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Authors: Livia Blackburne

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“This is unacceptable,” he said, his voice hard as granite. “Our holding cells are not summer homes for criminals to lounge in and send missives from at their pleasure. I want
the names of every man, woman, child, and dog who has come within a stone’s throw of the prison building. And I want them all questioned today.”

No one in the study dared respond or even move. After sweeping his gaze one more time around the room, Malikel started dividing the men into groups. “Tristam,” he said. “Take
Fitz and Cecil, and round up the guards who were on duty two nights ago.”

Sir Rollan and another knight exchanged a glance at Malikel’s words. Tristam noticed, and stared straight ahead to disguise his annoyance. The other knights under Malikel’s command
were still trying to figure out what Tristam’s demotion really meant. Here, he’d been given command of Red Shields again, a role that should not have fallen to him.

“Is there a problem, gentlemen?” Malikel asked.

“No, sir,” said Rollan.

“At your tasks, then,” Malikel said. “Make this quick.”

Tristam caught Fitz’s and Cecil’s eyes and led them out the door. He recognized Fitz as the wiry blond Red Shield who had helped the wounded Daly back to the Palace yesterday. Cecil,
he didn’t know as well.

“Are the two of you willing to take orders from me?” he asked as they left the building.

“Aye,” said Cecil. “If Martin thought you were worth following, that’s good enough for me.” The look Tristam turned on Cecil must have been intimidating because the
Red Shield immediately added, “I hope I’ve not spoken out of turn.”

“No…no…of course not,” Tristam said, pausing midstride to clear his head. “I just didn’t expect you to bring him up.” Martin had been a Red Shield and
a subordinate, but he and Tristam had genuinely liked each other. He’d gone with Tristam in search of Kyra after she was captured by the Makvani, and he’d died at their hands. Tristam
still couldn’t quite forgive himself.

“I’m glad you feel that way,” said Tristam. “Many think I led him to his death.”

“You forget we actually knew Martin,” said Fitz. “He wouldn’t blindly follow anyone without good reason.”

“Thank you.” That, at least, was a weight off his chest.

Tristam took a wagon from the Palace stables so they could move about the city faster, and they started down the list of guards. Most of the guards they fetched were alarmed by the summons but
came into the cart willingly. When Tristam arrived at the boardinghouse where the fourth guard lived, however, no one answered the door.

Tristam tried knocking again. “Open up. This is official Palace business.”

Still silence. Fitz, waiting next to him, gave a nervous shrug. Tristam circled to a side window and peered through a gap in the shutters. It was hard to see much of anything, but something
seemed off. He looked around the boardinghouse again. The landlord likely lived in another part of the city entirely, and it would take hours to track him down. Kyra would have been really useful
right about now. He made a mental note to ask her to teach him lock picking next time he saw her.

Tristam picked up a large stone and returned to the front door. “Give me a hand, will you?” he asked Fitz.

Fitz’s eyes widened, but he helped Tristam support the weight of the stone.

“On the count of three,” said Tristam. “One, two…”

They swung the rock, and the latch gave way with a crash. The door opened, and Fitz whistled.

The living quarters were empty. The bed was in disarray, and several chests along the walls looked like they had been hurriedly emptied. Their lids had been left open, and discarded objects were
strewn all around the floor.

“Looks like whoever was here made a quick escape,” said Fitz.

The missing guard and his family could not be found anywhere in the city. Based on the testimonies of those who’d last seen them, the entire family had probably fled the
night before. Had it been bribery? Blackmail? There was no way to know.

The rest of the guard force made it through questioning without raising suspicions. Though it seemed this man had worked alone, Malikel personally reviewed the prison guard roster to narrow the
list to the most loyal and least vulnerable to persuasion.

Much later that day, Malikel summoned Tristam to his study. The Defense Minister’s door was closed when Tristam arrived, so he waited in the corridor. After a while, Kyra stepped out, her
jaw set and her eyes flinty. Tristam stepped back, surprised at her demeanor, and she walked past him without a word.

“Tristam, come in,” came Malikel’s voice.

Tristam threw one last concerned glance in Kyra’s direction before stepping inside. The Defense Minister was seated at his desk. Now that the mystery of James’s message had been
partially solved, Malikel’s gaze no longer carried the same murderous intensity. Tristam sat cautiously in a chair opposite him.

“I just informed Kyra that the Council has forbidden her from entering the prison or having any contact with James,” said Malikel.

That would explain her ire. A command like this from the Council was an empty one and only served to underscore their mistrust. If Kyra wanted to see James, she’d find a way. Did the
Council really think they could control her like this, or did they simply feel better having delivered a command?

“I tell you this because you wouldn’t otherwise be able to concentrate on anything I say. But I didn’t summon you to discuss Kyra,” said Malikel. Tristam shifted in his
chair, chagrined at being so transparent. “I realized today that it’s time I speak with you about your future. I’m afraid I’ve not been the best mentor to you in the time
you’ve spent under my command.”

Tristam started to object, but Malikel raised his hand to stop him.

“I come from a different background than the rest of the Council members, and I sometimes make decisions that make me unpopular amongst certain of my colleagues.”

That was an understatement. Malikel’s rise to power was the stuff of legend. The idea of a mercenary from the southern kingdom of Minadel becoming Defense Minister of Forge would have been
unthinkable thirty years ago. But a series of heroic acts—most notably, saving the life of the former Defense Minister in a skirmish—had moved him into positions of command. And from
there, Malikel had flouted tradition and followed his own judgment on everything from the way he trained his troops to the way he structured their hierarchy underneath him. There had been
disapproving glances and clucking of tongues for the entirety of his career, but no one could deny that Malikel was very, very good at what he did. And eventually, that had been enough. Tristam
knew all this by heart, but what did it have to do with him?

Malikel’s eyes crinkled, as if he could read the thoughts going through Tristam’s mind. “Going against convention, disapproval from the court—these are waves I’m
willing to make. But in a sense, the consequences for me are not severe. When I made my entry into court, I had very little social capital to risk. Being from Minadel, I had no family to which I
was responsible.” Malikel spoke matter-of-factly, and nothing in his manner invited pity. “That’s not the case, however, with you.”

“Sir?”

“I worry I’ve been a bad influence on you. You’ve already been demoted once. And though it’s a temporary censure, that kind of mark will affect both your future and that
of your family’s.”

“I don’t regret any of the decisions I’ve made,” said Tristam. Actually, it was more complicated than that. His entire attempt to rescue Kyra had been a disaster. Martin
had died, and it turned out that Kyra hadn’t actually needed rescuing. So in that sense, he had many regrets. But given what he’d known at the time, going after Kyra had been the right
thing to do. The disgrace that he suffered now at the hands of his peers was a small price to pay.

“And that’s admirable,” said Malikel. “Just be aware of the choices you make, and make your decisions with your eyes open. It would be remiss of me as your commander not
to mention it.”

“Thank you, sir.” Tristam didn’t quite know what else to say.

“You will be at the diplomatic ball tomorrow night, correct?” said Malikel.

“Yes, sir.” Every three years, the leaders of the three cities gathered for a summit that started with a diplomatic ball. All under Malikel’s direct command were required to
attend.

“Good. Take some time with Kyra there. She’ll need some help learning the protocols of court. And think on what I’ve said. It’s a lot to process but ultimately not
something you can afford to ignore.”

Tristam struggled to unravel his thoughts as he made his way out the door. Malikel’s advice unsettled him. He might have expected such words from Willem or one of the more active members
of court, but Malikel, he couldn’t dismiss so readily. He looked down at his livery, contemplating the
F
that marked his rank. Somehow, he had the feeling that things weren’t
going to get any simpler.

F O U R

F
lick had an excruciatingly loud wolf whistle. Kyra heard it often enough when he flirted with his favorite serving girls, but until this evening,
she had never appreciated just how obnoxious it could be. That was probably because, until tonight, he had never directed it at her.

She scowled again, squinting at her reflection as she angled the bottom of a polished copper pot to see her entire body. She wore a gown that Malikel commanded she have made for diplomatic
occasions. It was made of soft emerald silk and gathered with a velvet ribbon just below her bust. The same ribbon, a darker shade of green than the fabric, trimmed her sleeves, neckline, and hem.
The cost of the dress would have covered her lodging for a month, but it was hard to maintain a proper sense of guilt at the extravagance when the silk fell so lightly around her feet.

Idalee, who had tied Kyra’s hair into a simple twist, stood to the side with her arms crossed and a smug grin on her face. She’d recently started washing dishes at a nearby tavern
and had clearly picked up some tricks from the more fashionable serving girls. Lettie sat at the table, legs dangling and mouth open in a small O as she stared at Kyra.

And Flick, of course, was whistling.

“Will you stop that?” Kyra said. “You’ll annoy the landlady.”

“And besides,” said Idalee, “Kyra looks too fine tonight to be whistled at.”

“That’s right,” Kyra said. “Another whistle from you and I’ll have one of my manservants toss you in the gutter.”

Flick snorted. “Watch yourself, lass. I can still hang you upside down by your ankles.”

Kyra stifled a giggle. It had been a while since Flick had tried that particular trick, but she imagined he’d be able to if he put his mind to it.

“You do look very pretty, Kyra,” piped up Lettie. “I wish I could see the ball.”

“Me too,” said Flick. “Seems it’d be quite the spectacle.”

“You, Flick?” said Idalee. “I thought you wanted nothing to do with the wallhuggers.”

Flick shrugged. “Just because I don’t like shoveling peacock manure doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate their plumage.”

Her friends might have been intrigued by the ball, but Kyra herself was terrified. Perhaps her friends thought her glamorous, but she knew she wouldn’t be able to keep up the act once she
went into the ballroom. What did she know about nobles and foreign visitors? The night would end in humiliation. She’d bet money on it.

She slipped on her shoes, velvet as well, and wiggled her toes at their softness. “I just hope I don’t get kicked out of the Palace for some breach of manners,” she said,
heading out the door.

Kyra dodged the usual assortment of street vendors, servants, and beggars on her way to the Palace. She got a few curious looks, but nobody gave her any trouble.

The Palace gate was ornamented with winterberries and candles for the occasion. When the guard challenged her, Kyra reached inside her collar and brought out a medallion that bore
Malikel’s emblem.

“Malikel’s command?” He waved her in.

Kyra fingered the medallion, running her fingers over the coat of arms before letting it drop. She respected Malikel and believed he respected her in return. The rest of the Council though, was
another matter altogether. That was clear enough in their hurry to ban her from seeing James or even entering the Palace prison. The Council wanted her as a trained dog, a thief on a leash. They
wouldn’t say no to her skills, but they were quick to cut her off if they sensed her becoming a threat.

The outer compound looked finer tonight than Kyra had ever seen it. Extra torches and lamps had been brought out to light the pathway, and the gray-white granite walls of the buildings had been
scrubbed until they shone. Even the snow, which had started to turn into muddy slush the past few days, had been cleared out and the ground underneath covered with fine rugs. Fire pits had been set
up at regular distances so that guests could move about comfortably without heavy cloaks or furs.

A whole host of horses and carriages filled the main courtyard. Porters and servants took bags and led horses away, while foreign dignitaries stood mingling with Forge’s nobility. Kyra
recognized the Edlan dignitaries by their waxed beards and mustaches. Delicately waxed facial hair was the current fashion in Edlan and the butt of many a joke in Forge and Parna. Many of the Edlan
men had women with them, some wearing sturdy travel gowns, others in their evening finery. The Parnans were harder to recognize, but Kyra suspected that many of the unfamiliar wallhugger faces
belonged to that contingent.

BOOK: Daughter of Dusk
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