Chapter 14

They were in time, just about. The grooms received the horses with the same surly expressions they had worn in the morning, but Alyn was too excited to notice. Back in their rooms, Miervaldis changed - not to his reversible tunic, which had never been returned, but into a dull grey shapeless coat. The material was fine, but the cut and colour was enough to dissuade a close examination. She had a more difficult time of it, having only two outfits with her. Obviously the one she'd worn for the Sun Court trial was out; that was the best she had anywhere. The other, the one she was wearing now, she felt might also be a bit ostentatious for Ellmore. Miervaldis looked her over thoughtfully, fiddling with the buttons on his cuff. She noticed one of the buttons on his right sleeve was missing.

"Hang on," he said, and went back to his room. She heard the sound of a chest opening and he re-emerged bearing a shirt.

"Wear this," he said cheerfully. "It doesn't matter if it's too big, you'll fit in just fine."

Alyn looked the garment over dubiously. It was off-white, with puffy sleeves and a simple collar. She took it into her room and put it on; it hung ridiculously loose, and she had to tuck most of its length into her trousers, but she had to admit, it didn't look like something a noble would wear. Miervaldis eyed her as she came out, then nodded.

"You'll do. Come on, let's go."

"Yes, my lord!" She fell in behind him, and they left the Court.

The road was as long as she remembered it and she was tired from the riding, but anticipation kept her going. By the time the roofs of Ellmore first came into view through the trees she felt it had to be time for dinner. Her stomach rumbled and Miervaldis laughed.

"There'll be food, don't worry," he said. "Although we should do our research first, if we can. If you can manage that."

"I'm fine, my lord."

"We won't be long. They may not even be open by now. Oh, and don't use 'my lord' from now on, please. It's not going to help with, ah, fitting in."

The town was as bustling as ever, and Miervaldis blended in perfectly. She felt awkward and out of place but in fact nobody paid her any attention, and after a little while she felt able to relax a bit. Her lord pushed through the thronging crowds ahead of her, forging a path through the people talking and laughing and jostling for food and drink, heading to a large square which stood at what she thought was the centre of town. Market stalls were set up across it, although none were occupied at this time of night. Miervaldis threaded his way through them to the other side, to a large, ornate building bearing a big sign standing out like a tavern sign might, with two crossed keys and a tower.

"The Town Hall, my - ah...?" she tailed off, remembering just in time not to use the honorific.

"Yes. I hope we're still in time. They may be closed." He hurried up the steps and pushed at the door, and to her surprise it opened.

The lights were dim inside. They stood in a big hall with an empty desk to the left and shelves of books and records around it. A faded rug lay on the floor in an attempt to soften the harshness of the stone. The ceiling was high and vaulted, with beams of wood which blended into the darkness. To the right were two heavy wooden doors and a single clerk who was fiddling with a key. He looked up as they came in, and smiled.

"Valdis," he said with warmth. "What are you doing here? It's been ages. And who's this?"

Miervaldis and Alyn in the Guildhall

"Not that long," Miervaldis said, with similar friendliness. His voice had changed slightly, losing the crisp pronunciation of the Court, acquiring the longer vowel sounds and slurred, lazy consonants of the people of the town. Alyn marvelled at it even as she decided to keep her mouth shut. She didn't think she could pull that off. "This is Alyn, the daughter of a friend," her lord went on. "I'm looking for records - oh, the census would do." Alyn tried to remember if she'd seen the clerk before at the Proverb in the Hand, but couldn't recall his face. She had been looking through thick, distorting glass anyway.

"For your research?"

"Yes. Well, a side thing." Alyn wondered what research he'd talked about before. But the clerk seemed friendly enough and accepted the explanation. He pushed open the door he was standing by.

"Census records are in the first office on the right," he said. "Start to the right of the door."

"Thanks," said Miervaldis and started down the corridor. Alyn scurried to follow.

"Don't be long!" the clerk called after them, and Miervaldis waved his hand.

"I won't," he called back.

The corridor was wide, with a low roof and white walls pocked with doorways. Miervaldis turned into the first one, which led to a room filled with books and papers arranged mostly neatly on floor-to-ceiling shelves which took up all the wall space. There was a small desk in the middle, amply supplied with blank paper and pens, although no chairs. An unlit lamp stood on an iron stand nearby, with a striker hanging from a hook; Miervaldis bent over it and fiddled with it until the room was filled with flickering light. Alyn gazed around, amazed at the sheer quantity of paper. Did all the other doorways lead to similar rooms? There was a fortune in paperwork in this one alone! She didn't remember ever hearing how Fifth Star Court townships were maintained, but there had been a lesson in Fourth Star Court on the record-keeping and tax procedures of the towns. The procedures would vary, of course, but were probably similar, intended to perform similar functions. She hadn't listened to most of it, but now she wished she had. It looked incredibly complex. Did every town have to do this?

"Here we are," said Miervaldis, and she jumped out of her musings and came over to the table. He laid down a thick sheaf of paper. "The most recent census records. Too recent to have been bound yet. These were taken... in 1320. Three years ago."

He shuffled through the papers, then handed a pile to Alyn.

"They're not in alphabetical order, I'm afraid," he said. "It looks like these are the originals and no-one's been through to copy and sort them out. See if you can find Silvi's name, or her father's. Hopefully we'll find it before Jethro comes to throw us out."

Alyn took her papers to the other side of the little table, wishing for a chair, and started to shuffle through. The records were indeed unordered. Each resident, it seemed, had come to fill out a form, or rather to have it filled out for them, since the handwriting was identical for most of the entries. She scanned over the first few sheets. It appeared that in Ellmore, a census required a name, an occupation, and an address. Numbers and other names attached to one entry confused her for a while until she realised that those had to be the other people at the same house. So not everyone had to turn up, presumably, just the head of the household.

The task was daunting, and she was worried both that she'd miss it and that Jethro the clerk would come by before either of them found what they were looking for. She remembered all too well how long it had taken her to go through the stack of records Jaquan had been working on when he died. This time though they were in luck. After about ten minutes Miervaldis put down a sheet and said "found it" with satisfaction at about the same time that Alyn thumped her wedge of papers down and said "got it!" They looked at each other for a moment, then Miervaldis smiled and gestured to her to proceed.

"I found Silvi, my, um, well, she's here. Or she was three years ago anyway."

"You found Silvi? That's better than I managed. Here, write this down please." He waited until she'd found a pen with a decent nib, an inkpot that wasn't quite empty and a suitable bit of paper, then dictated from his record.

"Monar Stef's son. Carpenter. Lives in the third cottage at Felton's farm, two miles out of Ellmore on the south road. One wife, one son, one daughter-in-law, four grandchildren and his sister-in-law also living at the same address." Alyn scribbled the details down. Miervaldis picked up her sheet and scanned down it for Silvi's details. His eyebrows raised when he found it.

"Silvi Monar's daughter. No occupation listed. Lives in number seven by the riverside and over the bridge. No other inhabitants."

When Alyn had noted that down as well Miervaldis returned the sheaf of papers to its shelf, extinguished the light and left. Jethro was still in the main hall when they emerged, fiddling with one of the brackets that usually held lamps.

"Did you find what you wanted?" he called over.

"Yes, thanks very much!"

"You're welcome. Will you be in the Proverb later?"

"Probably not. Some other time." There was regret in her lord's voice. Jethro waved a hand in acquiescence, and they left him to finish up his work.

Back in the crowds again, Miervaldis led her to a tavern. It wasn't the Proverb in the Hand but a more normal, streetside enterprise named the Maypole. A large, battered post stood outside and she saw faint, faded flakes of paint on it. Presumably it had once been gaudily coloured as befitted the name of the tavern.

Miervaldis went in and stood by the bar and she followed him. The man behind sauntered over.

"Whatcha drinking, then?"

"Golden Bird. Two, please." Alyn guessed that Golden Bird was a local ale. She'd never heard of it before but that sounded about right. The bartender turned to a barrel mounted on a tall rack behind the bar and started filling a mug. Miervaldis pulled out a tatty coin purse, which surprised Alyn; lords didn't usually carry small change, never mind a coin purse. Although really, I ought to expect things like that by now. Her lord put two small coins on the bar and collected the drinks, nodding thanks to the bartender and leading the way over to a table near the unlit fire. He put one mug across from him, signing to Alyn to sit down. She did so, hesitantly sipping the dark ale. It had an odd, metallic taste and the familiar alcoholic tinge, but it wasn't too bad and she was thirsty. Miervaldis presumably was too, for he took a long swallow before asking for the piece of paper she'd been writing on.

"Now, did you notice anything unusual about those records?" he asked.

"Monar is a carpenter but his daughter worked at the Court?" she guessed. Carpentry was a skill, and as a skilled worker Monar and his family would be of a higher social class than those who usually worked at the Court, although conventions were more fluid for commoners than for nobles. Miervaldis nodded slowly.

"I hadn't thought of that," he admitted. "But he was attached to a farm, so my guess is that he wasn't a particularly skilled carpenter. You're quite right, although it was something else I noticed. Do you know anything about Ellmore?"

"Not really." Alyn took another drink.

"Not too fast. It's stronger than you might think and I'm not carrying you back. Come to think of it..." he leaned out and made a gesture in the general direction of the bar, then turned back to her. "The thing is, Ellmore is arranged around the central square where we just were, but the best houses are those on the north side by the river. They're upstream of the town so get the cleanest water, and they're good, large houses. That's where Silvi was living at the time of the census. Living alone in the best part of town, with no visible means of support. That's what I found odd."

"Liliya wasn't listed either."

"No, she could have been at Court at that time. Servants at Court aren't usually counted in a town's census unless they're living at home, and sometimes not even then. The census is mainly for tax purposes and servants at Court are usually tax-exempt. At least, that's how it works at Fourth Star Court, and I believe at Eighth and Sixth as well." He broke off as another man came up to their table.

"Did you want food, or more to drink?"

"Food, please. What do you have tonight?"

"Pilov, with lamb and olives. Stewed pork with tomatoes. And casserole. There's always casserole."

"Pilov, please." Miervaldis looked at Alyn. She struggled to remember the dishes, but the whole experience was so new to her, they'd gone straight out of her head. She looked helplessly at her lord.

"Two pilov," he said and the man nodded.

"That's four marks."

Miervaldis nodded again and the man headed off.

"Um... what is pilov?" Alyn asked, when she was sure he was out of earshot. Miervaldis grinned at her.

"It's a rice dish common to the region," he said. "Rice and lamb and carrots - and olives, in this case." She nodded dubiously and took another sip of the ale.

"So anyway," Miervaldis said, going back to the sheet of paper. "Silvi's living on her own away from her parents, in a big house and with no stated means of income. What does that suggest to you?"

"She'd earned a lot of money?" Alyn guessed. "She was an upper servant before she left the Court."

"She was what?" Miervaldis leaned forward, his eyes intent. Alyn swallowed, realising that she'd never passed along that last titbit of information.

"I mean, she served the uppers," she said. "Her records showed that. The ones I looked up before, before Pyrrhus..." she tailed off. Miervaldis was staring over her head now, his face alight with thought. He was silent for some time, long enough for their food to arrive.

"Four marks," said the server, and Miervaldis recovered from his reverie and put the money on the table. A large wooden platter was set down in front of each of them, bearing a mound of yellow rice studded with olives, carrots and raisins, covering large chunks of well-cooked lamb. There was a fork but no other implements provided. It smelled delicious.

"Seconds cost one mark apiece," said the man as he turned and left. Miervaldis grinned at Alyn.

"Go on," he said. "It's good."

Alyn didn't need the instruction and she found it tasted as good as it smelt.

Alyn eats pilov for the first time

"So," said her lord, after some time had passed and the mounds of rice and lamb had dwindled to less than half their initial size, "Silvi served the upper servants. The butler, housekeeper, valets and the chamberlain."

"Yes, m - yes." Alyn kept eating, but more slowly now.

"And she left to have a child, whom she bore and raised alone in a big house with no job."

"She must have had money."

"But her family are relatively poor, or they wouldn't be attached to a farm. So the money is hers and it must have been a gift."

"Could it be from Liliya's father?"

"That does seem most likely, yes."

"Could we visit her? Now we know her address?"

"Theoretically, we could." Miervaldis made a wry face. "But in practice I can't do it like I am now, because why would she talk to a random stranger, much less tell confidences? And if I were to go as - well, as I ought to, the entire town would know that something was up, never mind the murderer, and the poor woman would be too terrified to say anything at all." He fell silent, looking at the plate thoughtfully. Then he called for another ale, and water for Alyn, and after that no more was said about Silvi and Liliya.

They got back late that night, after spending an hour or so wandering around the town enjoying the night scenes. There had been a fire-eater in the small River Square plying his trade before a crowd of rowdy semi-drunks, and a juggler two streets over using small, burning balls, throwing and catching them so they made glowing loops in the air. Every tavern had a minstrel, with a few to spare, so there was plenty to see. The road back to the Court seemed five times as long as it had on the way in and Alyn felt like she was sleepwalking by the time they reached the side gate. Thankfully nobody but the gate guards were around to see their late return and she fell asleep immediately after changing, exhausted from the day. She didn't even have time to wonder where they would be looking the next day, or to think about what they had found out at Cathecassa and in Ellmore, or about her lord's friends who knew him only as 'Valdis'.

It was Ythilda who brought their breakfast up in the morning, which meant it was fresh, the bread warm and the tea hot. Both Alyn and Miervaldis had woken late and bleary-eyed but they managed to be up in time to receive the tray and express profuse thanks to the maid as she closed the door behind her. Miervaldis walked over and locked it as he always had done, then turned back to the table.

"What do we know about Silvi and Liliya?"

Alyn had been expecting something like that but had been too tired to formulate an answer properly. She started listing, attempting a chronological ordering.

"We know Liliya served Lord Cassian and left, probably due to his... actions. Her notice of payment for illness was very crumpled by Jaquan when he died, so it's possible that he was copying it at the time, although we saw no copy. The original was later removed by somebody, which is why we think it's important. We know Liliya's mother also served here and towards the end of her service she worked for the upper servants. We know she has no husband and is living alone with no obvious means of support in an expensive house."

"Is that it?"

"I think so, my lord."

He came and sat down, pouring himself a tea.

"It's not terribly suggestive, is it? Just a string of slightly odd occurrences. But there are one or two other things which I think may be relevant. Have some breakfast, go on."

Alyn did so, waiting for him to tell her what he thought was relevant, but annoyingly he didn't explain himself.

"Unfortunately," he continued, "Lord Berinhard has two very excellent reasons for murdering Jaquan, although they'd be even better ones for doing away with Lord Cassian himself, of course. I really don't want to have to rely on Lady Aithne's evidence, but at this rate we might have to." He fell silent, brooding.

"My lord?" Alyn ventured, after some time. He glanced up.

"What is it?"

"There was the chamberlain. He knows about Silvi and Liliya and he was very nervous when you asked about them. And..."

"Go on," Miervaldis said, sitting forward. His face was intent. She swallowed, knowing where her next statement was going to lead.

"And I saw him talking to someone... to the man who interviewed me after the arrest."

"When did you see the chamberlain talking to this person?"

"The day after you spoke to him about Silvi, my lord."

"And you're sure it was the same person who talked to you after the arrest?"

"Yes, my lord. I recognised his voice."

"You recognised his voice? But not his face?"

"I had a blindfold."

"I see. And you recognised his voice from when?" This was the bit Alyn had been dreading.

"From before, in Fourth Star Court, my lord," she said steadily. "He came to your room while I was there to pack." Miervaldis' eyes widened and he sat back.

"Did he now? And what did he say?"

"He said... he said he wanted me to report anything untoward. And he said my loyalty was first to the Emperor before you. That was all."

Miervaldis looked at her for some time, then stood up and went to the window, where he watched the morning sky, bright blue with speckled clouds. Alyn waited, feeling horribly tense inside. Eventually he spoke without turning round.

"What did you tell him?"

"Nothing, my lord!" It came out far too vehemently but she was shocked at what he'd implied.

"Nothing?" There was surprise in his voice as he turned round. To her relief he didn't look angry, only confused.

"No, my lord."

"Even though you saw plenty of things that you must have thought untoward?"

"I... yes, but I didn't like him. I didn't trust him. I did wonder, but... I think I trusted you more. My lord."

Miervaldis turned back to the window, shaking his head.

"To receive such, undeserved," he remarked to the sunlight, something she thought might be a quote, then turned back again. "So you think the arrest was linked to this man?"

"He was definitely involved, my lord."

"And he was speaking to the chamberlain...the day before we were arrested?"

"Yes, my lord."

"Well, that doesn't implicate the chamberlain as such. Any such process would naturally have to be discussed with him. Perhaps we should speak to him though. Alyn, please find the chamberlain and ask him to attend upon me at his earliest opportunity, then run to the kitchen and ask for tea for three for the right time."

"Yes, my lord!" Relieved to have something concrete to do, she hurried to the door. Miervaldis had turned back to the window and was muttering to himself, but as ever she heard the lock turn behind her before she had gone three steps.

She found the chamberlain talking with the gate guards and he agreed to come and talk in their rooms after he'd been to the butler to discuss the meal for the next Holy day. He barely paid her any attention at all, so she wondered if he'd actually make it to the rooms or forget the arrangement. The kitchen staff were distinctly cool to her but said the tea would be there in fifteen minutes and no, they didn't want her to wait for the tray. So then there wasn't anything else to do but go back to the rooms and wait.

Fifteen minutes later the tea arrived, and thankfully it was hot, although there were no sweetmeats. Five minutes after that there was a tap at the door and the chamberlain arrived. He bowed deeply, smiling obsequiously. Alyn noticed he was sweating already and his velvet robes were misaligned and hanging awkwardly.

"Please be seated," said Miervaldis and the chamberlain sat down in the nearest chair. Alyn served tea and retired to stand in the appropriate position, out of the way but well within earshot, making sure she could see the chamberlain's face clearly. The two men drank their tea for a little while and Miervaldis managed to maintain a gentle chat about the gardens and how they were kept irrigated in the warm south-eastern summer. The chamberlain followed his lead, clearly not knowing much about the subject but not wanting to interrupt. Alyn watched him fidgeting and wondered when he'd get up the courage to ask what Miervaldis wanted.

"So, ah, my lord," he managed eventually after the second cup of tea. "How is your, ah, investigation going?"

"Oh, I think I'm more or less finished here," Miervaldis said nonchalantly. A variety of expressions chased each other across the chamberlain's face; shock, relief, worry, guilt and finally neutral pleasure.

"That's... good to know," he managed blandly.

"Yes, I have a reasonably good idea of what happened. I'll be going to the Sun Court today. The Emperor is personally interested, as you know."

"Oh of course," the chamberlain nodded, wearing a peculiarly fixed smile. Alyn felt both nervous and intrigued. What was her lord playing at?

"One thing, if I may?"

"What would that be, my lord?"

"I'm interested in gems and jewellery, as you know," said Miervaldis and the chamberlain bobbed his head as if he'd always known that, while Alyn struggled to keep a straight face. Miervaldis went on. "Might I see your staff of office, please? The decorations are most unusual - very attractive." He was now doing a good impression of a vacuous noble with no proper sense of perspective and a magpie's intrigue with all things shiny. The chamberlain looked discomfited, then, clearly reluctant, held out the ornate staff. Miervaldis took it and examined it thoughtfully, then held it out to Alyn.

"Come here, Alyn," he said, and she came over and looked at the staff obediently. It was a very fine piece of work with elaborate gold loops over a central staff decorated with gems twinkling in scarlet and pale blue. She touched it with one finger and it felt cold. It looked top-heavy and a good weight at that.

"Do you see this?" asked Miervaldis, indicating one area on it with a particularly deep crevice. Assuming that was what he meant, Alyn nodded obediently.

"Yes, my lord."

Examining the chamberlain's staff of office

Miervaldis turned his head to stare at the chamberlain, who flinched from whatever expression was on his face.

"You didn't wash it well enough," he said, and his tone had changed from idle curiosity to a barely-hidden threat. "I can still see some, you know."

"That can't be! I -" the chamberlain stopped, half risen, realising too late that he'd said the wrong thing. His expression was frozen fear, shock and guilt all at once.

"Yes," Miervaldis said quietly. "I have a good idea of what happened. Why don't you tell me." It wasn't a request, it was an order, delivered in that cold voice that made Alyn shiver. The chamberlain sat back again and stared at her lord in sullen defiance.

"You don't have any proof, do you?" he said eventually.

"I don't need it. You're the only one with motive, means and opportunity. And no alibi." His voice had changed again, to imply careless assurance, to carry the lie.

"What about Lord Berinhard?" Now the chamberlain sounded eager and Alyn found herself quite revolted by the man's willingness to accuse another to get himself off the hook. If he really was guilty, and she still didn't quite understand all the links. Yet.

"I have a cast iron alibi for him," Miervaldis said. The chamberlain slumped, looking miserable. "And if you don't tell me," her lord went on, "I shall go to your wife's house and ask her. In person."

The chamberlain looked horrified. He tried to speak, starting several sentences and stopping before a whole word came out. Eventually he managed a weak protest.

"She's not my wife..."

"What is she, then?"

There was another long pause, then he began to speak. It started out slowly with a lot of false starts, but became smoother and faster as he went on, as though it was a good thing to let it all out. To confess - and Alyn realised partway through that this was indeed a confession, if to a very unusual Sage indeed.

"Silvi is... my lover of twenty-one years. She worked as a maid in the Court during my final year of service to Chamberlain Aghustin, the year before I became Chamberlain myself. But then five years later she became pregnant... of course I couldn't marry her. Not then, not when I had only just established myself! I mean, the difference in status..." Alyn found herself amazed that the difference between two working-class servants could be deemed so great, but then there were strata in every class, even the nobles. The chamberlain stared straight ahead for a while, then resumed, twisting his hands together.

"I made arrangements of course, and everything worked well. Silvi's daughter - our daughter - came to work at the Court when she was sixteen. That was easy to arrange, because her mother had worked here. But the day she applied, I was busy seeing to Lord Raul, and before I knew it she had been chosen by Lord Cassian. Liliya is very beautiful." That was said as a simple fact, not as a man taking pride in his daughter.

"Of course I tried to change it, but I couldn't interfere too much in case anyone realised... and then six months later she had to leave. I knew why. Everyone knew why. Lord Cassian has always abused his servants, although even for him that was a short time. My poor girl!" Those were the first words that actually bore any trace of emotion towards Liliya. Alyn felt doubly sorry for the girl, who had presumably known her father and also known that he would never acknowledge her. That was hard enough to start with, even without what had been done within Fifth Star Court.

"So she went home and recovered, and then a wonderful thing happened. A young glassblower asked to marry her! He was only young of course and didn't have a shop, but even so it was a good match and she was happy with it." A glassblower would count as middle class, not working class. It was such an odd system, Alyn thought distractedly, that counted a servant in the Court lower than a craftsman working in the meanest shop in town.

"The arrangements were made and it was all going well... and then Liliya came to me at night asking for money. She was in tears. I didn't understand but I gave it to her - I thought maybe it was something like a present she wanted to buy for him. Girls can be so whimsical. But then one night I happened by Lord Cassian's suite and I saw the light was on, so I went in to check the clerks hadn't fallen asleep with the lamps still lit. It's dangerous, you know. Jaquan -" he stumbled over the name and looked away, then cleared his throat and continued more quietly. "Jaquan was working at the far desk and didn't notice me at first. The door was unlocked, so I made no noise. I came up behind him and he looked round and saw me and he looked so, so afraid, so upset. Horrified. Angry. He scrunched up the paper he was copying but I could see the copy he made. I could see it was a record of Liliya's grant of leave. Then I - then I understood what had happened and why she had come to me for money. Everyone knew Jaquan was a little rat. Nobody liked him. It's just the sort of thing he'd do!" He was speaking fast and breathing heavily, angered at the memory. Alyn held her breath. "So, so I, I hit him. With my staff. It hit the back of his head and he, he went down." He swallowed, looking suddenly ill at the memory, his face pale. "I took his pens and ink and his copy of the document, but - I didn't want to disturb the official records so I hid the crumpled one in all the others and left them all over the place and went out. I locked the door... out of habit, I suppose." His head hung down and his last words sounded tired, as though the confession had taken it out of him. "I didn't mean to kill him. But what he was trying to do... " he tailed off. There was a long silence, then he looked up, desperation on his face.

"I'll come with you, my lord," he said. "I'll come with you to the Sun Court and - and the Sun Emperor. But please - please - don't tell anybody. Let me accompany you, not be a, a prisoner. Please?" He was almost whispering. Alyn was shocked to find herself feeling strong revulsion towards him, as a man who was so obsessed with saving face and looking good that he refused to acknowledge a faithful lover, wouldn't protect a daughter and even now, after confessing to murder, only thought of not looking bad in front of the Court.

"Do I have your word that you will accompany me to the Sun Court?"

"Yes, my lord."

Miervaldis stared at the window for a moment, then looked back to the unhappy chamberlain.

"I'll make arrangements. We will be leaving very soon. Be at the courtyard in half an hour. If you are not there, then I will have to ask the guards to look for you."

The chamberlain flinched and nodded. "I will be there, my lord." He rose shakily, not looking at either of them, and bowed out of the door. Miervaldis stood still for a long minute, then relaxed with a sigh.

"That wasn't very pleasant."

Alyn agreed, but it wasn't a question so she kept quiet.

"Alyn, please go and arrange a coach for, oh, eight people - I'd like Pyrrhus and his brother to come, I think it would be good for them. We need to get to the Sun Court as quickly as possible. If we hurry, we may get there before the evening, in time for the Emperor to see us all today."

"Yes, my lord," Alyn said, and hurried out. She was halfway down the stairs before she thought to wonder who the other three people were and what was going to happen at the Sun Court. Would there be another trial? is copyright Sergei and Morag Lewis