As soon as they were out of Jeyd’s sight, Aled stepped up to walk shoulder to shoulder with her. For a moment, she thought he would come close enough to let her lean against him. At the same moment, he looked at her, and she gave him a low smile. He stayed just a hair away, but it was enough, knowing that he’d offered it. Her body was beginning to ache, finally finding all the hurts she’d handed it, but it was easy to walk steady beside him.
“Where to?” Aled asked.
“Macsen,” Seryn said.
“Of course,” Aled said, like he’d never expected a different answer. She glanced over, wondering why he’d bothered to ask.
It wasn’t hard to find their way back to the entrance hall they’d come through when they first arrived. The halls were laid out in broad, sweeping lines. Every corner felt more like the bend in a stream, sweeping them downward and back to that high-ceilinged room. They passed men and women on their way – some of them obviously servants on errands, some of them castle dwellers in rich cloth – and returned quiet greetings when they were given. Most of them said nothing, and Seryn was happy with that as well.
At the entrance hall, Aled turned a small circle, then looked at Seryn for further directions.
There was a servant girl waiting at the other side of the hall. She hovered at the base of the stairs leading to the other side of the castle. As soon as Seryn and Aled had touched the main floor, she’d turned to look at them, but hadn’t yet turned away, even when Seryn met her eyes.
Seryn motioned for Aled to follow her and strode toward the girl. The girl folded her hands in front of her as soon as Seryn got close.
“We’re looking for Commander Macsen,” Seryn said.
The girl nodded. “This way,” she said. Her voice barely came out above a whisper. Risking a look at Aled, she spun and started up the stairs, eyes glued to the floor.
They followed her up the stairs, down a corridor, then up a narrower flight to the next floor. The hall was plain, but scattered with broad carved doors that hinted at wealth on the other side. The flagstones were all scrubbed smooth, and the air felt light, like these rooms aired to the outside easily. The girl took them halfway down the hall. Stopping at a door on the right, she nodded, then scurried back the way they’d come.
Aled watched her go, surprised. “Friendly…” he said.
Seryn ignored him and knocked on the door.
“Come in,” Deaver called.
Seryn pushed inside, Aled close behind.
Deaver’s sitting room was well-furnished, to the point that Seryn would have preferred fewer things. There was a long table lounging a few feet inside, splitting the room in two. On the near side, a carpet spread over floor, and two end tables framed the door. Candelabras sat unlit in the afternoon light. A statue of a wolf and cubs curled near one wall, watching the rest of the room. On the other side of the table there were two stuff chairs, draped in soft fur, and a long couch with curling arms, all circled around a low table. More modest chairs were pressed to the walls, waiting to be needed. Every wall was hung with a tapestry woven in clean, bright colors, so that the two dark doors that led off on either side to more private rooms stood out like holes in the room.
Seryn glanced at it, and it felt more like clutter than comfort. It was too difficult just to walk through the room, let alone move through it in any rush.
Macsen sat in one of the stuffed chairs, and Deaver rested in the other, both relaxed and smiling.
“You did good,” Macsen said. He raised a toast to Seryn with the silver cup in his hand. When neither she nor Aled came any farther into the room, he motioned them around the table. “It couldn’t have gone better.”
Deaver was grinning, too wide for polite company, but he looked more like Seryn remembered him than he had all day. “Her majesty was very impressed.”
Seryn came to a stop at the arm of the couch, and looked at him curiously. “Her majesty?”
Deaver nodded. “His majesty, too,” he assured her. “But it’s her majesty you’re here to soothe. The king is happy with their current arrangement. He sends his guard to pick up any keimon that makes too much noise. They send them out of the city, or relocate them, or whatever needs doing…” He waved his hands like it didn’t really matter. “… but as long as a keimon can keep his business quiet, the king is happy to let them keep doing just that. He doesn’t mind them, he just doesn’t want to see them.”
Seryn blinked calmly as he gave a small shake of the head.
“But the queen wants them under control,” Deaver finished. “You can’t blame her.”
“And control is exactly what we have,” Macsen said. Seryn looked at him without turning her head. “They like our plan. You convinced them quite nicely that it’s effective.”
“I don’t think anyone could dislike the idea of an army like that protecting their borders,” Deaver said.
“They just need to know that it will suit their needs,” Macsen said. His smiled faded a little and Seryn could sense the orders waiting at the back of his tongue. “They need to know they have enough keimon to make this worth their while. It’s a lot of effort to go through if they only have a handful to train. There’s a patrol leaving a quarter-hour. You’re both going with them, just to see what you can find.”
“See what we can find?” Seryn repeated.
“You’re not bringing anyone in,” Macsen said. He leaned back. “But you’re always better at seeing your own kind that we are. It’s any easy run.”
“The patrol forms up in the yard, under a Captain Enander,” Macsen said. He nodded toward the door. “Good luck.”
Nodding, Seryn and Aled left.
Aled pulled the door shut behind them and took two quick steps to catch up with Seryn.
“You up for this?” Aled asked.
“For a walk around town?” Seryn asked. She looked over her shoulder, eyebrows raised.
“Yeah,” Aled said.
She came to a slow stop, looking at him seriously. “I’m fine, Aled.”
“You were bleeding half an hour ago,” Aled pointed out. “And you used energy…”
“Barely…” Seryn said, quietly.
“If we were on regular duty, you’d be on leave for the rest of the day,” Aled said.
Seryn shook her head a little. She would sleep well enough that night, but she’d never needed all the rest they gave her. But she was aching, shoulders and arms, complaining louder than she’d hoped, as adrenaline continued to drain from her blood.
“Let me go,” Aled offered quietly.
Seryn glanced back toward Deaver’s rooms.
“He won’t care,” Aled said. “And you know it.”
“Stop,” Seryn murmured. “You’re being…”
“Smart?” Aled asked. “Or just better than Macsen?”
Seryn looked back at the door one more time. “You find me as soon as you come back. He never knows we didn’t go together.”
Aled nodded immediately. “Of course. Just make sure you keep quiet here. He’ll notice if you get into any trouble.”
“Go,” Seryn said. Shaking her head again, she gave him a quick shove. “You’ll be late.”
He started quickly down the hall.
“Aled,” she called after him.
He turned back as soon as he heard her.
She held his eyes, making sure she had his attention. “This is the last time we do this.”
Aled paused. Then he nodded, ducked into a salute, turned and started away again.