Lapis ran, her lungs filled with cold, her heart filled with hate.
Miki died, like her little brother. No reason for it, other than a cruel and heartless man liking the sight of blood. A filthy traitor, who led Kale’s men to Nicodem and joined in the slaughter of man, woman, child, noble, commoner. A traitor who thought killing a street rat would get to her. No care for human life, no thought for the pain and tears and devastating heartache. He wanted her life brushing against theirs to mean death, a crushing finality to bludgeon those left alive.
The agony of bitter guilt that she had not done enough to protect those tangential to her burst through her, a river she could not dam. She would make certain, every single man Perben sent after her the previous day would pay for their involvement. She would take out his partners in death along with him.
The streets blurred; tears fell, rushing down her cheeks and soaking her collar. She silently apologized to Miki; he paid for her failure, and he never deserved the blade. She asked the rats for forgiveness, for not protecting them from the danger. Every street rat lost meant friends left behind, sometimes lovers, sometimes a brother or sister. The living mourned and their days remained heavy with fog and dark clouds, their lives a torrent of sorrow that faded but never dissipated.
Only a few rebels completed chores outside the House when she arrived, trimming bright green hedges and sweeping the walk; all stared, startled, as she raced by. She ignored them; she had another target.
The foyer was empty but for Brander, who had another place to be. He paused and studied her for one moment before rushing to her.
She glared at him. “He killed Miki,” she gritted through clenched teeth. “A street rat. Thought he was Rin.”
She forced herself to still, to take a deep breath. “I need to speak to a Blue Council leader.” Did she sound civil enough?
“Baldur decided to host a communal breakfast, so they aren’t available. Lapis—”
“Don’t stop me,” she told him as she turned towards the room that Baldur used to feed his important guests. If the traitor did not sup there, she would--
Brander snagged her arm, and she yanked forcefully away before fleeing. No. She had to prevent Perben from killing anyone else.
Rebel faces blurred around her as she raced past. She hated their shock, their dumbfounded expressions; not one yelled after her, to ask what was wrong. Of course not. She walked among them long enough to know that, unless she accompanied Patch, they thought nothing of her.
She rammed into the open door to the room; a few turned to see what made the noise. Most clustered in small groups, chatting, waiting to partake. She skimmed the attendees, searching. Tables with pristine white cloths, shining utensils and whitish glass stood ready for hungry rebels. Whitley and Relaine busied themselves at a wide table, setting out white plates. Covered dishes emitting salty and too-sugary odors spanned the length, and beaded silver pitchers of something cold sat at the end. A windowless room, illuminated by a myriad of wall sconces filled with fruit oil that lit the peeling, white-stained walls and roughened wooden flooring. Too much brightness, combined with the over-sweet smell of the burning oil and food. She wanted to gag.
Perben, surrounded by a handful of friends, noted her. The slow, steady, smug smile that immediately parted his lips snapped the remains of her control.
“Lapis!” Baldur roared.
Ah. So he noticed her. He waddled from his place at the head table, intent on her. She ignored him; Perben was her target.
“You killed the wrong rat, you fuck.”
Perben raised one eyebrow, still smiling. Everyone stopped what they were doing and turned to stare.
No one clustered about the traitor matched the description of his accomplice, but no matter. Plenty of others who searched for her the night before kept him company, and they would pay for their involvement. “You and your friend didn’t kill Rin. His name was Miki.”
Perben stopped smiling.
“What are you talking about?” a round, bearded man with greying temples and angry brown eyes snarled at her. He wore scarlet robes and a fine gold cloth sash, a sign he was one of the rebel nobles. Meinrad or Rambart? She did not care.
She heard the sick pain in that one word, but she could not respond to it and still give Perben his due. She knew the voice; a kinder time had imprinted the tone, when he laughed jollily at her antics before showing her a fat volume of closely written text he planned to read. She always told him such small words made for terrible reading, but he assured her it meant the book held that much more pleasure. “Stay out of this, uncle,” she ordered, keeping her gaze on Perben.
“Melanthe?” someone asked, confused.
Perben managed another smile, a vicious, gloating smirk. “Melanthe.”
“I swore on the graves of my family I’d send your traitorous soul to them for retribution, and I haven’t rescinded my vow.”
“LAPIS!” Baldur screamed, barely managing the words past a tightened throat.
She ducked as someone tried to snag her. Perben snatched a knife from the table and threw, uncaring who might step in the way. She raised her right hand and the blade smacked against her gauntlet before rebounding, flipping through the air and clattered against the wall. It tinging to the ground and spun away. He drew a larger knife from his belt sheath as one of his friends slid between them.
The friend lunged at her; she slipped to the side and rammed her elbow into his back. He stumbled forward into a chair, taking it to the floor with him. Another raced at her; she kneed him in the stomach. He fell with a startled cry and curled up, shaking. Perben surrounded himself with men who had no idea how to fight. Did he make certain of that?
Screams, roars; her side tingled, and she squatted and rolled as someone tried to wrap his arms around her from behind. She ran the short distance to her target as he set one foot in front of the other and wove his blade about. The man Ciaran spoke of, Gerrit, shuffled back from him, disbelief mingled with disgust. He knew the traitor now—whether he believed it, she hardly cared.
She studied her enemy, waiting for his move. The rebels told tales of Teivel’s skill in hand-to-hand fighting. His sneak attacks, his fast footwork, his faster strikes—he was the Rebel’s Devil because of it. Patch never seemed impressed with the stories, and she assumed him another rebel of standing who bloviated about their abilities so others would hold them in high regard. She could not take the chance he had no skill, but if her partner thought the man could take her, he would have already warned her.
Perben thought her unarmed; he gloated as he rushed to strike. She arched away to the left and triggered her right gauntlet; her own weapon slid out, smooth and quick. She sliced across, the edge carving a slit in his right sleeve, but it did not quite graze his flesh. He leaped back, his eyes wide as she whirled with the momentum and struck out, slashing down. He narrowly avoided her cut against his skin, though it ripped through his shirt. He tangled with a chair and fell, planting his ass on the tabletop as another friend rushed her, holding one for protection.
He expected that to stop her?
She dodged him and jumped to the open section of floor, away from the confines of tables and chairs. She sheathed her blade with an ominous shing and grabbed the legs, tearing it from his hands. She glimpsed his stunned expression as she slammed the wooden back into his shoulder, sending him reeling into his friends. She threw the seat at her enemy and redrew.
Perben regained his balance and his hate; he easily dodged and confronted her, unimpressed. So be it. When her blade buried itself into his throat, he could drown in a moment of shock that he underestimated his foe before he bled to death on the floor.
He was fast. He darted in and out, slicing and retreating far enough her longer weapon could not touch him. Concern for being cut worked against him; he had more flexibility with a free blade, but he pulled attacks and skidded away, avoiding her slashes. It kept him fingerlengths away from striking her. She positioned herself sideways to him, making her body as thin a target as possible. She did not doubt, if he harmed her, he would not stop at one hit.
His position among the rebels relied on her being dead, after all.
The room fuzzed and narrowed to the point she saw Perben, his companions, but no one else. His friends tried to throw silverware at her; most missed, and she either dodged the rest or let them strike her. Spoons, especially, bounced away with a sharp but minute sting. An enterprising man shattered glasses at her feet, but she simply moved away from the shards. Could she force her enemy to step all over them? She doubted the fine bits would puncture his boot soles, but it would make for a crunchy, slippery foothold.
A buddy drew a short, stout sword with a longer reach than her blades by perhaps a fingertip. He faced her; Perben glared at him and barked something, which he ignored as he leaped past and ran at her. He expected her fear, he expected her to run.
She expected him to handle his chosen weapon better than he did.
He sliced down; she avoided his strike. He slashed across to the left, then reversed. She caught the sword against her blade, then triggered her left gauntlet. She slammed her second blade down crosswise, near the hilt, and jerked the tip of his sword upwards; the grip tore from his fingers and the weapon flipped away. It struck the floor and skidded; Brander snagged it and backed up, holding it to his breast.
The stupid man stared at her, clutching his hand. Stupid, and not her immediate target. She slammed her foot into his chest, and he sprawled backward, almost taking Perben with him. Dammit. The traitor avoided the collision and regarded the second blade with harsh gravity, his amusement gone.
“Stop this at once!”
The round, bearded man tried to wade into the center of the fight, but a younger rebel grabbed his collar and yanked him back. “Meinrad!” he protested as the other gag-yelped.
Perben attempted to take advantage of the distraction and jabbed in, quick; she turned to the side and sliced at his forearm. Cloth ripped and a thin line of blood stained the light brown cloth. Too bad, she cut too shallow.
More men surrounded her; she held her arms out with a slight crook and whirled. They tumbled back, even though the blades came nowhere near their precious skin. A few fell, slipping on the shattered glass they forgot existed. The traitor readied a lunge, and she made another circle; he, too, retreated, unwilling to near her fast and deadly weapons.
His mouth firmed, and he attempted to take advantage of the spin, racing to her left. He slashed crosswise, expecting to cut her chest, and deep.
Lapis arched back; Perben missed, carving air. She planted her right foot, turned, and swung her right-handed weapon, aiming for his stomach. The glint of a blade, to her right, just behind. It would slice through her shoulder, down her back, if she followed her momentum.
She would gut the traitor, take the hit.
Strike. For her father, mother, siblings, Nicodem staff, the townspeople caught in a power play they knew nothing about until it killed them. She drove at his stomach; death and revenge, especially for Endre, and for Miki.
Someone impacted her. She shrieked as the room spun; her right-hand blade struck something and cut deep before she fell to her knees with the unexpected weight, and they slid, turning about, stopping before they hit the wall. The arm about her shoulders and chest tightened. What happened? Who else had been close enough to act?
“Don’t come near her.”
Faelan. His low, enraged growl echoed through the room, silenced the others. Blood smeared the floor, leading to his right arm. He had taken the blade meant for her.
“You stupid fuck!” she cried, grabbing at his forearm. Deep, deep slice, so much hot blood—
“Got it,” Caitria said as she tumbled to her knees next to them. She ripped the sleeve apart. “I need you to hold pressure to his arm here,” and she pressed her thumb against the inside of his elbow. Lapis let her blades go, a fast but cautious exercise, and tamped down as the other woman grabbed the device she had set on the floor next to her. Blood smeared the knobs and buttons, but she tapped a few and the white square object opened, revealing a cavity large enough to cradle the wounded arm.
“Why did you do that?” Lapis asked, the blood, too much blood, scaring her. Too hot against her fingers, the metallic tang filtered into her nose, her mouth.
Faelan settled his forehead against the side of her head, as he used to do when she was a child. “I can’t lose you, Lapis,” he whispered, agony lacing his tone. “Not again.”
“Lose me? I could have taken the hit. It wouldn’t have killed me. I would have gutted him and he would have choked to death on his lies!” Her voice rose too high, and she tried to tamp down on it, with no success. “Everyone else is gone. Everyone! And if you die . . . Faelan—”
He laughed; Lapis felt rage descend. How dare he endanger himself in that way, when she could very well have weathered the blow and continued functioning while her foe bled out at her feet?
“You realize, you’re speaking Fae-speak?” he asked.
She blinked as another woman, in a prim pale blue dress and carrying a large leather bag sank next to them. She gifted Faelan with a glare torn from the depths of concern and acute exasperation as she snapped a pair of gloves onto her hands.
“You’re an idiot twice over,” she informed him as she settled her hands where Lapis had her own. “Must run in the family, since your father managed the same thing.” She eyed her, her expression gentling. “Slowly remove your hands. I’ll help from here.”
Faelan sagged against her; he had lost too much blood in so short a time. She hissed up her breath, but Caitria cast her a quick, amused smile that covered her concern.
“We’ve stitched him up plenty of times, Lapis,” she informed her. “He’ll be fine.” She settled the device about his forearm and red lights raced up and down, in the center of the buttons. Red meant bad, and her chest tightened at the thought of him dying in her embrace. She could not watch another funeral of a family member murdered by rebel hand.
She slipped her arm about his back and kept him propped up, a fuzz racing through her head. She heard nothing, saw little more, her gaze blurring on tears and numbness and Faelan’s assertion. Fae-speak. As a child, Faelan unwittingly developed a language only he and Anthea understood; adults claimed it gibberish, but they comprehended each other just fine. She and their other siblings picked it up as small children and used it as often as Jilvaynan and Lyddisian. It led to several amusing, mischievous episodes, and deep frustration among the people who could not stop them before they ran off on their adventures. When Faelan upset her to the point her fury burst forth, she screamed at him in Fae-speak, venting in a way few grasped. He found her tantrums amusing, which only added to her rage.
They continued the tradition. How odd, she had not forgotten it.
“How did you even know where I was?” she asked, attempting a pathetic distraction. Midir had stayed the night at Dachs’s place, with Faelan and his guard in attendance. Had one of the rebels woken him, concerned she flew from the Eaves with two rats, distraught?
“Rin and Lyet came and got me,” he mumbled. “They told me what happened, and that you took off. It wasn’t hard to figure out where you went and who you planned to target.”
Rin and Lyet?
“Lyet knows a fast way to get here, and Rin agreed to bring Midir and the rest.”
The royal stood in the doorway, Neassa by his side, Varr a towering presence behind them. His other protectors and the people Faelan brought to the Eaves fanned out around them, stern and silent—except for Keril and Klyo. Keril looked ill. Klyo looked like a small child who needed to tell her parents she accidentally let the family pet loose, and a wagon ran it over.
Varr. Dust coated him and a dark circle with black streaks shooting from it marred his vest on the left side. Tears and rough patches littered the leather and his shirt. He always wore a marching shirt, adequate protection against his foes, but the damage concerned her.
The rats eyed the shouting and screeching rebels as they scurried over to them and planted themselves against the wall, keeping their small group between them and the rest of the room. She always feared that Rin would see the rebellion as a viable employer, drawn to the danger and excitement the organization promised. Would he still, after becoming a target for the traitor?
Lyet stiffly regarded Baldur, her distrust emanating from her. She must have met him before she left her mother’s home; her stepfather worked with several merchant associates from many income levels. Of course, the headman had far more pressing issues than remembering a runaway and tattling to the ass she fled from.
Patch strode after them. A fine layer of dust coated him as well, and exhaustion lay beneath his fury. He eyed her then his gaze fell on Perben, who had hunched over, clutching his arm, teeth barred, hate turning a pretty façade into ugly menace. Blood ran profusely from his bicep to his forearm; too bad she missed her objective. Friends looked helpless and turned to Patch for help; the traitor looked up at the chaser in time to meet his knuckles.
“If I can’t kill him, neither can you.”
Had those words just popped from her mouth?
Perben hit the ground, unconscious, blood from his nose and lips smearing the floor about him. His supporters gaped and Meinrad hustled up, wildly swinging his arms, accompanied by another burdened with an armful of medical supplies.
Patch regarded her with steady annoyance, the lights on his patch racing about, reflecting his emotions; she felt hot, runny tears course down her cheeks but did not look away. Soft, amused if exasperated laughter echoed below the strangled shouting and confusion. Meinrad looked at the door and stopped, shocked. Several others paused and frowned; a scant few recognized Midir and Varr, and their dazed expressions proved that his presence, as he wished, came as a complete surprise to the Blue Council.
“Midir,” he whispered.
“What’s going on?” another shouted, his voice high enough to screech over the general babble. He was taller, thinner than Meinrad, with a very short beard that lined his chin rather than hid it. He had bushy brown brows and dark, angry eyes too large for his gaunt face. His blue suit, while plainer than his cohort’s clothing, shimmered with a purple subtlety indicative of expensive dyes.
“Something sinister,” Midir said, though Lapis heard the contempt beneath the pleasant tone. She wondered who else noticed, or if she did because she grew up around him. His gaze flicked to her and Faelan, then back to the crowd gathering around Meinrad. “I would expect no less, from something involving Teivel.”
“What do you know of this?” Meinrad demanded, flinging his arm out towards her, nearly striking another rebel rushing to him, concerned. No one neared her or Faelan; did they expect Caitria and the other woman to care for him? Or did it mean Perben had far more of a following than her brother, and that rebels preferred traitors to honorable sons?
Talk dwindled as Jiy and Coriy rebels alike faced the heir to the Jilvayna throne. Sherridan and Brander stood just to the side of the door with a scattering of bewildered locals and Baldur. Their stoic and unsurprised aplomb contrasted against the grey-skinned, flabbergasted headman, who rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet while wringing his hands. She belatedly realized Relaine hovered over Perben, distraught.
False concern. She chose the wrong side.
People evaporated from Patch’s path as he walked to their group. He briefly studied the injury and gave Faelan his exasperated but unconcerned look. “I thought you were faster than that.”
Her brother raised his head to glare, though the glassiness of his eyes defeated the purpose.
“Faelan,” she whispered. Her chest clenched as he slumped against her.
“I’ll be fine,” he reminded her.
“He’ll be fine,” Patch agreed. “Slaine’s an excellent healer, and Caitria is unmatched in using tech.” He squatted down next to her and pressed his lips against the side of her head, an act she did not deserve. “You don’t think I should kill him?”
“Evidence,” she reminded him, her voice trembling hard enough she barely managed the word.
Whitley scurried over, avoiding rebel and table to reach them. “I don’t know what you need, but I can get it,” he said, his voice strained, his face ashen.
Slaine nodded. “I need boiling water, a large pan and clean, bleached cloth wraps. Put them in Faelan’s room.”
He glanced at Lapis; she managed a small smile before he hastened away to retrieve what the doctor asked for. He had a brief interest in Rin and Lyet, but his feet took him out of the room too fast for him to study them.
“He is NOT a traitor!” Meinrad roared. All attention shifted to him. He took a single menacing step towards Midir; the royal protectors immediately drew weapons and levered them at the man. He halted, hate emanating from him. “Rambart and I would know, if he were!” He smacked the thin rebel in the chest, meaning to indicate camaraderie; instead the man stumbled back under the strike.
“You see him as your protégé and confidant,” Midir told him. “I still find it difficult to believe you and Rambart ignored the obvious explanation for so many disastrous missions because you thought Teivel above reproach.”
“He IS above reproach,” Rambart gritted, his guttural tone wobbling in fury as he rubbed his breast. “Did you send her to attack him?” he asked, pointing an imperious finger at her. She fought the irrational urge to bite it.
Midir raised an eyebrow. “Melanthe is her own woman,” he said. “She vowed, when Teivel helped Kale invade Nicodem, to revenge her family. I have no doubt she would have, had Faelan not interfered.”
“My sister,” Faelan said, the same ungrounded fury he used earlier lacing his tone.
“Your family’s dead!” Rambart protested. “We all know this! NO ONE survived!”
The lady, flanked by Ciaran and a woman dressed in a sleek, form-fitting black leather outfit and strong boots, glared at the gathered rebels. She wore a simple, purple travel dress and shawl, her hair tucked up in a messy blonde bun. Lapis remembered her steely expression from when she and Neola had done something that lit her fearful irritation, and its impact had not dulled with her age. Meinrad stepped back before he caught himself and reddened perceptibly at his cowardice.
“One survived. One terrified child who had to outrun the soldiers who showed up on my doorstep, demanding entry.” Her lips pressed hard together, her chin wrinkling with the act. “Melanthe.” Her loathing when she beheld Perben silenced some of the chatter that still sprinkled the room. “He killed my daughter,” she hissed. “I’ve spent eight years collecting the evidence to prove to you he led Kale into Nicodem.” She raised an arm; she held a pack stuffed to the point the seams slightly parted. “Eight years of correspondence, of hints, of diaries and orders.” She let it fall to the floor with a soft plunk; it sagged over, muffled crinkling emanating from it.
“Ailis—” Meinrad trembled, staring at the bag in disgusted disapproval.
“Eight years, Meinrad,” she snarled. “I spent eight years knowing you’d never see his evil, even if I uncovered evidence against him.” She pointed at Lapis and Faelan. “But I can’t let him take any more from those two. I’ll take him out myself if I have to!”
The look Ciaran granted his mother tickled her tummy, and she almost laughed. She doubted anyone who knew Lady Thyra would dare put a knife in her hand because she would not hesitate to go after those who wronged her, however ill-equipped she was to use it. The woman with them smirked, then glanced over at Faelan; her amusement died as her gaze trailed the blood across the floor. Ciaran jerked his head, and she hastily walked to them, her brows knitting together.
“He’ll be fine, Jetta,” Patch said.
Lapis felt her face heat before a dark cold settled in her chest. As a chaser and rebel, she respected the stories she heard about Jetta. She snuck into unsneakable places, cared for uncareable problems, and targeted the unassailable. Lapis wanted to meet her, mostly to calm the dazzlement she felt when she heard the tales, but now, sitting in her brother’s blood, his injury caused by her actions—
Jetta cast the rats a brief, warm smile before settling on her knees behind Faelan and Slaine. He turned his head; Lapis could not see his expression, but her exasperation made him half-laugh.
“I’ve taken worse.”
“That’s not the compliment you assume,” she told him in a throaty murmur as she grasped and smoothed her darkest-black hair down her right shoulder. Her deep umber gaze flicked to Lapis. “What happened?”
“Perben killed a street rat,” she whispered. “He . . . thought he was killing Rin.” She pointed her chin at him. She knew, if Teivel had murdered him, even Faelan would not have stopped her from returning the favor. As soon as circumstance presented the opportunity, she would have returned to the fight—and not missed a second time.
Jetta glanced over to the rats. “I’m sorry,” she told them, sympathy and regret lacing her voice. “We should have gotten here last night, but they closed the city. I didn’t sneak us in fast enough.”
“Did you use the tunnels?” Patch asked.
“No. The Minq were waiting for us,” she said. “Lord Adrastos sent word through them, and they took us into the undermarket and to a lift. We ended up in the Vale and made our way by side streets.”
“He’s OK? Lord Adrastos?” Lapis asked.
“I believe so. The Minq certainly thought so.”
“He’s fine,” Patch grumbled. “He’s an idiot, but he’s fine.”
“He’s weaseled his way out of more than one tight situation,” the woman agreed.
“I don’t give a damn, Meinrad!” Lady Thyra shrieked, her voice echoing through the room. “You claim he’s like a son? He helped kill my daughter, my friends, their family! You’re supporting a murderer!” She sucked in a huge breath to scream more, but Ciaran settled his hand on her back; she whirled, glaring at him, but subsided.
“It doesn’t matter,” Patch said coldly. “I don’t need the evidence to know he’s the traitorous murderer. I’ve listened to Lapis’s nightmares about that day for the last eight years. You don’t want to admit his treachery? I don’t care. He’s staked through the blood of innocents, and I’ll bring due what he owes.”
“Don’t you dare touch him,” Rambart snapped.
Patch’s small, maliciously amused smile expressed exactly what he thought of those who prompted it. “And how are you going to stop me?”
“The evidence is here, and we will use it,” Midir chided. He glanced at the Jiy rebels, his gaze bouncing over Baldur before focusing on Brander and Sherridan. “We need to place Teivel in a cell and have a guard on him at all hours.” He motioned to those surrounding him. “At least one should be from Faelan’s guard.”
“We have a cell,” Sherridan said. “It’s in the cellar, and out of the way.”
“Sherridan!” Relaine cried out, aghast. “We can’t put Teivel there!”
“We can and shall,” Midir told her calmly.
“But . . . he’s a rebel hero!”
“He’s a rebel traitor.” The man motioned; Eithne and a guard Lapis did not know purposefully strode to Perben and the cluster of friends about him. “He used his completed missions as camouflage for the ones he interfered with. Ailis also uncovered evidence that he had a hand in hiring Ahebban’s murderer, which puts a few others in a suspicious light.” He did not bother to hide his observance of Baldur.
“Is that why you’re here?” Meinrad scowled, his tummy jiggling as he held back stronger emotion.
Midir studied the surrounding rebels in his methodical manner. “No, though circumstance has forced my hand. There will be a reckoning, among the Blue Council as well as the Jiy House. I will initiate the changes that need to happen to make the rebellion what it should be. Teivel’s treachery and how he hid his dealings is part of that.”
“Faelan, if you plan to walk on your own two feet to your room, you need to do it now,” Slaine said in a soft whisper. He nodded against Lapis’s shoulder before deliberately sitting up; he kept his arm about her as she rose with him, being his crutch so he could stand. He garnered attention, which he ignored as he strode towards Midir, Caitria holding the tech around his arm and punching at the buttons. Slaine followed far enough away to prove that, after such a wound, he was resilient enough to leave the scene on his own. Jetta glanced at Midir and Lady Thyra—they both nodded, so she accompanied Faelan and those healing him. Patch motioned to the rats, and they jumped from the wall, eager to vacate the suffocating atmosphere.
Varr said something to Faelan as he passed; his unfriendly glare made the three women chuckle. Lapis hurried after, wanting to vacate the room so she did not have to suffer the reminder of what should have been.
She had failed.
“Are you alright?” Midir asked, intently concerned.
“Yeah,” she whispered.
“Melanthe,” Lady Thyra moved past the royal and gripped her shoulder; she wanted to hug her, but enough of Faelan’s blood marred her it would stain the dress and cause unwanted questions.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t—”
“No,” she said firmly. “It’s not solely your burden. We didn’t arrive fast enough, to save another life.” She smashed her lips together as a single tear leaked from the side of her eye.
“That burden ain’t the Lady’s, nor yours, neither,” Rin said quietly. “An’ there’s another one ‘bout, tanned, with dark hair ‘n eyes. Some rats said he’d been wearin’ dirt-colored clothin’, nothin’ t’ mark ‘m as different from a Lells customer. You mightn’t be safe, even with him taken out.”
“You didn’t see him?” Patch asked.
Rin shook his head. “I weren’t ‘round, or I woulda confronted ‘m, in the open, ‘n made a fuss. There’s others wantin’ t’ get us, from Hoyt. Woulda thought ‘m from him, not rebels.”
“We’ll see what we can get from Teivel when he wakes up,” Varr said, glaring malevolently into the room. Many who watched Faelan leave shrank down, turned about, intimidated. Rin nodded, and Lyet smiled with sharp satisfaction.
Lapis pointed at his marred vest. “What happened?”
Patch chuckled, then took himself out of the way of the man’s hearty glower. Both Lady Thyra and Midir studied the black spot while Varr puffed out his chest, growing bigger, like a cat.
“There is a reason I wear a marching shirt,” he reminded them huffily.
With the bodyguard in a mood, Lapis decided to leave the mess in Ailis and Midir’s capable hands. She cast one look at the Jiy rebels. Neither Brander nor Sherridan seemed concerned about what just happened; Brander stood placidly, still holding the sword, and Sherridan eyed the swirling movement about the room with an expectant smile. Baldur looked faint, numb. What had Ailis dug up about his involvement with the previous headman’s murder? Or had he taken advantage of a desperate situation that benefitted him and looked the other way concerning an event that aided him?
He had no hope of placating Midir’s anger with him.
Relaine joined them, shaking. One of the Jiy men touched her arm, concerned, and Lapis fled before she puked in revulsion.