Chapter no 22

Sword Catcher

Sunlight woke Kel, lancing through the window glass and, it felt, directly into his eyeballs. He rolled over, wincing. It seemed that

despite his best attempts, he’d managed to down enough alcohol the night before to give himself a hangover.

He sat up, the sheets tangling around his waist. He could guess by the angle of the sunlight that it was about noon. He glanced over at Conor’s bed, but the curtains were drawn tightly. Whatever hangover Kel had, Conor’s was likely twice as bad.

After Antonetta had revealed her empty necklace, Falconet had appeared and spirited Kel away, telling him that he had to accompany Joss to the drawing room where Charlon had stripped off his clothes and was allowing one of the courtesans to paint him gold; the small group that had gathered to watch were taking bets on when Charlon would be rendered unconscious by the paint fumes. Conor had been there, smiling a glittering, hard smile; he had pressed blue wine into Kel’s hand, and Kel recalled little of what had happened after that.

He stared up at the ceiling. Like a tickle in the back of his throat, or a

sore tooth, the thought of Antonetta’s locket was a botheration he could not quite ignore, as he could not ignore the pounding in his head. The grass ring inside—why had she kept it, and kept it so close to her? Was it a sign that

she had missed their friendship as much as he had? A fond memory of a long-gone time? Had she placed the ring there years ago and forgotten it was there?

Or was it something else? He thought again of what Lin had said.

Antonetta fancies you. And then, Antonetta does not know me. Not me as I really am.

And then there was the matter of Prosper Beck.

Why had Beck sent him to retrieve—at some risk—a locket that contained nothing inside it save a dried-out loop of grass? Did Beck even know about the ring’s false bottom, or had the whole business been some sort of test? Had someone else already gotten to the contents? But

Antonetta had clearly expected the locket to be empty. Had she removed the contents herself? If there was one thing he had learned during these past

strange weeks, it was not to underestimate Antonetta as she seemed to wish to be underestimated.

He swung himself out of bed; there was, after all, only one person who could unknot this knot. And he could explain any absence from Marivent as the need to take a walk and clear his head. Perhaps he would stop at the

kitchens and ask Dom Valon for a serving of his hangover cure before he headed down into Castellane. Maybe ask for an extra helping of white vinegar. After last night, Kel felt as if he needed to be cleansed, inside and out.

Kel was just stepping into a pair of linen trousers when there was a rustle from behind the heavy velvet drapes that shielded Conor’s bed. A pale hand parted the curtains, and a distinctly feminine leg followed.

So there was a girl in Conor’s bed. It was hardly the first time. Kel cast about for a shirt while a slim, white-clad form slipped between the curtains, closing them carefully behind it. She exhaled and shook her head, sending a fountain of dark-red hair tumbling over her shoulders, and for a moment, Kel’s heart stopped.


He must have made a noise, for she jumped a little and turned around.

When she saw him, she smiled. “Ah,” she said. She was wrapped in a white sheet; it hung to her bare feet. “Fancy meeting you here.” She flicked her dark gaze up and down him with a grin; he was still shirtless. “I applaud your choice of outfit, Kel.”

“Silla,” he breathed. There was relief mixed in with his surprise, and

some annoyance at himself: How could he ever have thought it would be Lin? She had made it clear enough several times that she didn’t care much for Conor. “What are you doing?”

“I should think that much would be obvious. I’m looking for my clothes.”

Kel pointed. The red dress she had been wearing the night before was tossed over a chair back next to Conor’s bed.

“Why, thank you, Sieur Anjuman.” Apparently deciding that since it was just Kel, it didn’t matter, she dropped the sheet, stepping out of its white

folds like a mermaid out of seafoam. Kel flushed a little, not because she was naked, but because her body was so familiar. He had learned her body

as one might learn a piece of music, its rhythm and inflections, the vibration of its low notes, the sharp trill of the higher range.

Silla slipped the red dress on and began to do up the laces in the front. She peered at Kel from beneath her eyelashes. “You don’t mind, do you?” she said. “I hadn’t seen you in so long. I assumed . . . and he is the Crown Prince.”

Somewhere in the distance, outside the room, Kel could hear the sound of laughter. A child playing. He pressed his fingers to his eyes as if he could hold back his headache.

“I don’t mind,” he said. “He treated you well enough, I assume?”

She kicked her feet into her red satin slippers and padded across the room to him. “Perfectly well,” she said, and kissed his cheek. “But thank you for worrying about me.” She tilted her head. “Now, is there a . . . discreet way out of this place?”

Kel searched for a shirt while giving her directions to the Sea Path, and told her what to say to Manish at the gate. She disappeared in a swirl of red hair and redder satin. He did not know why he had imagined she was Lin. Lin was tall, while Silla was slight; Lin’s hair was dark auburn, streaked with lighter strands of copper, while Silla’s was bright as scarlet paint.

But Lin had been there last night, and he had thought there was something about the way Conor looked at her—but it could just have been rage. Conor was bitterly miserable these days. Miserable enough that Kel could not be angry at him about Silla.

And indeed, Kel thought, having located boots and shirt and run his

fingers through his hair to tame it, Silla was free. He had not paid to reserve her only for himself. Still, Conor knew . . . He knew . . .

Though what he knew, Kel could not put his finger on exactly.

The sound of laughter grew louder as Kel made his way downstairs and into the courtyard. He found it empty save for Vienne and Luisa, who was scampering up one of the walls rather as if she were a Crawler. Vienne

stood under her, her arms outstretched, wearing her Black Guard uniform— and looking far more comfortable than she had the night before. “E si te scavałca ’ł muro, ałora, cosa fatu, insemenia?” Vienne said in Sarthian.

And if you get over the wall, then what, you silly girl?

Luisa looked over and saw Kel. Startled, she lost her grip and tumbled off the wall; Vienne caught her while Luisa pealed with laughter. Kel had worried Luisa would be troubled by memories of the night before, but she seemed to have recovered. She giggled while Vienne set her on her feet, then ran over to Kel and began to rattle away in Sarthian so fast he could barely follow it.

“She’s glad to see you,” Vienne said drily, “and she wants you to know that she’s had a Castles board set up in her rooms, if you want to play.”

Me piasarìa zogar, ’na s’cianta,” Kel said, and would have said more, but Vienne—not sharply, but firmly—said, “Luisa, cara, go pick some

flowers for the Prìnçipe Marakandi.

Luisa skipped off to begin denuding a marigold shrub of its blooms. It was a cool day, for Castellane, with a wind off the ocean that shook the petals of the flowers.

“You are her new favorite person,” said Vienne. Sunlight glinted off her chestnut hair. Kel was aware of the weapons she was carrying: a short- sword at her side, and almost certainly daggers in her boots. “Do not worry; the position comes with few responsibilities.”

“Ah,” Kel said. “Well, Conor will win her back. He always does.”

“It doesn’t really matter, does it?” said Vienne. “Whether she likes him or not, this business will all go forward regardless.”

“I suppose.” Kel’s head felt as if it were splitting under the hot sun. “Still, I want to apologize. To you, to her. The way Conor was last night—he isn’t usually like that.”

Verità?” she murmured. “I will tell you, as a bodyguard, I am trained to observe people. To watch their reactions.”

That’s nothing I don’t know about. But Kel kept his eyes wide, voice neutral. “And last night someone reacted oddly?”

“No one reacted oddly,” said Vienne. “No one seemed surprised by your Prince’s behavior at all.”

“Really?” said Kel. “He is not usually dressed like the God of love, or drinking quite so much. All right,” he admitted at her doubtful expression,

“dressing as the God of love is just the sort of thing he likes to do, and he often drinks when he is miserable.”

Vienne shook her head slowly. “You’re his cousin, aren’t you? So I don’t suppose you’ll answer me honestly if I ask you something.”

“I’ll do my best,” Kel said, warily.

“Is he going to be unkind to her?” She glanced at Luisa, who was busy murdering tulips now. “I mean truly unkind to her, not just neglectful. I need to know what to be prepared for.”

“No,” Kel said, quietly. “He can be careless and capricious, but he is not cruel by nature.”

Vienne nodded slowly, but Kel was not entirely sure she believed him. “He is angry and resentful of the situation. It is not the fault of the

Princess Luisa, but he is disappointed. And feels he has been humiliated, publicly. It is not the Princess’s fault that she is just a child, but . . .”

“But she is just a child,” said Vienne, with the ghost of a smile. “So she thinks this is some sort of romantic game, or adventure, like a Story- Spinner’s tale. But I know differently.”

She turned restlessly to look at her young charge, who had grown absorbed in reading the inscription on the sundial. “She does not know everything that this takes from her,” Vienne said, her voice low and passionate. “Her childhood. The freedom to make choices for her own life, decide her own path, love who she chooses to love—all of that. Falling in love, the beauty and the pain of it, she will never experience, and she does not even know it.”

“Aside from childhood, those same things will be taken from Conor, as well,” said Kel. “And he does know it.”

For a moment, there was a look in Vienne’s eyes—as if she understood him, sympathized with him, if not with Conor. She might not know he was a Sword Catcher, Kel thought, but she understood they were both caretakers, in their own ways.

“What about you?” Kel said. “I cannot imagine this is what you would have chosen for yourself, either. You are the Princess’s guard, so this is

effectively a sort of exile. Do you think, in some years, after she—after they marry, you will be able to return to Aquila?”

She looked past him, squinting against the sun. “I will not return to

Sarthe unless Luisa does. I am not only her guard; I have sworn an oath to

protect her that will last as long as she lives. Where she goes, I go. It is my calling. I suppose that is hard to understand.”

“Not really,” said Kel. “I understand it perfectly.”

Luisa had come running up to them, her curls bouncing. “Look, I caught a bird, a pretty bird!” she cried in Sarthian. And indeed, in her cupped

hands rested a small red bird with yellow markings on its wings.

“A scarlet tanager,” said Conor. “Something of a lucky creature here, considering its colors are Castellane’s.”

Kel looked up in surprise; he had not noticed Conor emerge from the Castel Mitat, which was atypical. Usually he was more attuned to Conor than that.

Luisa gave a little gasp, and the scarlet tanager flew out of her hands. It seemed she was not as disenchanted with Conor as Kel might have guessed. He wore a black velvet coat with gold frogging and a more-than-

fashionable amount of white lace at the cuffs and collar. Around his throat was a pendant: two birds shaped out of gold, holding a ruby between them.

Maravejóxo,” Luisa sighed. Vienne, barely perceptibly, rolled her eyes. “Princess Luisa,” Conor said, switching to Sarthian. “I imagine you

might like to see my mother’s garden. It is far more grand than this one, and there are peacocks.”

Luisa seemed delighted. Vienne was still looking at Conor rather narrowly, which he was ignoring. Kel could see he was not about to offer any apologies for the night before. He said, “Kellian, would you show the Lady Vienne where to find the Queen’s Garden? I would myself, but I have an appointment in the city today.”

An appointment? Kel wasn’t aware of such a thing, but he couldn’t ask now, in front of Vienne, which was doubtless the reason Conor had chosen this moment to announce his plans. He gave Conor a sharp look, but Conor only looked decidedly innocent, his gray eyes wide.

“Benaset will accompany me,” he said to Kel, which seemed to be his way of offering reassurance. And it was a bit reassuring; there was a limit to the trouble Conor could get into with Jolivet’s right-hand man watching him. “And I believe tomorrow night is the great banquet? We welcome our new Princess on Ascension Day.” He turned to Vienne. “I trust Luisa has everything she needs?”

Luisa, understanding the word Princess, and her own name, smiled at him. Vienne said, “You would have to ask her lady’s maids, but I believe she is well prepared, yes. I trust the banquet will be more—appropriate— than last night’s entertainment?”

Conor’s smile did not waver. “Oh, indeed,” he said. “My mother has been planning it for weeks now, and everything she does is exactingly appropriate. I do not think, Lady Vienne, that you will find anything in the way of surprises in the Shining Gallery. Or at least,” he added over his shoulder, as he left the courtyard, “one hopes that what surprises there are will be pleasant ones.”

“I’m not surprised Demoselle Alleyne decided to look after the little

Princess,” Mariam said. She was sitting on Lin’s bed, wrapped in a shawl. She was pale, but there was bright color in her cheeks—put there, Lin suspected, by her excitement over Lin’s tale of the party at the Roverge house. It was why Lin was telling it, despite her reservations. “She’s quite a bit kinder than most of those ladies up on the Hill. That’s the thing about being a seamstress,” she added. “You are all but invisible to the nobles, and

they forget you are observing their behavior.” She leaned forward. “So what happened after Roverge demanded that the little girl dance? Did the Prince stop him?”

Lin sighed inwardly. She was barefoot, wearing a plain gray frock. When she had come home from the party last night, she had scrubbed every last bit of paint from her face, and nearly torn off her beautiful indigo dress in her haste to be rid of it. She had gone to bed still furious, and dreamed— well, she could hardly remember what she had dreamed. It had been a version of the dream she had often now, about the last moments of the Goddess, only it had ended very differently from the others. She knew it

was just a dream, no more—the story of Adassa’s last moments was well known to all Ashkar—but she had woken trembling and damp with sweat, her skin so hot she had needed to sit before her open window for nearly an hour before she could lie down again.

All she wanted now was to forget about the entire night, but Mariam was hungry for details, and Lin wanted to make her happy. “Well, he didn’t, to be honest,” she said, and immediately felt a bit guilty; Mariam only wanted

to hear things that were happy or scandalous or both. “But someone else stepped in to dance instead, so the evening could continue.”

“Who was it? Oh, never mind, I don’t remember who half those young

nobles are anyway,” Mariam said cheerfully. “Anyway, it seems entirely an inappropriate sort of party to throw for a twelve-year-old. When I was twelve, all I was interested in was playing tricks on the boys in the Dāsu


Lin laughed at the memory, but sobered quickly. “The thing is, the Castellani nobles were expecting a twenty-year-old Princess, and they simply haven’t bothered to change any of their plans. I imagine it would seem too much like accepting what Sarthe has done. There’s some sort of welcoming banquet tomorrow—their Ascension Day celebration—that will be nothing but speeches in a language Luisa doesn’t speak. She’ll be horribly bored.”

Mariam furrowed her brow. “Are you going to the banquet?” At Lin’s surprised look, she added, “I thought Mayesh might be bringing you to more events on the Hill—”

“No,” Lin said. She thought of the quiet ride home in the carriage from the Roverge house, Mayesh watching her with sharp eyes, clearly waiting for some sort of reaction from her, some verdict on the party. But she had said nothing until they reached the Sault. Standing in the shadow of the

gates, she had said, “I will tell you if I think there is a point in my returning to the Hill.”

He had not asked questions, only nodded and let her go.

“I won’t be at the banquet, don’t worry,” said Lin. “It’s the same night as Tevath.”

“It’s all right. If you’d rather go to the party.”

“Mari,” Lin said sternly. “I’d rather be at the Goddess Festival, with you.

It’s our last year.”

“I just feel as though you’ve gone off into a wonderful story,” Mariam said, with a smile that held a wisp of sadness. “A party with the Charter Families. The Prince himself there. In a Story-Spinner tale, you’d already be secretly engaged to him.”

Instead, he kissed me, then flung me away and said he must have been drunk, Lin thought. Ever so romantic.

“In a Story-Spinner tale, that would mean I’d be about to be kidnapped by pirates so he could save me,” Lin said, crossly. “Mari. The Prince is of

the malbushim. Even if he weren’t the Prince, I couldn’t—he is not like us. You must notice,” she added, “that none of the girls in the Story-Spinner tales, even if they are peasants, are Ashkar.”

The hectic color in Mariam’s cheeks bloomed, and Lin felt suddenly guilty. What on earth was the point of telling Mariam to face reality when dreams and hopes of some grand event were what she had to sustain her?

“Mari, I’m sorry—”

There was a knock on Lin’s door. The two women exchanged a startled look. “It’s likely Mayesh,” Lin said, rising to her feet; she padded barefoot to the door and threw it open.

On the threshold stood Oren Kandel, looking as if he were attending his own funeral. With him were two Castelguards, in red livery, both squinting against the bright sun. And between them was Prince Conor Aurelian, all in black velvet, wearing a gold coronet.

Lin’s mouth opened in shock, but no sound came out. She had only just seen the Prince last night, but he had been in his own world, his own element, among the people of the Hill. She thought of his cloak of white- and-gold brocade, and the metallic ink around his eyes. He was more quietly dressed now, it was true, but that still meant many flashing rings, gold paint on his nails—and that crown. For him to be here in the Sault, looking up at her calmly from her own front steps, was for reality to have folded itself in half. She could make no sense of it.

“Oren?” she whispered, almost regretfully; it was a dark day indeed when she had to ask Oren Kandel to explain what she was looking at with her own eyes.

“The Prince of Castellane is here to see you,” mumbled Oren.

This, Lin thought, was the least helpful thing he could have said. From behind her, she heard a squeak. Of course; Mariam was watching from the doorway of her room.

In fact, it was not just Mariam. Lin’s neighbors had begun to pour out into the street, and were staring in the direction of her house. Mez and Rahel, hand in hand, were gaping from their doorstep, and Kuna Malke, her baby girl balanced on her hip, was on tiptoe on her porch in order to see better.

For the first time, Lin locked eyes with the Prince. His were the shade of clouds, unreadable. She said, “If you seek my grandfather, Counselor Bensimon, he is not here, my lord.”

Before Prince Conor could answer, there was a patter of quick steps.

Mariam appeared at Lin’s side, her cheeks bright red. “Monseigneur,” she exclaimed. “I am Mariam Duhary, and it would be the honor of my life to sew a cloak for you—”

“You’re the one who made Lin’s dress last night?” Prince Conor spoke for the first time. Something in Lin’s chest jumped when he said her name like that: Lin, not Domna Caster. It was familiar; too much so. She saw Oren notice it, too, and scowl. “Kel told me. Lin’s friend with the needle.”

Mariam glowed. “Lin spoke of me to him?”

“Of course she did. You’re very skilled.” There was real warmth in his tone, and though Lin knew it had been trained into him, it remained affecting. “I would like to speak to Lin for a moment alone. It is a matter of state.”

He managed to say it as if he were asking Mariam’s permission. She glowed brighter, and nodded. “Of course, of course,” she said, bolting down the stairs of Lin’s house and nearly knocking into Oren at the bottom.

“We will keep watch, Monseigneur,” said Benaset. He, too, descended

the steps, where the guards had set about shooing off Oren. Oren seemed to have decided that the better part of valor was to pretend that he had always planned to escort Mariam back to the Women’s House. Fortunately for him, Mariam was in too good a humor to wave him off.

Rahel and Mez were both waving energetically at Lin, but she had no chance to wave back, had she been so inclined. The moment Benaset was gone, the Prince had closed the door of Lin’s house behind him, plunging the room into dimness. Lin wondered if she ought to go and pull the

curtains closed over the windows, but no—that would simply set tongues to wagging even further, and it wasn’t as if one could easily see in without coming straight up to her house and pressing one’s face against the glass.

“That man who guided us to your house,” the Prince remarked, his gaze sweeping lazily over her living room, “has he a dog?”

“Oren?” Lin wanted to wrap her arms around herself. She felt oddly exposed, as if the Prince could see all of her: It was close enough, in a way. Here were her remaining books, her crumpled dress over the back of a

chair, her breakfast plate still on the table. Open to his gaze, like a corpse on an anatomy table. “A dog? No, why?”

“I was wondering if it had died recently. He seems the most depressing person I have ever met.”

Lin was not sure if she should sit down or stand up. She settled for leaning against the wall. She was abnormally conscious of her bare feet, of the plainness of her dress, of her unbraided hair. Loose, the copper curls fell

to the middle of her back. “That’s Oren. He’s just like that, always has been. What are you doing here, Monseigneur?”

“Don’t call me that,” he said, rather sharply, and she inhaled a breath; was this going to be like last night? Was he going to be strange, half furious, unpredictable? “I would prefer that you call me Conor. As your grandfather does.”

She stared at him. “I can’t do that. I’m not a royal or a noble, it would be too”—intimate—“too familiar. What if someone overheard?”

“Familiar,” he said, his lips quirking at the word. “I came, Domna Caster, because I understand that last night I may have alarmed you by kissing you. I don’t remember it well”—he waved a hand, as if shaking off a cobweb

—“but I assure you there was no meaning or malice in it. I kiss a great many people.”

Lin blushed. She had not mentioned that part of the evening to Mariam; in fact, she had not mentioned a great deal of what had happened—not

Luisa crying, nor her own dance, nor her angry words, nor Prince Conor’s fury when he had followed her from the room. And certainly not what had happened then. “I truly hope,” she said, “that you did not really waste your royal morning coming here to tell me something I already knew.”

Something in his eyes flashed. It was not anger, though she might have expected that. He had been angry the night before. It was something more like a passionate puzzlement, as if he were trying to solve an equation and coming up short.

“All right,” he said. “You are correct enough. I did not come here merely to apologize for kissing you.”

She looked at him directly. That always seemed to make a difference, she thought—when she could catch his gaze with her own, when she could

make him look at her and see her. She did not think many people sought his gaze. The studied gaze of a royal might uncover any sort of secret; it might

unsettle, might remind a member of the Charter Families that, though they were nearly as powerful as Gods, they were not.

Their gazes met, held. In the dimness of the room, his eyes seemed the brightest thing before her, save for his crown, a ring of fire. She said, “Then why are you here, Prince Conor?”

He drew something out of his jacket. A square something, that looked

like a ragged brown package. “You called me a selfish bastard last night,” he said, “but would a selfish bastard gift you this?”

He held the object out to her. She realized it was a book, its leather cover tattered and worn. As she took it from him, her hand shaking slightly, she recognized the title, half faded from the spine: The Works of Qasmuna.

“Ohh,” she breathed. She began to flip through the pages, frantically— even as she felt how soft they were, and fragile, under her touch. Words, so many words, and drawings—of stones that looked like her own, in various stages of brightness—and numbered columns that could be instructions—

“I suppose I should have expected this,” said the Prince drily. “Your grandfather has never thanked me for anything, either.”

Lin forced herself to look up from the book, remembering suddenly what Andreyen had said. There are murmurs that someone else is searching for our book. With great dedication, I hear.

You’re the one who’s been searching the city for this?”

She was still clutching it to her chest, like a little girl with a new favorite toy. She saw a smile tug the corners of his mouth.

“I’ve turned Castellane upside down looking for it,” he said. “I finally hunted it down in the collection of a trader who’d found it in the Maze. He was about to take it to Marakand, where collectors will offer great sums for this sort of thing. I persuaded him he’d make more money selling it to me.” “But—why did you do this? How did you even know I wanted it—?”

“You mentioned it. That night at Marivent.”

And she had, she realized, the night of his whipping. She had told him all about the book, the Maharam, the Shulamat . . .

Only she had not thought he was really listening. But he had been, it seemed. Something hot flared inside her chest. Gratitude—but she had never been comfortable with gratitude, and it came now edged with panic.

“But what does it matter to you,” she said, “that I was looking for it? I do not need to be paid, I have told you that before—”

He was no longer smiling. “Yes,” he said. “You refused the ring I offered you in recompense for healing Kel. You would take nothing for healing me. But that does not mean I do not owe you. And I despise being indebted.”

She drew herself up, knowing she must look ridiculous, barefoot and tangle-haired and stubborn. “What difference does it make? You are a Prince—one might say you cannot owe anything to someone like me.”

“But you know that is not true. You saved me. You saved my Sword Catcher.” He took a step forward, closing the space between them. Lin could not move away; the table was directly behind her. “And as long as I owe you, I cannot forget it. I think of you—of the debt I owe you—and I cannot rid my mind of the thoughts. It is like a fever.”

“And now you wish me to heal you again,” Lin said slowly. He was so close—not as close to her as he had been the night before, but she could see lighter flecks of silvery white in his eyes. “Of the fever that is myself. Your debt to me.”

“It is a sickness,” he whispered. She felt his breath stir her hair, and a tide of goosebumps flooded across her skin. “I need my thoughts back. My freedom. You ought to understand that, physician.” He flicked his glance to the book in her hands. “Everyone wants something,” he said. “It is the

nature of people. You cannot be that different.”

Her hand tightened on the book. A part of her, that did not want to give him what he wanted—that did not, if she had to admit it, want to be ordinary in his eyes—wished to thrust it back at him. But she thought of Mariam, of Mariam’s bright eyes glowing at the thought of making a cloak for the Prince, and she could not do it. It would be madness.

She set Qasmuna’s book down on the table. Turned back to look at him. “There,” she said. “I’ve taken it. Does that mean you can forget all about me now?”

He was breathing quickly. If he had been her patient, she would have laid her fingers against the smooth skin of his throat, would have pressed in lightly, feeling his blood pulse beneath her fingertips. Would have said,

Breathe, breathe.

But he was not her patient. He was the Prince of Castellane, and he leaned in close to her then, putting his lips against her ear. She clutched the edge of the table behind her, feeling a hot tide flood through her belly, her

legs. His voice was rough in her ear. “I,” he said, “have already forgotten you.”

She stiffened. Heard him inhale sharply, and then he was gone, whirling away from her. She stayed braced against the table as the door slammed shut behind him.

Lin closed her eyes. She could hear the commotion outside as he exited her house; presumably everyone who’d just heard that the Prince of

Castellane had come to visit Lin Caster was now lining the street, satisfying their curiosity. She wondered what would happen if she told them that he had simply come to settle a debt. She rather doubted they would believe her.

Kel turned through the crumbling stone arch and made his way down Arsenal Road. He had never been in the Maze during the day before. Like the flowers in the Night Garden, it came awake only after sunset.

Most sights were improved by bright sunlight and a blue sky overhead, but the Maze was not among them. The harsh illumination showed all its ragged edges and filthy corners, without the shadows of night to blue them to softness. Drunken nobles stumbled home after a night of carousing, stopping to vomit against the walls of abandoned shophouses. The doors of poppy-houses stood open, revealing bare wooden floors on which addicts twitched, the morning light stirring them out of dreams and into painful consciousness. While the brothels that lined the road were still open, there were few customers trickling in and out of the doors. The doxies who worked through the nights sprawled comfortably on the balconies in tunics and knickers, drinking karak and smoking hand-rolled cheroots from Hind.

Food stalls set up in between the buildings served bowls of Shenzan rice porridge topped with fish or fruit to sailors who lined up, carrying the dented metal serving bowls they kept in their packs; they were often to be seen cleaning them conscientiously at various public cisterns.

He nearly passed it without recognizing his goal: the warehouse with the blacked-out windows where Jerrod had brought him the other night.

It was hard to believe that the cracked façade hid a lively cabaret within, at least during nighttime hours. The place seemed utterly silent and deserted. Kel was aware of curious eyes on him as he knocked on the front door. There was no answer, so he tried the handle and found it unlocked, but

stuck in its frame; wood warped often here, so close to the sea and the humid air. Kel shouldered it open and stepped inside.

The long corridor he remembered was nearly lightless, illuminated only by window spots where the black paint had chipped away. Kel made his way silently to the enormous main room. It was empty, the glass lanterns, nearly all unlit, swaying over a floor scattered with overturned tables and broken bits of furniture. Abandoned mother-of-pearl gaming chips gleamed like sequins against the dusty floor surrounding the upturned crow’s nest.

Kel ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time. He found, as he had expected, nothing at all. The warehouse seemed as if it had been deserted for years; the room in which he had met Prosper Beck was entirely emptied, even the boxes of Singing Monkey Wine gone.

He made his way back downstairs, trailing a hand along the wall to keep himself oriented in the gloom. Prosper Beck moved his headquarters from place to place often, he knew, but this was more than that. This place had been looted of its decorations, abandoned utterly. Something had happened.

He paused in the main room, where a single velvet cushion lay on the floor, a rip along the side releasing a small gust of white feathers. He thought of Antonetta’s gold locket, shining empty in her hand, and a wave of rage went through him, mixed with a frustration so intense it felt almost like despair.

Putting a booted foot against the pole of the crow’s nest, he shoved as hard as he could. He’d half expected it to wobble, but instead it went over so quickly that Kel had to jump back to avoid being hit as it toppled, slamming into the warehouse floor with a force that sent dust and splinters into the air like a sandstorm.

Beck!” Kel looked up, at the empty hanging hooks, at the lightless interior windows of the second floor. “Where the fuck are you, Prosper Beck?


Kel turned. Standing in the stairwell was a familiar figure in black Crawler’s gear. His silver quarter-mask gleamed, as did his boots. His hood was up, drawn close about his face, but Kel could see that he was frowning.

“Jerrod,” Kel said.

“I thought they taught you better manners than that,” Jerrod said, “up at the Palace.”

“Manners don’t interest me at the moment,” said Kel. “I want to see Beck.”

Jerrod came into the room a little more, glancing with interest at the

wreckage of the crow’s nest. “Haven’t we been through this once? Beck has expressed no desire to see you a second time. You aren’t that charming.”

“I want to know why he’s been wasting my time.”

Jerrod hopped up onto an overturned table, his legs swinging over the side. “Couldn’t get the locket from the girl, could you?”

“I got it,” Kel said shortly. “But it was empty.”

Jerrod glanced up at the ceiling. “So you snuck a peek inside? Beck won’t be pleased.”

Kel hesitated. He could mention the grass ring, the false bottom of the locket. But it seemed a betrayal of Antonetta, as well as a piece of strategic information he did not yet wish to share. If Beck did not know about the ring, there was no reason to be the one who told him. And if he did, then what had been the point of all of this? What was he after?

“You care about his opinion. I don’t,” said Kel. “Antonetta opened it herself. And it’s been driving me mad since. Why would Beck send me to retrieve an empty necklace for him? He told me there was information inside, but that’s hardly Antonetta’s way of doing things. What sort of

information? Is this something to do with her mother—” Kel cut himself off impatiently. “And then it occurred to me. Beck wants me to be driven mad with pointless questions. He wants me to be gazing over at the locket and

the Alleynes, so I won’t be looking somewhere else, somewhere he doesn’t want me to look. All of which had led me to come here and ask: What does he really want?”

Jerrod kicked his heels like a small boy sitting along the harbor seawall. “Well. You aren’t going to find out.”

“I will see him. You cannot stop me.”

“You are welcome to see him, if you can find him. Because I cannot.” Kel went still. “What do you mean?”

“I mean he’s gone. He’s left Castellane.” “You’re lying—”

“I’m not.” Jerrod gestured around the room. “You can confirm it with your friend the Ragpicker King if you like. I’m sure he’s heard the buzzing

by now. The Maze is no longer Beck’s, and likely Andreyen will want to march his own people in soon.”

Kel thought of Mayesh. Odd. One does not usually willingly take leave of a position of power.

“Beck was thriving here,” Kel said. “Why leave so suddenly?” He narrowed his eyes. “On the other hand, he was planning to betray his patron, someone of importance on the Hill. Did that patron discover Beck was hoping to stab him in the back?”

Jerrod threw up his chalk-powdered hands. “You’re thinking too small, Anjuman. I don’t know who Beck’s patron was—there is some information it is better not to possess. I have been happy in my ignorance. But I do

know one thing. You are thinking of your Prince and your House Aurelian, as you always do, while Beck was thinking of the whole of Castellane.”

“What did he know of the whole of Castellane? The Maze does not represent it, any more than the Palace does.”

“He knew enough to leave you a message,” said Jerrod. “Which, by the way, is the only reason I came when you called for Beck. Because he knew you would come, and he asked me to tell you this when you did.” He looked thoughtfully at the palm of his hand, as if there was a message scrawled there. “‘Trouble is coming for the Hill, Anjuman, and Marivent will not be exempt. You have no idea how bad it will get. Blood will run from the height to the depth. The Hill will drown in it.’”

Kel felt the back of his neck prickle. “A warning indeed,” he said. “But Beck is not concerned for my welfare. This could be another game he’s playing, couldn’t it?”

Jerrod smiled enigmatically. “Some people are only convinced by empirical evidence, I suppose. You need not heed anyone’s warnings, Anjuman. Feel free to fuck around and find out yourself.”

“Right.” Kel started for the door. Halfway there, he stopped and turned; Jerrod was still seated on the overturned table, his mask gleaming like a quarter-moon. “Would you tell me one thing?” Kel said. “Why didn’t you kill me? That night your Crawler stabbed me. Once you realized I wasn’t Conor. Didn’t you worry I could make some kind of trouble for you?”

“You’ve made plenty of trouble for me,” Jerrod said shortly. “The answer is simple. I saw Ji-An on the wall. She seemed invested in keeping you alive, and I didn’t want to go directly against the Ragpicker King.”

It was a sound enough reason, but it didn’t sit quite right with Kel.

Something about the whole situation gnawed at him. Abruptly, he said: “You’re not going to tell me anything really useful, are you?”

“No,” Jerrod said pleasantly. “I’ve discharged my last responsibility to Beck. Time for me to look for other work. Perhaps I’ll see if your Ragpicker King is feeling generous. He could always use another good Crawler in his employ.”

“He’s not my Ragpicker King—” Kel began, and nearly laughed. He was letting Jerrod get under his skin, and to what end, really? “You know what? Go ahead. I’ll let him know you send your regards.”

“Send my regards to the pretty poisoner, while you’re at it,” Jerrod said. “He isn’t the only one waiting for Artal Gremont to return to Castellane, you know.”

And he grinned.

As Kel approached Scarlet Square, he recalled how sure he’d been, the last time he had spoken to Andreyen, that he had severed their connection. That he owed Andreyen Morettus, inheritor of the title of the Ragpicker King, nothing at all.

And yet here he was, feeling a sense of near-relief as his feet carried him through the Warren to the Black Mansion. Jerrod had been very convincing, but Kel had known a great many convincing people. He thought of the Council, sitting around the face of their great clock, each one untrustworthy, each one convincing in his or her own way.

Of course, Andreyen, too, was not to be trusted. But the key was not trust, Kel thought. The key was knowing in what ways someone could be trusted, and in what ways they would lie. And Kel did not think Andreyen would lie about this.

The garden in the square’s center was brilliant green in the sunlight. As Kel approached the mansion, he saw the door swing open, and Merren and Ji-An, wearing her foxglove jacket, came down the stairs to meet him. He saw Ji-An close the door firmly behind her. So he was not going to be let inside, Kel thought. Not yet.

“Does he not want to see me?” Kel said as Merren sat down on one of the middle steps. He wore a yellow jacket, stained at the cuff with something

green and dangerous looking. Kel thought of Jerrod: Send my regards to the pretty poisoner.

Merren might sprawl, but sprawling was not in Ji-An’s nature. Back straight, she raised an eyebrow at Kel and said, “If you want to see Andreyen, he’s not here.”

“I can wait,” Kel said.

“All day?” said Ji-An. “You might not have heard, but Prosper Beck has gone. The Maze is unguarded. Andreyen has some strategy to work out.”

“So it’s true,” Kel said. “Beck’s really left?”

“Like a shadow in the night,” said Merren cheerfully. “All his people left wandering about, looking for someone to tell them what to do.”

“I don’t suppose you know anything about why,” said Ji-An, looking closely at Kel. “You talked to him.”

“I’d like to flatter myself that I charmed him into telling me all his

plans,” said Kel, “but I doubt it. Jerrod said he fled because he knew of a danger to Castellane, but—”

“But Jerrod Belmerci cannot be trusted,” said Ji-An.

“Mmm,” said Merren. “Really? More so than any other criminal?” He turned to Kel, ignoring Ji-An’s surprised look. “Was that what you wanted with Andreyen? To tell him about Beck?”

“More to confirm that he was gone,” said Kel. “Andreyen came to me asking me to look into Prosper Beck. But that investigation seems finished. So—”

“So you’re done,” said Merren. “Now that Prosper Beck is gone, you’re done with us and the Black Mansion?”

“I think Andreyen hoped for more from Kel than just that,” Ji-An said, clearly aware that Kel was watching her, but addressing her comments to Merren. “He said there was more for Kel to do on the Hill. That he wasn’t finished.”

“And yet,” said Kel, “I find myself tired of tangling with business in the city and on the Hill. My loyalty is with the Palace. With Conor. I should never have tried to do more than that.”

Merren raised his face to the sun. “I admit,” he said, quietly, “I hoped you might know something about Artal Gremont. About when he was coming back.”

Kel wondered for a moment if he should mention what Jerrod had said about Gremont—but if Artal had other enemies, he doubted that was something Merren didn’t already know. “I can get word to you as soon as I hear of his return,” he said. “But that’s all.”

He thought of Roverge, of the wine, of Antonetta’s locket, of Sardou’s peculiar overtures. But it had all taken on the quality of chasing clouds or shadows. There would always be another nobleman exhibiting suspicious behavior. Another scheme on the Hill, another corrupt secret to be uncovered. It was the way things had always been. Power and money, the getting and the keeping of them, was the realm of kings and princes—those on the Hill, or down in the city. They were not his realm, and the further he went down this path, the further it would take him from Conor.

“I am sorry,” Kel said to Merren, “that I tried to poison myself in front of you. It was discourteous.” Merren looked surprised as Kel turned to Ji-An. “And I am sorry if I pried into your personal business. We all have our

secrets and are entitled to them.”

Ji-An smiled, just the corner of a luminous smile, like a glimpse of the moon through clouds. “A carriage drawn by black swans,” she said, “does sound glamorous.”

Kel bowed to them both—the sort of sweeping bow he would have offered to a foreign dignitary. “Good luck,” he said, “with your criminal endeavors. And give my regards to Morettus.”

As he left the square, he was aware of Ji-An and Merren watching him go. He wondered if he should have said something about Jerrod’s intention to seek employment at the Black Mansion, but suspected that there would be many such seekers in the next days, as the world of the city—and

perhaps the Hill, as well, in ways unseen—rearranged itself around the absence of Prosper Beck.



In the vision of Makabi, Queen Adassa showed herself to him, and he was aware immediately that she who he had once known as a human woman had become something else. She appeared in the shape of a maiden, but a maiden woven of gematry, of shimmering words and equations like chains of silver. And she said to him, “Do not despair. You have wandered in the wilderness for so long, but you are not unprotected. I am no longer your Queen, but your Goddess.

“My earthly body was destroyed but I am transfigured. I will watch over you and protect you, for you are my chosen people.”

And she showed to him a sword, upon whose cross guard was etched the image of a raven, the wise bird whose shape Makabi had once taken at the

behest of her who stood before him now. “Tell all my people what I have told you, and that I will prove myself to them: Go forth tomorrow against this interloper King and face his army. and you will be victorious, for I will be with you.”

And when the sun rose the next day, Makabi rode at the head of the army of Aram once more, and the Aramites were victorious, though they were outnumbered ten to one.

Book of Makabi

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