Chapter no 6

Sword Catcher

It was almost noon. Kel was looking at Conor. Conor was looking at himself in the mirror.

“I dislike this bandage,” Conor said. “It’s destructive to the integrity of my ensemble.”

Kel, sitting on the arm of the sofa, sighed. It appeared Lilibet had noticed Conor’s injuries, after all. The Royal Surgeon, Gasquet, had arrived that morning, woken them both up, and insisted on bandaging Conor’s hand

before the Dial Chamber meeting.

“I doubt anyone will notice,” Kel said now.

Conor made a noncommittal noise. He was looking at himself in the pier glass that hung against the east wall. He generally dressed outrageously for Dial Chamber meetings, as if certain that could liven up the proceedings.

Today, however, he had chosen to wear shades of black and silver: black velvet cloak, black silk trousers, tunic of silver brocade. Even his crown

was a plain silver circlet. Kel was not entirely certain that Conor intended to take the Dial Chamber meeting seriously, but at least his clothes would.

“You see,” said Conor, “my outfit is black. This bandage is white. It

destroys the symmetry.” He glanced over his shoulder. “I can’t believe you didn’t chase off Gasquet. Aren’t you supposed to protect me?”

“Not against your own doctor,” Kel pointed out. “Anyway, you know perfectly well what would have happened. Gasquet would have run to the Queen. The Queen would have raised a fuss. And you hate fuss. I was protecting you against fuss.”

Conor, clearly hiding a smile, said, “And I expect you to do the same at the meeting. No one fusses like the Charter Families.” He pushed a heavily ringed hand through his hair. “All right. Into the den of overdressed lions we go.”

They left the Castel Mitat together, Conor humming a popular song about unrequited love. It was a bright, blustery day, the wind tossing the tops of

the cypress and pine trees that dotted the Hill, the sky clear enough to see

the mountains of Detmarch ranged in razor-sharp formation to the north. To the west, cliffs fell away toward the ocean, its roar audible even at a distance. And to the east, the Star Tower rose from the ramparts of the walls surrounding Marivent.

As they neared the tower, Kel ran through a quick check: slim blades at his wrists, under the sleeves of his plain gray tunic. A dagger at his hip, hilt tucked through his belt, concealed by the fall of his jacket. He had dressed plainly, in dark gray and green, intending to be ignored.

Kel could hear the sound of voices as they passed through the tower gates

—guarded on either side by Castelguards—and into the Dial Chamber, where the sound rose to a din.

The Dial Chamber was a circular marble room whose domed roof rose to a central oculus; meetings were generally held at midday, when the chamber was most directly illuminated by the sun. When it rained, a glass dome was placed over the oculus, though rain in Castellane was rare.

The mosaic floor had been designed—in tesserae of blue, gold, black, and scarlet—to resemble a sundial. A great ironwood chair had been placed at the location of each hour’s tiled numeral—Roverge at six, Montfaucon at four, Aurelian at twelve. The chairs themselves belonged to the House they represented, and their backs were carved accordingly: Trees adorned the chair belonging to House Raspail, who held the timber Charter; a bunch of grapes for Uzec; a silk moth for Alleyne; the sun and its rays for Aurelian.

Circling the interior of the dome, words in Callatian, the language of the Empire, had been picked out in gold tiles: ALL THAT IS GOOD COMES FROM THE GODS. ALL THAT IS EVIL COMES FROM MEN.

Kel had always felt that this commentary seemed pointed, considering what tended to go on in the Dial Chamber. He wondered if the Charter

Families thought the same, or if they even noticed it. They were not the sort of people who spent much time looking up.

The buzz of voices died down as Conor entered the room, followed by Kel. Faces turned toward him as he stalked to the Sun Chair like the pages of a book turning; Kel tried to read their expressions. Conor had attended

numerous Dial Chamber meetings, but had never presided over one. Lady Alleyne, resplendent in pink silk, looked pleased, as did Antonetta, sitting beside her on a low stool; every Charter holder was allowed to bring one companion to meetings of the Twelve. Joss Falconet looked encouraging. Benedict Roverge, who had brought Charlon with him, was glowering.

Cazalet, who held the Charter in banking, was smooth-faced and unreadable. And Montfaucon, in raspberry brocade edged by pale-green lace, seemed amused by the whole thing.

As Conor took his place in the Sun Chair, he nodded at Mayesh Bensimon, who was seated on the low stool beside him. This still put their heads on the same level, as Mayesh was ridiculously tall. If Kel had expected him to shrink with age, he had been disappointed. As far as he could tell, Mayesh had not changed since Kel had arrived at the Palace. He had seemed old to Kel then, and was still old, but though his gray hair had gone white, no new wrinkles or ridges had appeared on his face. The state medallion around his neck gleaming like a star, Mayesh sat straight-backed, gazing flatly at the Charter holders from beneath brindled eyebrows.

There was nowhere for Kel to sit, which he had expected. He took his place beside the Sun Chair as Conor sprawled in it, deliberately loose- limbed, as if to say: Nothing about this meeting seems terribly urgent.

“Greetings, Monseigneur,” said Lady Alleyne, smiling at Conor. She had been very beautiful when young, and was still handsome, her voluptuous

curves poured into her tight gown. The upper circles of her breasts spilled from the square neck of her bodice, only barely restrained by a thin layer of white netting. “Alas, we have already lost one member. Gremont is asleep.”

This was true. Mathieu Gremont, holder of the Charter for coffee and tea, was ninety-five, and already snoring quietly in his carved chair. Conor, flashing a smile at Lady Alleyne, said, “Hardly a good advertisement for

the strength of his merchandise.”

There was a low ripple of laughter. Kel caught the eye of Falconet, who looked tired and a bit rumpled. Well, he had been up until nearly dawn, drinking with Montfaucon and Roverge atop the West Tower. He winked at Kel.

Ambrose Uzec, whose Charter was wine, looked at Gremont darkly. “It is time for Gremont to pass the Charter on, surely. He has a son—”

“His son Artal is in Taprobana, meeting with the owners of tea estates,” said Lady Alleyne. Her shoes, as well as her dress, matched her daughter’s: white heels, sprigged with pink silk rosettes. Kel wondered if it bothered

Antonetta that her mother so clearly saw her as a miniature version of herself. He knew Antonetta would never show it, if it did. “Important work, surely.”

Kel exchanged a look with Conor. Artal Gremont had been sent away amid a swirl of scandal when they had been fourteen years old. Neither of them had ever managed to find out what it was he’d done to be effectively exiled; even Montfaucon did not seem to know.

“Gremont’s business is his own,” said Lord Gasquet, looking irritable. He, too, was not a young man, and showed no signs of turning his Charter over to one of his gaggle of sons, daughters, or grandchildren. Charter

holders always thought they were immortal, Mayesh had said once, and tended to die without making any provisions as to who might inherit their places on the Council. Infighting would then ensue, usually settled by

House Aurelian. Only the King or Queen had the power to grant Charters and strip them away.

“I believe,” Montfaucon said, ruffling the lace cuffs that spilled over his wrists like pale-green seafoam, “that we were discussing Roverge’s latest troubles, were we not?”

“There is no need to make it sound as if I am beset by troubles, Lupin,” growled Roverge. Charlon, beside him, nodded sagely. His eyes were only half open; he was clearly suffering a brutal headache from the jenever he’d drunk the night before. His father turned to Conor. “It is a question of tithes, which I seek to put before you, Monseigneur.”

Kel’s mind began to drift as Conor considered the matter of whether

merchants selling colored paper should tithe a percent of their proceeds to the Roverge House, or to House Raspail. Trade was the blood that ran through the veins of Castellane. Every one of the Charter Families had

caravans on the roads and ships on the seas, laden down with precious cargo. Their control of specific goods was the source of their wealth and power. House Raspail, for instance, had the Charter for timber, so no bit of wood or paper, nor the smallest carved flute, changed hands without them getting a share of the profit.

That did not mean, however, that it was objectively interesting to anyone else. Kel could not stop his mind returning to the Ragpicker King. In Kel’s memory, the Ragpicker King’s voice was soft as the nap on velvet.

Conor had been nodding along as Roverge and Raspail argued, his gray

eyes sleepy beneath the tumble of his black hair. Now he said, “The tithe on colored paper will be split between your two Houses, evenly. Understood? Good. What is the next matter at hand?”

“Bandits,” said Alonse Esteve, leaning forward. He was an odd one. The Esteve Charter was horses, and Alonse, though in his fifties, had no wife, nor any heirs to inherit his Charter. He seemed far happier with horses than people and was usually in Valderan, where the best horseflesh was bred.

“We must discuss the problem at the Narrow Pass. It affects us all.”

It was as if he had tossed a lit match into kindling. A loud squabble blazed up as the nobles fell to arguing. It seemed that several caravans had been attacked by teams of well-coordinated bandits while approaching the Narrow Pass that connected Sarthe to Castellane; it was a concern, as there was no other land route into the city, but no one was agreed on a solution.

“If you ask me,” said Polidor Sardou, whose Charter was glass, “the thing to do is march the Arrow Squadron into Sarthe. Put them on the back foot. We need to demonstrate our strength, show them we can’t be trifled with.”

“That risks war with Sarthe,” said Falconet languidly. “The Black Guard would be on us like flies.”

“No one wants war,” said Lady Alleyne, watching Conor out of the corner of her eye. “A stupid and unprofitable way to settle disputes.”

“Liorada, that’s simply not true,” said Montfaucon. “War can be very profitable indeed.”

“Perhaps,” said Raspail, “we should consider strengthening our alliance with Sarthe. This state of uneasy détente serves no one, really.”

“I had heard tell,” Falconet said, “of a possible alliance with Sarthe.”

All eyes turned to Conor. He sat motionless in his black velvet, his eyes glittering like the rings on his fingers. The light from the oculus cast his

face in shadow. It was Mayesh who spoke.

“The matter of the Prince’s marriage,” he said, “has not progressed to a place at which you need worry yourself about alliances, Falconet. We can

all agree, I think, that it is an area in which our Prince should have time to apply due consideration.”

This was not, Kel knew, what Mayesh really thought. He wanted to

advise Conor and for Conor to take that advice—and sooner rather than later. But his loyalty was to House Aurelian, not the Charter Families. He would place his words between them and Conor, just as Kel placed his body between Conor and danger.

“I recall,” said Roverge, “that when this matter arose for King Markus,

he placed it before us to hear our voices. There is no pact more binding than a marriage, and pacts between Castellane and foreign powers are a Council matter.”

“Are they?” Conor murmured. “Are you all planning on joining me on my wedding night? We shall have to make a list of names, that I might

know how many bottles of wine to provide.”

Roverge smiled stiffly. “You are young, dear Prince. It is part of your

undeniable charm. But when a royal weds, whole nations are joined in the bedchamber.”

“How scandalously put,” said Falconet.

Cazalet said, “When Markus came to us then, matters with Marakand

were different. We were at odds. Now, of course, there is harmony between us.”

“But,” said Conor, “not all disputes can be solved with marriage. I can only be married once, for one thing.”

Kel wished he could lay a hand on Conor’s shoulder. He could see that Conor’s fingers were curling in on themselves, a nervous habit. He was letting the Council get under his skin. If he snapped, Lilibet would declare that he had failed to show the Council who was in control.

“Indeed,” Kel said, striving for a light tone. “This isn’t Nyenschantz.”

There was a buzz of laughter; the King of Nyenschantz had been caught promising his daughter’s hand in marriage to several countries at once, and been forced to pay out multiple dowries when the deception was uncovered.

“I know the Princess of Sarthe, Aimada,” Falconet said. “She’s beautiful, clever, accomplished—”

Lady Alleyne sat up straight. “Nonsense,” she said. “We cannot treat our Prince so! Marry him off to some awful woman from Sarthe? I think not.”

“Joss, your sister is married to a Sarthian duke,” said Sardou crossly.

“You are not objective in this matter. An alliance with Sarthe would likely benefit your family.”

Joss smiled, innocence personified. “That hadn’t crossed my mind, Polidor. I was thinking of Castellane. Our constant state of unease with Sarthe drains the city coffers, does it not, Cazalet?”

“What about Valderan?” interrupted Esteve. “An alliance with Valderan could be valuable indeed.”

“Think of the horses,” said Falconet, dry as salt. “So many horses.” Esteve glared.

“Falconet may not be objective,” said Roverge, “but Sarthe is our closest neighbor, and there is something to be said for solving the bandit problem. I lost a caravan’s worth of indigo powder last month.”

Rolant Cazalet took a gold snuffbox from his pocket. “What about

Malgasi?” he said, pinching up some of the mixture of powdered leaves and herbs he kept inside. One could buy such stuff at the Ashkari stalls in the city market. It was a bit of small magic—like posy-drops, which the younger nobles dripped into their eyes to change the shape of their pupils to stars, hearts, or leaves. “Their wealth, put at our disposal, could expand our Treasury, and the footprint of our trade—”

“My sources at the Malgasi Court tell me Queen Iren may be leaving the throne soon,” said Montfaucon.

“Odd,” said Mayesh. “She has only in this past decade consolidated her power. One does not usually willingly take leave of a position of power.”

“Perhaps she is tired of being queen,” said Antonetta. “Perhaps she wishes to take up a hobby.”

Lady Alleyne looked pained. “Antonetta, you know nothing of power or politics. Keep your mouth shut and your ears open, my girl.”

Kel shot Antonetta a glare; he couldn’t help it. Why did she put so much effort into seeming ridiculous in public? She had had better and clearer

thoughts about politics and trade at twelve, and he seemed the only one to realize that she could not possibly have lost all her sense in the intervening years.

She simply smiled back at him, as she had the night before: a sweet, charming, slightly befuddled smile. It warmed him—though perhaps that was only the annoyance sweeping through his veins.

“It is not Iren’s choice to leave the throne. They say she is dying,” said Montfaucon. “Which means Princess Elsabet will soon ascend to the throne. We would not need to wait long to have the gold of Malgasi at our disposal.”

“How calculating, Lupin,” Lady Alleyne murmured. “And how it would delight Lilibet, having another queen here at Marivent. You have thought of everything.”

“I hear their Court is chaotic and the Belmany rule not terribly popular,” said Raspail. “Mayesh, what do your Ashkari connections tell you? Any

news from Favár?”

“There are no Ashkar in Favár,” said Mayesh, without inflection. “We are forbidden from Malgasi, save to pass through on the Roads.”

Kel frowned. Had he known that? He could tell from the expressions of

the other Council members that they had not. Shrugging it off, Raspail said, “What about Kutani? If it is only a matter of gold, none has more than they do. And their Princess—”

“Anjelica,” Kel said. He could still see her, or the portrait of her—the pale gold of her eyes, the cloud of her dark hair. “Anjelica Iruvai.”

“Anjelica, yes,” said Raspail, with a snap of his fingers. “Meant to be beautiful. Biddable, too.”

“Are there a lot of trees in Kutani?” Falconet wondered aloud. “Mangroves, I suppose—” He broke off, his eyes widening.

Conor stiffened. The room fell silent. Beside Kel, Mayesh Bensimon was rising slowly to his feet. The nobles followed him. One by one: Esteve, Uzec, Roverge, Montfaucon, Alleyne . . . all but the still-sleeping Gremont. As tradition dictated, they stood and bowed, for King Markus had come into the Dial Chamber, and was regarding them with a curious gaze.

The King. Where Kel often thought Mayesh had not changed in the past twelve years, the King certainly had. He was still a big man, with the arms and chest of a stevedore unloading cargo on the docks, but his face had sagged. Great dark bags hung under his eyes, and his fair hair was streaked with white. His large hands, gloved as always in black, hung empty at his sides.

Beside him stood Master Fausten, his constant companion. He had been the King’s tutor in Favár, years ago, when Markus had fostered at the

Malgasi Court. When the King had moved himself into the Star Tower, he had summoned Fausten to join him in his studies.

Fausten was a small man, with gnarled limbs like an old tree, the result of a childhood illness. He had the dark hair and pale skin common in Malgasi, though most of his hair was gone now, and his bald pate gleamed with the effort of navigating the uneven terrain of Marivent.

Like the King, he was an astronomer, though Kel had always wondered how one could study the stars when one could barely see the masterful fretwork of the sky itself, glittering in silver and gold. He liked to insist that the sun itself was a star, but Kel put that down to his copious consumption of Malgasi brandewine—an evil-tasting mixture of arrack and whiskey.

“Conor, my dear son,” said the King. “And my Council.” His gaze trailed over the nobles, slightly unfocused, as if he were not entirely sure he recognized each one of them. “I was at my studies when I thought—what

was it I thought, Fausten?”

“You spoke of destiny, my King,” said Fausten. He was sweating, clearly uncomfortable in the heavy velvet robes he insisted on wearing. They were midnight blue, and on them the constellations of the sky had been picked out in beads of silver: the Swan, the Crown, and Aigon’s Sword among them. “And of fate.”

The King nodded. “Such meetings as this are foolishness,” he said, indicating the whole of the Dial Chamber with a sweep of one gloved hand. “The stars should be consulted when matters of import lie before us, for that is how the Gods speak to us. Squabbling among ourselves nets us nothing, for we see only a fraction of the path laid out.”

“We do not all have your skill, Highness,” said Mayesh, “in interpreting the will of the stars.”

Conor had gone very still. His face was white, his hands clenched on the arms of his chair. Kel laid a hand on his shoulder; it was rigid as steel under his touch.

“Indeed,” said Montfaucon. “I do not find them very talkative, myself.”

The King turned his unfocused gaze on Montfaucon. “Then you are lucky,” he said. “For when I gaze upon the stars, I see the ruination of Castellane. Marivent, our White Lady, tumbled in the dirt. The Ruta Magna running with blood.”

There was a soft murmur of mild shock, as if Lady Alleyne had whipped off her bodice, but no one seemed particularly alarmed.

The King turned to Mayesh. “All must be done to avert this fate. The stars . . .”

Between his teeth, Conor hissed, “Fausten.

The little man turned anxiously to the King. “My liege,” he said. “We cannot stay. The lunar eclipse tonight, do you recall? When the moon’s light is quenched, much will be revealed. We must prepare the telescopes, that any messages of import are not lost.”

The King seemed to hesitate. Fausten dropped his voice, murmuring in Malgasi. After a few moments, the King nodded and strode from the room. Fausten, picking up his heavy robes, scurried after him like a sheepdog after a wayward member of his flock.

“There you have it,” Conor said, into the ensuing silence. “I will be consulting the stars as regards my future marriage, so there is no further need for discussion on the subject.”

“My lord,” said Kel. He rarely addressed Conor in this way, but the moment called for it. He had withdrawn his hand from Conor’s shoulder, knowing it was a familiarity the Council would look askance at, even from the Prince’s cousin. “King Markus was clearly joking. A bit of humor to lighten the mood. Would you not all agree?”

The assembled nobles murmured in assent, recognizing the escape Kel

was providing, and relieved enough not to mind, for the moment, the source of it.

“Of course,” Conor said. “A joke. My father was being purposefully absurd.”

“Have a care,” Mayesh said in a low voice, but Conor was spinning the tea glass rapidly in his hand, staring at it as if it held the answers his father sought in the stars.

“There are no other matters to discuss, then?” Conor asked, not looking up. The nobles exchanged glances, but not a one spoke. “Before this meeting is adjourned?”

“Well,” said Lady Alleyne. “There is the matter of the Solstice Ball—”

Conor rose abruptly to his feet, green glass sparking in his hand. Kel knew what he was going to do, but had no way to stop it; he flinched as

Conor threw the glass as hard as he could. It sailed past Gremont, striking the wall behind him and smashing there, spraying crystalline fragments.

Antonetta gave a little scream before covering her mouth. Gremont sat up, blinking. “What? Is the meeting over?”

Without another word, Conor stalked out of the room. Frowning, Lady Alleyne said, “That child must learn to curb his temper.”

“That child,” said Kel, “is your Prince, and will one day be your King.”

Lady Alleyne rolled her eyes. Coldly, Roverge said, “The dog barks on behalf of its master. Bark somewhere else, little dog.”

Kel did not answer. The Charter Families were already rising, ready for departure. And it was hardly his place to argue with Roverge, or any of them. He had said too much already; he could see that in Mayesh’s eyes.

He followed Conor out of the room, pausing only to bare his teeth at Roverge as he went. Antonetta watched him anxiously as he went; worried, no doubt, about Conor. Kel could not help but recall what she had said the night before: We can all be made to do things. It simply requires finding the right way to push.

Lin was in the physick garden, kneeling in the dirt beside a foxglove plant. She loved it here—the air was fresh and green with the scent of growing, and the sun illuminated the winding paths through the beds of herbs and flowers. Though maintained by the Women’s House, the contents of the garden were shared with all the Sault. Here grew the medicinal herbs that had been used by Ashkari physicians for generations. Larkspur, asphodel, and foxglove rubbed shoulders with monkshood and laburnum. Jars in the Physicians’ House held that which could not be grown in the Sault: birch and willowbark, ginseng and lotus root.

“I thought I’d find you here.” Lin looked up, shielding her eyes with one hand, to see Chana Dorin looming over her. She wore her usual frayed gray dress, a colorful apron tied around her waist. “I suppose you need to use the kitchen?”

Lin tucked her handful of foxglove leaves into her satchel and rose to her feet. Most physicians in the Sault simply placed orders with the Physicians’

House for the compounds they needed. Lin had discovered early that her requests were often seen to last, or ignored entirely, leaving her short of

medicine. Chana had offered to let her use the kitchen in the Etse Kebeth, the largest in the Sault, to compound her own medicines.

Though she had been angry at first—most physicians did not have to also be their own apothecaries—Lin had discovered an advantage to her situation. It allowed her to experiment, to mix various ingredients together as she tried to create new medicines to treat Mariam. She often thought longingly of what it would be like to have her own laboratory, as the

students at the Academie did—but that was impossible. The kitchen would need to do for now.

“I do,” Lin said. “I found a reference to an old Hindish compound for treating lung inflammation—”

Chana held up a hand. “No need to explain yourself.” She squinted against the sun. “The Goddess Festival is a month away.”

Lin raised her eyebrows. It was not like Chana to make idle observations. “Yes?”

“I hoped you would help me make the sachets for the girls.” The sachets were small bags of herbs, worn around the neck of those women young enough to be considered as potential vessels for the Goddess. The herbs

were for love and luck. Silliness, in Lin’s opinion. “Chana, I’m so busy already—”

Chana held up a hand. “Lin, you know perfectly well everyone in the Sault is meant to assist in preparing for the Tevath.”

“Not the physicians,” Lin said, though she knew many of them did, regardless. The Festival of the Goddess, called the Tevath, was the most important holiday of the year in the Sault. The Ashkar gathered in the Kathot, where the Maharam would recite the story of the Goddess, and of lost Aram. How Queen Adassa snatched life for her people from the jaws of defeat. How she saved for them the magic of gematry, so they could make their amulets and talismans. How she had promised she would one day return in the form of an Ashkari girl.

When she was younger, Lin had loved the Festival, as had Mariam. It was a chance to dress up, to be seen as special for a day—as any girl, and

only a girl, might be the Goddess Returned. It was an opportunity to dance

—the graceful dance taught to every Ashkari girl, performed only at the Festival. The Kathot would be alight with lanterns, magical as a forest from

a Story-Spinner tale, and there would be laughter and wine, music and

loukoum, honey cake and flirting.

Now, though, it was a reminder that the majority of the Sault looked at her as if she were peculiar. “But why would you want to be a physician?” was the question she heard most often from dancing partners. And the question under the question: Was she still planning on having a family?

How could she be a physician and also raise children? Of course she was odd, they would murmur when they thought she couldn’t hear them.

Terrible what had happened to her parents, but there must have been some reason Mayesh Bensimon hadn’t wanted to take the children in. Something wrong with them, perhaps; the girl at least had turned out awfully peculiar.

Lin sighed. “Chana, I wasn’t planning on going.”

“I knew it.” Chana pounced on this information like a pigeon on a breadcrumb. “Lin, that just won’t do. It’s the most important Festival of the year, and the last time you and Mariam will be eligible. The Sault is your home. You cannot withdraw from your people.”

They are the ones who have withdrawn from me. It was more than that, though. When Lin was young, she had always tensed during the part of the Festival when the Maharam spoke the words in the Old Language, words meant to call forth the Goddess. If you are among us, Adassa, show yourself.

She could not recall the moment when she realized that no one truly expected the Goddess to return. That the hush of expectation was only in her own heart. The Festival was in truth a marriage market, parading girls in their finest clothes past unmarried young men in the hope matches would be made.

“Besides,” Chana added, “Mariam has already started working on your dress.”

Lin felt a pang of guilt. She had forgotten to tell Mariam she wasn’t going—well, to be truthful, she’d been avoiding the issue. “I’m trying to get Mariam well,” she said, “which is more important.”

“I am not sure Mariam would agree with you,” Chana said. “She assumes you’re going. She’s even asked me if I think Josit might be back with the

caravans by then.”

Josit. Mariam had come to see him off, months ago, when he’d departed with the Rhadanites for Hind. Lin recalled him leaning down from the

waggon, tucking a curl of hair behind Mariam’s ear. Mariam smiling up at him. Telling him to bring her back fine cotton in every shade of blue. The way the smile had slipped from her face as the caravan disappeared through the gates. Lin had known what Mariam was thinking: Was this the last time she would ever see Josit?

“Don’t try to make me feel guilty about Mariam, Chana,” Lin said, wretched. “I’m working night and day trying to find a cure for her. That’s more important than a dress.”

Chana put her fists on her hips. “That’s the trouble with you, Lin. You’ve stopped seeing Mariam as your friend, your sister. You see her only as a patient. If there was one thing I learned from losing Irit, it is that our loved ones need more from us than doctoring. There are other physicians. Mariam needs her friend.”

The words cut, not least because Chana spoke of Irit so rarely. Lin had often wondered if Chana would seek love again, but she did not seem inclined to it. “Has she said that to you?”

“I know the Festival is important to her. I know she has been tirelessly working on dresses for a dozen girls, and a special one for you. All her energy and thought are going toward it. I know she worries this might be the last Festival she ever sees.”

“But don’t you see?” Lin cried. “Doesn’t that mean I should work even harder on a cure, a treatment?”

“I’m not saying you should stop trying to heal her.” Chana’s voice gentled. “But the mind and the spirit need care, as well as the body. It is good for Mariam to have something she is looking forward to. But if you do not go—” Chana shook her head. “Be her friend, not her healer, for a night. She will be so much happier if you are there.”

And with that, Chana turned on her heel and strode from the garden, her bearing as regal as any noble’s. Lin sat, feeling miserable, in the shadow of the dwarf mulberry tree. She knew what she ought to do: She ought to ask Mariam what she wanted.

Only she was frightened of the answer. What if Mariam wanted Lin to stop searching for a cure? What if she wanted to be left to die in her own

time? Lin didn’t think she could bear that. Lin’s hand tightened at her side; she winced, and realized she was holding Petrov’s stone. She did not

remember having taken it from her pocket, but there it was, cradled in her palm, the shape and feel of it peculiarly calming.

She turned it over. She could not help but be fascinated by it, by the swirl of darkness within it, like smoke rising from a single point and spreading outward to cover the sky. Each time she looked at it, the shapes inside seemed different, seemed to beckon her understanding.

Stop. She slid it back into her pocket with a hard flip of her wrist. That was enough, she told herself. The stone was still Petrov’s; she needed to bring it back to him as soon as she could. Before she got into the habit of using it to comfort herself. Before she no longer could bring herself to return it at all.

Kel found Conor some distance from the tower, in the Queen’s Garden. It had been a gift from Markus to Lilibet upon her arrival at Marivent, a quarter century ago. A long white path of crushed seashells led to a walled green space where the Queen had resettled plants and flowers from Marakand, combining them freely with the local flora: lavender flowers and aster mixed with hyacinth and bird-of-paradise; roses climbed the courtyard walls while tulips the color of pale gold glimmered in the sun.

In the center of the garden was a reflecting pool, tiled with emerald tesserae, like a green eye regarding the sky. Conor stood beside it, staring bleakly at the water. As Kel approached he said, without looking up, “I should not have done that.”

“Done what? Thrown the glass?” Kel asked, coming to stand by Conor’s side. He could see them both reflected in the waters of the pool. Faint

ripples caused by the wind made them indistinct, two slim, dark-haired figures, essentially identical. “You woke up Gremont, which is no bad thing.”

“I fear,” Conor said, “it will not be interpreted as my retaining control over the Council, will it?”

“I cannot predict what the Queen will think. I daresay no one can.”

“Perhaps the stars can,” Conor said darkly. “As, apparently, they know everything, and care about nothing.”

A pause, then, “He is mad,” Conor said, without looking away from the pool. “My father is mad, and if what the surgeons say about madness is

true, I will be mad one day myself.”

Kel did not move. He had heard Conor say this before; the first time had been after the Fire on the Sea. What was meant to be a celebration—the King setting out in the boat covered in flowers to enact the ceremonial

marriage between Castellane and the ocean that sustained it—had ended in fire: the boat in flames, the charcoal-black smoke thickening, hiding the

figure of the King.

Only those standing on the Royal Docks had been close enough to see that the King had made no move to save himself. Jolivet and the Arrow Squadron, diving into the water, had pulled their sovereign from the flaming wreckage. It had been played off as an accident—some in

Castellane believed it to be an assassination attempt—but Kel had heard the King shouting at his guards. You should have let me burn, he’d cried out, kneeling on the Royal Docks as water poured from his thick velvet robes.

As Gasquet raced forward to wrap his charred hands, though, the King did not seem to feel the pain. You should have let the fire take me.

Conor, his wrists and brow wreathed in flowers, had watched, ashen- faced and silent. Since that day, he had said almost nothing of the incident, save in the dead of night, only when he woke screaming from dreams he would not describe. I have lost him, he has gone mad, and one day I will go mad, too, and also be lost.

He was not alone: No one on the Hill spoke of it, though the torches in the Star Tower had been replaced with chemical lamps, and the King had worn black gloves ever since, to conceal the burns on his hands.

“The surgeons are often wrong,” Kel said. “I would not put too much stock in what they believe.”

Conor was silent. He did not need to say: It is not just what they say, but what everyone believes. Madness is inherited through tainted blood. The child of mad parents will also be mad, and pass that poison down through the generations. If it becomes well known that my father is mad, not simply distracted and dreamy, House Aurelian could be in peril.

“Besides,” Kel added. “I would prefer you not go mad, because then I would also have to learn to imitate all the mad things you’d do.”

At that, Conor laughed—a real laugh, not the false one he employed with Montfaucon and the others. His wary stance had relaxed a little—and just in time, Kel thought, for Mayesh had appeared at the garden gate like a

watchful gray crow. Of course, after every Dial Chamber meeting, Lilibet would meet with Jolivet and Bensimon in the Shining Gallery to discuss the proceedings.

Conor rolled his eyes. “I expect he will scold me on the way to the gallery,” he said. “There’s no need for you to come—it will be murderously boring. I believe there’s a gathering at Falconet’s tonight,” he added, turning to follow Mayesh. “Go get drunk. One of us might as well enjoy their evening.”



Once the Sorcerer-Kings had harnessed the power of the Arkhe stones, their abilities grew ever greater. With their new strength, they were able to tame the great creatures of magic, born of the Word: the manticores, the dragons, the phoenixes, were forced to do their bidding. While the people cowered, the Kings and Queens battled, and rivers turned to fire as mountains were hurled across the earth. Still their ambitions grew, and the Sorcerer-Kings stole the magic of

their own magicians—along with their very lives—to absorb their power into the hungry stones. The suffering of the people was enormous, save in one kingdom: the kingdom of Aram.

Tales of the Sorcerer-Kings, Laocantus Aurus Iovit III

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