28 Prosilis, 1138
I should be happier, I told myself. This whole venture went exactly as we hoped and Telia was right about Advocate Peregath. Smart and honest.
“Shall we go back to the inn?” Ced asked.
I shook my head absently. “I’d rather get home.”
“Not even to say goodbye to Telia?”
“She’s busy with the midday rush. I had breakfast with her.” What’s bothering me?
“Did you notice their new cat? It’s got two heads,” he said.
I stared at him. “What?”
“Ah,” he said with some satisfaction. “There you are. Where’s your mind toddled off to?”
“Sorry, wool-gathering,” I said.
“Ayuh,” he agreed. “Got a map of the region so I can follow?”
“Our Advocate,” I said. “Why do I think I’ve seen her?”
“Because you probably have, just not for a long time,” he said, sounding a little smug. “I expect the next few days will be interesting.”
“Like the curse?” I asked warily. “Where have I seen her?”
“Maybe not as bad as interesting children,” he said, “but definitely strange. I’ll give you a hint. Before you met me.”
That meant Cimenarum, when I studied at the Royal Arts Academy and served as household musician for Lady Ethene. Ced and I hadn’t met then, though we probably would have, if his father hadn’t run bosky. I considered Advocate Peregath’s accent — pure Cimenarum, and not the Manufactury or the Paper District. Financial District, or Curia Park, posh as butter pastry. Accents are like music, you notice more if you pay attention. Once Ced pointed out the Porsirian pun in her name, I knew it was assumed. Lots of bastards and orphans take trade names. “She’s somebody’s bastard?”
He snorted. “Ayuh.”
I probably shouldn’t have put the idea out of my head, but I had a new piece starting to form and I needed to chase the counterpoint lest I lose it all. Ced wouldn’t appreciate it if I stopped to compose the damned thing, and since I hadn’t brought my viol, once I got home and played it, I’d have to rework at least half anyway. Some musicians compose mathematically, but not me. The rest of the afternoon passed without conversation while I whistled and hummed through the piece and kept a lookout, and he walked the verge of the road with a book in hand. I don’t know how he manages to walk and read without breaking an ankle or flattening his face. Probably the same way I compose on the hoof.
We were tucking into a passable meal in our room at Valanding’s inn when my mind finally kicked the new piece out of the way and got my attention with an old piece, one I hadn’t played in years. It requires a quartet and a woman’s voice. In another life, the odd stuff my old partners and I wrote got much attention, and Pols and Nora still draw audiences and handsome fees. My memory played an early experiment in bounce-bowing that drove one tutor wild with disgust and the other into ecstatic rapture. Our new musical style was slowly edging out traditional music, but it wouldn’t have happened without Lady Ethene’s interest and one specific concert.
My last concert, though I didn’t know it then. In my mind’s ear, Nora’s voice soared over Pols’ dulcimer and my viol, weaving with the flautist and playing off the drums. That song had a place. A small, cold room, but far finer than even Lady Ethene’s townhouse. Just seven people. Lady Ethene and His Majesty, Her Splendor’s body, though where her mind was, I don’t know. Two tall men, one politely attentive but distracted, one rude. Two gangly blonde women, just finishing growing up.
Both of whom we’d met today, and one who got deposed a quarter year ago. She’s supposed to be down south in seclusion. I looked up from my plate and stared at Ced in horror.
“It must be an amazing piece. You’re usually much quicker,” he said.
“The Prazia’s our Advocate,” I said.
He wobbled his head left and right. “Former, and probably. I an’t gonna ask. She’s a right to her privacy.”
“But… why?” I cried. “Why here — doing that — it’s nonsense!”
He sat back in his chair and held a finger to his lips. “Any crazier than a composer, two engineers, a mathematician and an historian living in the Foreti and hunting reindeer and ermine? People do what they must.”
He had a point. I kept my voice down, but I couldn’t keep the urgency out of it. “We’ll have to find somebody else — she can’t represent us long. This has to be temporary, until — “
“Probably,” he agreed, “but it doesn’t matter. We’re her firm’s clients now. Whoever replaces her when whatever happens next will be our lawyer.”
“What does happen next?” I blurted.
He shrugged. “You know the players better than me. Or ask Quin.” He didn’t look happy as he shoved away from the table and went down the hall to the bathry.
It seemed ludicrous for the Prazia to be in rough and wooly Celestan. The only thing that would have surprised me more was to learn she’d gone west to fight Spagnians. Whatever happens next, I doubt it’ll be good for that poor woman. I knew the political players, by reputation and years back. I couldn’t bring myself not to think of her as the Prazia, though I’d do my best to follow her wishes when we came back and to treat her like anyone else.
I’ve always got some music in my head, whether I’ve committed it to fingers and paper or not, and now, it shifted again into something foreboding, deep bass, minor key and drums like cracking thunder. It played on as I glanced through the broadsheets we’d picked up and saw news Quin would hate. Not to mention this development. Living with him had been like living with a spring-woke bear for a good six tendays already, him always irritable and snappish or silent and brooding. Nothing had changed for the five of us — comfortable, as safe as a bunch of foresters in the middle of nowhere can be, wealthier than we’ve any right to be — but this would make it worse.
To be fair, he made the effort when Ced or I called him on it. It just didn’t last. Something had been eating at him and he wasn’t talking. He’s almost as bad as he was the first couple years. Maybe it’s time to drag him out into the trees again and have it out or —
“I’d rather not tell Quin my suspicion,” Cedri said when he returned from the bathry, rubbing his hair with a towel. “I can’t see how knowing will do him any good. It changes nothing. We did our job, we have a lawyer. Who she was doesn’t matter.”
We rarely keep secrets, but I saw Ced’s point. “I suppose, but if he asks, I shan’t lie.”
“Nor me,” he agreed, “but why would he? It’s not a lie, just an omission.”
“I can’t figure it,” I said as I opened the door to check the queue for the bathry. Longer than it had been. That’s what I get for losing the toss. I poured cold water from the pitcher into the basin and wiped my face and neck, vowing to wake early. “Didn’t she realize people’d recognize her?”
“Some, sure,” he said. “Not many, though. I never actually saw her, just her father. She looks like him. You saw her and you didn’t recognize her ’til I prompted you. How many people would have seen her? Curia, sure, but the rest of us? From the gossip I heard, her father didn’t let her out much.”
I’d known that, had overheard my lady arguing with the late Prazia Royal a couple times. Funny thing about my ears — you’d think a musician only hears music when he plays, but everything I hear becomes part of the music. Not an ingenia, just the way my brain works, like the way I can sometimes put two unrelated facts together without the pieces that connect them. Just intuition. I’m prosaic as mud.
For now, it seemed most sensible to leave Quin in peace. “Her being here doesn’t make sense,” I said again and took my half of the bed. Ced snuffed the lamp, then shifted a few times, getting comfortable on the lumpy mattress, but sleep wasn’t coming on me. “Shouldn’t she be somewhere, doing something to get back where she belongs?”
“Maybe she is.” He sounded half awake, if that.
That made no sense either, but what do I know? Four years as a household musician doesn’t make a political genius, and especially not me. I stared into the dark, letting my mind toddle its dark paths until the spark came. “No wonder Quin’s irritable,” I said. “His father won.”
“Bleedin’ hells, Bran.” He elbowed me in the ribs. “Don’t you ever stop thinking? Turn over and go to sleep.”