Authors: Michelle Sagara
Tags: #General, #Epic, #Fiction, #Romance, #Fantasy
He nodded quietly.
“You never told me why,” Kaylin said, as the Hawklord touched the mirror again, and the image broke and vanished, her younger self trapped in permanent, private records, and hidden from all external view.
The Hawklord said nothing. But it was a quiet nothing, and it radiated no irritation or disapproval.
“Why didn’t you send me—send me away?”
“One day, Kaylin, if the answer is not obvious, I will tell you. But not today. Lord Sanabalis has offered to attempt—and
is the correct word—to delay your etiquette lessons. I am not entirely certain however that he will succeed.”
“And I do not feel that a delay of any kind is in your best interests.”
She felt her brows rise, and tried to pull them down.
“The Emperor is aware of you,” he continued, “as you well know. It is only a matter of time before you are called to Council. The matter of time,” he added softly, “is unfortunately not dependent on those lessons; it is coming. Ravellon.” He shook his head, and his wings did rise. “What you did in Nightshade was necessary. What you did for the Leontines saved Sergeant Kassan, and possibly his wife.
“But what you saw there means that I will not be able to keep you from Court, and if the Keeper is correct, you will be needed. Sanabalis has spoken on your behalf in Court before, but you are progressing beyond his understanding—and the Arkon does not leave the palace. Sooner or later—and I think sooner likely—you will be asked to report to the Dragon Court’s council.
“Without those lessons, it will not, I feel, go well. Even with Lord Sanabalis’s intervention.”
“Will you be able to keep me out of the fiefs?”
After a long pause, the Hawklord said, “Dismissed.”
She met Marcus, who was on the way up, when she was on the way down. His eyes had not lost their orange tint, but he didn’t ask her what had been discussed; instead he told her to go wait downstairs—quietly, if she even understood what that meant—and he headed up past her.
When she reached the office, she was surprised to see Sanabalis seated to one side of Marcus’s desk. She was not surprised, on the other hand, to see that Marcus was a few weeks closer to needing a new desk. As buying a new desk for Marcus generally meant she was allowed to haggle as fiercely as she wanted, she didn’t mind the latter so much.
But Sanabalis inclined his head toward the second, empty, chair. She stood beside it. His eyes were almost the exact same shade Marcus’s had been. “Lord Grammayre feels that, for some reason, it is inadvisable for you to enter the fiefs at this time.”
Since that had been about forty minutes’ worth of their discussion, he wasn’t telling Kaylin anything she hadn’t already heard. He did, on the other hand, say it more quietly.
“Is it true?”
She hesitated. She knew that the Emperor knew about her past. She would not be surprised if Sanabalis did. But the rest of the office
know, and she didn’t particularly feel like sharing. Ever. She met the eyes of her teacher.
“I don’t know.”
This didn’t appear to irritate him. On the other hand, his eyes didn’t shift color.
“Very well,” he said instead. “It appears that I will have to fall back somewhat on contingencies.”
The afternoon was spent patrolling with Severn. Marcus, in a foul mood, played switch-the-shifts-around; it was a game that was
to give him someone to growl at. It was also a great unifier on the force: everyone complained. Everyone hated it. Marcus tended to spread a foul mood as far as it would go; he’d had a lot of practice, so it was pretty damn far.
The switch in shifts put Kaylin squarely in the market district, where trouble—if it came—would be in the form of petty thieves and annoyed merchants. It was about as far away from magic as she could geographically get in the city, although the market, like Elani, had its share of fraud.
She’d taken the time to check the schedule, and she knew that Teela and Tain were out on the streets, as well; it would keep them out of trouble. In particular, it would keep them out of
trouble. She tried not to dwell on Morse and Barren.
She mostly succeeded because she was hungry, and because Severn didn’t ask her any questions. He didn’t speak much at all.
But when they arrived back at the Halls at the end of the day, Kaylin ran into Sanabalis’s contingency plan. Almost literally.
Lord Tiamaris of the Dragon Court was standing just around the corner, near Caitlin’s desk. He was wearing the Hawks’ tunic.
He nodded to Severn; Severn had taken the corner at a slow walk.
“Private,” he added, turning to Kaylin.
She said nothing for a long minute, looking across Caitlin’s desk. Caitlin winced. “Lord Tiamaris was sent,” Caitlin told her quietly, “by the Eternal Emperor.” Which meant no help would be forthcoming from any quarter.
Tiamaris nodded; he did not look terribly pleased about it, either.
“Why are you here?” Kaylin asked, coming to the immediate point.
“I think you’ll find, if you check your duty roster, that I am to accompany you on your patrols for the next several days.”
Severn stiffened, but said nothing.
She glanced across the office at Marcus, who was not looking at her.
“I don’t suppose those patrols are bordering the fiefs?”
“Not bordering, no.”
She cursed Sanabalis roundly in all of the languages in which it was possible. Tiamaris made no comment, which for Tiamaris meant about the same thing.
Morning, never Kaylin’s friend, landed through the window in her face. She rose, started to reflexively close the shutters, and then groaned and opened them wider instead. This hurt her eyes, but her eyes could just suffer; she had a winning streak of on-time days she didn’t want to break. Money was, of course, riding on it. Although the betting did concern her, she’d been allowed in. It had taken some whining. But whining about money was beginning to come naturally.
Tiamaris was waiting for her when she reached the office. He was seated primly in one of Marcus’s chairs. Marcus was seated, far less primly, across from him, his increasingly untidy desk the bastion between them. The Hawks’ Sergeant was never going to be friendly to Tiamaris. Tiamaris, himself not Mr. Personality, seemed to take this in stride.
Marcus was so frosty; Tiamaris had voted, in Court Council, to have her killed outright. But that had been
ago, and it had occurred well before Tiamaris had actually met her; if
was willing to let bygones be bygones, Marcus should be able to do the same. She was not, however, foolhardy enough to tell Marcus this. Not today.
She approached his desk as if she were a timid tax collector who had the misfortune to leave her burly guards outside. He glanced at her as if she were the same thing. “Reporting for duty,” she told him.
He grimaced, gritted his teeth, and waited for the window’s mellifluous hourly phrase. She could hear his claws grinding desktop as the window told the office what the hour was, and demanded that they be polite, friendly, and collegial at the start of this busy, busy day.
Tiamaris raised a dark brow. “That,” he told them both, “could be irritating.”
“Enraging,” Kaylin replied quietly.
“I assume it’s magically protected?”
He shook his head. “You must have angered someone, Private Neya.”
“It’s a long list.”
“Don’t,” Marcus told her curtly, “add me to it, Private.”
She stood at attention.
“Given what happened the last time you went into the fiefs,” he told her grimly, “I am on record as opposing this investigation.”
He said nothing for a long moment. Then he stood, scraping his chair across the floorboards loudly enough to break most conversations. “Your partner for the duration of this investigation will be Lord Tiamaris of the Dragon Court.”
“You will investigate the borders of Nightshade, with special attention to the interior.” He
in a mood. His Elantran was strained enough that his words had a distinctly—and angrily—Leontine cast to them. “If anything is out of the ordinary—” he also spit this word out in outrage “—you are to take note and report it immediately. The report will come to
She glanced at Tiamaris, who hadn’t moved.
On cue, Marcus looked at him. “Off the record,” he told the Dragon Lord, although it was highly unlikely to remain that way, “I will hold you personally responsible if Private Neya is returned to the infirmary on a stretcher again. I understand the concerns of the Dragon Caste Court, but whatever else she might be, she is
a Dragon, and the Caste Court’s laws and concerns, unless specifically made public, are
the concerns of the Halls of Law. Do I make myself clear?”
“As clear as good glass,” Tiamaris replied. He did rise, then.
Severn was waiting by the office doors. He held out one hand as she passed him, and she frowned.
“Bracer,” he said quietly.
She glanced at her wrist, and shook her head. “If I remove it here,” she told him quietly, “Marcus will rip out someone’s throat. Or try. It always comes back to you; if I need to remove it, I’ll remove it by the Ablayne and toss it in.” The bracer was not an optional piece of equipment; it was mandatory. It confined Kaylin’s magic. She even did most of her lessons with Sanabalis wearing it, although when he was frustrated, he had her remove it and lay it on the table beside the offending, and unlit, candle.
Severn laughed, then. It was one of Kaylin’s favorite things to do with the bracer, when she was in a mood. Because it was ancient and because no one understood how it functioned—or at least that was the official story—no one knew why it chose a Keeper; it had chosen, not Kaylin, but Severn. When she tossed it in the river, it appeared—sometimes dripping—in Severn’s home. He told her it was making the carpets moldy.
“I don’t think we’re going to run into any trouble. Not in Nightshade.”
He said nothing, and she lifted her hand to the mark on her cheek. He glanced away, then turned and caught her wrist. “Stay in Nightshade, Kaylin.”
The only way she now lied to Severn was by omission. She said nothing until he let her wrist go. But when he did, she leaned forward and kissed his cheek. “I’ll be careful,” she told him. “Please don’t threaten Tiamaris.”
He raised a brow.
“Oh, please, do if it will amuse you,” the slightly irritated Dragon Lord added. “I’m collecting threats today.” He paused. “But for the sake of variety, attempt to be either more dire—or more original—than one Dragon Lord, one Leontine, and one Aerian.”
Kaylin winced. “I’m not a child,” she told Tiamaris stiffly. “I don’t know why—”
“I do,” was his grim reply. “And while I would like to discuss the relative states of our respective maturity, I would like to do it from the safety of the other side of the Ablayne.”
“Safety?” Kaylin muttered as she lengthened her stride as far as it would go and still failed to match Tiamaris’s headlong walk.
“The Halls of Law have no purchase in the fiefs,” was his reply. “There, they only have an Outcaste Barrani, an Outcaste Dragon, and a handful of overly ambitious ferals.”
The sun had completely cleared the horizon when Tiamaris and Kaylin reached the bridge that crossed the Ablayne into Nightshade. Kaylin had never quite understood
the Emperor allowed the bridge, which was clearly in decent repair, to remain standing. While it was true that people did cross it, it was also true that some of those people went in the wrong direction, just as Kaylin and Tiamaris were now doing.
This was not the only bridge across the river, of course; it was not even the only bridge out of the fiefs that Kaylin had ever crossed. But it had defined many of her early dreams in the fief of Nightshade, and she always approached it as if it were a doorway between the present and the past. She did so now, but she was aware that Tiamaris, who had slowed enough to allow her forced jog to keep up, had had no such dreams.
“What are we looking for?” she asked Tiamaris.
He glanced at her, and then slowed to a walk, as if the weight of the bridge’s symbolism had finally reached his feet. “Borders,” he told her quietly. “I know that Evanton is known to you as something other than the Keeper, but his words—if you relayed them with any accuracy—are significant to the Eternal Emperor. They would be significant, as well, to any of the fief lords.”
“You want to talk to Nightshade.” She turned and after a pause, rested her elbows on the rails. Strands of dark hair curled gently around her cheeks as she bent over the river itself. It was never still; it reflected nothing.
He surprised her. “I want nothing from Nightshade, fief or Lord. I admit that I find the fief lord slightly…irritating. But he is not my Outcaste; he is Barrani.”
“You just don’t like his sword.”
One glance at Tiamaris told her that she’d failed to annoy him; his eyes were still a lambent gold. The lower membranes were, however, raised. “I don’t, as you quaintly put it, care for his sword, no. But he
Nightshade. And if the heart of the fiefs is contained at all, it is contained by the fiefs as they stand. What lies in Ravellon will not determine the shape—or strength—of Nightshade’s border while Lord Nightshade rules.
“And nothing you say, or do here, will change that fact. I am not here, nor was I sent here, to speak with Lord Nightshade.”
“The Keeper’s message was, in its entirety, yours. I am here,” he told her, “to act as your guard should the need arise. That is my only function at the present time. If you feel it is wise or germane, you will travel to Lord Nightshade’s castle, and you will speak with him; if you feel it is neither, you will not. I will go where you go.”
“Yes,” she told him, after a long pause. “Nightshade. If for no other reason than that we’ll be nosing around his fief on the edge of a border neither of us particularly wants to see again.” She glanced at him, and then headed down the slope of the bridge. “You know he’d send word if the Outcaste Dragon came anywhere near Nightshade.”