Carys shrugged. “You seem to know all about it.” “We do. The Coronet belongs to the Order now. Therefore it must be in the Order’s safe house. On . . .” She came and turned a few pages, as if searching for the name, though Carys was sure she didn’t need to. “On the island of Sarres.”
Carys had been waiting for this. She kept her face totally closed, though a sudden memory of Felnia with her arms wide running over the grass flickered in her mind.
Scala turned. “Where is Sarres?”
Carys was silent. Then she said, “In the Unfinished Lands.”
“I don’t know.”
Quist looked over. The castellan leaned against the table, folding her arms. “You’ve been there.”
“I was blindfolded each time.”
“The keeper still doesn’t trust you, then?”
Carys shrugged. Secret delight filled her. Galen had been right. The Watch hadn’t found Sarres. When she and the Sekoi had delivered the Coronet four days ago, the sacred island had been just the same, the flowers in early summer color, Felnia dragging her to see a nest of sunbirds, a new line of scrawny goslings crossing the lawn. The Coronet was safe there, with Tallis. Carys would never betray them.
A bell clanged out in the courtyard. Quist dipped his pen in the ink and turned a page. He looked up, impatient. “We’re not getting far.”
“Patience, lover.” Scala tapped her fingers on the file. Her lips were delicately reddened. It was against the Rule.
“Look.” Carys sat up and leaned forward. “You and I know that the Margrave lived in Solon the keeper for months. He saw Sarres, the Hoard, everything. What is there left for me to tell you?”
Scala lifted her head, eyes steady. “The Margrave?”
“Oh, yes.” Carys stared her out. “The Kest-creature that controls the Watch. That lives down in Maar. You wonder why I gave up my glorious career, Castellan, and he’s one reason. A beast and a man, mingled, bred together. A thing of evil working through you. And me, once.”
She’d said too much. Shown feeling. Always a mistake. Her face was hot and they were both watching her closely; Quist had stopped taking notes. He looked at Scala. “Is this true?” He sounded appalled.
She gave a husky laugh. “Keep writing, lover. I ask the questions.”
He looked back at the page quickly.
Behind Carys the door opened. An elderly man shuffled in with a flagon and three cups; no one spoke as he set them down. Carys tried to think fast. They were still only playing with her. Letting her think she was winning. She had to be very careful.
The servant shuffled out. As he closed the door a clock was chiming, far off in the castle. Ten o’clock. She felt drained, bone-weary.
The castellan poured wine into the cups. “Yes,” she said. “I have heard this legend of the Margrave. I thought it a tale to terrify the people, that grew in the telling. Useful, no more. But you say it’s true?”
“I’ve said too much.”
“Carys, you and I are very alike.”
That was an old line. The odd thing was, she thought Scala meant it.
“And if this creature exists, it explains a few things. Because I admit the orders concerning you have been puzzling me.” Sipping from the cup, Scala reached for the first sheet of paper and swiveled it around. “Most of the things you could tell us we already know. We know Galen Harn has been calling himself the Crow . . .”
Quist went quite still; Carys noticed it.
“. . . and that he claims to have spoken with the Makers. We know of Sarres, if not its location, and we know the Order is re-forming sense-lines of communication across the Western Province. We know their secret group in Tasceron is led by one Shean, from a place called the Pyramid, though I have to say when we eventually found a way into that, it was empty. All these things are important, but Maar doesn’t seem to think so.” She looked up. “The strange thing is there is just one demand that keeps coming, in every directive, every batch of orders. One person who has to be found, arrested, captured by any possible means. Captured alive. And I think you know him.”
Carys was silent.
The castellan leaned forward. “Tell me where he is, and you can come back to us. It will be as if you never left. All your promotions back, your record wiped clean. That glorious career, Carys. If not . . .”
Carys put the tips of her fingers together. “I want time to think about this,” she said carefully.
“You can have tonight. No more.”
“I may not know where he is.”
“You were on your way to meet him.”
“He’ll have moved on. Galen is unpredictable.” Her mouth was dry.
The castellan nodded. “You’ll have some meeting place, I’m sure. But you misunderstand me, Carys. The urgency is not for the man Harn. These desperate orders from Maar concern only a boy.”
“A mere scholar. His name”—she sifted the papers—“is Raffael Morel.”
Carys stared in utter shock. “Raffi?” she breathed. The castellan smiled, and drank. “So you do know him,” she said.
The loyalty of the faithful is vital, though
our service to them does not depend on
Second Letter of Mardoc Archkeeper
HE TWO SMALL BOYS WERE DIGGING for shar-roots in the open field. They had a dog with them, but Galen whipped a sense-line firmly around it and said, “Go on. Remember the father’s somewhere near.”
Raffi wriggled through the branches and out onto the path. He walked along it making a cheerful whistling noise between his teeth, letting the boys think they saw him first. Then he stopped. “Hello.”
The dog was a big one, half wolf. Sleepily it thumped its tail. The older lad glanced at it, but its stillness seemed to reassure him. “We’re not to speak to tramps.” He turned back to his digging.
“That’s a pity.” Raffi leaned on the gate. “Because I wanted you to help me. I’m looking for someone.”
The boy dug, stubborn. The younger one, about six, just stared, rubbing dirty hands. Then he crouched and began to pile the roots up, arranging them in patterns.
Raffi felt Galen’s impatience. “Look. You might have seen her. She’s got short brown hair and she’s about my height. Wearing dark green trousers and a brown coat. She’s in a group of Watch prisoners, and we know they came this way. Have you seen them?”
No answer. The small spade chipped relentlessly at the hard soil. Raffi glanced behind, desperate. From the bushes the Sekoi’s long hand waved him on. Then the boy said, “What are you paying?”
He shook his head, bemused. “I haven’t got anything.”
“Not much use asking, then.”
“I could help with the digging. If you tell me.”
The spade stopped. The boy looked back, then held it out. “Dig first.”
Raffi cursed under his breath, then climbed over and took the dirty wooden handle. He shoved it into the clods of soil.
“Careful,” the boy said crossly. “The beggars are up the top.”
He dug again; briefly the sliced orange tip of a root showed. Before it could wriggle away, the boy was on it, grabbing it and tugging and scrabbling till it came out, flexed once in the damp air, and then went rigid.
“Well?” Raffi snapped.
The sun was overhead; it was warm. Raffi gritted his teeth and dug quickly. “All I want . . . is to know . . . if you’ve seen her.”
“I’ll tell you. When I’ve got my twenty.”
The last root was deep, and kept wriggling deeper. Finally the boy sliced it out with his knife, cut it neatly in half, and dropped it on the pile. His brother leaned the two halves together tidily.
Raffi flung down the spade. “So?”
“Haven’t seen her.”
“Haven’t seen her.”
“You cheeky little brat.” Raffi was furious. “You said . . .”
“Didn’t say anything.” The boy turned toward a distant barn. “Dad! I’ve finished.”
Instantly, before Raffi could move or the boy take another breath, Galen was out of the hedge and had both the boy’s hands caught tight in a vicious grip. “Listen to me, you little wretch,” he snarled, his eyes black and hard. “I know you’ve seen her, so you tell me where she is. Now!”
The boy went white with fear. In a sobbing whisper he gasped, “On the road. The big road. They took them all away to the Broken Mountains.”
“How long ago?”
“Two days.” The boy was breathless. Galen let him go and said, “Come on.” In seconds he was gone, up the lane, the Sekoi racing after him.
Raffi looked at the boy. “Sorry,” he said, awkward. “But you should have told me.”
The boy glared at him with hatred. Then he turned and screeched, “Dad! DAD! They’re killing me!”
THIS WAS HARD COUNTRY. The lanes were empty, people scarce. There were few great trees, just small gnarled orchards and the tiniest green shoots of what might be barley springing through the fallow ground. Over it, rising like the spines of a nightmare, were the Broken Mountains.
Galen and the Sekoi were waiting at the foot of the next slope, all the small white sheep huddled into the far end of the field. Raffi climbed the stone wall and dropped into the grass. “I’d have found out,” he said irritably.
“We haven’t got that long.” Galen swung the pack off, pulled out the water flask, and drank.
Raffi shook his head. “The father might talk.”
“Let him.” Galen offered the water to the Sekoi, who took it and wiped the lip daintily with a square of purple silk it took from a pocket. Then it drank, the shaven patch under its ear looking sore and cold, the ragged stitches itchy. It had fidgeted too much when Galen put them in. Now it passed the flask and said, “Galen, I think the small keeper may be right in part. We shouldn’t let our anxiety for Carys cause us to be careless.”
Morose, Galen turned away. He stared up at the hills and his gaze was dark and deeply uneasy; Raffi could feel the sense-lines move in an invisible unraveling all around him, into soil and stone, always searching. The keeper was worried. More than that. Curious, Raffi grasped after the feeling; it was brief and hastily hidden, but for an instant it had been clear and it astonished him. Guilt. Galen felt guilty.
As if he sensed the mind-touch, the keeper turned and looked at Raffi. “How many in that last village?”
“Only about ten. All old.”
“And did you notice,” the Sekoi said, fingering its shaven tribemark, “how the cattle were unmilked and the dogs hungry? The fields untended? Whatever the Watch are building, they have taken many people. It must be some vast undertaking.”
Galen shouldered the pack and picked up his stick. “It must,” he said grimly. “That’s why we need to find out what.”
The road the boy had spoken of was easy to find; every inch of it had been scarred and cracked by recent cartwheels. In some places it had been hastily widened; in others the soft ruts churned through the mud on each side, with drifts of white dust that the Sekoi fingered and smelled and said was from freshly cut stone.
They climbed all afternoon. Twice they had to let Watchpatrols pass. The second group had prisoners, all male. Galen let them go by without a word, much to Raffi’s relief. But by late afternoon they both had become aware that something terrible was waiting ahead of them; a darkness in the awen-field. Ducking under the branches of pine, suddenly, they came to it.
A great swathe of woodland had been hacked and cut to a desolation of stumps, the smell of burning still lingering, the undergrowth blackened and charred right down to the scarred soil. Galen stopped, touching the beads at his neck. He might have been praying, but he said nothing aloud, and after a fraught second walked on, fast, with Raffi close behind, white-faced at the horror of the place, the snapped energies that seemed to spark and sting them as they passed, the ghostly whispers of lost voices that cried in the empty air.
At the far side of the clearing the Sekoi paused, breathless, one hand on its side. “Galen,” it pleaded. “A moment.”
The keeper kept walking, never looking back. Reluctant, Raffi stopped. “He can’t,” he said, with difficulty. “It hurts too much.”
The Sekoi took a deep breath and walked on, looking at him curiously. “You feel the pain of the dead trees?”
“No. Only their loss.” It was impossible to explain the choking, the tangle in the mind. After a moment the creature nodded, its yellow eyes sharp in the light of the risen moons. It put its hand on Raffi’s shoulder kindly.
Twilight deepened in the shadows of the hills, but the clearing was still too close for them to stop; for hours afterward Raffi could feel it, a sore spot in the world, falling farther and farther back, fainter and fainter, but always a nagging ache. He was tired now, and footsore, and empty with hunger, but he knew how to deal with that, just walk into it, keep walking, not let his mind jerk free from its rhythmic trance. So that the shriek, when it came, stopped him dead.