Authors: Michelle Sagara
Tags: #General, #Epic, #Fiction, #Romance, #Fantasy
“Noon is not considered morning by most people. Tell me,” he added. “Because if you keep this up, Margot is going to file an incident report, and you’ll be in the hot seat.”
Margot was the name of the proprietor of this particular haven for the hopeless. She was a tall, statuesque redhead, with amber eyes that Kaylin would have bet an entire paycheck were magically augmented. Her voice, absent the
drivel she used when speaking, was throaty, deep, and almost sinful just to
Kaylin was certain that half of the people who offered Margot their custom secretly hoped that she would be their One True Love. Sadly, she was certain that Margot was also aware of this, and they’d exchanged heated words about the subject of her lovelorn customers in the past. Petty jealousy being what it was, however, Kaylin was liked by enough of the
merchants, mostly the less successful ones, that Margot’s attempt to have her summarily scheduled out of existence—or the existence of Elani Street—had so far failed to take.
“If I knew what was bothering me,” she finally admitted, “I would have warned you this morning.”
“That I’m in a foul mood.”
“Kaylin, the only person who might not notice that is Roshan, Marrin’s newest orphan. And I have my doubts.”
“I have no idea what’s wrong,” she continued, steadfastly ignoring that particular comment. “The foundling hall is running so smoothly right now you’d think someone rich had died and willed the foundlings all their money. Rennick’s play was a success, and the Swords have been cut to a tenth their previous riot-watch numbers. I’m not on report. Mallory is no longer our
sergeant. Caitlin is finally back in the office after her leave.
“But—” she exhaled heavily “—there’s just…something. I have no idea what the problem
And if you
that it has something to do with the time of month, you’ll be picking up splinters of your teeth well into next year.”
He touched her, gently and briefly, on the shoulder. “You’ll let me know when you figure it out?”
“You’ll probably be the first person to know. Unless Marcus radically alters the duty roster.”
The day did not get better when their patrol took them to Evanton’s shop. Kaylin didn’t stop there when she was on duty, because rifling his kitchen took time, and sitting and drinking the scalding hot tea he prepared when she did visit took more of the same.
Like most merchants, Evanton’s shop had a sandwich board outside. The paint was faded, the wood slightly warped. His sign, however, did not offend her; she barely noticed it. She certainly didn’t trip over it in a way that would snap its hinges shut.
But she did notice the young man who came barreling out of the door toward her. Grethan. Once Tha’alani. Hell, still Tha’alani. But crippled, shut off from the gifts that made the Tha’alani possibly the most feared race in the city. He couldn’t read minds. The characteristic racial stalks of the Tha’alani, suspended at the height of his forehead, just beneath his dark, flat hair, still weaved frantically in the air in a little I’m-upset-help-me dance, and most people—most humans, she corrected herself—wouldn’t know he was incapable of actually putting them to use to invade their thoughts.
“Kaylin!” he said, speaking too loudly in a street that was sparsely populated.
The people that were in it looked up immediately. You could always count on curiosity to dim common sense,
in Elani Street. Evanton was known to be one of the street’s genuine enchanters; he would have to be, given that he was also one of the few who still had a storefront and never offered love-potions or fortunes. Had he visible size or obvious power, he would probably have terrified most of the residents. He didn’t.
She spoke in a much lower voice. It was her way of giving a subtle hint; the less subtle hints usually got her a reprimand, and Grethan looked wide-eyed and wild enough that she didn’t think he deserved them. Yet. “Grethan? Has something happened to Evanton?”
He took a deep breath. “No. He told me you’d be coming, and he set me to watch.”
Had it been anyone other than Evanton, Kaylin would have asked how he’d known. Evanton, however, was not a man who casually explained little details like that to an apprentice, and if Grethan was valued because he was Evanton’s first promising apprentice in more years than Kaylin had been alive, he was still on the lower rungs of the ladder.
He was also, she thought, too damn smart to ask.
“You’re not busy, are you?” Grethan asked, hesitating at the door.
“Not too busy to speak with Evanton if he has something he needs to say,” she replied.
Severn, damn him, added, “She’s busy plotting the downfall of Margot.”
Grethan snorted. “You’re probably going to have to stand in line for that,” he told her, his stalks slowing their frantic dance. “But Evanton’s in a bit of a mood today, so you might not want to mention her by name.”
“I never want to mention her by name. You’ll note that it wasn’t me who did,” she replied, giving Severn a very distinct look.
“Evanton is also not the only one who’s in, as you put it, a bit of a mood,” Severn told Grethan. “Maybe the two of us should wait outside somewhere safe. Like, say, the docks.”
Evanton, contrary to Grethan’s report, was seated by the long bar he called a counter. It was a bar; some old tavern had sold it to Evanton years before Kaylin had met him. If you could see one square inch of its actual surface, it was a tidy day. Given that Evanton was working with beads, needles, leather patches and some herbs and powders, Kaylin didn’t immediately recognize it, it wasn’t a day for surface area.
He looked up as she approached, his lips compressed around a thin line of needles. Or pins. She couldn’t see the heads, and couldn’t, at this distance, tell the difference. He looked more bent and aged than usual—which, given he was the oldest living person she’d ever met if you didn’t count Barrani or Dragons, said something. Age never showed with Barrani or Dragons, anyway.
“Grethan said you wanted to see me,” she said, carefully removing a pile of books from a stool a little ways into the shop. Books were the safest bet; you couldn’t break most of them if the precarious pile chose to topple, and you couldn’t crush them—much—by accidentally stepping on them.
He began to carefully poke pins into the top of his wrinkled apron. When he’d pushed the last of them home, he looked like a very bad version of a sympathetic magic doll, handled by someone who didn’t realize they were supposed to stick the pins in point first. “
is not the right word,” he said curtly.
Kaylin, accustomed to his moods, shrugged. “I’m here anyway.”
“Because Grethan said—”
“I mean, why were you sent to Elani today?”
She frowned. “We weren’t
This is our beat, this rotation. For some reason, we’re expected to be able to handle the petty fraud and swindling that passes for business-as-normal in Charlatan Central.”
would be you and your Corporal?”
Corporal, and yes.”
Evanton nodded. He set aside the cloth in his lap, and put beads into about fifty different jars. He did all of this
. Kaylin, whose middle name was not exactly patience on the best of working days, sat and tried not to grind her teeth. She knew damn well he could talk and work at the same time; it was what he usually did.
“This does not strictly concern the Hawks,” he finally told her, as he rose. “Can I make you tea?” Evanton did not actually
tea; he did, however, seem to find comfort in the social custom of being old enough to make it and offer it.
“I’m on duty, Evanton.”
“Just answer the question, Private Neya.”
She sighed. “Yes,” she told him. “If you’ll talk while you’re doing it, you can make me tea. I don’t suppose you’ve found cups that have handles?”
The answer to the question was either no, or she’d annoyed him enough by asking that he’d failed to find them. He made tea, and she waited, seated at the side of a kitchen table that was—yes—cluttered with small piles of daily debris. Still, none of the debris moved or crawled, so it was more or less safe.
“Evanton’s brows gathered and his forehead furrowed as he sat across from her. This only deepened the lines that time had etched there. “Very well. This does not, as I mentioned, concern the Hawks. It does not, entirely, concern me yet.”
“But you told Grethan to watch for me if I happened to pass by.”
“I may have. He was hovering, and I dislike that when I’m working.”
Had he been in less of a mood, she would have pointed out that he usually disliked the
of hoverers when he was working, because he liked to have people fetch and carry; not even his guests were exempt from those duties. She bit her tongue, however. It was slightly better than burning it.
“I was in the elemental garden this morning,” he added.
She stilled. When he didn’t elucidate, she said, “Isn’t that where you do some of your work?”
“I work there when I am not at all interested in interruption,” he replied. “That was not, however, the case this morning.”
All of Kaylin’s many growing questions shriveled and died. She even put her hands around the sides of the cup, because she felt a momentary chill.
Evanton sighed. He rose, and pulled the key ring from his left arm. It was a key ring only in the loose sense of the word, being larger around than any part of that arm. “Private,” he said gravely.
“I’m not sure I ever want to set foot in your garden again,” she told him, but she pushed herself away from her teacup.
“I’m sure you don’t,” was the terse reply. “Especially not today. But I’m tired. If you see it for yourself, you’ll spare me the effort of coming up with words.”
Because he was Evanton, and his home was a mess, the halls they now walked were narrow and cramped. Shelves butted against the walls, in mismatched colors and heights. “Is this one new?” Kaylin asked, in a tone of voice that clearly said,
how could you cram another bookshelf into this space?
“I have an apprentice now,” Evanton replied. “And I’m not about to move
work so that he has someplace to shelve his.”
She winced. She’d had issues with Grethan in the past, but at the moment she felt sorry for him; having to deal with Evanton in
mood should have been enough to send him screaming for cover.
Then again, he
out somewhere with Severn.
Evanton reached the unremarkable door at the hall’s end. It looked, to Kaylin’s eye, more rickety and warped than the last time she’d seen it. He slid the key into the lock, but before he opened the door, he turned to Kaylin and said, “Don’t be surprised to find the garden somewhat changed since you last visited.”
Having offered warning, he pushed the door open.
It opened, as always, into a space that was larger in all ways than the building that girded it; it had, for one, no obvious ceiling, and no clearly visible walls. This garden, as Evanton called it, was older by far than the city of Elantra; it was older than the Dragons or the Barrani. According to Sanabalis, it had always been here in one guise or another, and while the world existed, it always would.
Evanton was its Keeper.
As jobs went, it certainly promised job security. Sadly, a bad mistake on the job also promised to end the world, or come so close what was left wouldn’t be in any shape to complain or fire him.
Kaylin blinked at the harshness of this particular daylight, and she followed Evanton in through the door—and into the gale.
On the first occasion Kaylin had come here, led by Evanton, it had been breezy, warm and quiet. He had assured her at that time that that state was the norm for his garden. Looking at his back, she saw his grubby working tunic had been replaced entirely by deep blue robes—and that these robes were now the new homes of trailing rivulets of water. The wind picked at his sodden hem and strands of his hair. Clearly the garden wasn’t giving him much respect.
Kaylin’s hair flew free as the stick Severn had carefully adjusted was yanked out by the wind; this lasted for at most half a minute before the strands were too heavy. They now clung to her face.
He didn’t turn at the sound of his name, and Kaylin shouted it again, putting more force behind it. When he still didn’t turn, she took a step toward him, and saw that the grass—or what had once been grass—was actually a few inches of mud. Her boots sank into it.
If the small and separate shrines that had been dedicated in corners of this place were still standing, the visibility was poor enough that she couldn’t see them.
She almost shouted his name again, but he turned just as she reached his back. “Follow,” he told her, cupping his hands around his mouth and shouting to be heard.
The garden’s size was, and had always been, somewhat elastic. Kaylin, who had previously walked a few yards to pay her respects at the elemental shrine of Water, with its deep, dark and utterly still pool, had
walked for miles and hours to reach the same damn shrine. She did not, therefore, react with any obvious surprise when Evanton’s trek through the gale took an hour. It might have taken less time if not for the mud, the wind and the driving rain.
But when Evanton called a halt to this grueling trek, it was obvious why: he had reached a door. Not an entire building, of which a door would be a part. That would have been too simple. No, it was a standing door, absent frame or wall. It did not, however, possess a doorward; Kaylin was spared the brief and magical discomfort of placing her palm against it before she was granted entry.
She was not, however, spared the effort of forcing the door open; the wind seemed to push from the other side, and it required all of her weight, shoulder against cold, wet surface, to move the damn thing—which didn’t even