Authors: Jennifer Fallon
The trouble was, the Crasii intrigued her; or to be more precise, the Crasii's reaction to Kyle Lakesh intrigued her. She'd never seen a slave react to a human so strangely before. Certainly not one as well trained as Warlock had obviously been.
Filled with uncertainty, she turned to study the wild-eyed young man claiming to be a Tide Lord, and then turned her gaze on the huge canine Crasii who swore his cellmate smelt like one.
Not for a minute did she think Kyle Lakesh was actually what he claimed, but she was dangerously inquisitive and that, Arkady knew from long experience, meant she probably wouldn't rest until she had sated her curiosity about both of them.
Declan Hawkes was waiting for Arkady when she returned to the Warden's office, sipping tea from a delicate floral tea service that seemed wildly out of place in this dank, depressing prison. The room was surprisingly comfortable, furnished with dark, wooden furniture of a quality not normally seen in any establishment furnished out of a Warden's stipend. A small fire kept the chill out of the air, the book-lined wall opposite the fireplace a silent testament to the Warden's surprisingly good education. Arkady noted some of the book titles with interestâincluding a leather-bound copy of Harlie Palmerston's
A Theory of Human Advancement
âas she accepted a cup of tea from the Warden and took the chair he offered opposite his desk, taking an appreciative sip of the lemon-scented brew before she spoke.
“You have some interesting inmates, Warden,” she remarked, as she lowered the cup onto the saucer.
“That's one way of describing them,” the Warden replied. With Declan in the room he seemed much more nervous than he had when she first arrived, although thankfully appeared to have gotten over his need to call her
“What was your opinion of Lakesh?” Declan asked, placing his cup on the Warden's remarkably empty desk. The spymaster might give the impression he had nothing better to do than sit here sipping tea, but she knew him well enough to sense that he wasn't pleased about the wait.
“Ah,” Arkady sighed, quite deliberately drawing out her answer. “Kyle Lakesh. Or Cayal, the Immortal Prince, if you believe him. Interesting fellow.”
Declan scowled at her. “I'm glad he piqued your academic interest. But what did you find out?”
“In the bare fifteen minutes I was allowed with the prisoner, absolutely nothing,” she replied, taking another sip of tea. “And what piqued my academic interest wasn't our would-be immortal, Declan. It was the Crasii's reaction to him.”
“You mean Warlock?” the Warden asked. “Did he give you any trouble?”
“Not really. But he and Lakesh seem to despise each other. Or rather he seems to despise Lakesh and Lakesh seems to look down on him as if he's some kind of animal.”
“The Crasii are animals,” the Warden pointed out with a shrug. “I see nothing unusual in that.”
“How long have they been in opposite cells?” Arkady enquired.
“A little more than a week,” the Warden informed her. “The first hint we had of any trouble between the two of them was the night of the hanging. The watch reported Lakesh kept the rest of the Row awake half the night with his moaning.”
“He seems to be in no pain now.”
The Warden shrugged, unable to explain it. “The man does appear to be a quick healer.”
“Enough to make him immortal?” Declan asked, clearly sceptical about the whole notion of Tide Lords.
Arkady shook her head. “I'm suggesting nothing of the kind. Have you questioned the hangman about how this man survived? I gather it's not a common occurrence.”
Declan nodded. “There seems to be nothing amiss.”
“Did they speak before the execution?”
The Warden shrugged. “It's traditional for an executioner to request the forgiveness of the man he's putting to death. My understanding is that Lakesh didn't grant the executioner forgiveness for his hanging so much as complain that we should have beheaded him.”
“Maybe your Caelishman offered something elseâlike a substantial bribe?” she suggested, not able to imagine any other way a man could have survived the noose and recovered so quickly from his injuries.
“I can assure you, Doctor Desean, as I did Master Hawkesâmy men are above reproach. The man acting as hangman the day of the execution has held his job for nigh on ten years. If he was the easily corruptible sort, he'd have proved it long before now.”
“I'm sure you believe that, Warden,” she replied, and then turned to Declan. “I thought we beheaded criminals in Lebec.”
“Apparently the headsman was on
” Declan informed her in a tone she knew well.
Arkady covered her smile with her teacup and turned to speak to the Warden. “I'd like to speak to the prisoners again tomorrow.”
“Prisoners?” he asked, looking a little confused. “I was given to understand that you are here only to speak with the Caelishman.”
“I would also like to keep the Crasii nearby.”
“For what purpose?” Declan asked.
“His reaction to the presence of Lakesh is intriguing. He called him a suzerain.”
The Warden seemed quite puzzled. “What's that?”
Declan answered before Arkady could. “It's an insult. A name the Crasiiâin their legends, at any rateâhad for the Tide Lords.”
“I don't see the problem,” the Warden said, leaning back in his chair. “The man's calling himself a Tide Lord and the Crasii insulted him accordingly. There's no mystery there.”
“But how did Lakesh know what a suzerain was?” Arkady asked. “He knew
what it meant. The Crasii are very protective of their oral history and their legends. As far as I know, the only people who know what a suzerain is are the Crasii and those few humans who have managed to gain their trust.”
“Like you, for instance?”
Arkady met his gaze evenly. “That's why I was asked to come here, isn't it? Because I study the Crasii and they're the only ones with any sort of knowledge of the Tide Lords.”
“Having knowledge of the Tide Lords would imply they're real,” the Warden reminded her.
“To the Crasii, they are.”
“The Crasii are animals, Doctor.” The Warden shrugged. “Any intelligent man knows their fairy stories are just thatâ¦stories made up to explain things they don't have the wit to understand.”
Declan shook his head. “That still doesn't explain away Warlock's reaction to Lakesh. I sensed it too, when I spoke to the prisoner.”
Arkady nodded in agreement. “If they've only been opposite each other for a week, they haven't had time to develop the animosity that's already built up between them.”
“So you think Lakesh really is a Tide Lord because some big dumb animal doesn't like the smell of him?” The Warden rolled his eyes.
Arkady glared at the Warden. “What I think, sir, is that it won't take long for word to get about that your Crasii prisoner thinks Lakesh's claim is genuine. Add that to his miraculous escape from the noose and it won't be the Caelish Ambassador we have to worry about. Even if every rational person in Glaeba thinks it's nonsense, the Crasiiâfor whom the Tide Lords are quite realâmay start to believe it. Do you really want every slave in the country thinking his ancient masters have returned and they are no longer required to serve
Not surprisingly, the Warden didn't have an answer to that.
“What do you recommend?” Declan asked, in the awkward silence that followed.
“If Lakesh has enough knowledge of the Crasii to know what a suzerain is, then he's done his homework. I doubt this is a spur-of-the-moment plan. He's thought this out, and very carefully.”
“For what purpose?” the Warden asked, clearly not convinced.
Arkady shrugged. “There could be any number of reasons.” She turned to Declan. “You asked me here because we're still having problems with Caelum, didn't you? Maybe in revenge for the insult of refusing Princess Nyah they've come up with a way to destabilise the very foundation of Glaeban society by making our Crasii believe the Tide Lords have returned. Maybe it's a scam cooked up by Lakesh himself for some nefarious purpose of his own. Whatever the reason, this man needs to be exposed as a fraud before you execute him again. If anything went wrong a second time, it would be calamitous. He's already survived the noose once. If he's trying to convince the Crasii he's immortal, he's probably clever enough to find a way to beat it again.”
“I'll have the bastard run through!” the Warden declared. “That should cure his delusions of immortality.”
can explain his death to the Caelish Ambassador,” Declan reminded him. “I'm sure he won't object to us killing one of his citizens out of hand because we felt the prisoner needed to be disabused of his delusions of immortality.”
“But how do you intend to prove the man is lying, your grace?” the Warden asked, pretending Declan hadn't spoken.
“I want to talk to him. At length. And without any watchdogs hovering over me.”
Declan frowned. “That would be very dangerous.”
“If Lakesh stays in his cell and I stay out of reach, I'll be safe enough.” She smiled. “Surely you don't think he really has magical powers, Declan?”
“No, I suppose not.” He thought about it and then nodded. “Can you have him moved to somewhere more accessible for her grace's visits, Warden?”
“Actually, Declan, I'd rather speak to him where he is. Where Warlock can overhear the conversation. His knowledge of the Tide Lord legends and his reactions to Lakesh's answers should help my work considerably.”
“Let me see if I understand this, your grace,” the Warden said. “You plan to prove to the Crasii that this Tide Lord is a fake by allowing one of them to sit in on your discussions while the man verifies his claim?” The Warden smiled at the spymaster, shaking his head. “There's an example of incomprehensible female logic for you.”
“You don't think I might actually succeed in exposing Lakesh?” she enquired, ignoring his snide condescension. “That in the process of exposing his lies, the Crasii would come to believe the man was faking?”
expose his lies,” Declan countered.
“If you think I can't, Declan, then my work here is done. You obviously don't need me. Thank you for the tea, Warden.”
Arkady rose to her feet as she placed her teacup on the desk. She turned for the door but had only taken two steps before Declan stopped her.
She looked back at him, surprised he had addressed her by name in front of the Warden. “Oh, so you do need my help?”
“You know we do. Too many people know about this already.”
“Then let me help you.
you expose him, though?”
Arkady nodded, hoping she appeared a lot more confident than she felt. “Unless he really is a Tide Lord, then yes, I believe I can.”
Declan Hawkes hesitated but finally he nodded and turned to the Warden. “Give Doctor Desean whatever she needs; whatever she wants.”
The Warden nodded. “As you wish, Master Hawkes.”
They left the prison together, Declan taking the time to hand Arkady into her carriage before taking charge of his own mount. “Don't let me down, Arkady,” he warned as she took her seat.
“Don't patronise me,
” she responded impatiently.
He seemed more amused than annoyed by her reply. “You're looking very well, by the way. I meant to tell you that last night,” he added, as he closed the door, “but I wasn't sure what your husband would think of such an observation. Being a duchess suits you.”
“You don't seem to be suffering too badly, yourself,” Arkady replied through the open window.
He smiled at her the way he used to when they were children looking for mischief in the backstreets of the Lebec slums. “We've done all right for ourselvesâyou and I. For a couple of slum brats.”
“Does this mean you've forgiven me?” she asked, eyeing him curiously. “Forâ¦what was it you called it? That's rightâ¦for
whoring myself for the sake of a fortune and an empty title
He shook his head apologetically. “You're never going to let me forget that, are you?”
“Not anytime soon,” she agreed.
“He seems to be fond of you,” her old friend conceded with some reluctance.
“Who? Stellan? Why would you assume my husband was anything less than fond of me, Declan? Tides, you can't believe he married me for my money?”
“Actually, I'm still puzzling that one out.”
“Well, it's nice to know the King's Spymaster is doing something useful with his time. Why can't you just accept that Stellan married me for love?”
“Dukes marry for property or political advantage. You brought him neither.” He smiled at her. “I'm suspicious by nature, Arkady. You know that.”
She studied him for a time, thinking he wasn't the only one with a suspicious nature. It was a sixth sense you developed in the slums if you intended to survive. “Why did you really ask me here, Declan?”
“You know Crasii lore better than anyone I know.”
“Even better than you?”
“What do you mean?”
“You knew what a suzerain was,” she pointed out. “Do you really need my help to break this man?”
He was silent for a moment and then he shrugged. “You want an honest answer?”
“No, Declan, I was hoping you'd lie to me.”
He leaned a little closer. “I can't stay here in Lebec. I have to get back to Herino. I shouldn't really be here at all, truth be told. This is a provincial problem, not a matter for the crown. I want you to do this because you know Crasii lore, I trust you, and I suspect Kyle Lakesh will tell a beautiful woman things he won't tell a male interrogator because he'll let down his guard in your presence.”
His answer made sense. And it didn't surprise her. She had long grown accustomed to the notion that Declan Hawkes wasn't above using anybody he needed to achieve his goals, his best friends included. Interesting, too, she thought, that Declan thought she was beautiful. He'd never once commented on her appearance before and she'd known him since she was eight years old.
“You dress better these days, Declan, but you're still the same wretched boy I knew as a child.”