If you’d like to read scene one, please click here.
Evening came and a small crowd had gathered in their backyard. Lejer had somehow managed to find a carpenter willing to make benches for everyone. From the safety of the kitchen, Krysilla watched the crowd murmur and gesture and she could tell from that alone that everyone was curious about a minstrel who could impress Lejer, one of the more stalwart Tothsins in the village.
Krysilla wondered about that herself.
Using only a little magic to keep down the mess, she sprinkled powdered sugar on the little cakes she’d made. Powdered sugar stuck to her hands and to the places on her face where she’d rubbed or scratched as she worked. She’d already used quite a bit getting the house ready and she didn’t want to collapse when it came time to hear Parlay play. The bell at the front of the store rang and she growled. “Coming!”
“Don’t worry,” Parlay said, walking down the hall to the kitchen. “it’s only me.”
She brushed a strand of hair from her face before realizing she was coating it in powdered sugar. “Oh!” And then she saw him. “Oh.”
He wore the garb of a traveling minstrel with some money to spend. He wore the dark purple vest that showed he was a performer, with a bleached and starched white handkerchief in the pocket, yet both were of a somewhat higher quality and better cut than what she’d seen him wear at the market. His shirt, of the same quality as the vest and handkerchief, was a patchwork of light purple and off-white, a direct contrast to the plain brown slacks and laced boots he wore, and the sleeves were only slightly more full than the shirt he had worn previously. He looked both adventurous and calm.
“Is that what you’ll wear at the Felldesh manor?” she smiled and went back to dusting the cakes.
“If only. My clothes for that event will be much more flashy.”
With no one to see them because of the invisibility, she smiled. “I thought, being the kind who enjoys the ladies, that you would want something that got attention.”
“I can get attention no matter what clothes I wear,” he said, with a sly look that made her blush.
“Well,” she said, regaining her composure, “you’ve certainly gotten this town’s attention. I think half the village is trying to squeeze into our backyard.” She hesitated, looking at the crowd. “How do you do it?”
“Some of the people out there say you can’t be as good as Lejer says you are because you don’t use magic.”
“That’s the draw. Magic is used by everyone, even minstrels, so what would music look like without it?”
“Then how do you do it?” She looked back at him. “How do you keep them from walking away disappointed?”
He leaned his back against the wall and folded his arms over his chest. “Some do. Can’t help that. As for the rest, I practice very, very hard, and hope for the best. What about you?”
She blew a stray strand of hair from her eyes this time, instead of touching it. “What about me?”
“A baker’s wife. Is that all you do?”
She chuckled. “It’s all that matters.”
Though the smile remained on his face, his tone was serious. “Is it?”
Not liking the direction the conversation was headed, she looked out the window. “Looks like it’s about time for the show to start.”
“It starts when I appear.”
She turned to him in surprise at his arrogance. As if realizing how he had sounded, he shrugged. “There’s no other way to say it.”
“You think you’re that important. What’s to keep them from getting up and walking away?”
“The same thing that kept you.”
He’d gotten too close with that one. Krysilla took one of the enormous trays full of cakes. “I’m walking away, aren’t I? And I wasn’t the one who asked you to play in our yard tonight, either.” She turned away to take the cake outside.
She froze, hating the way her name sounded like a caress when he said it, hating the way she lingered, waiting for more. Terrible behavior from a wife, she scolded herself.
“Goodwife,” she corrected him. And yet, she waited.
He took two steps from the wall where he had been leaning. “You don’t need to answer the questions I’m about to ask, goodwife. But I think it would be wise if someone, stranger or not, asked them. Are you happy? Do you love him?”
She whirled around at that, the tray nearly falling. “Of course I love him. I married him.”
She had expected to see disappointment in his eyes, another blue sash slipping out of his grasp. But his eyes were full of sorrow…and regret. “Thank you. It was a pleasure talking with you, goodwife.” He no longer looked at her, but instead set his case on the table and opened it. “I look forward to speaking with you again in the future.”
There was no seduction in his voice, no temptation of future pleasures, and yet that frightened her even more. He said it as if it were a matter of fact, she thought, pasting a smile on her face as she stepped outside, listening to the sound of plucked strings from the kitchen. She could almost see him pausing now and then to turn the pegs. Some of the guests cheered at the sight of the cakes. Some of them tried to grab a few as she passed by and it took some ingenuity to keep them all safe from greedy hands. When she finally made it to the table where other snacks and drinks had been set, she took a deep breath, waved a blessing on the food and drink, as any good wife should and walked along the side yard to the front of the house.
“Krysilla!” Lejer called out from behind her. “Krysilla, where are you going? The show’s about to start.”
Applause sounded behind them from the crowd and Krysilla smiled. They already loved him. “I heard his show at the market. And I’m tired.”
“Yes, you mentioned that earlier.” He sighed and looked at the crowd. “Are you happy, Krysilla?” He turned back to her.
Stunned that he had asked her the same question Parlay had, she said, “The bakery is tiring, but I told you when we were married that I wasn’t afraid of work.”
He wasn’t listening to her. She could tell in the way his eyes glazed over and the random nods of his head that meant he was already formulating a response. “Because I’ve been thinking about a few things.”
“Like an assistant?” she joked, hoping he would say that’s exactly what he had been thinking of.
The sound of a fiddle pierced the air with a rousing tune that made the crowd yell in delight. Krysilla could see some of the guests at the edges begin to dance, and some sang along though she didn’t think the song had words. The sound of a tambourine joined Parlay’s fiddle and Krysilla frowned. She didn’t think anyone owned instruments in this village. Not that it was forbidden. Not like the other magics. Just frowned on, since such things led to a lack of self-control. Perhaps, she considered as she listened to the music, people felt safer when a minstrel was there, someone who could lead the way through the chaos.
She looked back at Lejer, who was studying her as carefully as Parlay had before. “Later,” he said, and walked back to the crowd.
The sound of the crowd and the music filled the air around her. Even inside, it was difficult to escape. But that wasn’t why she’d gone inside.
No one could see the effect his music had on her. No one.
She went into the second spare room, a bright yellow and white with blue accents. The Sun Room, she had joked more than once. But this room faced the backyard, and it gave her a clear view of Parlay below. If she looked. She made sure not to look.
Instead, she curled up on the bed and hugged her knees, letting the music he led with his fiddle wash over her. At times she couldn’t stop from smiling. Other times, all she could do was let the tears fall. She tried to remember every song he played, every note, every nuance of sound that scratched or sang. An impossible task, she knew. But she tried.
It’s all right like this, she told herself, when a brief bit of guilt flared up. She had never been this involved in Lejer and his cakes. She had never tried to memorize them as she did with Parlay’s music. But it stayed in this room.
Are you happy? The question echoed in the notes surrounding her. Do you love him?
Did I? Or was I frightened because time was slipping by and no one else had shown any interest? And if I did, do I still?
The sun had slipped behind the horizon, leaving a brilliant array of reds and purples when Parlay announced the final song of the evening. Lejer’s favorite drinking song: Lovely Lisbet.
The crowd sang the words while Parlay played the melody. The sad tale of the young man who gave up the respect of his town to rescue his love, the beautiful Lisbet from the lord-magician brought tears to Krysilla’s eyes.
There must be magic in his playing, she thought, even though she couldn’t feel any. I never cry when I hear this song.
They got to the part when the young man is tempted to work magic outside his trade. Krysilla shut her eyes as the crowd shouted his determined reply. Never, not even to save the one I love.
Stupid, she thought. If he truly loved her, he would use everything he had.
She reached out her hand, the image of a lock in front of her. Am I happy? Though there was no lock nearby, she moved her fingers ever so slightly, rearranging imaginary pins. Do I love him? If it had been a real spell, it would have worked. If it had been real.
No, she admitted to herself. I’m not. I’m not happy at all.
But there was nothing to be done about it. Feeling more tired than she expected, she fell asleep in the bed of the Sun Room. When Lejer woke her up, the sun had long since set. She practically leaped off the bed. “Cleanup!”
“Some of your friends helped. It’s all done. No need to rush, Krysilla.” And yet, she could hear an accusation in his tone.
“Oh.” She sat back down on the bed, feeling lost.
“That minstrel is good. He’s playing at Felldesh manor, did he tell you that?”
And because she had guessed and he hadn’t denied it, she said, “No.”
“He says it won’t be like tonight. He uses magic when he plays for nobles.”
Then he has a terrifying gift, she almost said. Anyone who could hold a crowd that well without magic, would be absolutely captivating with it. “I see.” She thought about her wardrobe. “I’ll need to get a new dress.”
“Who said you were going?”
If he had slapped her, he couldn’t have hurt her more. “What?”
“We’ll have extra work because of the Felldesh order. You’ll need to stay here to catch up.”
What had happened to the Lejer who asked if she was happy? “I’m not staying here.”
“You’re sounding like a child, Krysilla. Grown-ups have responsibilities. The offer was extended to me, the head of the household, as a sign of gratitude for letting him stay here when he was ill. There’s no need for you to come. Besides, as you pointed out, you’ll need a new dress and we don’t have the money for it.”
“But you have money for a new oven.”
“Throwing a tantrum, are we?”
“I’m just pointing out—”
“That what? Do you think I’m going to the Felldesh manor for fun? I’m going there to make connections and drum up business. It’s a rare opportunity. You know how you are in crowds, you’d be useless. You do an excellent job in the kitchen.”
“I need a rest, Lejer.”
“Which is why I let the other women muck around in your house. Do you think I’m going to let that happen on a regular basis?”
Hurt, Krysilla stared at the floor. Lejer sighed. “We’re both tired. Come to bed.”
And if I say no? she wanted to ask. But she couldn’t. He was right. She was sounding like a whiny brat. And sleep would do her some good.
Except it didn’t. While Lejer quietly snored, she tossed and turned. I’ll wake him up if I keep this up, she thought. Slipping out of bed, she didn’t even bother changing out of her nightgown. Taking her cloak from the rack, she wrapped herself in it, grabbed a small hand shovel from the kitchen, then, King’s Light in her free hand, left the house through the back door.
Long ago, after the boy had looked at her in horror for messing with locks, she had stopped using that magic. Or rather, she tried. But it called to her. Sometimes, she would find herself using it surreptitiously around her father’s house to unlock things her father had forgotten to leave a key for when he died. She could have asked a locksmith, as her father had done. It’s easier, she would tell herself. And besides, the Dogs never came near the village proper, or the surrounding fields. Tothsin beliefs were strong and had been for at least a generation. No one else outside a Dog would know someone other than a locksmith had worked the magic.
But when she married Lejer, to make sure she never brought him to ruin, she took the locks she had used for practice and placed them in a box, then buried them in the forest. She had used a box, she told herself then, so that it would be more difficult to detect the magic if the Dogs came sniffing.
As she went deeper into the forest, she knew the real reason. She’d used a box to keep them safe.
I’m not a good wife, she thought as she stopped in front of the spot where she’d buried it. I’m a terrible one.
Setting the King’s Light in the crook of a tree branch, she began to dig. It didn’t take long before she brought up the box, seven years worth of damage cracking the wood, showing hints of rusted iron inside.
It’s not worth it, she told herself and put the box back in the ground. Still, she didn’t cover it with earth. Her hand shovel stayed on the ground beside her.
“Won’t he notice the dirt?” Parlay asked from behind her.
Leaping up, she tripped on her nightgown and fell on her backside.
“And on your knees, too,” he added with a smirk. “I’m sure that would look very innocent to him.”
He leaned his back against a tree, arms folded over his chest. His fiddle was nowhere to be seen, and he wore a wool cloak thick enough to keep out the spring chill.
“What are you doing here?” she demanded.
“Did you forget to put the tincture back?” He watched her closely.
Fear made her pale. He’d seen through her. Her hands shook as she scrambled back to her feet. He was a Dog. Had to be. “I got it from the healer.”
Parlay shook his head. “The healer lives on the other side of town, where the forest and village meet. And, given what I’ve heard about her, she would have wanted to tend to a fever like mine personally, being a stranger and all. But not long after I lay down, you appear with medicine.”
The Dogs put people in dungeons where they’re tortured for information on how they got their training. “It was leftover from a cold I had earlier.” When they’re done, you’re stood on a dais where everyone can watch you slowly die. “That’s all.”
“And the locks? Circle light, you look like you’re about to faint.”
Krysilla fell down to her knees again, shaking all over now. “I was a farmer’s daughter,” she whispered, not even sure what she was saying anymore in her panic.
“That explains the herb.” Parlay walked over to her and she scurried backward.
“I’m not going to hurt you, goodwife,” he soothed. “Honest.” He held up his hands, then laced them together tightly to show he wasn’t going to cast a spell. “And I’m not a Dog.”
“Prove it.” The Dogs disguise themselves as ordinary people. They don’t have uniforms and they lie in wait for someone to make a mistake.
Parlay laughed bitterly. “There’s no way I can, especially not after what I’m about to say. See, I’m in a bit of a bind.”
Her eyes narrowed. “What kind?”
“The kind that directly applies to those locks you have buried in this forest.” He watched her a moment longer. She stayed where she was, waiting. “I hate to involve you,” he finally said. “You’ve already been through enough, from what I can tell. Unfortunately, you’re already involved.”
He crouched down in front of her, his long woolen cloak pooling around him. “I have been sent to look into a small matter for a very important member of the court at Hurush.” The capital. “Lord Felldesh, it seems, has been less than honest in some of his dealings. At least, that’s the accusation. I’m here to confirm it.”
Circle light, she’d brought a spy into her house. “How does that involve me?” Her trembling hadn’t subsided.
Parlay opened his mouth to answer, then got up and took off his cloak. Wrapping it around her shoulders on top of her own, he said, “I don’t want to say until I’m sure of the accusation. But if the rumors I’ve heard are true, it most certainly involves you.”
This time he sat down in front of her, arms wrapped around the knees of his long legs. She could now see an oiled leather pouch slung across his chest. “You see, Lord Felldesh keeps this particular secret in a place that only he and trusted advisers go. And that room is locked.”
Krysilla shook her head. “You’d need a locksmith for anything a nobleman might keep secret.”
“The only one I trust is unable to come with me.”
“I’m not good enough.”
“Perhaps not,” he admitted. “But wouldn’t you like the chance to try?”
This had to be a trap. “If he truly wants to keep it safe—”
“It’s in the back of the Felldesh manor, in a basement room at the end of a long corridor. You’ll slip away from the party after the musicians have finished playing, but before the party has ended. I can get you to the door.”
“Who will get me back out? And won’t Lord Felldesh realize someone’s working magic in his own house?”
“I have ways of taking care of that,” he grinned.
Krysilla believed him, given all the other mysteries surrounding him. “Well, you’ll have to find a way to get me to the party, without causing a scandal, because my husband has forbidden me to go.”
Parlay blinked. “Why?”
“Because I’m no good at social functions. I tend to stay among a few friends, instead of moving around the room, making connections among the women.”
She didn’t mention that it was because she’d run the farm after her father’s death. It wasn’t her fault her mother never remarried, but none of the women felt it was right, her taking over the business as she had, and doing well at it. It didn’t help that she didn’t have new spells for housecleaning, or children, to gush over. And so, she stayed mostly to herself.
“That is a problem.” He sighed, brows furrowed in thought, then leaned his mouth against his arms so that all she could see of his face were his eyes, staring at the ground. “I assume you don’t have a dress.” He looked up at her, face still mostly hidden. “Is there someone who could do your hair?”
Stunned that he would ignore the first step in the problem, she said, “Lily…perhaps. But how—”
“Some jewelry would be nice as well. A white opal pendant, perhaps.”
“I don’t own anything so nice.”
“Yes, and now that I think about it, jewelry might gain unwanted attention. You’ll need to be able to slip away quietly.”
“But how do I go if my husband’s forbidden it?”
“Does anyone else know?”
“Do you think your husband will mention it to anyone else in the village?”
She had to think about that one. In the end, she shook her head. “Not unless one of the men asks.”
“And are there any men who would be particularly interested in seeing you there?”
Insulted, she glared at him. He shrugged. “It’s just a question.”
Taking a breath to calm herself, she said, “No.” And was surprised at the pain that stabbed her heart when she said it.
His smile stretched from ear to ear. “Well, I am. And I promise you, I will get you the things you need in order to go.”
She laughed. “Without my husband finding out. Are you one of the Blessed Ones from the stories?”
She had expected him to laugh at being compared to a being whose only purpose in life was to do good to others. He didn’t. His smile froze, becoming tight when he spoke. “I am what I said I am. And I keep my promises.” He got up and reached out a hand to help her to her feet as well. Her fingers remained in his grasp, even after she’d gotten up. “In the forest, there’s a rock with faded markings that leans against another.”
Fear began to knot her stomach once more, in spite of the warmth of his grip. “Why go to a—?”
“They’re old and have no power left in them. Meet me there tomorrow afternoon.”
“You seem intelligent. I’m sure you’ll find a way.” Raising her hand to his lips, he pressed her knuckles against them. A tingle ran up her arm, of the kind she’d dreamed about when she was a young girl waiting for a man to love her. Wiser now, she smiled briefly and tried to ignore the sensation.
“What will this cost me?”
“Nothing. It’s part of my work and all charges are handled by the one who sent me. And, in a way,” he said with sincerity, “I’m still repaying you for taking care of me.” He took his cloak back from her and clasped it around his neck. She wondered when she’d stopped trembling.
“I didn’t expect a reward when I helped you.”
He nodded. “Then how about this? You help me, and I promise never to tell anyone, especially my powerful patron, that you use forbidden magics. Does that make it seem more even to you?”
He meant to blackmail me all along, she realized. Swallowing down her terror as she realized her true situation, she shook her head. “You bastard.”
“Order must be kept.” His mocking tone sounded harsh to her ears, but something about the look on his face made her want to believe he wasn’t referring to any of her sins. “And now, goodwife, I must get some rest. You took longer than I thought.”
“You waited for me?” Was there no end to his surprises?
“I saw you at the market yesterday. I don’t usually see women looking over locksmith spellbooks.”
“I might have been married to one.”
“You might. I decided to find out once I got to town. You’ve saved me a lot of trouble already.”
“But there was no guarantee that I’d come here tonight.”
His gaze once more calculating, his smile grew. “But there was a good chance. Ah!” Reaching into his pouch, he pulled out the book she had seen in the market. “You might find this helpful.” She took it, still in shock over what had just occurred. With a slight bow, he walked deeper into the forest. Krysilla watched him until only the sound of his footsteps remained, then suddenly disappeared.
For one wild moment, she wanted to run after him, to ask him how the sound disappeared, to ask him if it was related to the inscriptions on the soles of his boots, to be close to him again and see his smile light up his eyes.
But she had to wash the dirt out of her white nightgown, first. Brushing herself off, she stared at the box. Opening it up, she sorted through the clunky locks. None of them were good for practice now.
She reburied them, then went back to the house, locksmith book held close to her chest under her tightly wrapped cloak.
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