Authors: Livia Blackburne
Tristam watched the girl leave and went inside the building. A short while later, a soft glow came from the window as he lit a lamp. Kyra pressed herself flat against the wall. She’d
planned to knock on his window, but she couldn’t let Tristam know what she’d seen. She lingered outside until her skin was numb from the wind and finally admitted to herself that she
was being ridiculous. She’d come all the way here from the forest. She wasn’t going to leave without speaking to Tristam.
It took a couple raps on the shutters for Tristam to notice, but then he pulled them open and peered out the window. His eyes focused quickly on Kyra—he’d gotten much better at
spotting her on ledges, though he still did a double take before he moved to make room for her to jump in.
There was such relief in his eyes when he looked at her, and it felt so good to see him alive and well, that for a moment Kyra forgot the noblewoman she’d seen. As soon as her feet touched
the floor, he pulled her into a hug, and she gladly returned it, squeezing him as tightly as her frozen limbs would allow. He was blissfully warm, and the fine silk of his tunic was soft against
her face. He smelled like warm bread and spices. After a moment, he held her out again at arm’s length.
“I’ve missed you,” he said softly, his eyes scanning her. “And you’re freezing.” Tristam motioned for her to sit down at the table and moved to check the
latch on his door. He lingered there for a moment, alert for noises in the hallway.
“I don’t hear anyone,” said Kyra.
He pulled a blanket from his bed and draped it over her shoulder. It wasn’t nearly as warm as his arms had been, but Kyra pulled it tight around her. He scrutinized her, and she did the
same to him, studying his face, his posture. He seemed healthy. There was a tired slump to his shoulders, but he was alive and not imprisoned.
“Where have you been?” he asked. “Your landlady had no idea, and neither did Flick’s roommates.”
“I’m still alive,” she said. She filled him in on her flight from the city and where she’d been hiding. “And things at the Palace. How are they? Have you been
cleared of suspicion?”
A crease formed between his eyebrows. “I have, but not Malikel. They’re still questioning him, and Willem means to drag this out as long as he can.”
He didn’t direct any accusations at Kyra, which somehow made it worse. “Is there any way I can help?”
He shook his head heavily. “Not unless you can control the minds of the Council.” But then he raised his head. “Does the name ‘Orvin’ mean anything to
Kyra blinked. “Willem’s manservant?”
“He came to me with a message for you soon after you disappeared.”
Orvin had approached Tristam? She wondered what had persuaded Orvin to trust him. “He was an informant for the Guild. He gave me information a while back, and I asked him to get word to me
if he had any more. I was trying to find some way to discredit Willem but didn’t get anything before I had to…leave.”
There was just the slightest flicker of confusion across Tristam’s face. He was wondering why she hadn’t told him until now. “Orvin must have decided I was the best way to
reach you. I was worried it was a trap, but I finally spoke to him. He says Willem is expecting a messenger eight days from today.”
Kyra leaned forward. “One of the private messengers?”
Tristam nodded. “It would be too dangerous to confront him inside the Palace, but Orvin says the messenger stays at an inn when he visits Forge and that he comes into the Palace compound
and leaves through the private gate near Willem’s residence. I was considering tailing him myself, but I’m not as good at it as you are.”
Kyra was finally warming up, and she let the blanket fall from her shoulders. “I’ll do it,” she said. “I’ll have to think about how best to track him. It’s a
pity I didn’t learn more about James’s crew of spies during my time with the Guild.”
“You heard about James, then?” said Tristam.
“Aye, Flick told me. Is it…certain?”
“The executioner’s wagon is set to leave the compound gates at the eighth hour tomorrow.”
There was still something she might be able to do for James, though she wasn’t sure if she had the stomach to see it through.
“Is it taking the normal route from the Palace to the city center?”
“As far as I know.” Tristam eyed her suspiciously. “Why do you ask?”
“Just curious.” She stood. “I should go. I’m…glad that you’re all right, Tristam. Flick and the girls are taking shelter with a woman named Mercie just south
of the city. If you need to find me, they’ll know where I am.”
He wrapped her hands in his own. “Take care, Kyra.” This time, the thoughts of his betrothed
come into her mind, but Kyra pushed them away. There were bigger things at
“Thanks for letting me warm up.” She studied his face again as she handed him the blanket, fixing his features to memory.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you shiver so much,” he said, smoothing the blanket back over his bed. “And you must have scaled walls on colder nights than
“It was windy,” Kyra said.
“True. Well, maybe you can run extra quickly to stay…” His voice trailed off. The look he turned on Kyra was a little too keen. “You’ve not been running, have you?
Did you have to stay out in the cold somewhere?”
“I…” Kyra trailed off, distracted by the memory of Tristam and Cecile. No sooner after she faltered did she realize that she should have kept talking. Tristam’s brow
furrowed, and she could see him trying to figure out why Kyra was slow to answer what she realized now had been an innocent question.
Then his eyes widened in a mixture of comprehension and dread. “You saw her, didn’t you?”
It wasn’t the first time that Kyra wished Tristam weren’t quite so observant. Her silence spoke more clearly than any affirmative, and Tristam let out a soft groan. “I’m
sorry you had to see that.”
“I wasn’t spying. You weren’t here when I came to find you, and then I saw you return with her.” She didn’t want to argue with Tristam over this, not when she
didn’t know when she’d see him again. “She seems nice,” Kyra finished lamely, belatedly wondering if it came across as sarcastic.
There was a grim humor in Tristam’s eyes as he took in her words. He sat down heavily on his bed. “I have very little to complain about,” he said. “She’s pleasant
and close to me in age.”
Kyra didn’t want to hear this, but he was staring past her without seeing her.
“Cecile is lovely and talented, and clearly cares about her family.” Tristam shook his gaze from whatever he’d been looking at and focused his eyes back on Kyra. “I feel
nothing for her,” he said simply. “Nor does she feel anything for me. We’re both well trained in the courtly arts. We can exchange pleasantries for an hour, and we can smile at
each other over dinner. I suppose marriages have been built on less.”
Though it pained her to hear about this girl, Kyra also realized now how self-centered she’d been. She’d painted herself as the victim in this scenario, the city girl who would be
tossed aside by a nobleman. But she hadn’t considered how hard it would be for Tristam. He wasn’t some fatpurse who took and discarded women at his whim. He was bound by his family and
his duties in a way that Kyra never would be.
She crumpled the hem of her tunic. It was time to grow up. “I said some things I shouldn’t have, when we last spoke of your marriage.”
Right before I turned into a
felbeast, eviscerated a man, and had to flee the city,
she thought ruefully. How had so much happened in so little time? “It was unfair of me to be so upset with you. I understand that
you have duties to your family.”
He met her eyes with gratitude. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier. I shouldn’t have hidden it from you.”
Kyra looked to the window. She needed to go. There were preparations to make if she was going to attempt her new plan. But her conversation with Tristam didn’t seem quite complete. She
swallowed. “Do what you think is best, Tristam. Whatever you decide, I’ll still be your friend and comrade-in—”
She didn’t get to finish the last few words, because he closed the distance between them, threaded his arms behind her back, and kissed her.
Kyra drew half a breath in surprise before his lips met hers and her mind went blank. They had kissed once before. That had been a stolen moment, shy and uncertain. This time, it was also a
stolen moment, but it was far different. There was an urgency in the way he pulled her close, an insistence in the way his lips sought hers, as if they might never do this again. Kyra understood
it, because she felt the same. She returned his kiss with equal fervor, her world shrinking down to just the two of them, his hands in her hair and hers tightly clutching his waist. His tongue
parted her lips, and she gasped as a shiver danced down her spine and her knees went weak. She could lose herself like this, forget about betrothals and marriage negotiations, forget about what she
was going to do right after she climbed out the window.
But, of course, she couldn’t. Even as she reached up to cup his face, even as she wished she could pull him even closer, she knew this. They weren’t some lovers from a
talesinger’s ballad, about to run off into each other’s arms. The next morning, Tristam would continue his negotiations with the family from Parna, and Kyra would go back into hiding.
That is, if Kyra survived the night.
Perhaps Tristam sensed the direction of her thoughts, because he pulled back. He looked as if he wasn’t quite sure what had happened. And neither was she, for that matter. Kyra’s
heart still pounded in her chest, and she was sure her face was just as flushed as his. She couldn’t look away from his eyes. Tristam was watching her as if convinced she was about to
And Kyra supposed she was. She gathered her resolve before it could weaken any further and pushed him away.
“I can’t,” she said quietly. “And neither can you.”
He accepted her words without argument, closing his eyes in resignation. “I’m sorry.”
She wasn’t sure what he was apologizing for. The marriage negotiations? The kiss? She wasn’t sure if it mattered, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to know. “I really should
go,” said Kyra.
He watched her silently as she pushed open the shutters and climbed back out. When Kyra peered back in from the ledge, he’d sunk down into a chair, his forehead resting on his hand. His
eyes were open, but his gaze was focused on something Kyra couldn’t see.
T W E N T Y - T W O
s always, the darkness cleared her mind, and the task before Kyra forced her to focus. In that way, she was grateful for the danger. The need to
maintain her balance on the ledges and make plans for her next step was the only thing that could keep Tristam from her thoughts.
The first things she needed were supplies. Here, her knowledge of the Palace, her
knowledge, proved useful. She broke into a minor storehouse and pilfered some
twine, some leftover biscuits, Minadan hot pepper powder, and a few strips of cloth. She wrapped the pepper powder into four loosely tied cloth packets and stowed them in her belt pouch. Then she
made her way toward one shack she’d never entered before, one that reeked with the smell of old blood. The guard here was uncharacteristically light for the inner compound. There was no one
at the door, and only the occasional patrol. Kyra supposed it made sense. What sane intruder would voluntarily make for the torture master’s storage house? The lock gave way without much
problem, and Kyra felt her resolve weaken as the door swung open. There were things here that she didn’t want to look at or think about, wicked-looking knives and racks, other implements she
didn’t even recognize that were still crusted with blood. It would not be good to be caught here.
Kyra waited for her eyes to acclimate to what sparse moonlight filtered in through cracks around the door. There was only one wagon, and she recognized it immediately from previous execution
marches. It was a platform on wheels with a single pole and crossbeam on top for the prisoner to be lashed to. She had never followed the execution parade, but she knew its path. The wagon would
come out of the Palace and wind through the streets, making its way to the merchant’s ring before circling back to the city center. People would be gathered on either side, jeering and
throwing refuse. It was always very crowded.
Kyra crawled between the wheels and felt around with her hands, hoping for some shelf underneath she could cling to, but she found nothing. She supposed it was too much to wish that the wagon
would come ready with a hiding place. She crawled back out and wondered if she was taking too much of a risk. But then she imagined James stretched on a rack in the city square, skin flayed open,
and bile rose in her throat. She would try this.
It was too dark to see. Kyra brought out her flint, some dried moss, and a stick, listening carefully for footsteps outside. There was always a chance someone would see light leaking from
between the slats of the shed, but she couldn’t do this blind. She struck her flint until a spark caught in the moss she’d laid out on the floor, then coaxed the flame to life. In its
light, she could barely make out the contours of the wagon. She scanned its surface, looking for slots between planks where she could thread some twine. When she found what she was looking for, she
blew out the flame. The rest she would do by touch.