Chapter no 11

Sword Catcher

Kel had been injured before, of course. In his line of work, it would have been strange if he hadn’t. But he had not come so near death before, nor

spent so much time abed, drugged with morphea and the peculiar dreams it gave him. The first time he felt strong enough to rise from his bed and

traverse the room, he was horrified. His legs felt limp as wet paper. He fell immediately, cracking his knees on the stone floor.

Conor had come quickly to help him up while Delfina, who had arrived to change the bed linens, shrieked and fled the room. She returned—to Kel’s annoyance—with Legate Jolivet and a stone-faced Queen Lilibet. The Queen was infuriated that Kel had been attacked at all: Didn’t the criminals of Castellane know better than to ambush nobility from the Hill? What were things coming to, and to that end, how long would the Sword Catcher be

useless to them? Should Conor cancel the next fortnight’s public

appearances? When would the Sword Catcher be well again, if ever? Thanks to the Gods, Jolivet was there. He explained that the Sword

Catcher was in excellent physical shape (good news to Kel, who did not feel it) and that there was no reason to imagine he would not make a swift and full recovery. Kel should avoid lying in bed any longer, but take

moderate exercise, increasing his effort each day until he felt strong enough for his training to resume as usual. He should also eat a healthful diet of meat and bread, not too many greens, and no alcohol.

Kel, who was on his feet by this point and able to limp to the tepidarium and back, expected Conor to fight this decree—especially the ban on drinking. But Conor only nodded thoughtfully and said he was sure Jolivet knew best: something Kel was fairly sure Conor had never said before in

his life. Even Jolivet seemed startled.

But perhaps he should not be too astonished, Kel thought later, as he dressed slowly, hands shaking while he attempted to do up his buttons.

Conor had been distracted since Kel had told him of Prosper Beck’s demands. Busy wheedling the Treasury for the money? Borrowing it from Falconet? Or more likely, borrowing a little here and a little there to avoid facing down Cazalet? Whatever his plan, he was absent from the Castel Mitat for long stretches during the days, and Kel—for the first time in years

—was thrown upon his own company.

Strengthen yourself, Jolivet had said, so Kel began by walking. He was half ashamed at how slowly he paced the mosaic-tiled paths of the Palace gardens, past flowering vines of honeysuckle, under trees heavy with

lemons and figs. His chest ached—a deep hurt that made itself known when he breathed or moved too quickly.

He stopped taking the morphea. His body missed it most the first night without it, when he turned restlessly upon his bed, unable to get to sleep. But each day the craving faded, and each day he could walk farther, faster.

He limped through the Night Garden, amid the tightly curled green buds of plants that bloomed only after sunset. He circled the Carcel—the windowless, fortified stone sanctuary where the royal family was hidden in the event of an attack on the Palace. It had not to Kel’s knowledge been used in at least a century, and ivy grew thick over the barred iron door.

As there were no prisoners in the Trick, the Castelguards let him climb the winding spiral staircase until he reached the top, where a narrow aisle

bisected two rows of empty cells, their Sunderglass doors standing open. He pushed past the pain of it, climbing the stairs once, twice, five times, until

he could taste blood in his mouth.

He wandered the cliff paths, where the Hill itself fell away to the ocean, the sea below gray and heaving as a whale’s back. The cliff paths were studded with follies—fanciful structures of white plaster made to resemble miniature versions of temples and towers, farmhouses and castles. They contained cushioned benches and were meant to provide rest and shelter for those delicate souls who found the cliff path a wearying trek.

Sometimes on his travels Kel would catch wisps of gossip as servants or guardsmen went by, paying him no attention. Most of it centered on

romantic entanglements among those who served the great Houses on the Hill; some had to do with the Palace, or even with Conor. There was no gossip about debts, Crawlers, or cousins of the Prince who might have been

recently injured, however. If anyone wondered about Kel’s peripatetic ways, he heard nothing about it.

He never saw the King, though smoke spilled sometimes from the high windows of the Star Tower. On occasion, he saw the Queen, usually directing the staff or the gardeners. Once, on his way down the stairs of the Star Tower, he overheard her speaking with Bensimon and Jolivet.

“Old Gremont won’t last much longer,” Lilibet was saying, “and his wife is not interested in administering a Charter. That son of his must be fetched back from Taprobana lest the family’s chair become the object of an

internecine struggle.”

“Artal Gremont is a monster,” Bensimon growled, and then Jolivet cut in, and the argument turned in another direction. Kel went on his way down the stairs, filing away the information to relay to Conor later as a piece of mildly interesting gossip. Whatever Artal Gremont had done, it was bad enough that Bensimon disliked the idea of him returning, even a decade later.

The next afternoon, on a whim, Kel cut through the Queen’s Garden on his way to the stables, meaning to visit Asti. He was passing the reflecting pool when he heard voices, muffled by the high hedges that surrounded the garden. One voice was a woman’s; the other was Conor’s. He was speaking Sarthian. “Sti acordi dovarìan ’ndar ben,” Kel heard him say. Those

arrangements should be suitable.

A moment later, his voice faded. Kel wondered what arrangements Conor was describing, but then, it was Conor’s business, and Kel had been walking for hours now. Life in the Palace was a sort of wheel, Kel thought, as he turned his steps toward the Castel Mitat; it went on and on in the same rotations, cutting the same paths of habit and memory into the earth. The fact that he had nearly died was not even a stone in the road. It mattered only to him; it had changed no one but him. In that, he was alone.

Lin was dreaming.

In the dream she knew she was asleep, and that what she saw was not real. She stood upon a high stone tower, whose top was a bare expanse of stone. Mountains rose as black shadows in the distance; the sky was the color of charcoal and blood, the wounded eye of destruction.

In minutes, the world would cease to be.

A man appeared at the edge of the tower’s roof. She knew he had not climbed its sheer sides to reach her. Magic had carried him aloft: For he was the Sorcerer-King Suleman, and until today, there had been no greater power than his in all the world.

As he walked toward her, his steps light as a cat’s, flames sparked among the folds of his cloak. The wind that blew from the burning mountains lifted his black hair. Lin knew of course of Suleman. The lover of Adassa. Her betrayer. She had never understood why the Goddess had loved him; he had always sounded to her fearful in his power, terrible in his rage. And yet he was beautiful—beautiful as fire and destructive things were beautiful. It

was a cruel sort of beauty, but it stirred a fierce longing in her. She rose and turned toward him; she was holding out her hands—

Lin sat bolt upright, her heart hammering, her skin slicked with sweat. She folded her hands over her chest, half incredulous. Had she woken herself out of the dream? Perhaps she had, for she knew how the story ended. She had been dreaming of the last moments before the Sundering. The last

moments before Adassa’s death.

In minutes, the world would cease to be.

Lin pushed her damp hair back, rising from her bed to pad into the main room of the house, where she had thrown her cloak over the back of a chair. She felt through its folds until she found the hard shape of the brooch. She unpinned it, running her fingers over the stone. In the dim moonlight, it was the color of milk. Its smooth, cool surface calmed the beating of her heart.

You give me strange dreams, she thought, gazing at the stone. Dreams of the past. Her past.

Adassa had been a Queen among Sorcerer-Kings. She, too, would have possessed a Source-Stone.

What if—?

A low rap on the front door snapped Lin out of her reverie. Two raps, followed by a pause, then a third rap.


Lin hurried to the door. It was late for Mariam to be awake—she usually tired before First Watch. What if she had been taken ill in the night? But

then, surely, it would be Chana at the door, demanding Lin’s presence at the House of Women. But when Lin swung the door open, it was only Mariam on her front steps,

In the moonlight, Mariam’s face was stark pallor and shadow, the

hollows under her cheekbones like bruises. But she was grinning, her eyes bright. “Oh, dear, I woke you up,” she said, sounding unrepentant. “I meant to come earlier, but I had to wait for Chana to fall asleep, otherwise she would have given me endless trouble for going out at night. ‘You need your rest, Mariam,’” she said, in a passable imitation of Chana’s commanding tones.

“Well, you do,” Lin said, but she couldn’t help smiling. “All right—what is it? Gossip? Galena’s run off with one of the malbushim?”

Much more important than that,” said Mariam, with an air of injured dignity. “You still want to see your patient, the Prince’s cousin, again, don’t you?”

Lin tightened her hand around the brooch she was holding. “Yes, of course, but—”

“What if I told you I had a solution to your problem?” said Mariam.

“Someone willing to help you get into the Palace? Someone who knows when the Prince will be busy?”

“Mariam, how could you possibly—”

“Walk with me to the gates tomorrow morning,” Mariam said. “There will be a carriage waiting. You’ll see then.” As she pulled her shawl around her shoulders, she was beaming. “You trust me, don’t you?”

Looking out over the ocean, Kel could see the heat shimmer atop the water like a transparent veil. It would be boiling hot down in the city. Here on the Hill it was cooler, though the flowers hung limply on their vines and the

peacocks lay panting in the grass.

It was the second week of his recovery, and Kel had spent the morning exploring the gardens, climbing up and down various sets of steps. He was reminded of his boyhood, when every nook and cranny of Marivent had seemed a place to have a potential adventure with Conor. They had been

bandits in the courtyards, and Sorcerer-Kings in the towers; they had dueled

at the top of the Star Tower, from which one could see the sun rise over the Narrow Pass.

He was leaving the Star Tower, his tunic wet with sweat, his chest aching, when he found Queen Lilibet waiting for him in the Queen’s Garden. Today she wore a pale celadon green—a color that made Kel think of a single drop of green poison dissolving in milk. Bracelets of green

sapphire circled her wrists, and a silver band around her forehead held a single emerald between her eyes.

“Sword Catcher,” she said, as he crossed the grass. So she was not going to pretend she had not been awaiting his departure from the tower. She must know, as he did, that Conor was attending a meeting at the Alleyne estate, and thought it was an excellent time to corner Kel alone. “A word with


As if he had a choice. Kel came closer to the Queen, inclining his head. “Mayesh has told me,” she said, without preamble, “that you were

attacked in an unsavory part of the city, after visiting a courtesan.” “Yes,” Kel said, keeping his tone courteous. “That is true.”

“I am not a fool,” said the Queen. “I am under no illusion as to the sort of amusements my son prefers. But you are meant to accompany him when he pursues those amusements. Not to pursue them yourself.”

“The Prince had sent me away that evening—”

“It does not matter what he says,” Lilibet said sharply. “You cannot be careless with yourself, Kel Saren. You are Palace property. It is not your

purpose to die when you are not defending my son.” She turned her head to look toward the Castel Mitat. Her hair was matte black, darker than Conor’s, the result of a skillful application of dye. “He cannot survive without you.”

Kel felt a jolt of surprise. “But he will have to,” he said, “if I die for him.”

“Then at least he will know your last thought was of him.”

Kel did not see how that mattered much. “When he becomes King—” “Then he will take the Lion Ring and throw it into the sea,” said Lilibet.

“After that, Aigon will protect him. When a God takes over for you, Kel Saren, then you can lay down your duty. Do you understand?”

Kel was not sure he did. “I will be more careful,” he said. “My first thought is always of Conor. Your Highness.”

The Queen gave him a hard look before she walked away—one that, Kel sensed, indicated that she suspected there was something he was not telling her. Which was true enough.

It had been an odd conversation. Kel felt uneasy as he walked slowly back toward the Castel Mitat. What had Lilibet meant, that Conor could not survive without him? She did not know the danger Conor was in from Prosper Beck. Was there some other danger she dreaded, something of which Kel was unaware?

His musings were cut short by Delfina, hurrying toward him across the Palace lawns. She was bright red under her mobcap, having apparently searched for him all over the grounds. Jolivet was waiting in the Prince’s rooms, she said; he wanted to see Kel immediately. Also, she added in an

accusatory fashion, the heat had aggravated her skin condition, and she was going to see Gasquet.

“He’ll put leeches on you,” Kel warned as she hurried off, but she ignored him. He struck out for the Castel Mitat on his own, passing two of the King’s old hunting hounds, asleep and snoring in the grass. “You’ve the right idea,” he told them. “Continue as you are.”

He couldn’t help but wonder what it was Jolivet wanted to talk to him about. Usually if Jolivet sought him out it was about sword practice, but Kel was hardly in shape for that. Perhaps Jolivet or his squadron had learned something about the attack in the alley, in which case Kel could only hope

the Legate had not discovered too much.

When he reached the rooms he shared with Conor, he braced himself to find Jolivet waiting for him, his long face glowering beneath his Arrow Squadron helmet. But there was no Jolivet there when he opened the door.

Instead, sitting on a plum-colored silk divan, was Antonetta Alleyne.

Beside her was a slim girl in a loose yellow gown, over which she wore a short capelet of saffron velvet. The hood of the capelet was drawn up, hiding her face. One of Antonetta’s maids, Kel assumed.

Antonetta herself wore a robin’s-egg-blue gown with puffed sleeves, the puffs secured with white ribbons. Blue powder had been combed through her curls, turning her hair a color darker than her eyes. When she saw him

come in, she looked up and for a moment a look of unguarded relief crossed her face.

It was gone a moment later, leaving Kel to wonder if he’d really seen it at all.

“Oh, good,” she said, clapping her hands together as if she were at the theater. “You’re here. Do come in, and close the door behind you.”

“How did you persuade Delfina to tell me Jolivet was here?” Kel said, closing the door but not locking it. “Perhaps she is more trusting than I


“No. Just susceptible to bribery. Most people are.”

Antonetta smiled, and Kel could not help but think about what had passed before his eyes as he lay dying in that alley off the Key. His vision of Antonetta, in tears. But here she was, smiling that artificial smile that drove him out of his mind. He said tightly, “But why bother bribing

Delfina? I assume you’re here to see Conor. He’s out—”

“I’m not looking for him,” Antonetta said. “In fact, he’s meeting with my mother, so I knew he wouldn’t be here.” She winked at Kel. “I brought

someone to see you.” She shook her companion, who had been utterly silent since Kel had arrived, by the shoulder. “Go on, now!”

Kel thought he heard a weary sigh. The young woman beside Antonetta raised her hands and pushed back her yellow hood. Familiar dark-red hair spilled down her back as she looked wryly at Kel.

Lin Caster.

She looked younger than he recalled. He remembered careful hands, a stern, sweet voice, strangely calming in its evenness. For the first time he noted Lin had a curious face, inquisitive green eyes and decided eyebrows. He supposed she’d always looked this way, and his fever had made him think of her as older, more authoritative. Well, the fever and the fact that she’d thrown Conor out of the room.

“Antonetta,” Kel said. “What is this?”

Lin looked up. “I apologize for surprising you,” she said, in that rich voice that seemed at odds with her delicate stature. “But you were my patient and I wished to see if you’d healed. Demoselle Alleyne kindly brought me into the Palace—”

Smuggled you into the Palace,” said Antonetta, sounding pleased with herself. “The moment I heard that you’d been hurt, and that your physician wasn’t returning because she was afraid of Conor, I knew I had to do something—”

Lin rose to her feet. It was odd to see her dressed in yellow velvet. Kel knew she was Ashkar—she was Mayesh’s granddaughter, she wore the traditional hollow circle on a chain around her throat—and yet, out of the traditional gray clothes, she looked like any Castellani maid or merchant’s daughter. No wonder the dress was too big on her, he thought. It wasn’t hers.

“I am not afraid of the Prince,” said Lin. “He asked me not to return.”

She sounded calm, as if she were oblivious to the danger of ignoring a royal request.

Antonetta giggled at Kel’s expression. “It’s such a wonderful trick we’ve played on Conor,” she said. “Lin did tell me he’d asked her not to come back to Marivent, but I told her not to fret about the Prince’s tempers. He

loves to be dramatic.”

Kel rubbed his temples with his fingers. He was beginning to get a headache. “But—the two of you—how did you meet?”

“Through my dressmaker,” said Antonetta.

“Your dressmaker?” Kel said. “How in gray hell—”

“You shouldn’t swear,” Antonetta said reprovingly. “My dressmaker Mariam—”

“Is a friend of mine. She is Ashkar,” said Lin. “I told her I had healed the Prince’s cousin, Kel Anjuman, after he’d had a bad fall from a horse. I hope that was acceptable.”

Her gaze was steady. So she hadn’t said anything to her friend about Crawlers; that was a relief.

Antonetta rose to her feet and came over to Kel, her satin slippers making a whispering sound against the marble floor. “Where were you injured?”

Kel made a vague gesture at his torso. “Here. Landed on a fencepost.”

To Kel’s surprise, Antonetta reached out to brush the front of his shirt with her fingertips. For all her artifice, the warmth of her touch, even through his shirt, was almost too real.

She looked up into his face. Her blue eyes were wide, her cheeks pink, her lips parted. She was achingly pretty. But it was all artifice, Kel thought. She’s practicing a look of fond concern, for whenever it might be useful.

For Conor. It annoyed him, and he did not want to be annoyed at Antonetta. Still, he felt it like a hot irritability under his skin.

“Demoselle Alleyne,” said Lin. She had picked up her satchel, which had been concealed behind Antonetta’s spreading skirts. “I must ask you to leave, that I may examine my patient.”

“Oh, I don’t mind staying,” said Antonetta cheerfully.

“I’m going to have to ask him to strip down, you see,” said Lin. “I have been practicing my life drawing,” said Antonetta, “and a

knowledge of anatomy is useful to anyone—” She broke off as Kel shot her a dark look. “Oh, all right. But it will be very boring in the hallway.”

Kel relented a bit. “Perhaps you can act as lookout. Let us know if anyone’s coming.”

Kel’s eyes met Antonetta’s, and for that brief moment he knew she was recalling, just as he was, the many times she had been lookout in their long- ago games. He could not have said why he was sure he knew her thoughts, only that he was, and then she was out into the hall, the door closing behind her.

Once she was gone, Lin indicated that Kel should sit down on his bed and remove his jacket and shirt. So she hadn’t just been trying to get rid of Antonetta, he thought with wry amusement, doing as he was told.

He shrugged away his coat and unbuttoned the silk tunic underneath. As he slipped it off, Lin looked at him with something close to surprise.

“Sieur Anjuman,” she said. “You really do look much better than you did the last time I saw you.”

“I should hope so,” Kel said. “I believe I was drooling blood at the time, and no doubt groaning incoherently.”

“It was not as bad as all that,” she said. “Would you have any objection to my examining the wounds to make sure they’re healing properly?”

“None, I suppose.”

She came close to him and carefully peeled away the light bandages still remaining. Kel felt oddly exposed for a moment, but it was clear Lin was utterly unaffected by the sight of a bare male chest. In fact, she regarded him with a cool impassivity that made him think of Lilibet inspecting a new set of drapes.

“You’ve healed well,” she said, running her fingers over the scar on his side before touching the puckered wound just below his heart. “Very well. Most people would still be in bed. Have you had much pain?”

He told her that it had only been recently that he had stopped the morphea. She was horrified to hear Gasquet had kept him on the dose for so long—“I never allow my patients to take it for more than three days!”—and she unscrewed a jar of salve she had taken from her bag. The room filled with a faint, peppery scent like vetiver.

She bit her lip as she began to smear the salve liberally over not just his new wounds, but the older ones as well. “So many injuries,” she said, half to herself.

“I’m very clumsy,” said Kel. The salve tingled, flooding his skin with goosebumps.

“No,” she said. “You’re a Sword Catcher.”

His hand shot out; he caught at her wrist. She looked at him in surprise, still holding the jar of salve, but arrested mid-motion.

What did you say?” he hissed.

She drew in a sharp breath. “I’m sorry. I thought Mayesh might have told you that I knew.”

He exhaled slowly. “No.”

“I recognized your anokham talisman.” She seemed remarkably calm, considering. “It’s very old Ashkari work, not the kind of thing that is made anymore. I won’t tell anyone,” she added. “Consider me bound to secrecy, as my grandfather is. If I were to tell anyone, it would endanger him.”

Kel released her wrist. He ought to be furious, he thought, or panicked. And yet. Perhaps it was the knowledge that the Ragpicker King was aware of his true identity, as were Merren and Ji-An. In truth, Lin’s awareness of who he was did not place him on a sharper knife’s edge than he already walked. Perhaps it was that some part of him trusted her. She had saved his life; it was instinctual, a sort of recognition.

“Tell me one thing,” Lin said, screwing the cap back on the jar of salve. “Do you even remember how you got all those scars?”

Kel, who had been about to reach for his shirt, paused. He touched a scar on his left shoulder, a triangular welt like a dent in his skin. “This came from an assassin at the Court of Valderan, armed with a bow and arrow.

And this one, here”—he indicated a spot below his rib cage—“a mercenary with a whip; he’d broken into Antonetta’s eighteenth birthday party, looking for Conor. Here”—he stretched to reach his back—“an anti-monarchist with an axe who managed to infiltrate the annual inspection of the cavalry.”

“And this?” She touched a patch of raised skin just over his right hip. She smelled faintly of lemons.

“Hot soup,” Kel said, gravely. “Not every story is a heroic one.”

“You never know,” Lin replied, with equal seriousness. She finished rebandaging his injury and patted him lightly on the shoulder. “The soup could have been poisoned.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” said Kel, and retrieved his tunic with a laugh; it was the first time he had laughed in several days, and it felt like a weight lifted off him.

“Now,” she said, looking up at him as he rebuttoned his tunic, and he expected her to give him a piece of medical advice, instruct him to use the salve each day perhaps. “I did not only come here to see if you were

healing.” She tucked a braid behind her ear. “The other night, when you were hurt, you said something about arrows, and then a name. Jeanne.

He looked at her silently.

“But you were not saying Jeanne, were you? It was Ji-An. She’s the one who saved your life that night. She carried you up here—”

“She shot arrows at the Crawlers,” he said, shrugging on his jacket. “Killed several. I imagine they’re none too pleased about it. Lin, how do you know all this?”

“We both know him,” she said, quietly. “The Ragpicker King. We both know him, and we both shouldn’t. So I thought we could keep each other’s secret.” She held out a folded square of paper. “I didn’t come here because he asked me to,” she said, firmly. “I don’t even know how he found out I was planning to come to the Palace. But when I was leaving the Sault, a

little boy ran up and shoved this into my hands. ‘Compliments of the Ragpicker King.’”

Kel took the paper gingerly, as if it were coated with black powder. “What does it say?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “It’s addressed to you—”

A babble of voices exploded in the hallway. Kel could hear Antonetta’s voice, high and distressed, “Oh, don’t go in there, Conor, please don’t—”

And Conor’s voice. Familiar, and annoyed. “It’s my room, Ana,” and then Lin was on her feet, and the door was open, spilling Conor and Antonetta into the room.

Conor had clearly ridden Asti from the Alleyne estate; he had on his riding clothes, including a tooled-leather coat in hunter green. The placket and cuffs gleamed with brass studs. He wore no crown, and the wind had whipped his hair into a smoky tangle.

Quickly, Kel palmed the paper, tucking it into the sleeve of his jacket. It was not particularly skillfully done, but then, Conor was not looking at him. He was looking at Lin, and for a moment there was an expression on his face—an unaffected surprise and anger—that startled Kel. Conor rarely showed the truth of what he felt, unless that feeling was amusement.

The look was gone as soon as it had appeared. Calmly, Conor drew off one of his riding gloves and said, “I thought I had made it clear what my wishes were the last time you were here, Domna Caster.”

Antonetta stamped a slippered foot. “Conor, don’t be angry. I’m the one who brought her. I thought it was important for Kel—”

“I’ll be the judge of what’s important.” Conor tossed his riding glove onto the bed next to Kel, who raised an eyebrow at him. Conor ignored this. He also ignored Lin, who was standing with her back straight, her hands folded in front of her. Her cheeks were flaming bright red—anger or embarrassment, Kel did not know—but otherwise she had not reacted to Conor at all.

“Conor.” Antonetta tugged at the sleeve of the Prince’s jacket. “I heard you’d told her not to come back, but I thought you were joking. You’re

always so funny.” She pouted up at him. “It’s not as if you’d be bothered by some little Ashkari girl. Not really.”

Conor drew off his second glove even more slowly than the first, seeming utterly absorbed in the task. And Kel realized, with a flicker of surprise, what Antonetta’s calculated show of naïveté was capable of. She had deftly disarmed Conor in a way that arguing with him could never have done. Even if he guessed her behavior to be part pretense, there was little he could do now to show his anger without looking a fool, or seeming as if he were truly concerned over the matter of Lin’s presence.

Conor tossed the second glove into the corner of the room. “How true,

Antonetta,” he said, without a flicker of emotion. “You have such a

generous heart. Such tolerance for others, regardless of their behavior.” He turned to Lin. “Have you finished examining Kel? And determined that

competent care has been taken of him? Or is he dying as a result of the Palace’s negligence?”

Lin had picked up her satchel. “He’s healing very well,” she said. “But you knew that.”

“Yes,” said Conor, smiling coldly. “I did.”

Never had Kel felt more like a piece of flotsam, pulled between shifting tides. Conor would not blame him for any of this, he was aware—he had not known Lin was banned from Marivent—yet he could think of nothing he could say to ameliorate the situation. A strange energy seemed to pass between Lin and Conor, like the charge given off by amber when it was polished with cloth. Was it just that Lin seemed not to understand the way she was meant to speak to Conor? That one showed deference to a prince? Or had something happened the night Lin had healed him, something more than her request for Conor to leave the room?

Conor turned to Antonetta, who was regarding Lin and Conor with a look of consideration on her face. Kel, not for the first or last time, wondered what she was really thinking. “I am sure you have more fashionable and interesting things to be doing, Ana,” Conor said. “Go home.”

Antonetta wavered but stood her ground. “I’m meant to bring Lin back to the city—”

“I’ll make sure Domna Caster gets home safely,” said Conor. Most would have turned smartly on their heel at his tone; Antonetta looked at Lin, who nodded, as if to say, It’s all right, go ahead.

At the door, Antonetta paused. She looked back over her shoulder—not at Conor, Kel thought with surprise, but at him. There was something in her eyes, a sort of guarded playfulness, that said, I pulled this off, and we both know it.

But there was nothing he could say aloud. She left, the door drifting closed behind her, and something in Kel wondered: Was this how it was to be now? Antonetta Alleyne, popping in and out of his life with no warning?

He did not like the thought. He preferred to be able to prepare himself to see her. Jolivet had taught him for years the dangers of being caught off guard.

“So,” said Kel, turning to Conor, “I take it your meeting with Lady Alleyne was cut short?”

But Conor didn’t answer. He was studying Lin, who had slung her satchel over her shoulder. “I must go,” she said. “I have other patients to see this

afternoon.” She nodded awkwardly at Conor and said, “You need not worry I will return. Kel requires nothing more from me.”

Kel?” Conor echoed. “What a familiar way for a citizen to address a noble.”

Lin’s eyes flashed. “It must be my terrible ignorance speaking. All the more reason I should leave you to your afternoon.”

Conor pushed a hand through his sweat-dampened hair. “I will escort you to the North Gate, then.”

“That is not necessary—”

“It is,” Conor drawled. “You are Ashkar, but wearing the clothes of a Castellani. I believe those colors, those fabrics, are forbidden to you. It is unlikely anyone would notice or guess, but still a danger.”

Conor—” Kel began.

“I may not agree with those Laws,” said Conor, “but they are the Laws.” His gaze flicked over her. “You have certainly taken a great risk for our friend Kel here. A dedicated physician indeed.”

Lin’s face was composed, but her eyes burned with anger. “I have my own clothes in my satchel. If I could use your tepidarium, I can change—”

“Then you will be wandering about the grounds as an Ashkar, which will invite yet more questions. I suggest you change in the carriage. Before you reach the city, of course, or you’ll be giving passersby an unexpected thrill.”

Lin opened her mouth—then closed it again, seeming to realize there was no point in objecting. She followed Conor out into the corridor, pausing only to cast an apologetic look at Kel over her shoulder. He wondered what she was sorry for. Conspiring with Antonetta? Dropping a message from the Ragpicker King into his lap and leaving without an explanation? Still,

anyone willing to stand up to Conor had nerve, and he admired that. Shaking his head with a half smile, he took out the note she had given him and scanned the few lines scribbled on the paper in a surprisingly inelegant hand.

I know about the debt and the Crawlers. Come and see me if you wish to protect your Prince.

The Prince was silent as Lin kept pace with him: down the long marble corridor, the curving stairs, out into the bright sunlight. The first night she had come to Marivent it had been dark, nearly moonless, washing the courtyard garden of the Castel Mitat clean of color. Now she saw that it was beautiful: Roses tumbled down trellises that clung to the stone walls like a lover’s hand, golden poppies spilled from the necks of stone pots, spiked

purple salvia bordered the curving paths that snaked through the grass. A small fountain plashed beneath a tiled sundial; etched on the dial’s face was a line from an old Castellani love song: AI, LAS TAN CUIDAVA SABER D’AMOR, E TAN PETIT EN SAIAlas, how much I thought I knew of love, and yet how little I know.

“Now is when you tell me,” said the Prince, “that Bensimon failed to tell

you I forbade you from returning to the Palace.”

Lin had been aware of him, of course, even as she had been looking at the garden. He was leaning now against one wall of the Castel, a booted foot up behind him. His hair was a tangle of black curls, his eyes silver in the sunlight. The color of needles and blades.

She said, “He told me.”

The corner of the Prince’s mouth twitched—in anger or amusement, Lin could not tell. “I offer you a way out,” he said, “and you do not take it.

Leaving me to wonder: What is wrong with you, precisely?”

“Only that I am a physician,” said Lin. “And as such, I wanted—”

“It does not signify, what you wanted,” he said. “When I command you to do something, it is not an idle request. I would have thought your grandfather would have made you aware of that much, at least.”

“He has. But Kel is my patient. I needed to see if he was healing properly.”

“We are not completely incompetent here at Marivent,” the Prince said. “Somehow we have managed all these years without you, and are not all dead as a result.” He plucked the bloom of a passionflower from a cascading vine and spun it between his fingers. Smiled at her, but not with his eyes. “When I say, do not return to the Palace, that does not mean,

unless you feel like it. People have been thrown in the Trick for less.”

Lin could see the Trick from where she stood: a long, narrow spike of black, piercing the sky. A wave of anger rolled through her. There were no

trials for those sent to La Trecherie, no Justicia. Only the snap of royal fingers, the whim of a king or queen. Here is a man, she thought, who has never worked for the power he holds. He believes he can demand anything, order anything, for he has never been refused. He is rich and lucky and beautiful, and he thinks the world and everything in it belongs to him.

“Go ahead, then,” she said. “What?”

“Throw me in the Trick. Call the Castelguards. Put me in a cell.” She held her hands out, wrists crossed, as if ready for the shackles. “Bind me. If that is what you want.”

His glance trailed from her wrists to her face, lingering on her mouth for a moment before he flicked his eyes away. He was flushed, which surprised her. She would not have thought it possible to shock him.

“Stop that,” he said, still not looking at her.

She dropped her hands. “I knew you wouldn’t really do it.”

There were rings in his left ear, she noticed, small gold hoops that glowed darkly against his light-brown skin. “You are mad to stupidly court such danger,” he said. “I wonder that Mayesh chose a mad physician to look after my cousin, granddaughter or no.”

Lin could not stop herself. “He is not your cousin.”

Now he did look at her, his eyes hard. “What did Mayesh tell you?” “Nothing. I saw his talisman. It might mean nothing to most Castellani,

but I am Ashkar. I can read gematry. Kel is the Királar. Your Sword Catcher.”

The Prince did not move. He was very still, but it was a stillness that contained a dangerous energy. It reminded Lin of serpents she had seen caged in the market square, motionless in the moment before striking. “I

see,” he said. “You believe you know something that can hurt me. Hurt the Palace. You think that gives you power.” He stood up straight. “What is it you want, then? Money?”

Money?” Lin could feel herself shaking with rage. “I would not take your ring when you offered it freely. Why would you think I want money now?”

“Mayesh is aware that you know,” he said, half to himself. “He must think the secret safe, with you, then.”

“It is. I have no intention of telling anyone. For Kel’s sake, and for my grandfather’s. Not for yours. The Palace means nothing to me.”

She started for the archway, the one that led out of the courtyard. She heard quick footsteps behind her; a moment later the Prince moved to block her way. She could have gone around him, she thought, but it seemed foolish, as if she thought they were playing a child’s game of catch-the- mouse.

“You hate me,” he said. He sounded almost puzzled. “You do not know me at all, and yet you hate me. Why?”

She looked up. He was tall, so much that she had to crane her head back to look at him. She did not think she had been this close to him before. She could see the individual threads of his dark lashes, smell the leather and sunlight scent of him. “Kel is covered in scars,” she said. “And while his current injuries may not have the Aurelian name upon them, his old ones do. He was given to you as if he were a thing, like an engraved box or a

decorative hat—”

“Do you imagine I wear a great number of decorative hats?” inquired the Prince.

“He was only ten,” she said.

“Mayesh seems to have told you a great deal.” “All of it,” she said. “Kel was just a child—”

His face changed, as if a screen had been drawn back, and now she could see what lay behind it. A real anger—cut away from pretense, from disguise. It was a clean anger, burning white-hot. “As was I,” he hissed. “I was a child, too. What do you imagine I could have done about it?”

“You could release him. Let him live his own life.”

“He does not serve me. He serves House Aurelian, as do I. I could no more free Kel than I can free myself.”

“You are playing games with words,” said Lin. “You have the power—” “Let me tell you something about power,” said the Prince of Castellane.

“There is always someone who has more of it than you. I have power; the King has more. House Aurelian has more. The Council of Twelve has

more.” He raked a hand through his hair. He was not wearing a crown; it changed him, subtly. Made him look younger, different. More like Kel.

“Have you even,” he said, “asked Kel? Whether he wishes to be other than he is? Wishes Jolivet had never found him?”

“No,” Lin admitted. “But surely, given the choice—”

He barked a disbelieving laugh. “Enough, then,” he said. He looked away; when he looked again at her, the screen was back in place. His anger was gone, replaced by only a faint incredulity, as if he could not believe he was here, having this conversation, with Lin of all people. She felt his scorn, as tangible as the touch of a hand. “Enough of this profitless conversation. I do not answer to you. Leave, and know that when I say leave, it means leave and stay away, not leave and return when you feel so inclined. Do you understand me?”

Lin gave the smallest of nods. Barely a movement at all, but it seemed to satisfy him. He spun on his heel and stalked back into the Castel Mitat, his green coat whipping around him like the flag of Marakand.

She was halfway to the North Gate, still fuming, when a carriage drew up alongside her. Lacquered red, with a gold lion blazoned on the door, it was clearly a royal carriage; a Castelguard with a scarred face held the reins of a matched pair of bay horses. “Lin Caster?” he said, looking down at her from his perch on the driver’s seat. “Prince Conor sent me. I am meant to

take you into the city, wherever it is you wish to go.”

Somehow, Lin was sure, this was a pointed gesture. She set her jaw. “That’s not necessary.”

“It is, actually,” said the guard. “The Prince says I must make absolutely sure you leave the grounds of Marivent.” He sounded apologetic. “Please, Domna. If you refuse, I could lose my post.”

Name of the Goddess, Lin thought. What an absolute brat the Prince was; clearly he hadn’t changed at all since his childhood.

“Very well,” she said. “But do be sure to tell him that I wasn’t the least bit grateful.”

The guard nodded as Lin clambered angrily into the velvet-lined carriage.

He looked more than a little alarmed but said nothing. Clearly he had decided that, whatever was going on, he wanted no part of it.



In the guise of a raven, Judah Makabi flew through the nights and days to the land of Darat, where he hid himself in Suleman’s garden. He saw how, in the palace, all was peace and beauty, while outside its walls the flames of war scored the ground with Sunderglass.

Exhausted, his wings heavy with dust, Makabi the raven listened as the Sorcerer-Kings and Sorcerer-Queens of Dannemore gathered beneath the branches of a sycamore tree and spoke together of their avarice and greed for power. They told one another that they would band together to attack Aram, for

its Queen was young and untutored, and could not stand against their combined forces.

“I thought you had intended to seduce her to bring her under your sway,” said one of the Sorcerer-Queens to Suleman.

“I find I grow tired of waiting,” Suleman replied, and the Source-Stone at his belt flashed like an eye. “Perhaps, if she learns obedience, she will be Queen of Darat one day. But it seems unlikely.”

Makabi flew back to Aram with a heavy heart.

Tales of the Sorcerer-Kings, Laocantus Aurus Iovit III

You'll Also Like