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Chapter no 4 – Corrick

Defy the Night

When Harristan was very young, he was weak and sickly. He fell ill oen.

is was before the fevers had begun to terrorize our people—before I was even born. I’ve heard rumors that my mother and father were relieved when she became pregnant with me, because there was a time when they worried Harristan wouldn’t survive, that they’d be le without an heir. Our parents spent so many years coddling him that they never seemed to stop, even once he grew out of his childhood illnesses. Weeklong hunting trip? Harristan remained behind in the palace, while I was free to gallop off with Father and the nobles. Journey to distant sectors? Harristan would ride in the carriage, protected from the sunlight and the cool air, while I would ride with the guards and advisers, feeling far older than I was when they included me in their banter.

You’d think this would breed resentment between the two of us: Harristan’s born of envy for my freedom, and mine born of envy for all the attention he received. But it didn’t. No, resentment never bred because Harristan was good at sneaking. Sneaking out of the palace, sneaking away from watchful eyes, sneaking out of his gilded prison, as he used to call it.

Resentment never bred because he always took me with him.

We’d wait until the moon hung high overhead, then dress in the plainest clothes we owned, stuff our pockets with copper coins, and sneak out of the Royal Sector. He taught me how to watch the patterns of the guards, how to sprint through the gates in the shadows, how to tell which smiles were genuine and which smirks meant someone was going to try to trick you.

Some of the elites will sneer about the dangers of the Wilds, but when we were younger, the Wilds were full of magic and adventure. Music would play until late in the night, dancers spinning by relight. We’d pick at roasted meat with our ngers and drink home-brewed ale that was so much better

than the dull wine served in the palace. We’d climb trees and shoot arrows and dodge the patrolmen. And the people! So many people. Fortune-tellers and jugglers and metalworkers and dancers and farmers and artists. We’d listen to stories and sing bawdy drinking songs, and even though no one knew who we were—because who would expect the heir and his brother to be laughing around a bon re in the middle of the night?—we were always welcome, because no one was a stranger in the Wilds.

Sometimes now, as King’s Justice, I’ll see a face and wonder if it was someone I knew as a child. I’ll wonder if the thieving woman I’m sentencing to a month of hard labor in the limestone mines is someone who once poured me an extra cup of ale. Or if the Moon ower smuggler I’m condemning to die by re is the man who once read the lines in my hand and told me I’d live a long and happy life, winking as he promised I’d have a big-breasted woman at my side.

I don’t like dwelling on thoughts of the past.

Honestly, I don’t like dwelling on thoughts of the present either.

ey’re heartless.

Jonas’s words from yesterday’s council meeting are haunting me. I keep wondering if Harristan heard him. I don’t want to ask. For as close as we are, some of his thoughts are better le a secret, just like my own.

It’s late, and my windows are dark. My brother likely retired long ago, but despite how early I wake every morning, I always have a hard time nding sleep. I have another request to read, another plea for money, this time from Arella. She turned it in aer Jonas’s proposal was rejected, and it’s brief and rather hastily written, so there’s a part of me that wonders if it’s being done in retaliation somehow. Or maybe she senses that silver sits ready to be spent, so she should grab it before Jonas can reorganize.

I sigh and rub at my eyes.

When a knock sounds at my door, I look up in surprise. “Enter.”

A guard pushes the door open. “Your Highness. Consul Sallister requests a word.”

I pull my pocket watch free and glance at the face. I want to ask if Allisander is aware that it’s nearly midnight, but he likely knows and doesn’t care. He’s one of the few people who could demand an audience at this time of night and have it granted.

I sigh, then shue the papers together and lay them facedown on my desk. “Send him in.”

Despite the late hour, Allisander is still buttoned up in all his nery from the day. I’ve long since abandoned my jacket, and my sleeves are rolled back. He takes in my dishabille and says, “Forgive me. I did not realize you had already retired.”

“I haven’t.”

He waits for me to indicate that he may sit, but I don’t.

e smugglers have grown more bold,” he says. “I am receiving word of interrupted deliveries, of thievery on the road, of supply loads being raided. And that is outside the Royal Sector. You know it has long been a problem within your own walls.”

I take a sip from my cup of tea. “When smugglers are caught,” I say, “they are punished severely.”

e rains have been heavy this year. Our crops are not as plentiful as they were last year. Combined with raids on our deliveries, we may have a supply issue.”

“Does that mean you do have an issue, or you might?”

e promise of a problem is nearly as bad as the problem itself, Corrick.” His father used to be a pain in the ass, but there’s something worse about hearing these words from someone not much older than I am. His tone is patronizing. His use of my given name is patronizing. His stupid goatee is

patronizing. I have no idea how my brother was ever friends with this man.

I set down my cup. “I can oer armed guards for your supply runs into the Royal Sector.”

“I will gladly accept them. We will also be increasing our prices by twenty percent.”

“Twenty percent!” e absolute gall. He heard me refuse funding to Artis because they already suer for lack of medicine, and now he’s raising his prices. I don’t know if this is simple greed or if it’s rooted in humiliation, as if he takes any opportunity to retaliate against Harristan.

Either way, I want to throw my tea at him. I settle for raising an eyebrow and tracing my nger around the rim of my cup. “You believe your crops have suered that much?”

He shares what he must think is a conspiratorial smile. “We must protect our supply.” He hesitates. “If you feel that our pricing is too extreme, I can

speak with Lissa. We can try to work within our current constraints.”

His voice is pleasant, unchanged, but I hear the veiled threat. Kandala needs their Moon ower crops. All of us do.

I think of Harristan’s coughing in his sleep yesterday morning, then quickly shove the thought out of my head before any shred of worry can manifest in my eyes. “No need,” I say. “Your position is understandable.” I pause. “I imagine Consul Marpetta will be raising her prices as well?”

Lissa Marpetta rarely says much in our council meetings, but it’s always assumed that she will act in accord with Allisander. Her sector, Emberridge, provides half as much of the Moon ower petals as his—but it’s enough for her to carry a great deal of in uence.

“I believe so,” he says. “Of course we will happily pay taxes on our revenue, as always. If our supply runs remain safe, this could be quite a bene t to the Royal Sector—and therefore to all of Kandala.”

He thinks he’s doing us a favor. As if the bulk of these taxes won’t come straight from our own coers when we buy our own supply.

Sometimes I wish I knew how my father would have handled this kind of conversation. Or rather, how Micah Clarke, the previous King’s Justice, would have handled it. Father was a well-loved and temperate man, known for kindness and fair ruling. But maybe that was a luxury aorded to him by allowing someone else to handle the more challenging political intrigues.

Either way, I have no idea. Micah was killed when our parents were. And our people weren’t suering like this when Father and Mother were in power. e fevers had only just begun to spread. People weren’t making choices between whether to feed their families or buy medicine.

Another rap sounds at my door, and I sigh. Does no one sleep? “Enter,” I call.

e guard swings the door wide. “Your Highness. Master Quint would like a—”

“Yes, yes, yes,” says Quint, shoving past the guards with no regard for whether I’ll even see him. “I don’t need to be announced.” His red hair is a bit of an unruly mess, as usual, and I doubt his jacket was fully buttoned at any point today. He takes note that we’re not alone and all but skids to a stop. He gives a brief nod to me, and then to Allisander. “Your Highness. Consul.” Aside from my brother, Quint might be my favorite person in the palace.

He’s young for his role as Palace Master, but he was apprenticed to the last

one, and when the man wanted to retire, I told Harristan to give Quint a chance. He’s honest as the day is long, and he keeps secrets better than a dead man. He’s also got enough energy for half a dozen people, talks twice as much as necessary, and has little patience for pomposity and presumption. He annoys Harristan to no end. He annoys pretty much everyone to no end.

I rather love him.

Allisander’s mouth forms a line. “Master Quint. We are in the middle of a private conversation.”

Quint blinks like that’s quite obvious. “I see that.” He makes no move to leave.

Allisander inhales with clear intent to speak words that will chase Quint out of here.

I pick up my cup of tea. “We’re nearly done, though, are we not, Consul?” His mouth snaps shut. He doesn’t scowl at me, but almost.

I oer him an indulgent smile. “I believe we’ve come to an understanding.”

It’s the best sentence in my arsenal of courtly lines, because it means absolutely nothing, yet somehow always makes people believe I’ve acknowledged their point.

It does the trick now, too, because Allisander’s expression smooths over. “I’m glad to hear it.”

“I’ll draw up an order for guards for your supply runs in the morning.” “Early, Corrick,” he says pointedly. “We’d like to return to the Plains before

midday.”

I go still. He can raise his prices and make pains about his supply runs being in danger, but just like my brother, I have a limit. Allisander Sallister may have money and power, but he does not rule Kandala—or me.

He must read the change in my expression, because he says, “At your convenience, of course. With my thanks.” He pauses, then adds, “Your Highness.”

I set down my cup. “You’ll have it in the morning.”

Once the door swings closed behind him, Quint drops into the opposite chair. “Does he want to be fed to the royal lions?”

“Don’t tempt me.” ough really, it’s not tempting. I ordered it as a sentence once, for a man who’d killed an entire family in order to hoard their supply of Moon ower petals. Watching the lions tear him apart while he

screamed for mercy was the most horri c thing I’ve ever seen. Even Harristan, always stoic since we watched our parents murdered, had later said to me, “Don’t do that one again.”

“Sallister wants more guards?” says Quint.

“Among other things.” I take in his tousled appearance and try to determine whether he looks more harried than usual. It’s possible Quint doesn’t even know it’s so late. “Have you eaten? I can call for a meal.”

“Ah—no. I dined with Consul Marpetta at . . .” He pulls out his pocket watch and frowns at the face. “at can’t be right.”

I smile. “You sleep less than I do.” “No one sleeps less than you do.”

True enough. “I’ll send for food. Wine too?” I stand and move toward the door. “Or should you be sober for whatever you came crashing in here about?”

“A runner just arrived at the palace. e night patrol in Steel City unearthed a group of smugglers. Two were killed in the fray. e other eight have been taken to the Hold.”

I stop and look at him. “at’s a large pack.”

ey had quite the operation, from what I understand.”

Quite the operation. It’s rare to have outlaws and smugglers working in larger groups. Ten is unheard of. e risk of discovery is simply too great.

e punishments too severe.

Maybe Allisander wasn’t exaggerating about the threat to his supply runs. I was going to make him wait, but now I’ll be sure to draw up an order before I go to sleep.

“Does Harristan know?” I say. “No.”

My brother will want to issue a statement early. He’ll expect me to make an example of them all.

At least one of us is sleeping.

“I’ll call for food,” I say. “Send a message to the Hold. I want to speak to the patrolmen who captured them. Tell them I’ll want to question the prisoners aer sunrise. Separate them if they haven’t already done so. I don’t want them conniving a story.”

Quint has taken a piece of paper from the desk, and he’s been writing since the moment I began speaking. He’s good at his job. “Shall we make a

public announcement?”

“Not yet.” My thoughts are reeling. Eight all at once. We’ll be lucky if we don’t start a riot. “Tomorrow. Midday.”

He glances up. “Should I wake the king?”

I think of Harristan’s cough. e fever. He needs to sleep. I blink the thoughts away. “No.”

Quint nods and rises, taking his paper with him. “I’ll see to it.”

I follow him to the door. He pauses with his hand against the handle and turns to look at me. “You asked about wine . . .”

“I’ll order plenty.”

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