Home > The Core (Demon Cycle #5)(11)

The Core (Demon Cycle #5)(11)
Author: Peter V. Brett

“Callen broke Yon Gray’s arm,” Gared said.

“I caught Keet and Stela stealing from one of my warehouses,” Smitt said. “Food, weapons, tools. My own son knocked me down when I tried to stop them. I put a new lock on the warehouse, and the next time they came they kicked in the six-inch goldwood door like it was kindling.”

“What does all this have to do with Child Franq?” Leesha asked.

“It came to my attention that the Children had begun to self-train, forming their own rituals,” Hayes said. “Fearing a growing risk of heresy, I sent Franq to minister to them. Reports indicated they were hungry to learn warding, and Franq is a skilled Warder. He used it to gain access.”

“And?” Leesha asked.

Hayes blew out a breath. “He has…joined them, mistress.”

Leesha blinked. “You’re telling me that Child Franq, a man made entirely of starch, has joined the Warded Children?”

Hayes nodded grimly. “The last time I saw him, mistress, he had taken to wearing a simple brown robe.”

“That isn’t unusual,” Leesha said.

“His sleeves were cut away to show the wards tattooed on his arms,” Hayes said. “And he stank of sweat and ichor.”

“I’ll need to meet with them,” Leesha said. “And soon.”

“Ent a good idea, mistress,” Wonda said.

“She’s right, Leesh,” Gared said. “Children’re dangerous.”

“I trained ’em,” Wonda said. “Listen to me. Know they will.”

Leesha shook her head. “I need to see for myself. I assure you, we will go prepared and do nothing to provoke them until we have their measure.”

“Must be someone you can send,” Wonda said, “just to feel things out.”

“Normally that would be a job for my herald,” Leesha said, “but with Rojer gone, that position is empty.” She looked to Kendall. “The job is yours, Kendall, if you want it.”

Kendall blinked. “Me, mistress? Ent much more’n an apprentice…”

“Nonsense,” Leesha said. “Rojer himself told me you are the only one he’s ever met with his talent for charming demons. The Hollow needs that with him gone, and Rojer’s word is more than good enough for me. Guildmaster?”

Hary Roller smiled, producing a scroll and handing it to the young woman. “Your Jongleur’s license, Kendall Demonsong.”

“Ay, like the sound of that,” Kendall said, taking the scroll.

“So will you take the job?” Leesha pressed. “The license is yours regardless, but there is no one else I would have in the position.”

Kendall looked to Amanvah, who nodded. “Yes, mistress, of course.”

Hayes harrumphed. Leesha raised an eyebrow his way. “Something on your mind, Inquisitor?”

Hayes pursed his lips. “Only that your new herald appears to answer to an Evejan priestess first and her countess second.”

Amanvah’s brows knit together, aura spiking. Hayes saw it, too, and flinched. Leesha raised a hand before she could retort. “I trust Kendall implicitly, Inquisitor, which is more than I can say for your judgment at the moment. As for Amanvah…” She looked to the dama’ting. “You might as well tell them.”

Amanvah drew a breath, returning to serenity. “Sikvah and I will be returning to Everam’s Bounty after our husband’s funeral. The Damaji’ting of the Kaji was slain in my brother’s coup. I am to take her place.”

There were gasps around the table. “Damaji’ting…” Jona began.

“ ‘Shepherdess’ is the closest translation,” Amanvah said, “though it falls short, as it is a secular title as well. I will have direct control of the dama’ting and women of the Kaji, Krasia’s largest tribe.”

“Shepherdess and duchess both, then,” Jona said, bowing to her. “Congratulations, Your Highness.”

Similar sentiments echoed around the table. Amanvah acknowledged them with regal nods before turning to meet Leesha’s eyes. “I cannot speak for my mother and brother, mistress, but know by the blood we share that you and the Hollow will always have an ally in me.”

Leesha nodded. “Of that I have no doubt.” She turned back to Arther. “What news from Lakton?”

Arther eyed Amanvah warily. “Mistress…”

“There’s nothing you can say that Amanvah won’t learn on her return, Minister,” Leesha said.

Arther pursed his lips, choosing his words carefully. “The island remains free, though the waters now host a growing number of Krasian privateers.”

“And the mainland?” Leesha asked.

“Still under Krasian control,” Arther said, “but their positions are weaker. The remains of Prince Jayan’s army have not returned. Half have deserted, preying like wolves on any settlements they come upon. The rest have taken refuge behind the walls of the Monastery of Dawn.”

“And the refugees who took succor there?” Leesha had sent Briar Damaj to find any that may have escaped the slaughter.

“Briar’s been in and out,” Gared said. “Brought in a group already. Due this evening with the last of ’em, includin’ a couple of Milnese dignitaries he wants you to meet.”

Leesha took a sip of her tea. “Have rooms ready for them, and an invitation to call on me once they’ve had a day or two to refresh themselves.”

She set down her cup. “Amanvah, let us discuss tonight’s service.”

Elona was pacing the hall outside when the meeting ended, but she wasn’t waiting for Erny. Her eyes, and her aura, remained fixed on Gared as she gave her husband a peck on the cheek and sent him on down the hall with a shove.

None of the councilors noticed Elona’s fixation, not even Hayes with his warded eyes. All were simply grateful she was not focused on them, and hurried past. But Gared lingered, talking with Arther and Gamon. When Elona entered the room, the two men scampered away as quickly as their dignity would allow. By the time Gared saw her, Elona had closed the door and he was trapped.

Elona turned to Leesha, who saw the same frightened urge to flee ripple through her own aura. She liked to think she had better control of her mother, but auras didn’t lie.

“Bit of privacy, dear?” Elona’s voice held a dangerous edge. Gared looked at Leesha in panic.

“Sorry, Gar, this is overdue. You and my mother have things to discuss.”

Leesha turned and Wonda opened the door to the royal entrance. The two of them swept through, closing the heavy door behind them.

“That’ll be all for now, Wonda,” Leesha said.

“Mistress?” Wonda asked.

“I may need to step back into this,” Leesha said. “Do you want to be anywhere near it when I do?”

The panic rushed through Wonda’s aura now. Night, was there anyone in all the world not terrified of Elona? “No, mistress.”

“Off you go, then,” Leesha said. “Run and find Rosal. Ask her to fetch her promised from the council room.” Relief flooded Wonda’s aura as she turned and sprinted down the hall.

Since returning to the Hollow, Leesha had forgone wearing the pocketed apron of an Herb Gatherer. Araine had told her it was not dignified or proper for a countess, and much as Leesha resented it, the woman was right.

But neither was it dignified or proper for Leesha to hide who she was. She had everyone address her as mistress, and her gowns were covered in stylish pockets, filled with herbs and warded items.

She selected a delicate warded silver ball dangling from the end of a fine silver chain. She set the ball into one ear, pulling the chain over and behind her ear to hold it in place. Inside the ball was a broken piece of demon bone. Leesha had left its twin on her throne, and through it she could hear everything occurring in the council room.

“Been avoiding me, boy,” Elona said, but it wasn’t the snappish tone she took with others. This was the purr of a cat sleeping atop the mousehole.

“Just been busy,” Gared said.

“Ay, you were always busy,” Elona agreed. “Until you had a stiff tree in your pants, and then you were at my door, beggin’ like a wolfhound.”

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