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serious casualties suffered. Nor any great risks endured, if you examine it
closely. They fled as soon as there was a chance someone would hit back. What
were they up to? What was their real purpose?"
Reasonably, Chandra Gokhale pointed out, "The attack appears to have been
sustained with exceptional ferocity till you yourself appeared on the
battlements. Only then did they run."
The Shadar captain volunteered, "Several survivors and witnesses report that
the bandits argued amongst themselves about your presence, Protector. It seems
they expected you to be away from the Palace. Evidently the attack would not
have been undertaken had they known you were here."
One of my touches of misdirection. I hoped it did some good.
"That makes no sense. Where would they get that idea?" She did not expect an
answer and did not wait for one. "Have you identified any of the burned
bodies?"
"Only three, Protector. Most are barely recognizable as human."
The Radisha asked, "Chandra, how bad was the physical damage? Do you have an
assessment yet?"
"Yes, Radisha. It was bad. Extremely bad. The wall appears to have suffered
some structural damage. The full extent is being determined right now. It's
certain to be a weak point for a while. You might consider putting up a wooden
curtain-wall in front of what is going to become a construction area. And
think hard about bringing in troops."
"Troops?" the Protector demanded. "Why troops?" Her voice, long neutral,
became suspicious. When you have no friends at all, paranoia is an even more
natural outlook than it is for brothers of the Black Company.
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"Because the Palace is too big to defend with the people you have here now.
Even if you arm the household staff. An enemy doesn't need to use any of the
regular entrances. He could climb the outside wall where no one is watching
and attack from inside."
The Radisha said, "If he tried that, he'd need maps to get around. I've never
seen anyone but Smoke, who was our court wizard a long time ago, who could get
around this place without one. You have to have an instinct."
The Inspector-General observed, "If the attack was undertaken by elements
descended from the old Black Company--and the employment of fireball weapons
would suggest some connection, even though we know that the Company was
exterminated by the Protector--then they may have access to hallway maps
created when the Liberator and his staff were quartered here."
The Radisha insisted, "You can't chart this place. I know. I've tried."
Thank Goblin and One-Eye for that, Princess. Long, long ago the Captain had
those two old men scatter confusion spells liberally, everywhere. There were
things he had not wanted the Radisha to find. Things that remained hidden
still, among them those ancient volumes of the Annals that supposedly explain
the Company's secret beginnings but which have been a complete disappointment
so far. Minh Subredil knows how to get to them. Whenever she gets the chance,
Minh Subredil tears out a few pages and smuggles them out to me. Then I sneak
them into the library and when no one is watching, I translate them a few
words at a time, looking for that one phrase that will show us how to open the
way for the Captured.
Sawa cleaned brass and silver. Minh Subredil cleaned floor and furniture. The
Privy Council and their associates came and went. The level of panic declined
as no new attacks developed. Too bad we did not have the numbers to stir them
up again every few hours.
Soulcatcher remained uncharacteristically quiet. She had known the Company
longer than anyone but the Captain, Goblin and One-Eye, though from the
outside. She would accept nothing at face value. Not yet.
I hoped she broke a mental sprocket trying to figure it out, though I feared
she had already done so, because she kept wondering about the burned bodies
and Willow Swan. Could I have planned so obviously that she was confused only
because she kept looking for something beyond the kidnapping?
I finished the last candlestick. I did not look around, did not say anything,
just sat there. It was difficult to focus my thinking away from the danger
seated across the room when my fingers were not busy. I gave praise to God,
silently, as I had learned was proper for a woman when I was little. Equal
praise was due Sahra's insistence on staying in character.
Both served me well.
At some point Jaul Barundandi came back. Under the eyes of the Great Ones, he
was not an unkind boss. He told Subredil it was time to leave. Subredil
bestirred Sawa. As I got to my feet, I made some sounds of distress.
"What is that?" Barundandi asked.
"She's hungry. We haven't eaten all day." Usually the management did provide a
few scraps. That was one of the perks. Subredil and Sawa sometimes husbanded
some of their share and took it home. That established and sustained the
women's habit of carrying things out of the Palace.
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