Chapter 4

Miervaldis didn't get his lie-in. Alyn didn't hear the quiet knock, or the key in the door, but she woke up when the maid put the breakfast tray on the table with a slight clatter. She lay still, waiting to hear the door closing again, but it never came. Instead, after just long enough for her to almost drop off again, she heard Miervaldis' door open.

"What is it?" His voice was still slightly hoarse and tired.

"Milord..." Alyn didn't recognise the maid's voice. "Milord, I have something... something I need to tell you. About milord Cassian, I mean..."

Silence, and then a soft thump, as though Miervaldis had sat down. Alyn rubbed her eyes and got carefully out of bed, trying her best to be quiet.

"Go on," said her lord. There was a long pause, during which Alyn crept to the keyhole and put her eye to it. The maid was standing with her back to the main door, which meant Alyn could see her profile, although she didn't recognise the girl. She had long brown hair tied neatly back, and she was shifting slightly from foot to foot. Miervaldis was indeed sitting down, looking faintly ridiculous in a long velvet dressing gown she knew belonged to Fifth Star Court.

Alyn's view of Miervaldis interrogating the maid Brenna

"It was the night before the, the murder, milord," the girl said, voice subdued. "I was on cleaning duty along that corridor, see, and I'd just finished."

"What time would this be?"

"Oh, late, milord. It always takes a long time at the end of the day."

"After midnight?"

"About then, milord. I'm not sure exactly."

"I see. So what happened?"

"I was passing along the corridor, milord, and I saw milord Cassian. He was going into his study, milord, and he looked angry."

"Into his study? I see. What was he wearing?" Alyn distinctly saw the maid's hands twitch at the question, then ball into fists.

"I don't know, milord, something rich. It was dark, see."

"I do see." He looked thoughtful. Alyn held her breath. The maid fidgeted.

"What's your name?" he asked abruptly.

"Brenna, my lord."

"Thank you, Brenna, for the information. I will bear it in mind."

"But -" she sounded agitated, Alyn thought, wishing she could see her face.

"What?" Miervaldis' tone carried only mild curiosity.

"No - nothing, my lord."

"Thank you, then," he said. "And for the breakfast. You may go."

Brenna turned, and Alyn saw her face clearly. She was scowling, looking both angry and worried. She left the room; Miervaldis waited until she had closed the door behind her, then walked over himself and locked it. Then he came over to the bedroom doors, looming large in her keyhole vision.

"If you weren't listening, Alyn, I shall be very disappointed in you." She opened the door, unable to resist grinning.

"I heard it all, my lord. Doesn't that mean Lord Cassian was lying?"

"It does, if what she said is true." Miervaldis went to the tray and poured tea for himself, and then a mug for her. Alyn added sugar and stirred it.

"Why wouldn't it be?" she asked. He shrugged.

"No reason to doubt her story," he said. "Not at the moment, anyway. Lord Cassian did say he came back around midnight, so that holds up at any rate." He fell silent, looking thoughtful. Alyn helped herself to the warm bread and the bowl of raisins which she suspected was Bensen's doing. Thinking of him reminded her of their other lead.

"My lord, are we going to interview Lord Isidor?"

"Yes, I'll see about arranging that. And you need to carry on with the papers, if you can bear it."

"Yes, my lord," she said cheerfully, grabbing some more raisins.

The lesson was surprisingly bearable that morning, mainly because Lord Ronoy was replaced by the much friendlier Lord Anstable. He bumbled on cheerfully about ancient battles and strategies for two hours without a break, but managed to make it interesting through the sheer number of anecdotes he related. Alyn actually laughed out loud after the best one, in which a foolish commander had, entirely by accident, thwarted the long-planned strategy of the general of the enemy army. She covered her mouth in horror, but Lord Anstable, who was very short-sighted, beamed in her general direction, and the page sitting next to her, a short, skinny boy who cowered rather than sat on his cushion, also smiled a bit at her. After a moment, she grinned back.

After that lesson, she deliberately timed her leaving so as to be just behind the skinny page boy. She watched him go, and noticed he also lingered away from the shoving group of bully boys who had been responsible for her beating. Enthused, she reached out to tug on his sleeve. He spun round in panic.

"Hi," she said, smiling, but he shook his head, still afraid. Puzzled, she dropped her hand. "What's wrong?"

"I... I don't want to talk to you."

"Why?" She felt more confused than affronted. "Is it that lot over there?"

"No...." He knew what she meant, although the swaggering, laughing bunch had long gone.

"Well, if not that, then what?"

"Look, I..." he hesitated, then scowled. "I just don't want to." It rang so false that she laughed out loud, and he looked miffed at her mockery.

"Don't be daft," she said familiarly, hoping to encourage him out of whatever mood he was entertaining. "Who's your lord? What's your name?"

He straightened a bit.

"I'm Pyrrhus Berinhard of Eighth Star Court," he said, his voice thin in the big corridor, but much stronger than it had been. "I'm serving Lord Lysandros of the Fifth Star Court."

"I'm Alyn Vanyasdotter of Third Star Court," she replied in kind. "I'm serving Lord Miervaldis of the Fourth Star Court. Now, what's wrong?"

He dropped his eyes, then shook his head.

"Nothing," he said quietly. "I'm sorry..."

Alyn mentally shrugged, assuming that he had decided to ignore whatever threat the bullies offered.

"Nice to meet you, Pyrrhus of Eighth Star Court," she said cheerfully. "Are you going for lunch now?"


"I'll come with you." He looked like he might be about to object, but she grinned at him until he swallowed his words and nodded. They headed for the kitchen together, although he didn't say anything the entire way.

The refectory was next to the kitchen, and was where the main three meals were served for those who didn't merit a tray in their rooms. Alyn hoped Lord Miervaldis wouldn't mind her absence, but she wasn't about to abandon a peer she'd just convinced to talk to her. She tailed Pyrrhus to the counter and back, sitting opposite him and acting as friendly and innocent as possible. Despite that, it still took the whole main course and most of dessert before he responded to one of her questions.

"Yes," he said, "I joined just last autumn."

"Same as me," Alyn said cheerfully, mixing her apple pie up into a mash. He looked surprised at what she was doing. "I'm sorry," she apologised. "I like it this way."

"Oh no, it's just that's exactly what my brother does," he said, all in a rush, then looked upset.

"You have a brother?"


"Younger than you?"

"No, older."

"What's his name?" The question had been friendly, just following something Pyrrhus seemed happy to talk about, but now he hesitated and looked aside. Alyn felt frustrated, unable to understand what the stumbling blocks were. Eventually:

"Kadir," he said, and stared at his own pie.

"Just the one brother? I've got loads," Alyn burbled, trying to fill up the pause and keep the conversation going. She felt exhausted from the effort already. "And a sister, Illiana. My brothers are Byran, Davian, Simman, Olivet and Mikal. Byran's at the Eighth Star Court - have you met him?" But despite the innocence of the question, Pyrrhus paled, and went completely silent. Alyn carried the conversation for the rest of the awkward meal, trying desperately to make him feel at ease. At the end of the meal, when he left the hall in a different direction to the one she wanted to take, she let him go and wandered off, confused and a little hurt at his unfriendliness.

After the second lesson, she returned to the study room and spent a couple of hours cataloguing the papers. By the end, although she still hadn't finished, she had made a considerable dent in the large pile and felt satisfied with what she'd achieved. She made her way back to the rooms, hungry and wondering what Miervaldis had managed to do that day. Unsurprisingly, the room was empty again, but just as she turned to look for Ythilda, Miervaldis himself came up the corridor.

"Oh, I'm sorry," he said. He was dressed normally, so presumably hadn't been to town; she was surprised how relieved that made her feel. "I've been talking to people... mainly the chamberlain. We'll have to wait for a day or two to see Lord Isidor, I'm afraid; he's visiting his family. His own family, not Lord Cassian's family, that is. He's expected back the day after tomorrow." He bent to unlock the door. "I meant to be back earlier, but I was talking to the stablemaster." The stablemaster? Alyn thought. Why on earth would he spend a long time talking to the stablemaster? She followed him into the room, still wondering, but he didn't say any more than that.

After they had eaten, Miervaldis filled his cup again with the pale clear wine and went to stand by the window.

"Tomorrow is a Holy day, of course," he said. "That means Jaquan's funeral will be after the service." Alyn had rather lost track of the days, and had forgotten a Holy day was due. He turned to look at her. "We will be going."

"Yes, my lord," she said obediently. He turned back to the window. "My lord, did you find out anything more about what Brenna said?"

"No, not really. Ythilda confirmed that Brenna had been on the late shift that night. That's all. What she said she saw seems quite plausible." He fell silent, staring out of the window. Alyn tidied the tray as best she could, and went to sit with her book by the fire, leaving him to his thoughts.

The next morning they made their way to the elegant chapel that lurked off to one side of Fifth Star Court. As was customary on Holy days, there had been no breakfast, and Alyn's stomach rumbled, unimpressed by its absence. Alyn sighed. Looking around at the other lords assembling outside the chapel, she felt distinctly underdressed, and her lord looked positively dowdy in his dusty black waistcoat, the smartest item that had been packed. If Anitia was to be believed, it was the best one he had, and it looked like it had played host to several generations of moths over the years.

The ornate chapel doors opened at daybreak, and the crowd filed in, still silent. Before the altar burned the Emperor's flame, lit from a torch which had been lit by his hand on the hour of his accession to the throne. Each lord made his way to the front with solemn tread, bowed ponderously to the flame, then made his way to his accustomed seat. As visitors to the Court, Miervaldis and Alyn came last; standing through the interminable queue of Fifth Star Court lords, she looked up and saw he was watching them keenly. She watched them herself, but saw nothing unusual. The outward show of piety and loyalty, at least, was flawless.

The service was all but identical to the last two she had attended at Fourth Star Court, although she had been without her lord then, of course. At the front, the First Sage pontificated on the meaning of the Holy day (this time, the anniversary of the first Emperor's birthday), and she let her mind drift, not paying attention to the words. The Sage did not speak for long, thankfully, but by the time he was done, her behind was numb from the cold stone seat. The congregation stood as they were bid, and dutifully chanted the obligatory paean, then joined in desultorily with the choir-led canticle. It was clear that most lords were expecting to leave by now; one elderly man actually started for the aisle, but the First Sage cleared his throat and the embarrassed page bolted from his chair to tug his lord back to his seat. The Sage bestowed a firm glare on the congregation and let the silence linger for a while before clearing his throat again and starting on the funeral service. Alyn wondered how many people were cursing Jaquan for having the indecency to die so close to a Holy day; had it been more than a week away, he'd have had a private funeral, and nobody would have had to turn up.

After he had enjoyed himself silently rebuking the crowd, the First Sage gave the signal and the doors opened. Heads turned as three figures crept into the chapel; Jaquan's family and friends would be permitted in at this stage, but from her seat near the back, Alyn could see clearly that only two of the three were Jaquan's fellow scribes. She wondered where the other one was. The third figure was an austere-looking woman with a disapproving expression. She, at least, walked as though she had a right to be there, striding confidently to her seat. The scribes crept after her, ashamed. Theoretically, of course, the chapel should be open to everyone, but Court chapels were unofficially recognised as special cases. Alyn felt sorry for them and their obvious discomfort.

The First Sage coughed again and drew all eyes to the front. For all the fuss he made over it, the funeral was very short. Four burly sages carried in the coffin, and the First Sage ran through the prescribed rites over it, touching the sacred ash to the centre, and consigning Jaquan's spirit to the gods. The choir sang a dirge, one of the standard ones, and the congregation surreptitiously shuffled their feet. When the time came for the call for a witness, Alyn was pleasantly surprised that one of the scribes came forward. He spoke very quietly, nervous in the silence and overawed by the company, but the chapel was well-designed and its lofty arches carried his words to everyone there, brief though they were.

"Jaquan worked hard, and served well. He was our colleague for ten years in the service of Lord Cassian. He will be missed."

The only emotion in his voice, Alyn thought, had been anxiety. He did not sound particularly sad, and no-one else got up to speak. She realised she had not seen Lord Cassian at any point during the service.

After the scribe's witnessing, the First Sage waited an almost embarrassingly long time before resuming the service. There was another canticle, and then the blessing, and then, finally, the release. Alyn sighed with relief. By her side, Miervaldis glanced down with a slight smile, then, as the woman who had come in with the scribes got up to leave, he hastened to join her. Alyn scrambled after.

"... if you don't mind?" her lord was saying as she joined them. The woman sniffed, managing somehow to look down her nose at him, for all his height and status. Alyn thought with a pang of shame that she was better dressed than he was.

"If you're quick," she said, leaving out the correct address. Miervaldis didn't seem to mind.

"I just wanted to know what relationship you have to Jaquan," he said mildly. The woman looked affronted, Alyn thought, at his lack of reaction to her deliberate rudeness.

"I'm his cousin," she said stiffly.

"Did you know him well?"

"Hardly at all."

"Yet you came to his funeral."

"It is the proper thing to do."

"Indeed it is."

"Some of us still pay attention to the correct ways." Her tone was icy.

"I see that you do, madam." He bowed, far lower than necessary, and she flushed, taking it for mockery, then turned her back and swept away. Alyn watched her go, then looked back at her lord. He grinned ruefully at her.

"I don't think our scribe had many friends," he said. "Come on, or we'll miss breakfast."

Miervaldis talks to Jaquan's cousin after the funeral

Breakfast was served in the refectory, which surprised her. She had expected such an illustrious crowd to be served in the banqueting hall, but the sheer number of people probably made that impossible. The chapel was for the nobles, but the servants had been to their own services, then congregated at the refectory for what was probably the best breakfast in town. And what a breakfast! There were whole pigs, roasted on spits and slathered with grease and fragrant herbs. There was chicken covered in bacon and cheese and stuffed with nuts and dates, cheeses on their own with small, sweet cracker breads and all sorts of olives, fish doused in creamy sauces and lamb stewed in rosemary; the kitchens must have been busy all night to have produced such a spread. Freshly baked bread was piled high, and Alyn swiftly found the cinnamon and raisin buns, which were her favourite. There was fruit of all kinds on a side table, and she made her way there to stand out of the crush, for this was not the sort of meal where people sat neatly on chairs to be fed. This was a meal to be shared by all, so there were, by now, very few servants actually on duty. She spotted Bensen weaving in and out of the crowd with a basket of bread, but later saw him tucking into a plate full of roast pork, so even the cooks were off duty, or mostly so.

At some point during the eating, Pyrrhus fetched up by her elbow, stumbling into her slightly. She glanced down, and he gave her a wan smile.

"What's up?"

"Nothing." He sported a bruise on his right cheek. She wondered if it was casual bullying or something more specific, and felt angry on his behalf. Shouldn't his lord be doing something?

"I've never seen a funeral at a Holy day service," she said, after the pause had gone on a little too long.

"I have," he responded absently, then looked suddenly appalled. She wanted to ask what it was like, but guessed he wouldn't say anything.

"Did you know Jaquan?" she asked instead, but he shook his head, mouth conveniently full. She didn't know where to take the conversation, if it could be called that, but after swallowing, he spoke again.

"Your lord is here to investigate, isn't he?"

"He's here visiting," Alyn said, uncertain how much she was supposed to reveal of what was clearly a known 'secret'. Pyrrhus nodded.

"Do you know who did it?"

"No. There are too many possibilities." He nodded again. Spurred by curiosity and a desire to tease, she asked, "do you know who did it?"

Pyrrhus jumped and went pale, then shook his head hard. "No idea," he said firmly. "Absolutely no idea." Without looking at her, he dived back into the crowd surrounding the table, waving his empty plate by way of excuse. Frustrated, she stared after him. What does he know?

She picked at the grapes while thinking. Pyrrhus knew something. He'd been to a funeral before, and didn't want to talk about it. Did that have anything to do with his reticence? Where would that funeral have been? Either here, or Eighth Star Court. Here would be easy enough to check up on; Eighth Star Court... she wondered if Byran would reply in time, if she wrote a letter asking. Then she wondered what Miervaldis would think. Asking him first would be best.

She did so later that day, when they were back in their room. He listened thoughtfully, then nodded when she suggested looking up funerals.

"It's worth a try. I'll ask the Chroniclers, here and at Eighth Star Court," he said. "But they won't necessarily know specifics, and your brother might. Good thinking." She felt warmly pleased, and hoped Byran would turn something up. Come to think of it, she hoped he'd reply. He wasn't always terribly reliable.

The rest of the Holy day - that is, until sundown - was normally spent in enforced leisure. The only meals available were cold leftovers from the enormous breakfast; cooks, servants and maids were all off duty. Only the pages were left to scurry around after their lords, but their service, of course, was not officially 'work'. Alyn shouldered past the other pages in the kitchen to squabble over the remains of the pork under the stern eye of the head cook, who had clearly refused to leave his kitchen to the tender mercies of a pack of hungry adolescents with licence to forage. Bensen was nowhere to be seen. After bringing the food back, she sat down to write to Byran, trying to phrase her request in such a way that it wasn't obviously connected to the reason for their visit. She wondered briefly how much the other Star Courts knew of Jaquan's murder, or if they even knew anything. When that was done and sealed - only the third time she'd ever used her official seal - she put the letter by the door, and went out to Lord Cassian's study again, to finish cataloguing the papers.

It took her several hours to finish, and by the time she turned over the last paper and wearily wrote order of repayment to scribe, spring 1309, the sky had turned a delicate purple with the onset of evening. The maids were lighting the corridor lamps as she walked away from the rooms; the light spread gently across the corridors, illuminating the corners. She looked back towards the suite, and all of a sudden something niggled at her, the knowledge that something someone had said was wrong. Something to do with the light, maybe? Frustrated and unable to put her finger on it, she made her way back to the suite, stopping in one of the plentiful gardens to breath in the twilight air. This particular garden - probably the Garden of Roses, she thought, but maybe the Ring Garden - was filled with scented flowers; all kinds of roses and more. Their perfume hung in the air, a welcome change after the stuffy, musty and slightly oppressive atmosphere of Lord Cassian's study.

As she rounded the corner that led to the stairs up to their suite landing, she saw a man walking away from them, his back to her. He was tall, dressed in shabby velvet, and limped slightly; with a shock, she realised Miervaldis was on his way out. Going to town? What was he hoping for? The streets would be full of people celebrating, she thought. Was that what he was after, a casual, anonymous celebration?

She hesitated a moment, then hurried up to the room and shoved her written notes under the door, pushing them far enough in to be satisfied they were out of reach. Her quills and inks she left in a convenient alcove behind the lamp that glowed there; she thought they'd be safe enough. Then she hurried off to catch up with her lord, keen to know what was going on.

She nearly didn't find him. She ran down the corridor she'd seen him in, but at the end there was no sign where he had gone. Frustrated, she turned back and forth for few minutes, then went left, which she hoped was the more direct route to town. The corridor wound round the Court and brought her to the main gate, where the guards confirmed her lord had gone out for a walk.

"He didn't wait for you? Terrible," joked the older guard familiarly, and she smiled at him, feeling let down again. The other guard elbowed his companion to be quiet. Alyn went past them and out of the Court onto the long road that wound up to it. It was a long way without a carriage. She started walking.

About half an hour later, she made it to the outskirts of Ellmore, the town nearest Fifth Star Court. She had not caught up with her lord, which had worried her, but when she got to the town, just at the point of giving up, she had spotted his tall form entering a tavern. She made her way down to it but didn't go in, choosing instead to lurk in a street opposite. A coach from Fifth Star Court came past full of pages, clearly out for a night on the town; she shrank back, fearful of being recognised.

Ellmore was a neat, well-looked after place, where the citizens looked on the whole content and well fed. In her six months at Fourth Star Court, Alyn had never made it outside the gates to the small town that nestled against the nearby forest, but she had spent plenty of time in the even smaller towns of her father's lands, and once or twice she had been to Tevium, Third Star Court's closest settlement. Ellmore was at once similar and very different; the streets were wider, for one thing, and the town was largely built on a plain; the roads were smooth and even, with gutters all along them. Tevium had rambled up and down several hills, and there were as many flights of stairs as there were cobbled, winding roads. Tevium was built of grey stone, buildings standing tall in ranks; Ellmore's buildings were mostly constructed of golden stone with red tiled roofs, quite blocky in appearance but with the occasional elegant archway or set of pillars. Greenery tumbled over the tops of the walls and several of the streets were lined with trees. Yet it was also very familiar - the hubbub of commerce, people meeting, children running and shouting. Today in particular it bubbled with festivity; people milled in the streets laughing and talking, eating and drinking. The tantalising scent of roast pork wafted over from the next street and Alyn felt her stomach rumble. It had been a long time since her hard-won lunch, but she had brought no money with her in her hurry. A cluster of people came uproariously down the alley, clearly tipsy; she stood to one side and they saluted her with their cups, sloshing the mulled wine over her feet. Uneasily, Alyn drifted to the mouth of the street and peered out, but there was no sign of her lord, although there was a regular flow of people in and out of the tavern.

She had nearly given up - again - when a tall stranger caught her eye. He was dressed in a tatty dark cloak and bore a staff, looking like a scholar down on his luck. She had actually looked him over once already and dismissed him, but his height and his limp drew her eyes back to him, and from behind, she recognised her lord's tangled hair, still caught back in its ponytail. He was disguised? She caught her breath, then hurried after him.

Miervaldis walked slowly enough that she could stay a long way behind him, mingling with the crowds and monitoring his progress from a distance. His height helped. He made his way steadily into town, not turning aside or hesitating, unremarked among the bustling crowds. She wondered how often he did this, dressing plainly and moving without fanfare among the common people. People don't speak to nobles and rich men with carriages, he had said, and at the time she had taken it at face value. Now, though... she remembered the dark man's words again. Did this count as untoward?

Alyn tailing Miervaldis through Ellmore

He stopped only once, when something seemed to catch his eye. He waited by a window for a while, looking through it, then seemed to make up his mind suddenly, and went in. It was a Holy day, but a lot of shops opened after sundown to make the most of the cheerful crowds; this one sold candles, several of which flickered outside as an advertisement, displaying a range of colours and scents. Alyn came closer, not wanting to be caught but desperately curious. She peeked through the window, and saw her lord in conversation with the proprietor, a familiar woman in dark colours. Alyn struggled for a moment and then recalled; she was Jaquan's cousin, the woman who had come to the funeral. She wondered what they were saying. From the look on the woman's face, she did not recognise Miervaldis. Some of us still pay attention to the correct ways, she had said haughtily; Alyn thought that if she knew she spoke to a disguised lord, she would send him packing with a flea in his ear or worse, noble or not.

At the counter, Miervaldis nodded, then straightened as though to walk away. Alyn hastily hid herself round the corner, wishing she could have heard what was said. She heard the door open and shut, waited until he was some distance away then scurried out to resume her pursuit. He didn't go much further, but stopped at a tavern down a side street, looking through the window before going in. Alyn studied the tavern thoughtfully. It was a small, somewhat dilapidated building with several extensions of dubious provenance, including a rickety wooden hut from which surprisingly enticing cooking smells emerged. Its board, paint peeling slightly, proclaimed it to be the "Proverb in the Hand," an odd name, she thought. Looking carefully through the window, she saw Miervaldis in conversation with a bunch of men, dressed similarly to him. For a moment, she had the crazy idea they might all be disguised lords, but she dismissed the fancy as soon as it formed. These were scholars; they had to be, especially given the tavern name. Her lord had known he was coming here. Had he found this place on his last visit? Where had he picked up the clothes he was now wearing? Where were his proper clothes now?

The group of men laughed, loudly enough to be heard through the window where she crouched. Miervaldis looked a lot less... harried, she thought. More relaxed. A waitress brought over a tray, and he jostled to snatch a pint with the rest. She desperately wanted to know what was being said, but for all its tumbledown air, the Proverb seemed to be a clean, well-looked after place inside, and it was small. She didn't think she could hide anywhere and still overhear them. Frustrated, she retreated back to the street, and a nasty thought hit her. He didn't know she was here. He would expect her to be in the rooms when he returned - it was full dark now, something she hadn't noticed while concentrating on following him through the heaving, cheerful crowds. She bit her lip. There was no way she could beat his long stride home if she started at the same time as he did.

I can't hear anything. She glanced through the window from across the street; he looked settled, as though this was where he had been meaning to come. I can't do much here. I should go back...

The long walk didn't appeal, but there was no point putting it off. With a sigh, she left her lord to his odd habits and started back through the town, hoping she wouldn't get lost now she no longer had him to follow.

The road was simple, but long, and she was limping too by the time she made it back, having turned her ankle twice over anonymous ridges in the dim light. For the last ten minutes, she'd been gripped by the horrible worry that somehow he'd made it back ahead of her, or he was about to come up behind her - either way, that he'd find out she'd been spying on him. As it happened, of course, she had nothing to worry about. Ythilda let her in, as she had done before, and Alyn spent an hour and a half just reading and waiting. Mostly waiting; she found it hard to concentrate.

Eventually she heard the key in the lock and the door opened. She glanced up, trying to look natural; he was dressed in his original clothes, but was limping still. Was he not used to this much walking, she wondered, or had he hurt his ankle like she had?

"You waited up again," he observed.

"I don't mind, my lord. Did you find anything out?" She had to ask. It may have been pushy, but she was far too curious to wait. Miervaldis pulled off his over-tunic, tossed it on a chair and sank into another with a sigh.

"Yes, I did, as a matter of fact, although I don't know how useful it will be. How about you?"

"I finished the papers. They were all complete, official records. There was nothing half-finished."

"Indeed. So either Jaquan hadn't written anything, or what he was writing was taken away. Hmmm. Well done for making it through all that." He lapsed into silence, staring into the smouldering fire. Alyn waited as long as she could, then:

"My lord? What did you find out? If I can ask?"

He leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes.

"I'm sorry, I should have said. I happened to come across that woman, Jaquan's cousin. She's a chandler. Her candles are quite good, actually, very smooth wax. She was saying how she likes to use oil from some plants to mix with her best beeswax..." he trailed off, staring absently at the fire again. Alyn shifted her chair, but it made no noise on the soft carpet, so she kicked the legs instead. He started.

"I'm sorry. Yes. Anyway, I asked her about her cousin, offered my sympathies, and she said she barely knew him, just turned up because it was the proper thing to do. He wasn't involved with good people, she said. He didn't do good things. But she wouldn't elaborate." He stood up, stiffly, and went to the table to pour himself a glass of water.

"Then I talked to some other people, who didn't know him as such, but had heard things - you know how rumour gets around. I wouldn't trust them, exactly, but the general swell of opinion is that he wasn't a nice person to know. You remember, the other scribes weren't fond of him either. He would have had access to a lot of information, as a scribe. Most are discreet, but perhaps he wasn't." He shrugged. "Nothing specific, though."

Alyn nodded. What he'd said tallied well enough with what she had seen, she supposed. Miervaldis put the glass down, and yawned.

"I'm going to bed," he said. "We'll be seeing Lord Isidor tomorrow, I hope - if you can bear to miss the morning's lessons?"

Alyn giggled, and nodded. He made his way to his room, and she returned to her thinking, bending her head to the book by way of disguise. He had genuinely been wandering round town talking to people about the murder. It hadn't been anything else, surely. It was unconventional, perhaps, but made sense for him to dress as a commoner. Reassured, she put her vague worries aside and stood up, putting the book on the table. She stretched, feeling the ache from the walk again, and started for her own room. Passing the other chair, she brushed against Miervaldis' discarded over-tunic and knocked it off; annoyed, she bent over to pick it up. It was thicker than it looked, and felt funny in her hands. Puzzled, she examined it more closely, and realised with a nasty shock that it was the tunic he had worn as his disguise - but inside out. From one side, it looked like a slightly worn but serviceable thick tunic for a noble, but when turned inside out, it was a disreputable-looking garment fit, she thought, for a tavern-hopping scholar. That was no accident. Someone had put a lot of thought into these clothes. How many others did he have? What did he normally use them for? I was visiting some friends, she remembered him saying when she asked him why he hadn't known about her service to him. Had they been the same sort of friends as the group in the Proverb? Was that why the letter had never reached him? Did he make a habit of hobnobbing with scholars? That sort of thing was frowned upon - was that why he wore a disguise? She recalled the book in the carriage, which she hadn't seen since their arrival at Fifth Star Court. It hadn't been a normal book. Not normal at all.

Worried afresh, she went to bed, but didn't sleep for several hours. is copyright Sergei and Morag Lewis