28: Just Another Secret
As the days passed, I felt more and more comfortable in the compound. Things had continued much as they had before, with the exception that I was no longer left alone in my room. They knew I could pick my lock, and there was no lock that could hold me, so there was no point in even trying. However, as a caveat, a narrow cot had been added to Dean’s moderately spacious room, and that was where I now slept. While Dean was my guard most of the time, making sure I was holding up to my promise, he shared that duty with other Nagas, much as before. He would drop me off to wherever I was to spend my day before attending to his own business if he couldn’t take me with him.
We didn’t address the ultimatum that I’d been given. Instead, we just continued on with our routine, the one we had hammered into place before I’d gone to find Liss. Dean accompanied me everywhere and we ignored the fact that I had been outed as a spy. Eventually, people also followed this trend, and life went on.
It had been almost a week now, and while I felt uncomfortable internally at first, his friendly companionship made it easy to continue as we had been. We patrolled the city, monitored supply of the Naga’s drug, Spate, which I now knew to be a brain-child of The Raven and Dean. We made sure that the cash flow was correct, that the dealers were holding up their ends of the deal, and yet occasionally, Dean would have his own errands to run that he couldn’t take me on.
I assumed that whatever he was doing then were tasks doled out to him by The Raven herself. Because I wasn’t allowed to accompany him, I also assumed they were related to the rebellion. I both wanted to be included, and at the same time, was pleased that I was not. I was enjoying my time here, even though I knew it was coming to an end. Maybe once this was all over, I’d be able to figure out how I felt about it.
Tonight was a casual dinner, with most of the Naga in attendance. It was a brisk Friday evening, a cold night that made you realize that autumn itself was over, had been over, and winter was already in full force. The clear, fresh air that blew through the drafty halls inspired most of the residents in the manor to gather together for a hearty soup, warm mulled wines, and fine company. The atmosphere was quite festive, with people laughing, talking, and drinking. Dean and I were eating our share of the stew, paired together at the end of a long table, somewhat separated from the large group of rowdy criminals. We preferred tranquil evenings, the both of us, and often we simply spent our time together in comfortable silence. It wasn’t awkward, rather a therapeutic calm that I’d experienced with no one else. I enjoyed it more than most things and found it more relaxing even than the morning yoga I often did. Unfortunately, our peace was interrupted by one of the biggest carousers I knew. Spenser Red.
“You guys should join in on the fun,” he said as he sat down next to us.
He pointed over to the group of people, eating, drinking, and laughing at the stories they were telling each other. They were only a few feet away, separated by a single table, but they felt so distant. I’d been here for months, almost two entire seasons now, and yet I still didn’t feel like I was a part of them. I suppose that probably had something to do with them being fully aware that I was a spy in their midst.
“Not interested, thanks,” I said, going back to my stew.
It really was delicious – the crunch of the celery, the savory tang of green onions, all simmered in a hearty broth with a myriad of other vegetables and chunks of well-seasoned venison. We had several hunting enthusiasts within our ranks, and they were accomplished enough to obtain several deer this season. It was a pleasant change.
Dean hadn’t responded to Spenser, but instead eyed him carefully. I wondered what he was thinking. It would have been extremely useful to have the magical talent of mind reading, but also so awfully dull – or so I’d been told.
One of the mages who’d been recruited after I’d become High Suryan Premiere was a mind reader, but she had to be touching you for it to work. She once told me that it was the dullest thing, that most people simply had random, worthless nonsense running through their brains at all times. Very rarely were they thinking anything of interest. She was probably right, but her talents also came in very handy for interrogation and secrecy. I hadn’t seen her in years. The last I knew, she had been shipped out to The Grand Duchy of Gatlia on a top mission about seven years ago now, and I hadn’t seen her since. I wondered how she was doing.
Spenser stared at me pointedly, interrupting my musings. I returned his gaze and tilted my head at him, annoyed.
“Would you like to accompany me to my room?” he asked, an eyebrow raised, a flirty smile playing at his lips.
“To?” I responded. It shouldn’t have mattered, but I didn’t want him to think that I would simply go up to anyone’s room at a single request.
“To show you something. Strictly business, though.” He winked. Bastard.
Dean looked angrily at his soup, not saying a word.
“Dean, do you mind if I take my leave now? It seems that Spenser has something of importance to share,” I said, irritated.
“Indeed, I do, good friend. I’ll keep an eye on her, make sure she doesn’t run off,” Spenser said, smiling.
I was rather enjoying my dinner, and now I have to end it early. I hated that I felt like I had to ask Dean for permission. I was High Suryan Premiere, and on top of that, a grown woman. I shouldn’t have to ask anyone for permission for anything! But he was my appointed guard, and I couldn’t go anywhere without his knowledge and approval. It was an unspoken term of my newfound ‘loyalty’. Spenser, as a proven Naga member, would be allowed to be my temporary guard if Dean gave his permission. I bristled at the thought that I had ask this of him, of anyone at all.
He muttered something under his breath, likely something very rude. It was probably fortunate that Spenser hadn’t heard it, but from what I could hear, it sounded something like how Dean thought Spenser should show himself right down to the Depths. It made me smile. I took his lack of an outward no as an unspoken yes. Unless he forbade me, right this second, I was gone.
Spenser stood, extended his hand to me, indicating he was ready right now. I sighed, and took it, standing to join him. I looked back at Dean, who refused to meet our eyes. So, I waved a goodbye, slid my bowl over to Dean so that he could finish it as he sometimes did, and left with Spenser.
The whole time we walked side by side out of the great hall, I could feel Dean’s eyes on our backs, boring into my skin.
“I think he’s a bit jealous,” Spenser said in a light tone, amused, as we walked side by side.
“Doubt it,” I hissed.
“Hmm. Whatever you say.”
Our feet tapped loudly on the stone floor, and we continued the rest of the way in silence. His presence overwhelmed me, as usual, and I wasn’t looking forward to our one-on-one meeting.
“You could’ve come up with a better excuse,” I said when we reached his door.
He smiled in response and opened the door for me. “Probably. But I liked how it sounded a little... dirty.”
I went through the door and stood in the middle of the room. His bed was rumpled, the covers unmade, but everything else appeared to be in order. The books were all stowed properly in his shelves, the chair secured at the desk.
“Out with it, what do you have for me?” I asked, crossing my arms over my chest.
He quietly shut the door and turned to face me. “I have information that Naga gang is absolutely allied with the rebellion,” he said, eyebrows raised.
Spenser walked lightly over to his desk, turned the chair to face me, and sat in it. His large, muscular frame seemed overly large for the simple chair, his toned limbs casually resting in the seat.
“Try again. We need something more specific. That’s obvious,” I pointed out.
“Okay fine.” Spenser shifted in the chair rearranging his position the same way he was rearranging his words. “I know what country is aiding the rebellion, too.”
“And? Spit it out. I much preferred my dinner to this conversation.”
He sighed, watching me. “It’s Dobridland,” he revealed, relaxing back into the seat. “Their King apparently agrees with the rebels.”
“Do you know what they’ve agreed to? Financial support? Armies?” I walked closer to where he was sitting and sat on the end of his bed, my right leg crossed comfortably over my left. Subconsciously, I leaned closer, eager for whatever he could tell me.
“Likely armies. That’s what Dobridland is known for, anyhow. They’ve got the finest military force in the world – aside from ours, of course.” He raised his hands, gesturing at me and smiling. “Those Suryan Mages are world class, eh?”
I elected to ignore what he deemed to be a compliment. “How did you find this out?”
“I have my sources,” he said, his tone serious again.
“Alright, keep your secrets,” I said, musing to myself. “I wonder why the King felt sympathetic.”
It should’ve bothered me that Spenser didn’t immediately share how he discovered such a thing, but I knew I’d get it out of him. The man had a weakness of confidence; he would tell me eventually.
“Myself as well. But it’s true. I had the luxury of attending their meeting, some time ago,” he revealed, proving me right.
“So that’s how you came to this conclusion.”
“Alright, you got it out of me.”
“You just couldn’t help but brag.”
“Don’t lie, you’re impressed.”
I considered this information. It was very interesting, of course. The King would likely give Spenser whatever he wanted once he shared such intelligence. Of course, Spenser wouldn’t get very far without my vouching for him to get an audience with the King. He still needed me, which kept the status quo in my favor – which I obviously preferred and required of our agreement.
“Unfortunately, I don’t really have anything new to add to our collective knowledge,” I admitted slowly, “although I do know The Raven was part of the creation of Spate.” I didn’t reveal that Dean was involved also; for some reason, I wanted to keep him out of it. I could always keep that small detail for the King, anyhow.
“Oh, that’s interesting. I suppose that makes sense – she is in charge. She’s smart, it doesn’t surprise me that she would have her hands in inventing something of that nature,” Spenser said nonchalantly, albeit pleased.
“That’s all I’ve really got though. You know everything else,” I lied easily. “So, what’s next?”
“Hmm. I guess since we’re caught up now, we just need to nail down a plan for how we will escape during the royal ball. It’s coming up, you know,” he reminded me as he readjusted his position in the chair, leaning back with his hands supporting the back of his head.
“What do you suggest?”
“Well, you’re the one that knows the castle. We’ll sneak in with the Naga, but we’ll have to get to the King as soon as we can and get him alone.” He paused, thinking. “That’s where you’ll come in handy, Ms. High Suryan Premiere. I’ll need your reputation to vouch for me so I can meet the King in person.”
“Yeah, I know. That will be easy.” I waved away the idea; all of the royal mages and guards should know both my face and name. “I assume it will be held in the grand ballroom, which is just down the hall from the throne room. I can reveal myself to one of the mages, pull rank, and you and I can request a private audience.”
“We’ll have to be discreet when we leave,” Spenser pointed out unnecessarily. “I’m sure your best friend, Dean, won’t take kindly to you or I simply disappearing. He’ll look for us. Or rather, he’ll look for you.” The sarcasm dripped from his lips, marring the seriousness of the problem.
“True, I agreed, “but I think that’s something we’ll have to improvise. We won’t know exactly what we’re dealing with until we get there. I’m sure we can manage it.”
“Excellent. I like it. Simple, easy to remember.”
Spenser stood, apparently satisfied with our bare bones of a plan. He brushed off his pants and met my eyes. I still sat on the bed, not quite finished with our discussion.
“I don’t want Dean to get hurt. So, when he’s inevitably captured, I want him and the other Naga with us unharmed. Agreed?”
I wrung my fingers together. This was unfamiliar territory for me. I couldn’t believe I was asking for lenience for somebody who should, by all rights, be my enemy. I stood to look Spenser directly in the eyes and extended my hand for a handshake.
He clasped my hand firmly then dropped it.
“Agreed. And since we’ve brought it up, are there any other terms you wish?”
I shook my head. “No, it’s still the same as before. You get your noble title, or whatever, and I return to my position as High Suryan Premiere.”
He nodded. “Long live King Zante Urion,” he said.
“Long live the king.” I responded.