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Chapter 16

Seduced an innocent?

Piaras was furiousand was having a real problem getting past those three words.

Like I dont have a mind of my own and the sense to use it! Now Piaras was furious and pacing.

I had fully expected Carnades to go after me. I didnt know what hed wanted with Piaras, and now I did. At least some of his cards were on the table. But I knew he and Balmorlan had plenty more cards in their hands they werent showing until they were good and ready.

Id seen Carnadess type before. Hed spent his life studying the horrors that the goblins had inflicted on the elven people in past centuries. He was full of hate and prejudice, and fed both of them three square meals every day. No doubt he saw himself as a defender of the elven people. To him, I truly was a traitor and a criminal and a danger to all he held dear. To him, Piaras was a corrupted innocent. Carnades Silvanus believed every word he said. But the scary part was that he was powerful and influential enough to convince others that he was right.

Piaras and I were in my room. Mychael was in Justiniuss office planning their next move. I hadnt insisted on joining them because I could plan my next move just fine from here.

Id sent for Phaelan.

Mychael wasnt letting Piaras or me out of his sight, let alone out of the citadel. Tonights recital would take us to Sirens, which was conveniently located next to the harbor and our quickest way out of here if things continued to go sour. The Benares family was good at a lot of things, but what we did best was elude the law. I didnt want to have to elude Mychael, but he was the law. If the law told him he had to lock Piaras and me up, he would have no choice.

I planned on acting while I still had the right and ability to make my own choices.

I took a deep breath. Piaras, I need to ask you something.

He stopped pacing, but the fury was still there. Good. Carnades would claim that what I was about to say was corrupting an innocent. And hed be right; that was exactly what I was about to do. Piaras had always known what the law could do for himdefend and uphold his rights. He idolized the Guardians and wanted someday to become one. An hour ago, hed gotten his first taste of what the law could do to himimprison him and take away his rights. And sometimes guilt or innocence had nothing to do with which end of the law you got. I muttered a word I rarely used. I saved it for special occasions like close calls with death, or when I had to give someone really bad news. Piaras was about to have his innocence shattered, possibly along with his dreams, and I was the one throwing the rock.

What is it? He perched on the edge of my bed, then stood restlessly like he was looking around for something to hit.

I bit back a smile. Just like a man.

Mychael and the archmagus are going to do everything they can to keep either one of us from being locked up, I told him, but there is the possibility that they wont be able to prevent it.

We didnt do anything!

I held up a hand. We know that and so do Mychael and the archmagus. I hesitated. The law doesnt care what we know; it only recognizes what can be proven.

Piaras sat back down on my bed. But we didnt do anything wrong.

No, we didnt. But the law can see things differently. A lot of what was said in that room about me was the truth. I did trick Sarad Nukpana into touching the Saghred, knowing full well that the stone would take him as a sacrifice. I am a Benares. I do know Tamthough I wouldnt exactly call our relationship intimate, at least not in the strictly physical sense of the word. I am linked to the Saghred, though contrary to popular belief, I havent gone off the deep end. I paused, mostly for air. My point is, the truth and the law can be used against youeven if you didnt do what youve been accused of.

Piarass eyes were solemn and calm as he sat looking at me. You said you wanted to ask me something. You havent done that yet.

I muttered the rarely used word again, this time to myself.

All of this will probably work out, I told him. Youll go to school; Ill get rid of my link to the Saghred; our lives will go on as planned. But there is a possibility that Mychael and Justinius wont be able to keep the Khrynsani or elven intelligence from using the law against us. If thats the case well, some very bad things could happen.

Wed be locked up.

For starters. I can use the Saghred. Youre probably the most powerful spellsinger since Mychael or Ronan Cayle. People like the Khrynsani or the agency like to have powerful weapons like us.

I would never be anyones weapon, Piaras said vehemently.

Sometimes no one asks you what you want and persuasion can take many forms. I stopped and just looked at him. Hed done a lot of growing up in the past two weeks, and itd all been my fault.

Im sorry, I said.

For what?

For getting you into all of this. Youre in some serious danger and its all my fault.

No, it is not your fault. His dark eyes met mine unwaveringly. You didnt ask for any of this, and you have tried from the very beginning to protect me. He took a deep breath and carefully let it out. Any fear he was feeling was firmly under control, and he was determined to keep it that way. You said you had a question. You still havent asked me anything. His voice was quiet, but resolute.

For a few seconds the only sound was fire crackling in the fireplace.

Do you want to leave Mid?

I expected a stunned reaction from Piaras. He didnt even bat an eye.

Will it be necessary?

Maybe not. But it might reach that point. Soon.

How soon?

Tonight.

But if were convinced that the paladin and the archmagus can keep us safe

Then we will stay. I want to be rid of the Saghred. I smiled a little. And even the best spellsinger in the world can still learn a few things at college.

How would we leave?

Ive asked Phaelan to come here so we can work out the details. He should be here anytime.

I want to stay, but I wont stay if that means being imprisoned for something I didnt do and be used.

Me, either.

If we have to leave, how do we get out of the citadel?

Well be going to the recital tonight. Its closer to the part of the harbor

Piaras blew his breath out and it almost sounded like a laugh. The recital. Ive never sung for people who wanted to use me or lock me up.

Or both.

Taltek Balmorlan has heard you; he knows what youre capable of, I said. I wouldnt be surprised to find out he was behind slashing the shields in the music room. Anything you do tonights not going to make any difference to them. I hesitated. Your gift is going to attract unwanted attention from people youd never want to meet.

The same as you.

I frowned. Exactly.

Theyve already decided what they want to do with meand with you. Piarass voice was solemn. All they need now is an excuse to do it.

Pretty much.

Except they didnt need an excuse. The agency and the Khrynsani were like certain members of my family. If they saw something they wanted, they didnt ask; they just took it.

Piaras froze. Raine, if we have to leave, wholl find the kidnapped students?

Crap. I hadnt thought of that. I hadnt even tried to link with them today.

Katelyn said Megan has the most flawless soprano voice shes ever heard, Piaras said.

I remembered something Carnades had said in the Scriptorium. Ailia Aurillac studied mirror magic, alchemyand spellsinging.

Is Ailia Aurillac one of Ronans students, too? I asked.

Piaras thought for a moment. I dont think so. But she could still be a spellsinger. The college has an entire department for it. Maestro Cayle isnt the only professor. Ill be taking a class with one of the other maestros next term. He smiled ruefully. If Im still here.

I wondered about the boy Id seen in the room with Megan and Ailia. Was he a spellsinger? Id ask Mychael if Sedge Rinker had a missing-person name to go with the description Id given him.

Two spellsingers in Banan Ryces possession could be a coincidence. Three spellsingers was a collection.

If I wouldnt be here to find those students, Id do everything to make sure Sedge Rinker could.

I went over to my bed and slipped my hand under the mattress until I felt the bag with the hairbrush and locket. The last time Id linked with Ailia I hadnt been able to see any more of their surroundings than I had before. I took out the cloth bundle with Megans hairbrush and unwrapped it.

Is that Megans? Piaras asked.

Yes, it is. I sat in one of the chairs by the fireplace and held the brush in both hands. The link took longer to establish than it had before. Maybe Banan had strengthened the wards around them or The connection came, sharp and clear.

The students had been moved. And I could see where they were.

They werent in a room. They were in a cell, and the walls were solid rock. This wasnt anywhere in the cityit was under the city. I clutched the brush harder. Now we were getting somewhere.

There was still only Megan, Ailia, and the boy. Banan hadnt kidnapped any more students, or if he had, I couldnt see them through Megans eyes. The bars of their cell werent rounded as they were in more modern cells; these were flat pieces of iron overlapping each other to form squares. These cells were old, but apparently still in working order. They didnt make them like that anymore. Their age should make where they were easier to find. Megan and the boy were holding hands. He was protective of her, but Megan looked like she needed it less than she had before. Good. Ailia was pacing.

The light was good enough for Megan to see outside the cell. There were two Nightshade guards, and there was another cell across from theirs. A cell block. That should be even easier to pinpoint. I broke the contact.

Mychael needed to know what Id seen.

Vegard and Riston were on guard duty outside my newly replaced door.

I need to see the paladin, I told Vegard.

Hes not here, maam. He paused uncomfortably. He and the archmagus had to go to the elven embassy.

My stomach tried to do a flip. Taltek Balmorlan just wouldnt give up. If Mychael and Justinius had to go to the elven embassy in person, then the old man was probably playing the last card in his hand. I hoped for my and Piarass sakes that it was a good one.

I took a breath and stood straighter. Fine. Then I need to get a message to Sedge Rinkerdirectly to him, no one else. Can you arrange that for me?

I can, Vegard said.

Good. Ill just need a pen and some paper. And have the messenger wait for a response. I need to know if Rinker has the name of the boy who was taken yesterday. I also need to know if hes a spellsinger. The two kidnapped girls are spellsingers.

Vegard stood motionless. Are you certain?

Positive. I smiled in grim satisfaction. But if your chief watcher knows this island as well as he should, he could be on the verge of finding them all.

Vegard left to deliver my note to a Guardian courier; he came back accompanied by a swaggering vision in scarlet.

Phaelan was wearing his on-shore-leave-and-getting-laid clothes. His doublet was scarlet buckskin with matching breeches topped with high, black leather boots. At his side was his favorite swept-hilt rapier, and a single ruby earring gleamed in the lobe of one elegantly pointed ear.

I looked him up and down. Going out this evening?

Absolutely. With you and Piaras.

Youre going to the recital. Piarass relieved smile was like the sun coming out.

Phaelan nodded. I thought Id sample Mids cultural riches.

I raised a brow. And?

And what?

You hate mages, you barely tolerate academics, and you told me once that highborn elves give you a rash.

Im prepared to deal with the discomfort to ensure the safety of my family. That includes you, too, he told Piaras.

Thank you, Piaras said earnestly.

Dont mention it.

I approved of family-ensured safety. The Guardians would arrest first, ask questions later. Phaelan would kill first, no questions asked.

Ive told Piaras what we might have to do tonight, I said.

Phaelan nodded. I know you dont like it, kid. But trust methe views a lot better from outside cell bars. I speak from experience.

I dont want that experience, Piaras said.

My cousin grinned wolfishly. Thats why Im here. And thats why Im going to the recital. Aside from my incomparable bodyguard services, theres the entertainment value of rich people clutching their jewels when I walk through the door. You just cant buy that kind of fun.

We want you there, I told him. The question is, will Mychael let you?

My presence is paladin approved.

I snorted. Since when?

Phaelans grin vanished. Since I told him there was no way in hell the two of you were going into that hornets nest without me.

Thank you. And I meant it.

His dark eyes were as serious as Id ever seen them. Thats what family is for. Then the rogue was back. That and jailbreaks. Speaking of which, Tanik Ozal is in port.

I swore silently. Next to our family, the Ozals were the second-most-notorious criminal family in the seven kingdoms. What Tanik Ozal was doing here boded no good for local law enforcement or anyone else. Anything he and Phaelan tried to pull would come back to splatter on me. After today, I wasnt in the mood to be splattered.

Phaelan, I said in warning.

My cousin raised his hands defensively. Were not up to anything. Tanik wants to help.

An Ozal promising help was like a shark promising not to eat you.

Taniks here to bring his son back to school, Phaelan continued. I told him about the two of you getting hung out to dry, and he wants to help in any way he can. Phaelans grin was cheerfully evil. And he said if it involves blowing anything up, all the better. But for starters, Ive asked him to keep an eye on his neighbors. Hes docked in a prime slip; MalSalin and Khrynsani craft on one side, and that elven intelligence agents yacht on the other. And if you buy a lot of drinks for some of Balmorlans crew, you find out all sorts of fascinating things, like their captains told them to be ready to leave fast. They even have a pair of weather wizards on board to help it happen.

I swore.

Yeah, I thought it was interesting, too. And the Khrynsani ship has her bow pointed toward open water. Tanik said they had to do a lot of maneuvering to get her that way. Anyway, Tanik says hell keep watch for us.

Thank him for me, I said.

I already have. And if we do this thing, youll get a chance to thank him yourself.

I frowned. Phaelan, no. Absolutely no.

Cousin, if we want to leave this island, its not going to be on the Fortune. Stealth is called for, and the paladin has got my lady wrapped in cloaking spells, and a few other things my men discovered when they tried to raise anchor. Key word there is tried.

I didnt move. You couldnt raise anchor?

Not an inch. The paladin has made sure were not going anywhere.

Mychael wouldnt do that. I said it, but I wasnt so sure.

His duty was to keep the Saghred on the island. Until I was no longer bonded to the Saghred, that same mind-set would have to apply to me. Mychael would do his duty at all costs.

"Damn, I muttered.

Phaelan nodded slowly. Now youre getting the picture. Since he cut off one exit, well just take another. Taniks Zephyr is a nimble little craft, no high tides needed for her to leave the harbor. Hell drop us off at Mermeia. I sent a message to Dad before we left Mermeia last week. By now hell be waiting there just in case we need him.

Commodore Ryn Benares was Phaelans dad, my uncle, and the main reason the name Benares struck terror everywhere it was mentioned. Beneath his reputation lurked a softy, at least to his childrenand Uncle Ryn considered me one of his own. Itd be nice to see him again. From Mermeia we could go anywhere.

What about your crew? I asked.

What about them?

When Mychael finds out Im missing, if he doesnt put your ship on lockdown, the Twelve will. Your crew will probably be taken into custody.

Phaelan shrugged. Wouldnt be the first time. And theyll probably be confined to the ship, not taken into the citadel. No lawman Ive ever run afoul of wants to take a pirate crew off their ship and through town. Too many chances for bad things to happen. And my crews known for bad things. Mychael, or whoever, will leave my men right where they are. Theyll just post more guards. My men know what to do. Lay low, keep quiet, and sit tight until I get back. Its not like they havent done it before. They know the drill.

I exhaled. I dont like it, but its like you saidwere not exactly flush with options here. Okay, listen up. One block down from Sirens is a row of town houses. Theres a street that runs behind them. That time of night that street should be nice and dark, and from there its a straight shot to the harbor. Well meet there if we get separated.

I looked questioningly at Piaras. He nodded grimly.

Phaelan clapped and rubbed his hands together. Good, thats settled. He took a small velvet pouch out of his doublet. You said your gowns black, right?

I nodded. Ristons wife had gone shopping for me this morning. The fruit of her labor hung in my closet. Normally I didnt care for gowns, but I had to admit I liked this one. It was the softest black velvet Id ever felt, its long sleeves were tight, and the gown itself was perfectly cut, sleekly styled, with a short train. With my pale skin and red gold hair, black had always been my best friend. If I had to walk into a hornets nest tonightor make a quick getawayat least Id look good doing it.

Here. Phaelan tossed a drawstring bag to me. I opened it and a choker of creamy gray pearls spilled out into my hand. The clasp was an ornate, diamond bow. Very nice.

I gave him my best fess-up look. How hot is it?

Phaelans dark eyes went wide and innocent. Pardon?

Hot, stolen, missing, no longer where its supposed to be

He grinned crookedly. Theyve cooled down.

Is there any chance the former owner will be at Sirens tonight?

That would depend on whos invited.

Maybe a better question would be, Who should I avoid?

He shrugged. I took it off a ship going to Nebia.

Are there any Nebian royals or merchants among Ronans students? I asked Piaras.

Not that Im aware of. The kid was fighting a grin and losing. I should have known better than to think anyone in my family could set a good moral example. Though it was nice to see Piaras smile.

I sighed. They are beautiful. Ill chance it.

Theres a matching bracelet and earrings in the bag, too, Phaelan said brightly.

Of course there were. Never let it be said my cousin stole anything halfway.


Chapter 15 | Armed & Magical | Chapter 17