“Neither of us,” Aeduan interrupted. “The king would sacrifice us both if it meant winning this war.”
Corlant sighed, a frustrated sound, before ultimately conceding, “You are right in that regard, boy. Which is all the more reason for us to cooperate. I need someone found. My men have had no success, but perhaps your … skills will prove more capable.”
Aeduan’s interest was piqued, for anyone this filthy priest wanted found was likely someone of interest—and likely a weakness for Corlant as well.
However, Aeduan forced himself to first ask, “What are my father’s orders?”
“To do whatever I need.” Corlant smiled.
Leaving Aeduan to imagine, once more, smashing the man like an earwig.
“What I need, boy, is for you to find a Nomatsi Threadwitch. Last I heard, she was in a town called Lejna on the Nubrevnan coast.”
Something dark and vile tickled over Aeduan’s skull. “Her name?”
“Iseult det Midenzi.”
The shadows spread down Aeduan’s neck. “Why do you want this girl?”
“That is none of your concern.”
Aeduan moved his hands behind his back, fingers curling into hidden fists. No expression on his face. “What can I know, then? Information helps me track people, and I assume, Priest Corlant, that you want this girl found quickly.”
Corlant’s eyebrows lifted, the three lines returning. “Does this mean we have a deal, boy?”
Aeduan pretended to consider the proposition. Four breaths passed. Then: “Is it not against your oath to work with someone of my … talents?” He didn’t want to declare his power aloud, not among people who opposed magic of any kind.
Corlant understood the implication, though, and anger flashed in his eyes. “You are unholy, yes, but you are also the king’s son—and just as you need something, I need something. I will tell the king your money arrived as planned, and in return, you will hunt down this young woman.”
Aeduan’s fingers flexed taut. The urge to freeze Corlant’s blood—to wrest the answers directly from his throat—pumped through Aeduan’s veins. Questions, however, would only raise more questions.
He nodded. “I understand.”
Corlant’s forehead smoothed out. “Excellent.” He smiled his foul smile and slid a hand beneath the collar of his robe, fumbling with some inner pocket, until at last he withdrew a sharp strip of iron.
A needle arrowhead. Nomatsi in style, and bloodied.
“This is her blood.” Corlant offered the iron to Aeduan, who accepted it, his face carefully impassive. “When you reach her, boy, you will not kill her. She has something that belongs to me, and I want it back. Now tell me, how long until you find her?”
“As long as it takes.”
The smile fell. “Then pray that it happens quickly, before my patience drains. Pray to the Moon Mother or the Cahr Awen or whomever it is you worship.”
“I pray to no one.”
Aeduan pretended not to hear. He was already spinning away.
After all, he had no time for prayer. Particularly since he knew no one ever listened.
Merik’s steps were long and brisk as he followed Cam’s wet, fuzzy head into Old Town.
He still wasn’t used to her shorn hair—she’d chopped off the braids that all Nubrevnan ship boys wore only that morning. What’s the use in lookin’ like a sailor when I’m not one anymore? she’d asked on their ferry ride into the capital. Besides, this way, no one will recognize me.
Merik wasn’t so sure about that. Though he’d seen others with dappled skin, it was rare—and Cam’s lighter patches were especially pronounced against her dark skin. Plus, with that mangled scar on her left hand, she wasn’t a person one was likely to forget.
She kept her hood low like Merik did, as they trekked onward through storm-soaked streets. Here in Old Town, in the northwest corner of the city and miles west of Judgment Square, the buildings sagged in on each other. Four families were often crammed into a single narrow house, and the streets seethed with humanity. Here, Merik could find shelter and ready himself for the trip to Pin’s Keep.
Cam moved purposefully through traffic, her skinny legs nimble as a sandpiper’s. Having grown up on the streets of Lovats, she knew the best routes through town—and she had keen sense for when soldiers might appear.
Good thing, for soldiers strode everywhere, attempting to round up anyone with the Judgment Square tattoos beneath their left eyes. Every few blocks, Cam would twirl back, ready to guide Merik down a damp side street.
Even when there weren’t soldiers, she would twist into alleys or shadowy thoroughfares, until Merik finally caught sight of a familiar building.
“Stop,” he ordered. “We’re going in there.” He pointed to a narrow row house. Its sign declared a toy shop within, but its closed shutters suggested something else. “It’s tenements now,” Merik told Cam, as if this explained why they had come here.
It explained nothing, but Cam didn’t ask for more. She never asked for more. She trusted her former admiral, former prince, even when Merik so clearly lacked any real plan. Any real clue.
Merik was the fish from the fable, lured into the cave after Queen Crab’s gold, and Cam was the blind brother who followed happily. Foolishly. Right into the clacking maw.
Inside the decrepit shop, Merik sidestepped playing children and stretched his legs over huddled, hungry grandmas. It was far more crowded than the last time he’d come here, the hallway having become a living space of its own. An extension of each makeshift home.
Food is coming, Merik wanted to tell them, for no matter what Vivia had declared to him weeks before, he didn’t believe that Nubrevnans would refuse food simply because it hailed from one of the empires.
Merik’s thighs burned as he and Cam ascended three floors. He savored that pain, for it distracted him from what waited ahead.
And it reminded him that he could be truly dead. That he owed every of inch of his still living skin to Noden’s beneficence and Cam’s prophetic gut.
My gut, she’d told Merik after she’d first found him. It always warns me when danger’s coming, and it ain’t steered me wrong yet. It was exactly the sort of nonsense Merik was inclined to dismiss … Except that Cam’s gut was the sole reason Merik still lived, and that mysterious organ had saved their skins at least six times on the journey to Lovats.