The afternoon was almost entirely consumed by frenzied preparation. First, an entire wardrobe change for everyone to formally greet the royal family in a small receiving room packed with courtiers. A short ceremonious greeting, barely long enough to surreptitiously study the king, then the Countess mingled with the crowd, greeting as many people as she could before we had to leave again to prepare for the real event. The evening would see a welcome banquet in the throne room for the Countess and the elves. Apparently, the High Lord and Lady of Terrimbir had arrived yesterday. I wondered if they had traveled many weeks out of their way, or if they, too, had snuck across Wuhn land under the cover of night.
Fortunately, I was not one of the leanyodi tasked with helping the Countess prepare for the evening. Galo probably figured my skills didn’t include the finer points of elaborate hair—she was correct—and she released me for the few hours before I’d need to get dressed myself. She’d given me a room just a couple doors down from the Countess’s suite. “Druskin wants you to sleep in the sitting room,” she’d said, a critical purse to her lips, “but at least you won’t have to go far for your closet or bath.”
I closed my door behind me and threw the bolt, sagging against it for a moment to savor being alone. The chambers were a little larger than the rooms in Wuhnravinwel, and the walls appeared to be wood covered in tinted plaster—rather than stone. A covered feather bed was tucked against one wall, between bookshelves, a wardrobe, and a small desk. A stone fireplace took up half the other wall, a door beside it likely led to the bathing chamber. All the wood was finely carved with images of hounds, horses and falcons. A tall, slim, glass window looked outside. I collected myself and gave the rooms the same inspection I’d given the Countess’s, finding no peepholes or false walls. The stone fireplace indeed formed one wall of the bathing chamber, with another hearth on that side, warming the blue tiled space and the tub right next to it. I returned to the bedchamber and opened the window, then I sat at the desk to think and sharpen my knives. Shiharr and Azzad first, then the myriad of others. The rhythm and familiarity of the task relaxed me and focused my thoughts. I reviewed the lords who’d sent nasty letters to the Countess and wondered if we’d seen the last of Adorjan Bulgar. Given his attempted kidnapping, I thought it unlikely he’d tried to hire the Breaker. He might try something else, but he wasn’t who we were looking for. It was possible the Empress had commissioned the assassination, but I thought it far more likely she would use one of her Hunters for the job rather than pay top price for third party. But I could be wrong on that. If she wanted to be clever, perhaps she would find a lordling in debt and pay him to hire someone or to the deed himself. It was very easy to kill people, and even relatively easy to not get caught if you were clever about it…why hadn’t anyone tried poison? I shuddered. That was something I could not protect her against. I had only a very rudimentary skill at recognizing poison, having had no good way to learn. The surest way to protect against that was to have someone tasting all your food and all your drink before you did. I shuddered again.
A croak sounded at the open window and I turned to see my brother’s raven, Rabanki, perched on the sill. I smiled, “Well met. I’m actually glad to see you, feathered menace.”
The raven guffawed and took that as an invitation to fly to the desk. Instinctively, I put my hand over Shiharr and Azzad in case the bird was feeling mischievous.
Rabanki cocked an eye at me critically, then proffered his clawed foot. The little message canister caught the fading the light. I gave up defending my blades and used both hands to unfasten the canister and open it. Uncurling the tiny paper, I read, Welcome to Gar Morwen! Hook is stabled at Farman’s Ferrier on South St. Best tavern is Lute and Bowl, if you can get away. I smoothed my thumb over Ayglos’s scrawl, surprised at how happy it made me to see my brother’s hand.
Looking up at Rabanki, I asked “How many windows did you try before you found mine?”
The bird lifted his wings in a shrugging motion.
“The Countess is two doors that way, might be more like three windows,” I jerked my chin, “I’ll be sleeping there, most likely. If you have an emergency in the middle of the night,” I trailed off, “or something.”
Rabanki’s black eyes bored into me, and I began to be less glad to see him. I flipped over the paper, inked a pen and wrote, Pageant tonight, exciting trip here. Rakov and Rae’d with elves. Sent to fortify against Emp. Will slip out one night if can – Z. I blew on the ink, as soon as it was dry, I returned the paper to the canister and fastened it to Rabanki’s ankle. “If you please, take this to my brother.”
A knock sounded at the door and I spun, knives out. Rabanki croaked indignantly. When the door didn’t open, I shook my head, put down Azzad, and walked to open it, Shiharr tucked in the folds of my coat.
Eliah stood in the hallway, looking completely out of place in her breeches and jerkin—fresh ones—her hands tucked behind her back. “Leanyod, I was told to give you,” she produced a folded paper, “this update on the investigation for the Countess.”
I opened the door wider, “Please, come in.”
Eliah hesitated, then stepped in. When I closed the door behind her, she smirked at Shiharr in my hand.
“Is there anything on that paper?” I asked.
She handed it to me, “See for yourself.”
I opened the paper and smirked, “This is a decent rendering.”
“Thanks, I was going to leave it in a tavern, but Quill thought the Countess might not appreciate the circumstances of the Bulgar tangling with a tree getting out. I told him the trees didn’t need a reason.”
“I might keep this, an artistic rendering of the time a cedar tree avenged my face.”
“Technically, I think the tree was avenging the Countess,” Eliah walked toward the desk, “Rabanki, where’s your handsome perch?”
The raven croaked, hopping off the desk and flapping to the sill.
“Tell them to save me a seat!” called Eliah, as the black bird leapt into the sky.
“Aren’t you going to the pageant?”
Eliah sighed, “Yes. So, they save a seat for days.”
“Days!” I laughed, “It’s not that long.”
Eliah flipped her blonde hair and gave me a look. “It’s not my world.”
I walked to the desk and set Shiharr amongst my other knives. “And you wouldn’t be here if your king hadn’t ordered it?”
I tipped my head. “Don’t be upset. I think it’s a good thing.” I tucked Eliah’s sketch in the desk drawer and closed the drawer a little too forcefully, “A sign of life, so to speak.”
“You know I can’t say anything about him,” Eliah looked at me, her hazel eyes raw.
“I know,” I sheathed a knife with a click. Then I stopped and sighed. “I know,” I said again. I met Eliah’s gaze. “We’re friends. But we’re other things, too.”
She sagged. “Believe me, I wish…” she trailed off.
“I know.” I sheathed another knife. “So, did you visit just to bring me your pretty picture?”
“And to see your pretty face and get your version of events.” She gave me a faint but wicked smile. “I got Quill’s, but I want yours. And this might be the only chance for a while. The week is pretty packed with nonstop madness.”
“I suspect Quill’s version already covered the awful stories of which our elf lord was so fond.”
“Oh yes,” her grin got bigger, “Did you know Ilya Terr spent his teenage years in Lillonna and Salionel learning language and diplomacy—and apparently a completely different outlook on life.”
“That certainly does explain some things,” I replied. “Do you know why he was sent?”
Eliah shrugged. “Perhaps because he has cousins in both courts? Perhaps because the High Lord is far-sighted and thought a fresh perspective was needed? Or maybe he was an exceedingly annoying child and they just wanted him far away.”
I laughed again. “That seems unlikely. But help me with these knives and I’ll tell you my side.”
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