Jin Li Tam
Jin Li Tam awoke in the middle of the night to commotion in the halls, and crept to the spyhole in her suite’s sitting room to look out over the stairwells and landings of the seventh manor. She saw servants and scouts rushing about as quietly as they could up and down the stairs, in and out of the doors.
She’d slept lightly these last two weeks, apprehension growing inside of her. It was unlike Rudolfo to simply vanish without a word. He’d turned Sethbert over to his Physicians of Penitent Torture, then ridden off without escort and without letting anyone know where he went or why.‹ˆor why.‹
One of the Gypsy Scouts had brought word back of Sethbert’s capture, and she’d practically interrogated him. The Overseer had surrendered personally to Rudolfo.
Sethbert said something to him. But what? Something about Windwir? Something about the motive for his terrible crime?
Whatever it was, Rudolfo had left without a word and without the Gypsy Scouts whose sworn duty was to protect their king at all times and all costs.
And now, she surmised, he had returned. She slipped into a light silk robe and went to the door that led to the bathing room. She could hear movement in the suites beyond her. Low voices whispered hurried instructions as his room was readied.
He must have caught them unawares . She chuckled. He’d probably used one of the many concealed halls, and now they were scrambling to dress out his room, despite the fact they had done so each and every morning in expectation of his return. Of course, he would’ve never asked for such a thing. But they knew their king.
The commotion quickly dissipated, and after a few minutes of silence, she heard soft footfalls in the hall. They fell in a measured stride she’d grown to anticipate over the months, and she listened as Rudolfo paused by her door before continuing on down the hall. She heard a door open and close, and she waited another ten minutes.
Quietly, she slipped through the bathing room and into Rudolfo’s bedchamber. He wasn’t there.
Jin Li Tam moved from room to room, not finding Rudolfo in the den or the sitting room. She went to the main door of his suite and opened it onto the wide hallway that encompassed the row of children’s rooms and the main entrance to her own suite.
Of course, she realized. She walked to the door of that first room, the one that had belonged to his brother. She raised her hand to knock and then lowered it. Gently, she turned the knob and pushed the
Rudolfo sat on the small bed. He was wearing nondescript clothing, his curly hair framing his face. He looked younger without the green turban of his office, despite the salt and pepper of his beard. He was holding the small sword in his hands, and he looked up at her.
I will not ask him where he’s been. “I’m glad you’re home.”
His eyes met hers for a split second and then darted away. They had been angry eyes, she saw, and he had not wanted her to see them. “I am glad to be home.”
I will not ask him where he’s been.
But he started talking as if she had asked him. “I’ve been to the Emerald Coasts to speak with your father,” Rudolfo said. “I’ve had a lot of time on the way back to think about what I would say to you, the questions I would ask.”
More than the words, the very tone of his voice struck her like a fist. It was flat and distant, almost devoid of emotion. She’d heard it before, but only during the worst of his grieving over Gregoric. And those times, it was not so calculated.
He knows now. Some part of her had hoped she was wrong about her father. Some part of her that surprised her, that had never existed before meeting this man.
Before, she would have left no room for flights of fancy. But now she realized how desperately she’d hoped she’d been wrong about what her father had done to Rudolfo to make him the man he was.
She didn’t know what else to say. “I’m sorry.” “How long have you known?”
She stepped into the room and pushed the door closed. “I’ve pieced it together since I’ve come here.”
Rudolfo nodded and stroked his beard, his eyes again meeting hers. “And would you have ever told me?”
She shook her head. “I would not.”
“Did you know that your father is leaving the Named Lands?”
“I wondered when I saw his library arrive,” she said. “I am no longer in communication with my father.” Rudolfo looked away again. “They are loading the iron armada with livestock and goods. There is
another library-a secret library-and your father has burned all of its books.” He looked back to her and his eyes narrowed. “You should know that I have vowed to kill him if I see him again.”
Jin Li Tam blinked and nodded. I might help him, she realized. She felt anger and sorrow on Rudolfo’s behalf, and anger and sorrow of her own. She did not see how her father wasn’t involved in the Desolation of Windwir. He had used Sethbert in the same way that the mad Overseer had used Isaak-dancing him on a string. She believed it with all her being.
The flatness in her own voice surprised her when she spoke. “I think he was behind Sethbert’s genocide.”
Rudolfo looked up, his eyes slightly wider. “You believe your fathe‹ˆeve yourr brought down Windwir?”
She nodded slowly. “I do.”
The Gypsy King stared at the child’s sword in his hands, then sheathed it and hung the belt back over the peg on the wall. Finally, he looked up at her. “I do not think he did. But he has done enough.”
Jin Li Tam swallowed. “What does this mean?”
Rudolfo stood. “Nothing. The Androfrancines will hold their council. We will plan our nuptials. We will rebuild what we can and we will safeguard it.” He touched the small turban, tracing his finger over it. “I have another question,” he said.
“I will answer it if I can.” She shifted, her feet suddenly eager to move.
His eyes were hard and his jaw clenched. “Your father claims you denounced him. He says it is because you have love for me in your heart. Is this true?”
The directness of his question tangled her tongue. She felt small and naked suddenly. Finally, she found words that she had never imagined saying. “It is true,” she said in a quiet voice. “I do love you.” His silence told her that he could not say the same, but she laid that aside. “What my father did to you is wrong,” she continued. “I see this very clearly. But the man you became-he is formidable and strong. He is able to ruthlessly pursue what is right and appropriate.”
He nodded. “What you say is true. But it is a hard truth.” He picked up the turban and held it to his nose, inhaling. “You know about my brother, then?”
He opened his mouth to ask a question, and she knew what it would be. Was my brother’s death a part of this, too? But then she saw him change his mind. “This was his room,” Rudolfo said. “Tomorrow, I will have it emptied and have his belongings disposed of. I’ve held on to it for too long.”
Tell him. But part of her thought she should wait for a less somber time. Part of her was unsure of how he would react. But tonight was a time for truth. She cleared her voice. “Actually, Lord Rudolfo, I have another idea for this room.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Yes?”
She leaned closer to him. “You were wrong about your soldiers.” He looked at her blankly. “My soldiers?”
“Or what if it’s becoming true?” Petronus stood.
Rudolfo shook the sudden doubt away, and stood as well.
“Will you take Sethbert off Tormentor’s Row and place him in a simple cell?” Rudolfo felt a twinge. “I will order it so.”
“I will see him tomorrow.” Petronus walked to the stairs, then turned back to Rudolfo. “We will hold the trial at the conclusion of the Council of Bishops.”
Rudolfo nodded. “I concur.”
Petronus paused at the top of the stairs. “Do you remember what you said of Neb? That he would make
a fine captain?”
Rudolfo nodded. The boy was intelligent and capable, a strong leader who influenced others without knowing it. That was a blade that could be sharpened into the fine edge of an intentional strategist. “I do. The Order is fortunate to have him.”
A dark look crossed Petronus’s face and Rudolfo saw loss there. “Remember those words, Rudolfo.” Rudolfo said nothing. He felt a another twinge, something restless moving beneath the surface of this all.
He felt his eyes narrowing, but if Petronus noticed, he did not show it.
“Sleep well,” the Pope said as he started his descent back into the manor.
“I will,” Rudolfo replied. But he knew that he wouldn’t. A gnawing feeling of dread grew in his stomach about the coming council, and at the center of it stood a man with a strategy Rudolfo did not yet fully grasp.