Spire: Chapter 9

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I wake late, just in time for lunch.  Mynar is alone at the head table.

“Father is eating with mother today,” he tells me without my asking.  I relax, surprising myself because I had not realized how tense I was, how afraid that father’s headaches had returned.  “No ghost?” Mynar asks.

“Didn’t expect it.  It only shows up at the end of the week.  I wanted to see what the street looked like at night.”

After lunch, I wander over to the stables and spend part of the afternoon coveting the great horses.  I intend to have one, someday, I just haven’t figured out how yet.  Two knights are putting their mounts through their paces; practicing moves that are devastating in battle.

I finally leave because I have to attend the council meeting.  It will not be as interesting, but it’s my turn. There is a messenger from Hewet.  I work to keep my face from falling into a pout.  I am still unhappy that I was not allowed to lead the mission to the steppes, but work at keeping it hidden from everyone except Mynar.

“He reports,” father tells us, “That the tribes appreciated our warning.”  We all keep looking at father expectantly.  He shrugs at us.  “That’s all.”

And this is the high point of the meeting.

#

It’s dusk, and I’m in a tree.  I have a clear view of Cliffside, as it curves, and of the slope below. Hidden by the dusk and river mist, my guards are invisible at the bottom of the slope.  It is steep, but not so steep they can’t come if I call.  I sit motionless, invisible.  No one on the street even looks up.  This is the third evening I’ve sat in a tree, the Sword strapped to my back.  No, I don’t need the Sword for the ghost; I need to sword to persuade my guards to wait out of sight.

I wonder, for a moment, if a combination of river mist, door torches and imagination could be responsible for the ghost.  But the same river fog rises every fall and door torches have been mandated before father’s father was born.  The sound of footsteps interrupts my speculations. A merchant, wealthy by his clothes, struts down the street.  There is more shuffling in the distance; the guild meeting is breaking up, and the goldsmiths are heading home.  The one I am watching must be one of the masters, judging by the wealth of his clothing.

I am as surprised as he when a misty white form appears at the top of the wall.  But I remain motionless and quiet while the merchant shrieks and tries to run backwards.  He stumbles over his own feet and falls flat on the street.  Others arrive, picking him up and peering over the wall where he points.  If it’s a real ghost, then there is nothing to catch.  If not, then either it has moved on up the street, or it has moved down toward me.   No one could move silently down the rocky slope behind the wall.  So I wait, listening for a noise that doesn’t come from the street, sure that a pretend ghost would want to enjoy watching the excitement caused, not move farther away from it.  I will have to praise my guards, they hold their positions silently despite the turmoil in the street.  I had told them not to move unless I call.  I am proud of them.

The little knot of men slowly moves off.  They find nothing—didn’t look too hard; perhaps asking themselves what they would do with a ghost if they caught one. Silence descends on the street again, but still I don’t move.  I hear the breath of a chuckle a few feet from me.  I look it that direction and see a shape against the wall that clearly isn’t the wall itself.  Its grey, not white, but I decide the chuckle is worth investigating.  I cannot climb down from the tree silently enough to not be heard, so I decide on speed and surprise.  My target almost gets away, but I grab his arm and show him my knife; I see recognition in his eyes, and he doesn’t struggle only whispers to me defiantly.  “They deserve it.”   I’ve caught a skinny teen-age boy decked in a collection of sheer white scarves now covered by a grey cape.

We make noise going down the slope, but there is no one on the street to hear, so I don’t worry about it.  I call softly and my guards appear out of shadows and doorways.

“Where can we go to talk to him?”  I will probably just hand him over to his parents, but I will listen to his story first; his appearance is ghostly enough to deserve a hearing, if nothing more.

One of my guards suggests a tavern, but is quickly hushed by others.  I smile, knowing it cannot be seen in the darkness, and wonder if they think the boy too young, or me too much the princess.

“There is a small stable just down the street, owned by a retired guardsman.”

For all that my sergeants are overprotective, they are also very useful.  “Lead the way.”  I let one of the guards take custody of the boy, even though it doesn’t look as if he plans to go anywhere.  If he does try, he will probably be surprised at how fast my guards can move.

We are made welcome, once the old man is roused from sleep and comes down from his rooms over the stable.  I have a bale of hay as a seat, and a goblet of weak wine; I will not hurt the old man’s feelings by refusing.  He takes himself back up to his rooms without being asked, leaving four horses as the only witnesses.

“Who deserves it?  And why.”  The boy stands before me sullenly now.  It is hard to believe the collection of scarves tied around his arms and neck had looked so otherworldly, even in the mist shrouded night.

“All of them; all of the masters of the goldsmith guild.  For not letting Desee in.”

It takes hours to get the story out of the boy, and to sort out the players, but it is worth the time.

I confer with the sergeant at the back of the stable, watched by a sleepy stallion, who appears disappointed that I don’t produce a carrot or apple for him.

I go back to the boy.  “This is what we are going to do.”  The sullen look doesn’t leave his face.  “You will keep playing ghost.  If you are in danger of being caught, run to this stable.  There will be one of my guards here from dusk until midnight.  But you will not tell anyone anything about this; it is more than your problem now.”  The play of emotions on his face was amusing—sullen to stunned to joyful.  For what it is worth, I clearly have the complete devotion of a fifteen year old.  I send him home, not much worried about if he will talk or not.  He clearly doesn’t understand the full import of the problem he has just handed me.

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