Tyr’s eyes dragged open, heavy and tired, and he slid his hands slid through the grass. It was wet, dew clung to his cheek, matting his sandy hair to his face. He pushed himself up and groaned a little as he climbed to his knees and, finally, to his feet. Angharad rose in gray and blue spires before him, sprawled out beside the river—which his feet had been dangling in, apparently.
Sighing, he squelched in muddy boots up the embankment that led up a hill and into the city, dirt smearing the front of his tunic. He was supposed to be meeting with a viscount’s disgraced son, or something. It was an odd mission to be sent on to begin with, but he wasn’t sure he could keep straight the ranking of the men and women the Unseelie sought to tangle in their webs.
At least Raghnal tossed him out of Magh Meall and into the city. Negotiating with guards without traveling papers was always a challenge, and he hadn’t been gifted with the convenience of a glamour spell.
And now he was dirty on top of it all.
Up the hill, he saw a market in full swing, brightly colored awnings and fluttering banners marked stalls lining the blue-gray walls of the main road. Houses and shops of timber and plaster clung to those same walls a little farther down, giving a sociable warmth to the enormous capital city. Tyr loved the life of it all. Traveling with the show, he saw so many places, but they were generally set in fields and fair grounds—he hadn’t been in the center of a proper city in months.
It smelled and there were too many people. Everything was too loud, too bright, too muddy, but it was alive,and the movement fueled him.
“Apple tarts! Honey bread!” a little girl called out in rolling Angharathan, her tiny voice clear as a bell above the din around her. She couldn’t have been more than ten, and not quite that, Tyr would bet.
“Apple tarts?” Tyr asked, his own Angharathan a little stilted these days. “How much for two?”
The little businesswoman beamed up at him. “Two copper dins. For three, I’ll give you a pork roll, too!”
“A pork roll, too? Are you saying I can’t have dessert for breakfast?” Tyr teased, folding his arms.
She put on her best serious face and nodded stoutly. “That’s right.”
“Well, I haven’t any copper dins, but how about a silver mark?” He held it out, smiling apologetically. “I haven’t been to the counting house yet.”
Her little mouth hung open, and she stared at the mark for a long moment, before picking it up with careful fingers in both hands, as if it were fresh out of the oven, and hopping off of the small box she stood on. Ducking behind a table, she returned with an oval-shaped basket in her arms, offering it up to Tyr.
“Oh, just the tarts would be fine—”
“My mum says it’s too much for just tarts and a roll. You should have it.” She lifted the basket higher, reaching for his chest until he finally accepted it with a quiet laugh.
What he was going to do with a basket full of baked goods, he had no idea.
“Well, thank you. You and your mum are very generous. Good business today, little baker.” He said and headed off with the basket hanging at his elbow.
The sun rose over head as he wound his way through the city streets, pulling at the cheesecloth that covered his extravagant meal of desserts and pork rolls. When he tugged the cover away, he was surprised to find a chunk of some sort of crumbly white cheese, the two apple tarts, three pork rolls, and a plum. A much better meal than sweets, he supposed, and he had to wonder if the girl told her mother his plan to have dessert for breakfast.
While he wished he had a change of clothes, at least he had a fair bit of coin to get by, and he’d be on his little hunt with a full stomach. Taking a moment to look around as he reached an intersection, he tore a bite out of a roll with his teeth.
His stomach growled viciously. Hopping from Magh Meall to the human world always wore him out, but it never failed to surprise him how hungry he was between trips—and after two? He was lucky he hadn’t died of starvation, he was sure.
Everything here was well laid out, but he hadn’t been in Angharad in several years. He moved down a road that seemed to lean way from the shops and into a quieter district, filled with smiths and leatherworkers and other artisans. It was still bustling here, but there were no hawkers and no stalls. Just shops and workshops, and, down the end, he thought he spotted an inn.
Moving through the men leading horses to a blacksmith, he kept a hold of his breakfast basket so nothing toppled out. It smelled like horses and sweat down here, but it was earthy and industrious. Almost comforting. Even more comforting was the inn sign with only a bed on the wooden slab dangling over the doorframe.
Tyr stepped into the inn and glanced around the common room. It wasn’t exactly a party at this time of day, but there were a few people littering the room. One man was propped by a window at hardly noon, a pint in his hand and his head on the table. There was a woman serving a midday meal of something steaming but not particularly appetizing to two women at a table by the bar. Still, it looked clean, and it didn’t smell like piss, as some common rooms did in cities this size.
“Can I help you?” The same serving woman, full-hipped and tall, approached him, drying her hands on her apron. She stood nearly eye-level with him and didn’t look in the mood for… much of anything, really.
“I was hoping you had a room available, though I suppose it is rather early in the day.” He glanced around at the sparse room again.
She snorted a little and adjusted her hair wrap. “Handsome thing like you, of course you’d sound so educated. Learned your Angharathan from a book, then? We can’t accommodate any lordly wishes here. It’s a simple place.”
Tyr flushed a bit and cleared his throat. “I… I did. I mean, I learned my Angharathan from a book, and from practice with others who also learned from books. I’ve never spent enough time here to sound less stiff, I suppose. I’m not a lord, though. Just a traveler looking for a room. As you might have noticed, I’m filthy. Hardly an acceptable state for a lord.” He spread his non-basket-laden arm to display his filthy shirt, and mud-soaked boots.
“Hm.” She squinted at him, studying him a little, before letting out a round laugh and nodding. “All right, as you say, milord.” She offered a rough curtsy and started up the stairs beside the bar. “Come along then.”
Heaving a sigh, he followed her. At least the place was clean.
When he crested the stairs, the serving woman stood with a key in a door, giving it a jiggle, before turning it over and pushing the door open.
“Gets a bit stuck, this one. Wiggle the key and it’ll pop right in. I’m Asha. My husband is the innkeeper here. His name is Calum. How long will you be staying?” she asked, stepping into the room and fluffing pillows and smoothing the quilt across the bed.
He set his basket on the wooden table by the window, noting there was only one chair. The room itself was enough for him to reach across a time and a half, he expected, but it was still small. He expected a “lord” like himself was being given their finest room. He’d have been happy in a closet with a pillow.
“I’m not certain. A few days, at least. My name is Tyr. I should have introduced myself.”
Asha waved it off and offered him his key. “If you’ll be here day to day, rent is due before nightfall. I’ll take the first fee now. If you decide you need to stay weekly, we can collect every Sol, if you’d not like to continue paying daily.”
Sol. Tyr had to think a moment. He knew the names of the days of their week, but he couldn’t quite remember where they fell. Time was never his strong suit to begin with.
As if she could see him struggling, she patted his shoulder and headed for the door. “Sol is in three days. Today is Fen.”
“Fen.” He smiled, digging out the coins from his pocket and placing them in her outstretched hand. “Thank you.” But as she started out into the hall, he jerked forward. “Wait! Can I ask you a question or two?”
Letting her hand fall from the handle, she gave him an odd look. “I suppose that depends on the questions, milord. Doesn’t it?”
“Of course… and Tyr is fine.” He turned the key over in his fingers absently. “As innkeepers, you and your husband likely hear quite a bit of rumor coming through, is that right?”
“Now, I don’t trade in the personal details of others—”
“Nothing sordid, I give you my word.” He held his hands up in a gesture of peace. “I’ve been sent from quite far away to give a very experimental medical treatment to the son of a certain… noble figure. I need to know how to find this person, since it’s been brought to my attention that he might be eluding his family.”
Asha’s expression sobered and she looked him up and down. “I’ll not be trading in that sort of information.”
Tyr wilted a bit and let his hands drop. “Integrity. I understand. Thank you.”
“Find yourself some fresh clothes and I’ll have those washed for you.” She paused at the door and looked over her shoulder. “Come to the common room tonight for dinner—in cleanclothes—and you can speak with Calum. He may be more inclined to talk with you about that matter than myself, though I don’t condone it. Know that.”
“Yes, of course. Thank you, Mistress Asha.”
“Mistress,” she snorted and rolled her eyes, heading out the door and shutting it behind her.
Tyr plopped onto the bed, careful to keep his disgusting feet on the floor, and breathed a sigh of relief as he collapsed backward.
* * *
As the day wore on, and the city started to slow into an afternoon sleepiness, Tyr found himself milling through shops for fresh clothes. It was hard to find anyone just selling secondhand men’s clothing. It was ludicrous to think anyone in a working area wouldn’t wear through everything they owned.
So, with a heavy disappointment, Tyr patted the coins in his vest pocket and headed into a tailor’s shop. As with most craftsmen, his skills cost what felt like a king’s ransom to Tyr, who had no income to replenish what he’d brought with him. It was going to have to last him, and he could easily wave goodbye to any thought of staying at the unnamed inn on a weekly basis.
Still, at the end of it, he had a fresh clothing, even if the trousers were hastily taken in, the vest was a bit big in the shoulders, and his shirt sleeves came to the middle of his palm instead of to his wrists. He couldn’t afford anything too tailored. He paid the man fairly for the clothing and the quick work he could manage while Tyr waited, though he was suitably annoyed at having to rush his work.
The sun was just coming down in the sky when he left the tailor, and the man shut the door a bit gruffly behind him. If he had had the time and the funds, he’d certainly have waited the week or more for proper clothes, but… there was no time, and he had a rather uncertain appointment.
Into the common room he went, his dirty clothes in a bundle of burlap in his arms. When Asha spotted him, she rushed over and took the bundle, looking him over with a stout nod. Then her eyes reached his boots, and she flicked her eyes back up to his and scowled a little.
He smiled sheepishly. Boots were expensive. He couldn’t just go around buying shoes like the lord she thought him to be.
“I’ll clean them up tomorrow. I apologize.”
She shook her head and motioned toward herself with her fingers. “Off with them. They’re filthy and I’m not washing these floors for you, do you understand?”
“What? Here?” he asked, his voice cracking with indignation.
“Without your boots muddying it up, my floor is spotless. Off with them. You’ll do just fine in your stockings and I’ll wash those tomorrow, too, if it pleases milord.” She stared him down until he caved under the weight of her motherly irritation. He plopped into a chair and yanked off his boots, showing soiled stockings as well. She tutted at him, and took his boots together at the top, carrying them away from herself as she left.
“My wife keeps us quite in line. I apologize if she’s made you uncomfortable.” A man sat in the chair opposite him, younger than he expected for the innkeeper. It made sense, though. Asha looked to be in her mid-thirties, he estimated, and Calum didn’t seem too much older than that, himself. He wore a pair of small, round glasses, and his hair was dark, with just a slight smattering of silver toward the front.
“She didn’t.” Tyr laughed a little, though he wondered how convincing he actually was. “My name is Tyr Cairwyn. I came to help the son of an important man, and I had wondered if anyone was saying anything about his… situation.”
“Mm. Well, I’m Calum. I’m sure Asha mentioned we don’t deal in information here. It’s just an inn.”
“No, no. Of course not. Honestly, I’m here to help this young man, but you know how noble families are. They… hold things back to save face.” Tyr shifted a little. “My intentions are just to get a clear picture of the young man’s plight so that I can help him to the best of my ability.”
The innkeeper worried his lip for a moment before he sighed. “You’re speaking on the Honorable Niclas of Aeliss, son of Lord Cashel of Aeliss, the viscount of this province. He’s been quite… spoken oflately.” Calum traced the lines in the tabletop, fidgeting uncomfortably. It took him a moment to lift his eyes again, but Tyr didn’t push him. He just waited. “Master Niclas is said to be having horrible night terrors and speaking with spirits. Their family home overlooks the theatre district, and Master Niclas used to keep his window open often, to listen to the buskers. But he started waking up at all hours of the night, screaming.”
“Screaming?” Tyr’s brow furrowed.
“Indeed. It upset the people on the streets below so heavily, the theatre district has all but emptied out. No one goes there anymore. Even during they day, they could hear him arguing with no one, howling at the walls. Eventually, they pulled the leaded glass off the hinges and replaced it with iron-strapped wood, like they’re trying to keep more within those walls than just screams.” A shiver ran through Calum then, and he swallowed hard as he shoved himself back from the table. “Forgive me, Master Cairwyn, but I believe that’s all I’m prepared to say about the subject.”
Tyr rose as Calum did, and bowed shortly. “Not at all. Thank you for being so candid. I didn’t quite expect all of that. I will certainly see to his care as quickly as I can.”
He wished his lies felt more like actual lies to him at this point. Calum and Asha seemed like good people, but maintaining that he was there to help the young man in some sort of medical fashion was laughable. There was no way anyone believed he was a doctor.
As his host returned to his work, Tyr settled back down in his chair. As if she’d been monitoring the whole time, Asha set a plate of hot sliced chicken and roasted vegetables down in front of him. He thanked her, and she looked him over with a slight bit of irritation, before heading back off into the kitchen.
Elysia’s caravan would likely be back on its way to the festival by now, though he was sure she’d be fuming over the affront to her performers. Undoubtedly, she’d be fuming at him for leaving. Knowing Raghnal, he might not have hurt those people, but he’d have made things inconvenient at best and frightening at worst. He hadn’t known them long, and he certainly hadn’t known them well, but Tyr didn’t wish anything Raghnal could offer on the performers in their odd little circus.
After being pulled away, Tyr felt himself falling into this familiar step—this means of traversing a world that was never made for him. Raghnal plucked him from the life he was building, and threw him into his own insane quest, as he often did, and Tyr just fell into it as effortlessly as breathing.
Bitterness rose in his chest at the thought of Raghnal’s constant manipulation, and he stamped it down. If nothing else, there was the simple fact that deals with the Fae nearly never ended favorably, and this young lord was clearly feeling the effects of that already. He couldn’t leave him to suffer without guidance, at the very least. Though, what Tyr thought he could do about a deal with the Unseelie, he wasn’t entirely sure.
He looked down to find his plate was empty. That was disappointing. He hadn’t even realized he’d eaten, and he really had been looking forward to actually tasting the meal the innkeepers had given him. Groaning a little at his own ability to become lost in thought, he plucked up the plate and headed toward the kitchen, slipping through the door to find a basin of dirty dishes at his right elbow. There was a boy scrubbing the floor and a big, bubbling pot in the fireplace, but no sign of Asha or Calum. He carefully set the plate on top of another and backed out.
He took the steps to his room at a trudge as his mind turned the possible means of entering the viscount’s enormous, castle-like home over in his mind. If there was a shutter on the young lord’s window, that wasn’t a likely entry point, and it wouldn’t be prudent to just stroll up and request an audience. There was no doubt plenty of charlatans had cropped up to offer miracle cures and treatments since the viscount’s soon took ill.
But he wasn’t ill. He was plagued by a deal with the Fae.
Thunking his head against his door, Tyr shoved the key into the lock, wiggled it a bit, and gave it a turn, just like he was shown. Raghnal sent him here without much more than a poorly scribbled map in his mind, and he was getting tired of things being more difficult than they needed to be because the Fae were so damn short-sighted.
Well, at least he’d have time to think about it, since his hostess confiscated his shoes and the clothes he had arrived in. His new garb was comfortable, and it was certainly within the realm of Angharathan fashion—the pants were a dark green, and the shirt a paler shade, with a black vest to top it off. The muted colors he had worn previously were much more to his taste. It seemed that the farther south one went, the more vibrant and celebratory their fashion became. It was beautiful to look at, but Tyr felt like he stood out when he wore anything more vibrant than gray.
Perhaps he would not have so much time to think about it. He hauled himself up and tugged the door open to find Asha with his boots in hand. They weren’t pristine, exactly, but she’d brushed them clean and even oiled the dark brown leather for him. He took them from her and smiled his gratitude.
“Thank you. I don’t typically keep my things in such disrepair.”
“Of course not, a young lord like yourself.” He couldn’t really tell if she was teasing him, but he suspected she thought the filthy lord with awkward language skills and no money was quite funny, indeed. “See that you keep them clean now. Goodnight.” She shut the door behind her, and left him standing there with his boots in his hand.
Without excuses left to keep him from his investigation, Tyr pulled his boots on and left the inn as discreetly as he possibly could. Asking after rumors and noble houses, then disappearing after dark, wasn’t likely to inspire much trust from his hosts. They did seem like very decent people, and the errand he was on wouldn’t find him welcome under the roofs of very decent people. The Fae were a touchy subject anywhere, but the commonfolk were more superstitious than most.
As he left the inn and followed the streets to the theatre district, Tyr noticed that people began to thin out quickly the closer he grew to his destination. When he stopped to ask directions, the man he’d asked offered only a suspicious look over, and nodded down the correct road with a jut of his pointed chin. At the end of the road, where Tyr expected hawkers for entertainment and song to be at every doorway, and buskers to be peppering street corners, filling the area with light and life, there were only a handful of guttering streetlamps and the occasional passerby.
As promised, though, the viscount’s home towered just beyond the empty theatres and what he assumed were taverns without a single glimmer of life beyond their windows. A wall separated the estate house from the streets, and, as Tyr approached, he spotted a shadowed deviation in the tower above. From where he stood, it looked as though it could very well be a shutter strapped in iron.
The shadows that spilled from the grounds of the estate house were convenient, though Tyr had to assume it wasn’t due to an abundance of trust. As he crept along the length of the wall, he heard the guards speaking lowly between themselves beyond it, and, dimly, he could see the meager torchlight in little semi-circle halos just overhead.
If he reached, his fingertips would just barely grace the top of the wall, just below where the small peak rose, swelling to keep any climbers out. It was no deterrent to Tyr. Hands in his pockets, he slid along the shadow of the wall, eyes following that peak for several minutes, curving with it as it curved, until, at last, the bubbles of radiant light stopped appearing above.
With a cautious glance back and forth, Tyr set his feet apart and pressed a palm to the weathered stone that divided the street from the viscount’s estate grounds. Blue fissures crackled from his fingertips to his wrists, fading into the flesh at the forearm. The glow in the cracks blossomed and the stones under his palm dissolved into gravel, the breach spreading outward until there was a sizable hole in the wall. The cracks in his skin dimmed and faded until it was as if they were never there.
Hands stuffed back into his pockets, he ducked through the small doorway he created, gravel crunching under his feet. The way in was easy, but the way up….
Guards lined the path to the estate house, and the walkway wound back on itself twice from his vantage. How many guarded the door in? How many in the hallways? The concept of infiltrating this place with any measure of secrecy was beginning to feel impossible. Manipulating the dark had never been a gift Tyr had been graced with, so using the shadows for anything more than a shoddy hiding place was out of the equation.
There was the possibility that he could create a stairway from the stones leading up to the young man’s shuttered window—but that would be noisy, he couldn’t hide on the wall, and how was he supposed to get into the shut-up room? Knock?
He heaved a quiet sigh and raked a hand through his hair as he scanned the grounds for anything that might unlock the potential for some grand idea. Eventually, someone would pass this way and notice the gaping hole in the wall, and then what?
Tyr was, in fact, not much of a planner.
At least now he knew what the guard detail looked like. He turned back through his hole, but a jolt shot through him when a scream tore through the night. Spinning in the gravel, he nearly lost his footing as the wooden shutter burst into splinters overhead, sending the twisted iron bars clattering to the street beyond the wall.
And the viscount’s son came plunging after.