The inn was easy enough to find with its vibrant wooden sign and loud voices filtering out into the street. Warmth swept over him as he walked through the door, smells of cooking food and warm cider assaulting his nose, making his mouth water.
A middle aged woman with salt and pepper hair and a pristine apron approached him. “Greetings. What can I do for you this evening? Perhaps a bowl of our famous venison stew and a mug of my husband’s cider?”
“The stew sounds delightful,” Linndan replied. “A knight at the library recommended your establishment to me. She seemed to think I’d find lodgings for the night here.”
Her face brightened. “Ah yes, we do have a few rooms that we lend out, though only a small one is currently available. Will that suffice?”
“All I need is a place to sleep,” he assured her. “The size of the room is irrelevant.”
“Then come in and be welcome,” she said, ushering him towards a table. “I’ll have a dish of stew and a mug of water brought to you. You just make yourself comfortable, sir Scholar.”
The woman bustled away before Linndan could get a word in. He shook his head. A few minutes later, she returned with a tray laden down with stew, crusty rolls, a small mug of cool water, a pear, and a wedge of goat cheese. She was off again before he had a chance to thank her or ask about cost.
Not knowing what else to do, he tucked into the meal, savouring the tender meat. Somehow the hostess knew when he was finished as she showed up to remove the tray. A different person came to show him to a small room on the third floor. It wasn’t much, but it had a bed and offered some measure of privacy. He could barely hear the sounds of the dining room. Sighing with contentment, he thanked the man. He grunted and left, closing the door behind him. After a moment, Linndan sat down on the bed and took Ellias out.
“Did you learn anything?” Ellias asked.
“Plenty, but nothing relevant,” Linndan sighed. “I know Beryna meant well, but I think this was a dead end. No pun intended.”
Ellias snorted. “Of course not. That would be both crass and morbid.”
“I’ll leave after the execution tomorrow and head for Llene. I might have more luck there.”
“How far away is that from here?”
“It’s on the other side of Oldwatch, so three days back there and then another few to get to (town). Then we have to deal with the mountains. This time of year how passable they are is anyone’s guess. My best estimate is a week of travelling.”
“Great. Any more good news you want to share?”
“Not particularly. I should get some sleep if I’m going to go witness this execution. Do you want to tag along?”
Ellias sighed. “You ask me as if I have any choice in the matter.”
“You do. I can drop you off at the stable with Xantoxu.”
“As if that’s any better. No, thank you. I’d rather tag along than be babysat by a horse.”
“I don’t think Xan knows you’re a person.”
“That doesn’t make me feel any better.”
Linndan chuckled as he undressed. “Goodnight, Ellias.”
The eleventh bell rang out, pulling Linndan out of his thoughts. He grimaced. The sun was directly overhead now. Executions were always carried out at noon so the all-seeing eye of the sun would gaze directly down upon the guilty parties. Beside him, Neissen and Mician both looked eager to get underway. Behind them were the two Rose Knights. Contrary to tradition, both women were mounted. Taking a closer look at them, the reason became apparent. One of the Knights was human, but the grey skin and full face mask of the second identified her as a naga. It would be far easier for her to keep pace with the procession mounted on her jyelyar than it would be on the ground.
The other one is probably mounted to make the naga feel less ackward about it, Linndan guessed, squinting up at the naga. He surmised that the naga was from one of the warrior castes given the teardrop shape of her mask. It lacked the precious metal and gem decorations sported by the noble castes and thus ruling them out.
Besides, I’ve never heard of a ruler or courtier caste naga joining the Order.
Waiting just outside of the library were three small carts hooked up to three massive oxen. The beasts stood still, not even flicking their tails. Arranged in perfect formation around each of the carts were knights in full armor, holding their pole arms proudly upright. Though it was the last day of the year, it was unseasonably hot with no wind for relief.
Through the open doors of the library, one of the senior knights—distinguished from her juniors by the trim of silver on her cloak and the expensively elaborate scabbard for her sword—led the three prisoners, each one bound in heavy chains. The first two glared defiantly at the assembled knights, though the last one in the line, a girl with filthy blond hair and tattered clothing looked utterly terrified. She alone fought when the knights tried to get her into the cart waiting for her. To be on the safe side, the chains of all three prisoners were connected to the side railings of the cart they were standing in to prevent them from trying to escape. In the past, some prisoners had jumped out of their carts in an attempt to kill themselves beneath the hooves of the oxen rather than face their executioner.
The senior knight slowly led the procession to a large, open part of town a few blocks from the library. As Paraten wasn’t a large town by any definition, this was where anything of any importance occurred, from festival days to market days, to public executions. The platform looked newly built. Sawdust littered the ground around it. The executioner stood ready and waiting on the platform, watching the carts as they arrived, her sharp axe gleaming in the noon sun. A black hood hid her face in shadows. The blonde’s expression became even more panicked as the platform came into view, tugging at her chains in terror.
Waiting at the foot of the short flight of stairs leading up to the platform were a pair of priests. From their regalia, the woman was a priestess of Shan-Illu the Shining One while the man beside her was a priest of Tesha Firestarter. It wasn’t surprising to see them together as Tesha was Shan-Illu’s consort. The two sects often collborated on things. Beryna stood with them, wearing a naga-style mask. The naga Knight looked away at the sight of her, her expression unreadable beneath her mask.
A pair of knights unchained each prisoner from their cart and led up to the platform. Predictably, the blond struggled and screamed, clawing uselessly at her escorts. She begged and pleaded with them, imploring them to let her go. The other two prisoners, both men, looked at her with scorn. They had no wish to die, but they seemed to feel that since they were going to, they may as well meet their end with some kind of dignity. They seemed embarrassed by her hysterics.
Once the prisoners were lined up at the back of the platform, the three priests climbed the stairs and stood before the prisoners, reciting the crimes of which they were accused. The first man, a tall, heavyset human with thick, orange hair was accused of murdering his wife and three children, fleeing from the authorities, and theft of several horses in order to escape. Linndan found himself wondering which of his crimes was considered greater: the murders or the theft of something so valuable as horses.
The second man, a thin, sneaky-looking lunyari, was a convicted murderer known for removing trophies from his victims, keeping them in a chest in his house. As for the blond human woman, her crime seemed such a simple thing, but anyone found wandering around on the border between the Forbidden Land and the settled land of Miltan was put to death, no questions asked. The rogue magic tainting that place would warp a person past all recognition. In truth, it was kinder to put an end to their misery. She seemed normal now, but Linndan—like everyone raised on Melphor—knew all too well what would happen to the girl if she were left alive. No one should have to go through that kind of suffering.
The first two criminals were led to the block and they were prayed over before the executioner lopped off their heads with her axe. The remains were then removed and placed on the cart to be taken for disposal. When it came to her turn, the blond shrieked madly and struggled.
“You’re making a mistake! I’m not who you think I am!” she insisted.
The priestess of Shan-Illu walked up to her, a look of disdain on her face. “And who, pray tell, are you then?”
She drew herself up straight with a look of supreme arrogance on her face. “I am Melethus of House Artreus and I insist that you release me at once!”
The crowd laughed. The priestess regarded her with disgust. “You do not resemble Melethus in the slightest. Why should we believe you?”
“A couple of nights ago, I was awakened by the feel of magic being worked in the library. Since no one had been granted permission to do so, I went to see what was going on. Upon my arrival I found two kairyyl abominations in the act of freeing the larüsorlne girl we had found not long before that. I fought with the kairyyl and was knocked unconscious. When I awoke I found myself chained to the wall. Since no one recognizes me, I can only assume that one of the kairyyl used their foul magic to cast an illusion upon me that is so tight that none can pierce it.”
“All know that those who have ventured out of the Forbidden Lands are very quick with their lies and will do anything to escape their just punishments as decreed by the Shining One herself,” the priestess declared loftily. “I say you are lying, for it is well-known that the kairyyl are long dead. None remain alive on Melphor. Even their gods are dead, slain by the Shining One herself. How can a race exist without their gods?” She turned to the priest of Tenyuu, who nodded. “Executioner, you may carry on.”
“No!” the woman shrieked. She was forced down to her knees and her head was held down to the block, her knotted blond hair moved out of the way so that her neck was unobstructed. She screamed and screamed until she was forever silenced by the axe. Her head tumbled into the basket at the foot of the block. Her body and the basket containing her head were carried over to the cart and loaded on top. A blanket was placed over the bodies before the cart went on its way out of the town to the site where criminals were buried in unmarked graves.
Linndan found it strange that the priests of Shan-Illu and Tesha didn’t come with them. Why bother overseeing an execution if you weren’t going to see it through to the end? Although, perhaps the presence of the two Rose Knights was enough. He watched the Knights as they urged their mounts forward. He admired both their skill as riders and the skill of whoever had trained those jyelyar. Most jyelyar didn’t like the smell of blood, being placid herbivores by nature, but these two didn’t balk. They eyed the cart nervously as they walked. Beryna followed on foot beside the cart, muttering rhythmically under her breath. The naga kept a watchful eye on her as if she expected her to do something.
The grisly procession reached the burial grounds. There were three fresh holes. Their rough, jagged edges looking to Linndan like hungry mouths. Piles of dirt sat beside each hole so that the bodies could be covered quickly. At the foot of each hole was a lightweight blanket to wrap the bodies in. Though they were criminals, the dead were always given some measure of respect. As these people’s souls were being given to Tehaksha, they were to be wrapped in the blankets, tied with black strings, and laid face down in the earth so that their souls would descend to Tehaksha’s realm rather than ascending to the Sky Palace where the other gods dwelled.
Mician and Neissen unloaded the bodies and got to work reattaching the heads to the bodies with thick black collars. Once they were finished, the red haired knight dismounted. She sealed the collars on with a small bit of magic, fingering the spherical stone she wore around her neck on a gold chain. She came to the blond woman and touched the collar. At the touch of her magic, there was a brief surge of light and the dead woman was blond no more. Her hair darkened, turning brown as her features changed.
She scrambled to her feet, staring at the corpse in horror. The naga nudged her mount over so that she could see what was upsetting her companion. She soon had her answer.
“She was telling us the truth,” the redhead whispered. “She really was Melethus.”
“How is this possible?” the naga asked. “I’ve never heard of a spell of concealment that could last beyond death.”
“I don’t know,” she replied with a shake of her head. She turned to the priests. “Load her back onto the cart. She deserves to be returned to her House.”
“Of course,” Neissen said, though he scowled at both Knights as he did so.
The naga turned to Linndan. “Did you know of this?” she asked, her voice clear despite the mask.
“Know about what?” he asked. “I’m only here to learn and observe. Nothing more.”
“What could you possibly learn from an execution?”
“Many things, but nothing that bears repeating in this most honoured company.”
“Enough, Trayu,” the redhead said. “Look at him. He’s a Scholar, for Sun’s sake. If he’d known this was Melethus he’d have said something.”
Linndan looked over at her. “I would have been duty bound to at least try. It’s rare to encounter someone who has some familiarity with our oaths.”
“One of our sister Knights is related to a Scholar.”
Trayu walked her mount over to the cart and waved her hand over the body, casting a spell that would keep the body from degrading before she could be taken home for a proper burial.
“It seems we must make a detour to Klasvok now,” Trayu said dryly, ignoring the fact that Beryna scowled down at the body, muttering something under her breath.
“We do,” confirmed Duyeva. “We’ll leave tomorrow morning. I don’t want to be journeying in the company of a corpse for longer than I have to.”
“Sun’s truth, that,” said Trayu.
“There’s no reason for the two of you to remain here,” Beryna said. “We three can complete our task without you if you wish to leave.”
“That’s most gracious of you, but I don’t think the empress would smile on us for abandoning our duty,” the redhead said, frowning.
“Which duty is more important, the burial of common criminals or seeing to it that the body of a slain knight is returned home for a proper burial?”
Trayu shrugged. “She has a point, Duyeva. I, for one, would much rather get this over with.”
Duyeva sighed, rubbing her temples. “Fine, we’ll entrust this task to you. It is, after all, what you people do. It is only because we have a more important duty to discharge that I’m even considering this in the first place.” She got back in the saddle.
Beryna bowed slightly. “I wish both of you a safe journey.”
Behind her mask, Trayu snorted. She turned her mount around. Between them, she and Duyeva guided the ox cart back to Paraten.
Once they were out of sight, Beryna tore her mask off and let out a groan of frustration.
“Is everything alright?” Linndan asked her.
“No, everything isn’t alright,” she snapped. “What in the name of our most holy Mother happened here? How did Melethus get in that cell? Who put that spell on her? Where did the larüsorlne go? How did she get out of that cell?”
“That’s a lot of questions.”
“I demand answers!”
“I hope you aren’t demanding them from me,” Linndan said, folding his arms. “I’m just as confused as you are. The only one who knows what happened just left on that cart and, unfortunately, isn’t in a position to talk to anyone anymore.”
Beryna looked down at the empty grave, fuming. “Mician, Neissen, finish your task so we can return to Paraten and get to the bottom of this.”
“Yes, priestess,” they said as they shoveled dirt into the occupied holes.
It was evening when the four of them finally returned to town. The knights were starting to close the library but Beryna was having none of that. She demanded they let her in on her authority as a High Priestess. The knight in charge of closing for the day—a shai’then—insisted she return in the morning.
Beryna raised such a fuss that the mayor was sent for. Rendall had heard from the Rose Knights what had happened and told the knight to let them in. The knight was allowed to close the library for the night, as exiting the building was a simple matter. Beryna was told the word that would activate the door from the inside.
Appeased, they went in. Linndan noted that the likte statue was no longer in the foyer. The Knights must have dealt with it.
Beryna headed straight to the stairs leading down to the cells where the forhielin was supposed to have been held. If she was going to find any answers that was as likely a place as any to start looking. Linndan went down with them out of curiosity more than anything else.
I doubt this has anything to do with Tehaksha, but this seems strange.
The basement of the library was separated into two areas. One side had a double row of cells. The other appeared to be a storage room.
“Any idea which cell this girl was supposed to have been in?” Mician asked.
“No, but she would have been the only one down here,” Neissen said. “The others they executed today came from the public gaol. Only the most dangerous people are locked up down here.”
“I find it odd that they choose a library of all places for such things,” Linndan said, looking around.
“You would,” Mician said, trying one of the doors. “None of these are locked and none look like they’ve seen use in years.”
“Except for this one,” Beryna said, stepping into a cell near the end of the hall. “The straw in here is fresh and the dirt’s been disturbed.”
Linndan went in with her, looking around. The small stone cell only had enough room for one person and only just. There were anchors on the wall to loop chains through. There was nothing for a person to sleep on. Whoever had occupied the cell had piled some of the straw in one corner as a makeshift bed.
In one exposed section of the floor was a footprint, but nothing made by any species he was familiar with.
Well, there is that one species, but they don’t live on Melphor, he mused, recalling some of his travels. Anything on Melphor that could have made anything like that has been extinct for centuries.
“Did you find anything?” Beryna asked.
Linndan ran his foot over the pawprint as he stood up. “No, nothing.”
She scowled. “I’m no closer to my answers than I was when we came in here.”
“I’ve given that some thought, actually,” Linndan admitted. “These larüsorlne are dangerous, yes?” Beryna nodded. “If I were the Order, I’d put someone that dangerous in our most secure prison.”
“That’s this place.”
“Yes, but this is Paraten and they tend to be rather paranoid so close to Larüsorlo. Why risk her escape? While magic isn’t commonly used, they allow it for some things, such as binding spells on dangerous prisoners.”
“You think this was the case here?”
“I think it’s likely. If so, then whoever came in here to take her had to have powerful enough magic to break the spell and then cast the illusion on Melethus.”
“Why would Melethus have been in here in the first place?” Neissen asked.
“It might have had something to do with that statue,” Linnda said, explaining to them what he knew about it.
“I think we’ve learned all we can here,” Beryna said. “I must speak with the mayor tomorrow.”
“That sounds like a good idea. We could all use some rest.”
“You found something, didn’t you?”
Linndan sat down on his bed and looked Ellias in the eye. Well, eye socket. “Good guess, but I couldn’t let Beryna know. There’s no telling how she’d react.”
“So, what was it?”
“A giant paw print.”
“I don’t understand.”
“There used to be a species here called the kairyyl that made tracks like that, but they were wiped out at the end of the War of the Roses over a thousand years ago. Those tracks shouldn’t exist.”
“Could they have been made by someone like you?”
“Another sojourner?” He thought about it. “Unlikely.”
“Less likely than an extinct people suddenly making an appearance?”
“As weird as it sounds, yes.”
“If I could, I’d shake my head.”
“I know it sounds crazy, but it’s the only thing that makes logical sense. There are descendants from people who fought in that war who claim there’s no possible way the kairyyl were exterminated, that some were missed. It’s been a hot topic of debate among healers and Scholars for centuries, but it’s not something one brings up around the Rose Knights or the empress. To them, the Alliance’s victory was absolute.”
“So even the slightest hint that there was one of these kairyyl here would be bad.”
“Very bad,” Linndan confirmed.
“Is there a way to confirm it one way or another?”
Linndan hesitated before continuing. “There is, but no one here is going to like it at all.”
“You want to go where?”
Linndan stood firm, holding Mayor Rendall’s gaze. “You heard what I said. “There’s a lot we don’t know about what happened the night Melethus went missing. I believe some of those answers lie in the vault.”
“The Order has completed its investigation of the vault and found nothing amiss.”
“With respect to the Order, their investigation was done under faulty premis.”
Deinla folded her arms and gazed at him. “Oh? Care to explain how we’re wrong and a man knows what he’s doing?”
“At the time, you didn’t have all the facts. You didn’t know what happened to Melethus. Now you do. I believe her death and the likte statue’s presence in the library foyer are linked. Tell me, Deinla, were you or any of your sisters at the library the night she was last seen?”
Deinla stared at him. “How could you know that?”
“It’s simple logic. Something made that statue move and I’m willing to bet that any time that thing moves it sets off an alarm somewhere. Order protocol dictates that no knight goes anywhere alone. We know Melethus was there, so at least one other knight was with her.”
Beryna glared at the knight. “I want to know who those knights are and why they didn’t know what happened in that library.”
Deinla stiffened. “I don’t answer to you, priestess.”
“No, but she’s right,” Rendall said. “I want whoever else was there brought here immediately.”
Deinla opened her mouth to protest, but snaped it shut and nodded instead. She left, returning a quarter chime later with three knights in tow.
“These are Bavira of House Tarnithen, Rohndree of House Nehshar, and Megiri of House Malksho. They accompanied Melethus to the library in response to the statue’s activation.”
“I don’t understand why we’re here,” Megiri said. “We gave Deinla our report on the situation already.”
“The situation has changed,” Rendall told her. “Melethus was mistakenly executed yesterday in place of the forhielin.”
“What?” Rohndree shouted. “How is this possible?”
“As I understand it, there was a strong illusion spell involved,” Rendall continued.
“How is that possible?” Bavira asked. “All magic is strictly controlled by the Order. No knight would do this.”
“Not all magic,” Linndan corrected her. “Or are you forgetting about the Touched? There are also priests who have some ability and are permitted to practice without investiture into the Order.”
Rohndree snorted. “Are you suggesting that one of the Touched did this?”
“I’m not suggesting anything. I’m telling you to keep an open mind.”
“Men,” Deinla said. “Why are you here, Scholar? I fail to see what help you’ll provide.”
Linndan ignored her. “So, when you three went to the library with Melethus, what happened when you arrived? What did you see? What did you do? Walk me through everything that happened that night.”
Rohndree narrowed her eyes. “Why should we tell you anything?”
Beryna rounded on her. “If you wish to avenge Melethus and bring the missing larüsorlne to justice, I suggest you do as the Scholar asks.”
“When we arrived at the library, the statue was walking through the foyer,” Rohndree began. “Melethus used the word to stop it. She sent us up to check on the vault.”
“All three of you?” Beryna asked, raising an eyebrow.
Megiri nodded. “There are valuable artefacts in there. It took us until Bij’all to sort through it all.”
“When did you arrive at the library?”
“Melethus woke us shortly before Nej’all,” Bavaria said. “Our barracks isn’t far from the library, so it didn’t take long to get there.”
“So…four chimes. Is that correct?” Linndan asked.
“More or less,” Rohndree agreed. “We had to reset the traps on our way out. Whoever was in the vault before us disarmed them without resetting them. I admit, it made it easy for us to get in, but it’s against protocol. I’d like to string up whoever it was for their slack.”
Linndan frowned. “I see. So none of you saw Melethus after you examined the vault?” All three shook their heads. “I find that odd.”
“I checked the cell just to be safe,” Bavira said. “I saw nothing amiss.”
“So whoever was responsible must have already left by then,” Beryna guessed.
“That makes sense,” Linndan agreed.
“What now?” Rendall asked.
“Now we go examine the vault and see if anything was missed.”
“Are you suggesting our investigation was flawed?” Megiri snarled.
“That’s not what I’m saying at all,” Linndan said. “You didn’t have all the facts, so you didn’t know what you were looking for. We need to re-examine the vault with this new information in mind.”
Deinla put her hand up to stall further argument. “As the most senior knight in Paraten, I have the final say in this matter. It’s my duty to give the fullest possible accounting to House Artreus as to what happened to Melethus. As such, we will go on ahead and disable the traps in the vault corridor. Meet us there in half a chime. We’ll be waiting for you.”
“Thank you,” Beryna said. “I look forward to putting the matter to rest.”
This hallway looks exactly the same as it did the other day, Linndan noted. If Deinla hadn’t said anything about traps, I never would have guessed there were any. It goes to show how paranoid the Order is.
The strange slab of stone blocking the vault entrance was gone. Linndan frowned. I was hoping to get a closer look at it. Oh well. At least I’m getting a look inside the vault. There’s something to be said for that.
Deinla, Megiri, and Bavira were waiting for him and Beryna inside.
“You’re late,” Bavira grumped.
“It’s fine,” Deinla said.
Linndan poked his way through the vault, asking questions about the artefact stored inside. The knights did their best to answer his questions about their nature and whether or not everything was still where it was supposed to be. As he searched through the vault, he kept an eye on Beryna. She spent her time staring at the likte statue and examining a few of the books arranged neatly on a shelf against one wall. When her interest moved past them, he took a peek at them. None of the faded titles jumped out at him as being of significance, but he made a note to check them later.
“What’s this?” Linndan asked, gesturing towards the middle of the room where a large book rested on a tall pedestal. It was held up at an angle so all could see its cover.
“You don’t know?” Megiri asked, surprised.
“That’s the Black Book,” Deinla said proudly. “Watching over it is our most sacred duty.”
The book was bound in thick, black leather with intricate runes stamped into it. It’s pedestal was made from a shiny metal that looked like silver, but that couldn’t be right. Silver was associated with the moon and, therefore, with Kephru Moonsilver. Linndan felt silver would be appropriate, given that the book was said to have once belonged to the dread goddess, but in his experience most Melphorians weren’t so logical. It was far more likely that it was made from something that looked like silver, such as (metal) or (metal), even if such a thing would be a grave offence to the goddess.
“I never thought I’d lay eyes on it,” Linndan confessed. “I’ve heard of it, of course. Everyone has, but to see it is something else entirely.”
“It’s not everyday one sees an object of purest evil,” Bavira said, shuddering.
“If it’s so evil, why keep it this close to its original home?” Linndan asked. “Wouldn’t it be wiser to store it farther away?”
“You dare to question the will of the empress?” Deinla hissed.
“I don’t question her, I’m merely curious.”
“Whatever her reasons are, they remain hers,” Deinla replied stiffly. “It isn’t our place to ask why.”
Women, Linndan thought with a sigh. No, that’s unfair. I’ve known plenty of rational, free-thinking women in my life. Perhaps it’s better to grumble about knights instead.
Reverently, he approached the pedestal. As despised as Kephru was, this was still a goddess’s object and should be treated with at least a modicum of respect. He reached out to touch the cover, his fingers itching to pry the cover back and read its sacred pages. Ignoring the shocked exclamations from the knights, he opened the book. Frowning, he turned page after page.
“What are you doing?” Deinla demanded.
“It seems I’m exposing a fake,” he said, stepping back. “All the pages are blank.”
“Let me see that.” She stepped up to the book and flipped through its pages. “This isn’t right.”
“Now we know what triggered the statue,” Megiri said. “Removing the Book—or any of the other important artefacts for that matter—without the proper authority activates it.”
“Is that why it was in the foyer?” Linndan asked.
Megiri nodded, licking her lips. “The spell on this one is designed to track the person and artefact until it is recovered. Melethus used the spell word to stop it from completing its task when we arrived.”
“If I’m reading the situation correctly, it seems you had a thief in your library,” Linndan said.
“Actually,” Bavira said, swallowing. “It takes two people to open the vault door.”
“I stand corrected. You had a pair of thieves come in and steal the book, leaving behind a clever fake.” Linndan gestured at the pedestal. “They likely banked on no one wanting to go near or touch it but didn’t know about your alarm system. If my oaths permitted me to gamble, I’d bet the same thieves are responsible for what happened to Melethus.”
“That’s a large leap,” Deinla said, scowling.
“I agree with Linndan,” Beryna said. “What are the odds of two different groups infiltrating this library at approximately the same time? Besides, anyone who would place value on that book would also value the life of a larüsorlne and would see one as worthy of rescue. They wouldn’t think twice at putting a knight’s life at risk to do so.”
“Regardless, the empress needs to be informed of the theft,” Deinla said. “I’ll dispatch a messenger.”
“Hold on. Do you think that’s the wisest course of action?” Linndan asked.
“Think about it. A messenger can be intercepted and the news spread by unscrupulous people. Think of the panic it could induce if people find out the book is missing.”
“I’m aware of the risks, but-”
“I’ll go to Sunhame,” Linndan said.
“You?” Deinla scoffed. “Why should we trust you with this task?”
“I already know about the theft as I was the one who discovered it. This eliminates the need for a physical message or to tell anyone else. I have business near there once I leave Paraten so this doesn’t inconvenience me in any way, whereas sending one of your knights would reduce your strength here. Should something happen to me, you don’t lose out on anything.”
Deinla considered this. “You would do this?”
Linndan nodded. “Scholars are seekers of truth as well as knowledge. If I can assist in any way, I’m more than happy to do so.”
“Are we really going to entrust this task to a man?” Bovira asked.
“He’s a Scholar,” Deinla pointed out. “We can trust him.”
Megiri rolled her eyes. “I don’t like this.”
“No one says you have to,” Beryna snapped. “Or would you rather make the two week journey to Sunhame and back through Mother knows what creature-infested terrain lies in between?”
Megiri shook her head. “I’d rather send him.”
“I’m not sure how to respond to that,” Linndan said with a brief shake of his head.