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I am so sorry about the delay, Dame Kaeritha, Lanitha said as she ushered Kaeritha into the main Records Room. I know your time is valuable, to Tomanak as well as to yourself, and I hate it that you sat around cooling your heels waiting for me for almost an entire week.

She shook her head, her expression simultaneously harassed, irritated, and apologetic.

Its like there was some sort of curse on my week, she continued, bustling around the Records Room to open the heavy curtains which normally protected its contents and let the daylight in. Every time I thought I was going to get over here and pull the documents for you, some fresh disaster came rolling out of nowhere.

Thats perfectly all right, Lanitha, Kaeritha reassured her. I imagine everyones had weeks like that, you know. I certainly have!

Thank you. Lanitha paused to smile gratefully at her. Im relieved that youre so understanding. Not that your sympathy makes me look any more efficient and organized!

Kaeritha only returned her smile and waited, her expression pleasant, while the archivist finished drawing back the curtains and unlocked the large cabinet which contained the most important of Kalathas official documents.

Mayor Yalithor, rather, Sharraldidnt tell me exactly which sections youre particularly interested in this time, she said over her shoulder as she opened the heavy, iron-reinforced door.

I need to reexamine the section of Kellos grant where the boundary by the grist mill is established, Kaeritha said casually.

I see, Lanitha said. She found the proper document case, withdrew it from the cabinet, and set it carefully on the desk before the Records Rooms largest eastern window. Her tone was no more than absently courteous. But Kaeritha was watching her as carefully and unobtrusively as shed ever watched anyone in her life, and something about the set of the archivists shoulders suggested Lanitha was less calm than she wanted to appear. It wasnt that Kaeritha detected any indication that Lanitha was anything but the honest, hard-working young woman she seemed to be. Yet there was still that something almost as if Lanitha had some inner sense that her own loyalties were at odds with one another.

The archivist opened the document case and laid the original copy of Lord Kellos grant to the war maids of Kalatha on the desktop. Kaeritha had done enough research among fragile documents to stand patiently, hands clasped behind her, while Lanitha carefully opened the old-fashioned scroll and sought the section Kaeritha had described.

Here it is, the archivist said finally, and stepped back out of the way so that Kaeritha could examine the document for herself.

Thank you, Kaeritha said courteously. She moved closer to the desk and bent over the faded, crabbed handwriting. The documents age was only too apparent, and its authenticity was obvious. But the authenticity of Trisus copy had been equally obvious, she reminded herself, and rested the heel of her hand lightly on the pommel of her left-hand sword.

It was a natural enough pose, if rather more overly dramatic than Kaeritha preferred. The last time shed been in this room, shed taken both swords off and laid them to one side, and she hoped Lanitha wasnt wondering why she hadnt done the same thing this time. If the librarian asked, Kaeritha was prepared to point out that last time, shed been sitting here for hours while she studied the documents and took notes. This time, she only wanted to make a quick recheck of a single section. And, as Lanithas own profuse apologies had underscored, she was behind schedule and running late.

There it was. She leaned forward, studying the stilted phrases more intently, and ran the index finger of her right hand lightly along the relevant lines. Only a far more casual archivist than Lanitha could have avoided cringing when anyone, even someone whod already demonstrated her respect for the fragility of the documents in her care, touched one of them that way. The other woman moved a half-step closer, watching Kaerithas right hand with anxious attentiveness exactly as the knight had intended.

Because she was so focused on Kaerithas right hand, she failed to notice the faint flicker of blue fire which danced around the left hand resting on the champions sword hilt. It wasnt very bright, anywayTomanak knew how to be unobtrusive when it was necessary, toobut it was enough for Kaerithas purposes.

Thank you, Lanitha, she said again, and stepped back. She took her hand from her sword as she did so, and the blue flicker disappeared entirely. That was all I needed to see.

Are you certain, Milady? Lanithas tone and expression were earnest, and Kaeritha nodded.

I just wanted to check my memory of the words, she assured the archivist.

Might I ask why, Milady? Lanitha asked.

Im still in the middle of an investigation, Lanitha, Kaeritha reminded her, and the other woman bent her head in acknowledgment of the gentle rebuke. Kaeritha gazed at her for a moment, then shrugged. On the other hand, the knight continued, its not as if its not going to come out in the end, anyway, I suppose.

Not as if what isnt going to come out? Lanitha asked, emboldened by Kaerithas last sentence.

Theres a definite discrepancy between the original documents here and Trisus so-called copies, Kaeritha told her. I have to say that when I first saw his copy, I was astonished. It didnt seem possible that anyone could have produced such a perfect-looking forgery. But, obviously, the only way his copies could be that different from the originals has to involve a deliberate substitution or forgery.

Lillinara! Lanitha said softly, signing the Mothers full moon. I knew Trisu hated all war maids, but I never imagined hed try something like that, Milady! How could he possibly expect it to pass muster? He must know that sooner or later someone would do what youve just done and compare the forgery to the original!

One thing I learned years ago, Lanitha, Kaeritha said wearily as she watched the archivist carefully returning the land grant to its case, is that criminals always think they can get away with it. If their minds didnt work that way, they wouldnt be criminals in the first place!

I suppose not. Lanitha sighed and shook her head. It just seems so sillyand sadwhen you come down to it.

Youre wrong, you know, Kaeritha said quietly, her voice so flat that Lanitha looked quickly back over her shoulder at her.

Wrong, Milady?

It isnt silly, or sad, Kaeritha told her. Whatever the original motivation may have been, this sort of conflict between the documents here and those at Thalar is going to play right into the hands of everyone else like Trisu. It isnt the sort of minor discrepancy that can be explained away as clerical error. Its a deliberate forgery, and there are altogether too many people out there who are already prepared to think the worst about you war maids. It wont matter to them that you have the originals, while he has only copies. What will matter is that theyll assume you must have made the alterations.

Then I suppose its a good thing a champion of Tomanak is on the spot, isnt it, Milady? Even the most prejudiced person would have to take your word for it that Trisu or someone working for him is the forger.

Yes, Lanitha, Kaeritha said grimly. They certainly would.

Chapter Forty-Two | Wind Rider's Oath | * * *