossed my arms, “I’ll check for peep holes tonight.” If he wasn’t going to ask exactly how dry and how covered I’d been when I left the bathing room, I wasn’t going to tell him.

“You should,” He grunted.

Eliah settled back into the wing chair. “And you all wonder why I refuse to get into this type of situation.”

“No one wonders that, Eliah,” I replied. “Which reminds me, Quill, when we get to Gar Morwen you’re to meet me nightly in the library for lessons in Angari genealogy.”

“That sounds…wonderful,” Eliah picked up her book again.

Quill inclined his head, “I’ll look forward to it.”

“And, I spent the better part of the evening with Galo and convinced her to let me take these.” Unfolding my arms, I sat up and reached into my jacket for the stack of letters tied with a ribbon. Handing the stack to Quill, I continued, “For all my study, the subtleties of Angari culture escape me.”

“These have seals!” exclaimed Quill, incredulous.

“And there have already been two attempts on the Countess’s life since the treaty was signed.” I summed up the story from Galo, and Quill listened, thin lipped, flipping through the letters. His brows rose again when he reached the letter from Adorjan Bulgar, the disconsolate would-be lover. I leaned forward to tap the paper with my finger, “Galo claims that the Countess harbors no affection for Adorjan, but he’s been interested in her since she assumed her title. And this one,” my fingertips danced through the sheaf in his hand until I found one with a seal in blue wax, “Erze of Jozzi, is very adamant that a treaty with the elves will be the end of Angareth.”

Quill shifted that letter to the top of the stack and skimmed it. “He seems to be one of the more…reasoned writers—less incendiary.”

“That’s why he stood out. The others are just blowing off steam because they are angry about compromise. This man is thoughtful.”

“Except…is he suggesting…suicide? As an act of patriotism?” Quill looked up at me, the fire dancing in his eyes.

I nodded, “That’s what I thought when I read it, too.”

There was silence for a moment, filled only by the quiet crackle of the fire. Eliah had leaned forward also and was watching us. I spoke, “Galo said the treaty was negotiated mostly by Prince Domonkos and Terrimbir’s Ambassador Ballint, mostly.”

“I know about the treaty negotiations,” said Quill, shuffling through the letters again.

“Galo also said that the Prince and Countess were childhood friends. She didn’t seem to think he would ever mean the Countess ill.”

“I liked him,” put in Eliah. “Handsome enough, very mannerly.”

“None of these lords mention Daiesen,” Quill stood to grab the tea table and drag it closer. He piled the cups to one side so he could spread the letters out.

I snagged a cup from the tray and poured some tea.

“One would think they would, since the threat of the Empire is what’s driving this alliance.”

I sipped my tea, watching Quill sort the letters according to some mysterious criteria. “I think these lords are angry about not being consulted. They aren’t thinking about the future, or the world beyond Angareth. They’re thinking about blood feuds.”

“Short sighted,” muttered Quill, so softly I almost couldn’t hear him.

“Do you think she is involved?” I kept my voice equally quiet.

“She might be,” he glanced at me.

I took another slow, deliberate sip of my tea. “Well, that will just make this more fun.”


Special thank you to my Patrons, I am so grateful for your support! Thanks for coming on this journey with me.

Share Zare with your friends and we will be a merry company.

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