Unguilded, p.22

Unguilded, page 22

 

Unguilded
 



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  “Yes,” Arabella replied. She ran her hands along the smooth skin of his back. “She is very grateful.”

  “As she should be. She’s been put in an interesting household.”

  Valerio must know about Castio’s family with Etta. Arabella shifted and wrapped her legs around his waist. “She’s been placed with a family,” she said. If he was testing her, she could not fail. “A Mage by the name of Etta, do you know her?”

  “I know everyone,” Valerio said. “She’s the mother of Castio’s children. Does he visit often?”

  “He’s there most nights,” Arabella said.

  “So I have been told,” Valerio replied, and Arabella had to concentrate on not reacting to his words.

  He was testing her. Did he know about her visit with Rorik? She closed her eyes and found his lips with her own. She must not let him doubt her, not even for a moment. With more desperation than passion, she strained towards him. He must not doubt her.

  IF SHE NEEDED proof that Reo was both serious and powerful, she got it with the swiftness that he arranged everything.

  One week after she’d agreed to help Reo, two men led Lowel and Harb, filthy and battered, past the main house. Neither of the youths lifted their heads, but a note was left saying that they would enter Maker Guild, and from there it was up to them to find their own way.

  Two days later Chal knocked on the door of the cabin. He carried a long, dark cloak for Kara and waited impatiently while she stuffed a few items into her pack and said her goodbyes.

  Chal led her to a small boat that was tied up at Vook’s fishing pier. Mage mist glowed as the small craft silently raced across the bay towards Warrior Guild Island. She kept her gaze forward, toward their destination. She was leaving again. Just when she’d started to feel like she had a home, she was leaving again.

  “YOUR ROOMS ARE to your liking?”

  Reo leaned against the door jamb, his arms crossed over his chest, a lazy smile on his lips. Kara stepped away from the doorway, and he straightened and entered her rooms, closing the door behind him.

  “They are lovely,” she said.

  And they were. She’d thought Santos’ manor house wonderfully lush and luxurious, but it was almost rough compared to the rich silks and exquisitely carved furniture in the rooms that Reo had provided her on Warrior Guild Island. She could easily imagine her mother living in this type of splendor, but for her, it was a prison. Two days she’d been here, and not once had she been allowed outside of her rooms, not even into the hallway. There was a small terrace, and this morning she had at least felt the warmth of the sun on her face, but the terrace was completely walled with a view of only the sky.

  “Good,” Reo said. “You need to be comfortable in this type of setting.”

  “Why?” She took a seat on the sofa, the silk of her dress whispering against the silk covering she sat on.

  “Because a woman with your background would be,” he said. “At least the woman you will be portraying—the only child of a wealthy Merchant who has spent all of her life in Seyoya. But your beloved father died, and now you’ve come home to Rillidi.” Reo sat on a chair across from her. “Sadly you have no ties with Merchant Guild. Other than your father, the only true Guildsmen you know are the Warriors who were hired to protect your father’s greatest treasures.”

  “That’s why I’ve chosen to stay on Warrior Guild Island rather than make my way to Merchant Guild Island?”

  “Yes. And because your lover is Warrior Guild.”

  “Ah, and that would be you,” Kara said. Reo gave a little nod, and she picked at the hem on her dress. “Won’t you be recognized?”

  “Not by anyone who would betray me.”

  “Will my story be believed?” Now she understood the etiquette lessons—the indulged daughter of a very wealthy Merchant would know what Kara was being taught.

  “Yes,” Reo said. “It’s all true. Except the woman whose identity you are using died last year of the same fever that took her father.”

  “How do you know this?”

  “There really were Warriors with the family. Although I don’t believe any of them became her lover.” He grinned at her. “The Warriors were old men who all stayed in Seyoya.”

  “And what is the purpose of this?” She still couldn’t figure out what her role was, how she could help Reo stay alive until he could retire.

  Reo leaned back in his chair and studied her for a moment. “There are two truths known by those who hire Assassins,” Reo said. “The first is that Warrior Guild will deny that Assassins exist. The second is that Assassins die young, and their secrets go to their graves with them. But I plan on becoming visible—an aging Assassin who knows too many secrets.”

  “Everyone who has ever hired you will feel threatened,” Kara said. “Isn’t it easier to simply leave Rillidi, leave Tregella?”

  “Simpler, yes,” Reo said. “Safer, no. Better to stay here and flush out anyone who wishes me dead.”

  “Will they hire other Assassins?”

  “That’s the crucial question,” Reo said with a nod. “Will my own guild allow a fellow Assassin to be hired to kill me? I’m not only one of their own, but I’m one of their best, one who has served Warrior Guild exactly as I’ve been trained to.” He shook his head. “I am very interested to know if they will accept such a commission.”

  “You don’t think they will,” Kara said.

  “No, I don’t. I can’t think of one Assassin who would be willing to take this contract. And Warrior Guild has too much to lose if they allow it. They will hope my former patrons succeed in killing me, but they will not aid them.”

  “They’ll hire Mages.”

  “They will hire Mages,” Reo agreed. “There is no other choice. It will be very expensive, and Mage Guild will make them pay in ways they don’t yet understand, but some will be foolish or desperate enough to bargain with them anyway.”

  “That’s why you need me.” She nodded. It made sense now. She would protect him from spells meant to kill him. “Will I be a target of Assassins?” What if someone found out what she was doing for Reo?

  “No.”

  She shivered at the coldness in his voice.

  “I will make it clear that I will consider any attempt on your life to be the same as an attempt on my own.” He smiled a cheerless, feral smile. “If they kill you, then they must kill me.”

  Kara swallowed. She could easily believe that Reo was one of the most dangerous men in all of Rillidi. Who would be brave enough to try to kill him? “Will one year be enough time?” she asked.

  “Yes,” Reo replied. “Those with enough guilders to hire a Mage will do so early and exhaust their fortunes. If I’m still alive after a year, and have not spilled any secrets, the others will choose to forget that I am a threat.” He smiled his cold smile again. “Most of the people who hired me did so for financial gain. None of them want to part with their guilders.”

  “DO I REALLY need to pretend to be a rich Merchant?”

  All Kara had done was learn—etiquette, fashion, history, Seyoyan, politics, gossip, needlework. She hated the needlework more than anything. She’d rather try taming a wild burro, and Gyda knew she had no talent for that.

  “Yes.”

  Reo and Chal answered at the same time, and Kara groaned.

  Chal was teaching her about Seyoyan customs. She didn’t think she would ever truly understand how the act of stealing from one another conveyed honour and regard, but according to Chal it did.

  For the past two weeks Reo had sat in on all her lessons, although he usually read a book or wrote in a small leather bound journal. Initially, Kara had been caught off guard that a Warrior knew how to read and write, but the more time she spent in Reo’s company the less surprised she was by his knowledge. He was extremely intelligent, something she hadn’t expected from a man who killed for a living.

  “It’s the best role for what I need,” Reo said. “As a beautiful, rich Guildswoman who’s led a
n exotic, yet tragic life you will be the most sought after guest in all of Rillidi. You’ve chosen an Assassin as your lover—which makes you even more fascinating—and as your escort I will be able to socialize with the wealthiest, most connected, and ruthlessly ambitious people in all of Rillidi. Some of whom will be nervous to be in the same room as me because they have secrets—secrets I know because they hired me.” Reo put his book down and leaned forward. “I want my presence to make them nervous enough to act quickly and rashly.”

  “And spend their money right away,” Kara said.

  “Yes.” Reo nodded. “And you need to be seen as rich because I don’t want anyone to speculate about my wealth. People know that Assassins are at work in this city, and being at a party with one might give them a bit of a thrill. But I don’t want them wondering how I acquired my wealth. Who paid me for which deaths.”

  “Or worse, that the dead man might have paid for his own assassination,” Chal said.

  “You’ve let someone do that?” Kara asked. “Pay you after they’ve acquired the victim’s possessions?”

  “Not every heir is content to wait for their inheritance,” Reo said. “And they know the consequences of their failure to pay.”

  “You kill them too?”

  “Ah, Kara,” Reo said. “You must think me evil to believe I kill so indiscriminately.” He leaned back in his chair, a hint of sadness in his eyes. “I am a professional. I do not kill for joy, I do not kill out of anger, I do not kill on impulse. I am contracted, and I fulfill my obligations. That is all I do.” He sighed.

  “What I meant,” Reo continued, “is that those who contract an assassination risk the same exposure that any Guildsman risks if they fail to live up to their contractual obligation.”

  “Oh.” She looked at the floor. Breaking a contract without the agreement of the other party was punishable by expulsion from the guild. And a contract was a contract, even if it was about a death.

  “But,” Reo said, “though I’ve earned my fortune legitimately, as I said, the size of it might attract unwanted attention and speculation.”

  “So I’m a rich Merchant,” Kara said.

  “You’re a rich Merchant,” Reo agreed. “Hopefully that will take some of the focus off of me.”

  And put the focus directly on her. Reo may want to live out in the open, but that was the last thing that she wanted. She sat back in her chair and watched Chal and Reo talking softly, planning the future. All she wanted was the snug little cabin on Santos Nimali’s estate. Would she ever have that again?

  Chapter seventeen

  KARA WAS NERVOUS. Reo had finally decided that she was ready for her first public appearance. She’d had only Chal and Reo for company for so long that, despite her apprehension, the thought of doing something—anything—was appealing.

  It was Founders Day, the day all of the guilds celebrated the creation of the First Guild, and Kara was attending Warrior Guild’s celebration with Reo. It was the first day of the last month of the year, and she’d already spent two months reading and studying and wishing the days would go by fast so her year could be over.

  Reo had sent her a dress. The silk rustled when she moved, and when she’d looked in the mirror, she almost hadn’t recognized herself. The blue set off her dark hair, and the bodice of the dress was cut very low. The large emerald pendant Reo had given her nestled between breasts that Kara felt were far too exposed, but the green of the stone was the exact same colour as her eyes. The woman in the mirror looked like Arabella Fonti’s daughter.

  When Reo joined her in front of the mirror, she’d been stunned at their reflection. Alone each of them was striking, together they were dazzling.

  Reo wore a slim-fitting, black jacket over a shockingly white shirt and black trousers. His vest was the same emerald as her eyes, just as the blue of her dress matched his.

  And while her eyes sparkled, Reo’s were incandescent—he looked as though he could see through doors, walls, even into her heart. She turned away, not wanting him to see her anxiety. Not at the task tonight, although she was apprehensive about that. No. Suddenly she was nervous about the man standing beside her. Always confident, tonight he exuded power and ease and mystery. Kara had never been to an event like this before, but she knew that Reo was somehow more than the other guests could ever hope to be.

  Warrior Guild was ablaze with mage lights that did nothing to ward off the chill in the hallways. Reo escorted Kara through the walkways and stone passageways of the Guildhall, her silk wrap pulled close.

  “Will other guilds be here?” she asked. Her stomach tightened. Would her mother be here?

  “Yes,” Reo said. “Although it’s unlikely we’ll meet the Primus or Secundus from any of the other guilds. They usually spend Founders Day in their own halls.”

  “In my villa, everyone goes to the upper square,” Kara said. “They build a big fire, and Makers roast three or four goats. The Villa Mage Primus leads the Guildsmen and women in the recitation of the Amicitia to renew their oaths for the coming year.”

  “No one will be leading the Amicitia,” Reo said. He paused to look at her. “Is that what’s bothering you?”

  “I’m not a Guildswoman,” Kara said. “I’ve never been through the ceremony nor have I ever taken the oath, the Amicitia.”

  “No one will expect you to do that tonight,” Reo said. “Founders Day or not, few attending this party will want to be reminded that they are bound to their guild.” He smiled. “Come, let’s make our entrance.”

  REO GUIDED KARA down a wide staircase. She heard murmurs and whispers, and many heads turned to watch them descend. Kara knew that this was what Reo had planned, this excitement and mystery and curiosity, but she couldn’t help feeling flattered that she was the one he was escorting. Reo was an attractive man—a dangerous man—and he was with her.

  Guildsmen milled at the base of the staircase, but the crowd parted as Reo led her into their midst. One after another she was introduced to people whose names and ranks she immediately forgot. Reo’s hand gently gripped her elbow, keeping her steady through the constant introductions. Merchants, Warriors, Mages, Guiders, Masons, Artists—she was presented to Guildsmen from every guild.

  A weathered Guildsman, a Guider, she thought, asked her a question in Seyoyan, and without thinking she answered him in the same language. Reo squeezed her elbow, and she knew he was pleased. Eventually the crowd thinned, and they were able to make their way to a less crowded part of the room.

  Despite being almost overwhelmed, Kara kept a smile on her face as she surveyed the room. So much mage mist! Some of it was so dense that many of the guest’s faces were almost obscured by it. The most interesting thing was that the few Mages in attendance had far less mist surrounding them than some of the other guests.

  “What in Gyda’s name have these people done to themselves?” she whispered in Reo’s ear. “They are absolutely covered in magic.”

  “Really?” Reo said. “Tell me who has the most spells.”

  “The woman in the ghastly yellow-green silk dress,” Kara said. “There is so much mage mist around her face that I can’t even see what she looks like.”

  “Ah, Donna Rualla,” Reo said. “She’s the wife of the Warrior Guild Secundus. She’s never been known as a great beauty, but I have heard that lately she’s become obsessed with looking younger. Perhaps she’s bought some spells to help?”

  “You could be right,” Kara said. She scanned the crowd. Many of the older women had the same pale pink mage mist swirling about their heads.

  “They’ve all been spelled by the same Mage.” Kara spotted pink wisps of mist trailing behind a woman. “That must be her.” The woman stopped, and a cloak was draped over her shoulders. When she lowered her head to allow her hood to be pulled over her hair, Kara found herself staring directly into the familiar eyes of Noula, her father’s not-quite wife from Villa Larona.

  “Step in front of me,” she urged Reo. “Now.” She grabbed his a
rm, and he swung around until he blocked her view. “Someone who knows me is here.”

  Reo bent to whisper in her ear. “Which way should we go?”

  “Behind me.”

  Keeping his body between her and Noula, Reo turned her around and maneuvered them through the crowd towards a hallway. Once in the hallway he shut the door.

  After the noise of the crowd, Kara realized that her breathing was ragged and shallow. Of all people, why Noula?

  “Do I need to worry?” Reo asked softly.

  “No, I don’t think so,” Kara said. “I don’t think she got a good look at me. I think she was here to attend the Mage.”

  “She is Server Guild then?”

  “No,” Kara replied. She wished Noula was Server Guild, then she’d have taken an oath of silence. Servers did not gossip, ever. “She’s Mage Guild, but without magic. She could be assigned many duties.”

  “If she recognized you, will she tell anyone?” Reo asked.

  “I doubt she has anyone to tell,” Kara said.

  She felt Reo relax and wondered what he would have done if she’d answered that Noula was a threat. Would Noula have mysteriously died in the next few days?

  “Good,” Reo said. “I’ll take you back to your rooms. We’ve made our debut, and leaving early may even increase the curiosity about us.”

  ARABELLA FROWNED AND stopped. Noula. What was she doing here? The other woman hid her face until Castio had passed her.

  Arabella waited just inside the doors to the council chamber until the room was empty. Then she stepped into the hallway.

  “This better be important,” Arabella whispered to Noula.

  Noula clutched her hands together and nodded. “It is, Master Mage, but I want a promise.”

  “You want to negotiate with me?” Did Noula know what a dangerous game she was playing? “What is it you want?”

  “I want to see my son,” Noula said. “You told me you’d arrange, it but you haven’t, even though I’ve done everything you’ve asked of me for weeks.”

 

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