57- The Fall

He wasn’t alone. Another figure hung next to him. From here they were both dark haired and dressed in black, but I would know Quill anywhere. I started to run for the palace entrance. I didn’t care about the scene, I just ran on the mad, mad hope, that I might be able to get to the balcony in time to do something. There was another chorus of screams and I spun just in time to see two figures plummeting.

Time stretched thin.

Quill was falling through nothing but air.

My knees wobbled.

I wasn’t breathing. It was only my nymph blood that kept me on my feet and not swooning on the paving stones. Stumbling over myself, I ran back. I didn’t see the crowd that parted around me, the banquet tables, the sunlight…just Quill falling through space replaying in my mind.

Quill.

Falling.

Eloi. Why hadn’t I dreamed about this? Why wasn’t there warning about this? I had not expected betrayal by the gods. Someone tried to grab my arm, but I twisted free almost without noticing. There was a crowd under the balconies, and I pushed through it, nearly toppling people with my fervor. The crowd was bigger than I thought, and it felt like it took eternities to push through. Every gown and every coat moved aside to reveal another gown or coat until I was ready to use my fists to make them move faster. Abruptly, there were no more, and they weren’t gathered around bodies splayed across cruel stone, but around the railing overlooking the river.

 *

Without hesitation I tucked Shiharr back into her sheath and hoisted the hoops. I had one leg over the railing when someone grabbed me from behind and threw me to the paving stones. We rolled in a churn of skirts and I looked up to see Eliah sitting on my ribs, pinning my wrists.

“Don’t be an idiot,” she hissed at me. “He can swim.”

I blinked up at her, having a hard time processing anything beyond the terror pumping through my veins. “But—”

“Everyone is watching,” she added, rising, and offering me a hand up.

I stood, feeling entirely helpless. Eliah reached up and straightened the headdress, it was twisted much more severely this time and I winced.

“What is going on?” demanded a strong male voice.

We turned to see Prince Domonkos and some guards; the crowd making way for them. The prince stopped in front of me, eyes blazing, “You are not Adelheid!”

Those nearest made little noises of surprise.

“No, your Highness. I am in her service.” I didn’t care about the prince, but some part of me knew I should, so I met his gaze and said, “We’ve encountered the assassin, your Highness. I will gladly tell you whatever you want to know later.”

Passing me, the prince stepped up to the railing and looked down into the river. I took the chance to do the same, aware of Eliah on my other side. She slipped her arm through mine, which was more to hold me back than to comfort me. There were thin swirls of bubbles lacing over the surface of the river. If I could reach the Juni…I glanced at Eliah. She was already looking at me sideways with a “No” emblazoned on her face.

He can swim.

If he had been knocked unconscious, he would be floating.

I closed my eyes, trying to calm myself and listen to the river. I could feel her from anywhere in the palace, but to listen…I breathed carefully. I felt surprise rippling through the river. Some conflict was unfolding under the surface, but she didn’t know anything about the participants as the current dragged them south. I moved slowly southward along the rail, trying to stay close. My eyes were still closed, and Eliah moved with me, arm still through mine.

Then Eliah said, “There!”

My eyes flew open to see that a body had bobbed to the surface. My heart stopped beating. There was shouting from the nearest boats. Then a head appeared beside the body and swam toward it. Catching ahold of the body he started swimming toward the banks, moving with the current. It was Quill. Alive. His hair dark with water and plastered to his head, but I didn’t see blood. I sagged against Eliah.

Eliah turned to the guards, “Does anyone have rope? Or where is the nearest break in the wall?”

“There are none till past the esplanade,” someone answered.

“Captain, see that Quilleran has assistance,” ordered the prince. Then he turned to me, stepping close he said quietly, “Where is my cousin?”

I dragged my attention away from Quill and the body in the water. The prince’s tone indicated that I shouldn’t hedge, so I didn’t. But I kept my voice low, “She is dressed as a leanyod. She’s here somewhere. If I had to guess, I’d say you’ll find Ilya Terr or Mihalak and probably also Druskin close to her.”

“We’re going to find her,” he tucked my hand into his elbow and started to lead me away from the river. “And then you’re going to explain everything.”

*

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