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6.

We don’t know very much: just that Barb and Yanos, like Zelin, came safe out of Valen, all separately, and that Barb has been meeting with Yanos in his hiding place. And that Yanos is still a liar who sleeps with pretty much anyone. What we don’t know but believe: Yanos brought the Lapis Circlet out of the dungeon, and is peddling it to the highest bidder.

And I can’t help notice that Zelin is nervous about that. And Zelin is never nervous.

I put my head down and work and study and hit the lab. We are very busy in the shop, with Yule coming. Mom actually works her full hours. She tries to hire Janet to man (hah! I’m hilarious) the counter. Apparently the Order of the Virgin would not look kindly on her taking a regular gig in an alchemy shop.

But guess who shows up to ask about working here. I come back from getting some supplies, and there’s Mom teaching Lucette Barnswallow how to handle the till. And, of course, two days before my damn eighteenth birthday, I get to train her on making potion blanks.

“She’s not very smart, is she?” Mom asks, as she whisks me into the back room, leaving Lucette out front. “She’s trying to make a sale out there. I just don’t know if she can manage. But she’s an alchemy student, right?”

“Um, yes, sort of,” I reassure her (sort of).

“Well,” says Mom, “I’ll go out and make that sale, and you can get her started making potion blanks.”

I stand there among the cauldrons being proud, annoyed, embarrassed, concerned, superior and conflicted, and before I have that all sorted out, Lucette joins me. “So?” she says. “Your mom seems cool.”

“Yeah,” I say. “Okay. You know what a potion blank is.” She gives me a blank look. I know no one can be as stupid as she looks. I know she’s not stupid. Not down deep. “You know what a potion blank is? You took Alch 2, right? You did. From Stintsing.”

“Yeah, of course.”

“Okay, then,” I say. “It’s exactly like you learned, except that it’s totally different and you should forget everything you learned. Got it? Say yes, Lucette.”

“What? Wait.”

“Okay,” I say. “Rule one, wash the cauldron thoroughly as soon as you’re done with it. See? Eight cauldrons, two have stuff in them stewing, that leaves how many?”

“Uh, six.”

“Okay. You take this one, I have that one. Now. I keep everything you need right here on the shelves, except the bases, the oil’s in the vat there, just tap it and try not to spill, the milk is over here, we use a lot of goats’ milk.”

“Goats’ milk?? I thought—!”

“You learned all this dragon blood, unicorn milk, newt egg stuff. Goats’ milk for potion blank. One day old.”

“What do you do if it gets past one day old?”

“We drink it,” I say, not needing to add stupid.

We get into the work and she’s not terrible, although I would never, even after years of training her, leave her to do this on her own. Hey, it’s Yule time. We sell a lot of potions.

“Daisy,” she says during our second hour: by now we’re mixing up a potion of good will, always a big seller this season. “Do you want to be an alchemist, like, years from now?”

“Do I want to run my own shop?”

We look at each other. She grins. “You don’t really, do you?”

“Oh, of course I do,” I say. “But you, you’re more of a spell battler, right?”

“I think so,” she says, seriously. She’s very pretty. She looks at me and almost says something, something she decides to keep secret. Oh, yes, Lucette, keep your secrets.

The next evening, Lucette is out front arranging some toys in the front window. Mom makes them, these funny-looking little sort of eggs with legs and farmer hats, and I squirt in a little potion of animation, and when you blow on them they walk around and bump into things. I can tell Lucette thinks they’re cute. She wants to know how to make them herself. Well, that would be better than—!

And just when she’s not looking at the door, a figure slips in out of the snowy twilight. The fact that he doesn’t swagger almost makes me miss that it’s Yanos.

He spots Lucette and goes pale. He actually slips behind a shelf. I watch amused, but then he looks at me and I realize I have to go talk to the bum. So I walk over to him and give him my Look.

He leans close, but I’m sure it’s not for a smooch. “Daisy,” he whispers.

“What.”

“We have a problem,” he says, looking around.

“You have a problem.”

He looks in Lucette’s direction. Oh yes. The daughter of the chief of Count’s Magical Security. Then he turns his eyes, which he thinks have eagle intensity just because he’s an archer by trade, on me. “We have a problem,” he says.

“With her?

“No. Well, I mean—well, we have a problem,” he says, oddly flustered. “With Barbara.”

“Get out of the shop,” I say.

“What?”

“Get out of the shop. Without that young lady seeing you. Meet me in half an hour at the Rose.” I finish him off with one more glare, and then I turn back toward the counter. “Oh, Lucette,” I say.

 

Forty minutes later, I walk into the Rose through the back door from another of Insmoor’s many lovely alleys. Zelin and Fenric are with me; by some weird chance, Janet has spotted Yanos and joined him at a table way in the back. We join them; Jan goes to the bar and gets a large bottle of red wine and five mugs.

“So Yanos,” says Zelin. “Odd how I never saw you after those goblins charged us. Where did you go, anyway? I heard you said I was with you the whole time. And you said I was wounded. I wonder how you got that idea—is there someone else who looks like me?”

“You could tell he was lying,” says Fenric. “His lips were moving.”

“Now look,” says Yanos.

“All right,” I say. “That’s fine. Now let’s give him a chance to tell us what’s bothering him.” Zelin and Fenric both turn patient smiles on Yanos. Janet crosses herself and says a little prayer—I find out later it’s her new spell of lie detection. “It’s about Barb,” I say. “Shall we guess what it is?”

“She’s gone missing,” says Fenric.

“She’s carrying his baby,” says Janet.

“She stole the Circlet from him,” says Zelin.

“You knew,” Yanos accuses her.

“I did not. It stands to reason. You had it, and she visited you, and now you don’t have it. When did this happen, and when did you find out?”

“It happened today—well,” he says, “actually it might have been—oh gods.” He puts his head in his hands. We give each other skeptical looks, but then he starts shaking. He’s weeping. We’re still skeptical. He parts his hands and looks at Zelin. “We were going to sell it,” he says. “She was the go-between. Now she’s going to sell it.”

“To whom?” asks the elf.

“To the Wall,” he says.

“What?” asks Janet.

But I know what the Wall is. “When,” I ask. “When is this sale taking place?”

“It could have already happened,” he says very quietly. He looks at Zelin.

“You had better hope not,” she says calmly, “or I am going to see a large quantity of your life’s blood steaming on the cold ground. Was this your idea?”

“It was not. I was against it. Sell it to the scholars in Thomasport, or Sigurd Bay, I said. They would pay well. But the Wall would pay better, she said. It has no real powers, I said. She said, it has a magical charge, a strong magical charge, stronger than anything she’s held, all that. She said the Wall will outbid anyone for that.”

Zelin looks at me, as if I know anything. She says, “We can’t let it happen.”

“Zelin. I’m an enchantress. I know two word spells,” I say, holding up two fingers so she gets it. “Do you understand that?”

“I am just stating facts. Your facts don’t change the facts. We have to stop this sale.”

“I would underline that,” says Yanos.

“All right,” says Fenric. “Assuming it hasn’t happened, because if it has, forget all this. I will undertake to find and shadow Barb. You don’t know where she’s staying?” Yanos shakes his head. “Janet,” he says, “are you available to help?”

“Of course, Fen.”

“That’s good,” says Zelin, “because Barb knows my face better than yours, and because I need to keep an eye on my old friend Yanos. And you,” she says to me, “just be ready. Because, like it or not, you’re our biggest witch.”

“Okay,” I say, momentarily imagining that I could trust Lucette to help out.

“Fine,” says Zelin. “Let’s get a pie. You like mushrooms?”

 

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