I left the Countess asleep in her bed and two armed female guards from the Queen’s retinue camped on the floor. King Keleman had sent them, and I wondered that he hadn’t thought of that before. The air of shock that lingered in the chambers made me uncomfortably aware that my own acceptance of dangerous reality was, perhaps, abnormal. I hadn’t seen Druskin since we’d gotten back from the luncheon, but I didn’t see any reason to wait for him. Especially since he probably wouldn’t want me to leave. Hopefully he was at Galo’s side. I wanted to think and I needed to get away from this clamor of souls to do so. With my nearly cleaned harness hidden under a long brown linen coat I set out to find where Quill and Eliah were housed. I scandalized two servants, but eventually found my way to a narrow but ornate hallway and knocked on the fourth door, as I’d been told. There was no answer, so I tried the handle. It was unlocked, so I stepped inside. The room was beautifully appointed, larger and finer than mine. Quill wasn’t important enough to have a large suite with separate sitting and gaming rooms, but there was a door to one side open to a tiled washroom. Quietly, I checked the corners, the washroom, and the little wardrobe. Several fine shirts and coats hung inside, but I didn’t see his leathers or road clothes, or the armor I was certain he carried with him.
I left the room and tried the door across the hall. No answer there either, and Eliah kept her door locked. They were probably dealing with the elven prisoners and the kings. I hesitated, eyeing the gold cast to the afternoon sunlight, then made my decision.
It didn’t take me too long to find my way out of the Palace of Domes, and I made sure to speak with the guard captain on duty so I could get back in later. The streets of Gar Morwen were crowded and had a nearly carnival air. This wedding was full of drama and portent, I was certain Angari had converged on their capital from all over the country to be a part. There were street venders selling food, flowers, and little pottery plates carved with a falcon roosting in a tree—a clever combination of the Angari and Terrim symbols.
I eventually approached a vender and asked where I could find the Lute and Bowl, and ten minutes later I found the tavern. It was nicer on the outside than I expected, stone with a painted sign showing a lute and a bowl crossed over a shield like the innkeeper’s choice of weapons. Inside it was dim, smelled of beer and smoke and something roasting, and it was already bustling with people.
There was a chance Ayglos was busy still, and that he wasn’t back in the tavern yet, but I slipped through the crowd around the edges of the main room and searched the alcoves for him. Snatches of conversation told me that basically everyone was speculating about what happened on the royal barge today and telling stories about the happenings at the palace the rest of the week. I found Ayglos at the very back corner, his back to the wall. He had a pipe in his hand and was watching me with a twinkle in his eye. I was surprised all over again that his hair was dark, even though he’d darkened it on the way to Angareth and we’d spent weeks together after.
I slid onto the bench hugging the opposite wall. “How long did you watch me search for you?” I asked, hiding how glad I was to see him—and see him with the capacity to twinkle.
“Since you walked in,” he answered.
I sighed. “You could’ve come to me.”
“Have you seen how busy it is in here? I might’ve lost my table.”
“It is a good table,” I conceded. I let myself lean back against the wall and close my eyes. I was so tired.
“Are you alright?” Ayglos asked, his voice quiet. “You look like you haven’t been sleeping.”
“I haven’t,” I confessed. “My dreams chase me awake.”
I felt Ayglos’s eyes on me, though I kept mine closed. “What kind of dreams?”
“Unpleasant.” I knew that wasn’t what he was asking, but I didn’t know the answer. Ayglos, too, carried some form of the human gift of sight. His sight was less in dreams and more in the present, which I always thought accounted for how confidently he moved through the world and never, ever, got caught. Being able to see the intent of souls and being able to use that knowledge, were, I knew, quite different skills. He had them both and had worked harder and longer to hone them than I had. After a moment’s silence, I said, “I dream of knives striking for my heart, and of Galhara falling into the sea.”
“Hm.” His grunt was displeased. As if I’d suggested something hideous for dinner.
I considered telling him that I was also taking the Countess’s place on her pillow, but instead said, “I don’t suppose you’ve had any premonitions?”
“Not like that. But I have a bad feeling about one of the local gangs, I steer clear of their parts of town.”
I kept my eyes closed, enjoying the fact that I was with my brother, and I could relax a little. “Thanks for spotting those elves.”
“Did you see where the arrow came from?” I asked.
I heard a long exhale, as if Ayglos was blowing smoke with the intent to fill the room, then he answered, “There are plenty of buildings along the shore he could’ve used—none so good as Tirien’s Bell Tower—but the assassin only needed a few moments sight of the barge. He had no reason to watch it as long as I did. I looked for someone running away after I saw the commotion on the barge but whoever it was knew better than to run. Once the barge docked I went to search the waterfront, but short of breaking into every building along that stretch…” he let his voice trail off.
Opening my eyes, I watched the crowd. “Have you heard from Quill yet?”
“Not since the excitement today, I expect he’ll be along soon. Jemin went with the elves and the soldiers and I haven’t seen him either.”
“I expect both kings will keep them for a while—did you see the elf who jumped in after Quill?”
Ayglos shook his head.
“Ilya’s second, Mihalek. He thought a Terrim rescuing an Angari would be a good thing.”
“I thought so.”
After a pause Ayglos said, “I asked Jemin about Rakov and Rae’d being with the elves.”
I had almost forgotten about that, in the midst of everything else. “What did he say?”
“You know Jemin, he said it wasn’t his place to talk about them, but they were working toward the same goal. When I think of us as the agents of king’s, the secrecy makes sense. But as criminals—”
“Mercenaries,” I corrected.
Ayglos ignored my interjection, “—it makes me suspicious.”
I needed something to do with my hands, so I pulled out my gold pendant and ran my thumb over the ships sailing in an infinite circle. “Quill said that Trinh sent them specifically to make sure this treaty happens. That he heard about it because someone tried to hire him to kill the Countess.”
Ayglos looked at me sharply, then turned back to the room, “Well, that explains how quickly we found out about the Scythe. Jemin would have had a head start on finding the right broker if he knew it was one who worked with the Breaker.”
“He spoke to the broker but still couldn’t learn who was hiring?” I asked.
“Brokers usually try not to share that information,” replied Ayglos, dryly, “But when pressed he said that he’d been working with an intermediary.”
“Of course, that would be too easy.” I waved a hand, “What do you think about…” Trinh Kegan. This potentially pivotal treaty. Signs of life in the Golden Prince.
Ayglos knew what I meant, he pulled on the pipe again, breathing out a slow column of smoke like a dragon. “What’s there to think? This brief flash of interest doesn’t mean he’s suddenly decided to topple the Empire.”
“No. But maybe he’d help.”
“If our brother will take him back, you mean.” Our brother. The Exiled King of Galhara. Who had nearly punched Trinh the last time he’d seen him. Admittedly years ago, now.
“He would if he brought a nice enough gift.”
“If you think this alliance is the gift then involving you and I was stupid, not only would we know about it but we’re partially responsible.”
Now I smiled. “Well, that was Quill’s call…and he didn’t exactly ask permission.”
“Unsurprising.” Ayglos laughed a little, then he studied me. “Zare, don’t get your hopes up. Even if he does decide to start being helpful, that doesn’t mean he’ll tip the scale.”
“Every stone tips the scale.”
With a rueful incline of his head, my brother turned and slipped off the bench. “Want anything to eat?”
“Please.” I was hungry now that I thought about it. I hadn’t eaten much at the luncheon, and that had been hours ago. Ayglos returned moments later with two mugs and a basket of steaming rolls balanced on his forearm.
“Roast is coming,” he said, sliding back onto the bend and depositing the mugs and basket.
I grabbed a roll and started tearing it up to eat in smaller bites. We watched the crowd, mostly in silence, but occasionally sharing bits about the week since we’d parted. Ayglos was keeping both our horses in work, haunting this tavern and a few other less reputable spots after dark for news. He’d gambled away and won back an alarming amount of money in his quest for the latest gossip. I told him about the leanyodi and their quirks, and about bumping into Valredes—which earned me a scrutinizing look—and about Druskin and Galo. I finished with the realization that Hadella was the Countess’s sister.
“Which one is Hadella?”
“She’s functionally the steward of Wuhnravinwel, runs a lot of the day to day.”
“One of the leanyodi?”
I nodded, taking another bite of bread. “I knew the leanyodi were honored, but I never thought to find a sibling among them. Hadella calls the treaty an insult to the ancestors. More than that…when I saw her today…she was enraged.” I tore the roll again, turning the piece in my fingers. “She apparently yelled at the Countess in front of everyone when we got back to the palace, told her that Galo’s injury was her fault and it should have been the Countess.”
Ayglos and I looked at each other for a long moment. Then Ayglos asked, “Who inherits if the Countess dies?”
I needed to find out. “I need to head back to the palace,” I said with a sigh.
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2 Replies to “42 – The Lute and Bowl”
So nice to have a brother you can talk things over with! : )
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“Every stone tips the scale.” – Good perspective Zare.