It was an hour past dawn, and the sounds from the large sitting room of breakfast being delivered could be heard. Iaondrin still slept, hair a tangle around her face and over the pillow, and she did not move in reaction to the soft noise.
Bryan may have dozed some, he didn’t know for sure. He kept himself against her, a reassuring presence, as much as possible. He had heard footsteps, the clinking of armor as the guards were changed long before breakfast was served. The image of her huddled in the corner, what her fear had driven her to, and what he had left her to, haunted him. He would not wake her and he would not leave her.
He could hear occasionally that the priest’s heavy footsteps stopped outside the bedroom door to listen, to see whether they were awake and ready to eat. The smell of freshly lit tobacco drifted under the door, as if the priest had taken up a seat there to keep his own guard. There were knocks on the outer door of the suite, louder voices quickly shushed by Portnoy, voices with tones of official and urgent questioning that persisted, demanding to come in. Only then did Portnoy’s own voice rise, firm. “-less you plan to arrest me? No? Then go back downstairs and wait.”
It took two more hours for her to begin to awake, and when she did it was suddenly and all at once. She sat up in the bed, momentarily disoriented, and rubbed her eyes. “He smelled like pipe tobacco.” She turned, to make sure Bryan was in fact there and she hadn’t just dreamed he had returned. The spring morning sun was bright, and the fear of the night before had ebbed. But she did not fool herself into thinking it was gone; the edge of it was still there, and with it the anger.
Bryan let his arms open, kept his hands away from his body as she jerked awake and sat up. “Shhhh,” he soothed, noticing her hands twitch for the knives left on the floor as she tried to remember where she was. When she turned to look for him, he sat up, leaning on his hand and one hip, resting his other arm across her hips. “I’m here,” he said softly. “You’re not alone. Not anymore.”
Iaondrin slid one hand up his arm to his shoulder, and into his hair, and pressed her cheek against his. “There’s something I’m forgetting,” she whispered. “It’s important.” Something she had only partially remembered the night before, but had not been able to focus on. Not with the fear and the anger, and the sensation of falling in her dreams. “He smelled of pipe tobacco.” It made no sense to her.
His sense of elation when she reached for him warred with the confusion of her statements. “Who? Portnoy?” he whispered back, but why would she forget that? The man was just outside the door. “Talk it out,” he suggested. “Pretend I’m Jaely and just talk, wherever it takes you.”
She tried not to laugh at the idea, not wholly succeeding. “You smell better than she does. Most of the time anyway.” She closed her eyes, held herself still. “We were in the room below, and I felt … tired.” Not just tired. Bone-weary, and weak, as if she could not have lifted her own arms. “And he came in. Long mustaches, in his robe and slippers, and sat down in front of me. And he smelled like pipe tobacco.” She tried to picture it, how the old man had looked, with his paunch and his busy eyebrows, and the chain of his holy symbol wrapped around his fingers. “His fingertips were calloused, not something normal for a priest of Otori, when he touched my chin.”
The scent of the tobacco smoke wafted under the door again, and Iaondrin stiffened in Bryan’s arms. “Portnoy.” She pulled back, eyes opening, and stared at him, realizing where she had heard the name before. In Darilei, on a sidewalk, with the threads whispering it to her. There was the sense of falling again, and a greater fear, and she knew Bryan could not understand. “Allenel Gilford knows Barnabas Portnoy.” She could hear the edge of fear in her voice growing. “He’s here and he touched me. There isn’t – did you see – is there a boy here? Do they have a boy here?” Common sense told her he wouldn’t be here – Gilford would not have brought a child into this situation. But she wasn’t sure – and she needed to know for certain.
He sat still, not asking questions though it was difficult when he could see she realized what she had forgotten. Worse when he saw the fear growing. “I didn’t see a boy, but we can ask.” He moved his hand to her cheek, cupping it gently as he held her gaze. Without moving, he called out, “Minister? Can we have a word?”
His steady gaze held her in place, and made her focus on what was rather than on what she feared might be. Does he think I’m crazy? she wondered.
Bryan smiled reassuringly at her, as if he had heard the thought.
The door opened a bit, and the old face with the mustaches and eyebrows appeared. If it hadn’t been for the name, she never would have made the connection, for nothing in the old man appeared in the boy. But the boy had smelled of pipe tobacco, and the surname was the same, and both knew Allenel Gilford. In the middle of dealing with the Council and the League, she had missed the priest’s name the night before, and the possible consequences of that misstep frightened her.
The bushy eyebrows rose when the priest saw them, but he did not ask any questions. “We have a fresh pot of tea out here, and some pastries and fruit.”
“In a moment, thank you. And thanks for putting off the Watch, but first, is there a boy here?”
Portnoy’s eyebrows rose again. “No. Just grown-ups.” With his right hand, he lifted a curved pipe to his mouth and clamped it between his teeth. “Anything else?” When they both shook there head, he stepped back out and pulled the door closed.
Iaondrin relaxed slightly, and pushed the fear away. “Before we leave, I will need to look at him.” To be sure the touch of her patterns against his had faded completely, had been covered and obliterated by his faith. She sighed, and dropped her eyes. “I can’t believe I was so fucking stupid. I’ve been so damned careful for so long, and he walks in and I don’t even hear his name.”
He slid his fingers under her chin, lifted her eyes to his again. “You were almost dead. And you said that it fades with time, and that his goddess would give him protection, so I didn’t say anything either. This is something you should not feel guilty about.”
“You don’t understand.” She stopped, and chewed her bottom lip, sighed again. “It’s too complicated to go into right now.” How would she explain it in the time they had, before they had to return to the Council for the interrogation? There’s a boy who wasn’t even born, who I met in <between>, when I had Morgan in my arms, and his name is Portnoy, and he has something I gave him, he doesn’t even know he has it, and I was careful not to touch him in Darilei, to stay away from him, so the hunt would never come his way, but I almost completely fucked it up.
That wouldn’t come close to explaining anything. And it wouldn’t even touch on the issue of the dog, which was its own riddle and one she had not tried to puzzle out.
All of that passed across her face, but she didn’t say any of it out loud. She wouldn’t even have said it to Jaely, if Bryan had in fact been Jaely. All of that was something she was afraid to say, for fear the shadows might hear. “You really would think I’m crazy if I tried to explain,” she said.
Bryan slid his fingers from under her chin, caressed her smooth cheek with the backs of them. “Umm, talked to a dragon? Met an Oracle made of wind and powdered gems? Not much seems crazy anymore. Complicated, I believe, but not crazy. You’ll tell me later,” he shrugged slightly. “But for now, there was no harm done, and I’ll make sure no Portnoys touch you the next time you’re half-dead.”
“The exploding worm is the craziest part of yours.” A brief smile touched her eyes, and she turned her face to brush a kiss over his palm. “Sounds like the Watch is going to want to talk to you. Do you want to deign to do that before the meeting? Or should I imperiously order my guard to make himself unavailable?”
“No, my Lady. They’re just doing their jobs, and we’ve made it hard enough on them.” He brushed her hair back, slid his fingertips lightly around her ear, then down through her hair, watching how it cascaded, glowing.
She held still for a moment or two, and then reluctantly pulled away. “A late breakfast first, then. And I promise not to drink much tea before we leave.”
He sighed with a smile, immensely enjoying the stolen moments, sad this one had ended, but already looking forward to the next one. “I can eat and talk at the same time,” he said, following her off the bed and getting his boots. “Going to need you to check that pile of stuff when you get a chance,” he gestured to everything the attackers were wearing but their tunics and trousers. He settled his constant companions into place, making sure the sword moved freely.
Iaondrin pulled her own boots on and stood to press her heels down inside them, and considered the pile. “After I eat.” She knew where the items came from, but did not ask about the owners.
Portnoy waited in the large sitting room, dressed in tweed, reading a book and nursing his pipe. The breakfast, with fresh tea, sat on the table. When Vermillion asked that word be sent down for a Watchman to come up – unarmed – the priest pushed himself to his feet with a grunt rather than send one of the guards down. “I can make them listen to me,” he said before heading out the door. Two of the guards sat at the far end of the room, armed and armored, but playing cards, giving them the semblance of privacy. Two others stood outside the door. All of them Vermillion had seen the night before.
Iaondrin poured herself some tea and sat to spread jam on a biscuit. When Portnoy’s knock came, she sat back and continued eating. She did not rise as the middle-aged Watchman came in. He was of average height and build, with short-cropped brown hair and steady brown eyes. “Captain Donald Quinn,” he introduced himself, with a short bow to Iaondrin and then turned to Vermillion. If he was annoyed at having been left to cool his heels, or having to disarm himself before coming up, he did not show it. “I understand there was more than a bit of trouble last night.”
“Aye,” Vermillion answered. “Sixth attempt on my Lady since yesterday morning. That’s why I asked for you to leave your weapon behind,” it was an apology, sort of. “Also, I appreciate you waiting until my Lady was able to actually get some sleep. Now, to it…,” and Vermillion described the attack, guy sneaking into the room, guy forming out of mist, hole in the floor, death. And that’s where he stopped.
Quinn pulled out a notepad and began to take notes as Vermillion spoke. He stood as he did so. Iaondrin frowned at him as she watched. He could have asked permission to sit, if he wanted to acknowledge that any of them were his superiors. Or he could have simply taken a seat, if he had wanted to demonstrate he considered himself equal to them. Instead, he stood, as if it did not matter to him one way or the other, as if such social gamesmanship did not even merit his notice.
He asked for clarification on the sequence of events, going over the detail carefully, and she could tell from the way he occasionally flipped back in his notes that he was comparing what Vermillion said to what others had told him. “I understand you removed the bodies from the rooms?”
He asked it with the inflection of a question at the end, like he wasn’t certain about the answer. She couldn’t tell from his posture or his face whether that was a facade, though she suspected it might be. She frowned again, and took another bite of her biscuit. She wanted to ask Vermillion what that question meant, where were the bodies, what had he done with them. But she should have asked, if she were going to ask, before they had stepped out of the bedroom. Right now, at this moment, whatever the answer was, she had to pretend she knew all about it.
Vermillion nodded. “I take a certain pride in cleaning up after myself. I’m, uh, hmm,” he looked around as if looking for the word, one Kaz had used to describe the Guildmistress a couple of times, “fastidious that way.” In point of fact, he had cleaned up the shed when he had finished.
“And where did you leave the bodies after you ‘cleaned up’?” Quinn asked the question conversationally, as if he had inquired about where Vermillion had left his hat, or a pair of gloves. The very mildness of it puzzled Iaondrin.
“We’re on an island surrounded by hungry fish,” Vermillion answered firmly, and he stared at the man as if wondering how many fish he would feed.
Quinn nodded as if in agreement. “Many hungry fish around here,” he murmured, and he obviously was referring to more than just the sea-life. He folded his notebook over and tucked his pencil away. “Your account is in accord with the witnesses’, and I have no question that your actions were justified in light of the threat posted to your lady.” He did not glance at Iaondrin when he said it, nor did he even look at Vermillion. “Further, although it was not your charge to do so, you have already made the innkeeper whole. With the attackers dead, and none of their bodies longer within the jurisdiction of the town, I have no way to follow-up on who may have sent them. The Town Watch,” he emphasized, “has no complaint with you.”
Iaondrin chewed another bite of biscuit, and sipped her tea, trying to figure out what message the man was trying to send with the strange emphasis he gave to those words.
“Thank you, Captain,” Vermillion rose easily and showed the man to the door, thanking him again for waiting while his Lady finally got some sleep. He slouched in his seat next to Iaondrin, arms folded on his chest and legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles. One down.
Iaondrin waited until Portnoy had taken up a seat near the two guards at the end of the room and picked up his book again. “What was that about?” she asked in a soft voice.
He turned to look at her, opened his mouth to say something then frowned and changed it. “You’re about to go someplace where you will be forced to tell the truth. I shouldn’t tell you until you are done that, though it’ll probably be pretty clear by the time we get there.”
She frowned, mightily, but couldn’t argue with the idea that perhaps it would be better not to know. Instead, she contemplated the possibiltiy of another cup of tea, then remembered she wanted to avoid the need to use a public privy later in the day. “All right then, let’s go see what you scavenged.” She pushed her chair back and stepped back into the bedroom to start spreading out all the items he had gathered. “You want me to see if anything’s magical?”
“That was the general idea. I haven’t even been through this stuff yet. There may actually be a clue as to who sent them,” and he set about going over everything carefully.
Iaondrin nodded, and stepped back so she could lift the weave and use both hands to cast it out towards the weapons and armor, jewelry and everything else. She sorted out anything in which the threads took a particular delight and set it aside, and then studied them more carefully to see what more she might be able to learn about the nature of the spells cast on them. “Most of this is fairly mundane, comparitively speaking. The castings are stronger on what you have for the weapons and armor.”
She nodded at three vials of potions. “These would have been useful if they had been able to draw them and drink between blows. This wand, I could use.” She held it up. “Not sure I want it, though.” It could be useful, even if it wasn’t all that powerful, to have something that could throw a bit of fire at people. “The ring here,” she poked at a circle of twined gold, “has to be the mage’s. It can hold castings, but it’s empty now. More interesting, though, it’s marked with his Politi house’s seal.” She pointed to a mark inside the circlet. “He wouldn’t wear a ring with another house’s seal.”
Bryan nodded. “May have to wait until we get back to Tarrish to sell this stuff. I don’t know anybody here who buys and sells.” He took the ring, looked at the seal closely. “Don’t know whose seal it is?” he asked her. Iaondrin shook her head. “Then maybe we should ask one of the Councillors,” he decided. Could be useful if things get a little troublesome.
“Someone will know,” she agreed. She left unsaid the question of whether those knowing would admit it. She walked over to the barred window and looked outside. “A couple of more hours, at most. I should change.” She was still wearing the traveling clothes she had donned the previous night, when they awaited the attackers, and the trouser leg would need darning.
“The pack’s over there,” he gestured, then moved to stand facing the door with his back to the room. He found himself studying the house seal on the ring, committing it to memory.
Iaondrin changed quickly, folding the older and more worn clothes neatly and then donning the dark grey wool trousers and cream tunic with grey embroidery that the serving woman had purchased the day before. She almost regretted having to put her studded leather armor back over the new tunic. “You can turn around.” Back into her boots, knives sheathed on her wrists, healing belt around her waist, and short sword on her hip, and finally she pulled her hair back and placed the clip Bryan had given to her to hold it.
He turned and smiled when he saw her using his gift, then took the two strides across the room to move to her. His hands fiddled needlessly and nervously with her healing belt, then the sword at her hip. “Never learned to talk pretty, but…,” he murmured, then raised his eyes to hers. “You are Iaondrin A’nari. Daughter of Euricio and Lillias. The League and others hunted you, and you survived. Because you are strong, and you have your parents’ strength in you, and you have mine, all that I have, all that you need. You once asked what I wanted for helping you. What I want is for your strength, your courage and determination, to stay in the world. Your willingness to help others despite what you face daily must not be allowed to fade. That’s why you deserve better than you’ve had. That’s why you deserve better than tin or brass,” he made a small gesture towards her hair and the clip. He held her gaze a moment longer, then dropped his to her sword again, fiddled with it uselessly some more.
She listened without interruption, watching his face, her own serious. There was a weight in his words, and she could feel it settle on her. Months ago, Iaondrin would have shied away, shrugged it off, afraid to be bound by it. Even now, after having slept in his arms and accepted that he had become part of the hunt (he has become prey, she thought with an ache) she wanted to argue with him, that it wasn’t strength or courage, but an abiding fear and cold anger that had driven her. But if she gave voice to that now, she might not be able to wall it away again before she had to stand before the Council.
So instead, she just stepped closer to circle her arms around him and rest her forehead against his shoulder, unspeaking.
Bryan hesitated a moment, surprised, then enfolded her in his arms. Nodding absently once or twice, he said, “Yes, well,” still unsure he had said it right, “doesn’t hurt that you’re pretty, too.”
She scowled into his shoulder, but couldn’t think of anything appropriately biting to say in response to that. “Okay.” Okay? she thought to herself, is that the best you can come up with in response? and rolled her eyes. Somewhere in a stable in Malisis, Jaely was probably laughing at her. “We should go soon.”
He felt the scowl against his shoulder and forced himself not to sigh. Perhaps he had said too much, but he hoped his words would help her, keep her steady if she needed to get through the rest of the day. He stepped back from her and nodded. “Head held high, you did nothing wrong. I’ll be half a step behind your right arm except when we go through doors, then I’ll be first.”
Iaondrin nodded, and stepped back into the main room. Barnabas Portnoy set aside his book and stood, reaching for his maple walking stick. The symbol of Otori was already about his neck, lying atop his shirt where he could reach it easily. The four guards fell in around them outside the door – two in front, before Portnoy, then Iaondrin and Vermillion, and then two more behind. And Kaz, Iaondrin thought to herself. Somewhere along the way, Kaz would follow.
The crowded common room fell silent as their group stepped out at the bottom of the stairs. At least three town Watchmen were scattered about, and moved to set people back from the path to the door. Iaondrin lifted her chin as they passed through, ignoring the stares. She caught snatches of whispers -
”- right through the floor!”
“-took the bodies”
“-man just came flyin’ down the hall, sizzlin’”
“-at the gates of the Aihv’ this morning, four of them!”
“-damn near shit his pants, I bet, when those came tumbling down.”
And outside the inn, half a dozen more Watchmen waited, with Captain Quinn. “We’ll see you safely to the gates of the Aihv’.” He said it from a distance, not drawing closer. “Can’t take you inside though – that’s beyond my jurisdiction.”
Vermillion was surprised at the offer, but only nodded. He rolled his shoulders as he walked, shook his arm again to keep it loose. Maybe someone besides me is taking six fuckin’ attempts seriously. Or maybe it was to keep him from skewering random passersby.
The walk through the winding streets of the town towards the Aihv’ was surreal. Captain Quinn’s men pushed people aside, making sure no one could approach closely. Iaondrin knew that would do little to stop a bowman at a distance, or a mage or priest casting from far away, but their presence still was reassuring.
They didn’t have to wait in the lines to sign in. A contingent of guards in a different uniform – that of the Aihv’s own – was waiting just outside the front doors, which had been swung wide. Iaondrin glanced up, away, and then back up again. Streaks of something that looked like dried blood that had dripped down from the top of the doors, and then splotches on the stone floor below, could be seen.
Vermillion walked the entire way scanning everything and everywhere, wondering who had been along the route to make another attempt if he and Iaondrin had been alone. At the door, he viewed the splotches on the floor with mild curiosity, wondering just who had found them. As they changed guards, he tensed, hand on his sword, both because he didn’t know who to trust and because he wasn’t sure they weren’t about to clap him in irons.
The sergeant in charge of the Aihv’ contingent stepped forward, and Quinn was there to meet him. Iaondrin could hear Quinn report that the Lady A’nari had been escorted to appear before the Council. The sergeant shot a glance in their direction, a glare directed at Vermillion that Iaondrin ignored, and said something in hushed angry tones. Quinn held up his hands and stepped back, and she could see in the motion that he had been reminded where the limits of his jurisdiction ended. He turned and nodded at them, and motioned for his men to step back, outside the shadow of the Aihv’s entrance.
The sergeant stalked forward, hand on his sword and frowning, only to find himself stopped by Portnoy’s walking stick. The priest’s icon glittered. “The Council awaits the lady’s appearance.” His baritone voice was a rumble. “I suggest you take us there immediately, as they seldom brook any delays.”
Vermillion’s hand tightened on his sword and he stepped in front of Iaondrin, placing himself between the sergeant and his Lady as if this were another attempt on her life. He said nothing, but he glared at the sergeant, warning that if he took one step closer to Iaondrin with his hand on his sword, he would never draw a sword again.
The sergeant was ready to argue, Iaondrin could see that, and several of his men as well, but Portnoy’s point was well taken. He whirled on his heels and waved for them to follow him. Iaondrin shot a glance at Vermillion, but did not ask any questions. The sergeant delivered them to the same conference room as before, with two more of Gilford’s guards outside. Portnoy stopped outside the door and tapped his walking stick on the floor. “I will be inside the chamber,” he said, “and all our guards as well. Allenel will tell you what arrangements have been made to conduct the interrogation.” He knocked the walking stick on the door, and they were admitted.
Though Gilford’s robes were freshly pressed, it was obvious from his face that he likely had not slept much the night before. He waved them in, activated the box (carved by Raeve, Iaondrin thought), and looked them over. He nodded, pleased with how she looked, and then turned to Vermillion. “Busy night?” The tones were clipped, and his expression, though not exactly hostile, was less friendly than she had expected.
Vermillion stared at the counselor for a long time, jaw clenching, until it looked like he had no intention of answering before finally saying only, “Six attempts. In one day.” And that was all he would say.
Iaondrin scowled at both of them. She could tell from the tension in Vermillion’s body, and the quietness of Gilford’s stare that the barrister was unhappy about something, and neither of them was going to tell her what it was. The realization annoyed her, even though she understood the reason for keeping her ignorant.
After another long pause, Gilford turned his eyes back to Iaondrin. “The three priests have been selected. Minister Roya Gardiner, a follower of Otori. She is firmly League-aligned, but she is generally fair and even-handed, unless you give her a reason to personally dislike you. The second is Speranze Shal Notti.” He glanced at Vermillion, and then back to Iaondrin. “She is a follower of Massimo, and comes from Sa’iph.”
Vermillion snorted and shook his head in disgust. “Seven attempts. Was he behind putting her name in?”
“Most likely, though he did not leave a trace of his touch on it. The last is Tomas Vanek, a priest of Valkor from Yarrick. His family is League, but he is is not likely to let the process be corrupted. He was on our approved list for the Six.” He stopped while they digested the names.
“There may be a problem with Notti. Antazos needs the League to stop the Jotunn from helping Torei.” He sighed, thought a minute, then looked at Gilford pensively. “I know things Antazos doesn’t want getting out,” he suggested carefully, knowing the barrister was already annoyed with him. “Just as a warning to keep his hands off.”
“That particular fight has been pretty much lost. Torei has launched half a dozen Jotunn-built warships in the past two months.” He tapped the end of a pencil on the table-top. “And that plays in our favor. Sa’iph’s interests include ones that weigh for us: the privileges of one of the oldest Shal Politi families and the desire to engage in a tit-for-tat with the League. On the other hand, Sa’iph would much prefer to have Priore take the seat, if it can swing a majority, than see you take it. As for the other,” he looked at Vermillion, “all I need is for you to stand there and stay alive to accomplish what you are suggesting.”
“He’s figgered out who I am?” At Gilford’s nod, Vermillion made a face and said absently, “I’d’ve liked to see his face when he learned.” He shrugged it off. “We have some concerns. First, Iaondrin’s not here to answer questions about Morgan. We figger they’ll try to get her to say things against him and we don’t want that to happen.”
“It isn’t on the list of topics on which you have agreed to be questioned.” The way Gilford said it, Iaondrin figured that the process of selecting the clerics and then bargaining over the questions had been what kept him up all night. “But you can expect that someone will try to find an excuse to go down that path depending on how you respond. And efforts will be made to provoke you. So you need to think carefully before you respond, and try to stay calm.”
“And that was our other concern, that they know Iaondrin can be goaded. Is she allowed to consult with you before answering a question? Or every question? Even if all you do is remind her to stay calm.” Vermillion moved to stand next to Iaondrin, resting a hand on her shoulder. “My own suggestion was just to take a deep breath after every question is asked.”
Iaondrin’s shoulders were tense under his hand, the only sign – other than her silence – of her anxiety. “I cannot consult with her lest I coach her on how to answer. However, I can object to anything that happens. If I do so,” he looked at her to emphasize it, “you should listen to what I say.” It would be a way to alert her to potential pitfalls.
“I assume you have never been through this process?” When she shook her head mutely, he leaned forward. “Each of the three clerics will invoke their deity’s power, to compel you to speak truthfully. Each of them will have someone standing immediately behind them, prepared to take action if the prayer turns out to be anything other than that. The Lady of Sutton’s Evandin will be behind Speranze, with his blade in his hands. Councillor Ankarra’s guard will stand behind Vanek – though frankly, I’m sure he could take her. Finally, Lord Tallentire’s chief of security will stand behind Roya.”
“Saves me from drawing another blade in the chamber. I know, I know,” he said at Gilford’s sharp look. “You don’t recommend it. Deep breaths it is,” he squeezed Iaondrin’s shoulder reassuringly.
“The Chamberlain will pose questions to you – those are the only ones you need to respond to. Members of the Council have the right to propose follow-up inquiries based on your response – you do not need to answer unless the Chamberlain speaks the question. And yes,” he smiled slightly, “deep breaths.”
“Remember, you can scowl all you want. And just watch the Chamberlain. Hell, I’d ignore everyone else, except your counselor. And counselor,” Vermillion turned to Gilford, “I trust Kaz implicitly, and now I can see why he thinks so highly of you.”
Gilford smiled, only slightly again. “Let’s see if we can maneuver your Lady through this quagmire. Then, you can think highly of me.” He looked at Iaondrin again, and stood. “Are you ready?”
Her shoulders were still tense, and she had wiped all expression from her face. She nodded, and stood up. “Deep breaths.”
“And short answers,” Vermillion reminded her. He stepped in front of Iaondrin, looking into her eyes silently for a long moment, then brushed his fingers across her cheek, nodded once with a comforting smile, then took his position to follow her.
To be continued.