Authors: Livia Blackburne
As the wagon rolled out of the courtyard, the beggar woman Kyra spoke to earlier called after them.
“The noblemen who beat your friend were the three sons of Lord Agan,” the woman said. “If anyone at the Palace cares to know who did this, or cares at all.”
Or cares at all.
That was the question.
Idalee was listless by the time they arrived at the Palace, her head lolling side to side whenever the wagon hit a bump in the road. They brought the girl into Ilona’s patient room, and
the healer set to work right away. She wasted no breath in explaining anything, and Kyra relegated herself and Lettie to the corner of the room, huddling next to shelves of dried spices and staying
as much out of her way as possible. Lettie’s eyes never left her sister. The girl stared at Idalee as if she couldn’t see the healer or apprentices circling her bed at all. It broke
Kyra’s heart, and she wrapped her arms around Lettie, wishing she could tell her that Idalee would be just fine. But she couldn’t bring herself to lie.
Footsteps sounded in the hall, and Malikel swept through the door. “Kyra, what is this?”
Kyra hadn’t expected to see Malikel so soon. Ilona must have dispatched some servants. “Sir, my sister was beaten by Lord Agan’s three sons.”
Malikel came to a stop at the head of Idalee’s bed, looking far too much like Death’s messenger looming over Idalee in his flowing red robes. “How is she, Ilona?”
“Not good, sir,” Ilona answered quietly.
Malikel turned to Kyra again. “Tell me what happened.”
The Councilman didn’t interrupt Kyra as she told him what she’d pieced together. “They could have killed her,” she said. “The magistrate should know about
“You say there were witnesses?” Malikel asked.
“A crowd had gathered to watch, but nobody interfered. Two of them were Red Shields,” Kyra said.
And they’d stood by while Idalee choked on mud.
Idalee whimpered again, and Ilona apologized, though Kyra wasn’t sure if Ilona was speaking to Idalee, Malikel, or Kyra.
Malikel took one last look at the girl. “I’ll speak to the magistrate on her behalf. We’ll see what we can do.”
Kyra was afraid to hope for justice, not with everything she’d seen on the streets. But if Malikel were behind Idalee…“Thank you, sir.”
“Don’t thank me yet.”
After Malikel left, Lettie started to nod with fatigue. Kyra took a blanket from a shelf next to Idalee’s bed and coaxed Lettie to lie down. Lettie resisted at first, but she finally gave
in, and Kyra rubbed her back. The floor was hard stone, and the blanket was a closely woven wool that didn’t offer much padding, but the girl nonetheless fell quickly asleep. Kyra left her
there and found a servant boy to carry a message to Flick. Then she sat in the corridor outside Ilona’s door and sifted through the guilt-laden questions whirling through her head. Should she
have tried harder to get Idalee to listen to her warnings? Anger flared through her at the thought. A child shouldn’t have to fear for her life every time she misspoke, no matter whom she was
She’d been there a while when Tristam came hurrying around the corner, still in uniform. Though their argument was still fresh in her mind, Kyra’s spirits lifted to see him. She
began to stand, but he motioned for her to sit back down.
“I heard,” he said softly, those two words heavy with concern. He peered carefully into Ilona’s room. “How is she?” Under these circumstances, their fight seemed
“Ilona’s been working on her a long time,” said Kyra. Her voice sounded hollow.
Tristam’s face grew shadowed as he watched Ilona’s movements. Finally, he backed away and sank down onto the floor opposite her. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Malikel’s reporting to the magistrate. Ilona’s doing what she can.”
“Ilona’s one of our best,” Tristam said.
Kyra nodded, staring at the empty space in front of her. The cold of the walls and floor seeped through her tunic, and she hugged her knees closer to keep warm.
“Lord Agan has three sons,” said Tristam. “Santon’s the oldest, then Douglass. Dalton, the youngest, was in my cohort when we were squires. They’ve always had a
reputation for causing trouble, getting into fights when the commanders weren’t looking.”
“Ever been punished?” asked Kyra.
“A few times.”
Not enough to dissuade them from beating a child to near death.
“I’ve been beaten before,” said Kyra. “Once a couple Red Shields wanted to take my coin for a
fake bridge toll. I tried to run away, but I wasn’t fast enough. Things like that aren’t uncommon in the city.”
Tristam shook his head in disgust. “Now that I spend more time in the Red Shield ranks, I see things. Soldiers abusing their power, extorting money from the citizens. There are a few
commanders who almost certainly take bribes to look the other way. And the Council turns a blind eye. Rumors say that Willem is one of the worst offenders.”
“Must be nice to have the city’s forces do your bidding.”
Tristam didn’t reply. Kyra could hear Ilona’s soft footsteps in the patient room, the clank of mortar and pestle, the swish of pouring water.
“I’m sorry about the ball,” Tristam suddenly said. “I reacted badly to what you said.”
It took a moment for Kyra to follow Tristam’s words, but once she did, she met his eyes gratefully. His apology released a ball of tension inside her that she’d forgotten she was
“I didn’t exactly bring it up in the best way,” she said.
He met her gaze from across the hallway, eyes relaxing a little. “You’re just trying to think ahead, and really, it shouldn’t have fallen to you to bring it up. Though I hope
you know that I’ve never seen you as…I mean, I would never see you as just a potential mistress.”
Ilona came out then, and both Kyra and Tristam stood to meet her. The healer moved as if her entire body were weighed down by stones.
“Two broken ribs, a broken arm, a knock on the head, and many bruises. She’s bleeding in her abdomen as well,” she said. “I’ve given her herbs to sleep, and that
will be the best for her right now. You and the little one should go home and rest. I’ll send word if anything changes.”
Kyra rubbed her dry eyes and thanked Ilona. There was nothing more she could do.
Idalee seemed better early the next morning. She still slept, thanks to one of Ilona’s concoctions, but Kyra imagined that some of her color had returned. The healer was
already there when Kyra arrived, and Kyra wondered if Ilona had slept at all. Though perhaps Ilona was indeed tiring, because she finally allowed Kyra to help change the girl’s bandages. They
had just finished when Tristam came through the door.
“I thought I might find you here,” he said. “Malikel says to go see him when Idalee no longer requires your attention.” Tristam might have caught the hopeful cast of
Kyra’s face, because he spoke again. “Don’t expect too much. I’m not sure how much even Malikel can do.”
When Tristam and Kyra arrived at Malikel’s study, the Defense Minister motioned for them to sit down in front of his desk. He wore an expression that Kyra had only seen on him after the
most frustrating of Council meetings, and Kyra’s heart sank.
“I spoke with the magistrate,” he said. “He’s adamant that the evidence does not warrant a trial.”
“Evidence? There were well over fifty witnesses,” said Kyra.
“I did inform him of that. Regardless, the magistrate is not convinced.” Malikel’s eyes conveyed far more meaning than his words.
“What can we do, then?” said Kyra. A knot of panic was forming in Kyra’s stomach, a looming inevitability that she refused to accept.
“Willem is a powerful man. This particular magistrate is one of his favorites, as is Lord Agan. There may not be much we can do.”
It was an expression of powerlessness that Kyra heard every day in the beggars’ sector, but she had never expected to hear it in the Defense Minister’s study. She glanced over at
Tristam and, in growing disbelief, saw the resigned expression on his face as well.
“You’re a member of the Council, Malikel,” she said. “Idalee was beaten in broad daylight.”
“By some very well-connected young men,” said Tristam. He was speaking gently now, as if she were some madwoman who might go into fits. “It’s crazy and wrong, Kyra, but
there’s a reason why they thought they could get away with it.”
Kyra stared at Tristam, unable to wrap her mind around the fact that he agreed with Malikel. “There’s a lass on the brink of death and more people who could testify to this than
could fit in the magistrate’s study. I don’t understand the difficulty.”
Malikel and Tristam exchanged a glance, and the look of understanding that passed between them was the final straw. Kyra stood up so quickly that her chair toppled backward and clattered on the
stone behind her. “Are we finished here?” She needed to leave before she did something she would regret. When Malikel didn’t respond, she stormed out.
It was all she could do not to scream her frustration as she ran out into the courtyard below. She’d known it would be hard to get justice for Idalee, but somehow she’d allowed
herself to hope that Malikel, at least, could help her.
Are you really so surprised? Did you really think you could go up against three noblemen and bring them down in the courts?
She’d been a fool to think anything would be different now that she was in the Palace. A gutter rat in fancy clothes was still a gutter rat. The sons of Lord Agan would go on with their lives
as if this had never happened, while Idalee struggled to draw breath in Ilona’s patient room.
Kyra headed for the Palace gate, unable even to look at the fatpurses she passed. Who were these people who lorded over the city and did what they wished?
The wallhuggers are not your
friends, and they never will be.
She’d walked only a short distance when she noticed Tristam trailing her. She didn’t slow, but he caught up.
“Are you content to let this go too?” she snapped.
He took a while to answer. “I’m sorry,” he said, his voice subdued. “I hate this as well. Malikel tried everything in his power.”
“Tried what?” Kyra asked. “He’s a member of the Council. He’s not some beggar off the streets.” A servant coming down the pathway toward them stopped short at
Kyra’s murderous gaze and stepped off the pathway to go around them.
“Malikel is bound by the law,” said Tristam. “He cannot simply ignore the magistrate’s ruling and do as he wishes. But he’s been making changes. He’s been
gathering support from other Council members who also hate the corruption, and together they’re starting to form a block of votes.”
“I don’t want a lesson in politics. I want the men who did this to hang from the city walls.”
Kyra froze. Standing near the pathway were Willem, Lord Agan’s three sons, and a man in black magistrate’s robes. They looked to be finishing a conversation. The magistrate left in
the opposite direction, but Willem came toward them.
“Kyra of Forge.” Willem’s voice was sharp as a raptor’s, and there was a hardness in his gaze. “Be careful you do not overstep your bounds.” He left without
waiting for a reply. Kyra clenched her jaw until it hurt.
Tristam opened his mouth to say something but stopped as Lord Agan’s sons approached. Santon’s smile didn’t reach his eyes, and Kyra’s fingers curled for her knife. Next
to her, Tristam moved his hand closer to his scabbard.
“Kyra of Forge, is it?” said Santon. “So you weren’t lying about being in Malikel’s service. Though I suppose it makes sense. More convenient for him than going to
Kyra felt Tristam’s hand clamp around her wrist, and none too quickly. “Watch your words, Santon,” he said. “You’re not untouchable.”
“Perhaps you should follow your own advice, Red Shield.” Santon’s voice dripped with contempt. Tristam’s grip on Kyra remained firm as Santon and his brothers walked
I could kill you in your sleep,
Kyra thought to their retreating forms.
I could slip right past your bodyguards and have you begging for mercy. Let’s see how cocky you can be
when you don’t have Willem’s skirts to hide under.
“Kyra.” Tristam still hadn’t let go of her. She tried to pull her arm away, but he didn’t budge. “Kyra, it’s not worth it.”
“What’s not worth it? Idalee’s life?”
“Doing something stupid because you’re angry,” he said. “Promise me you won’t go after them. Ending up under another death sentence will do you no good at
She stared at Santon and his brothers. They were still talking and laughing, their voices fading as they walked away. Kyra wrenched her arm from Tristam’s grip. “Funny that you say
Malikel can’t walk in and do what he wishes,” she said. “Seems to me that if you know the right people and have enough coin, you can do exactly as you wish.”
S I X
yra lay awake that night and combed through her memories of James—not the most recent ones, where he’d betrayed her and tried to kill
her, but their interactions from earlier. There had been a time when she and James had been in accord, surprisingly so. He’d been the one to show her that she could be more than a petty
thief, that she could use her skills to correct wrongs done by the wallhuggers. Discovering her own power had been exhilarating, and James had shown real pride in her progress. They both took
pleasure in bringing the fatpurses down a notch, in hitting the nobles where they thought themselves invulnerable. Kyra had admired James once, and—if she was honest with herself—had
been attracted to him as well. Which had made it all the more devastating when he’d turned against her.