I slept lightly, my dreams troubled by the flash of a falling knife blow, and woke when the first rays of sun snuck in between the drapes. I had two kinds of dreams: the ones driven by my own fears and memories, and the ones driven by the gifting in the human half of my bloodline. Sometimes I couldn’t tell the difference.
The Countess was sound asleep, despite having her head at the wrong end of the bed. I had time to slip out of bed and take myself and my knives to the couch where the morning leanyodi would expect to find me. They bustled in a short time later, and I removed to my own room to get dressed. I found that I was grateful for the extravagant makeup of the Angari. That, and the scores of other leanyodi for the various important ladies who also wandered the palace, gave me a measure of confidence that I could walk the halls without being recognized. No matter who was in the delegation from the Empire.
The library at the Palace of Domes was lovely. Tall dark wood shelves stuffed with gilded volumes spread from a field of long tables like the petals on a flower. There were stained glass windows along one wall, set high, but the sun was long gone, leaving the glass drained of color. Glass lamps were mounted throughout at intervals, giving the room a soft orange glow. There were only a few people around, most of them dressed in the robes of the librarians. I found a secluded set of tables deeper in and found the genealogies I was supposed to be showing Quill all along a back wall. It felt like ages since we’d set up this little ruse. Back when I’d meant it whenever I told Druskin I wasn’t a bodyguard. Now I felt anxious leaving the Countess out of reach, even if I had left her at a private dinner with the Queen.
I grabbed a few genealogies, red leather volumes, and spread them on a table, and then sat down to wait. I closed my eyes and listened to the library. The flickering of the lamps. The deep silence of the books. The occasional shuffle or sniff of the others elsewhere in the room. I neglected my human gifts; hadn’t known I’d possessed any for a long time. It’d taken two separate incidents for me to really believe I’d inherited some of my father’s gifts. First, a voice had roused me from a drugged sleep so I could escape. I’d never heard a voice since, but years later I’d dreamed so clearly the Hunter sneaking into my room at the inn that I’d awoken and thrown a knife. The Hunter died before even making my bedside.
Sometimes…if I were very quiet…I thought I could feel the souls around me. Though here, with the Juni River just a few walls away, it was difficult to feel anything but her. I sighed though my nose and closed her out, focusing on the breathing of the others in the library. They were quiet, focused on their studies. There were no swirling storms of emotion, though I could feel some gentling churning—like a spoon in a thick stew.
Hearing the faint click of the library door, I slipped my hand into my sleeve and loosened a knife. But I recognized the soul that walked in.
It didn’t take Quill long to find me. He slid into the seat across from me and gave me a small smile. “Leanyod Ruddybrook.”
“When the Countess suggested understanding genealogies might be key to this case, I didn’t expect her to choose so pleasant a tutor.”
I choked back a snort, and pushed one of the books toward him. “I’ve barely slept and spent the better part of the day listening to wedding plans and court gossip. Right now, I wish the Countess had decided knife fighting was essential to solving the mystery.”
The smile shifted into a smirk. “I wouldn’t mind a fight myself. I spent half the day in meetings, and half sneaking—but was able to get away to meet with the others for a few hours.”
“Did you learn anything?”
“Balint was the Ambassador here when the treaty was negotiated, but the shadows haven’t turned up anything incriminating yet on him. Though, rumor has it the assassin we’ll be dealing with is the Scythe.”
Damn. I leaned back. “I’ve heard of him.”
“I don’t suppose you’ve met him or know what he looks like?”
“Please. If they get that close to me, they don’t survive.”
A wry smile tipped his lips, “I thought perhaps, socially.”
“We may be outlaws, but I don’t usually make friends with assassins.” Not after Tadrow Grea kicked off my career as a mercenary. Ayglos was the face of our little operation except when we deliberately wanted to flash my name.
“Do you know anything about his style?” Quill opened the book in front of him and pretended to read.
I followed suit. “He’s not a poisoner, at least. More of a knife in the dark type.”
Quill nodded. “I suppose that’s good news. I don’t know that the Countess would submit to someone tasting all her food before she eats.”
“Some poisons kill slowly, so that’s not necessarily enough anyway,” I replied.
“Did you stumble on anything interesting amongst wedding things?” he turned a page.
“Nothing of consequence, many of the internal feuds we knew of already or are too far from the Countess to be relevant. You’ll be glad to know that we’ve resolved the issue of the Yagyar and the Mansi both wanting to occupy the fourth row during the ceremony.” I saw amusement flicker across Quill’s face. “Hadella—she’s the leanyodi who is essentially the steward of Wuhnravinwel—is far more involved in the wedding planning than I expected. I knew she ran things at Wuhnravinwel, but apparently, she’s been the Countess’s right hand for most things relating to the wedding. Which, must make her very grumpy because the girls tell me Hadella hates that the Countess is marrying Ilya Terr.” I sighed. “You know, Quill, bodyguarding isn’t really my line of work.”
Quill looked at me sharply. “I never asked you to bodyguard.”
“Druskin has all but begged.”
Quill’s expression said he didn’t care if Druskin begged on his knees.
I arched a brow. “If she dies, it doesn’t matter if we find out who hired the assassin.”
“That’s not true,” he replied, “Though it would make things significantly harder.”
“She and Ilya have a real chance,” I said, “They have a real chance of changing the relationship between Angareth and Terrimbir. Building a strong alliance.” Against the Empire, I didn’t need to add. “A real chance at love, even.”
I didn’t know how to read the look Quill gave me. After a moment he said, “Can you fit armor under those clothes?”
“Are you that worried?”
“If you’re throwing your body over hers, I’d prefer armor on your body.”
I tipped my head. I don’t know what came over me, but I said, “That’s what you’d prefer on my body?”
A spark entered his eyes. “I prefer stripes.”
“If the Scythe is Angari that might distract him enough to miss,” I quipped, ignoring the way my heart started racing.
He let his gaze sweep over me, as if the table wasn’t between us to block his view, “He wouldn’t have to be Angari.”
My skin was hot, but I gave him a slow half smile. “I’m sure the Countess won’t mind if I change my uniform.”
“Good,” said Quill, returning to the genealogy in front of him. “That’s settled, then.”
I turned the page in the book in front of me, not really seeing any of the names. The flirtation was definitely different on this job. And I was having such a hard time remembering why it was a bad idea.
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