Gangster, soldier, priest. Queen's Man. Governor. 'If you haven't yet picked up this riveting and unique series, I highly recommend you do' Fantasy Book Critic Tomas Piety has everything he ever wanted. In public he's a wealthy, highly respected businessman, happily married to a beautiful woman and governor of his home city of Ellinburg. In private, he's no longer a gang lord, head of the Pious Men, but one of the Queen's Men, invisible and officially non-existent, working in secret to protect his country. The queen's sudden death sees him summoned him back to the capital - where he discovers his boss, Dieter Vogel, Provost Marshal of the Queen's Men, is busy tightening his stranglehold on the country. Just as he once fought for his Pious Men, Tomas must now bend all his wit and hard-won wisdom to protect his queen - even when he can't always tell if he's on the right side. Tomas has started to ask himself, what is the price of power? And more importantly, is it one he is willing to pay? 'If you like your fantasy with a side of dark and gritty, you won't want to miss this' CHRISTINA HENRY, bestselling author of The Girl in Red on Priest of Lies
Release date: April 29, 2021
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
Print pages: 400
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Priest of Gallows
I had been governor of Ellinburg for less than four months when it happened. It was a warm spring evening, and I was relaxing in the private drawing room of the governor’s hall, a glass of brandy in my hand and a book open in my lap. Billy and Mina were sitting under the window together, playing some game of cat’s cradle between them. I watched them over my glass, watched the entwining of the cords between their fingers, and I could see in the looks they shared with each other just how fierce their young love was. I knew how strongly Billy felt for her.
We had almost come to blood over it back in the winter, after all.
After I had crushed the strike at the factory, Mina had come to me herself to confess what she had done. That was brave of her, I’d had to allow, but it didn’t change the facts of the thing. I remembered how the rebellious workers had known we were coming when they shouldn’t have done, and how Old Kurt hadn’t been there when he should have been. He had known we were coming because someone had told him, and that someone was Mina.
Mina, who was a cunning woman even Billy looked up to.
She’s very strong.
Mina, who couldn’t do magic without spewing obscenities that would have curled the hair of the lowest conscript soldier.
Mina, who Old Kurt had once taken in when she was a little orphan girl on the unforgiving streets of Ellinburg.
That was a betrayal, and I took it ill.
Very ill indeed.
‘Don’t kill her, Papa,’ Billy had begged me, in the end. ‘Please, please don’t kill her.’
‘She betrayed us,’ I said.
The cold fury Ailsa had left me with was still upon me in those weeks, and I couldn’t find it in myself to feel understanding or mercy.
Not for anyone.
Billy got a hard look about him then, and it came to me through my icy rage that perhaps I recognised that look. Perhaps it wasn’t so very different from how I had looked at my own da, the night I killed him.
‘You won’t kill her,’ Billy said, in that way he had when he knew a thing was so. ‘You won’t, because I won’t let you.’
There was something in his over-bright eyes, something that told me he truly meant it. Billy the Boy was strong in the cunning, if still not quite so strong as Mina herself, and he was either a seer of Our Lady or possessed by some devil out of Hell. No one, neither cunning man nor priest, was really sure which.
Sometimes he gave me the fear, and I’ve no shame in admitting that. There are few men in this world who I would fear to face with swords, but I fear the cunning. I fear what I can’t see, what I can’t fight – disease, and magic, but not men. And yet that wasn’t what stayed my hand.
At the time it had been barely four weeks since Ailsa had left us both and returned to Dannsburg. Billy had lost his ma, and I knew that had hit him hard. Was I really going to take his woman away from him too, betrayal or not? Beside that, Mina had saved my life at the sit-down with Bloodhands, her and Jochan. I had told myself then that I wouldn’t forget that, and I hadn’t.
I spent a long night thinking on it, and perhaps I even prayed on it too. Priest I may be, among other things, but I’ll confess that I don’t pray often. Our Lady of Eternal Sorrows doesn’t answer prayers, after all, but perhaps that night She heard one.
I spared Mina’s life, and I found it deep inside me to forgive her too. Family is important, after all, and I understood that Old Kurt had been like family to her. By the end of a long, sleepless night I understood why she had done it. I loved Billy as my own son, although he wasn’t, and since Ailsa had deserted me, he was all I really had left. My aunt was distant, my brother mad, and Bloody Anne was so busy running the Pious Men and I the city that we hardly saw each other any more. I wasn’t going to lose my son too, and if forgiving Mina was the price of that, then so be it.
Watching them now, I was glad I had.
I’m a harsh man, I know that, but I like to think I’m a fair one.
‘I win,’ Mina said, although I couldn’t make head nor tail of their game.
Billy laughed and leaned forward to kiss her, and I turned back to the book in my hand. I’m no great reader but the governor’s hall contained a library of almost a hundred books, and in Ellinburg that was a treasure indeed. I had resolved to read them all, although I’ll allow that my progress was slow. This one was a treatise on mercantile law, and I understood little of it, but to my mind a city governor should know such things.
I was working my way painfully through a section on the finer points of the rates and levies of the import duty on tea when Salo entered the room and uttered a polite cough.
The house I had shared with Ailsa off Trader’s Row was closed up, unneeded and unwanted. Exactly how I had been to her, in the end. I had kept the staff on, though, and brought them with me to my new official residence in the governor’s hall. I’d known I wouldn’t have been able to trust any of Hauer’s former servants, and Salo was a good steward.
‘What is it?’ I asked, without looking up from my book.
‘There’s a messenger, sir,’ he told me. ‘A rider just arrived from Dannsburg. The guard have her in the downstairs office and they assure me she knows the correct words of exchange. She says she has come from the Lord Chief Judiciar with an urgent message for you.’
I frowned at that. The Lord Chief Judiciar was Dieter Vogel, of course, and he was also secretly the Provost Marshal of the Queen’s Men.
That made him my boss.
‘Aye, well,’ I said, and closed my book. ‘I’ll see her in my study, then.’
Salo gave me a short bow and left the room, and I got to my feet with a sigh. Any urgent message from the house of law was unlikely to be a good thing. I refilled my glass from a bottle on the side table and took it with me, leaving Billy and Mina to each other’s arms. I don’t think they even noticed me leave.
The woman was thin and dirty and she looked tired half to death, and those things told me she had seen hard riding on the road.
She was grimy of face and her clothes were nondescript, a stained cloak over a coat and britches that any rider might have worn. The Queen’s Men have no uniform, no insignia or badges of rank. We are invisible and officially non-existent, and those who work for us could be anyone – bakers or soldiers or chandlers, farriers or fishwives or whores.
Only a very few carry the Queen’s Warrant, people like Ailsa and Iagin.
People like me.
I wondered if this one even knew who she truly worked for. Many of those who serve us don’t even realise it, after all.
‘What is it?’ I asked her, once the guardsman who had shown her into the room had closed the door behind her.
I was sitting behind the huge desk in my study, the same study where Governor Hauer had received me before I had him arrested and dragged screaming to Dannsburg.
The messenger stood stiffly upright in front of me, her posture alone enough to tell me that she had been a soldier once.
‘A letter, my lord Governor,’ she said. ‘Most urgent.’
She passed me the folded paper then returned to her rigid stance.
I turned the letter over in my hand and glanced at the seal. It bore the arms of the house of law, not the mark of the royal warrant. I broke the stiff red wax and scanned the words on the page.
I have hard news.
Mother is dead, by the hand unloved.
Tell only those who know and serve the family, and no other. You will be relieved of your position within weeks, sooner if the roads are kind, and then you must ride. Bring those of your people closest to the family and return home with all haste.
I blinked at the letter and read it again, taking a moment to sift the meaning from the carefully phrased words. For one heart-stopping moment I thought he was talking about Ailsa.
Letters such as this were never written in plain, in case they fell into the wrong hands on the road. ‘The family’ meant the Queen’s Men, of course, and by those closest he meant my chiefs of staff. But he called himself uncle and me his nephew, so Mother was . . .
In Our Lady’s name, he means the queen!
The queen was dead, and by assassination. Of all the things the letter might have said, that had been the one I was least expecting.
I took a drink to cover my shock, then looked up at the messenger.
‘What’s your name?’ I asked her.
‘Caelyn, my lord Governor.’
‘And do you know what this letter says, Caelyn?’
‘No, m’lord,’ she said. ‘Only that it comes with great haste from the Lord Chief Judiciar himself.’
No, it fucking doesn’t, I thought. This came straight from the Provost Marshal of the Queen’s Men, and for all that they were one and the same man, they wore very different faces indeed.
I sighed and held the letter to the flame of my desk lamp, thinking as I watched the paper slowly blacken and curl between my fingers. I wondered how many versions of that letter had been written, and where else they had been sent. To Drathburg in the west I was sure, perhaps as far as Varnburg or even away across the sea. Who knew how far the reach of the Queen’s Men extended? Nobody, I suspected, except Vogel himself.
The more the news sank in the less it surprised me.
Lady’s sake, I’d as good as known this was going to happen. I remembered my visit to the Royal Palace of Dannsburg, and how I’d thought then that the place was ridiculous and would be impossible to defend.
I put that thought aside for the time being, and offered the messenger a seat and a drink. She was all but swaying on her heels, and I wondered how long it had been since she last slept or ate.
Vogel’s letter had been dated not four days ago, and Dannsburg was a good week’s ride at a sane pace. When news was desperate it wasn’t unknown for a messenger to set out with four or more horses and simply ride them to destruction one after another, changing mounts and acquiring more along the road when each lamed or dropped dead beneath her.
Caelyn sank into the offered seat with a grateful sigh, and I poured brandy for her from the decanter on the side table.
‘I’ll pen a reply for the morning but you’re to spend the night here before you ride back,’ I told her. ‘The response is not half so urgent as the news was.’
‘Thank you, m’lord,’ she said, and the relief on her face was plain to see.
I wasn’t sure she could have made it back to Dannsburg again at the same pace, however many horses she took with her, but if I had ordered it I knew she would have tried.
She was a soldier, after all, and I thought that we would be needing those soon.
All of them we could fucking get.
I rang the bell on my desk to summon a footman, and told him to put Caelyn in a guest room for the night and see to it that she got a bath and a hot meal, and a good breakfast in the morning. Once he had led her out of the study I sat back in my chair and looked at the charred ashes of Vogel’s letter where they lay strewn across the polished wood of the desk.
When I first opened the letter I’d thought Vogel was talking about Ailsa, and that had scared me more than I would have expected. The cold rage had finally died within me sometime after I forgave Mina, but I was still a long way from being able to see past what Ailsa had done. And yet, when I read those words, a dread had gripped my heart until I realised the truth. I wondered why that was.
Still, those were thoughts for another day. There were more pressing things to think on that night.
The queen was dead.
I sipped my brandy and let that sink in.
The Princess Crown Royal was heir to the throne, I knew that much. I had seen her once, very briefly, at a court reception in Dannsburg the previous year. She’d had eleven years to her at the time, I remembered Ailsa telling me, and although I didn’t know when her nameday was she couldn’t have reached her age of legal majority yet. She would still take the throne, of course, but the law said she couldn’t be crowned or rule in her own right until she had thirteen years to her. That meant a regent, then.
Had the queen had a husband? I realised I had no idea, and there my ignorance shamed me. A Queen’s Man I might be, but Ailsa had given me the warrant in what felt at the time very much like a battlefield promotion. I’d had no training, nor been formally brought into the knighthood. There were a great number of things that a Queen’s Man should know that I still had no idea about.
I swallowed the end of my drink and left the study, and walked down the corridor to the library to look it up. The most recent copy of Peerage of the Realm I could find had been printed five years ago, but according to that there was a husband by the name of Wilhelm who was father to the Princess Crown Royal. He was styled Prince Consort, apparently. Assuming he was still alive, that meant he would become regent until his daughter was of age. The princess had been the royal couple’s only offspring at the time the book was written, I noted, and as our late queen had been past her fortieth year at the time of the birth I suspected there had been no more children after her.
I may not know much about such things, but that the royal house had only a single direct heir seemed troubling to me. Perhaps the queen had married late in life or their majesties had struggled to conceive, I really wouldn’t know, but I knew it made that little girl’s life the most precious thing in the country right then. I could only hope Lord Vogel and his organisation would protect her better than they had the queen.
I was angry, I realised. Not angry that the queen was dead, as such, for I’d had no great love for this royal woman I had never set eyes on. She had condemned me and nearly everyone I knew to the Hell that was Abingon, after all, and that was a hard thing to forgive. No, it was more the simple fact that it had happened when the organisation I served, the Queen’s Men, existed primarily to ensure that such a thing was impossible. Someone, I thought, had fucked up very badly.
That, or there were traitors in the royal palace.
I stood in the library and thought on that for a moment, and I remembered how Borys had betrayed me and the Pious Men the previous year. I remembered what I had done to Borys, and I could only wonder what Vogel would do to any traitors he uncovered in Dannsburg.
That was a thought to keep a man awake at night and no mistake.
I pushed the notion away and returned to my study to pen a reply to Vogel’s letter.
My esteemed uncle,
I am greatly saddened to learn of Mother’s death. I shall inform those younger members of the family who are closest to me, and as soon as my seat here is in safe hands we will make haste to join you at home.
Your loyal nephew,
That looked about right, as far as I understood how such things were supposed to be phrased. Rosie would have known better than I did, but she was away in the house on Chandler’s Narrow and the hour was late by then. She would probably be with Anne, and I didn’t want to disturb them that night. I heated wax over the flame of the lamp and closed the letter with the governor’s seal, then rang for a footman to take it to Caelyn. She would be gone by first light, I was sure.
I was surprised to find Billy still in the drawing room when I returned to get another brandy before retiring for the night. Mina had presumably gone to bed, but the lad was sitting there waiting up for me.
‘Something’s happened,’ he said at once. ‘What is it? Is it word of Mama?’
‘No, lad,’ I said. ‘No, it’s not that. I’m sure your ma’s well, wherever she may be.’
It was hard to keep the bitterness out of my voice, but I tried for Billy’s sake. He still loved Ailsa as a mother, I knew that, and it would be ill done of me to speak badly of her to him.
‘There’s something, though,’ he said, and I could tell he wasn’t going to let it pass.
‘Aye, there is,’ I said.
I crossed to the side table and refilled my glass, then sat in a chair across from him and fixed him with a look.
‘What is it, Papa?’ he asked again.
‘It’s business, Billy,’ I said after a moment. ‘The other sort, I mean.’
‘Aye, lad, it’s that.’
I made a decision then, one that I will remember for the rest of my life. I told him, and thus included him in those closest, and in what that would mean in the times to come.
I may never forgive myself for that.
‘You’re my son, Billy. You’re my family. I know I can trust you with this. You know what I do, don’t you? Aside from the governorship, I mean. Aside from the Pious Men.’
‘You work for the queen,’ Billy said at once.
‘That I do,’ I said. ‘It’s . . . more complicated than that, but aye, I work for the queen. Well, here’s the lay of things. The queen is dead, Billy. That’s what the messenger came to tell me, but you can’t breathe a word of that to anyone. Do you understand me? No one, not even Mina. Tomorrow I’ll tell Bloody Anne and Fat Luka, and in a week or two someone will come to Ellinburg from the capital and then they’ll be governor here instead of me. I won’t be governor any more because I have to go back to Dannsburg, and I’ll be taking Anne and Luka and Rosie with me. Do you want to come with us?’
‘Yes, Papa,’ he said at once, and never for a moment did he hesitate in his answer. ‘Me and Mina, we’ll both come.’
‘You can’t tell Mina,’ I said again. ‘I’m sorry, lad, but she can’t come, and there it is.’
‘But Papa, she’s got nowhere else to go!’
‘I know, and I won’t see her out on the street. If I’m to be replaced as governor then we’ll have to move back to the house anyway. She can stay there while we’re away. Salo and Cook will look after her.’
‘It’s not fair,’ Billy muttered, in the way that only those in their teen years do.
‘I know, son,’ I said. ‘Few things are, in this life.’
The next morning I sent out runners to bring Fat Luka and Bloody Anne and Rosie to me at the governor’s hall. It seemed strange to be holding a council of war with them there in my study instead of at the long table in the back room of the Tanner’s Arms, but that wasn’t my place any more. That was Anne’s table now, not mine.
I had made her head of the Pious Men when I became governor of Ellinburg, lacking enough hours in the day to do both myself. She had done very well indeed in the months since then, and the peace with the Northern Sons and the Alarian Kings had held throughout the winter and into the beginning of the warm months. Luka had brokered that peace, to be sure, but it was Anne who had enforced it.
She made a good boss, I thought now as I looked at her across the wide expanse of my desk. I could only hope I had made as good a governor.
‘How’s business going, Bloody Anne?’ I asked her.
She sipped tea from a shallow bowl and looked at me over the rim for a long moment. I had never seen Anne drink tea before. She was guarded around me now, as might be expected. She was the biggest underworld player in the city, and I was the city governor. We were still friends, of course we were, but I thought perhaps the nature of that friendship had changed some since I had been her boss in the Pious Men. Rosie sat quiet beside her, the bawd’s knot proudly displayed on her shoulder in yellow cord as she watched and listened.
Anne sucked her teeth for a moment while she considered her answer, making the long puckered scar on her face twist and pull the corner of her mouth up into a bitter half-smile.
‘Well enough,’ she said, at last. ‘I made your aunt my second. Mika is underboss of the Stink now, and Black Billy his second. Florence Cooper runs the Wheels with Jutta as hers.’
‘Aye, I heard,’ I said. ‘Any trouble on your streets?’
‘No,’ she said shortly, and that was all she said on the subject.
There had been trouble of course, after that first strike I had put down the previous year, but Anne had suppressed it with ruthless efficiency and that was good. She never had been one to boast of her deeds, not even when we fought together back in the war.
I looked at her and Fat Luka and Rosie, and nodded slowly.
Bring your chiefs of staff, that was what Vogel’s letter had meant.
Well, that was those three, to my mind, and I wasn’t going into the nest of vipers that was Dannsburg without Billy’s magic beside me either. My aunt was Anne’s second in the Pious Men now, so it would be up to her to run the business while Anne was away. There especially I thought she had chosen wisely. Admittedly, the last time Aunt Enaid had run the Pious Men she had lost all our businesses to Bloodhands and his Skanian-backed Gutcutters, but I knew she had more than proved herself since then. During the battles of the Stink for one, and since then too. During the troubles Anne said she hadn’t had.
Florence Cooper was better suited to the job, perhaps, and certainly more ruthless, but she ran her own crew and had done even before the war. She was an independent woman, our Florence. Once given power, if only for a little while, I didn’t think she would be eager to give it back again afterwards. Aunt Enaid put the family first, always, but Florence perhaps wouldn’t, and despite their friendship Anne had seen that.
She was no one’s fool, was Bloody Anne.
‘I have something to tell you all,’ I said, after a long moment of silence. ‘Something sealed to crown secrecy under the Queen’s Warrant. I’ve told my Billy but no one else and it’s to stay that way, do you understand me?’
The three of them nodded, and I told them what Vogel’s letter had said. Luka winced as he listened, but he held his peace. Anne and Rosie just sat quiet until I was finished.
‘What does this mean for us?’ Anne asked.
‘A new governor will be here in a week or two, to take over from me,’ I said. ‘Rosie, Luka, you’ve that long to set things in order here and make sure business carries on without you, then you’re coming to Dannsburg with me and Billy. Anne, I’d like you to join us as well, but that’s your choice.’
‘In case you need people killed when we get there, you mean,’ Anne said.
No, she was no one’s fool at all.
It was ten days before the new governor arrived in Ellinburg.
Her name was Schulz, and she was a career bureaucrat from Dannsburg. I found little enough to like in the woman, but she had been appointed by Vogel himself so I could only assume she had at least a rough notion of how this worked. At least she’d had the sense to come on horseback with her guards and leave her baggage train to follow behind rather than riding in a carriage, so she understood urgency if nothing else.
‘It seems you leave me the city in good order, Governor Piety,’ she said as we finally finished going over the books of record in my study.
‘Aye, well, Governor Schulz, I was only ever interim governor here but I’ve run things as best I could.’
She nodded, and showed me a smile that I thought a touch condescending.
‘I’m sure you have,’ she said.
I found that I was glad to leave the governor’s hall. It was an overlarge and uncomfortable building, and noisy with the constant comings and goings of guardsmen and messengers and city officials and suchlike. Salo had reopened the house off Trader’s Row and we had moved back there two days ago, Billy and Mina and me.
The governor’s hall was vacant for Schulz to do with as she willed, and I wished her well of it.
When our meeting was done I got to my feet and offered her the chair behind the desk, in a symbolic handing over of power. She took my meaning, and she too stood and she shook my hand before she sat down behind the desk and rather fussily repositioned the inkwell.
‘Oh, Mr Piety, one more thing,’ she said.
I was Mr Piety now, I noticed, not Governor, already removed from my position.
‘What’s that, then?’
‘Our mutual superior in Dannsburg sends you his respects. He asked me to assure you that I will continue the tradition of the governors of Ellinburg of working in partnership with the Pious Men.’
Schulz was one of Vogel’s in truth, then, not just some lackey of the governing council. Not a full Queen’s Man, I was sure, or she would have been needed in the capital the same as I was, but she had certainly risen high enough in the organisation to know how things worked. Vogel was assuring me that it was safe to take Bloody Anne away from the business, I understood that, and that meant he wanted her in Dannsburg every bit as much as I did.
Which meant he knew that she existed and who she was, what her skills were and why I would want her with me. Fat Luka had worked for the Queen’s Men long before he worked for me, I had learned, since before the war, in fact, and who knew what information he and Rosie between them still passed to the capital.
Everyone is watched by someone.
Ailsa had told me that, once, and I knew it was true.
‘That’s good of you,’ I made myself say. ‘My thanks.’
‘I assure you, Mr Piety,’ she said, ‘I’m only following orders.’
Aye, well, weren’t we all?
That done, I paid a call on my brother to say farewell before we had to leave for Dannsburg. The maid I had hired for Hanne showed me into the parlour where her mistress was resting, the babe asleep in a crib beside her chair. Hanne looked tired, I thought, but then, new mothers usually did. There was a greyness to her face, though, and something in her once-smiling eyes that spoke of a quiet despair.
We exchanged pleasantries for a moment, but I barely knew the woman and she was plainly terrified of me. A year ago she had been my undercook at the house off Trader’s Row, after all. That was before my brother had accidentally got her pregnant in a meaningless fuck over the kitchen table while I was hosting a dinner party for Governor Hauer and a number of factory owners and pointless minor aristocrats who I didn’t know. Jochan had astonished me by marrying her, and now she was my sister-by-law, but I could see that we both knew where Jochan’s heart truly lay.
‘You’ll be wanting your brother, I’m sure, Mr Piety,’ she said after a moment. ‘He’s in his study with his . . . friend. You’ll forgive me if I don’t get up, but I don’t like to leave her, as it were.’
She turned a doting smile on her baby, and the bleakness left her face for a moment. She loved the child, that was plain to see, and I supposed that was good even if nothing else about their marriage was.
‘Aye,’ I said. ‘Don’t trouble yourself, I know the way.’
Truth be told, I was glad to be free of the formalities of society life, if only for a little while, and not having to be escorted by a footman felt like a blessing. I left her there in the parlour and crossed the hall to the opposite door.
I knocked, and heard a muffled and clearly drunken response from within.
Jochan’s study was a drinking room, as might be expected. It was a long time since my brother had studied anything but the bottom of a bottle. There was a desk in there but it looked seldom used, and the room stank of brandy.
Cutter was with him, as I had expected. They were seated together on a padded settle like the lovers they were. I felt for Hanne in that moment, but it was what it was and none of my business, in Our Lady’s eyes.
‘Brother,’ I said. ‘Cutter.’
‘Hello, Tomas,’ he said. ‘Come in, have a drink with us.’
Jochan was slurring slightly, and he showed me a drunken grin as he spoke.
Cutter just lowered his gaze and turned his face away. He was hideously scarred from the battle with the Skanian magician the previous winter, one of his eyes gone and covered by a black leather patch. That whole side of his face was a mass of knotted, burned scar tissue where the beard didn’t grow any more. It was only thanks to Billy and Mina’s cunning and the later crude ministrations of Doc Cordin that he lived at all.
‘Boss,’ Cutter said quietly.
‘Aye,’ I said, for want of anything better, and looked at my brother. ‘Jochan, I just wanted to let you know I’m going away for a while, and I’m taking Bloody Anne and Fat Luka with me. Our aunt’s in charge until Anne gets back.’
Of course Anne had chosen to come too. I had never really been in any doubt about that.
‘Fuck a nun, Tomas,’ Jochan said, ‘I know you don’t fucking trust me. Just say it and have done with it.’
‘It’s not that,’ I said. ‘I do trust you, Jochan. I trust you with my heart, and with the past. You know that, or at least I hope you do. You’re a warrior, but you’re not a leader. You’re just not, and that’s all there is to it. Anne is, and so is Enaid.’
Jochan turned and spat into the fireplace, and Cutter gave me a look I wasn’t sure I knew how to read.
‘I’m leaving tomorrow,’ I said. ‘Please, if you do nothing else, support Aunt Enaid. When we were little she took us in when we needed her the most, Jochan. She fucking raised us. Support her now.’
Jochan looked at me for a long moment, and then the tears came. He was in my arms a moment later, sobbing incoherently as the battle shock and childhood trauma overcame him once more. I loved my brother, in my way, but there was no way I was putting him in charge of anything. There was one thing he could do for me, though.
An important thing.
‘I’ll want reports,’ I
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