Read The Margrave Online

Authors: Catherine Fisher

Tags: #Children's Books, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy & Magic, #Children's eBooks, #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction; Fantasy & Scary Stories, #Sword & Sorcery

The Margrave (2 page)

BOOK: The Margrave
4.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
For a second, he was standing quite close to her. “Don’t worry,” he whispered, grinning slyly at her. “There’s a plan.”
She stared in astonishment. “What?”
“It’s all fixed.” He winked. “I’m in on it. I’ll see you safe, at the castle.”
He was serious.
Carys didn’t know whether to laugh or feel sorry for him. But before she had time to say another word, the jug had been snatched by a Watchman, the rope jerking her to her feet.
“What’s the rush?” she muttered, sullen.
“Orders. To be in before dark.”
“In where?”
But he’d gone, and the line was already moving.
All the hot spring afternoon and into the evening they tramped nonstop, climbing along a narrow track, so treacherous in places that loose rock slid away under their feet, rolled over the edge, and dropped for a long silent second into the distant, crashing branches. The landscape was arid; stunted lemon trees and calarna sprouting from high ravines, the road winding up under natural arches and along the very brinks of drops that made Carys dizzy to look down.
These were the Broken Hills, a shattered, convulsed highland infested with lizards and the scurrying, manyjointed purple scorpions that could kill a man with one sting. The peaks above her had slipped and shifted; it was as if some terrible bolt of the Makers’ lightning had smashed the whole range to pieces centuries before. Perhaps it had. Galen would know.
The road had been repaired. Stumbling around the flank of a vertical cliff, she passed piles of cut stone, great heaps of sand. There must be quarries up some of these side-trails. Away to the west, green foothills still glimmered with late sun, but as the road wound up a riven hillside where all the trees had been hacked and felled, far over the horizon she saw the smokes and vapors of the Unfinished Lands, amazingly close.
And on the last ridge, she saw the castle. It was black, half ruined or half built, some eerie Maker-structure. It was no ordinary Watchtower; the whole thing was more like a fortified hilltop, with immense walls and towering gates, and as the prisoners stumbled on she saw it was crowded with people, all working, hauling stone up scaffolds, dragging great blocks of mined rock, the racket of hammering and chiseling carrying clearly on the mountain air. As Carys gazed up, the curfew-horn sounded; a familiar distant blare from the highest part of the Keep. Abruptly all hammering stopped, the workmen climbing down wearily.
So she was part of a work-gang. If they needed them, the Watch dragged in criminals and outlaws to build their Towers; she seemed to have walked straight into that. Though this place was immense. And secure.
By the time the weary prisoners straggled through the main barbican, dusk had fallen; as they stood to be registered the faint smells of cooking from the shuttered huts and houses filled Carys with a groaning hunger. Behind her the sentinels dragged the heavy wooden gates shut with a hollow clang, then rattled enormous chains across. Under the vaulted arch it was suddenly dark, stinking of marset dung and woodsmoke.
A number was stamped on her neck; she could feel it, but not see it, and she knew it would take months to wear off. The Watch used corris-juice; she’d done it herself.
Then the line was moved on, through the twilit streets, climbing through archways and cobbled alleys between what seemed hundreds of squalid, crammed huts and shelters, up toward the Keep.
In one street a shutter slid apart; for a second Carys glimpsed a pair of eyes watching her, but a Watchman glared up and it was slammed tight. The lanky boy turned and winked at her. She looked away, and then remembered with a tingle of surprise that he had called this place the castle, as if he had known where they were going. Was he a spy? That was only too likely. It was best not to talk to any of them.
Between the great inner Keep and the rest of the castle was a chasm, too black to see into. The bridge over it was so narrow that only one person could cross it at a time. It was lit by flaring torches, guttering at the corners.
In the very middle of it, Carys shuddered. Something had rattled and slid under her feet; breathless she took four quick strides. She knew about the trapdoors in bridges like these, opening underfoot without warning, plunging intruders to an endless, screaming fall.
On the far side was another great gate; eyes looked out of a grille and some question was barked. Quist pushed a piece of paper through and waited, whistling through his teeth, arms folded, impatient. Once he glanced back and caught her eye; she looked away immediately.
When the gate was finally opened it led to a stone tunnel; on each side were guardrooms. Above her head were murder-holes, and she saw slots for the sudden swordracks that sprang out sideways, both doors and weapons at once. Getting out of here would tax the cleverest Watchspy.
Alert, she glanced into the chambers as she passed, but only the relentless red letters of the Rule marched down the bare walls. A hand grasped the back of her neck, twisted her head painfully.
“Don’t think I’ve forgotten you,” Quist muttered in her ear. “Keep your eyes front. I hear you’ve done enough damage already.”
He stayed close behind her. Across a dim courtyard and down greasy steps, into a corridor where the prisoners’ breath made the damp air smoke, and along a series of doorways that were obviously cells. At the door of each, a prisoner was untied and thrust inside: the two farmers, the woman with the fair hair, the lanky youth. As he went he grinned at her cheerfully. The door slammed shut behind him.
She was the last.
There were more cells, but they hurried her straight past. Quist in front now and two burly Watchmen close behind her. As they climbed some broad steps, Carys allowed herself a wry smile. She was obviously a big threat.
The steps were Maker-material, unworn. At the top was a door; Quist knocked and went in. In seconds he was back.
“Inside,” he said. And then, to the Watchmen: “Stay here. No one to come in or out.” Pushing Carys before him, he stepped in behind her.
THE ROOM WAS LONG. At the far end was the biggest desk she had ever seen, and sitting on a corner of it, watching her, was a woman. Carys was thrust forward. As she walked, the distance made her feel small; she passed an empty fireplace and a dead fly on the floor. There was nothing else in the room. She lifted her head, defiant. Maybe the fly was lucky.
The woman was pretty and small, with a sharp, narrow face. Her hair was scraped back; she wore a castellan’s emblem on her shoulder. Her face was calm and quite unreadable. Carys walked up to the desk and stopped. There was a small stool; the woman nodded, and Quist pushed her onto it. She had forgotten the rooms of the Watch were so utterly cold.
The woman’s scrutiny was thorough; her gaze traveled over Carys, taking in every scratch, every muscle of her face. Carys tried to keep the fear out of her eyes. The silence chilled her. And then she noticed the woman was fingering something. Some silver discs on a chain: the insignia. Before she thought she said, “Those are mine.”
The castellan showed no surprise. Instead she put the slithering chain on the table. When she spoke her voice was oddly husky. “Welcome back to your family, Carys Arrin.” Then she pushed the discs over the desk. “If they’re yours,” she said, “put them on.”
Ask questions with cold rigor. Display
one weapon on the wall, where the
subject must see it. Bring them past
closed rooms where the lash sounds. But
do not allow screams, which bring anger
and stiffen resistance. Do not threaten.
Behind you looms the shadow of the
Watch; that is threat enough.
Directions for Interrogators, WP9/7623
OR A LONG MOMENT Carys was still, with surprise more than anything. Then she picked up the chain and slipped it over her neck.
The castellan gave a thin smile. She nodded at Quist, who came and lit the two tall candles on the desk with the spark from a tinderbox. The yellow flames lengthened, their tiny sizzle loud in the hush.
“Good.” The woman nodded. “It always helps when the prisoner knows exactly what resources the Watch has for dealing with her.”
Carys folded her fingers together. “What is this place?”
Quist went and stood behind the castellan’s chair, like a shadow. She leaned back; he put a hand on her shoulder and to Carys’s amazement the woman reached up and stroked it, without looking.
“I’m afraid I’m the one conducting the interrogation. But it will do no harm to tell you that its official designation is Watchtower 277. Broken Mountain. It once had another name, most people still use it. The Castle of Halen.”
Halen. One of the Makers.
The small woman leaned forward. “Now listen to me, Carys Arrin. When my captain here sent a message on that he had captured a renegade spy I was very pleased with him. You must know that Maar has you on every wanted list?”
“I’m flattered,” Carys said drily.
The castellan smiled. “You’re well trained. But then, so am I. Only the flicker of your eyes is enough for me. You’re afraid, Carys, and that’s natural. You have everything to be afraid of.”
She let the candlelight dance on her face. “Unless . . .” Carys frowned. She knew she was supposed to ask “Unless what?” to be grasping at straws, but she wouldn’t. Instead she stood up. “I’m not playing those games. If you want to interrogate me, then do it, but don’t bother with the tired old tricks. I’m not some terrified farmwife.”
Quist had taken a step, but the castellan waved him back. Her calm did not waver. Carys already knew she was a formidable opponent, probably a trained spycatcher. But there was something else going on here, something she couldn’t work out yet.
The castellan opened a drawer in the desk. “My name,” she said unexpectedly, “is Maris Scala.” She took out a thick file of paper; putting it down, she shaped the loose sheets into a tidy block with her small hands. “This is your file. It makes fascinating reading. You were seen as extremely promising from a very early age. Stubborn, intelligent, quite ruthless. A great career lay ahead of you. You would very probably have been transferred to command, even become a Watchlord in your own right. And then one day they sent you after a keeper. One Galen Harn. And how everything changed. He must be a remarkable man, Carys.”
Carys sat, stonily silent. She folded her hands in her lap and looked straight ahead. But she hadn’t missed that the castellan had known Galen’s name without looking it up.
Scala turned the papers. “There is a new reward of forty thousand marks for you.”
“Oh. I intend to do much better than that.” The castellan looked at her archly. “Because, like you, I play by my own rules. I find they profit me better. Do you understand?”
She was beginning to. But somehow she had to make the situation profit herself too. “You want information. For your own ends.”
“I do. And we’ll begin now.” The castellan nodded at Quist; he fetched paper and a quill from an alcove and went and sat on the window seat, taking one candle with him. The draft made the flame quiver wildly, and as he dipped his nib in the ink Carys glimpsed the dim outlines of the shattered hills outside. The castellan’s eyes followed him fondly. Then she turned to Carys. This was it.
“What has happened,” the woman asked, “to the relic called Flain’s Coronet?”
“The Sekoi have it. In their Great Hoard.”
“And where is this Great Hoard? Because it is no longer where you left it.”
Carys blinked. “Then you know more than me.”
“In this case perhaps we do. A month ago a triple patrol was sent out from Rendar, riding fast into the Sekoi country. It was known later that they found a vast arena, immensely old, with the smashed statues of ancient Sekoi blocking the road to it. The destruction had been recent, and thorough. The arena was empty. Nothing of any hoard remained, not even one gold coin.”
The castellan smiled. “You look baffled. Is it that amazing?”
“Yes,” Carys said, heartfelt.
“The Watch have always underrated the Sekoi.” The castellan got up and wandered to the window, gazing out. “This Hoard, Carys. It was big?”
“It was beyond counting!” She remembered the hills and valleys of treasure. How could they have moved it so quickly?
“And you don’t know where it is now?”
“I believe you.” Scala turned abruptly. “The Sekoi keep their secrets, even under torture. I should know. How I would love, Carys, to find the place they keep their children.”
Cold, suddenly weary, Carys shrugged. “Don’t ask me. So the Coronet is gone, then.”
Scala smiled. She looked very small in the black Watch tunic, the dark trousers, her face as delicate as a child’s, her deep brown hair caught in its silver pin. “Ah. Not the Coronet. We know, as you do, that the Coronet was given by the Sekoi to the Order, after that strange mass hallucination you all suffered, when you believed you had mended the weather.”
BOOK: The Margrave
4.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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