It was dawn when the knock came at his door. Boomer hadn’t slept well the night before. He was still antsy about Arie, not knowing where she was or how she was doing, and coming to terms with the fact that he was going to stick around in Telemenn until he learned how to properly use his powers was something that his sense of pride wouldn’t let go of easily. But still, the strange woman he’d met, Maya, was right. He still knew so little about the Pactlands. He was a complete stranger there. And he wouldn’t even know where to start if he came across another Psimagi. Maya had completely disabled him within seconds, and she was no older than he was.
Boomer was tired, though. It was nice to have a warm bed to sleep in, and he wasn’t sure if he even wanted to wake up right now.
Unfortunately, with Maya being a Psimagi, he didn’t have much of a choice. She unlocked his door using his mind and pushed it open.
“Why are you still sleeping, fool?” Maya asked. She walked over to the window and opened the curtains. “Is laziness normal where you come from?”
“The sun just came up,” Boomer complained.
“And unless you were out all night, you have no excuse. And I know you were not,” she said.
“Ugh,” Boomer groaned. He sat up and shielded the sight of the rising sun from his eyes. His window faced the eastern mountains. He knew that over those craggy peaks was the Disputed Lands, and Dunsmith. He took a moment to let his eyes grow used to the light and swung his feet to the floor, then stood up. “I need a bath,” he complained.
“Yes, you do,” Maya commented. “I can smell you from here. Why do you think I opened the window? Cooped up in this small room with nothing but your stink.” Her voice was thick with sarcasm. She raised an eyebrow at him. “You bathed yesterday, Boomer. You’ve no need of it today. Besides, that strange perfume you wear makes you stand out.”
“Perfume? I’m not wearing—“ he started, then looked to his bathroom bag. She was talking about her underarm deodorant. He had a tube of Speedstick in his bag.
“And your face,” she continued. “You’re too cleanly shaven. Much too clean for Telemenn. You’re not among the wealthy here, and you are not looking to court any Raszan women, so there’s little need to shave. Let your beard grow for a few days. You will stand out more if you’re always neatly groomed.”
“I barely had time to groom myself at all in coming here,” he said. “It was just nice to have a bath.”
“The pores on your face haven’t fully opened for months, I would venture to guess. It’s too smooth. You’ve never had hair on your face for longer than a day or two at most,” she said. “And your clothes.” She shook her head. “It looks as though you were dressed by a drej.” She watched Boomer as he climbed into his trousers.
“A drej?” Boomer asked. “What’s a drej?”
“There’s no word for it in the common tongue,” she said. “Think of a fool with such a profound stupidity that it hurts when you try to reason with them. It’s a word from the Old Tongue of my people.”
“Your people?” Boomer asked.
“We were once the Ar’shavai. The most powerful of the five tribes. It was a long time ago, but we once were spread all across Shavi. Our Queen, Windchaser, is descended from us but has forgotten the way. Most Shavians are Ar’shavai. It wasn’t until Maer and that blasted Council came to be that our old ways were forgotten by most,” she shook her head. “But we’d no doubt have been destroyed if not. Still. Most people have forgotten our ways, and our language.”
Boomer took a moment to get his shoes on and get ready, then started his way toward the door, beckoning Maya to follow. “But you remember?” he asked.
“The People of the Drops remember,” she said, following him out the door. “We really need to get you some different clothing.”
Boomer looked back to her. Even without his powers, he sensed the change of subject. He’d heard of the Drops. They were a chain of islands that lay in a line between the southern tip of Shavi and the Western Blastlands of Shavi. He’d spent some time studying geography and hearing about places from those he traveled with in the past week. “So, what? We’re going shopping?” Boomer asked, deciding to go with the flow for the time being.
“We’ll have time that later. There’s someone I’d like for you to meet,” she said, looking him in the eye.
The two of them descended down the stairs of the Wanderer’s Canvas and out the front door. When they finally got outside, he took a deep breath. The air was still chill in the shadow of the Canvas from the night. Boomer stood in spot, surveying the area while he waited for Maya to take the lead. She did so quickly.
“So was it the Psimagii that made you leave the Drops, then?”
Maya paused for a moment, she hung back and walked alongside Boomer. “No,” she said. “There are… other reasons.” She looked up to him. “Let’s just say it is my business to be here.”
“Business?” Boomer asked. “Money’s good here, then?”
“Gold flows through Telemenn like water through a sieve. It comes, it changes hands, and it leaves again.Nowhere else in the Pactlands will you discover a place more saturated with villains. A man who knows who to ask can find anything here. You want a woman? You can buy one here. A man? That is a simple request. A child, perhaps, if that is your flavor? Look around enough, you’ll find one. Want to place money on a fighter in a death match? There’s a tavern in the old quarter that has them nightly.”
“Jesus Christ,” Boomer swore. He’d never even considered it. He’d been so strung out on finding Arie that the culture shock hadn’t really had a chance to set in. “Kids? They sell kids?”
Maya regarded Boomer with her eyebrows raised. “It must be nice,” she said. “To live such a life where the discovery of such things come as a shock. You carry yourself like a poor man, Boomer. But your heritage is clearly one of privilege.”
“Back on my world, anyone found to be buying or selling anyone is going to be spending quite a bit of time in jail,” he explained. “Let alone kids. It happens, but… you just don’t hear about it.”
“It’s a crime here,” Maya said. “But the lawkeepers in Telemenn are known to take a bribe to look the other way.” She passed her gaze down the street. “But I’m looking for something specific. Women are going missing.”
“This seems like the sort of place that’s going to happen,” Boomer commented.
“Last week, a street whore named Marys was found not a block away from us. She’d been raped, strangled and left dead where the attack against her occurred. People witnessed it. Saw it happen. They know who did it. They simply don’t care,” she said. “But not the women I’m looking for. There are people who care for them.”
Boomer was speechless. He could only look back at her, clear shock showing on his face.
“The women who have been disappearing are not street whores. They’re daughters of the rich and poor alike. In some cases they are Priestesses of Eventide. Disappeared from all across Rasza… The only common thread among them seems to be that they’re virgins. These women weren’t haphazardly come upon by a drunken rapist in the night. They were chosen. Their abductions plotted and planned. And they’re coming here. To Telemenn.”
“Wait, you tracked them here?”
Maya nodded. “Yes. Months ago.”
“And you haven’t found them yet?”
“You make it sound like I should have,” Maya said. “You think I can walk up to just anyone and pull thoughts from deep within their heads?” She shook her head. “Again you show your arrogance and lack of understanding. There are those among us who are trained in the art of hiding their thoughts, even from a Psimagi. They’re adept at misremembering.”
Boomer understood. If a man purposely put his mind toward remembering something differently, a Psimagi wouldn’t be able to tell the surface memories apart from the real thing.
“And I cannot simply attack these men,” Maya said. “They are well organized and have a Summoner among them.”
“A Summoner?” Boomer asked. His thoughts suddenly went back to his time at the prison in Anastae, and the Summoner Shalo Cahl. The very man Boomer killed.
“You’ve met one before, by your tone of voice.”
Boomer nodded. “I killed one. Flayed him alive.”
“No doubt he deserved it,” Maya said flippantly. “Summoners often do.”
Boomer thought about it. Cahl had killed Andy. He had tortured that girl from Stone’s Mouth, Elle. Did he deserve to die? “Probably,” Boomer answered. “But I’m not sure I should have been the one to do it.”
Maya turned back to Boomer for a moment. “Do you regret killing him?”
“I’ve never killed anyone before him. I think I may have killed ten men that day,” he replied. Between Anastae and the battle in Dunsmith, there were at least ten, perhaps more. He was honestly in a state of seeing red. It bothered Boomer.
“That’s not an answer, Boomer,” she pointed out. She turned back away from him. “I killed my first man when I was thirteen. I did not regret it. Not once.”
“What?” Boomer asked. “Thirteen? You were still a kid!”
She turned back to Boomer. “I was more a woman then than you are a man now,” she shot back. “My powers were just starting to manifest, and the pichta that had been raping my sister for years turned his attention to me.” She looked to Boomer. “Did those men do evil to you or those you care about?”
Boomer was taken aback by Maya’s confession. Silently, he nodded.
“Then there is nothing to regret,” she asserted with a scowl. “Do not feel guilt for those who deserve to die, and do not hesitate to kill them when the time is right.” Maya said. She turned away, still scowling. “Stupid!”
Boomer was ready to snap back at her, but thought better of it. She didn’t realize what he’d gone through. How alien it was to him, to have to kill people. He wasn’t a soldier. But then, he’d also grown up in the ritzy area of North Vancouver. He went to a private school in New York for a year, and up until a month ago, he’d thought he was slumming it out while maintaining his integrity in Dunsmith.
He didn’t grow up in the Pactlands. He didn’t grow up around farms and armies and magick. He grew up around bankers and businessmen. The new aristocracy. His friends growing up were the sons and daughters of politicians and celebrities. It was an atmosphere of décor and posturing. Nothing at all like what he’d seen thus far in the Pactlands.
Even when Boomer had put that life behind him, he strove to divide himself from that life, living in a small house in a small town famous for its winter festival and producing a sex-tape celebrity. He got in fights. He got drunk with his friends and vandalized golf courses.
But never, not once had he had to kill someone.
Maya was thirteen when she killed her would-be rapist.
That was a reality Boomer couldn’t even begin to imagine.
“It’s no matter,” Maya said. “Come. This is who we must speak to.” She walked up and across the street to a woman dressed in a bright red dress and cloak. Her hair, not surprisingly, was also red, but she had green eyes, and carried a pouch around her waist.
“Lenora,” Maya called to the redheaded woman.
Lenora turned to face Maya and smiled. “Maya!” she called excitedly. “It’s so good to see you again.”
Maya walked up and hugged Lenora, whose eyes immediately passed to Boomer. “And who is your friend? I’ve not seen him before.”
Boomer picked up a strange sensation from the woman right off the bat. There was something strange about her. Quick, almost. He took a venture into her head and listened to her thoughts.
He was repelled out within an instant. Was she another Psimagi? No, he didn’t think so. It wasn’t the same as with Maya. With Maya, it was just white noise. But not with Lenora. Lenora was something else entirely. It was as if there were already too much going on in her head.
Maya turned to Boomer. “This is Lenora,” she said, introducing the redhead. “Lenora is a Street Siren. She knows everyone, hears everything. So don’t say anything to her you wouldn’t want becoming public knowledge.”
“Oh. So like Facebook?” Boomer asked.
“Face… book?” Lenora asked.
“It’s… uh… something from my home,” he said.
“He’s from the Disputed Lands,” Maya suddenly said, jabbing him in the side. She looked to Boomer and gave him a serious expression. “A Freeman, come to see the world.”
“Oh my!” Lenora suddenly exclaimed. “A Freeman?”
“Uhh, yeah. From a small village you’ve probably never heard of,” Boomer said. “Vancouver.”
“No, I’ve not. Oh! If you’re a Freeman, did you see Dunsmith? Or perhaps meet any of these strange people they speak of?”
Boomer shook his head. “No. Sorry. Never got the pleasure,” he explained.
“Too bad. There might have been some coins in it for you,” she said.
She nodded. “Word just came ‘round last night. The Quorum has offered gold in exchange for real information about them. It’s got the whole city in a thirst for information. The stories stagger the heart and imagination. Strange beasts that belch smoke that they ride upon like horses, but do not require rest or feed. It’s said that they could command the very sky to open up and rain fire down upon the Vectoran army. They say the Ajjiro Ryde was bested by a giant man who walked upon his hands.”
Boomer blushed, but only a little. “It sounds too strange to be true,” he said.
“So, Freeman,” Lenora asked, placing her hand lightly against Boomer’s shoulder. She was very touchy-feely. “Do you have a name?”
“Yes,” he replied. “Right. My friends call me James.”
“James? It’s a pleasure,” Lenora replied.
“So what does a Street Siren do?” Boomer asked.
Lenora gave him a funny look. “You’ve never heard of a Street Siren?”she asked.
“James has never been outside of the Disputed Lands before. Much of the ways here still confuse him, but he learns quickly.”
“I see,” Lenora said. She then smiled at Boomer. “It is the duty of a Street Siren to spread the news to the people. To sing and bring a brightness to their days, and to know everyone in her area of the city. We remember the face and name of everyone we’ve ever met, so for as long as you are in Telemenn, James, you have a friend in me.”
“She’s also a great source of information,” Maya said. “Street Sirens are bound by the pearl to be truthful.”
“Bound by the pearl?” Boomer asked.
“The nectar of the the Alabaster Crown,” Lenora said, nodding. “We drink it three times a day. It’s what makes our memories so perfect, our demeanors so loving, and the truth always on our lips.”
“The flowers grow year-round in Rasza on the edges of the desert,” Maya explained. “When refined, the nectar has the look of a pearl’s surface. Which is why it’s commonly referred to as a pearl.” She pulled out a coin from her purse and handed it to Lenora, who took it and graciously bowed. “James is looking for a friend of his. He’d like to know if she’s been through the city.”
“If I don’t know, I’m sure one of my sisters might,” Lenora said. “Who is she?”
“Her name’s Arie,” Boomer said. “A Geomagi from Shavi. She’s young, maybe about nineteen or twenty. She’d have been travelling with an older man, also a Geomagi coming from the Disputed Lands. I believe they’re going to Shavi.”
Lenora looked deep in thought for a moment. “There was a story about a girl from Shavi, a Geomagi named Arie a few dreams ago. It’s said she is wanted for crimes against the Council. Word went around much. Could this be the Arie you seek?”
Boomer nodded. “That’s probably her.”
“Alas, I do not know her face. But I can speak to the others around the city,” Lenora offered. “If anyone has seen her, I will know by morning.”
“Thank you,” Boomer said. “I’m grateful.”
“Please,” Lenora said. “I am grateful for your patronage. If you ever have need of me, don’t hesitate to come. Also, I would suggest you stop by Bastion Square at the Lorell’s Garden. The proprietor recently came into a surplus of Midsem Wine and he’s selling it at a steal.”
Boomer blinked in surprise. Was this woman… advertising? Boomer had thought her strange since meeting her. He just couldn’t keep track of her thoughts. Every time he tried to hone in, it was whisked way like passing trees while driving down the highway.
“You noticed it, then?” Maya asked as the two walked away.
“Yeah. I can’t touch her mind. Is it the pearl?”
Maya nodded. “Lenora has been bound by the pearl since she became a woman,” she explained. “It is as much a part of her as the air she breathes.”
“So she’s addicted to it, then?” Boomer asked.
“That’s one way to look at it,” she said. “But they serve their purpose, and it’s a valuable one. When the Quorum agrees on something, it is spread among the Street Sirens. They must be counted upon to have perfect memories, so as not to mistake the message. They are excellent sources of information as well, because they see everything and everyone. If she were to see your face fifty years from now, she would call you James.” She shook her head. “Granted, they are not too bright and cannot be entrusted with secrets, but are priceless for information. Best thing is, they only cost a coin.” She smiled. “It’s like you’re a child, Boomer.”
“Can we honestly stop with that? You can’t judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, and if you hadn’t noticed, I’m not exactly in my own pond here.”
Maya laughed. “You’re a funny man, Boomer. But I mean it is literally as a child. You walked through Halen and not once took note of the Street Sirens?”
Come to think of it, Boomer had seen women dressed loudly in the morning at many of the roadside camps. They usually had a number of people around them. But Boomer had been too single-minded at the time to truly take notice.
“No matter. This is your mission, James,” she said. “You must pluck an image from Lenora’s head.”
Boomer balked. “Are you kidding me? It’s like a whirlpool in there! Her thoughts are moving so fast I can’t get a hold of them.”
“Are you afraid she’ll pull you in? That you’ll be forever lost in her mind and have your body become her mindless follower?”
“Of course not. I… wait. Can that happen?”
Maya shook her head again, slowly. “Like a child,” she commented, then picked up the pace and started heading back to the Wanderer’s Canvass.
It was a rare day when Boone saw Goose scowl. He was usually one of those fake-it-till-ya-make-it types. This time, Boone couldn’t say he blamed him. Not after the week they’d had.
It was barely past six when Boon himself had woken up. He’d had a late night, making all sorts of preparations in anticipation for the morning departure of the Halish forces. General Liass had pegged their departure for nine o’clock. Boone wanted to be sure he was there. He had a gift for Liass, something his father had given him as a kid and he never really found any use for until Dunsmith found itself as a suburb of the Pactlands.
Sun Tzu’s Art of War had been indispensable in the weeks leading up to the battle, and Boone felt that Liass could benefit from some of the tactics within. He considered Keller a friend.
But Goose was buried up to his neck in bad news. Reports were scattered across his desk from all over the town, and that was just the stuff that required his attention. All matters of importance to the town, some grave, and some trivial. Now, with the loss of the sizable defense offered by the Halish forces, much of it was scattered.
“I knew they were eventually going to carry on,” Goose commented with his head in his hands. “I just hadn’t anticipated it happening that quickly. It’s going to stretch us pretty thin, Gerry.”
“I still say that defense should be our top priority, moreso now than ever,” Boone asserted. “If need be, I can have some of the men appointed to town duties, but it’s got to be vital.”
“That’s not the problem at all,” Goose said. “Every day we’re getting new workers. For the first time there are more jobs being offered now than ever before, but we’re in a sweet spot at the moment.” He leaned back in his chair. “We’ve got enough food for now to keep everyone fed, but we’re not sure how long that’s going to last, especially with new workers coming in. We can count on a few variables to get us enough food to get through the winter, but nothing solid as of yet. We can pay the workers all we want, Gerry, but when it comes down to it, if we don’t have enough to food to keep ourselves full, people are going to riot.” He picked up a file on his desk and showed it to Gerry. “That’s all in this one,” he said. He reached out for another thick file. “This one’s all about that Winder girl and—get this—the Muggle Party. Official as of yesterday afternoon. They’re petitioning to be included in the elections. They’re running on the platform of complete segregation from the Pactlands. Problem is, there’s nothing we can do to shut them out.”
He sighed. “People are still afraid of this place, Gerry. Myself included. But I refuse to be self-destructive about it. We would never survive without making allies and trade relations, and if we don’t understand magick, how are we expected to protect ourselves against it?” He leaned forward. “I’m not going to lie. This isn’t what I signed up for.”
Boone frowned. “It’s not what any of us signed up for,” he said. “But it’s something we have to face whether we choose to or not. If you’re tired, Goose, then step aside. Let somebody smarter, more experienced and more suited to the position take the job. Nobody will blame you for quitting, but if you’re sharp, and you think nobody can do this job better, then you do the job.”
Goose took in what Boone had said. Slowly, he began nodding. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, you’re right. You’re a dick, but you’re right.” He leaned back and took a deep breath. “Okay. I needed that.”
“Good. Now you need to get your game face on. Shephard’s bringing down Ianto Indetae and his people right now.”
“What do we know about them?”
“Little to nothing. I had a chat with Corpus last night, to see if he could offer any insight on his father, but he hadn’t even known his father was in town. I got the impression they don’t really get along. All he would really tell me is that his father is a capable man, and left it at that. According to Shephard, it’s his understanding that Ianto is a part of the Cloudstalker Enclave—“
“What is that? I’ve heard that name before,” Goose asked.
“Best way for me to describe it is as a generational secret service. Like what we’re doing with NCSIS, except they’re born into it. So if that’s the case, we know he’s likely trained as a spy. Problem is that this spy is here on behalf of Hillbreaker. So while we know he’s a spy, we can’t really hide anything from him.”
“Why is it so important to distrust him?” Goose asked. “He could be on the level.”
“I’ll acknowledge that’s a possibility. I just… I don’t know, Goose. Something about him just rubs me the wrong way.”
“Why don’t we just hold off on judging him until we hear him out?” Goose asked. He suddenly looked past Boone to the window in his office. “Hold that thought,” he commented, then stood up.
Boone turned and noticed the telltale blood-red hair on Terra’s head. She was walking around in the outer office looking uncomfortable. With her was the tyl, Quick.
“Whoa, what’s she doing here?”
“She starts her first shift today,” he said. “Why wouldn’t she be here?”
“Christ, Goose!” Boone exclaimed. “Didn’t you read the report? Indetae’s here for her!”
Goose opened the door to his office. “Terra,” he said. “Could you come in, please?”
“Could you say that a little less like a principal?” Terra asked, but followed Goose into the office.
“She shouldn’t be here, Goose. Indetae will be here any minute,” Boone warned.
“I think,” Goose began, sounding incredibly firm. “Terra should be the one to decide that.” He looked to Terra, who was looking remarkably like a deer in headlights.
“What’s going on?” Terra ventured. “Is this about Corpus’ dad?”
Boone sighed. “Yes,” he said. “You heard about Hillbreaker?”
Terra nodded. “It’s all anyone could talk about last night. Nalya cried when she heard about it. She said it was probably the Council.”
“We can’t speculate on that right now,” Boone said. “Corpus’ father brought four people with him. Apparently they mean to offer you around-the-clock protection, but—“
“Whoa, wait. No, we talked about this. I don’t need protection,” Terra exclaimed. She looked down to Quick. “I already have a bodyguard.”
“I don’t think they mean to offer you a choice in the matter,” Boone said. “That’s why I don’t think you should be here. It’s best if he doesn’t know how to find you.”
“And what are you going to do, Boone? Kick him out of town? He’ll find her eventually,” Goose pointed out. He looked back to Terra. “Look, you need to be the one to discuss the terms of this protection they offer. That’s the only way we can play this game. If we try to prevent his access to you, it’s going to hurt our relationship with Halen. Probably not a good idea, especially while we have people there.” He shook his head. “We’re in a precarious position here, Terra, and I know it sucks that you’re stuck in the middle of it, but it’s something that needs to be dealt with.”
“I don’t like it, Goose,” Boone said.
“You don’t have to like it,” Goose said. He looked back to Terra. “But I’ll promise you this, Terra. Whatever you decide, we’ll support. If you say you don’t want him around, we’ll make sure he keeps his distance, but I’m going to need to make sure you tell him that to his face before I can do anything about it. Our relationship with Halen is very important.”
Terra looked down to Quick, who stood silently by her leg. He looked back up at her. Terra sighed.
“Fine,” she said, finally. “I’ll give it a shot. I’ll talk to him.”
Boone sighed. “Looks like it’s too late to back out anyway,” he commented. He pointed out the window. “Shephard’s here with them.”
Goose looked out the window and saw what Boone had been pointing at. Sergeant Shephard had indeed arrived, and he was in the process of helping them out of the car. Goose could tell right off the bat which one Ianto was. He was a little bulkier than the other three and his hair was grey. He wore a dark cloak, just like the others. The others consisted of two taller person and one short. Goose was about to comment on exactly how short the third man was when he realized that the man in question had long brown hair. And breasts.
“Who’s the girl?” Goose asked.
Boone shrugged. “One of the King’s Guard, I suppose,” he said.
“I recognize one of the men. He was there when we had dinner with the King,” Terra said. “But I don’t know the other two,” she said. “And… yeah, I think I remember the girl’s face. She was at the Harbinger’s Ball. I never spoke with her, though.”
Quick climbed up onto Terra’s shoulder and looked out the window with them. He patted her on the head gently and squeaked. The four of them watched as Cale led the four Halish delegates into City Hall.
“Well, here we go,” Boone said. He walked over to the door and beckoned the five of them to come over.
“General Boone,” Ianto began. “Your defenses are atrocious. Your so-called protective guard completely ineffective. Had we been so inclined, the four of us could have killed Lord Shephard, the woman at the desk, and then both you and your Minister without any losses, and made off with the Seer with nary a trace left behind of us,” he launched. “Do you wish to court death so flagrantly?”
Boone furrowed his brow. “Hey now, listen to me—“
“Gerry!” Goose interrupted.
Boone looked back at him and sighed. “I will take it under advisement, Mister Indetae.”
Ianto merely nodded and moved past Boone. He and his men walked into the room, and bowed. “My Lady Murphy,” he said. “Minister Goose. I am Ianto Indetae.” He quickly made note of Quick, but said nothing.
“Mister Indetae,” Goose said. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Will you introduce us to your team?”
“Of course,” he said politely. He gestured toward to man closest to him. A short-haired man with olive skin. “This is Yuri Trace,” he said. “Most decorated of all the King’s Guard. He has served faithfully in his position for twelve years. He is a capable and competent man.”
He gestured to the man next to him. He had a shaved head that reminded Boone of the bad guy from that old Conan movie. He also had an unsightly scar running from his cheek to his jaw. “And Klive Braska. I know of no man better with a blade than Klive.”
Finally, he came to the girl. “And this is the Lady Zara Hillier,” he said. “She has wit, intelligence and near-perfect aim. She could shoot a flea off of a dog’s nose from twenty paces.”
“A Lady?” Terra asked. “As part of the King’s Guard?”
“It is because of her title,” Ianto explained. “The only time a woman is allowed to serve our king in a protective or military right, a title is required. That’s the only thing that could protect her from the men. But I assure you, Zara is intimately capable.”
Boone understood. Having a title in Halen automatically granted a person the rank of Captain in their military.
“So, you wanted to meet with me?” Goose asked. “Not more bad news, I hope.”
“No, Minister. In fact, just the opposite,” he said. “I have read the final requests of my Lord Hillbreaker, and it is his contention that the support of Dunsmith be of the utmost importance. Or, more specifically,” he clarified, looking to Terra. “Support of the Green Seer.”
“Look, you don’t have to call me that. My name is Terra.”
“Of course,” Ianto said. “I apologize to the Lady Terra. I did not mean to offend.”
“No, no. It’s fine, but… just Terra, please. Drop the Lady bit. My name is Terra,” she explained.
Ianto blinked in confusion. “I’m sorry? My Lady? You’re a Lady of Halen. To refer to you as… a commoner would be an insult to you.”
“No insult,” she said. “I am a commoner.”
Ianto wore a look of disbelief on his face. Boone reveled in knowing that Terra had fully managed to confound and frustrate the man. He looked about ready to sputter out random protests, but instead thought better of it after the woman, Zara put a hand on his shoulder. Ianto looked back at her for a moment and calmed himself.
Boone found that interesting. He seemed to maintain perfect authority over Klive and Yuri, but with Zara… the relationship was a little different. Were they together, perhaps? Ianto was easily in his late fifties, but Zara looked no older than Terra. Was he a dirty old man, then?
“I will… do as you ask… Terra,” he said, forcing himself not to use her title. “To business then.” He looked to Goose. “I am here at behest of my King to offer the full support of the Cloudstalker Enclave,” he said. “My men are as your men, and the resources afforded to my King are now yours.”
“Whoa,” Goose said. “Wait. What?”
“It was his dying wish to see this done. We will share what we know of the workings of the Pactlands, and bring that knowledge to help support the formation of your New Canadian Territories. In return for this, we must be ready and able to protect the Green—Terra. We must have eyes on her at all times.”
“Okay, that’s not going to happen,” Terra said.
“Terra,” Goose warned. “Hear him out.”
Terra shook her head. “First of all, I already have a bodyguard,” she said, motioning toward Quick.
“The Tyl?” Klive suddenly added. “The vermin couldn’t protect his own colony from my boot.”
Quick suddenly hissed and scampered down Terra’s leg. He looked up at Klive, bearing his teeth.
“I wouldn’t make him angry,” Terra suggested. “He bites.”
“Regardless, that is our price. Can your Dunsmith really afford to be on its own right now, in these trying times?” Ianto said. “And need I remind you, you are merely a Lady who aspires to be a commoner. The word of Nadus Hillbreaker outranks yours.”
“So you’re going to protect me whether I like it or not? Where I come from, that’s not protection. That’s imprisonment,” Terra said.
“If that’s what it must come to, then—“ Ianto suddenly shouted, but another voice interrupted.
“Please,” Zara said. “It need not come to that. What about a compromise?”
Goose looked to Zara for a moment. “What are you suggesting?” he asked.
“I know all too well what it’s like to be a young woman in a situation not of her choosing. I know the unbearable frustration it brings.” She looked to Ianto. “We should never force that upon her. But still, you are more important than your freedom, Terra.” She sighed. “I am sorry for that, but we cannot afford to mince words. Not after the loss suffered by Halen.”
“And I’m sorry for that loss. But I’m safe here. I’m going to be here during the day, and when I get home, I have Lily and Quick with me. So—“
“Allow us to guard you while you are here, then. Allow Klive and Yuri to keep watch over not just you, but the men and women in this building as well. Ianto was correct, you lack proper defenses. Klive and Yuri will fix that. And then let me become your companion,” she offered.
“My companion?” Terra asked. “What do you mean?”
“I can perform chores for you. Clean. Cook. But I’m also capable of protecting you if the need should arise. You need not view me as a guard. But as a servant or friend. I can be trusted with your ways. Your secrets. I will never try and prevent you from doing what you believe you need to do. On my honor as a Lady of Halen, I assure it.”
Ianto, if he liked the idea, obviously didn’t show it. But still, he was amicable. Boone could tell that Zara had something on Ianto. He didn’t know what it was, but for some reason it made him like her. He would have to find out, of course.
“I can make that compromise,” Ianto said finally.
Terra thought about it for a moment and looked down to Quick. Quick looked back up at her. “Fine,” she said. “But this is the last compromise I’m going to make.”
“A good choice,” Ianto said. He then looked to Goose. “Now that that’s out of the way, we must discuss your defenses and strategy. It’s safe to say the Council will not take kindly to your… sovereignty beyond the Pact. You must be prepared if you are to survive them.”