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3.

We sit there for a few minutes. Barb’s obviously somewhere in there, and there’s no sign she’s ever coming out. We chat a little about the weather. Unsurprisingly, it’s not easy to chat with Zelin.

I’m about to start apologizing for leaving when Barb appears again coming down the alley. “Did you see where she came from?” I ask.

“Oh yeah,” says Zelin. “Second floor window. On the right near the end of the alley.” I squint. I can just make out a window there. It looks inaccessible. I say so. “Not to me,” she says with that little grin.

“Zelin. Do you think—do you think Yanos found the Circlet?”

“He seemed very focused on it, don’t you think?”

“You’re going to go see?”

“Not right now,” she says, “and I’m not going in, I’m just going to see what you see when you look through that window. And, um, not to offend—!”

“You prefer to work alone.”

“In this,” she says. We stand up. “Not,” she adds, “in things like, finding my way out of the fourth level down in Valen Dungeon. For that, I would have preferred company.”

“I’m sorry we didn’t come after you,” I say.

“That wouldn’t have worked. You did the right thing.”

“So, if you’re going on alone,” I ask, “why did you get me? Why’d you bring me up here?”

She puts her hands on both my shoulders and says, “Because I trust you. And I need someone to know what’s going on. Because I’m, you know? Just an archer.” She kisses me on both cheeks, like we’re in the Silontian military and she just gave me a medal. Then she giggles.

I let myself out. In ten minutes I’m turning off Beaker Street and onto Bridge Street, and then I’m in the Mouse. Jan, Fen and Gurth are in the middle of a crowd, dancing together to a jig of some sort, beers in their hands. It’s too loud to explain anything, so I just grab a beer and join them.

We have a great time. I drink a lot. They carry me home and put me to bed, and I wake up about the fourth hour of morning. Mom’s up and running the shop, but as soon as I poke my head out, she grouses at me for five minutes and then disappears.

I manage somehow, but it’s not one of my better days. Mom shows no sign of returning before dark, or indeed after dark, but about the fourth hour of the afternoon, Janet and Fenric stroll in. Fen is as always; Jan is now in a long black robe with a white shirt showing through in front and a little white skull cap on her close-cut hair. I really couldn’t tell if I didn’t know that Janet isn’t a guy named Jan Et. I say so.

“Well, thank you,” Jan says, in a kind of deep voice.

“So,” says Fenric, leaning against the counter, his face a few inches from mine, “tell us where you went last night between when we were coming down Beaker Street and when you showed up at the Mouse. Half an hour? Hour?”

“Between the two,” says Jan.

“So? New boyfriend?”

“Hardly,” I say. I look around, like I’m telling a dark secret, but there’s no one but us. So I launch into the story. I leave nothing out, but I make no conjectures. They wait till I’m done spilling to comment.

“You’re sure it was Barb,” says Jan.

“Oh yeah.”

“You trust the elf?” asks Fenric.

I give it a second’s thought. I nod and say, “Yeah. Sure. Oh yeah.”

“Not really sure?” asks Jan.

“Really sure,” I say. “Maybe not really really sure. But really sure.”

“So who’s Zelin gonna see,” asks Fenric, “when she looks in that window? Was she going to do that last night?”

“Are you going to see her tonight?” asks Jan.

“If there’s something between you two,” says Fenric, “it’s fine by us.”

“Oh, that would be a thing,” I reply. “Fen, did you sleep with Gurth?”

“No, but I would.”

“Did you sleep with Yanos?”

He grins. “Oh, that would be yes. How do you think I got him to join us?”

“You slept—!” I turn to Jan. “You knew this?”

“I know a lot of things,” she says, smiling. Like, she knows I slept with Yanos.

“Why wouldn’t I sleep with him? Scars or no scars. Look at him, could you resist?”

I roll my eyes. “So this is your fault.”

“What is?” I don’t reply. He looks at Jan, then leans closer over the counter. “Listen, Dais,” he says, “what say you and me go see who’s in that apartment or whatever? Vicar Jan can stay here and mind the shop.”

I look at her, then back at him. She shrugs and nods. I say, “What if Mom comes back?”

“You’re covered,” says Jan. “It’s not like I’ll steal from the till. Not,” she says, looking at Fenric, “that there’s anything wrong with that as an avocation. It’s just not my calling.”

I lean back, gazing at Fenric. “So,” I say at last, “what would be the plan?”

“I knew you’d ask,” he says. “And yes, I have one.”

 

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