One

 

 

IT ALWAYS rains.

Myr sighed at the sight of moisture beading on the window. He hated the rain. Hated that it made everything stink of ozone and mold. Myr was a slight fellow, with the pale blond hair of a native Eldoran. He was dressed neatly, a dark apron over his linen shirt, black tie knotted simply, and trousers tucked into the top of his calf-high boots. His hazel eyes, uncommon among the usually blue-eyed Eldorans, held a deeper pain than his outward posture would suggest, and there was an unusual grace about the way he held himself.

“Myr! We have a customer!” Jole, the proprietor of the shop called from the front.

Myr rolled his eyes and pushed away from the window, his melancholy air shifting as he rearranged his apron and slipped a smile on his face. It was a mask so complete it erased the pain from his eyes—but it was a mask. “I’ll be right there, sir,” he called back. He’d been ostensibly organizing the backroom, though in reality he’d simply been looking for a reason to get away from a particularly annoying customer. He peered out to make sure she had left before heading into the front.

The shop was kept very clean to compete with the damp. The floors were glossy red tile and the walls lacquered wood. Oil lanterns hung from long chains to light up the bolts of fabric and lengths of ribbon, lace, and bobbles. Tall jars of buttons, needles, and spools of thread and yarn stood in neat rows. Large books filled with prints of the latest fashions sat on the countertop.

Myr wasn’t sure who the trendsetters were, but he was starting to question their taste. Goring had made a recent, most unwelcome comeback in jackets and bodices. He’d very much hoped he’d seen the last of it three seasons ago.

A lady and her sober attendant stood in the silks section of the shop. With an appreciative eyebrow raise, Myr noted the lady’s tasteful blue gown and approached her with his best customer service smile. The lady’s complexion was fine and slightly tan, a fashion for the wealthy who could afford to leave the rain-cursed mountain and vacation in the sunny valleys and plains beyond it—or at least could afford the skin-darkening creams sold at the most trendsetting salons.

Her hair was dark and her eyes a touch darker, a sign of foreign ancestry. She wore her hair in braids coiled and pinned to her head underneath a wide-brimmed hat of felted wool adorned with wax flowers and birds, something that could withstand the rain without being utterly unfashionable. Myr recognized the work as that of a milliner three streets over. Her umbrella was made of hide and trimmed with pierced leather so fine it looked like lace.

Her low-heeled boots were a match to the umbrella, with buttons made of round blue stones that matched the dress. Myr was betting the buttons were changeable. It was a common way to update a pair of boots to suit a garment.

“What may I assist you with, milady?” Myr asked with a bow of the shoulders and sweeping gesture.

She smiled. “I need a new dress for a winter ball. I would like it to be in keeping with the weather.”

The weather indeed. As winter approached Eldore, the rain turned to sleet. The streets turned to ice, and no few buildings collapsed under the weight of it. Not everyone could afford a mage to spell the ice away from their rooftops with fire.

Myr nodded. “May I inquire as to your color preference? Or may I be so bold as to suggest something for you?”

Myr had always had an eye for color and a charming smile, talents that served him well as a salesman in a fancy dress shop, just as they had in his previous life. He kept his eyes on the lady’s face, though he never quite met her gaze. Cautiously respectful was the wisest tactic to take with nobles one did not know.

“Please do. I have heard you have excellent taste.”

“Thank you, milady.” Myr led her over to the velvets and pulled a few swatches in green, dark cream, and a rose tone that would bring out the tan of her skin. He draped them casually over his arm and presented the colors to her. “These would be warm enough for the season, and the texture is quite luxurious,” he said with a smile. “They come all the way from Galei.”

She made an appreciative face and fingered the fabrics with a confident eye. She nodded after a moment. “These would be fine. The rose would do for the bodice, perhaps a fuller skirt than the fashion, and a cape to match with the cream for a liner. I would like a touch of fur. If I send one round, could it be done?”

“Yes of course, milady.”

“Lovely, then.” She snapped her fingers, and her lady’s maid handed over a small envelope. “Here is the design I would like to have done and my measurements. Please ensure they are burned after you are finished. I prefer no one else show up wearing a similar gown.”

“Yes, milady.”

“Very good.”

“Then my master, Jole, will write up your order and see about the rest. Sunshine be in your wake.”

She smiled. “And in yours.”

Myr bowed and slipped away, placing the samples and the envelope on the counter and allowing Jole to take payment. Jole’s wife and daughters did all of the sewing for the shop, all of the fine embroidery and trimming. Jole handled the money, and Myr was the handsome face there to compliment them into spending more.

He was good at it.

Myr ducked back into the stock room and wrapped up his organizing. After Jole finished up with the noblewoman, he joined Myr.

“She spent a tidy bit of silver.” He rubbed his hands together gleefully. “I thank the gods every day you walked into my shop. I swear you were blessed with god-given charm.”

Myr smiled.

“Now I’m off. My wife wants me home early. Our son is coming home for a visit all the way from the coast.”

“Of course. I’ll lock up.”

“Thank you, Myr.”

Myr let Jole out and locked up the shop, blowing out lanterns and closing curtains, stoking the furnace in the basement before heading up to the loft over the shop where he lived. The small room was furnished with a beaten and dying clothes chest, splintered in one corner from a recent fall where the leg had broken and was crudely repaired. A carpenter Myr was not. A small wavy mirror of battered copper covered with a thin layer of silver hung over a short washstand with a chipped basin.

He lit the lamp next to his cot and glanced toward the small porthole window on the far wall, overlooking the street. The thick, bubbled glass was difficult to see through. Jole wasn’t the sort to spend money on unnecessary luxuries. A student glass-smith’s work was fine for an attic room. Myr sighed and took a seat on the cot. His shoulders hunched, and his spine bent as all of his poise slipped away, and the mask of jovial calm melted off his face to expose the raw pain.

“I can’t keep doing this, Ryall. I can’t. I need you too much. I miss Quinn.” He reached under his pillow and retrieved a small silver ring. He slipped it onto his finger, twisting it sharply. “I can only hide so long. I can only keep living for so long.” He clenched his jaw before speaking. “I’m sorry. I don’t know if I’m strong enough.”

 

 

JOLE LEFT the shop huddled under a thick oiled cloak to keep off the rain. He passed an alley on his way home, and in its shadows was another man. His skin was naturally dark, his heritage from a land far from Eldore, his nose craggy, and his eyes a vibrant blue. His name was Gavin, a captain in King Iudas’s service. He was a huge man, broad of shoulder with hands like dinner plates. He watched the shop, kept dry by the magic talisman pinned to the inside of his jacket. It marked him as one of the king’s men. He took a breath and sighed.

“Myr, my boy, you’re done running, I’m afraid….” He pulled his overcoat tighter around himself. “Old Gavin’s come to get you.” He took another breath and left the alley, then pulled a pipe from his pocket and lit it as he walked away, mulling over his next few moves in a low muttered tone. “Got to get the right men for the job. Haver’s out, and Job… Misha might do well. Serious fellow.”

He took a puff of his pipe and blew out green smoke, making rings.

“Misha it is, then.” He nodded, decision made, and found his way back to the stable where he had left his mount. The large lizard had a dun pebbled hide, an unassuming beast for an unassuming fellow. Gavin tipped the stablehand and set off to round up his men. He would collect his quarry in the morning.

 

 

THE MORNING came with no cessation of the downpour, and Myr sat up in his bed with a scream dying on his lips. Sweat beaded on his bare chest above painful-looking scars that wrapped around his sides to his back. A fist-sized brand shaped like a heart marked the center of his spine. He dried himself off with a scented cloth and dressed before heading down to the furnace to stoke the fire.

He put on a coat, intent on breakfast, when he heard the front door open. He frowned and headed into the front of the shop. It was early yet for Jole to be in. The man who had entered was not Jole. Myr could not see the man’s face, hidden by the shadow of his hood, but Myr recognized something about the shape of his shoulders that made his heart thud faster.

“I’m sorry, sir, but we are not yet open.”

“Myr.” The man lowered his hood.

“Gavin.” Myr backed away, stumbling and then catching himself on the counter. “Found me at last.”

Gavin smiled sadly. “Now, Myr. Come along quietly please.”

Myr shook his head, edging toward the back door.

“Please, Myr. Do not make this harder than it has to be. I’ve got men stationed around the perimeter.”

Myr gulped, and panic crossed his face. He felt his heart thud even faster as his breathing grew more labored. Myr had suffered from constriction since he was a boy. It was a common enough complaint amongst lower-city children. Some outgrew it, but Myr never had. He couldn’t even run very far without falling to the ground and gasping like a fish out of water. The treatments were beyond his means.

“How—how did you find me?” he asked, trying to concentrate on his breathing, distracting Gavin, and escaping all at the same time. His lungs were seizing, tightening.

Gavin smiled again and stepped closer. “There are not many places you could have found employment after you came back from Elder. I am surprised you returned at all, but once I heard, I had only to send agents around to the most likely ones until I found you.”

“The noblewoman’s attendant….”

“Indeed.”

“I see.” Myr looked at Gavin, biting down on his lower lip and breathing through his nose. He felt dizzy.

“Surrender quietly, Myr. I promise a fair trial.”

Myr was shaking now. He couldn’t help it. “I will die either way.” He looked Gavin straight in the eyes.

“You do not know that. They will review the evidence—”

“Lies,” Myr hissed. “Ryall’s family won’t rest until I’m dead, and I can’t live without him anymore.” Myr pulled the small knife he kept for eating from his belt. “I won’t let them kill me. I won’t let them watch me die.” He pressed the blade against his throat.

Gavin was on him in a blink, getting the knife from him before he had time to draw another labored breath. Myr’s lungs were clamping down hard, and his fingers tingled.

“How many times are you going to try that?” Gavin whispered. Myr could not hear; he had lost consciousness, and his breathing had slowly returned to normal. The commotion drew in some of Gavin’s handpicked men, including a tall man with copper hair and pale skin that marked him as a native of Galei, the country far to the northeast.

Gavin looked at Misha. “He tried to kill himself. Take him to the Order of Healing. Don’t leave his side.”

“Yes, sir.” Misha took Myr up into his arms with ease. The redhead was not a soldier like Gavin or the other men Gavin had brought along; he was a Sentinel, a wizard whose power was focused on battle magic. He was a striking figure in unrelieved black, from his heavy wool coat over pressed shirt, tie, and trousers to his gloves and boots. He was feared, but Gavin had always liked the man.

Misha nodded sharply at a pair of men off to one side, and they joined him. “We’ll take the carriage.”

“I’ll join you shortly,” Gavin said.

“Very good, sir.”

The past always had a way of catching up.