Vlad Li Tam’s wagons of donated supplies Enat3›
“I would talk with the captain of this company,” Vlad Li Tam said to the sentries who stopped him. “That would be Petros,” one of the guards said, turning to look for him.
Petronus stepped forward. “I’m here.”
“I come bearing the grace of House Li Tam and the Pope of the Androfrancine Order,” Vlad Li Tam
said. “I would speak with you about your work here.”
Petronus gritted his teeth. “I’d gladly speak with you about our work, Lord Tam.”
The slight, older man dropped from his saddle, heavy in the armor he wore beneath his canary colored robes. “Let us walk together.”
They moved away from the camp and toward yesterday’s work. Petronus guided them toward a recently filled trench, feeling the anger build in him with every step. When they were out of earshot, he rounded on Tam.
“What game do you play at?” he asked, not even trying to mask the rage.
Vlad Li Tam smiled. “I play at the game of survival, Petronus. I play at the game of keeping the light alive.” He paused, his eyes narrowing as his smile faded. “I should ask what game you play at, Petronus. You could have stayed dead. You could have stayed in Caldus Bay. But here you are.”
Petronus knew Tam was right, and he knew that at least part of his anger was directed inward, toward himself. “I had to see it,” he said, his voice thick with loss. “I had to see what they’d done to themselves.”
“And then you had to bury them?” Vlad Li Tam’s voice wasn’t chiding, it was matter-of-fact, as if he were stating some obvious truth about Petronus’s soul.
He nodded. “I did.” He waved his arms around, taking in the four points of the compass. “These others weren’t prepared to do it. They’re too busy posturing and pointing fingers.” He stared at Vlad Li Tam. “We both know who really brought down Windwir.”
Vlad Li Tam’s eyes flashed. “They’ve done this to themselves. We both knew they would when they started playing with words that should not be played with. It was only a matter of time.”
Petronus felt his fists clenching and unclenching. “You claim House Li Tam had no part in Ehad"1ethis?” Vlad Li Tam shrugged. “We monitored increased intelligence gathering in the City States coinciding with
the discovery of the final fragment. My forty-second daughter, Jin Li Tam, was Sethbert’s consort until
recently. She’d known something was under way but not exactly what. I knew an event of some kind was likely.” He stepped closer to Petronus and put a hand on his shoulder. “When or who-these facts eluded the best work of my sons and daughters.” He leaned forward. “But I do know this much-word of the final fragment was not initially leaked by the Androfrancines. They were most cautious.”
“And you did not leak it yourself?”
Vlad Li Tam shook his head. “I did not.” “But you knew of it?”
He nodded. “I did. I had been approached years ago about storing something of great value and great danger in the Li Tam vaults. There was talk of scattering the fragments under Pope Introspect, but it was quickly abandoned.”
Petronus studied the man, then studied the line of his face, and tried to gauge the truth of his words. But Vlad Li Tam was a master of queen’s war and a master of himself. There were no telling movements, no revealing posture, no hints whatsoever to catch him in a lie. And not even the best Francine training could see through that perfect mask. “Then we need to know how Sethbert discovered the spell and what compelled him to take action.”
Vlad Li Tam shook his head and chuckled. “An Androfrancine to the end.”
Petronus felt his blood rise. He pointed to the filled-in trench, then pointed to a line of diggers closer to the center of the city. “A city lies dead, Vlad. A way of life is ended. What little remains of the light is guttering. If it weren’t for the mechoservitors, it would be all but extinguished now. I want to know why.”
“We all do, Petronus. But strategy would dictate that first, we shore up what remains.” Vlad Li Tam sighed, looking away for a moment before meeting Petronus’s eyes. “I’m afraid I have not been completely truthful with you.”
Petronus felt his eyebrows furrow. “What do you mean?”
Vlad reached into his belt pouch and drew out a yellowed scroll, rolled carefully and tied with
Androfrancine purple. He passed it to Petronus.
Petronus read the note and paled. He read it again, this time more slowly, and the words finally came together. He looked up. “These are plans for the relocation of the Order, away from Windwir.”
lfoight="0em" width="1em" align="justify"›She looked at the large man who played her proxy. “My father chose Hanric to play the part of my shadow until I found my own strength. Of course, my people know.”
This surprised Rudolfo. “Really?”
She smiled. “Marshfolk are very different from Named Landers.” “Aye,” Rudolfo said, chuckling. “As are the Forest Gypsies.”
“My role is more spiritual than directive,” she continued. “Most of my life is spent writing my dreams, both the waking and the dreaming. I also write out my glossolalia.”
Rudolfo pondered this. “These are the War Sermons we hear.”
She nodded. “They are. I’ve written these down for as long as I can remember. My Whymer Seers catalog them and assign them numbers, weaving my dreams into the matrix of dreams from the Marsh Kings that have gone before. My father chose Hanric as my shadow partly for his strength as a warrior, but also because, like me, he remembers everything he reads. He has spent his life preparing for the War of Androfrancine Sin, reading the dreams.” She looked to Hanric now. “I will draw numbers tonight and determine their sequence at random. And the Marsh King’s War Sermon will continue.”
Rudolfo laughed now. “I think we lead our houses very differently.” The corners of her eyes crinkled as she smiled. “We do.”
Rudolfo’s hand crept up to stroke his beard. “I must admit that this is not what I expected for my parley with you.”
“But you saw through my subterfuge soon enough.”
The Gypsy King shrugged. “I’ve had a life of statecraft and intrigue. Until now, I would imagine you spent your life away from that.”
“I have,” she said. “Though I had an Androfrancine tutor.”
Rudolfo raised his eyebrows. “That is quite curious given the history.”
“Yes.” She looked at Hanric. “I will come for you soon, Hanric.” He bowed and quickly left the cave.
When he left she looked at Rudolfo, and for just a moment her hard eyes became soft. TheOeca" wre was a certain prettiness beneath the dirt, and a coltish, awkward strength in her bearing. As young as she was, Rudolfo sensed that she already exhibited the trappings of formidability. “Now,” she said, “let’s talk strategy for this war of ours.”
Rudolfo smiled and reached for the bottle of whiskey.