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Authors: Ken Scholes

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BOOK: Requiem
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Rudolfo climbed the stairs, his Gypsy Scouts behind and before him as he went. He slipped through the heavy oak door and into a cold room furnished simply with a table and chairs. He sat and waited.

When the door opened, he looked up as his second captain ushered Kember in.

The forced winter march had not been kind to the old man, and it pleased Rudolfo to see it in the hollowness of his eyes and his weeks-long growth of beard. Behind him, Philemus stood by silently.

Rudolfo did not invite the former steward of his Seventh Forest Manor to sit. Instead, he met his stare coolly.

“How long, Kember?”

The older man said nothing.

“Damnation,” Rudolfo roared, his fist coming down upon the table. “
How long?

“Fifty-three years,” Kember finally said.

More than a dozen years before Rudolfo’s birth. He didn’t want to believe it. “Show me the mark.”

Kember shook his head. “I was not permitted the mark. Most of us weren’t. It was your father’s—”

Rudolfo cut him off. “Did my father take the mark?”

Slowly, Kember nodded. “He did, Lord. And his fondest desire was that in time, you would, too.”

The Gypsy King felt rage twisting in his gut like a blade. “That won’t happen.” He leaned forward and let the rage settle into his voice, chilling his carefully chosen words. “But I will tell you what
will
happen,” Rudolfo said. “You have one opportunity for grace. Otherwise, the Physician Benoit will be here tomorrow morning to assist in your redemption.” Here, he nodded to his second captain. “Philemus will spend today and tonight with you, asking questions, and if he is satisfied with your answers, you and your people will leave and never return. Your properties will be forfeit and divided among the refugees
your
faith and treachery helped to create. The edicts are posted; this resurgence will not be tolerated in my forest.”

Rudolfo paused and studied the man’s face. It was too calm for his liking. “If Philemus is not satisfied with your answers, an appointment with my Physician will be arranged.” Still, that calm remained, and Rudolfo forced a smile to his lips. “An appointment,” he said slowly, “not for you but for Ilyna.”

The mention of the man’s wife was the first sign of his resolve slipping, and Rudolfo continued. “And for every answer you do not give with promptness, accuracy and sincerity, Benoit will cut a piece of her away. If necessary, you will be afforded the opportunity to watch and hear this redemptive work.”

The blood drained from Kember’s face. “I will answer your questions, Rudolfo. Certainly I will.” His voice caught, and it pleased the Gypsy King to see the man’s composure dissolve. “But hear this: what is coming is a work carefully conceived for your benefit and for the healing of the world. Your father would be ashamed of you for your actions today.”

“My father betrayed us all,” Rudolfo said, “and I am ashamed of
him
for his own actions.” And for the first time, he understood the sharpness of those feelings as that betrayal cut its own mark above his heart. He stood. “And I am ashamed of you, as well, Kember.”

He turned his back upon the old man, and left his second captain to the work of interrogation.

Reports of Philemus’s progress trickled in throughout the day. Rudolfo tried to busy himself with work, but found his taste for it had gone sour. He sat and stared into nothing, his hands still upon the pile of papers.

Finally, as afternoon became evening, he stood, put on his coat, and slipped out into the cold.

At first he wandered the camp under the pretense of inspecting his men, but despite his best efforts, he felt his booted feet pulling him beyond their military outpost to the large cluster of mismatched tents that formed the exiles’ camp. His Gypsy Scouts, bolstered by two companies of his Wandering Army, stood somber watch over the ragged group of frostbitten Y’Zirites.

Rudolfo walked that perimeter, his eyes intentionally meeting those of the exiles. Most looked away beneath the hardness of their king’s angry glare. Some met his eyes with quiet resolve. Rudolfo was careful to keep his stare level, though he was not sure why he’d come here. It was not as if he would understand any better from the exercise or that if he did somehow gain knowledge, that it would change the course of action he’d committed to.

Their faith is a poison laced with sugar.
He thought of his father and felt the grief again. A question arose within him that he’d asked many times these past two years. “Why?”

He heard footfalls behind him and turned to see Lieutenant Daryn—the Gypsy Scout from earlier—approaching. His face was grim.

“General,” he said, “the Marshers have reached the western watch.”

Rudolfo quickly calculated distance. They’d arrive within the next two hours. He felt relief building in him. Sending his wife and son into the enemy’s den after the explosion had been the best course of action at the time. But now, with his borders guarded and with the surgical knife-work with which the conspiracy had been cut out of the Named Lands by Ria’s people, it was time to have them at home. In the midst of the madness his life had become, Jin Li Tam and Jakob were what anchored him.

“Excellent,” he said, and gave a tired smile.

But the smile faded at Daryn’s troubled face. The lieutenant looked away quickly; then he met Rudolfo’s eyes. “Charles and Winters are with them,” he said. “Lady Tam and Lord Jakob are not.” He paused. “Isaak and Aedric are also missing.”

Rudolfo felt it like a fist in his gut, and his knees went weak. “Where are they?” But before the man could answer, Rudolfo was racing toward camp and shouting for his fastest horse.

Winters

The moon was a smudge of blue and green behind a veil of clouds, and Winteria bat Mardic walked beneath it, forcing each step despite the protest of every muscle in her body.

It had been a long ten days, moving from village to village on foot. Exhaustion saturated her. She spent her days putting one foot in front of the other, moving among her people as they made their way southeast. And she spent her nights tossing and turning, struggling beneath the weight of bad tidings she knew she must soon share with Rudolfo about Jin and Jakob, about Isaak and Neb.

Neb.
She’d been terrified of him. Something had changed the boy into … what? She didn’t know. But after healing her cuts with a touch, he’d gone out to face the Watcher, and he’d held his own against that ancient metal man in a battle that left a wide path of ruined forest behind them. And he had not come back. Neither had Isaak or the Watcher.

She glanced over her shoulder to where Charles sat upon the back of a tired pony. His face had paled at the earthquake, and he’d said fewer than three words to her in the days since. But she’d seen him wiping tears from his eyes from time to time, and she suspected strongly that he knew what she feared most—that Isaak was not coming back.

And Neb may not be either.

She shook the thought away, refusing it. She needed to believe that he somehow escaped. That somehow, he was doing what her people’s dream had called him to, seeking their Home, and she wanted to believe that maybe Isaak had escaped with him. And that maybe, somehow, they’d wrested the final dream from the Watcher before they fled.

But she saw no evidence of that, and she’d left with her people the morning after the earthquake, even while the Machtvolk scouts and soldiers scoured the forest for some sign of where Neb and the mechoservitors had vanished to.

Scout whistles ahead startled her and she stopped abruptly, hearing the sound of fluttering feathers grabbed from the air by catch nets. She knew they were close now, and soon Rudolfo would demand answers of her.

She sighed and steeled herself, adjusting the knives she wore at her hips before hurrying ahead.

She heard the pounding of hooves first, followed by a whispering wind that betrayed the approach of magicked scouts.

Winters reached the front of the caravan even as a dark mare and turbaned rider crested the rise of frozen scrub ahead of them. There was something different in his posture now, but it was unmistakably Rudolfo. His head moved from side to side, taking in the scattered line of refugees.

“Hail, Lord Rudolfo,” she shouted, stepping out in front of her people. The Gypsy Scout Aedric had left in charge materialized beside her. “I’ve brought more orphans for your collection.”

He didn’t answer. Instead, Rudolfo whistled the horse forward and toward them, letting the beast pick its footing carefully on the snow-swept slope. As he drew closer, she saw his eyes narrow at the sight of her scars, his lips pursed in anger.

When he spoke, there was a cold edge in his voice that she was not accustomed to. She could feel the weight of his stare. “Where is my family?” Then, his eyes shifted to the Gypsy Scout. “And where is my first captain?”

She watched the man try to meet Rudolfo’s gaze and fail, hanging his head in wordless shame. “Perhaps we should discuss this matter in private, Lord,” she said.

He turned on her quickly, moving the horse in close. “Where,” he asked again, this time slowly, “is my family?”

She swallowed. “They have left the Named Lands,” she said, then glanced over her shoulder at the people who stood nearby. “It is a matter we should discuss
privately,
Lord Rudolfo.”

He looked away from her and to his scout. “And Aedric?”

The scout reached toward his sash. “I bear a letter from the captain addressed to you, General.”

Rudolfo raised his hand. “Enough,” he said. The rage Winters saw in his eyes startled her and she would have looked away, but he did first. He scanned the crowd. “Where’s Charles?”

“I’m here,” the old man said.

“What of Isaak?”

Winters turned in time to see Charles meet Rudolfo’s stare. “Lady Winteria is correct,” he said. “We should speak privately. These are sensitive matters.”

Rudolfo took a long, deep breath.
He’s wrestling with his anger,
she realized. “Very well,” he said. Then he dismounted and handed the reins over to a scout who materialized at his arm. He looked first to Charles and then to Winters. “Walk with me. Both of you.”

They set out at a brisk pace, their breath frosting the night air. Rudolfo set that pace with long, deliberate strides, and when they were sufficiently away from the others, he slowed them. “Tell me,” he said.

Winters started at the beginning, updating him on Cervael’s death and the Mass of the Falling Moon, through Neb’s appearance and then disappearance with Isaak and the Watcher.

Rudolfo listened intently, his hands folded behind his back as he walked, and occasionally he interrupted to ask questions. When she reached the part about Jin Li Tam’s sister, he raised his eyebrows.

“A Tam in the Y’Zirite Blood Guard?”

“Yes,” Winters said. “Lady Tam said the woman told her to go with the regent when he asked.”

He nodded. “Continue.”

This is the part I dread telling him.
She did not know why, but the thought of it knotted her stomach. Winters took a deep breath and continued. “Lady Tam also bid me tell you that she loves you and that you bear her grace above all others but your son. And that she would see him back to you.”

She saw him flinch at the words, and when he turned his eyes upon her, she saw anguish now mixing with his rage. “And you’ve known this ten days gone but did not send word of my wife and my son? Nor send word about my first captain?”

Winters looked away. “I did not, Lord.”

“Why?”

Look him in the eye.
She forced her eyes toward his. “Aedric bid me not to. He knew you would try to pursue them. It’s in his letter.”

Now Rudolfo drew in a breath and slowly let it out. He turned away from her and toward Charles. “And tell me what you know about Isaak,” he said.

Charles looked at Winters, then back to Rudolfo. “I fear he is dead, Lord.”

Dead.
Winters blinked back sudden, unexpected tears. This was what she’d feared, and hearing him say it aloud hollowed out a part of her.

“What leads you to believe that?” Rudolfo asked.

“I believe his sunstone overheated, Lord, during his fight with the Watcher. I think the earthquake was an explosion underground—a large one.”

How large,
she wondered? Her mouth went dry, and Rudolfo asked before she could find the words.

“What about Neb and the Watcher?”

Yes. What of them?
Charles glanced at her before answering, and she knew from the look on his face that she did not want to know what he was going to say.

He looked away from her. “I don’t see how they could have survived if they were nearby. Especially underground.”

No, Winters thought. Neb left the way he came. He went to do what needed doing.
He went Home-Seeking.
Isaak went with him. “But we can’t know for sure,” she said. “Neb was…” Her words trailed off as she thought about them. “He was
different
when we saw him. He came out of nowhere and he was stronger.” She shuddered at the memory of his choked voice, feeling the heat of his hands upon her body.
Be whole.
“He was faster.” She looked to Charles. “You saw it?”

“Some,” Charles said. “Mostly, we heard it. But she is right, Lord. Neb was holding his own against the Watcher.”

“That is curious.” Rudolfo stopped and stroked his beard. He looked at Winters. “You’re right. We cannot know for sure what’s become of them.”

But his eyes told her that he wasn’t hopeful. When he started walking again, he turned them back toward the scattered line of men, women and children who stamped their feet in the cold. “I will send scouts to your young officer with an offer of aid,” Rudolfo said. “I’ll have them gather what information they can.”

She blushed at the mention of Garyt ben Urlin, then willed the heat from her cheeks. “Thank you, Lord.” She paused, thinking she should say more but unsure of what that more should be.

They walked quietly, and when they reached the caravan, Rudolfo paused. “We have tents and food,” he said. “And when you reach Rachyle’s Rest, my new steward, Arturas, will help you find housing and work for your people.”

BOOK: Requiem
11.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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