Wyrren Jadis had once been heir to a duchy, and for an afternoon she had been queen of Marla. Now she is an exile and a scholar, living on the charity of Sebastian del Torlo: ruler of Hael Malstrom and her unrequited love.

Wyrren doesn’t know why anyone would be able to threaten Sebastian in his own palace, but when she sees a guest attack him during a private meeting without recompense, she’s determined to find out why.


10. Chapter 9

The council, bereft of their meeting hall, confiscated a courtroom the next day. Wyrren stood before them as one of several matters to be decided on.

Mr. Kitch headed the proceedings. “Lady Jadis. Your offer of protection was made and maintained by Grand Meister Sebastian del Torlo, is this correct?”

“It is, sir,” Wyrren answered.

“And as Sebastian del Torlo is no longer Grand Meister of our nation, and due to the problems housing you will place on palace security, I’m going to have to rescind this offer,” Kitch said, “unless you strike a better deal, Lady Jadis. I cannot defend you from Marlan assassins, and I do not want to make the king de Marla angry. I will not deport you south, but you can not live under our charity or protection any longer.”

“I understand, sir,” Wyrren said. “And I thank you. I would appreciate it if you extended your hospitality, however, long enough for my women to pack our things and find new accommodations.”

One of the councilmen whispered to another. Kitch nodded. “Granted. You have a week. Then you must be gone. The furnishings and everything in the room before you came will stay.”

“Agreed,” Wyrren said. “Thank you for your time.” She curtsied and left the floor as the council dismissed her. The next man in line moved up.

The seats and benches were mostly filled in the courtroom. Wyrren scanned the room until she found what she was looking for: a group of a dozen women sitting together. Wyrren started for them, asked a spectator to pardon her, and maneuvered to the bench where Kartania Reise sat.

Kartania had been resting her chin in her hands. She looked up when Wyrren approached. “What do you want, Jadis?”

“I have a letter for you,” Wyrren said, and pulled the envelope out of her bag. She placed it in Kartania’s waiting hand. “Also, I would like to apologize. This must have been a terrible week for you, and… I had a hand in it. I am so sorry, Kartania. It was never my goal to hurt you.”

“Really?” Kartania asked, raising an eyebrow. “What were you trying to do, exactly?”

“I had overheard Edward threatening Sebastian early in the week,” Wyrren said. “Initially I was trying to spy on him.”

“And after?”

“After… would you have refused the man you loved for the sake of politesse, if he’d changed his mind?” Wyrren asked. “For an arranged match?”

“Never,” Kartania said.

“Neither could I.” Wyrren shrugged. It wasn’t a trait she was proud of, but if she had to do it all over again… well, she would have followed Ana’s advice sooner, and then none of this would have happened. “Good day, Lady Reise.”

“Wait,” Kartania said. Wyrren turned back. “Why didn’t you come to me, if Edward was out of line? I wouldn’t have let anything hurt Sebastian. Certainly not my own escort.”

“You broke my nose.”

Several of the Doppel girls began giggling. Kartania raised an eyebrow. “You were asking for it.”

“I was,” Wyrren agreed. “In Marla, we would have said insulting things and vague threats, then gone off to do something underhanded.”

“Telling me you were having an affair is underhanded?”

“I was kicked out of Marla for a reason,” Wyrren said.

Kartania wasn’t laughing. She crossed her arms, twisted her mouth to the side, and gave Wyrren a good, long look. “Fine. You’re forgiven. But only because you faced me honestly at the end. If you ever go to Doppel, I won’t crush your skull with a mace.”

Wyrren wasn’t sure if she was supposed to find this reassuring, but that was probably the best she would get out of Kartania. She thanked them and excused herself.

<We have a week to move out,> Wyrren sent to Ana.

<Because that was just so much to ask for,> Ana returned.

<Did you get the items I asked?> Wyrren asked.

<Everything,> Ana said. <Though moving Lowar out took some work, and I needed Verrus’ help to raid Sebastian’s office. So we have a liability again.> Ana paused. <Do we really need to leave Valdenemus, Wyrren? I like it here. I have an enormous wardrobe now. I’ll have to travel with a cart just to hold all my things.>

<I’m afraid so,> Wyrren agreed. <But change… change can be good. It helps you figure out what’s important.>


Outside, trees bearing tiny yellow-green leaves swayed in the wind. The afternoon sun shone down on the city below Wyrren. The river winding through the city sparkled. Flowers of all colors bloomed around the city.

Wyrren saw Saffira tailing her out of the corner of her eye, and paid her no mind. Wyrren went into the city and bought a newspaper, went across town to the university, and had a word with her math professor. She gave him back his textbooks and thanked him for taking the time to teach her, but she might be leaving the city soon, and she formally withdrew from his class. He shook her hand and wished her well.

At the riverfront, people hawked their wares—fireworks for the big finale, the very last day of the blinkerbug festival. They promised it would be spectacular, and people bought bags of them to set off that night. Wyrren passed merchants selling masks, dresses, perfumes, costumes. Wyrren bought a meat pie, and ate it with one hand, dabbing her lips with a napkin. Some still stared, and always would. She ignored them.

She would miss this city.

At sundown she was escorted by a prison guard through the underbelly of the palace. He checked the things in her bag, and when he was satisfied he unlocked a cell door and let her inside.

The cell had been partitioned by bars. On the other side Wyrren saw a table and chair, a bed, a toilet, and an illusionary window that showed the darkening sky outside. The blinkerbugs were beginning to stir and flash. A man reclined on the bed, and he rose when she approached.

“Gideon,” Wyrren said.

Gideon smiled and put his face between the bars. “Evening, Wyrren,” he said.

Wyrren pecked his lips. Gideon grabbed her arm and drew her back for a longer kiss, and they hugged through the bars. It made the guard jumpy.

Wyrren gave Gideon the newspaper, then slipped a meat pie through the food slot in the door. Wyrren had no stool, so she sat on the floor beside him while he ate.

“Ana’s gotten your diary,” Wyrren said. “Edward’s things were confiscated, but they didn’t find his books, or his case of winnings from that chess match. Sebastian’s glasses with the blue lenses are missing as well.” And by ‘missing’, she meant that Ana had stolen them all and stuffed the lot under Wyrren’s bed. Wyrren would be using the next week to smuggle Gideon’s inheritance out of the palace. “I delivered your apology to Kartania, and she promised not to try to kill me. We’re still not sure what the council means to do with you, though. Execution isn’t out of the question.”

Gideon gave a sharp laugh. “Idiots.”

“Folk tales don’t appear every day. Not even in Hael Malstrom,” Wyrren reminded him. “The murder are out of a job, of course. The council are keeping them in the palace for now, but they don’t know what they’ll be doing, either.”

“Perhaps we can take them with us,” Gideon said.

“Do you know where you want to go?” Wyrren asked.

“After I break out?” Gideon’s fork went still as he considered. “The white cliffs along the Attican coast. The ruins along the Tameric River. The Rikewell Sea, the tanomanmer’s jungle beyond that. There are so many places I want you to see.”

“I expect you’ve been to them all.”

“Many times,” Gideon said. He put his dinner aside and took her hand through the bars. “I need you, you know. I don’t know if I can get my mortality back on my own.”

“I know,” Wyrren said. “You always have been your own worst enemy.” She leaned her head against the bars, felt the steel against her cheek. “I’ll be here for you. As long as I can.” And it wouldn’t be easy, Wyrren knew. And her lifetime might not be enough, and his mind was so fragile after all these years. She would have to find a way.

They sat together on the prison floor and watched fireworks hand in hand.

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