Chapter 18

Four nonstop hours in the training arena sparring and fencing with the newest recruits did little to soothe Ayalah’s anger. She now paced up and down the street before Gavin’s house, attempting to calm herself before knocking on the door, lest she take out her anger on some unsuspecting child-servant of his.

Finally, she gave up and pounded on the door. She barged past the child who opened it, stomped into the kitchen, and found Gavin sitting at the little table in the corner, a full mug of ale in one hand, another mug across the table from him.

“You were expecting me?”

He nodded. “I could hear your cursing from inside. With the doors and windows shut.” He raised an eyebrow. “Well?”

“That pathetic excuse for a king has crossed the line this time, Gavin. I have half a mind to march right back up to the palace and assassinate him where he stands. The entire city will thank me for it, and you know it.”

Gavin took a swig of his drink and said nothing.

She paced the small kitchen as she spoke, taking care to keep her voice low, her rage controlled. “Would you like to know where he’s sending me this time? To Olekoth. Do you want to know why? Not as a diplomat visiting an ally, not as a warrior completing a heroic quest. He’s sending me there to retrieve some jewels for one of his spoiled, brainless wives. Jewels, Gavin! Of all the insulting, unacceptable—”

“Enough.” Gavin held up one hand to stop her. “Ayalah, isn’t Olekoth the very place you need to go?”

She stopped pacing. “Well, yes. But that’s not the point. He doesn’t know that.”

“Ayalah.” Gavin gave her the same piercing look he’d been giving her her whole life, the one that made her feel silly and childish.

“What?” she said. “The queen?”

“The other queens are spoiled and brainless, I’ll give you that,” he said. “But Tazarah is clever and vengeful—you should be happy she’s on our side.”

“Our side?” She slowly felt her rage shrinking. “Then you sent…?”

He nodded. “Tazarah and I have an… an understanding. Did you think she interrupted your meeting with the king by chance?”

She sat at the table and stared at the mug of ale Gavin had set out for her, not wanting to meet his eyes. “She did seem a bit vapid.”

He chuckled. “That was the idea, I’m sure.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes, sipping their drinks.

“I was surprised you sent me that letter,” he finally said. “What if someone else had intercepted it?”

“It was a risk I had to take. I failed the assignment he gave me—on the off chance he decided to…” She trailed off, not wanting to voice her thought aloud.

“Ah.” Gavin nodded. “And the smithy?”

“Is coming with me to Olekoth.”

“Good.”

She looked up. “Good? The man refuses to carry a weapon, and he’s insolent: he looks me in the eye, and he calls me by my first name.”

“Nonetheless, good,” Gavin repeated. “You’ll need a friend there, even one who carries no weapon. Be careful what you drink there, Ayalah. The people of Olekoth tend to trade in strange herbs and concoctions: some are for fun, but others are deadly. Keep him with you to watch your back. And watch his, too.”

She didn’t ask how Gavin knew this, but she believed him; a chill crept across her chest.  “You think—?”

He nodded. “Just because we found him first doesn’t mean they won’t still try to torture the information out of him. Your task won’t be any easier with them on your trail.”

She hadn’t thought of this before, but it made sense. She nodded reluctantly.

“When do you leave?”

“The ship leaves in a week, so I figure we have another two, maybe three days before we need to head to the docks.”

“Your horse wandered back, but I think you should take a couple of standard royal horses this time, so you can leave them while you’re gone and not need to worry about them.” He set his mug down on the table. “Well, I don’t have any clients tonight. Why don’t you stay for dinner? For old times’ sake?”

Ayalah smiled. “I’d love to.”

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