Read The Princess Who Tamed Demons Online

Authors: J. Kirsch

Tags: #romance, #murder mystery, #magic, #political intrigue, #survival, #fantasy mystery, #assassination plot, #multicultural relationship, #queen detective, #scholar detective

The Princess Who Tamed Demons (10 page)

BOOK: The Princess Who Tamed Demons
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He seemed to ignore me, his back to me as he
pored over the row of titles.

My tea had cooled. I shoved the teacup away,
stood up, and marched over to him.

"And what do I gain exactly? Besides the joys
of working with a rude and quirky librarian."

He pulled a lavender-shaded book from the
shelf and turned to me.

"You allow your husband to continue his
diplomatic mission, assuring him that you will be safe here. Sir
Drake can fulfill his mission without the preoccupation of
protecting you and without guilt weighing him down every time he
looks at you. Meanwhile you can have the time to fully heal. More
importantly, you can discover the true hand or hands behind your
attempted assassination and get the justice which you know your
heart and mind demand."

The words flowed smoothly from the librarian's
mouth, and it hit me then that Linn the librarian was much more
than his title claimed. He did more than organize books. He was a
connoisseur of knowledge, and apparently the nature and psychology
of human beings was a puzzle he enjoyed unlocking as much as the
case before us. But I would be
damned
if he would smugly
think he knew me like an open book when we had only just
met!

I turned as if to pick something off the
floor, and then instead drew my hidden dagger, surging to my feet
before putting the sharpened point to his throat.

The flare of shock told me I had Linn's full,
undivided attention.

"This may be a game of 'solve-the-mystery' to
you, Master Linn, but to me it is life and death. Why should I
trust you, having just met you?"

"Because this is not a game for me either,
Najika. Just as the hunter stalks larger beasts for the
accomplishment of it, I pursue lies to drag them out and expose
them in the light of day. This is what I live for, Najika." His
eyes drooped to the floor almost like a shy child's before snapping
back to mine with an almost pleading tone.

"The servants have come to me with some of
their squabbles, little mysteries I have been able to cut my teeth
on, Najika.
This
, though—it is on a level beyond what I am
used to. To be totally honest, I do not wish to do this alone, and
I do think that you need this just as much as I do. Am I
wrong?"

I lowered the knife and slipped it back into
its sheath. Then I proceeded to pace back and forth, fingering the
amethyst around my neck. Would solving this mystery help me forgive
Drake? The thought that he and the Great Amir had interrogated and
executed an innocent man made me sick. And librarian Linn was
right. I did feel he could be trusted. On some level he was an
outsider just like me—his ancestry clearly proved that. If he had
wanted me dead, he could already have poisoned my tea or tried to
kill me when I was puffy-handed and closer to helpless.

"Okay." I pivoted and pinned him with my
fiercest glare. "Partners?" I held out my hands. He took them,
brought them to his lips, his whiskers tickling my skin as I
resisted the urge to jerk them back. A kiss on each hand completed,
Linn lowered them gently, then interlocked them with his
own.

"We are simply two people outraged by what has
happened, Najika. That is our bond, and we will seek
justice."

"Pretty words," I murmured. "Let us hope you
are right." I pulled my hands away, anxiety spiking. "I must go
now. Drake will be furious with me for wandering off. Before we
investigate anything, I will have to convince my husband to leave
me behind in Tajma. It makes me exhausted just thinking about
it."

Linn's bearded face and bulbous eyes bobbed
like a ghost's as he whirled about and vanished into the stacks. He
waggled his fingers over his shoulder as his silhouette receded
into the musty catacombs. The soft light from the lantern hanging
by its latch made him look like a mud-hued specter until I lost him
in the shadows.

"Go. Have fun quarreling with your husband.
Return when you are ready to proceed, and in the meantime I will
see what other useful information I can glean."

"You do that," I mumbled, already preoccupied
with the coming war of words I would have with Drake. What strange
road was I about to take? Was it the right one? Though my gut told
me that I had to do this, I still lacked the answers to some of the
most basic questions. And the biggest one of all:
Why
?

~*****~

Chapter 7

Day Six

"Absolutely not."

I sat across from Drake in the tub, reasoning
that it would be harder for him to say no if we were both naked.
Actually the real reason was more mundane. This was one of the few
places where prying eyes and ears—servants' ears especially—could
be avoided. The last thing I wanted was for whispers to spread
throughout the Great Amir's palace telling how Sir Drake and Queen
Najika had erupted into a spectacular argument.

"May I ask why not?" I shifted all the way
around, scooting back between his legs to rest my head against his
chest.

The large heated tub was normally used only by
higher-ranking servants, paltry compared to Lady Caerra's
pool-sized bath. Yet it was also much more intimate, which was
exactly what I wanted right now knowing that we might soon be
parted for more weeks than I cared to count.

"You know why not," Drake said
gruffly.

"Don't you think I would be safer here in
Tajma, since the culprits have already been dealt with? Do you not
trust Sir Amir and Lady Caerra?" The sun could have peeked over the
horizon ten thousand times, and still I wouldn't have told Drake of
my plan to continue the investigation with Linn the librarian. I
wasn't stupid.

Now I leaned back farther, kissing the side of
his cheek. He softened. I almost had him. I could see the urge to
surrender in him as his fists relaxed, those hands molding to my
arms and rubbing in gentle, soothing motions.

"Najika, this is still a foreign land.
Wouldn't you feel safer returning to Castle Crag and helping my
mother rule in my absence?" The reference to Lady Vaela made me
giggle.

"What?"

"Your mother, and I do love her with all my
heart Drake, is a remarkable woman…but can I be honest?"

"Yes?"

"Sometimes she can be a little exhausting, and
you yourself have said that I need to recuperate. So why not let me
rest here, and trust me to the care of our impeccable hosts? Leave
a few guards to take care of me if you must." I would evade them
easily enough.

Drake's eyes narrowed as if he had just read
my thoughts, and his head craned forward so he could see the
expression on my face.

"How do I know that you'll behave
yourself?"

"Me?" The word came out as a squeak, and I
tried to keep the mask of innocence in place. Standing on my
pinkies would have been a lot easier.

"See, this is the problem, Najika. You're
never completely honest with me, not at first anyway." He slouched
back, his hands rubbing the back of my neck as I purred like a
kitten dead and gone to paradise.

My eyes focused on the open window where a
tree limb leaned almost through the gap. A sakkriti bird, tiny as
my palm with its eye-popping bright red feathers, chirped happily,
hopping back and forth as it snagged leaf-eating worms with its
beak. I imagined that the bird was me, and the worms were whoever
needed to pay for what they'd done.

"Najika?"

"Sorry, I was just thinking."

"About what?"

"About how hard it's going to be, being here
without you."

"Exactly. Which is why you should be around
family. My mother will—"

"Can I admit something to you?" I had thought
of a new tactic to win this battle. Was it sneaky? Yes. Not that I
was beneath using it.

"What is it?"

"You remember when I snuck off to the Library
yesterday?"

His face darkened like blue skies fleeing a
thundercloud. "Yes. All too well."

"There were so many books there, Drake, and it
reminded me of my father's library when I was a little girl. It was
one of my favorite places. I always felt safe there, and there was
a window seat with curtains which I used to hide behind, reading
for hours. I learned so much there. I escaped to so many different
worlds." I took a deep breath, ready to ambush him. "That is why I
would really like to stay, Drake. I think I could recuperate here
better than anywhere else. Reading all day long, relaxing with Lady
Caerra. It's just what I need to heal, Drake, inside and out. If
you truly love me, will you please let me have that?"

I whirled around in the tub, sending water
sloshing nearly over the rim as I settled on his lap, my hands
cupping his face. Under my scrutiny Drake's agonized expression
dissolved into a rueful smile.

"Has anyone ever told you that you're
impossible to say no to?"

I smiled, and judging from the softening of
his eyes it must have been radiant.

"Only every other day. Usually my husband's
the one saying it."

His fingers trailed along my collar bone as he
sighed. "Ha. You win, yet again. You can stay.
However…."

Uh-oh. The dreaded
however
.

"
However
, I will leave Sir Brel in
charge with a retinue of five other knights, detaching them from my
main escort to stay with you here. That much is beyond
debate."

I nodded soberly. "As my lord wishes." It was
good to give a man a small, harmless victory now and then. After
all, if it made Drake feel better, not only was it worth it but
maybe, just maybe, it would ease the guilt I felt about not telling
Drake my
true
reason for staying.

~*****~

Chapter 8

Day Seven

Who would have thought that convincing Drake to
take Bronwyn with him would trigger a bigger argument than the one
I'd had getting him to let me stay in Tajma? Yet that was exactly
what unfolded, and Bronwyn was livid with me as a result. I hadn't
told her or Drake about hearing their little conversation about my
fertility. The wound was still too raw, and I didn't see what good
it would do reopening it by accusing Bronwyn of duplicity. Yes,
she'd claimed to be acting with the best interests of my Kingdom in
mind when she'd suggested that Drake take another woman to his bed.
That didn't excuse it. In fact, I felt betrayed. When I was ready,
there would be a reckoning with Bronwyn. Not now, though. Drake had
enough on his plate continuing his diplomatic visits to the other
Kingdoms without me. Even if I didn't trust Bronwyn, I did trust
Drake.

How much was I risking Drake's trust though,
by investigating this new angle of my attempted murder without
telling him? I hoped to never find out. As I met Linn in the
Library he handed me a robe to change into and jerked his chin
toward the stacks. "We don't have dressing rooms, so shelves of
books will have to do." I looked at the dust coating many of the
shelves. Just the sight of it made me want to sneeze.

"Less luxurious than I'm used to, but I think
I can manage." Within a turn of the hourglass we found ourselves
wading through the noisome, pungent joys of Tajma's market
district, which seemed to stretch on forever. Merchant stall
banners promised all kinds of one-of-a-kind gifts for the taking,
the plaza's smells ranging from sweet to exotic to downright
foul.

Disguised in the same drab robes as the
librarian, I shoved my way forward through the market masses.
Vendors hawked their wares—pottery, jewelry, metal tools, finely
blown glass, cloth made from the renowned fleece of the specially
bred sheep near Lake Minoba. There was not much that Tajma's trade
quarter lacked. Next to Opheryl, the capitol of the White Kingdom,
Tajma was the busiest city in Arkor. Any merchant looking at a map
saw it less as a simple destination and more like a big 'X' marked
on a treasure map. A shrewd trader's paradise which—

"Stop! Thief!" A fruit vendor leapt after a
young urchin, but the agile hoodlum somersaulted between the legs
of a striding camel and vanished into the churning crowds. I
smiled, not that anyone could see it. The cowls of these robes hid
our faces, which was just as well. It was also just as well that
these flowing robes hid the outline of my figure.

I was far too aware of the fact that nearly
every woman milling about the markets wore a full-length cloth suit
which looked about as attractive as having a black sack thrown over
one's head, their veiled faces permanently estranged from the rich
feast for the senses which the world offered. As a foreigner I had
more leeway than these local women, but still…the whole point of
this investigation was to uncover the truth, and I agreed with Linn
that truth would be easier to uncover by walking discreetly instead
of painting a giant bull's-eye across my back.

"Stay close," he grumbled.

The smells of food and rotting garbage
assaulted our noses as we turned off the main thoroughfare and
trudged down a lane hemmed in by tall dwellings of mudbrick built
right on top of one another. It reminded me of the time when my
brother and I had snuck out to explore the slums of Opheryl,
thrilled by the possibility for adventure only to be disappointed
by the banal reality of half-starved people and poorly kept homes.
One advantage of these squalid, narrow side streets was that they
granted a reprieve from the blazing sun, but I wasn't sure if the
tradeoff was worth it given the anxiety gnawing and blossoming
inside me like a disease.

BOOK: The Princess Who Tamed Demons
12.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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