There are two days of quiet. Rumor has decided on some large, fierce animal despite the lack of evidence. We are undecided about debasing the rumor; panic in the streets will not help, and even less vigilantes—they would be guaranteed to kill almost anyone except the Sorcerer.
One large dog has been killed, but the consensus of the neighborhood is an ongoing feud between families over barking. We leave it to the city guard to deal with.
The third day there is another killing. Jes and I are eating breakfast when the city guards arrive. (Breakfast being the usual time for crimes committed in the night to be discovered.) Mynar is with us, but is only pretending to eat. I’m worried about him, but another dismembered body takes precedence.
The body is in a narrow street between two warehouses, not a normal venue. Sorcerers like public arenas, expecting admiring crowds despite historical evidence promising sudden death.
“We know he’s only been here for a few hours,” the city guard explains as he leads the way. “The merchant who owns the warehouse just received a huge order, and his employees worked late getting it packed for transport. The alley was empty when they left a little after midnight.”
“Demon,” whispered by sword. I have already guessed that. “Not sorcerer.”
Jes carefully looks at each body piece, “It’s all here.” He sounds surprised.
“Haven’t you ever dealt with a demon kill before?”
“The tribes don’t have Sorcerers, we have Shaman.”
I feel as if I have been told a secret. I’m not sure what to say, so I just not at Jes.
The priest is busy cleansing, but I don’t bother to watch because there is no audience to be reassured, only my guards and city guards. We send one of the former to fetch the mundane cleaners.
While we wait, I explain to Jes, “Demons always kill, but they don’t always eat. Mostly they kill the Sorcerer who calls them, and vanish.”
“I don’t know, Jes. I just don’t know.”
He looks at me gravely, “You will find the answer. I will help.”
“We must identify this man,” the priest tells me. “His kin must be allowed to mourn.”
“Make a detailed list of his clothing and what you can tell of his appearance, and we will do the best we can.” He’s not happy, but the body has to be disposed of soon.
Two weeks later we have four dead bodies, one still not identified, and no answers. The weekly court is chaotic, various groups demanding protections and making idiot suggestions. No one knows how to locate a demon, and we are trying to locate the Sorcerer. At first we assumed he is killing people for some reason—gain or revenge. But the four dead men have nothing in common that we have been able to find. No one gains from their deaths unless in a way so circuitous we haven’t identified it. They have only two things in common; the deaths were at night, and the murdered were alone. We can’t decide if it’s targeting men—a woman is much less likely to be on the streets alone in the late hours of the night.
Father sends the town criers through the city, warning not to be abroad alone at night. Couriers have ridden through the outlying villages and found all quiet. Farmers, up at first light to tend stock, are unlikely to be wandering about at night instead of sleeping; the city is a better hunting ground.
We get to the next attack quickly, blood still fresh and liquid on the stones of the street, Mynar with me this time instead of Jes. Jes is trying to reach the other Shaman via dreaming; to see if they have any advice. Mynar tells me he is tired of research, tired of books. I think he is just feeling useless, having found nothing we didn’t already know, and coming with me makes him feel as if he is doing something.
The people have listened; it was two men traveling together from the local pub. Both are dead, but one lasted long enough to scream for help. The man who had summoned the guard is still trembling. He had seen the demon’s retreating back. The guards, with more courage than sense, had tried to follow, but found nothing. Even demons leave no footprints on cobblestones.
“Can you follow?” I silently ask my Sword.
I go down the alley, Sword drawn, guards with torches lighting the way as best they can. I can feel the leashed power of my Sword. For the first time I feel confident that I—we—can kill the demon. We go through several twining alleys before losing whatever trace my Sword is following. One of my guards marks each turn. We will retrace over steps in daylight.
We return to find the cleansing well stared. The city guards have gathered wood at the same time a runner was sent to the castle. Mynar is white-faced, tense, and I remember this is the first time he has seen in person the results of a demon kill.
“They have been sending you into this since you were twelve?” His voice is low, level, but I hear condemnation.
“Without choice,” I remind him.
“There is always choice, you must just pay the price.” For a moment the look on Mynar’s face frightens me more than the demon. But then the widow of one of the men and the mother of the other arrive, and I have more immediate things to think about.
Later we gather around the table in the council chamber, looking at the map spread on it.
Jes is still in the trance he calls dreaming, or so we assume. He has not left his rooms since asking for a guard to ensure his seclusion. Mother is in her solar, sitting near her sunniest window being coddled by her ladies. Yesterday had been one of her ‘bad’ days, and she is still shaky.
Father and the Lord Advisors see the same pattern Mynar and I did when we drew the map with the priest’s help. The deaths are all in the same quarter of the town.
“I’m going to walk through that area,” I tell father instead of asking. “The sword might vibrate if we get close enough to where the demon hides during the day.” I had been drafted for this job when still in my cradle, and I have just decided I don’t need to ask permission to do it.
“And I am coming with you,” Mynar tells me. “There is no more to be found in the library. Demons hide from sunlight, and vanish when their summoner dies. Written in dozens of variations but all saying the same thing.”
“It was inadvisable for you to have gone yesterday, your highness. You should stay in the castle, with the King and Queen. We cannot risk both of you,” Lord Ekal speaks, but several other of the Lords nod their heads in agreement. Father just listens.
“Do you mistakenly believe I am asking your permission?” Mynar’s vice is soft, but it silences everyone. Looks as if Mynar has reached some decisions of his own. Father just smiles slightly as we leave.
I look at Mynar’s blank face and worry about what emotion he is hiding. But there are too many people in the halls to ask right now. I realize the priest has followed us out. “I would go with you also.” I look at Mynar and nod. “And three of my brethren and I will take up quarters with your guards, to be available when needed.” I agree with that also. It is depressing that no one seems to believe this problem will be solved any time soon.
“Let’s go back to where we lost the trace last night.” Mynar shrugs. He has no better suggestion.
I send a runner to the city guard barracks in that quarter, inviting them to meet us if they want. Unfortunately, other crime has not taken a vacation, but any group who will chase after a demon in the middle of the night has earned the right to be included if they are not otherwise engaged.
With me and Mynar and a double helping of guards, word of what we are doing will be all over the city by nightfall. I ignore what I can’t control.
Mynar looks less tense. Maybe getting in motion is giving him the illusion of doing something. Or maybe he just enjoys ignoring the Lord Advisors.
“Princess Adava, Princess Adava.” A young boy runs up. “They are going to burn a man at the stake.”
As we near the market district I can hear the noise of the crowd, like some many voiced animal. The crowd parts for us, has no choice but to part for us. Our guards are large. I have a clear view of a bound man lying on top of a pile of firewood. Another stands beside with a lighted torch; he throws it onto the pyre.
For the first time ever I draw my sword for battle, and stumble in surprise at the power that flows into me. I lose a few steps, but one of my guard kicks the lighted brands to the side where they can smolder without harm.
“Surround the market, no one leaves,” Mynar commands as I lift the beaten man to his feet. One of my guards cuts the rope binding him.
“Not sorcerer,” my Weapon pronounces.
“Of course not. These idiots couldn’t recognize a Sorcerer if he was in the middle of a ritual sacrifice.” I realize I’m talking to my Sword in the middle of a crowd and stop for a moment to take a deep breath and try to calm myself.
I climb up on the back of a farmer’s cart and look out over the crowd. The man who had tried to light the fire is edging away. At my gesture guards grab him and three others who had been strutting at his back as he threw the torch.
The city guard arrives, having followed the excitement left in our wake, and I call their captain up beside me. My sword is still drawn, sparks like miniature lighting traveling along its edge.
“Arrest them,” I tell the Captain, “For attempted murder.”
“But we thought he was a Sorcerer,” the torch thrower whines.
“Any you thought you were magistrate, jury, and executioner too. You are wrong on all counts. And to make this absolutely clear,” I tell the rest of the crowd, “This man is not a Sorcerer.” Suddenly the would be sorcerer-slayer looks as if he finally realizes he is in trouble.
“Princess.” The man they were planning to burn can barely whisper. “They were drunk, and provoked into this by him.” He points to a man at the edge of the crowd who looks as if he really wants to leave. “He owes me money.”
“Captain.” He nods at my brief command and sends two men to fetch the provocateur. “Take all of them to the magistrate for this quarter and let him sort it out. Send us a copy of your report on the outcome.”
I look back out over the crowd. “We are a realm of law. It that clear?” No one answers. “Now go home, and be ashamed that you were going to stand and watch murder done.”
I would not have thought a market street could empty so fast. The Captain leaves with his prisoners and the victim after the priest has determined he is suffering from nothing more than bruises and fear.
Mynar and I go back to the castle. At this point anything else would be anti-climatic.
“They were afraid.”
“They were also drunk,” Mynar adds. “I sent the boy home. We will honor him later, when things clam down and those fools won’t blame him for doing the right thing.”
I take Mynar’s arm as we walk, needing his support. “What a mess we would have if they didn’t believe I can identify Sorcerers. What a mess we would have if I couldn’t.”
“Yes.” Mynar’s tone tells me he has already thought of this. “But we still shouldn’t make an idol of the Sword.”
“What?” But he will not say any more, which is probably good, considering we are still walking down the middle of the street surrounded by two sets of guards.