“The man who sleeps with virtue finds the bed has no room for a third.”
– Proceran saying
“Fuck,” I said.
Ever eloquent in times of trouble, that was me.
“I thought that might be your reaction,” Masego noted.
I closed my eyes. Was there anything we could do about this? I wasn’t exactly overjoyed at the prospect of the elves getting their paws on the crown of Spring, assuming they hadn’t already. On the other hand, I couldn’t think of anything the Grand Alliance needed less right now than picking a fight with a power as strong as the Golden Bloom. I didn’t know anywhere near enough to be sure what to think about this. What did they want the crown for, how important was it to them? A decision on that scale couldn’t be made without at least a solid guess at the answers to those questions, and it wouldn’t be made by me alone anyway.
“Right,” I said, opening my eyes. “I need you to keep digging into this, Hierophant. It’s higher priority than Quartered Seasons, as least for the next few days.”
The ritual wouldn’t be happening anytime soon anyway: I doubted the First Prince would accept even the slightest unnecessary risk to the countryside of Procer. Not when the timeline to stacking the odds in our favour as much as possible was perfectly acceptable from a strategic view.
“There are limits to what I can accomplish,” Masego said.
“I want you to find out if they already have the Spring crown,” I said. “And at least check on the ritual sites, to guess at how much force they’ve actually deployed out there.”
Likely on Proceran territory, too, not that elves tended to be particularly concerned with any borders save their own. But of I was going to have to break it to Cordelia Hasenbach that the Forever King had sent agents into the Principate, I’d prefer to at least like to have some estimates to offer her about how many of those there were.
“The latter I can assure, if not the former,” Zeze said, pushing back one of his elaborate braids. “They’re likely to resist my probing attempts, however.”
The implied question there was, in essence, about how insistent he was allowed to be in the face of that resistance.
“Don’t harm anyone,” I said. “Try to avoid damage, if you can, and whatever you do avoid starting a fight. Other than that, you’re free to use whatever means you want.”
“It ought to be an interesting intellectual exercise, at least,” Masego mused. “The nature of their defences is unique, which will force a degree of unorthodoxy to my approach.”
“I’m sure you’ll figure something out,” I said, meaning every word.
I cleared my throat, after, hesitant to speak what I wanted to say.
“I don’t need to tell you to stay safe, do I?” I eventually asked.
“I’ll take precautions, Catherine, there is no need to worry,” Masego said.
“We might have other ways to get to that information,” I reminded him. “You, on the other hand, can’t be replaced.”
“I am fond of you as well, Cat,” the blind man easily replied. “Now do be off. I’ll not have you hovering about as I work, your presence alone is enough to disturb all my precision instruments.”
Probably true, though that didn’t mean that he wasn’t just itching to get me out of here just so he could get started on the latest challenging task I’d presented him.
“Take care, Zeze,” I quietly said.
To my surprise he placed a hand on my shoulder, if only fleetingly.
“And you as well,” Masego seriously said. “Hakram is wounded but you are not alone. We are here if you need us.”
I breathed out, since I was a grown woman and getting moist eyes over something this simple would be a little shameful. I left before another burst of that disarming earnestness could scrape me even more raw, returning to the cold halls of the Arsenal and the ever-increasing amount of troubles awaiting me.
When I went to relieve Indrani from her watch over Hakram’s bedside it was past Noon Bell, so I returned her earlier kindness and brought a meal with me.
Pork with garlic sauce, a loaf of brown bread and a large saucer of some strange mix of oil, vinegar and olives. They were all Arlesite staples, the mixture in the saucer meant for the bread to be dipped in, and I’d grabbed a pair of apples to round the meal out. Archer was carefully carving an arrow when I entered, eyes on the wood and the knife in her hand carefully precise. Back in Callow this sort of work tended to be done out of logs with an eye to making many and quickly, but Indrani was rather more discerning with her own arrows: she picked the branches herself, when she could, and saw to their carving personally. Considering the rarity of some of the woods she used, that was only to be expected. She tended to treat mass-made arrows with the same disdain Masego reserved for massed Legion sorcery, and for much the same reasons.
“I get to be served by a queen,” Indrani bragged, even as I began unpacking the meal. “How many people can boast that, I wonder?”
Out of petty spite, I left her half of the meal on the table and only arranged mine on a plate. I offered her a pretty smile.
“Not you, for one,” I sweetly said, and sat down with plate.
Huh, I’d been skeptical about the oil and vinegar but it was actually pretty good. Made the brown bread better than butter would have, for sure, and while I wouldn’t trust Procerans to make a halfway decent stew they were admittedly good at roasts like the pork one.
“You’re a terrible friend,” Indrani complained, rising to her feet.
“You taught me well,” I agreed.
She helped herself to her meal with a snort, the two of us settling comfortably in our seats. We were both hungry enough that conversation waited until we’d polished off our meals, though even as I tore into the pork I found my eyes drifting to Hakram’s unconscious body. I missed him even more sharply now that I needed advice. Him and Akua, I was forced to admit, as I’d come to rely on the two of them quite a bit in Hainaut. Bringing Akua Sahelian into the Arsenal would have been ill-advised, though, and not just because it’d strip the Hainaut front of its sole high calibre spellcaster – it’d been as much the number of heroes awaiting here and the rulers I’d be meeting as the strategic considerations that’d guided my decision.
“You look glum again,” Indrani said, licking the garlic sauce off her fingers.
“Quartered Seasons had a major breakthrough,” I admitted. “But it’s also looking very likely that the elves are trying for a fae crown.”
She let out a lot whistle.
“A nasty people, the elves,” Archer opined. “They never came after Ranger while I was in Refuge, but about a decade earlier a few of the Emerald Swords tried to ambush her in Bayeux.”
The Emerald Swords, huh? Hadn’t ever really given those any thought, to be honest. Their strength was quite literally legend, though there were rumoured to be no more than ten. Each was supposed to be worth a small army, the Forever King’s blunt instruments in eradicating what he could not stand. They supposedly rarely left the Golden Bloom, like most elves.
“I don’t know what they want the crown for, but it worries me,” I admitted.
“Also irks you something fierce, I’d wager,” Indrani smiled. “They’re scavenging power they had no hand in laying low.”
I did not answer, looking away. She wasn’t wrong. That the Forever King thought he could sit out the war against the Dead King and use the chaos to go grabbing mantles of power while we were busy fighting for Calernia’s survival was not endearing the man to me. If the elves had played a role in the end of the old Courts of Arcadia I would have kept my mouth shut, but they were just being opportunistic vultures.
“We can’t afford to push the Golden Bloom too far,” I reluctantly said. “They could make keeping what we still hold in Hainaut a nightmare with little effort and if they send out the Emerald Swords we’d have to pull our best fighting Named from the fronts to be able to handle them.”
“I figure the prick out in the Bloom thinks the same, Cat,” Indrani said. “Remember, the Dead King made their king’s son into a Revenant that you put down at Third Liesse. There’s no love there, and the elves have to know that if the screw with the Alliance too much they’re helping along ‘Ol Bones.”
“They’re elves, Indrani,” I said. “Their take on foreign policy is shooting even the birds that come within a mile of their forest. I’m not saying they’re idiots, but I’m honestly not convinced the Forever King wouldn’t be in favour of a few million uppity humans being eaten before the Hidden Horror is driven back.”
“They haven’t brought their lands back into Creation, so maybe you’re right,” Archer said. “Mind you, there’s at least one upside to that.”
My brow rose questioningly. I couldn’t really see one, to be honest. The Grand Alliance had neither the leverage nor the strength to spare to do anything about this, while just letting it happen seemed like a mistake.
“Might be Duchess Kegan won’t be so eager for Daoine to go independent, when she hears about this,” Indrani said. “Elves were bad enough on their own, but elves with a godhead? I don’t care how large the Watch gets, it’ll be like fielding as shield wall of goblins against a pack of ogres.”
I mulled on that a moment, even as I chewed on the bread. The Deoraithe were masters of defensive and irregular warfare, but as a rule they tended to be weaker on the offence. Restraint and their isolationist streak had still earned them an impressive military reputation, but the era where a duchy’s army could stand up to those of the greater powers of Calernia was coming to an end. The Conquest had proved that massed mages and siege engines combined with heavy infantry could crush armies in the mould of the Old Kingdom’s, and the rest of Calernia hadn’t lain asleep in the decades that followed. Procer had fielded large units of priests and mages with its field armies during the Tenth Crusade, a significant departure from their old way of making war, and the years of fighting against Keter were further refining their methods.
Even the Dominion was starting to change its doctrine, using its limited numbers of Lanterns and Binders to crack open enemy lines much in the same way that the Legions of Terror used scorpions and goblin munitions.
That was the death knell of Daoine’s military relevance, whether Duchess Kegan realized it or not. Putting together the Army of Callow had taught me how damned expensive an army of that kind was to raise and keep in fighting fit, and it simply wasn’t a financial burden that the Duchy of Daoine’s revenues was capable of supporting. The Watch were devils on the field, and arguably some of the finest foot on Calernia, but you couldn’t win a war with them. House Iarsmai’s historical military prudence was, at least in part, flowing from that realization. The issue was that, when everybody’s military doctrine was done with its growing pains in twenty years, the Watch wouldn’t even allow Daoine to win battles. Throw in that the enemy whose destruction was at the heart of their culture might raise its ruler to a form of lesser godhood, and Indrani could very well be correct.
The Grand Duchy of Daoine might just find the world outside a lot colder than expected, after leaving the Kingdom of Callow’s protective embrace.
“If we can keep Daoine in the fold I won’t complain,” I said. “Though that should be Vivienne’s situation to handle, in the end.”
If we weren’t all dead, by then I was likely to have abdicated. Besides, if Vivienne could begin her reign with the diplomatic feather in her cap of having kept the Deoraithe part of the kingdom she’d have an easier run of things going forward. I’d taught the last remains of Callowan nobility the dangers of trying to go against a popular queen backed by a powerful royal army.
“She seems to have a handle on things so far,” Indrani shrugged. “And if we win against the Hidden Horror, it’ll be a long time before the shine of that wears off. Hells, we might actually get a few decades of peace.”
I was not nearly so optimistic. Too many parts of Calernia had only heard of the Dead King without ever catching sight of his armies or his monsters. The League of Free Cities hadn’t even bothered to stop warring against itself as thousands of soldiers from an large coalition died to hold the defences to the north, and Praes was knee-deep in a civil war being prosecuted at what I could only call a languid pace. The rulers who’d seen the worst of the war would come out of it reluctant to war against those who’d been their comrades in the face of annihilation, but that’d only go so far. One of my hopes was that the construction of Cardinal would sap interest in resuming old skirmishes, given the many opportunities it represented, and that the city-state’s territory would serve to settle at least some of the people whose lives had been upended by the wars.
“We’ll see,” I replied. “Even the peace years ought to be quite a ride, after a war like this one.”
The afternoon passed slowly, after that, as the two of us sat and talked. Several messengers came to find me over the following bell, as I’d made it clear that the infirmary would be where I stayed, but there was nothing truly urgent to see to. Some concerns about the current tonnage of water that my rank obligated the stewards to inform me about, then a bold request for funding by a Proceran mage that I sent to Roland after skimming and finding the idea worth investigation. The closest thing to a crisis came an hour before Evening Bell, when I was informed that someone had been caught trying to enter one of the restricted zones of the Arsenal. It turned out to be a young couple trying to sneak off for a tryst, and I was informed they were very apologetic when they learned they’d triggered an alarm ward in their attempt to find a dark corner.
Their pays were docked, and in a fit of mercy I spared the two men the necessity of having to explain themselves to me in person. I sent written note warning that a repetition of the mistake would see them suspected of espionage, which should have them thinking twice about where they sneaking off.
“You’re enjoying this,” Indrani accused, afterwards.
My lips twitched treacherous.
“It’s been a long time since I was asked to weigh in on things so…” I trailed off.
“Easy?” she suggested.
“Straightforward,” I corrected. “The lower stakes are a relief.”
The knowledge that the worse I courted if I made a mistake was passing embarrassment instead of the usual lives lost by the hundred. I enjoyed the calm all the more for the knowledge it was soon to come to an end. While the Arsenal might be its own little hermit kingdom, isolated from much that went on beyond its walls, the broader world was coming towards it. Tomorrow would bring the First Prince and the White Knight, and with them a great many troubles that for now still seemed on the horizon. The Painted Knife was nearing, too, and the envoys of the Titanomachy. Any of those visits would have been an event, but all of them in swift succession promised to be more of a circus. While I lost myself in thought, Indrani groaned and rose to her feet.
“Headed somewhere?” I asked.
“Having supper with Masego,” she said. “You’re welcome to come along but I’ll be carving and he’ll be reading.”
“When you put it like that, how could I resist,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Go on, have fun.”
It left a strange taste in my mouth to say that. It wasn’t jealousy, it’d essentially be the same as getting jealous Vivienne was having dinner with Hakram, but it was… odd. The ease she’d said that with, the way she’d not needed to check he’d be there or even just inclined to have dinner with her – all those things spoke of a habit. It wasn’t the first time they were doing it, and they’d been doing it for long enough they considered it a given it’d happen. It was oddly domestic, given who they were. I waved out Indrani, and idly wondered if perhaps I was a little jealous after all. Not of either of them, but perhaps of what they had. It’d been a long time since I’d had that level of intimacy with someone.
Not since Kilian.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted that, and I knew I simply didn’t have the time to afford something like it these days. Yet the easy way that Indrani had displayed a sort of intimacy I’d have not believed her capable of when we first met had me uneasy. My friends were changing and making lives for themselves while I swung my sword at the world trying to make it a little more like I wanted. My eyes moved to Hakram’s, his chest rising and falling in steady rhythm as the spell took care of keeping his lungs going. Sometimes the changes weren’t for the best. A knock on the door – too respectful to be Archer’s – caught my attention and I invited in the messenger. A report from the captain of the garrison, I noted with a raised brow, and one that bore his official seal.
I cracked it open and as I scanned the lines I had to forcefully keep my fingers from clenching. The Mirror Knight had tried to enter the Red Axe’s cell, insisting even when the guards refused to let him in. It’d come close to violence before he walked away. I folded the parchment, ignoring the messenger’s nervous gaze. Someone had informed Christophe de Pavanie that I’d gone to speak with the Red Axe with Prince Frederic, I decided. This was not a coincidence. It also meant the Mirror Knight had friends within these walls that were willing to stretch the bounds of propriety to help him. I put away the parchment and dismissed the messenger without sending an answer to the report. I’d been warned of the incident, and since it’d not come to violence for now there was little I could do.
Not, that wasn’t true. There were more than a few things I could do, but there was nothing I should do. At this point, overreaching would be dangerous. Restraint now could be used later to make the point to the White Knight that I’d tried patience only to find it ever more stringently tested.
Restless at the inaction, I rose to my feet and after patting Hakram’s shoulder took to the halls. I had no precise destination in mind, though that parchment was burning a hole in pocket. I’d not been the only one to go to speak with the Red Axe, I considered. Maybe I should mention this to the Prince of Brus as well. I’d already been headed vaguely in the direction of the Alcazar, anyway. Halfway there I forced myself to admit that I wasn’t going there to tell him about that report, or at least not only that. It’d do me no good to pretend otherwise. There were risks, although it wouldn’t be difficult to weave an illusion around myself that’d ensure I wasn’t seen going there. And if I was going to do this, which the way my teeth were worrying at my lip were telling me I was, then now would be the time. Before Hasenbach got here and the Arsenal was swarmed with guards and watching eyes.
I felt myself reach for the Night, beginning to weave an illusion, and admitted to myself I’d already made my choice.
I made sure to be seen returning to my rooms before backtracking under veil of Night, remembering the way to the Prince of Brus’ quarters well enough from the last time I’d visited. If I’d been a few years younger I might have hesitated before knocking on the door, but in that sense Indrani had been good for me. A few moments passed and I felt a little like a fool. He might not be there at all, given that it was not so late. Perhaps it might be better if I left. Then the door was cracked open and Frederic Goethal curiously looked out, blue eyes slightly widening in surprise as he saw me. His blond locks were slightly dishevelled, and above the belt he wore only a loosely buttoned white cotton shirt that did nothing to hide the kind of muscles that came only from a warrior’s life.
“May I come in?” I asked, doing nothing at all to hide the way I was looking at him.
Frederic of Brus’s eyes darkened with something that I was rather looking forward to seeing unleashed.
“Please do,” he replied.
The door closed hurriedly behind me and I came closer, noting he was just tall enough I had to lean up to kiss him. His hand found my hip, but it was my lips that found his in a soft, tentative kiss as I tiptoed upwards. A brief thing, and I withdrew to find his eyes still closed.
“You’ll do,” I decided, pushing him back against the wall.
There was nothing tentative at all about what followed.
I woke up not long past Midnight Bell, pleasurably spent and sweaty. Frederic, still deliciously naked under the twisted-up sheets, was still asleep at my side. It’d be a mistake to spend the night, given the risk of being seen, so reluctantly I wriggled out of his embrace and sat up on the bed. It was enough to wake him and he stretched out in a way that pleasantly captured my interest for a few moments. Getting my hands on his body had done nothing to damper my appreciation for it. Much the opposite, as it happened.
“Restless or leaving?” he asked, voice still husky from sleep.
“Leaving,” I said. “As soon as I can find my clothes, anyway.”
Where they’d ended up had not been a priority around the time I was taking them off.
“How soon you dispose of me,” Frederic teased. “Did I disappoint?”
“I was vocal enough with my opinion you shouldn’t need to fish for compliments,” I drily said.
“One enjoys hearing those anyway,” he grinned.
It’d been a while since I’d been with a man, but I’d definitely enjoyed returning to that brand of diversion. Thinking of it was enough to stir my interest again.
“Considering you’re Alamans, I expect I won’t have to mention that this is best kept under wraps,” I said.
He looked rather amused.
“This is hardly my first tryst, though it has certainly been a… vividly memorable one,” Frederic said, sitting up in the bed as well. “I understand that some passions are meant to remain discreet. I’ll not moon after you like a green boy either, if that is your worry.”
“I’d tolerate a bit of mooning,” I grinned. “It’d be rather flattering. But only a bit.”
“I’ll see what I can arrange,” he quietly laughed.
It really was shame it’d be genuinely terrible politics for even the suspicion of an affair between us to fall on either, I mused. I’d have thoroughly enjoyed more than one visit to this bed. Safer to cut this after one night, though, I knew. I’d taken risks enough already. On the other hand, I mused as I tossed aside the sheets and pushed him back against the headboard and got on top of him, the night wasn’t quite over yet.
“One more for the road,” I suggested.
The gasp that followed was not one of disagreement.
The following day, the First Prince and her escort arrived several hours before the White Knight and still Hanno set foot in the Arsenal before Cordelia Hasenbach.
With the wards back in order scrying relays to Creation had been established again, so the Procerans had known in advance that we’d had not only a fae incursion but several demons running loose not so long ago. Considering that the First Prince would be a great deal easier to kill than Hanno and the that magnitude of the political crisis that’d followed would be… significant, I’d not been offended when her personal guards had not taken me to my word when I’d told them the Arsenal was secure. A company of mages and soldiers had swept through the attainted areas with a fine comb, though I doubted that any mundane mage out of the Principate would able to catch something that the likes of Masego or Roland hadn’t.
While I debated heading to the Arcadian waystation where the First Prince was awaiting the word to go on ahead from her people, I ultimately decided against it. Hasenbach liked her ceremony, and I might as well ensure I had her in as pleasant a mood as I could before the negotiations started. There was precious little of what I wanted to discuss with her that could be spoken about in such a public place, anyway. To my disappointment I learned that Vivienne would only be arriving tomorrow, having been slowed on the march by sudden rains that’d flooded the roads, but I’d lived without seeing her for several months already. A day more or less wouldn’t make much of a difference.
Besides, I kept busy: while security was an issue for Hasenbach the White Knight breezed right past her after a few greetings and proceeded straight into the Arsenal. I dragged Archer with me to watch my back, leaving as a lookout as I limped my way down a long set of stairs. The White Knight came out of the translocation ritual in the same wide room where the Mirror Knight had nearly drawn on me less than a week ago, a single mage in Arsenal livery at his side. Hanno looked tired, eyes pulled tight, and was leading his horse by the reins. He’d ridden hard, I decided, after hearing about the attack. Even odds he’d even ridden through the night on the last stretch, for him to be visibly tired: it wasn’t something that came easy, in Named of his calibre.
“Black Queen,” he greeted me.
“White Knight,” I replied. “I’m pleased you came quickly.”
“I can only wish I’d been there when the attack happened,” Hanno frankly said. “None of the affairs that kept me from travelling with you were even near important enough, seen in retrospective.”
“Hindsight’s no cure for bad luck,” I shrugged.
A sharp whistle sounded from the heights above, a sign from Archer we were about to have company. Indrani wouldn’t have bothered for guards or diplomats, which meant Named.
“I’d wager that’s my latest headache trudging towards us,” I said. “I tried my hand at handling it and failed, White Knight, so it’ll be yours to deal with.”
Hanno’s brow rose.
“I thank you for your assistance,” he said, turning to offer the mage a smile.
She blushed, much to my amusement, and replied by espousing the virtues of duty before scurrying away. However nicely phrased, it’d very much been a dismissal. I eyed him speculatively. Heroes tended to be popular with women – and men, when so inclined – but I’d never know him to keep company. I didn’t believe him to be like Masego, disinclined towards the act, but neither did I believe him so discreet he would have been able to keep a bedmate quiet.
“I received some interesting missives from the First Prince, when I passed by a scrying relay yesterday,” Hanno said. “Including a subtle but rather firm request that I take Christophe of Pavanie ‘in hand’. I’ve rarely known you to be in such swift accord with Cordelia Hasenbach, Catherine.”
Well now, wasn’t that interesting? Frederic hadn’t been exaggerating when he’d said that the First Prince saw the Mirror Knight as a potential threat because of his closeness – and occasional nakedness – with the House of Langevin. If she was willing to start putting pressure on the White Knight to intervene before he’d even gotten to the Arsenal, then she was serious about curbing dear Christophe. While I’d only extend so much trust to Cordelia over much of anything, I was rather pleased at the notion that for once she might be entirely on my side – if largely for her own reasons.
“He still has the sword, and now he’s making demands,” I grunted.
“I’ve never known him to be prone to overstepping, only clumsy in expressing himself,” the White Knight calmly said. “As for the Severance, while it should be temporarily returned to the Arsenal I can see no better wielder for it.”
I could think of several, including the very man speaking to me. Those two had shared a front in Cleves, I recalled, before the Salian Peace and Callow joining the Grand Alliance. There might be a degree of trust there, the sort earned in battle. It didn’t worry me overmuch, in truth, considering that Hanno was remarkably clear-eyed when it came to most things. Still, a warning was in order.
“Be careful with him,” I said. “I don’t think you’ll find him all that pliable.”
“Pliable is something a lord wants in a vassal,” Hanno said. “I am not one, nor he the other. All I need of him is reason and a willing ear, neither of which he’s ever failed to offer.”
Our little chat was interrupted by armoured boots on stone as the Mirror Knight, in full armour and with the Severance at his hip, briskly began to make his way down the stairs. Looking rather uncomfortable and noticeably unarmed, the Blade of Mercy followed behind him. Christophe de Pavanie’s green gaze was distinctly unfriendly as he took in my presence, though it stopped short of a glare and he began to pointedly ignore my presence. The boy at his side looked away from me when I glanced.
“White Knight,” the Mirror Knight began the moment his boots reached the bottom of the stairs. “Your presence gladdens me.”
A long moment of silence followed when Hanno did not reply. The White Knight eventually cocked his head to the side.
“I had assumed,” Hanno slowly said, “that you were not done in your greetings. Was I incorrect?”
Huh. I threw him an appreciative glance for that even as Christophe’s cheeks reddened.
“Wouldn’t be the first lack of manners from him,” I idly said. “I doubt it’ll be the last. We’ll speak later, White Knight.”
“Until later then, Queen Catherine,” Hanno replied with a slight bow.
I began to limp away, without further ado, and though the Mirror Knight began to say something that might have been a belated greeting I did not turn to hear it or bother to lend an ear. I was almost hoping he tried to pull something of the sort in front of Proceran diplomats, who’d be genuinely appalled at the sight. They were known to be polite to even people they despised, after all. Archer was awaiting at the top of the stairs, leaning against a wall. She’d kept the room below in sight the whole time, taking her duty of watching my back just as seriously in this place as she had in the tunnels of the Everdark. Different dangers here, perhaps, but barely fewer.
“So?” I asked as she pushed off.
“They were hurrying,” Indrani said. “So they weren’t just coming to greet Shiny Boots, I’d bet.”
That soured the pleasant mood the night’s exertions had left me in, even after this little interlude. They’d hurried because they’d heard I myself was there to receive Hanno, then. For them to have been forewarned, it meant they had more friends in the Arsenal than I’d hoped they would have. Not necessarily Named, as the Mirror Knight’s slaying of no less than seven demons had earned him a great deal of admiration with soldiers and mages from the rank and file, but I wouldn’t dismiss the notion outright either.
“With Hasenbach joining us tonight the number of soldiers in here will swell,” I said. “We’ll be able to spare some for more private duties. Reach out to Lieutenant Inger, Archer. I require some eyes.”
With the First Prince’s arrival, I finally had a pretext to meddle with the garrison without raising an eyebrow – given that Hasenbach would have a soldier escort of her own, it’d raise no eyebrows if I arranged one for myself out of garrison troops. I didn’t intend to use mine guarding doors, though. I wanted to know who the Mirror Knight would speak with, and when. It would be imprudent to begin acting on anything before making sure how much support he had, exactly.
“I’ll take care of it,” Indrani said, pushing off the wall. “While you were down there a messenger came by for you, though. I took the message for you.”
She fished out of her coat a small folded parchment, handing it over.
“And what’s inside?” I asked.
Neither of us bothered to pretend she wouldn’t have opened that without the slightest hint of hesitation.
“The First Prince of Procer is inviting you to dinner,” Indrani said, waggling her eyebrows lasciviously.
Considering I could no longer claim to have never slept with Proceran royalty, answering that insinuation with even mock indignation would have, uh, weaker foundation than I might be used to.
“Well,” I said, “I suppose I’m about due to have an exquisite meal spoiled by politics.”