Spire: Chapter 12

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We decide to treat Jes like a royal cousin, so he is given rooms in the bottom of the royal tower.  At first he refuses guards, but finally agrees to accept them when venturing into the city.

I understand his feelings; it is hard to never be alone.  I have taught myself to think of my guards en masse, an amorphous group not individuals.  It helps me ignore that I am always watched, protected, smothered.  Mynar copes by hiding in books.

Jes watches and seems content, but speaks less than the sword.  Both bristled like cats the first time they were brought together.  The Sword whispered ‘power’ warningly in my mind.  Jes’ eyes got wide but he said nothing.  He does not come near when I am carrying the Sword.

Mostly he sets in shadows, quiet, his black hair wound in a knot on the back of his head and his black eyes half closed.  He’s just a little older than me and just a little taller, but I feel he is much more deadly—unless I am carrying the Sword.

“Red?”

I recognize the voice behind me, my training-master has returned.  Every three years he travels to his order’s monastery for six months of doing whatever warrior monks do.  He has renounced possessions, even a name, but has kept a fine line of sarcasm.

I smile and show him that I can reverse my vest to grey in five seconds—I have practiced.

“Well then.”  He accepts, if not approves.  We walk to the training room.

After carefully locking both doors we sit on the practice mat in the center of the room.  Careful experimentation has shown that we cannot be overheard speaking normally.

“So what is this I hear about you slaying a mighty wizard?”  Rumor has traveled and grown.  I tell him the truth (except for my talking sword) and he approves of my tactics even given that the outcome was unexpected.  I enjoy his approval; he only gives it sparingly, so I know I have earned it.

After our training session, I take him to meet Jes.  They bow formally to each other, although in different ways, and appear to decided to approve of each other.  My training master invites Jes to see our training room, and I go, followed by my usual parade, to raid the kitchen.

Mynar is broody, has nothing much to say, although he does eat more than his share of the pilfered fudge.  The lord Advisors are pushing to summon their list of perspective brides for Mynar’s inspection.  Mother has been conferring with their wives and is hoping to force some sense into their heads.  But it hasn’t worked yet.  Luckily their arguments over the ‘final’ list are still delaying them.  I can’t do anything to help except let him eat most of my half of the fudge.

#

My training master is going to be angry; tonight my divided skirt and blouse are both red.  I look flashy with my shinning black boots and soft black leather vest; there won’t be any hiding in shadows this evening.  Since the only ‘action’ I have ever seen was preceded by a wait long enough for me to have modeled my entire wardrobe for my brother and guards were I so inclined, I have decided that I don’t need to be dressed for battle every minute of every day.  Mother approves, so nothing else matters.

The evening meal is so like all evening meals, I daydream my way through it.  I don’t need to say anything or do anything, just be there, part of the royal family, showing that nothing has changed, and offering hope that nothing will change.  Too much change in the past has been bad; the people have decided they don’t like change.

One of my ladies wakes me early the next morning.  Another dead Sorcerer has been found.  Unusual to have two so close together. I send my ladies to bring breakfast and a guard to fetch a priest.  There is no real reason to hurry, dead Sorcerers aren’t much of a problem except of the house-keeping variety, but the people in the general area will be uneasy until the crown does something, even if the ‘something’ is just to stand around looking.

I go to the vault for the sword, and then priest, guards and I parade across the city.  Jes joins us.

This time the body, or most of it, is beside one of the city fountains.  A couple of pieces are floating in the fountain.  I sigh.  This will complicate the clean-up.  And cleaning the fountain will be easier than convincing people that it has been cleaned.

The body is as usual.  What is not usual is an angry woman berating the city guard.  Their captain looks very relieved to see me.

“He is not a Sorcerer,” she screams indiscriminately at me, the city guards and the watching crowd.  “My husband is a good man.”

She’s using the wrong tense.  The priest is torn between comforting her and starting the cleansing.

“He is not a Sorcerer.  He didn’t do this,” she wails again.  A grandmotherly looking woman comes out of the crowd and hugs her, patting her back and making the kind of soothing sounds one makes to a crying baby.  It helps a little, and her screams change to tears.

“She is right,” my sword whispers.

“Silence.”  I can do a good job of screaming myself, with more menace. The silence is more from surprise than obedience, but even the new widow obeys.

I move through the circle my guards have placed around the area.  Jes follows, staying carefully at my back.  The man was killed by a demon, I’ve seen enough to know the signs.

“Not Sorcerer,” my weapon insists. “They…” I can feel it searching for a word.  “They stink.”  I don’t think the sword actually smells things, it’s just using the closest word it can find to describe something I cannot sense.

I call my sergeant and the priest to the center of the circle.  “You need to search for another body,” I tell the sergeant.  “This isn’t the Sorcerer.”

“Sir Priest,”  I go all formal; I am about to issue edicts as the Princess.  “This man is an innocent victim.  How can we best deal with this and comfort his widow?”

“He must be burned, but we can build a proper pyre with all rites.  It must be here, and immediate.”

I nod in agreement.  He is the expert at dealing with demon remains; I am just (theoretically) an expert at killing them. I turn back to the crowd.  “The lady is right, this man, although killed by demon, summoned no demon.  My men must search for another body.  You may deny entry, if you wish, but if you find the body yourself, do not touch it.  Send for me.”

None deny us entry, as I expect, but we find no second body. The priest takes charge of the impromptu funeral, and I give him two of my guards to help.   A flock of sisters from the nursing order comes to help the new widow.  I am glad there are no children to be told how their father died.  I am thanking the older woman for her help, loudly enough so bystanders can hear me, when Jes calls.

“Here,” he shows me a bare spot of ground around an ornamental tree.  “Something large went down this alley.”

I look at the mark skeptically.  I have been trained in tracking, too.  But he is Shaman, and I suppose that means something.  I call my guards and we go down the alley.  We find nothing.

I go back and watch the combined funeral cleansing rite, to give the widow what slight comfort I can.  Sister Mays joins me. “We have agreed that his ashes will be interred in our catacombs,” she tells me.  “I don’t know if that will turn away demons, but it will certainly kill rumors.”

We discuss practical matters about cleaning the fountain until the rites start.  I pay less attention than I should, thinking instead about how they all believed me when I told them the dead man wasn’t a Sorcerer.  The priest, now giving full rites to the dead, as he would not have given for a Sorcerer, the neighborhood women now comforting instead of shunning his widow, all accepting that I know the truth.  It is a new burden.

It takes most of the day to clean up the mess.  Relays of priests have cleansed and even more relays of people have gossiped.  The sun is starting to set by the time the widow follows her husband’s ashes toward the convent of the Nursing Sisters.  The city guard has called in a reserve squadron to guard the priests who will pray through the night.

We have found nothing that could explain what happened.  “Could it have been some sort of large wild animal?” one of my guards asks.

“Demon stench was there.” My Sword tells me.

“No,” I answer.  “It was a demon.”

They all believe me;  Wielder, Princess, Enchanter Slayer.  My family is going to be a different matter. I’m not about to tell them ‘my Sword told me so’.

I stop so suddenly the last row of guards almost bump into me.  They all draw swords and look around for danger. Jes stares at me. I stare at nothing.  My Sword, not the Sword.  When did that happen?  I feel an almost inaudible hum coming from the Sword.  It is even starting to purr like a cat.

I start back to the castle without explaining.  I’m a Princess; I don’t have to explain.

Except to the King.

“There is a vibration,” I tell father.  “the sword reacts to the dead Sorcerers, and differently to demon traces.”  Not a lie, speech is a vibration. (I refuse to consider the possibility I’m not hearing the Sword with my ears.)

“I should know, I presided at my first demon clean up when I was twelve, and at least one every year or so since.”  Mother looks upset.  I feel bad, but I don’t think the truth would make her feel better.

“And you never mentioned it before?”  Father isn’t convinced.

“It never mattered before.”  I shrug and try to look bored.

I notice Jes slipping in the door, pausing, gauging his welcome.  Father looks at him and goes back to questioning me.  Jes takes this as permission and sits quietly in his favorite corner.

“The real problem,” Mynar interrupts father’s inquisition.  “Is they found no second body.”

We are silent at that.  If someone has figured out how to call a demon and control it, we have a big problem.

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