9-The Search

I have given up trying to sell the lodge. Waxwell has spread rumors about me and the lodge, and if I persist in trying to sell it I think I might lose all credibility with the Guilds. I’ll be damned if they’ll reduce me to giving it away. I’ll keep it and pay taxes on it and gods damn it I’ll use the place for hunting and I AM NOT CURSED AND I WILL NOT GO MAD.


Ayglos and I walked through the town like we belonged and were on our way somewhere. There were lamps lit in many of the buildings, and music and voices drifted into the streets. There were a few people out and about, but not many. No one paid any attention to us. The closer we got to the border, the quieter the streets until we started sticking to the shadows. There was a gap between the town and the buildings belonging to the army. It wasn’t quite a road, just a wide berth, as if the town were afraid to come closer. Ayglos and I slipped into an alley beside what appeared to be a large tavern and studied the guard houses that flanked the road.

There were buildings clustered behind each. The ones closest to the road were built of wood and had windows. Likely administration and barracks. A pair of soldiers walked by with helmets under their arms as if they had just gotten off duty.

With barely a glance between us, we moved as one out of the alley. Light feet brought us close and hard blows to their temples brought them crumpling to the ground. We dragged them back into the alley as quickly as we could, praying no one else walked out and saw us.

As soon as we were sheltered deep in the shadows, we started stripping the soldiers of their uniforms. Two more soldiers walked past and we stopped, holding our breath and hoping no light caught on the buckles or blades. They didn’t look. The uniform was leather armor over black wool gambesons—not especially fancy but engraved with the four headed dragon and reinforced in the chest. The uniforms were too small for Ayglos and too big for me, but they still buttoned and buckled in all the right places and once we settled the helmets on our heads I thought we’d blend in nicely. We left the soldiers tied and gagged with our old clothes and cut behind the houses toward the guard complex.

There were still guards in the guard houses at the crossing, so we were careful as we approached. This side of the road had three buildings and was the direction we’d seen them take Quill and the nymph. There were a few windows with light streaming out of them and we avoided those as we circled each building. As suspected, one appeared to have office spaces, one was a warehouse, and the third had barred windows.

We circled back to the administrative building first and Ayglos tried the door. Apparently, enough people were in the building that it wasn’t locked, and the door opened onto an empty foyer dimly illuminated by a lamp turned down low. Inside, the hallway was also bare and lined with doorways. I took a moment to breathe and reach out with my senses. When I couldn’t feel any souls nearby, I signaled to Ayglos that we could move forward. We checked the rooms as we went. It was mostly offices of clerks, and it was impossible to guess which ones tracked things useful to us. I found a lamp that could be carried and lit it. The third office I checked appeared to have ledgers full of the tolls taken from the crossing. I scanned through today’s entries and found our “crossing.” Four barrels of beer were listed—with no mention of the rest of the load, the wagon, or the horses. Or the fact that most of us hadn’t actually crossed the border. Perhaps those were in a different office. Turning to the cabinets I started searching for the records from the day Jeromb was robbed. I was so focused on the search that I didn’t feel the woman approach before she said, “What are you doing in here?”

I stiffened, then turned and saw a woman in a clerk’s uniform standing in the doorway. “Is this your office?” I demanded.

The woman frowned, “It’s Frete’s office.”

“Good for you, then,” I turned back to the drawer and kept scanning for the right ledger.

“What do you mean? You’re not supposed to be in here.” She sounded louder, as if she’d come closer.

“On the contrary, madam,” I drew the ledger and began to thumb through it. “You’re the one in someone else’s office without permission.”

“What? You didn’t even know whose office it was.”

I turned to face her again, looking down my nose on her even though we were the same height. “I didn’t say whose permission I had.”

She faltered then.

“Now, since you’re here; do you know why these ledgers are falsified?”

The woman blanched. “This isn’t my office—I don’t know anything about these ledgers.”

“I hope that’s true.” Setting the ledger down I walked around the desk and leaned close to her. “Rumors have reached the ears of my Empress that the outpost here has been skimming from her due. I’m here to find out if the rumors are true.” I let the words sink for a moment then asked very softly, “Are they true?”

Her voice had gotten small, too, “I don’t know anything about these ledgers. I track the army’s expenses.”

I stared hard at her. “Where is Frete?”

“He stays in the lodging house on third street.”

“And who does he report to?”

“Captain Argeant Dremmal.”

“Very well. Go back to your duties and tell no one what you’ve seen.”

She backed out of the office and disappeared from view. A moment later, Ayglos came in. “Everything alright?”

I lifted the ledger. “I found the day Jeromb came through, appears that cataloguing is Frete’s job, and he definitely didn’t catalogue the extra things they took.”

“No surprise there. And the woman?”

“I’m hoping she believes I’m one of the Dragon’s Eyes.”

I put the ledger back where I’d found it. “Did you find anything?”

“I found lists of names.” My brother lifted the ledger I hadn’t noticed he was carrying. “I think it’s lists of the people they’ve arrested. Some of them have marks next to them—I haven’t found a key yet that says what they mean.” He flipped the ledger open and showed me the last page. The last name was Josue Marisola. Quill.

I touched the ink. There was a little slash next to his name. The name above had a black dot beside it. There were other names, some had slashes, others dots, some had little stars. My stomach churned. “So many names,” I whispered.

Ayglos’s jaw was locked. “There are at least a half dozen ledgers full of names.”

“Any indication where they were taken?”

He shook his head.

I grabbed one of the quills and inked it.

“What are you doing?”

“Sowing fear.” I turned to a fresh page of Frete’s ledger and in precise, blocky, letters wrote, “I know what you did.” I set the quill down and turned to my brother. “Let’s go.”

We doused the lamp and left the administration building. I didn’t see the woman again on the way out and hoped she had been frightened enough to keep this encounter to herself.

Behind the administration building a was the long building with barred windows. There was light streaming from a few windows close to the door. Guard room, probably. We put our backs against the building and moved like crabs until Ayglos could get an eye in the window. Ducking, he scuttled under the window and crossed the doorway to look into the other. He came back and motioned for me to follow him down the building till we reached the corner. “There are four guards in that room—playing cards—and two more who look like officers in the other.”

I drew Shiharr and Azzad.

“There could be more guards deeper in,” cautioned Ayglos, pulling a pair of kerchiefs out of his pocket and handing one to me.

“I’ve got energy,” I replied. I had to take my helmet off to tie the kerchief over my face. For this, there wasn’t going to be much sneaking. But the less of our faces they saw the better.

We crept past the window again and approached the door. Ayglos eased it open. A burst of laughter from the guard room covered the squeak of the hinges. We stepped into the entryway, closing the door behind us and evaluating. There was a bench, a bucket, and a row of cloaks hanging on hooks. The door to the officer’s room was closed. I set my knives on the bench and took one of the cloaks down. I held my breath as I tied a corner around a hook, then wound the other corner around the knob of the officer’s room so the cloak was taut. Ayglos waited against the wall, knives ready. When I was satisfied the cloak would at least slow the officers down, I picked up my knives and turned to the open door of the guard room.

I breathed deeply, centering myself, and then I strode in.


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