Iaondrin made sure to drink the mint tea well before she boarded, and told herself not to let her anxiety about the nausea actually cause it. It helped enough that she could actually keep down water and bread for the trip to Halveet, and could stand on the deck and enjoy the warm breeze without doubling over. “This is never going to be my preferred method of travel,” she said as they disembarked in Halveet, “but this was bearable.”
“And look, nothing on my boots,” Bryan smiled. Bryan found himself still getting used to wearing his weapons again. Her hand was warm in his as they walked easily through the crowd and to the Library where he asked to see Scholar McCluskey.
The clerk they spoke to at the front desk did not ask their names, nor did he recognize them, and simply gave them directions and told them to go directly to the rooms McCluskey oversaw. “Maybe your celebrity is wearing off,” Iaondrin muttered under her breath. “Fame can be so fleeting.” Not that she minded – there was a pleasing anonymity in being in a much larger city, and with a scarf over her hair (she did not care to waste a potion of work a weaving to disguise herself), she could walk through the Libraries without drawing attention to herself.
“I’m just as happy,” he said. “I only want to see McClusky, not get dragged into some research project.” He led her through the rows of shelves and past rooms, up steps, some of it seeming almost familiar, before they got to the right rooms. “Hello, Scholar,” he said when he spied her.
She looked up in surprise from the books she was reshelving and blinked, as if taking a moment to realize who it was. “Vermillion.” Then her eyes moved to Iaondrin, and widened in even greater surprise. “Lady A’nari.” She looked for a flat surface where she could set the books she was still holding. “Please, come in. Rasmun will be quite chagrined he missed you. He’s on his way to Hatham to examine the Beennocken.”
“It’s Bryan, and Iaondrin,” he offered. “Vermillion is for when I am working. And Iaondrin is…,” he looked to her for a moment, “uncomfortable with the title. I didn’t want you to be cross with me, so I figured we’d better come see you finally.”
“Yes, I can imagine you fear my being cross with you,” she retorted drily. “Bryan and Iaondrin it is, then. And you can call me Fran.” She waved them to a couch in a seating area of one of the rooms. “I can have tea brought, but I also have a bottle of excellent Fifth Redding whiskey that a friend sent to me last week. If either of you is a whiskey-drinker, that is,” she continued hopefully. “I hate to drink alone.”
”’Fraid I’m not. Tea will be fine for me.” Bryan looked to Iaondrin as he helped her sit on the couch before joining her there.
“I’ll try the whiskey,” Iaondrin answered. “Just one.” She wasn’t sure her stomach would weather even that, but one did not pass up an “excellent Fifth Redding whiskey” when it was offered to you. The answer brought a pleased smile from McCluskey, who left them alone long enough to send a student for tea and to carry back the bottle and two small glasses. Bryan watched the two women study the label, fill the glasses and then examine the liquid before tasting it. They both pronounced it worthy by the time the tea and sandwiches arrived.
“What would you like to talk about first?” McCluskey asked. She sat back with her glass in one hand and raised an eyebrow in Bryan’s direction.
“Any more information on those creatures I asked you about? I realize it’s barely been a week since you sent the letter that brought us here, but still…” He took a sip from his tea.
“Not much, no. There seems to have been nothing more in Helve after Ginevra and Locopo were killed, nor anything else in Darilei. I’ve sent word to the Libraries’ affiliates in Helve, to see if anyone can find some connection between the two Lords killed there and the young man in Darilei, but have no response yet.” She sipped at the whiskey, savoring it. “The taxonomy debate continues apace. I’ll confess to curiosity – did you come across such a creature in your travels north?”
“No,” he answered simply, then looked at Iaondrin for a moment. “We know all about Darilei, and that isn’t connected to Helve. More reports from Darilei will probably show that there was a red-haired young Shal woman present at the time of the attack.” He watched Fran’s eyes move to Iaondrin, saw the thoughts forming. “Fran, some of the things we might say, and things that you will figure out… it would be better if they didn’t become common knowledge for a while. Not that Iaondrin was in Darilei, but that these creatures seem to be used for assassinations. If that person finds out we’re looking for him or her… “
“Assassinations.” McCluskey’s looked back at Iaondrin, and her expression was one of compassion. “Oh my dear, I am so sorry. I am so terribly, terribly sorry.” She leaned forward, about to put one hand on Iaondrin’s, but stopped when the younger woman drew back.
“No,” Bryan said urgently, just short of a yell, and moving to grab McClusky’s hand, hold it away from Iaondrin. “It’s not safe.” He took a deep breath to calm himself. “The creatures… they still hunt the A’Nari, and those they touch.”
McCluskey hesitated, and then nodded in understanding. If anything, the look she gave Iaondrin was even more sympathetic. “I am still sorry, Iaondrin. Perhaps we can simply share some more whiskey,” she added with a slight smile. “I will, of course, keep confidential whatever you wish.”
Bryan took another deep breath. “The creatures have been hunting Iaondrin, and Morgan, for eighteen years. They are pieces of a larger thing that the A’nari managed to trap inside the Keep. We thought it was one of a kind, some sort of experiment gone wrong until you sent the accounts from Helve. Now we have a monster to kill and a mystery to solve.”
“Technically speaking, you have two monsters to kill,” McCluskey mused, “the one in the Keep, and the one who called it. And I can understand why you may not wish to alert the second that you are aware of him or her. I have students working backwards through various histories.” At Iaondrin’s questioning look, she explained, “It can often be easier to find the most recent accounts first, as sometimes the writers will cite to earlier reports and earlier writers. Of course, here, we found the report about Darilei first, though it occurred before Helve. So Inbal and I have divvied up various books and historical scrolls and the like, and gave them to our students.”
“Well, the only new information I have is that the actual hunting creatures are spun off, or spit out of a larger creature.” Bryan paused and looked at Iaondrin for a moment as something occurred to him. “It my have some sort of effect on hearing.”
“Hearing.” McCluskey leaned her head back, thinking, and then shook it. “I can’t recall anything like that from the research we’ve already done. Of course, Inbal may be able to narrow the taxonomic research based on that. She’s quite intrigued, frankly, by her inability to clearly class it an aberration, outsider, or something with a touch of fey.” She looked at Iaondrin. “I use those terms as if they mean something to me – it’s not really my area of expertise.”
Bryan pretended he knew what ‘taxonomic’ and ‘outsider’, or outsider in this context, meant. He had been hoping to get more information without waiting for a letter, but if the description didn’t reveal what the thing was by now, he wasn’t sure it would. “Can we see her mother’s book?” he asked, taking Iaondrin’s hand.
“Of course.” McCluskey set aside her glass, which had been barely touched. She stood, and gestured for them to follow her. They walked out into the hall, and past the locked door that, Bryan knew, contained the original notes of Leith Thellin. The room where they stopped was small, with only a few shelves, and a small table with two chairs. McCluskey walked to one low shelf without even hesitating – of course she would know exactly where it was held. She set the volume on the table. It was the same size as the copy she had delivered to Tarrish, but the leather cover was more worn. “This is the original.” She looked at the two of them. “Take as much time as you want. If I am not in my rooms, ask to be taken to Inbal Cierda.”
Iaondrin waited until McCluskey left before moving to the table and taking one of the seats. Her hands were shaking when she reached for the book, to slide it towards herself. She opened the cover carefully, turned the frontispiece, page by page tracing the script her mother had written on the pages. Her lips trembled, and she had to wipe at her eyes to keep the pages dry.
He pulled the other chair close, laid one arm around her shoulders as she started perusing the book. He watched her, occasionally brushing her tears away with his own fingertips. Otherwise, he was silent, letting Iaondrin experience the book as she wished.
After a very long time, and several passes through the book, she closed it and sat back. The effort to push it away was visibly difficult. “Part of me wants to steal it,” she admitted. She looked around the room. “My guess is, though, that I can’t just teleport out of here.”
“We have a direct, and seemingly exact, copy, and we can come back any time,” he said softly. “I know, it’s not the original, but this way we won’t anger people who can help us. And who I kinda like.”
“You’re much better at this cultivating allies thing than I am,” she said with a sigh. “All right, then.” She stood and reshelved the book, and turned back to him. “We should go tell her I’ve finished.”
McCluskey was back in the same room, with an older Shal woman, both bent over a parchment spread out on the low table where the teacups and whiskey bottle had been pushed to the side. McCluskey looked up, and Vermillion could see from the look on her face that she had something new to report. “Inbal has found – wait, first, introductions. Inbal Cierda, this is Bryan and La- Iaondrin.” She must have told the other woman not to answer her hand, because she simply nodded in acknowledgment. “We may have something – I don’t know how much it adds, but a name at least.”
“But there is power in names,” Inbal added, and Bryan noted she bore two silver loops in her left ear. “The Verschrikking, from Stilte en Schadu.”
“That means, in rough translation, a terror born from silence and shadow.” McCluskey waved them over. “This is but a snippet – Inbal made a quick copy of the relevant page from the book, which is too fragile to be moved.” She smoothed the fresh parchment out so they could see the barely two paragraphs and rough sketch. Bryan could not read the language, but Iaondrin leaned close to look at it before shaking her head in frustration, muttering something about how she had never been able to master the Eepling. The sketch showed what looked to be a stone wall, or perhaps just a shadow against it, and something hulking and eyeless pulling itself from the surface.
“Is that supposed to be <between>?” Bryan asked of the sketch. He had a feeling the conversation was about to go beyond him. “I may need you to write some of this down so I don’t forget it.” Or so I can remember to tell Azpiri.
“It isn’t terribly much,” Inbal said apologetically. “Yes, that seems to be <between>. They called it the zilveren krop – silver maw – that devoured all things. This seemed to be an embodiment of the hunger.” She touched the first paragraph of text.
McCluskey read the text first in Eepling. “De honger kwam, de verschrikking geboren van stilte en schaduw, die schreeuwen slikt, verslindend licht. ‘The hunger came, the terror born of silence and shadow, swallowing screams, devouring light,’” she translated. “It took form, called through darkness, bringing darkness with it.” Inbal’s finger continued to trace the script. Het rukte kinderen van moederswapens weg, / die het unhearing sliepen, vrouwen van naast echtgenoten, / die niet werden gewekt. ‘It snatched children from mothers’ arms, who slept unhearing, wives from the sides of husbands, who were not awakened.’”
Bryan took Iaondrin’s hand when Fran started translating. “Alright?” he murmured when she finished.
Iaondrin nodded without speaking. “And the second paragraph?” she asked when McCluskey looked up. She had not mastered Eepling, but she could spot enough word roots to know that the last sentence spoken ended the first paragraph.
“Een naam was zijn prijs, zijn betaling, zijn beloning / zou dat alles zijn banden breken, die van zijn leiband worden gegoten,” McCluskey continued. ”’A name was its price, its payment, its reward, all that would break its bindings, cast off its leash.’” She looked up again. “That’s all of it.”
“I think I almost understand that,” Bryan mused. “But that makes it sound like it would be free once it killed whoever had the name it was given, but the Ginevra and Locopo incidents… it didn’t go out and kill others.” He tilted his head a moment. “Or does that just mean it can go back where it came from when it’s done?” He shook his head in confusion. Azpiri would probably know.
Inbal and McCluskey exchanged a look, and then shrugged at the same time. “We don’t know. The snippet of text ends here.”
‘If it were easy, it wouldn’t be fun,” Bryan said, echoing earlier sentiments he voiced to Gilford. “What book was this from? And how old is this account?”
“It is from a collection of miscellaneous letters,” Inbal told him, “that isn’t fully catalogued, documents whose origins and authors are unknown. The original has been tentatively dated from about four hundred years ago, but it was addressed to a Skalding, Alfeo Bianchi.” When Vermillion asked if they could write the translation on the copy, McCluskey nodded and quickly penned the words in common. Inbal then rolled the parchment up and passed it over to him.
“Thanks.” He turned to Iaondrin, tilted his head again as he thought. “Was there anything else we needed while we are here? More books we want to try to get for ourselves?”
“I’m sure there are books I would like. But it can wait.” She didn’t want to feel rushed, like she should pick things out quickly so they could be on their way to the Aihv’.
Bryan thanked both Scholars just shy of exuberantly. As Fran walked them out, Bryan offered a dinner if she ever wanted to visit Tarrish and made sure she knew that future letters could be sent to their home. Then they were sailing, and on the ferry to the island again. Let it be fast, Bryan thought. He didn’t want to be there long enough for even a hasty privy attempt. Even standing in line to enter the fortress chafed at him.
There were far more people leaving the Aihv’ than entering when they arrived. Iaondrin frowned at the numbers departing. “It’s midsummer tomorrow,” she realized with a start, and turned to look back down towards the dock where extra ferries were tied. “Malisis and the Aihv’ will be strung with lights.” She didn’t have much time to think about it before they were in and being pointed to the Appointments Hall, where Ellinden So’s appointments clerk quickly put them at the top of the already short list. The process of being escorted to So’s chambers was familiar to Bryan.
Vermillion glanced at Manton before speaking. “Nice to see you again, Lady So. I imagine there is a polite greeting I am supposed to give now, but I don’t know what it is and I’d rather be gone before some fool decides now is a good time to make another attempt on my Lady’s life, so I will apologize for being brief and blunt, instead. What do you know of the A’nari’s business and political interests eighteen years ago?”
Ellinden had already taken her seat. While Vermillion spoke, she studied Iaondrin with a detached curiosity. Iaondrin, in turn, simply scowled and folded her arms across her chest, but she took the chair Ellinden indicated she could take. “I know some things,” Ellinden answered finally, looking back at Bryan. “Why do you want to know?”
Vermillion looked at the Lady of Sutton steadily for several moments, mind working. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he apologized again. “I don’t think you’ve been introduced. Ellinden So, Lady of Sutton, this is Iaondrin A’nari. Iaondrin, Lady So.” He tilted his head to indicate Iaondrin should offer her hand while making sure he could watch both So and Manton.
Manton was watchful, as he always was when anyone approached his Lady, but apparently no more than he had been when Vermillion had visited before. “Lady A’nari,” Ellinden said. She stood, and held one beringed hand out to Iaondrin without hesitating. Iaondrin herself, however, could not make it a smooth movement – at least she could cover it as nervousness, that misstep before she extended her hand, waiting for Vermillion to tell her to stop.
“Stop. You really don’t know?” Vermillion asked Lady So, tilting his head to one side as he sent his gaze from her to Manton and back.
Iaondrin pulled her hand back with a jerk, and visible relief, and shoved her hands into her pockets as she stepped back. Ellinden lowered her hand more slowly, face unreadable. Manton stepped forward, to better position himself to step between Ellinden and either Vermillion or Iaondrin; his expression was easily read – he did not like the exchange. “Know?” Ellinden repeated.
Iaondrin smiled grimly to herself, glad that even the Lady of Sutton could be reduced to repeating words in order to have any hope of understanding Vermillion.
“I apologize,” he said sincerely, directly to Manton. “I truly thought you knew.” Vermillion stepped over to Iaondrin, rested a hand on her shoulder, the other hand open and out to his side. “The thing that took the Keep still hunts the A’nari,” he started, then looked pointedly at his hand on Iaondrin’s shoulder, “and those they touch.”
A muscle flexed in Manton’s jaw, and he moved closer to Ellinden. The Lady of Sutton herself looked at both of them, the hand on Iaondrin’s shoulder. After a moment, she nodded. “Clever test,” she conceded. “Shall you and I sit?”
Vermillion motioned an agreement, pressed slightly on Iaondrin’s shoulder in encouragement, but remained standing himself. “Dominti,” he paused as Iaondrin corrected him, “Dominta, the reason you should tell us what the A’nari were interested in, which turns out not to be guilt, is because the thing that attacked the Keep was sent by someone. And that someone was frequently a guest of the A’nari. And they are still at large.”
Ellinden So leaned back in her chair, folding her hands in her lap. She was silent for a long time, an indication of how she was weighing what he had said against what she knew. Blue eyes, darker than Iaondrin’s, settled on the other woman. “You were asked at the time, and after, what happened, and you said nothing.”
“You wake up in the middle of the night feeling something’s wrong. And when you go looking for what, all you find is blood, terror and death. Everyone you knew, family, friends, dead or dying,” Vermillion’s hand tightened in apology on Iaondrin’s shoulder, and his eyes hardened at the thought of it. “The thing in your home, your home, drives into you the worst fear you can imagine on top of everything else you’ve seen and felt. And you struggle down a mountain covered in snow without shoes and when someone finds you, you can’t even hear them at first. Do you want to relive that whole fucking nightmare?”
Ellinden looked back to Vermillion, and her eyes flashed, but whether it was anger or something else was impossible to tell. “My father,” she said carefully, “died in my arms, bleeding out his life on the floor around us both, and for all I knew a hundred knives might have been aimed for my throat.” She glanced back at Iaondrin. “It does not compare with what happened to the A’nari, I know.” Her voice gentled. “But no, it is not an experience I care to relive. However, the desire for … recompense … motivated me. Greatly.”
Vermillion’s eyes softened in apology and sympathy. “Don’t think my brief description covers everything that happened,” he cautioned. “And until a week ago, we believed the thing called by a horrible mistake, not sent by some other person. And that is why we are here asking where the A’nari interests were, so we know where to start looking.”
“What was it, a week ago, that led you to conclude it was not simply a horrible mistake?” Manton had not moved from his spot slightly forward of her chair, his unfocused gaze somewhere between Vermillion and Iaondrin. “That it was, instead, sent for them.”
“Tallentire never… No, why would he?” Vermillion shook his head. “Perhaps you should ask the old pervert to hobble his well-used ass over here to talk about this.”
Ellinden’s eyes narrowed slightly, the only sign of possible displeasure at the thought there was something Tallentire had not told her. She stood again and walked behind the wide desk in one corner where she did something before returning to her seat. Iaondrin watched her closely, and could see the shiver in the threads as a spell of some sort was worked, but could not tell quite what it was. After returning to her chair, Ellinden asked, “Do you wish to wait for the old pervert before continuing?”
“He’ll hopefully have some information we need, but…,” Vermillion paused. “Dominta, what do you know of calling creatures from <between>?”
He could tell that she weighed every word he spoke, puzzling how it fit into what he had already said. “It isn’t done,” she finally responded. “What walks in <between> does not answer the weavings. In fact, it unmakes them.”
Vermillion nodded as if she had confirmed something he already suspected. “So we’ve been told. And yet, at least three times in the last eighteen years, someone or someones did it.” Without looking, he reached into his pack and withdrew the scroll from the Library, held it out to Lady So with a glance at Manton. “This was copied from some papers in the library in Halveet. Some old papers.”
Manton took the parchment first, unrolled it to read the text, turned it over and skimmed his fingertips over both sides before passing it to Ellinden So. She read it quickly, then looked back up. “You think this is an account of such an incident.” It was a statement, not a question.
“I know it is,” he answered and glanced at Iaondrin. “But there’s more. When you teleport, does that mountain look familiar?”
“It is the slope to the A’nari Keep.” From the way she said it, Vermillion could tell that this particular bit of information was not a complete surprise, even if she recognized there was a twist about to come. “I have never actually walked it, but I recognize the Keep at the top.”
“The thing came in through their gate. They used the gate and the wards to trap it inside the Keep. We have a… a theory from someone who admits to not being an expert in gates that the trap they made to keep the ‘Vershrikking’ from getting out and killing everyone in its path might be causing the problem with teleporting.”
Ellinden leaned her head back against the headrest of her chair. “That would be a much better explanation that any other theory that has been presented.” Before she could continue, the double-doors to the room opened, and her personal maid announced the arrival of Lord Tallentire, who tottered in on his canes.
“Forgive me for not bowing appropriately,” he said as he lowered himself into a chair. “It is a genuine pleasure to see the two of you again,” he added to Iaondrin and Vermillion. “You are too late to claim the Seat this session, though – we are in recess now.”
“My Lord,” Vermillion greeted. “Time is becoming a concern for us, and I’m sure you both would like to get home, so I’ll come straight to why I need to talk to you. And I think when we finish explaining what’s going on, you’re going to want us gone anyway.” He took a breath. “We need to know everything you can tell us about what happened to Lady Ginevra. I think it was about twelve years ago.”
Tallentire had not expected the question, and his expression of genial leering slipped into one much more serious and guarded. “Closer to fourteen years ago,” he nodded. “She had an off-shore residence, and was traveling back to Helve on her ship.” He folded his hands atop the crook of one cane, and glanced at Ellinden So. Something unspoken passed between them, and he sighed. “She and everyone, other than a few crew, were killed. Torn apart, by something that was dropped onto the ship.” He shrugged. “I don’t know that I can tell you much more about what happened to her. Those who lived were illiterate laborers, with no ability to explain what they saw.”
Vermillion nodded again. “And Lord Locopo?”
Tallentire smiled, and nodded to himself. “Milon was killed two months later, and a number of servants and retainers. In his home, after someone teleported the instruments of their crime into the surrounding streets. There were more survivors of the attack on Milon, and more reliable ones.” He looked down at his hands.
“His wife and children, I believe. And another mage set to guard them? What did they say happened, my Lord?”
“Lady Cerise – a remarkably collected young woman, given the circumstances,” he said, voice sounding with a note of genuine respect, “herself never gained more than a single loop.” He touched the two he wore in his own left ear. “But she grew up around mages. There was definitely the use of a teleportation spell, and what came with it was not crafted with Politi threads, though they could mimic somewhat things that mages could do. Fear, for instance. Milon could do nothing against them, and snatched up a fireplace poker in a desperate attempt to defend his family. When he saw them shy back, he asked a guest, also a mage, to take the poker and protect them. So the man took them, armed only with that, and put them into the children’s playhouse, where all entrances and exits were barred with iron.”
“I’ve fought them and I’ve beaten them,” Vermillion announced quietly. “And now I want to know who sent them. Who sent them to Locopo? Who sent them to Ginevra? And who sent them to the A’nari?” He turned back to Lady So. “That’s why I want to know about the A’Nari’s business and politics, Dominta. And you should tell me because someone is running around with the ability to call creatures that can slaughter a whole house of Politi and everything that goes with that.”
Tallentire, who had not been privy to the first part of the conversation with Ellinden So, sat forward, bracing himself on his cane. “Wait – you stood against them? And came away whole?” The guise of the debauched pervert was gone, replaced by curiosity. He cocked his head and considered Vermillion. “Was that before you came here the first time? Because frankly, you’ve seemed a bit mad from the beginning, but I just chalked that up to the delirium of love.” He winked at Iaondrin.
“It was the first night we got back to Tarrish after leaving here,” Vermillion explained. “I had some help,” he smiled briefly at Iaondrin, “and half a day to prepare. My Lady doesn’t usually get that much warning. So, are there any answers to my questions?”
“Wait-” Iaondrin put one hand on Vermillion’s arm, and leaned forward herself. “Why would you expect him to be mad?” Something about the way Tallentire had looked at Vermillion when he said it had struck her.
“Well, the mage who guarded Cerise came away from it quite mad. He even attacked his own Evandin after.” Tallentire shook his head.
Vermillion frowned down at Iaondrin, puzzled by her question, but he could see she was putting some information together and turned back to Tallentire, then sharply back to Iaondrin after his answer. “A mad mage? Bushy beard? With Lewes?”
“Beard? Not that I know of – haven’t seen the man in years. But Jameson Lewes was his Evandin, yes.” Ellinden So’s eyes moved from one to the other and back again, following the conversation without interrupting.
“That’s how he knew,” Vermillion said. And now I have something else to worry about. He gritted his teeth, unable to think of any alchemical item that would protect his sanity.
“How he knew?” Tallentire repeated, and then looked at Iaondrin when she gave a short, humorless laugh.
“I find myself repeating things a lot lately, too,” she said, and then waved off an explanation. “Safford gave us the half day’s warning the last time. He and Lewes were in Hinderlet. And then in Tarrish, where he warned me.” She stopped and left it at that, because the longer it went, the further afield the conversation moved from the questions Vermillion wanted to ask.
“Alright, my Lord, you weren’t here when we started, so I’ll summarize for you. Eighteen years ago, one of these creatures, called a Vershrikking by the Eeplings, came through the gate at the A’nari Keep. They mostly trapped it there, sealing themselves inside, thinking that if it got out, it would kill everything in its path. I say mostly, because pieces of it come out every few months and hunt Iaondrin and Morgan. I asked a Scholar at the Libraries in Halveet to find out all she could about these things so that when we go to the Keep, we have as much as possible that will help us finish this thing, and that’s when I found out about the attacks in Helve, and realized someone sent it. Since it came through their gate, it was someone the A’nari trusted.” Vermillion paused, going over it all in his head quickly to make sure he got it all. “So, once more I ask, are there any answers to my questions, because I’d like nothing better than to beat information out of the fucker that did these things.”
Tallentire looked from Vermillion to Ellinden and back again. “Well you’ve proven yourself bold and clever enough to maneuver your way into and out of a number of tricky situations,” he said, “but the person capable of doing such a thing will have a phalanx of warm bodies to throw at you before you reach him or her. Not to mention he or she will have to be a mage of great capability.”
Ellinden held up one hand, cutting him off. “If nothing else, perhaps he can flush out the one responsible.” She looked at Vermillion, as if to ask whether it troubled him that she was so willing to use him as bait. “I will tell you what I can recall of the A’naris’ dealings. And Lord Tallentire will tell you what he knows of Ginevra’s and Locopo’s, however scant it might be.”
Vermillion smiled grimly. “My Lord Tallentire, I understand what I am up against and I wasn’t planning on going through the front door. Dominta,” he shrugged, spread his hands, “I imagine the person who can do these things probably doesn’t think street trash could harm them either.”
“After a while, Vermillion, there will be few who would dismiss you as such,” Ellinden told him. “I am afraid that what I recall off the top of my head may be more general than you require, though given more time, I could go through my papers and find more detail. And you must keep in mind that what will stick in my memory most will be colored by the central political issue of the time – the war with Seldez. First, your mother,” she said to Iaondrin, who had fallen silent again. “Her own family as you know was from Bense, and she had her own holdings there, and her own business investments. You may not recall, or perhaps did not know, but her own family actually advocated for Seldez for part of the war, for Darilei to yield lands that it had taken.”
“That must have put you on good terms with her,” Iaondrin muttered, scowling. Seldez, after all, had ended up holding Ellinden So’s son prisoner for two years after his capture at Wyndham.
Ellinden’s smile reached her eyes. “I said your mother’s family, not your mother. What her stance was, I cannot say – she was married by then, and she would not take a position contrary to your father’s neutrality. And despite her family’s stance, her own investments were largely in League merchant houses, both human and Shal.”
Vermillion mulled that over in his head. “You can send a Skalding to us in Tarrish if or when you come up with more details. And don’t leave out anything that might matter. This is not a place I want to reach the wrong conclusion. Uh, my Lady.”
“I will do that. And Lord Tallentire, I am sure, will be anxious to do the same, for whatever information he may have regarding Ginevra and Locopo.” From his seat, the Lord of Helve gave a half-smile made no protest, knowing quite well where he stood with the Lady of Sutton.
“If either of you have someone you want to witness what comes, we figure they will catch up with us again sometime in the next month to month and a half.”
“Do you know where to find the mage who warned you?” Ellinden asked. “If he could pinpoint the time when the hunt will come again,” she explained, “that would enable us to make certain the appropriate people are in place.”
“I… know where to leave a message his Evandin might get. Was going to try it when we got back anyway,” Vermillion said. He was only going to mention it to Iaondrin after they left, but since it came up… “But, Lewes still follows the mage – Safford? – so there might not be anything he can do to get back to Tarrish. And there’s no real guarantee that Safford would understand what we want from him. And he wasn’t very specific about how long before the Hunt got there when he warned my Lady the other time.”
“It might be worth the effort, though,” Tallentire mused. He looked at each of them in turn, and asked, “Was there anything else required of me? I would like to start my homework quickly, and have it well underway before the celebrations tomorrow night? I don’t suppose any of you would care to join me for my gathering?”
“Ahh, I’m not sure it’s wise for us to stay, my Lord. People start getting ideas in their heads and I end up talking to the Watch,” Vermillion shrugged apologetically. “Besides, we have things to see to in Tarrish before… I’m hoping to be on a ship back before sundown.”
“Ah well, probably the wisest plan for the two of you. My loss.” He pushed himself to his feet and hobbled out with his canes.
“You’re not going, my Lady?” Vermillion asked Ellinden So after Tallentire was gone.
“Not this year, no,” she answered. Before they could fully register the unspoken implication, she continued smoothly, “Do you intend to actually seek the Seat, Iaondrin? Or should I simply acquiesce in allowing it to be awarded to one of the other three?”
Vermillion started chuckling then stopped when So asked about the Seat. He hadn’t really expected to get away without the question asked, but he had hoped. But this, he suspected, was not a question he could answer for Iaondrin, so he just squeezed her shoulder slightly.
The quick turn caught Iaondrin off-guard, so she did not have a line prepared. At the same time, she recognized that she was a terrible liar to begin with, and having more warning would have done little good. “I …” She glanced up at Vermillion, and then looked down at her folded hands. Would Ellinden So be angry, to have been used under a pretense?
“I suppose that is an answer of sorts,” the Lady of Sutton said, after Iaondrin sat silent for some long moments. “You may change your mind. The summer recess will give you the opportunity to mull it over. Remember this, though – with the Seat goes the Keep, which – if you achieve what you said today you hope to achieve – will be claimed by whoever does take your father’s place on the High Council.” She paused, but when Iaondrin still said nothing, she simply shrugged. “When you are prepared to declare, one way or another, at least give me the courtesy of an advance warning.”
“It’ll be awhile before she can really think about it, my Lady,” this part he thought he could say. “The Vershrikking and whoever sent it must be dealt with. And, assuming my Lady hasn’t tired of me, I have some things that also need to be taken care of, as I believe I’ve explained.”
“You do have a full plate in front of you.” For a moment, it seemed she might say more, but reconsidered. “Was there anything more that I could assist you with?”
Vermillion thought for a moment, then shook his head. “Doesn’t seem so right now. Unless there were other allies or friends of the A’nari we could ask for information.”
“Counselor Gilford might be of assistance in perusing public records,” she suggested. “Also, Grazia Shal A’nari was close friends with Josepha Shal Veanna in Malisis. As you know,” Ellinden directed to Iaondrin, “as you studied at her house after. And Grazia’s husband, Isidro Hoalino – his family still lives in Wyndham. Those are the most obvious places to start.”
“Thank you,” he said simply. “Be well, my Lady.” Vermillion offered his hand to Iaondrin and they left after more short farewells. They caught a ferry and found a ship with plans to stop in Tarrish. A few days of sailing and they were home again.
To be continued.