Spring 38: the upriver route

Dearest Zann,

I had never been to the palace before. Partly because I had only lived in Crideon for a couple of years. Partly because it isn’t really in the city. At some point during the Great Nap, it had formed on a hill upriver, with its tallest towers on the peak, and other domes and pavilions flowing down the hillside toward the river, and belvederes and parks extending out over the water on colourful piers. It wasn’t quite clear what had become of the people who used to farm that land before the laurans grew their palace on it.

The old government had been in the city. The Talistag dynasty. They ruled out of Crideon Castle, or Cas Crid as the locals all called it, and their appointed mayors had their offices in Blackfloors. Cas Crid was empty now, and its gates completely gone, and the mayor was now selected from the palace.

Most people just called it “the palace”, or “Valnelatar Towers” if they’re trying to be more formal about it, but I’ve found out since that its official name in Orem is “Hand Extended to the Dawn”.

Anyway, I didn’t know what to expect. Candur had wanted me there early, and I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to get there. Turns out that longcoaches to and from the palace ran all night long. I could just walk over to Blackfloors Square and catch one. So that part was easy.

There were a few other people on the coach. Most of them got out at Steckel Creek. It turned out that the ones who stayed aboard, a man and a woman, were not only also going to the palace, but had just been hired by Candur for the Rosollas. “Day,” I said. “I’m Ybel. I was in the army with Candur, and he remembered me.”

“You’re a soldier?” said the woman, more of a girl, really. Bright-eyed and fat, wearing a crisp new lightcoat and small medallions in her hair. “You don’t have that look.”

“I know,” I said. “I wasn’t much of a soldier. Candur must have something in mind.”

The man, sinewy and balding, nodded. “He didn’t explain anything to me either. I’m Daust, or Master Daust, when I need to be. I don’t know what the palace guard needs with a dancing instructor, but I couldn’t turn down the money. Not these days.”

“A dancing instructor, a nondescript soldier, and…” I turned to the girl, inviting her to fill in the rest.

“Oh, I’m a wizard. My name’s Ambe. Day! No idea how Candur would have heard of me, but he did, somehow, and he knew just how to ask me. I don’t need the money, of course, but…” she shrugged. “Oh well; I don’t mind telling you fellows. I need to hide for a while. Some people don’t like some things that I did, and I’m not so great a wizard that I can just ignore them… Nobody would ever look for me in the palace, though. They wouldn’t even if they thought of it.”

“But do you know why the fuck Candur wanted to hire you?” Daust said. “I never heard of a wizard in the fucking palace guard before.”

“Dancing instructor, wizard… this is starting to sound like one of those stories,” I said. “You know. Meirie Catheart and her five carefully selected companions steal the grey dragon’s hoard and bring down the city.”

“I’m not stealing shit,” Daust said. “Master Daust is no thief.”

Ambe was looking at me oddly. I raised my eyebrows at her.

“No, sorry,” she said. “It’s just, you’ve got some strange magic to you.” She licked her thumb, rubbed her spit on her eyelids, and looked at me again. “Aye. That’s healing magic on your leg, but I’ve never seen that sort before. Then something else all over you that I don’t know what it does, no, two somethings all over you, and something very weird hanging around your neck. Are you all right? Do you need a curse shifted?”

“No, I’m fine,” I said. “None of it’s a curse. Or, I mean, I might want to ask you something later, but it’s not bothering me. I know about it all.”

“If you say it,” she said. “If you don’t ask me about it later, I might ask you first. But for now, what’s Candur like?”

“He’s… he was an officer. He was always friendly with us. Had the sense to ignore foolish orders. We appreciated that. He came out of that war very well. We liked him, so we fought for him, and made him look good. Look better, I guess; he’s a strong warrior himself.”

Ambe reached down and shifted her bags. She had two large carpetbags full of stuff. Daust had a neat leather case on the seat next to him. I had nothing.

“Any dancing teachers in your fucking company?” inquired Daust.

“One fellow had been a puppeteer, I think. But Candur never had him deploy his puppets against the enemy.” They laughed politely.

“I suppose we’ll find out everything we need to know,” Ambe said. “Look, there it is.”

At this hour, there was just enough light for us to see the peak of the tallest tower, the Longest Finger, shining sweetly blue against the last of the night. I wasn’t yet awake enough to interpret it as a rude gesture. Later I would be.



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